Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Scott diary, 23 October 1917-27 May 1918 with letter 5 November 1918 re experiences in France and the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918 / John Philipson Scott
On Active Service With The British Expeditionary Force
23rd Oct 1917 Left Godford for Southampton changed at Salisbury arrived at the boat Wharf about 12.30 o’clock, had a fairly good crossing and arrived at Le Havre that night.
24th Oct 1917 Marched up to the base camp where we stayed for three days, were finally medically examined equipted with rifle bayonet, gas helmets, ammunition and after going through the gas chambers left for Castre on the night of the 27th .
27th Oct 1917 It was frightfully wet and we had a long march of 12 miles to the train in which we were captives for 24 hours.
28th Oct 1917 Arrived at Castre camp. Fritz was bombing and was not altogether friendly towards our entry into France. We stayed here until the 2nd of Nov. as the battalion was coming out of the line after the Ypres stretch for a long promised spell.
2nd Nov 1917 We motored from here to a place called De Lettes and then had another long push to Eruy St Julien where I officially joined up the 45th Bn.
15th Nov 1917 From the 2nd to the 15th Nov we spent most of the time cleaning up and drill parades in the morning.+ sports in the afternoons and on the 15th we started an 8 days route march passed through Bomy and Fruges, arrived at Russeauville and billeted 15th Kilos
16th Nov 1917
Left for Wambercourt a distance of 10 kilos.
17th Nov 1917 Left for Torlefontaine, 12 kilos, plenty of apples and the country very pretty. The apples helped eke out scanty rations.
18th Nov 1917 Left for the Somme region arrived Fontaine –S- Maye billeted 12 kilos. 19th Nov 1917 Resting here a day & leave granted to Crecy. Saw the cross and old battlefield. Had a feed of steak and chips. very hard to get. Also plenty of apples.
20th Nov 1917 Left Crecy for Hautvilliers, 10 kilos.
21st Nov 1917 Left for Frauleu, 16 kilos dinner on route.
22nd Nov 1917 Left for destination St. Quentin arrived & allocated good billets 15 kilos Walked round village which is a fair size and close to the Channel.
23rd Nov /2nd Dec Time taken up with usual parades inspections sports. Leave granted to Ault a lovely little spot on sea coast. Leave
also granted to Eu and Freport two most lovely places.
2nd Dec 1917 Left for divisional school at Oust Mares. Rented bedroom with Cliff Bingham & then we went into Em for tea at a Belgian place. A sort of 99th rate eating house where we could get a feed for nix. Sweet are the uses of adversity.
3rd Dec 1917 Left for the next village Marest got another bedroom with "Bing". Village very modern. English style. Built by Sunlight people .Nice people .Rue de Fichen was the name of our swagger abode .Factory now making ammunitions.
4th Dec 1917 Hurried recall to Battalion packing up for forward area returned to St. Quentin.
5th Dec 1917 Left for Eu and entrained for Peronne area Amiens and Albert. Arrived destination about midnight, had a drink of tea spent the next 48 hours on Peronne Station unloading [indecipherable] etc from trucks.
7th Dec 1917 Left for Haut Allames. Firtz attacking heavily at Cambrai, all the country around is spoilt. Peronne and villages around are in ruins .Peronne once been a large town. Billeted in huts here out side of the "once was" village.
29th Dec 1917 From the 7th to 29th Dec. we had our usual parades taking ridges and stunts every day. Was sent into Peronne for a week on salvage work and on the 29th was warned for the re -assembly of the Div. School. At Haut Allames which continued until 6th January when
6th Jan 1918 we returned to the Battalion. The weather all during our stay up here wasintensely cold.
8th Jan 1918 Left H.A. marched to Peronne & entrained for Bailleul 14 hours in train-had slight collision one truck smashed..
9th Jan 1918 Arrived Bailleul detrained and marched to Meteren .Snowing very heavily, was on guard during the train journey and things altogether looked blue.
10th Jan 1918 Left Meteren for Gadewaersvelde five miles & entrained for the front. Left train near Brasserie & marched to tunnels at Spoil Bank & rested oh blessed rest.
11th Jan 1918 Remained in the tunnel until after lunch & Battalion left for front line.
18th Jan 1918 From the 11th to 18th January was in front line in reserves. Was in a pill box when in the line on company headquarters. Had trench fever very badly.
