WELCOME

The date is August 1914. The British Expeditionary Force is in France and You're in the Royal Field Artillery. You're riding alongside one of the battery's gun limbers on its way to the assigned position on the east side of Mons, Belgium. This begins your journey into the Hell they called World War One. To purchase this historical memoir go to https://createspace.com/3649268

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Second Battle of Ypres


Allied force casualties: 70,000 killed, wounded or missing
German casualties: 35,000 killed, wounded or missing


The Second Battle of Ypres could be considered as a resumption of the first battle, since weather conditions and the coming of winter had curtailed the continuation of fighting. Although sporadic fighting continued throughout the winter, neither side launched a major offensive.
   The German Army was planning a major attack when the weather improved in April. This would be the only major German offensive on the Western Front in 1915. Some historians believe that the primary reason for this offensive was to distract the Allied army’s attention away from the Eastern Front.
   Perhaps the Second Battle of Ypres is best remembered for the introduction of the German Army’s newest weapon, chlorine gas, than for any strategic achievements. Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it flows along the ground following the contour of the land. Upon reaching a low area, such as a trench, it descends into the trench filling it with gas.
   The gas was first used on the Eastern Front during the winter of 1915. It proved to be of limited success because the sub-zero temperatures impacted the dissipation of the gas. This problem didn’t exist with the warm April temperatures of the Western Front, making the results strikingly different.
   Since The Hague Treaty of 1899 prohibited the use of projectiles containing poisonous gas, the Germans calculated that they were not in violation if they delivered the gas via cylinders. On April 22, 1915, the enemy soldiers strategically staged, then opened, the valves on fifty-seven hundred canisters of gas. The canisters were positioned so that the wind would carry the gas towards the Allied lines.
   The enemy initiated the attack by launching a massive bombardment of the Allied trenches. During the shelling, the gas was released with the wind carrying it towards its intended target. Since it was common for an attack to be preceded by heavy shelling, the Allied forces were in their trenches waiting to repel the anticipated attack. The bombardment produced dark, heavy clouds of smoke that prevented the Allies from spotting the approaching gas until it was too late.
   The Allied troops were expecting to see waves of enemy soldiers crossing the battlefield. Instead they saw a low, greenish-yellow mist rolling towards them. The gas cloud permeated four miles of trenches, affecting some ten thousand soldiers. It took only about ten minutes for half of the exposed troops to die.
   The German Army hadn’t gauged the potential effectiveness of the gas. As a result, they neglected to have sufficient reserve troops in place to fully take advantage of the wide opening in the Allied line. Although they capture a significant quantity of land, they lost most of it when the allies launched a counterattack.
   Attempting to capitalize on the successful, introductory release of the gas, the Germans repeated the process two days later. On April 24, chlorine gas was used against the unsuspecting Canadian troops. Fortunately, the quick-thinking Canadians used urine-soaked handkerchiefs to cover their mouths and noses, lessening the impact of the gas.
   With the resulting success of the April 22nd gas release, the advancing Germans expected to witness the annihilation of extensive numbers of Canadian troops, instead they encountered a defiant Canadian force standing its ground. Fierce fighting ensued, causing heavy losses on both sides.
   By the end of May, after staging several persistent attacks, the enemy had gained additional high ground. As a result, it forced the allied forces to consolidate their positions closer to the city of Ypres. After many attempts to capture the city had failed, the enemy retaliated with an unrelenting bombardment. By the end of the war, the entire city of Ypres was reduced to piles of rubble.
   The Second Battle of Ypres cost the lives of sixty-nine thousand Allied soldiers and thirty-five thousand German troops. The significant contrast in the number of Allied deaths can be directly attributed to the Germans’ use of chlorine gas.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 28-29 Second Ypres


