‘A scene of desolation and chaos’ all around

Battle of Ypres
Battle of Ypres

Last week we brought you Walter Young’s recount of how he rescued the wounded at Bullecourt in June 1917.

His actions won him the Military Medal for bravery. Now, in the third extract from Wal’s War, the Great War soldier describes the Battle of Ypres...

Battle of Ypres PNL-140424-115504001

Battle of Ypres PNL-140424-115504001

‘At length we packed up to go up the line. There seemed to me an ominous sort of atmosphere.

Though it was only about September 6 the summer seemed past, and already the weather was chilly and damp.

We soon came up to the Ypres canal and crossing over continued our way for the most part in silence. When within about a mile and a half from the front, there suddenly opened up perhaps the most terrific bombardment.

Hundreds of guns all around us were belching forth flame. The whole country immediately in front of us was aflame. How the flames leaped and danced all along and what a deafening noise there was.

We passed a sort of underground fort called Alberta, where Battalion headquarters stayed. I had a case with a chap suffering from shell shock. We took him on a stretcher back to Alberta. I went forward again by myself. The shelling had died down. There was no line of trenches here for it was impossible to dig them as the ground was a swamp.

The line consisted of concrete blocks or ‘pill boxes’ as they were called, here and there, with a number of unfortunate men crouching in the mud in between. I went forward and found Mount Hebron, a pill box where our Company headquarters was.

All this ground had only recently been captured. We stumbled on our platoon. Realising we were in too shallow a position to stand a chance if a shell burst by us, I began to dig but as we dug the water came oozing through. Still I worked for some time and managed to get a little protection.

Soon the Germans started shelling about us. At last one burst right on the bit of trench we had dug. It blew it all in on us. I could hear voices that seemed a long way off. It was some of the other chaps digging us out. We were liberated. It was now approaching dawn.

It was truly a scene of desolation and chaos all around. In every direction there was nothing to be seen but the scarred and torn earth. No grass grew here. The miry earth had been churned up over and over again by shells. Just a few stumps of trees a little way off marked where a road had been. The air was foul with dead bodies and poison gas. All day we crouched in our exposed position.’