Got gassed, eyes and chest very bad

Black Country Bugle - - NEWS - By JOHN WORK­MAN

AC­CORD­ING to his grand­son John Red­fern, Gun­ner Ben­jamin Crump, who hailed from Black­heath, was an in­di­vid­ual brought up on a diet of Vic­to­rian dis­ci­pline and strict rules which he ad­hered to for much of his life.

He was an im­pos­ing man and his physique kept him in good stead as he served with the Roy­al­gar­ri­son Ar­tillery dur­ing the First World War. We are grate­ful to John for al­low­ing us to pub­lish en­tries from Ben­jamin’s com­pre­hen­sive di­ary ac­count of his life in the thick of the bat­tery, a re­mark­able in­sight into the daily rou­tine of work­ing on a siege gun, fa­tigues, pe­ri­ods of leave, rest days away from the fir­ing line, and spells in hos­pi­tal, plus the dis­ci­pline im­posed for step­ping out of line.

From two pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles we have pro­gressed­from Au­gust 1915 to Septem­ber 1917 in Ben­jamin’s di­ary and con­tinue from Tues­day Septem­ber 18:

“Went up to new po­si­tion on fa­tigues. Got shells and car­tridges on guns. Our ar­tillery very ac­tive. Fritz drops one on car­tridges and also sets cam­ou­flage on fire. Had one man killed and an­other wounded by dugouts. Had to walk back with our kits at night.”

In early Oc­to­ber Ben­jamin ex­pe­ri­enced a bad day. Thurs­day Oct 4:

“Ac­tion at 6am fired 75 rounds then was re­lieved for break­fast. Ger­man pris­on­ers lead­ing our wounded down the road. Took all ob­jec­tives and con­sol­i­dated them. Very nasty day. Fired one round ev­ery 3 min­utes till tea time, 198 rounds in all. Had ac­tion again at 7pm, 15 rounds, and at 9pm 8 rounds.” Fri­day Oc­to­ber 5: “Cleaned up round gun. Started to rain, fired 118 rounds in the morn­ing and then 64 after tea. Fritz makes counter at­tacks so fired 20 more rounds. Our corps took 3,000 pris­on­ers in­clud­ing 71 of­fi­cers, 6 trench mor­tars, 7 field guns, 27 ma­chine guns and 2 tanks.” Satur­day Oc­to­ber 6: “Was re­lieved at 9am, still rain­ing. Went back to old po­si­tion, had easy day.” Wed­nes­day Oc­to­ber 17: “Went up to po­si­tion on shell hump­ing. Fritz shells bat­tery very heav­ily on our right. He comes over at night bomb­ing.” Thurs­day Oc­to­ber 18: “Ev­ery avail­able man had to go up to po­si­tion at 6am, put plat­form down in for­ward po­si­tion, then come back.” Fri­day Oc­to­ber 19: “Fritz counter at­tacks in the af­ter­noon, but was re­pulsed.” Satur­day Oc­to­ber 20: “Went up to po­si­tion, stacked 200 rounds and stood ready for ac­tion. Fritz plays hell with bat­tery in front. Came back at 4pm.”

Car­tridges

Sun­day Oc­to­ber 21: “Went up to po­si­tion. Fritz shells all round blow­ing rail­way up which our gun was on and wound­ing 6 or 7 men who were work­ing there. Set car­tridges on fire and dam­aged gun. Had to clear out so went back to rear po­si­tion and pulled a plat­form up. 500 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion came so un­loaded that. Had no din­ner or tea till 9pm.” Tues­day Oc­to­ber 23: “Went up to po­si­tion, got shells off road. Very wet day. Moved 500 rounds then went back to old po­si­tion and got drunk on beer and rum.” Wed­nes­day Oc­to­ber 24: “Took our kit up to new po­si­tion and was told to go for­ward as gun layer for one day. Up to our knees in mud and wa­ter. Rained all day. Then fired 60 rounds. Had to sleep in wet clothes as I had no kit with me.”

Gassed

Thurs­day Oc­to­ber 25: “Very cold and windy morn­ing. Fired 8 rounds. Fritz drops some very close to our dugouts. Easy day” Fri­day Oc­to­ber 26: “Ac­tion at 5.30 all guns opened out. Got wet through, tube jammed in vent so gun was tem­po­rar­ily out of ac­tion. Had to send for staff sergeant. Gun in ac­tion again by din­ner, fired 3 rounds. SOS got gassed at night, eyes and chest very bad.”