April 28th

Went into action on the edge of a wood on the left of Ypres, this seemed more quiet than the place we had vacated. In the afternoon we ran our wire to a point for observing just over the canal. Everywhere about here was a scene of desolation, half starved cattle roaming about, pigs, and all sorts of farm commodities; many lying about dead. The French Infantry held this front and just in rear of the trenches were 4 of their Howitzers, which showed how far the enemy had advanced. We stopped to observe some big shell bursting near, a kind we had never seen before and promptly named it “Black Jack” on account of the great volume of black smoke they gave off. While we were watching one burst directly over the heads of a few Frenchman, they scattered and I didn’t think any were harmed. We went back, shells of large caliber were continually passing right over the guns, but only one burst near, about 20 yards from where I had made my dugout, at the foot of a large tree – it did no harm.
The night passed uneventful, except for the continual shelling and during night, two batteries of French 7.5’s took up position about 50 yards in our rear.
April 29th

Was impossible to fire from observation, as we could not get to observing point and the wire was broken in many places by the continual shelling. We fired by map and wireless from aeroplane – hostile aeroplanes were very active and one must have spotted us for they gave it to us warm in the afternoon and evening. The officers had made a bivouac beneath a large tree, a few yards on my left. A few shell, and they were real coal-boxes, burst very near. They moved over to the left and lucky they did, a few minutes later a shell hit the tree and snapped it off like a match. Other shells followed and we had to leave the guns for a while. When it was over, we went back, the officers huts had been blown to pieces, two coats that hung on a tree were absolutely in ribbons, almost everything there was irrevocably ruined. One of them had been sitting on a box of biscuits; this box was blown yards away and not even a biscuit that was inside remained. The tin box was like a piece of twisted tin. Everything was almost unrecognizable.
Dowling one of the servants got both arms badly splintered - continually shelling roads to our rear and right all night.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What History Doesn't Teach Us


As the centennial of WWI draws closer, I wonder why bother with documenting history, at lease history of wars. Great scholars dissect every political and military decision made that caused war, how the battles were fought, and how it ended.  Over man's existence we've gathered great volumes of data, but we learn nothing from it.

History has proven numerous times that one society can not rule the world. Some have conquered vast quantities of land as well as the residing population, but in the end they fail to keep it. Yet, through out history a person rises to power, convinces himself along with his followers, that he can lead them to victory over those that oppose him.

Kaiser  Wilhelm, thought that he could take over Europe, convinced his people that he could, in the end he fell from power, left millions of his citizens dead, destroyed their economy, all on a belief that he could succeed where all others had failed.

I often wonder why would people follow someone like that? What a great salesman! Would you follow someone that said they can go to war, defeat other countries, knowing that history demonstrates it will cost the lives of millions of people - sons and daughters, bankrupt the country, but ignore all that and say Hell yes, lets do it. Then twenty years later fall for the same shell game.

At times I think aggression is part of man's makeup, why else would he continue to do the same thing over and over. Perhaps it is a way to control population growth. Without war to thin out the population, think of how many millions or billions of people would be on this earth.

I've said my piece  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PROLOGUE


