W. L. Gregory writes to his parents from the front


The following letter has been received from W. L. Gregory by his parents:

Just a line to tell you I am getting on as good as gold since I got smacked. I dare say you have got my card by this from the Convalescent Camp at Boulogne.

I told you I would give you a description of what it was like when I wrote. To sum the whole thing up it was just like hell let loose.

Anyone that reads about it at home cannot imagine what it was like.

One division of Australians went in (I cannot name the division as it would only get crossed out) and they had to take Posieres. They had as hard a fight as anything on the line. We saw them come out and I can tell you it made our chaps think a bit.

Another division (Australian) was sent in to relieve them and we had to relieve this division. We knew that things were going very hard with them but our chaps stuck to it and were as lively as crickets when they were going in.

We sent one Battalion to the front but they had to retire back, the fire was that hot. They got up later at night and relieved the men that were in after the terrific bombardment.

The next morning that division had to be sent out for re-organization as they had lost heavily.

Our battalion went up the same night and two companies faced the bombardment and got through and relieved the men in the firing line and supports. Then one of the pluckiest things happened for the time we were in the trenches.

Some of the battalion that was sent out for re organization got surrounded by about fifty Germans. The Germans had taken them prisoners and were getting back to their lines when Lieut Jacka V. C. hopped over the trench and called to two platoons to follow him.

They went out and captured all the Germans and got our own boys back. It was a great piece of work, considering the fire they had to go through.

That night we moved up into the reserves and the following afternoon into the firing line. They were shelling us with shrapnel the whole way up.

I do not think we had a casualty going up. We had no sooner got in than Fritz started bombarding.

You talk about shells coming over, they were falling like peas, the shelling was that heavy. What put heart into our boys more than anything was the fire that our Artillery was sending back to Fritz.

We were getting it bad enough, but I would not have lived in Fritz’s trenches for all the money in the world. I think for every shell he threw over our Artillery threw five or six.

They were going that fast you could hear an incessant humming as they were going over. It used to be just the thing to hear the big 9in and 14in shells going over our heads during the day towards Fritz’s lines. The Tommy artillery used to fire them from about six miles back. Every time we heard one you should have heard the boys cheering it.

In the front line we had no trench at all. We had to take up our positions in

big shell holes and build it up with sandbags. You would get up against the parapet wondering where the next shell was going to drop. It was only a matter of going in and waiting your turn to get knocked, and of course, if you were lucky you would come out alright.

In one of the machine gun bays (position where the men and guns are) I saw one section levelled to one man. They were all killed or wounded, but he stuck there waiting to see if an attack was going to be made by Fritz, until he was relieved by another section.

All the night through we had to keep observing to see if there was going to be a counter attack by Fritz. If he had come he would have got a pretty warm reception I can tell you.

The boys were worked up to a nice pitch waiting, We were all glad when dawn came. I think it was more to see what damage had been done.

The following afternoon our company was relieved and we went back into the supports, thinking we were going to have a rest, but Fritz started up a very heavy bombardment and gave us a pretty rough time. The trenches were levelled to the ground in places by the shells. There were numerous cases where chaps had to dig their mates out during the night while the shelling was at its heaviest, they having been buried in the trench.

That night our company lost thirty wounded, and 4 killed.

Up till now I have only told you about our losses. Well, they are slight to what the Germans are losing. They brought up their 48th and 168th reserve regiments to have a go at us but they lost very heavily.

I was talking to an A.M.C. orderly and he said our killed were very slight compared with the wounded. A great number of our men were wounded slightly with shrapnel. Of course these count as casualties.

Everywhere you look you can see dead Germans lying. We hadn’t the time to bury them.

Well, to get on then with the story.

Our company was being relieved that night, after 48 hours in the trenches. In the morning I lost one of my best mates in Joe Bickley from Hastings. He and I had been together right from the the start.

He got badly but not seriously wounded. He and I had our dugouts with about a foot of earth separating us. During the night two other chaps got shelled out of their dugouts and came to Joe and I. One got with him and the other with me About five in the morning a shrapnel shell burst and a piece or two flew back and got Joe and the chap who was with him. It hit them both through the leg about the thigh. Both had their legs shattered.

The chap who was with me got a big piece through the shoulder and I never got a scratch. Just before this a big piece bigger than a hen egg hit me on the back but glanced off doing no damage.

I had the three of them to look after on my own for about three hours, the stretcher-bearers being occupied elsewhere.

Vince Callanan form Balnarring was with us and was marked as missing but I have found out since that he was sent down to the dressing station with shell shock. He will be alright by now.

That night I got my crack as we were being relieved. We had got well behind our support trenches when Fritz started putting shrapnel into us. One came right at us and of course we all bobbed, (one bobs naturally after they have been there a while when they hear a shell coming) but did not get low enough.

One piece killed one poor chap just behind me, another took the rear portion of another chap off, and the third piece got me in the head. It hit my rifle and smashed it, then went through my helmet and stopped at my skull.

The doctor told me that I am one of the luckiest chaps at the present moment.

They sent me to Boulogne to the 13th General Hospital (English). From there I was transferred to the 1st Convalescent Camp after having a few days treatment and rest. I asked the doctor to put me out of there and let me get back to the Battalion. It didn’t seem to suit me although it is a beautiful little camp.

I get dissatisfied being on my own. I am now at the Base waiting to get back to the Battalion. The wound has not quite healed yet. You will have to hand this around if any one wants any news as I have said everything. I hope to get back soon to have another go. I do not think I can tell you any more as I am just blown out for news. I hope to see Fred any day now, as I hear his division is somewhere kicking round. I have not seen a letter from you all for at least ten weeks.

Well I will have to close; hoping you are in the best of health with best love from your loving son.


From the pages of the Mornington Standard, 28 October, 1916

As published in the Mornington News – 24 October 2016


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