The gas at­tack of the night of Oc­to­ber 26 forced Ben­jamin into hos­pi­tal and even­tu­ally a re­turn to Blighty. He ar­rived at Queen Mary’s Mil­i­tary Hos­pi­tal in Whal­ley, Lan­cashire, on Wed­nes­day Novem­ber 7. Thurs­day Novem­ber 8: “Sis­ters very con­sid­er­ate do­ing all in their power to make things com­fort­able for us.”

Ben­jamin re­mained in hos­pi­tal un­til De­cem­ber 19. Dur­ing a pe­riod of three weeks be­fore­hand he recorded:

“En­joyed my­self in dif­fer­ent ways, go­ing to pic­tures, teas, dances, con­certs, foot­ball matches and wed­dings, and get­ting in hos­pi­tal at dif­fer­ent times from 9pm till after mid­night.” Tues­day De­cem­ber 19: “Came home on leave and had a rot­ten time go­ing back to Cat­t­er­ick Bridge on the 28th. Left Birm­ing­ham at 2.10, chang­ing at Sh­effield and York, also Dar­ling­ton. Got to Hip­swell Camp at mid­night.” For the next two months Ben­jamin had a daily rou­tine of route marches, squad drill, phys­i­cal drill and mus­ketry. At night he went to the YMCA or can­teen or some­times went into Rich­mond. Thurs­day Fe­bru­ary 28: “Had pay and kit in­spec­tion ready to move on fol­low­ing day to Prees Heath Camp, Whitchurch.”

Once at Prees Heath Ben­jamin set­tled into a daily rou­tine of phys­i­cal drill, route marches, dummy load­ers and all kinds of gun drill and lec­tures. He also went through a gas course. He was then put down for draft leave. Thurs­day March 21: “Got home at 3pm, went to Grand at night. Very fine weather.”

Ben­jamin’s leave lasted un­til March 30. He said he had a good time on leave, but then it was back to Prees Heath Camp. How­ever: Satur­day March 30: “Went back off leave to Prees Heath get­ting there at 11pm. Re­ported at guard­room four days ab­sent.” The fol­low­ing day: “Placed un­der open ar­rest, was tried and had seven days No 2. Had to pa­rade ev­ery day after 4pm for one hour to do fa­tigues and sleep in guard­room.” Tues­day April 2: “On gas drill had to wear them for 2 hours to pass our test. Then had lec­ture on gas, then was on de­fault­ers fa­tigues. Broke off at 7pm.” Satur­day April 6: “Dis­missed from pa­rade at 8.45 to clean up hut, Gen­eral’s in­spec­tion. Rained all day. Fin­ished my No 2 field pun­ish­ment on this day.” Sun­day April 4: “Church pa­rade at 9am, very cold and wet day. Rest of day to our­selves.”

Ben­jamin was given warn­ing of a re­turn to France and left on Satur­day April 13, even­tu­ally set­ting sail from Southamp­ton at 11pm and ar­riv­ing at Le Havre at noon the fol­low­ing day. Spend­ing a cou­ple of weeks in camp Ben­jamin fi­nally ar­rived at Pont Remy on Satur­day April 27 and moved to a new camp at Lier­court. Tues­day May 7: “Was picked out for draft so went to 73 Bri­gade. Pa­raded at 4.30pm. Got there at 6pm as we only had to go to Sorel 5 ki­los away to join bat­ter­ies out on rest. Joined 118th Siege Bat­tery 9.2 how­itzers who were bil­leted at Wanel. Pay when I got there, had good night’s sleep, plenty of straw.” Thurs­day May 9: “Pulled guns in po­si­tion for drill pur­poses and to see if ev­ery­thing fit­ted to­gether as they were all new pieces. Had game at foot­ball in af­ter­noon.” Fri­day May 10: “Very fine morn­ing fin­ished putting gun in po­si­tion and broke off.” Satur­day May 11: “Had easy day, played at foot­ball in af­ter­noon.” Wed­nes­day May 22: “Packed out kits and went to po­si­tion at 9am. Very fine morn­ing. Guns came up in af­ter­noon, got it in and got ev­ery­thing ready for ac­tion.” Satur­day May 25: “Fine day done a lit­tle in gar­den round bil­lets, plant­ing veg­etable mar­rows and other things, bags of let­tuce and onions for tea ev­ery day. All the houses in the vil­lage were evac­u­ated, peo­ple hav­ing to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind; look­ing glasses, pic­tures and or­na­ments be­ing smashed. Fired 14 rounds for reg­is­tra­tion, but too misty.”

(cont next week)

Gun­ner Ben­jamin Crump of the RGA

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