The Great Promise


On a balmy North Carolina spring day of 2009, I sat at my kitchen table, swamped by the conglomeration of memorabilia amassed by my deceased paternal grandparents. The tattered box of paper relics had been transferred to me via my older sister, having been previously stored away and forgotten in various family closets for more than fifty years.
   My objective was to find my grandfather’s World War One journal. Among the contents of the box were an English marriage license, a couple of cookbooks, a boyhood bible, newspaper clippings, and several military documents. Eventually, I uncovered a small, brown ledger; printed on the front cover was “Army Book 152 Correspondence Book (Field Service)”.
   I gently lifted the journal from the box and held it in my hands. For a brief time I just stared at it, reveling in the moment. I’ll never forget the emotional sequence that followed. At first I was overcome by an exhilaration comparable to one might expect when uncovering a treasure chest or embarking upon an adventurous journey. This elation became intermingled with awe for the piece of history I was holding. However, these sentiments were soon overshadowed by the riveting realization that I was holding my GRANDFATHER’S journal; a journal written astutely in his own fluent, cursive hand, almost one-hundred years ago. The pages were yellowed and the penciled script faded (figure 1). Even so, I was still able to follow a narrative that proved to be both insightful and compelling.
   Thoroughly convinced of the value of this documentation, I aspired to transcribe the journal for other members of my family to enjoy, as well as to concretely preserve its contents for generations to follow. Countless hours were devoted to this undertaking — deciphering the colloquial and military language of a British soldier written a century earlier.
   Progressing through the journal, I was able to transcribe my grand- father’s experiences through late spring of 1915, following the second battle of Ypres. Knowing that the war continued through 1918, I was curious as to the reason why the entries suddenly ended. What changes in his military service might have taken place? How did he spend the remainder of the war? So, once again, I dove into the contents of our family carton searching for answers.
   I was able to discover through other saved documents that, due to his specific skills and expertise, Frederick George Coxen had been as- signed to other areas of responsibility for the duration of the war. None of this information had been revealed to me, or to my siblings, prior to this point.
   By unraveling the poignantly historical threads of my grandfather’s war years through the examination of his personal relics, I was able to sculpt together a more complete replica of the remarkably complex man he was.
   I could not have anticipated that further excavation into the box contents would have had such a dramatic effect on the next few years of my life. Tucked away in the depths of all the memorabilia was a more recent correspondence of my grandfather’s, typed on onion skin paper in 1945. The letter was addressed to no particular person or group; it just contained a title –
“I Had A Dream The Other Night”

It was one of those hazy, disjointed dreams that cause you on awakening to try to connect it in sequence, and leave you greatly perturbed in mind - yes, and in spirit.
It seems that I was sitting at a table - it might have been after a good dinner, for I felt quite satisfied with everything, and very complacent.
I leaned back in my chair, picked up a glass from the table, and was enjoying the odor of its contents - most likely an after-dinner brandy.
I seemed to hear a noise and looked up, and there stood three of my old buddies, “Pudgie” Taylor, Bobbie Glue, and George Bramwell. I seemed to become elated with a supreme sense of happiness, just as if I was suddenly transported into a kind of world hitherto unknown to me.
It appeared that we greeted each other with an enthusiasm beyond what we humans experience, and then it seemed that we all became rigid as Pudgie filled up glasses for each one of us.
We apparently stood a long time in silence, and then Pudgie spoke, just one of his utterances that I had heard so many times, “Here’s to you, Old China” (in modern parlance:“Here’s to you, old pal”). “May we all do the job together.”
Then everything grew hazy, as it does in dreams, and I woke up. In the few moments it took to collect my senses, I was at first excited, then let down, “I have been dreaming.” Memory took me over the years and thoughts drifted sadly.

Pudgie, Bobby, George, and I were old pals. A couple of days before the battle of Mons in August 1914, we promised each other that should one or more of us get back, we, or he, would call on the family of those who perished and explain how and when “it happened.”
Within a few weeks of that pledge George was killed beside me at the Marne, and died in my arms. Pudgie got his at Ypres, repairing a telephone wire. Bobby’s legs left his torso when I tried to pull him from our blown - in dugout, also at Ypres.
Since that enlightened dream the thought has been with me, “May we all do the job together.” Pudgie meant, in forming that pact just prior to when the shooting started, that we all GET BACK TOGETHER.

Well, we didn’t! Just one of the four did and that one failed to carry out the promise. For in the more than four years that the war continued, so much happened; time has gradually softened the memory, which is now one among so many.

Throughout the years I have had a great many dreams or mild nightmares fighting that war all over again, and have so often thought, “Was it worthwhile?” We positively know now, those of my generation who are left, together with the younger generation who are now engaged in completing the job more clearly how to see to it that it will be completed the RIGHT WAY this time.

I am wondering now, was that “visit” of my old buddies who have been lying in Flanders Fields for nearly thirty years, a reproach or a reminder? I don’t know, but it has certainly caused my criticism of myself to assert itself. Were they not telling me that the job has to be done together?

