Following on from my last post I wanted to see if I could find out exactly what Uncle Percy had been doing when he was wounded on the 22nd of April 1918. His service record didn’t help with this & neither did my attempts at tracking the movements of 97th Field Company RE using online resources.
The National Archives have now digitised their entire collection of WW1 war diaries and they are a mine of information, full of day-to-day activities. They are easily searchable by Unit and cost a mere £3.50 to download. I found the relevant diary quite easily and was able to track Percy’s movements in more detail.
Following the retreat from Messines the Company were responsible for mining and destroying bridges over the Comines Canal to delay the German advance. The Diary of Thomas Fredrick Littler of the Royal Engineers notes this on the 12th April:
I saw a furious battle in the air this morning, 4 German planes engaging three British, 2 German planes and two British came down and fell in our lines, 1 German plane caught fire and fell in his own lines, the other one made his escape, and the remaining British plane hovered above and then made off. In the afternoon we had to go and re-mine a bridge crossing the Ypres Canal, placing 70 lbs of guncotton under it, and connected with both electric and instantaneous fuse, finished at midnight.
Strange to think that Uncle Percy would most likely also have witnessed this.
On the 16th of April 1918 the Company had marched to Ouderdom where they were joined by eighty-nine reinforcements. Over the next couple of days they were working on a line to G.H.Q. and at Brigade Head Quarters erecting shelters. The 18th of April saw them working on the defences in the area; erecting wire around Voormezeele along with breastwork* and knife rests** at the Brasserie (stores) dump in anticipation of a German offensive. A day later work also begins on machine gun emplacements in Voormezeele.
|The Village of Voormezeele|
On the 22nd, the day Percy was wounded, the Company had beguin work on the Voormezeele – Kruisstraat switch.*** The unit diary notes:
22nd April 1918 Nos 1, 2 and 4 and 1st Lincs continued work. No3 and 12/B NF commenced work on VOORMEZEELE – KRUISSTRAATHOER switch.
Lt GG McLean, 1 sapper and 3 attached infantry (1st Lincs) wounded.
The wounded sapper mentioned is Uncle Percy, but it gives no detail as to how the men were wounded. It is possible that the men were wounded by enemy snipers, known to be active at the time.
After Percy was taken to hospital in Boulogne, the Company continued working on defences such as breastworks across the roads, as the Germans began heavy shelling on the area. Voormezeele fell into German hands at the end of April and was retaken the following September.
|No. 13 General Hospital Boulogne|
So, back to Uncle Percy and what he did next….
*Breastworks were above ground trenches, like a defensive wall & usually used on boggy ground.
**Knife rests were wooden supports for barbed wire.
***A switch trench connected two trenches that ran parallel to the front line. They were used in areas where there was a risk of the enemy overcoming the main trench and exposing it to attack from the sides. The switch line would protect the flanks by becoming a front line trench.
Picture Credit: http://voiceseducation.org/content/world-war-i-ypres
Picture Credit: https://mitchamwarmemorial.wordpress.com/tag/percy-young/