18th Jan 1918 Was warned for Divisional School again at Scherpenburg and for the first fortnight was still very bad with fever but picked up again.
28th Jan 1918 Walked into Bailleul to get something for Leonie’s 21st birthday but only managed to get a lace collar hand made. It was certainly very dainty.
23rd Feb 1918 Rejoined battalion at Parralt Camp after finishing the 4 weeks course at the school and passing fairly well visited La Clytte & Looe etc.
6th March 1918 From 23rd Feb to 6th March was doing fatique right up to the front line at spoil bank & left on this day for Bailleul. Billeted in a very clean barn on a respectable sort of farm as farms go over here. People very kind and always willing to give one hot water to wash in as it was very cold first thing. Paid one or two visits to Bailleul while here, we were a mile or so out of the town and also saw the smart set.
25th March 1918 Ordered to the front again to assist on the Somme. During the last three weeks Bailleul was being shelled heavily and bombed at night. People forced to evacuate. It was a very sad sight to see them leaving their homes. While here I was on the telephone in the orderly room and on the Sunday before leaving was warned for a school but owing to the German offensive starting again all schools were broken up. Motored to Arras stayed at Bailleulmont with Scots Guards.
26th March 1918 Left Bailleulmont for Albert sector 9.30pm marched all night distance (33 kilos 22 miles) fighting order arrived at Senlis 7am. Very weary tired footsore shoulders aching. Rested for two hours & then went up to Mellencourt.
26th March 1918 Fritz shelling very heavily. The people had only left the village that day & we saw the last of them go. Meals were left on the tables & on the fire. Dig in and that night up to Deinacourt. Here we stayed a day or so. I forget the exact time in reserves. Then we went up to the front line and were in an outpost for 24 hours. Fritz holding one end of this trench and we the other. After that we came back to the front line & here I spent Good Friday, Saturday & Easter Sunday. That night we were relieved by another Company & took up another portion of the Front Line in front of Dernacourt which was no mans land.
Fill in later.
6th April 1918 Relieved by 2nd Division 6^ Brig and marched to Baizeux where we billeted in barn very wet weary tired and hungry.
7th April 1918 A few H.V. Shells came over fairly close. Left for Querrien a long march, billeted stayed here until the
10th April 1918 when we left for Cardiuette about six miles - here we stayed for 2 days and on the
12th April 1918 marched into Frechencourt 6 kilos .Lovely day- arrived in billets.
13th April 1918 Left for La Houssoye 4 kilos, billeted. Here we stayed until the 21st. Many air raids by Fritz and the Madonna from Albert Cathedral fell on the 17th by Fritz shell fire.
21st April 1918 Left for La Houssoye for Querrien 4 kilos. While here saw Tom Holt several times & stayed here until the 27th of April when the Battalion went up the line. I was left out with the reserves. Villiers- Brettoneux was the front they went to.
27th April 1918 Reserves left for Allonville and were camped in the wood there until the 6th of May when we had a long march to
6th May 1918 Berteancourt. This was a fairly nice place and a good way back almost out of [indecipherable] of guns unless the bombard was very heavy. The reserves were called up but I still remained out.
12th May 1918 Left for the transport lines. Marched from Berteuucourt to Vauxy spent one night in tents & on the
13th May 1918 Reached T lines at La Mont & stayed there until the
22nd May 1918 when we left for Amiens where the Battalion joined us early on Wednesday morning
27th May 1918 Still at Amiens in the Rat House.
3rd Aus. Aux. Hospital Dartford 5.11.18.
My dear Folks,
In my letter to you yesterday I promised you an account of the Battle of Amiens which I was in before finally being evacuated through sickness. I will describe as best I can what I saw, how one feels during the nine days with the Battalion in the great advance commencing on the 8th.August.
Well we had been out of the line for a few days spell - they were only very few: but at least one had a chance to wash & ;cleanup generally & feel more like a civilized being again. One morning after being only on parade an hour or so word came out calling all companies in – our hearts sank within us because everyone knew what it meant again – that this time something very big was in view. The rest of that day was spent in
preparing packs stored away and a general inspection by the C/O which was very trying. We were two or three days en route marching until our feet were blistered and backs broken in the heat of the day although we started at 5 A.M. We camped in a wood for two nights & finally landed in the dead of the night in the reserve trench outside a village called Hamelet where we took up our position for two days before the eighth and prepared for the advance on that day. Hamelet was about 3/4 of a mile away & our cookers were there so we had a long way to carry the dixies etc. It was absolutely in ruins and was being shelled continuously & whilst we were in the reserves we had some heavy barrages gas & otherwise.
