Wounded Shot on Rescuer’s Back.
( Daily Mail, July 14)
“Newfoundlanders I salute you individually. You have done better than the best.”
Thus spoke the general to the men of the Newfoundland Regiment after its great attack on July 1. The Newfoundlanders were given what is now recognized to have been an impossible task, and although they tailed the story of their bravery and daring will live forever.
The regiment had been in reserve waiting to take its appointed place in the great attack- the capture of the third line of German trenches immediately in front of them. The task of capturing the first and second lines was assigned to English line regiments.
“All the German lines” says an eyewitness, “were raked: with hundreds of thousands of shells. It seemed impossible that anything could still be alive. Suddenly the artillery lifted and the English regiments attacked. As if by magic the German lines were swarmed with men and machine guns belched out from behind ruins, and from the mouth of hidden pits, and even from shell holes. The British troops did not waver, but they melted away, and not many reached the German lines. More shells screamed across this land of dead men and then other troops rushed to the arrack. Again the German machine guns took their toll, and again the attack failed.
“Now cause the turn of the Newfoundlanders. The fate which had overtaken their comrades daunted them not one bit. These boys- their average age was under twenty-four- were as steady as veterans as steady as on that parade at St. John’s when they embarked for England to fight for the Empire. Not a man hesitated. With a cheer they were over the parapet and with the colonel, “Fighting Chitral’ Haddo in the van, attempted the impossible.
“Right To It This Time”
“Officers fell right and left, but as they fell they waved their men on. Right to it this time, was the cry. A second lieutenant speedily found himself in charge of a company, and as he fell a sergeant sprang forward to take his place. Companies melted away, but as each man fell he always cried. ‘Now right on boys, right on to it this time!’ That was their slogan and bounding from shell-hole to shell-hole these gallant lads struggled towards the German lines. A few reached the German wire, which, marvellous to relate, was almost intact, but they could do no more. The charge was over- they had failed, but in brave company for at the outset they all realized that what had been impossible for eight English Regiments was not possible for them.
“That night few returned to the British lines, but the Newfoundland spirit is indomitable; already the regiment is reshaping itself. For every man who fell in that glorious fight there are two others willing and anxious to take his place and all burn with the desire to avenge the comrade, the brother and the cousin who fell.”
There are now, just behind the British lines in this quarter of the field, a few mounds of earth which no Newfoundlander fails to salute- the burial ground of those who fell on July 1. Reserves volunteered to a man to recover their dead and under a galling fire from German rifles and guns they performed their task. “We wanted those at home.” said one who did his share, “to know that our comrades sleep easily; that the padre has said the prayer for the dead and that we who live live to bring the Germans to account.
Survivors are full of stories of the courage of their comrades. They tell how Captain J.A. Ledingham, the youngest captain led his company in the charge, how he fell wounded in three places; how he crawled into a shell hole and lay there more dead than alive for upwards of five hours. Then he heard the moaning of a comrade, and peeping over the edge of his shelter saw lying a few yards away his old Newfoundland chum, Lieutenant Robertson, almost at his last gasp. Captain Ledingham, hardly able to move, crawled to his comrade, and there under a rain of shot and shell, hoisted the lieutenant on his back and crawled with him to the British lines.
It is also told how Lieutenant C.S Frost, a bank clerk from Nova Scotia, three times went out from the comparative safety of the firing trench to bring in wounded comrades. He brought them all in, but two were riddled with billets as he struggled towards the lines and died on his back.
In the charge was a young private who but an hour or so before the attack went into the firing line for the first time. He went over the parapet with his comrades and was probably one of those who got nearest to the German lines. All his comrades were shot down and he fell into a shell hole filled with dead. He had no idea of direction; he could not tell which were the German and which the British lines. For four days he stayed there, shells exploding all round him and bullets coming apparently from all quarters if he as much as showed his nose.
Four Days Ordeal
His rations were soon exhausted, and he had to take food and water from the dead round him. At the end of the fourth day he determined to make for the trenches, but which he did not know. By good fortune he chose the right direction and was taken in by a British patrol. He was quite unconcerned with regard to his adventure and the only explanation he gave was, “Oh I was fed up with it out there and determined to get in that’s all.”
A machine-gun section under an officer and 10 N.C.O’s went into action with 48 men and 8 guns. Only very few came back, but they brought with them their precious gun. Subsequently the seven others were recovered.
Everyone speaks in the highest terms of the devotion of Newfoundland R.A.M.C. They went out time and again under shell fire and sniper’s fire to succour the wounded.
Source: The Daily News, July 29, 1916