Were they not asking, “Are we all united in our cause?” Were they telling me to do all I could to help COMPLETE the job which they and millions of others died for? It is all too complex for me to answer, but I do know one thing, and that very definitely, I HAVE NOT DONE MY BEST! I have made no sacrifice that could, in the smallest measure, be compared with that of the boys who are now going through that hell that I know so well.

Sure, I have done and am doing war work, getting well paid for it too. Sure, I have given time to selling war bonds, and bought some too. But I have to admit that I often get sore at the way the war is being run, like all the damn dumb things that make it cost so much, at the cockeyed forms that I have to fill in, and the taxes I have to pay.
I get mad too when I read and hear of strikes, when my gas is running low. I criticize about everything, EXCEPT TO PROMOTE THE ALL IMPORTANT FACT THE BOYS (as we fondly call them) ARE GOING THROUGH HELL AND DYING FOR FIFTY BUCKS A MONTH.

Dying for fifty bucks a month, that’s what it amounts to, unless we of the home front do our part to back the fighting front, with every ounce of our individual strength, in dollars, work, and brains.

If we do not (even at the thought I would scream to high heaven), it will mean, as it did last time, veterans of war would be transformed into peddlers, aye, even beggars, yes, even worse, paupers, together with general chaos.

The question of “Why and for what did my old pals give their lives?” is still unanswered. May God grant that World War Two mold a different world than did World War One. We must see to it, or World War Three will develop. The irony of the thought of world war defined by numerals!

For a few days my dream sort of worried me. But I am grateful now, because it gave me reasons to do a little more thinking, the result of which gives me determination to try in every way to do a little more. Candidly, there is not much I can do in comparison to the sacrifice others are making, but I can and will work harder, count to ten before I start bellyaching, con- serve, and save (that word “save” is right up my alley) for I can really do that by BUYING WAR BONDS TO THE UTMOST.

From now on I am going to ask myself a question very often, the question being “What did I do today for the one who may die for me tonight?”The answer, “I bought an extra bond.”
Thanks for the visit, George, Bobby, and Pudgie; may you forever rest in peace, together with those who are joining you now
By the Grace of God, and our efforts, perhaps we can make sure that my grandsons will not have to make the sacrifice you, and thousands who are now joining you, were called upon to make.

It took a while to digest the content of the letter and even longer to comprehend its full meaning. I started to imagine at what point in time these young men entered into their pact. The setting could have been on a train enroute to the Belgian frontier, or during the long march to their first engagement in Mons. Perhaps it was the trepidation from hearing the first barrage of heavy artillery prior to battle that drove the moment. Whenever or wherever it took place, these chums felt compelled to formulate a promise to each other and or a vow to notify one another’s family in the event that he, or they, became a fatality of war. No one will know the emotional rationale behind the promise made that day; nevertheless, the letter does reveal that, as the lone survivor, my grandfather neglected to honor their covenant.
   This letter testifies to the fact that Frederick G. Coxen, although very grateful for surviving the war, remained haunted by that fervent agreement made among friends one devised by na├»ve, untested warriors, who could never have imagined the agonizing inferno they were about to face. My grandfather’s dream epitomized the residual guilt he carried all those years, surmising that he had disappointed his chums.
   Upon reviewing this revealing personal confession, I immediately became determined to fulfill my grandfather’s promise, to locate and inform the descendants of those fallen soldiers.
   Having now become acquainted with his war exploits, I can only imagine the terror and hardship my grandfather faced each day. By sharing his journal with you, along with the aspects of my search for these three families, you may come to understand the compelling reasons for committing myself to this quest, as well as to ascertain the likely motives behind leaving his promise unfulfilled.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

First Ypres - different perspective


First Ypres 1914 Graveyard of the Old Contemptibles by David Lomas

I thought this book was well written and the author breaks down the First Battle of Ypres into four individual, yet related battles: Battle of La Bassee (Oct 12-Nov 2); Battle of Armentieres (Oct 13- Nov2nd); Battle of Messines (Oct 12th - Nov 2nd) and Battle of Ypres (Oct 19th - Nov 22nd) 

This made sense, because battles were fought north and south of Ypres. The northern battles were Germany's attempt to break through the allies line and take Ypres. After being pushed back after each attack, the Germans launched an all out winner take all effort against Ypres. 