First let me describe that last night march before arriving at Hamelet. It was
a Sunday if I remember rightly. The night was one of inky blackness -you just followed the man in front of you if you could see him or feel him -often you felt him rather to much as you bumped into him often you heard him too. This march though moderately short was one of the most hellish I did because chiefly owing to the darkness & amp; the distance we had to go nobody seemed quite to know the way & we would go on about 10 feet quite- a spurt then go on -stop again. We were all pretty tired and done up & the constant stopping and bumping nearly drove one silly. We marched through corn fields and on all sorts of roads and the traffic !!! Sometimes one had to stroll along in single file- sometimes tear along singly to get out of the road of the wagons etc. There was a continuous never ending stream of guns of all kinds
and shapes, tanks standing ready for the advance -provender and ammunition wagons pouring up- thousands of men crawling like beetles in between, slipping in the mud (it had been raining heavily) tripping over old barbed wire entanglements -falling into old and various shell holes. This was the traffic going up to say nothing of the traffic coming down. Men shouting swearing doing all sorts of things but the right thing. Such is the scene on a road and through shattered villages as we advance with our preparations for a bigger move. At last we got into our reserve trench, dead tired wet through & in the day time were under direct observation by Jerry. It continued cold and wet & everyone was cheerfully miserable. We were here for two nights and
made ourselves as comfortable as possible. The trenches were cut in chalky ground about 5 feet deep and by spreading ones water proof sheet over the top one made a little shelter. But it was too wet so I went down to the village secured an old door some pieces of wood & did the best possible to keep the rain off got some cover & laid on that. Then we sigs had to lay a wire to headquarters & make a dug out for the phone. The time spent in reserves was given up to preparing. I made certain of a bath & shave because I knew it would be the last for many days. Went down into an old ruined cottage in the village secured a bucket & there performed my last ablutions - occasionally being interrupted by other soldiers prowling around for the same purpose whilst in a state of - (well with nothing on).
Every man was dished up with 220 rounds of am’n, second water bottle, rations for 4 days - it was rumoured we were advancing to Peronne. Two mills bombs two smoke bombs, 5 sand bags and a few sundry other things. This is the time when you throw everything away soap towel anything possible to lighten your burdens. Blankets- each man had one- taken away - puttees taken off handed in and sandbags wrapped round our legs. The padres go round and say a few words and prayers over you - and your O/C reads instructions what you are to do, when you start, a certain time after zero - nobody ever knows what zero time is – the objective you take - the time you have to take it in and by. Repeats some bunkum
from some big brass cap-commending you as a Battalion on your valour in previous battles, your duty to your King and Country & the necessity of fighting your enemies covering yourself with endless glory and then with ignominy and of course incidentally mentions than many will be killed and wounded etc etc and generally puts the wind up you.
In big stunts like this wounded men are left for the time being - the mans’ rifle is stuck into the ground & his tin hat on top to show he is wounded and also indicates to the tanks that they must not go over him or make mince meat or sausage roll.
