Belgian chocs away

8th February 1915

The 15th Brigade fumbled around in cold windy weather looking for the parade ground assigned to them for inspection by the King of the Belgians. Eventually they found it in a field opposite the Lunatic Asylum, which was now host to an aerodrome for 6 Squadron RFC, the second to be established in Bailleul. Most of the brigade fitted inside the field but the poor 6 Bn Cheshires, ever the bridesmaids, were made to wait in the adjoining road.

The King of Belgium inspected the brigade at 11.23am. The diary says “Royal salute & inspections & presenting officers. Went off well.” Whether that was a Royal gun salute (I doubt it) or that King Albert saluted the troops (more likely) it doesn’t say. British Army, Corps and Divisional Commanders were all present for the parade. That would have been General Sir Smith-Dorrien (2nd Army), General Sir Fergusson (II Corps) and Major General Morland (5th Division) respectively.

And so we move into a week I’ve been dreading for some time. It’s been a slog at times, but it’s been fun most of the time, but my six months of daily post writing ends this week. Please be sure to check my posts this week as, weather permitting, I am going to be reporting live from my warm billets in Ypres on Wednesday and Thursday, hopefully nursing a decent Belgian beer and plates of cheese and salami.

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Albert square bashing

7th February 1915

In Bailleul, the Dorsets’ time in billets was still being marked in the diary by a series of dittos (well a big curly brace actually) and so there’s not a lot I can say about what they might have got up to. If there were any letters from Frank during this period of relative rest, sadly none exist today.

The 15th Brigade’s diary is a bit more descriptive. Today was a Sunday and orders were received that the brigade was to parade tomorrow for the King of Belgium, Albert I.

Back at the front, Sector E was added to the dominion of the 5th Division, taking over responsibility from 3rd Division to the north.

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Bomb boy duck

6th February 1915

While Gleichen inspected his transport on this rainy Saturday, the brigade continued to learn the art of “bombing”.

A new grenade became available to the British troops in February 1915; the No. 2 grenade. This was a variant on the much disliked No. 1 grenade, originally designed for the export market but hurriedly pressed into service. It consisted of a stick, like the German potato masher, with an explosive charge on the end, but it looked like it had been put together by a schoolboy in ICT. The new No. 2 version had a shorter handle which was designed to prevent it catching against the lips of trenches but it still didn’t get away from the reality that the design was too cumbersome and too obvious to the enemy to be used as an assault weapon. It had cloth streamers on it which gave its trajectory away for a start. No wonder men on the ground were making their own bombs out of jam pots. The grenade was later adopted by the RFC to be used as a hand-dropped bomb by simply adding a frayed rope to the end.

Unfortunately the 15th Brigade’s diary also allows us to see how close the civilian world was to the army. Perhaps too close. A boy, standing “60 yards behind grenade throwers” is injured in the forearm from a bomb fragment. Quite what he was doing anywhere near grenade throwers is another question. Boys will be boys I suppose.

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I would be so glad to receive these things

5th February

Today saw another General Court Martial take place in Bailleul, where the 15th Brigade remained in billets. This court martial is interesting in that it deals with an officer: Captain Montagu Dalston Turnbull of the 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment. Gleichen is president for this case.

Turnbull was born in 1886 to Charles and Ellen Turnbull, residents of Blackheath, Greenwich. Charles is listed as a “man of own means” and a “Gentleman” in census reports. Montagu attends Tonbridge School in Kent and then joins the Army as a Special Reserve with the 4th Bn East Surreys.

Turnbull had only joined his fellow East Surreys from England on the 21st January. According to the 15th Brigade’s diary an alarm was set off by him that the enemy were concentrating for attack. Airmen’s views the next day contradicted this. As we saw on the 3rd February, the army was clamping down on poor sentry duties rather severely. The East Surrey’s diary for the night of 4/5th February 1915 reads, “At 3am Headqrs. tested communication with forward battery regarding rapidity of Artillery support when unexpectedly called for at night on unregistered target”. Was this initiated by the hand of Captain Turnbull? It certainly sounds like modern marketing speak for “we made a massive cockup”.

Did Turnbull prove to be unsuitable for front line life? His CO, Major Patterson, certainly thought so. There’s a damning note at the end of the East Surrey’s war diary for February 18th 1915. Captain Turnbull had been sent back to England. When he arrives, Turnbull is listed at a serving member of the 1st Battalion. When he leaves he belongs, once more, to “4/th E.S.R”.

The next place I’ve found him is in The London Gazette, ever-reliable record of the comings and goings of British Army officers, “Captain Montagu D. Turnbull resigns his commission. Dated 4th August, 1915.”

What had gone on in the intervening months? Did frustration of not being able to fight get the better of him? Or was there a darker tale behind Turnbull’s fall from grace. Did he go to prison? Whatever happened, on the 17th December, he joined the 11th (Queen’s Own) Royal West Kents as a private. Did he want to get back to the fighting? Or did a white feather send him back to the army? He describes himself as a farmer on his service papers, although how much farming went on in Greenwich is hard to say.

Perhaps life as a private didn’t suit him either or the training was too much for him because he went missing between 26th and 31st March 1916 and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Turnbull had every intention of returning to duty according to submitted evidence in his service records. I wonder if the submitter of this information and the occupant of 50 Vanbrugh Park, a Miss Sales, was anything to do with his reluctance to return to barracks. This could have been one of two sisters: Gertrude Annette Sales or Violet Guinevere Sales (aged 29 and 28 respectively in 1916), daughters of Arthur Sales, a Government Lighting Contractor.

Luckily for Turnbull, he was sent overseas, to Italy, before the arrest warrant catches up with him. Later on, he was sentenced to 10 days C.B. which I take it means Confined to Barracks.

The next time I’ve found the hapless Turnbull, I’m sorry to say that he’s been killed in Flanders on the 27th April 1918, presumably during the German Spring Offensive. He’s buried at Hagle Dump Cemetery near Poperinge in Belgium. He died a Lance Corporal.

He left a pitiful collection of objects which were returned to his mother: 2 identity discs, half a franc, some postcards and a mascot; a supposedly “lucky” black cat pouch. Lucky for some.

On the back of the effects form, his mother, Ellen, has written a plea to the army. She hasn’t received the things she wanted most: A pocket notebook and a small leather photograph case. She writes “I would be so glad to receive these things”.

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Poulet the other one

4th February 1915

The much-maligned 6th Cheshires, notorious from their alleged Christmas football kickabout, were paraded for the pleasure of the 15th Brigade’s Brigadier; our old friend Gleichen.

The report sounds just like him. He is “surprised” at their turnout. “Steadier, cleaner and better” than he expected. “Much improved”. Of the Dorsets there is no mention.

There’s a rather good story in the 5th Division diary about some guard chickens. Yes, you heard me right. The Germans had apparently tied chickens to their wire entanglements.  A patrol from Sector A approached the enemy line but the chickens’ squawking gave the game away and the Germans opened fire. Fowl play or what, eh?

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