Lomas described the landscape around Ypres as shallow saucer. The rim of the saucer is a ridge that runs from Messines towards the north east to Langemarck and Bixchoote. the town of Ypres is in the center, so the army that held the high ground could control the area with their artillery. The high elevations on the ridge looked out over the Flanders plain which allowed artillery to select and take out targets with great accuracy. In essence, the Battle of Ypres was a series of battles fought to control the ridge, and the ridge made up the infamous Ypres salient. 

A good read with a different perspective. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April 26th Journal





April 26th
The battery started to march about 8:30 a.m., halting outside the town of Vlamertinghe. As the battery remained outside of the town, George, Collins, and I went with the CO to reconnoiter a position for the battery.
As we neared Ypres we could hear the hellish bombardment going on. While galloping along the road we witnessed dead horses, overturned Lorries,15 and discarded equipment along both sides of the road. Hundreds of wounded were being carried down, or seen hobbling along, the road the best way they could.
As we directed our horses through the town, some disturbing sights met our eyes. It seemed that along every few yards of the road there was something dead, or bits and pieces of men and horses that had been blown apart during the bombardment.
Shells were still absolutely falling everywhere. The town was an inferno. It seemed that every second man we met was wounded. We said to each other, “I reckon we’re on the last lap of this journey.”
We found a likely position where a few old branches and some dugouts were still intact, about a half mile to the rear of St. Jean. Shells were bursting right over us, so we continued to search for a more favorable position.Yet everywhere we looked seemed to be the same.The captain wasn’t comfortable with the area for there was practically no cover remaining.

We went a little closer to the town where a Canadian Officer stopped us and asked what we were wanting. When we explained that we were looking for a spot to bring the battery into position, he said, “For God’s sakes, don’t bring them here; this corner is hell itself. Get out of it as quick as you can.” Shells were dropping all around us. It seemed astounding that none of us had gotten hit.
Afterwards I learned that this part of the town was called “Dead Man’s Corner”. It deserved the name, for many dead were there about.
We left the Canadian and returned to our prior position.We decided it would have to suffice for all places seemed to be equally vulnerable.
While the remainder of the battery was approaching, we started to lay out a wire to a likely observation spot. George took a couple of chaps to start from the observation station while Collins, Billison, and I ran wire from the battery position through the village of St. Jean. We managed to reach the village unharmed, but like everywhere else, it was being heavily shelled.
I was jumping over a small stream that was by the church when a large shell burst almost on us.We took shelter behind a building.We could not move an inch due to all the shrapnel bullets flying about. It was miserable, for we had to remain there for an hour as shells continued to fall.
I noticed that just a few yards from us an artillery man and his horse were lying dead. Nearby was a smashed motor ambulance with the driver burned to a cinder. The ambulance’s petrol tank must have ignited when it was hit by a shell. A naive from one of our battalions lay dead in a ditch. At the end of the building there were several other corpses.
After a time the shelling abated a little, allowing us to start moving again. I met up with George, who had been in much the same terrible show as we had gone through. I was thirsty and thankfully managed to get a drink of water.
As we made our way back, we didn’t get far before the shelling started again. We ran for our previous little shelter and gained it just in time. Shells were bursting very near and I asked Collins, “What is that strong, stinking smell?” My eyes were watering and we all three began coughing.We decided to chance it and go anywhere away from where we were.
After an exciting half-hour we got to the guns, but by that time I felt very sick. Afterwards we learned from an officer that it was due to the gas shells the Germans were using.

