I woke with a drumbeat hitting my head. Moving my left arm I became conscious of pain. I looked around, finding myself on a bed in a tent surrounded by many men. On checking closely, I could see by bandages and hear by groans that most were wounded. Gradually my memory came flooding back. With my colleague Chumley, we had been passengers squeezed into a tin turtle checking on the efficiency with which the trucks behind were being unloaded of their shells. Then I felt a blast of heated air and heard a loud bang. Between then and being in the tent – nothing.
Eventually a doctor came round, I asked him why I was there. He said that I had been brought in on a stretcher two days after the great push in front of Amiens. I had been found blown off the locomotive. A shrapnel shell had torn into my arm. It was now the 11th.
Two days later, my arm began to swell. As the wound became infected, for over a week the women nurses tended me to bring down my temperature. I remember little of this time. When I had recovered sufficiently, a surgeon performed a small operation to remove the bomb fragment. Later the next day Major Thompson visited. He was able to answer my questions about what had happened. We were in the turtle bringing up more ammunition to replenish stocks in the munitions dump. A boche aircraft had flown overhead, discharging bombs. Some fell on the dump causing a series of explosions. I had become a casualty.
When I asked about Chumley, Thompson told me he had been killed along with the driver of the locomotive. I had miraculously survived because I was in the doorway looking out. The blast had lifted me out and onto the track. We discussed Peter Chumley, a bright young officer who cheerily enjoyed the work of getting ammunition to the Front.
Two days later I was discharged to an officers convalescent house. From there Thompson took me to a short memorial service for Chumley and some of the others killed. Paying our respects, Thompson said he had written to Chumley’s father offering our condolences.
Whilst at the house I caught up with the news on the War. The Eighth had been the breakthrough previous battles along the Western Front from Picardy to Champagne had suggested was coming. The enemy had been pushed back, tanks had rolled over their wire defences and trenches. Even armoured cars, pulled over the broken ground by the tanks, had been able to get behind the enemy, shooting up trains and boche units. Chapilly Ridge had been taken by Australians, the Canacs had captured Peronne. The morale of my fellow inmates was improving day by day as more information of progress came. Nothing like good news to hasten convalescence!
We also received news of the Eastern Front. Some of our units had been sent to Vladivostok to support the Czech Legion fighting the Red Army in south Russia. Archangel had already been captured.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to Delphine to reassure her and the children that I was making a full recovery and would soon be discharged and return to England to resume working at the War Office. I asked her to pass the message on to Thom and Rose.
This evening we are to hold a ‘soiree’ to celebrate my forty-fifth birthday. With access to fine French wines, my fellow officers find a remarkable number of festive occasions to celebrate!