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A/Cpl. Clement Forester Buckingham
British Army Royal Irish Fusiliers 7/8th Btn.
from:Hethersett, Norfolk, England
Forester tried to join up in 1914, but aged a little under 17, was turned back when his medical check was done by the family doctor. He attested young under the Derby Scheme, and signed up as soon as he was 18 and a half.
Only last week discovered cassette tapes which recounted his experience at Messines. this is a transcript of that day's events from his perspective:
Towards the end of May, there was a lot more activity in the part of the line we were then occupying: a movement of other troops, different regiments, coming up to the rear link lines. There were more men in the front and reserve trenches than usual; rather more artillery firing by our own guns. We sensed something big was coming up, but of course we weren't then quite aware of what was going to happen, although we sensed there was something big happening. We had had heard rumours there was going to be a big advance, because of the extra people being brought there.
Our own regiment was brought up to the support trenches on the morning of the sixth of June. That night, about ten o'clock, we moved to the reserve line. And at about 2 a.m. went into the frontline trenches. They were more or less absolutely packed - what we would call double-packed. There was men standing on the fire-step, and then we were in the trench behind them. There was about three rows of men. It seemed very quiet for once. Ever so quiet and still. Very little gunfire or shelling from our side, but quite a lot from the German lines the other side. They sort of sensed, I think, that something was coming off.
At ten past three in the morning all hell was let loose: terrific explosions, all on a stretch of the line to the left and the right of us. I think there was nineteen lines exploded on the German trenches. I counted at least six, perhaps seven, where there was a glow in the sky, and earth and soil shooting up. I understand that Lloyd George, and members of the then government, were waiting in London and could hear the noise in London all the away across from France. That was such a terrific din.
Our artillery fire went off with a crash, and it was constantly shell fire. you couldn't hear yourselves speak. At the same time, our first wave of men went over from the front, straight towards the German lines. There was quietness for a while from that side, and then all of a sudden machine-gun fire burst out quite from the back. And then many men got hit. Quite a number of casualties. I had a very good friend of mine, a young cornishman called Pengelley, he was our company runner. He was running just to the left of me as we went over the ... went advancing.
Of course it was reasonably daylight then, because of how early in the morning, we could see quiet well, apart from the smoke and all of the confounded din. Poor chap ..[tape cuts out, starts out again] ...?? that. But then of course Jerry got a lot of his machine-guns going behind and he was letting rip and poor old Pengelley got one straight in the head. I ran over to him and he was as dead as a doornail. He really got an awful bang. Anyway, we couldn't stop. We were not allowed to stop. We had to carry on with our advance, and we got up to the top of the Wytshaete Ridge - what you call the Woodshet Ridge - and there we were ordered to dig in, and make a line of support trenches to hold the part of the line there, while other people were still advancing quite through to the village. After a while, we were ordered on a bit further, and we went up quite in the village. the devastation was terrific. It was only holes everywhere.
Meanwhile, Jerry had now got his big guns going, and he was slamming over stuff as hard as he could at us. Then our regiment was made to retire to the top of the ridge, where we were digging in, and we still carried on digging there, while other troops passed through us. The advance went on quite well, apparently - a very large number of prisoners were taken. Heaps of them came streaming past us, poor devils. I was rather moved to see one who was eating a piece of English white bread. Who he got it from, I don't know, but he was thoroughly enjoying it. He waved his hands and grinned. A lot of them were very pleased to be captured.
My particular part of the line we were in, we had to still carry on digging, consolidating our position. We didn't have orders to advance further. We were more or less making lines there, so that if any of the men were forced to retire, they'd got a place to retire to. Well the day wore on, it got nice and bright and sunny, being early May ... it was early June, I should say - it was quite pleasant, except for the incessant gun fire and the constant machine-gun fire, which was very uncomfortable at times.
And then at ten past three in the afternoon, Jerry must have opened up some more heavy stuff, and all of a sudden there was a terrific bang and a whistle near me, and a huge crash. And all I remember now is going spinning up into the air, twisting round and round. Well I don't know if I was knocked unconscious or not, but I wasn't actually - but I just sensed , 'Oh Blimey! Is this death?' And it seemed so peaceful, and then all of a sudden crash! as I hit the ground. And a lot of muck all tumbled bang, and I was more or less half buried. Very nearly buried alive. It was really most uncomfortable, and I was in a lot of pain. Any rate, some of the lads who hadn't been .. there must have been eight or nine casualties, cos I can see whether .. almost the faces of my pals as this damn great shell exploded. Any rate. Two or three of them must have rushed over, that hadn't been hurt, and pulled me out, and, well, that was that.
I was carried some hundreds of yards back to what was a first aid station, and there they examined me carefully, and found I hadn't got any what they call 'bad' injuries. I was merely .. my clothes were half torn off me, and I was dreadfully bruised, and very painful all down my right side, and could hardly move my right leg, it was so stiff. That's where I suppose I had been hit with the shell contusions, and the force of the explosion. I later heard from one of my mates when in hospital, that that particular shell had killed six of our chaps in the trenches - four who I knew personally, and were good friends of mine. But still, that was life. Some little time later I was carried by two big hefty German prisoners of war on a stretcher way back to where we hopped .. to near our original front line.....
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