Well the morning of the 8th - I was awake on the telephone and somewhere about 5.30 a.m. one heard a sort of huge spit & hiss which was taken up all along the line for miles by hundreds and hundreds
of our batteries. We had been watching them take up their positions take up their positions in the dark & amp; then they were camouflaged. Jerry never had the slightest hint. The guns just roared and roared –the barrage had opened- hell let loose and we knew the first wave had gone over. It was just lovely. Then shortly afterwards we were called together - every man donned his equipment, gear etc and were lined up to start off on our journey of attack. There were only three sigs left as one (Ernest Horsefall a friend of mine) was gassed the morning before in a barrage Jerry put up, and in addition to our other war paint we had a telephone Lucas lamp and bag to carry. I should here tell you that the morning was very misty and damp and as we advanced through cornfields now slowly growing into ground riddled
with Jerry’s shells it got worse and worse until you could only see a few feet in front of you it was most uncanny as the shells were bursting all around one. The progress was slow, the ground very hard to walk over then after we had gone 5 miles or so the fogg lifted & the shells were not so bad as Jerry was so taken by surprise that he had started to retreat with great haste. It was about now that we saw the first prisoners brought down, both they and our men being wounded & the look on the mens faces was something to stay in ones memory for ever. It was here that we got our orders to advance with fixed bayonets. What a sight met our gaze as the fogg lifted, prisoners pouring down in hundreds on either side in front and
behind soldiers advancing never have I seen so many men on the move at one time. It was indeed glorious and one felt some good was being done. There were dead lying all around though none of ours thank God for that. One German I saw made me laugh. He had evidently been having something to eat & was lying dead with a string of dry sausages in his hands raised up to his face. We had to take up a position at a certain hour 500 yards to the rear of the 3rd Div. who had hopped over first. That is 500 yards behind their new objective & got there two minutes within time quite a flucke and they were digging in madly & then we went through them & took up where they left off. We kept on advancing until 12 o’clock mid-day under our creeping barrage
and at times we had to stop as we were getting in front of our fire. Oh the wonderfulness of the organization of the British attack simply knocked all words of praise out of one. You could simply feel it – it permeated the whole atmosphere and was splendid. One rejoiced in it exceedingly & what a difference between it and the fall back in March & April when there was nothing behind one and all felt then was lack and disorganization. There were tanks to each Battalion and they just [indecipherable] on through barbed wire entanglements and made poor Fritzy feel blue I guess. The aeroplanes were just thick like flocks of birds & they signalled to the artillery to length range as we went on. They kept dropping ammunition to us as we progressed & food was sent the same way if required.
Then of course we had Jerry’s planes over us as we advanced firing on us with machine guns. Many air fights we saw in those first brief hours. "(Fountain pen ceased to fount" temporary insanity) Finally we got to one objective, prisoners pouring down- didn’t one laugh as we hunted them out of dugouts salted them for souvenirs (personally have no time for this) but what things some men got even salted dead men – well dead men tell no tales even though they are Germans. Watches, pistols, field glasses, [indecipherable] helmets caps all sorts of things, cigars cigarettes wines etc & I don’t know what else. The tanks continued to [indecipherable] on their way other men went through us again & that night we went up to support them and stayed several days. I was on the telephone when the message came through giving the approximate
numbers of prisoners, guns, machine guns, motors, trains, canteens taken on our sector alone in that first day. The poor Tommies were on our left and the French away down the on right I think we were holding a brigade front and this was the first time that the whole five Australian Divisions have been together in France. The Tommies had a frightfully tough battle it was damned hard luck on them and we were held up at a place called Chapelly. We could look down and see the village smoking away it was infested with German machine guns. This meant we also came in for [indecipherable] firing all the rest of the day. We had now taken up our abode in a 1914 trench. After a few days we came only through miles of desolation for a brief spell
and then a long night march again and into reserves at Harbonnieres. Then the night they were to go up I was evacuated sick and one must be nearly dead before being sent out of the line.
The most realistic of all the fancy pictures one sees that has come across my war path were those marches along the roads and fields packed every inch with traffic.
I had three narrow goes here hardly anyone
didn’t have was without a near squeak.
The worst one of the three was a falling nose cap I think from one of our own anties. I yelled out what was that that whizzed passed my face & at the same time stooped to pick it up. Let it drop with a yell It was red hot. The chap behind remarked "that was a near go John" I laughed yes it was
but on second thoughts wont take it away as a souvenir its rather hot and heavy. It was a near go and would have smashed my face to pieces if it had been an inch closer. All this little story is very old now and we have advanced miles and miles since then .One is jolly glad to be out of it. Yet at the same time whilst never wishing to see the line again as the news filters through to hospital of the men you have been friendly with and stood side by side for months or perhaps into years ,that they have been killed, ones heart fills with sadness and one has a hankering to be back over there with the boys once more. Whatever one may be in private live when you are in the line facing the same enemies near death & other horrors
you are absolutely one, and one gets momentary glimpses of that truer and greater democracy which is gradually opening out to solve all human problems. Hoping you are not bored to tears. With much love to all John.
[Transcribed by Margaret Russell and Adrian Bicknell for the State Library of New South Wales]