The War Diary of Lieutenant William L Hayes M C


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1916 and the Battles for Ypres

Trench Raid at Peckham Corner Jan 1916

The Battalion had not moved since it arrived in September, still occupying the same trenches in January.

Trench Raids had several objectives: to capture prisoners for interrogation and identification in order to determine which part of the German army they were opposite; to capture arms and identify possibilities of gas; to establish the condition of the enemy trenches and their stores. They also were a means of establishing enemy morale. In addition the opportunity was taken to destroy enemy works and determine if mining was being carried on. The capture of craters or saps allowed an army to extend its line by incorporating the captured area. The raid on the 30/31 January was meticulously planned. There was reconnaissance in advance , models created, timing and advance wire cutting planned, equipment allocated included everything from artillery, to cough sweets and black tape to prevent sounds that might alert the enemy.

There is a fine report with drawings in the 28th Bn War Diary. Map (below) page 24, Jan 1916

WLH: 26 Feb 16 Admitted to hospital, France, sick tfrd to/via 5 Can Field Ambulance

26 Feb Adm DRS (admitted, Divisional Rest Station) Godewaersvelde influenza

5 Mar 16 discharged to duty ex 5 Can Fld Amb.

6 Mar 16 returned to duty from hospital

28th Bn War Diary: 25 Feb ‘Sick parades rather heavy.’

Field Ambulance was not a vehicle; it was a system under the direction of the Army Medical Corps. Each Brigade had three Field Ambulances, each Ambulance was divided into three sections, each having 36 stretcher bearers among other personnel.

Stretcher bearers: Each infantryman had a basic medical kit for self administered first aid but was not permitted to administer first aid, or stop, for other wounded. Anything more severe required a wait, sometimes a long one, for the stretcher bearers.

Each Battalion was responsible for clearing its own wounded from the battlefield and transferring them to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) where the Field Ambulance system took over transferring to Advance Dressing Station (ADS) or Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), then by horse drawn evacuation vehicle or railway line to hospital.

Initially field stretcher bearers were recruited from the Battalion Band, but as more were required and the band needed for morale purposes, they were recruited from the Battalion or from conscientious or religious objectors who, while not in any way lacking in courage, did not wish to take part in active combat. Later prisoners were drafted into this work. Although allied stretcher bearers were permitted to carry arms, most chose not to as it interfered with their work. There were sixteen stretcher bearers per Battalion or four per company of 250 men. Two were assigned to each stretcher, but in bad field conditions, it could take up to six to manage. It took a considerable amount of time. No wonder that any soldier capable of walking were expected to do so.

Stretcher bearers were given Red Cross badges to wear in an attempt to provide some protection. As evacuations eventually made their way into the supply trenches, where all manner of other goods, equipment and men were going in the opposite direction, they were in an area bound to draw enemy fire.

Quite possibly, WLH reported to the RAP on his own having been sent by the daily sick parade. He was sent to Godewaersvelde Divisional Rest Station (DRS). Fortunately influenza in this case did not turn into pneumonia - as no antibiotics were available at the time.  Godewaersvelde DRS was just inside France on the Belgian border. Some field hospitals were located well behind the lines and even so they were not totally immune to shelling. Others were located near the coast so that evacuation to England could be easily managed.

Only about 40 men from the Battalion took part in this raid. Unless WLH was one of 31 battalion bombers supporting the raiding party, it is likely that he was not directly involved.

However, a great deal of information was gathered.

It was this meticulous planning that would be of high significance in battles to come.