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138th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery


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Diary of Events: Ypres and the Belgian Coast, May - November 1917

18 May 1917
The Battery Commander and the Left Section (E and F Sub-Sections) leave the wagon lines at Houchin to begin the march to Ypres, via Ham en Artois, Morbecque and Steenvoorde.

22 May 1917
The party arrives at wagon lines near a farm off the Poperinghe-Ypres road, south of Vlamertinghe.

23 May 1917
The Left Section goes into action in a dangerous position at Ypres where enemy shelling seldom ceases. Within a few days the Section suffers a number of casualties, including one fatal.

29 May - 1 June 1917
The Right and Centre Sections and the ammunition column leave Houchin on 29 May after a stay of 14 days. After stops at St Venant and Steenvoorde the column arrives at the new wagon lines during the night of 1 June 1917 and is soon in action close to the Left Section. As the Right and Centre Sections arrive the numerous wagon lines around Vlamertinghe are severely bombed by enemy aircraft causing many casualties among other units in the area.

Early-June 1917
A large amount of ammunition is stored indicating an important action is imminent. The Battery's position gives no safe cover and several men are badly wounded. Some men from the Battery take the opportunity to explore Ypres but are soon forced back by the ceaseless activity of the enemy.

7 June 1917
The expected battle begins around 3am with a spectacular pyrotechnic display when mines were exploded causing 3 huge craters in the top of the Wytschaete or Messines Ridge. The battery carries out a bombardment in conjunction with the attack on the ridge and is firing continuously for most of the day.

8 June 1917
The battery is heavily bombarded with gas shells.

9 June 1917
E Sub-Section gun is severely damaged by a direct hit and a large amount of ammunition is destroyed.

10 June 1917
The Battery receives orders to pull the five remaining guns out of action but only C and D guns can be removed owing to the incessant shelling, and A, B and F guns are abandoned. There are few casualties despite the heavy shelling although there is one fatality.

11 June 1917
The three abandoned guns are recovered under cover of darkness.

12-17 June 1917
The Battery is rested encamped in a field about 5 kms from Cassel.

18 June 1917
The Battery moves north towards the Belgian coast and pitches camp at Malo-les-Baines, 10 kms east of Dunkirk. Men and horses enjoy the unexpected pleasure of bathing in the sea.

19 June 1917
Orders are received for the Battery to move to new wagon lines at Coxyde which is reached about 2pm.

20 June 1917
The Centre Section is sent to relieve a French Heavy Battery and takes up a well protected position on the sand dunes in the vicinity of Nieuport Bains.

21 June 1917
The Right Section moves to the same position.

22-26 June 1917
A peaceful few days are spent by the Battery in the good dugouts and gun pits left by the French. Obtaining adequate supplies of fresh water becomes a problem as the wells left by the French are frequently hit by enemy fire. The Battery is also troubled by insects breeding freely in the sand dunes.

27 June 1917
The Right Section is heavily shelled. One shell lands in B gun pit badly damaging the gun and seriously burning several men.

10-11 July 1917
The Battery is heavily shelled with projectiles of all calibres. Five of the six guns are put out of action and six men are wounded. A further 20 men suffer from the effects of mustard gas.

Mid-July to Mid-August 1917
The wagon lines are moved back to Bray Dunes, about 20 kms behind the lines. Both sides engage in heavy artillery action and the Battery's guns are frequently put out of action.

16 August 1917
The Battery suffers a fatal casualty during intermittent shelling.

22 August 1917
An NCO from the Battery proceeding to the sergeants mess was struck by a 77mm shell and killed instantly.

26-31 August 1917
Each man receives 4 days leave at a camp near Dunkirk, the first leave for them since arriving in France 16 months earlier. One man is killed by shellfire as he gets on the lorry to leave.

10 September 1917
One gun is put out of action by heavy shelling.

4 October 1917
Between 3 and 4pm an estimated 1000 shells fall on the Battery's position, damaging some of the billets. This is the heaviest hostile shelling yet experienced by the Battery.

15 October 1917
The Battery is again heavily shelled and some damage is done to billets of C and D Subs.

19-27 October 1917
No firing is carried out by the Battery although its position continues to be shelled intermittently.

November 1917
Increasingly bad weather is experienced by the Battery with high winds and sand storms exposing dugouts previously thought impregnable.

1 December 1917
Orders are received to leave the position at Nieuport Bains which is being taken over by the French. The battery leaves the position at night and marches to the wagon lines at Bray Dunes.

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