Monday, April 15, 2013

This Day April 15,1915 Second Battle of Ypres



The Second Battle of Ypres could be considered as a resumption of the first battle, since weather conditions and the coming of winter had curtailed the continuation of fighting. Although sporadic fighting continued throughout the winter, neither side launched a major offensive.
The German Army was planning a major attack when the weather improved in April. This would be the only major German offensive on the Western Front in 1915. Some historians believe that the primary reason for this offensive was to distract the Allied army’s attention away from the Eastern Front.
Perhaps the Second Battle of Ypres is best remembered for the introduction of the German Army’s newest weapon, chlorine gas, than for any strategic achievements. Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it flows along the ground following the contour of the land. Upon reaching a low area, such as a trench, it descends into the trench filling it with gas.
The gas was first used on the Eastern Front during the winter of
1915. It proved to be of limited success because the sub-zero temperatures impacted the dissipation of the gas.This problem didn’t exist with the warm April temperatures of the Western Front, making the results strikingly different.
Since the Hague Treaty of 1899 prohibited the use of projectiles containing poisonous gas, the Germans calculated that they were not in violation if they delivered the gas via cylinders. On April 22, 1915, the enemy soldiers strategically staged, then opened, the valves on fifty-seven hundred canisters of gas.The canisters were positioned so that the wind would carry the gas towards the Allied lines.
The enemy initiated the attack by launching a massive bombardment of the Allied trenches. During the shelling, the gas was released with the wind carrying it towards its intended target. Since it was common for an attack to be preceded by heavy shelling, the Allied forces were in their trenches waiting to repel the anticipated attack.The bombardment produced dark, heavy clouds of smoke that prevented the Allies from spotting the approaching gas until it was too late.
The Allied troops were expecting to see waves of enemy soldiers crossing the battlefield. Instead they saw a low, greenish-yellow mist rolling towards them. The gas cloud permeated four miles of trenches, affecting some ten thousand soldiers. It took only about ten minutes for half of the exposed troops to die.
The German Army hadn’t gauged the potential effectiveness of the gas.As a result, they neglected to have sufficient reserve troops in place. Without the additional troop strength, they were unable to take full advantage of the wide opening in the Allied line. Although the German troops captured a significant amount of ground, without sufficient re- serves to hold it, much of it was lost when the Allied army launched a counterattack.
Attempting to capitalize on the successful, introductory release of the gas, the Germans repeated the process two days later. On April 24, chlorine gas was used against the unsuspecting Canadian troops. Fortunately, the quick-thinking Canadians used urine-soaked handkerchiefs to cover their mouths and noses, lessening the impact of the gas.
The Germans visualized the annihilation of extensive numbers of Allied troops, instead they encountered a defiant Canadian force standing its ground. Fierce fighting ensued, causing heavy losses on both sides.
By the end of May the relentless German Army had gained additional high ground.This forced the Allies’ to consolidate their positions closer to the city of Ypres. After many attempts to capture the city failed, the enemy retaliated by shelling it. By the end of the war the entire city of Ypres was reduced to piles of rubble.
The Second Battle of Ypres cost the lives of sixty-nine thousand Allied soldiers and thirty-five thousand German troops. The significant contrast in the number of Allied deaths can be directly attributed to the Germans’ use of chlorine gas.



Journal Entry - April 5th–23rd
We remained at our position and continued firing on the enemy’s trenches and guns. Enemy aircraft were very active and often we had to stop firing so that we wouldn’t be spotted.
Our observation station located in the brewery was a veritable death trap. It was continually shelled, but in spite of this, we stuck it out for four days.That is until one shell hit directly on the little cellar.The shell wounded Grogan and Smith (the two telephonists on duty), while Lieutenant Richie marvelously escaped injury. Later poor Grogan died, causing Smith to be so shook up that he was sent away.
We are now using the remains of a house, which we called the “Green House”, for the observation post. It also was shelled repeatedly, but we had no further casualties. As far as action, nothing out of the ordinary happened, just the usual give and take between armies.
The batteries at our rear were shelled occasionally but nothing within harming distance of our guns. I can hear sounds of continual heavy fighting far away to our left towards Ypres and to our right towards La Bassee. By the sounds of it, there must be hard scrapping in progress on the French front.