Escaping by inches

Wednesday June 16 1915

Shelled steadily till dawn. Our bombardment opened at 2.30am. A lot of shells dropped short and into our trenches. Most awful noise. Could see the shells as they whizzed into the ground.

4.15am: Charge began amidst great excitement. Watched them over the parapet. First trench taken with hardly a casualty. Unfortunately, artillery had not completed shelling: men charged second and third trenches and suffered from our own fire terribly. We forgot danger in the excitement. Later, third enemy trench evacuated and Germans began shelling us. Went towards captured trench but turned back when man in front fell under machine gunfire. Driven out of dugout by heavy shells, lost Catley and chanced my arm over parapets to support trench. Beginning to lose nerve as driven from trench to trench. Lying flat in water and escaping by inches.

God it was awful. Steadied myself again in support trench with South Lancs. Shelling did not cease. Tried to get back to advance trench but heard our dugout knocked to pieces. Everything buried, 4 men killed there.

3.30 or 4.00pm: Most awful shelling of the supports began, knocking the S. Lancs trench about. Scrambled along and got hit on the head (by shrapnel). Rested against parapet in traverse waiting for death. Shell burst right in traverse. I seemed to be the only one alive. Scrambled away through a mist of blood, managed to reach trench to Brigade H.Q. Relieved at night. Brigade suffered heavily. R.S.F. lost all officers but one; S. Lancs, 200 or more casualties. Catley missing, myself and Glen wounded. Wonder what became of the poor fellow with the broken leg whom we helped into safer traverse.

Arrived at chateau about 2.30am. Thanked God for my delivery. Never again could I go through such a hell.

Twelve Hours (The Battle of Bellewaarde) – a poem written and read by Richard Harries

Bellewaarde - June 16 2015


3 thoughts on “Escaping by inches

  1. A moving account of what was obviously a horrifying event, yet, along with the horror, a sense of excitement is evident, at least in the beginning. The natural response to such an event would surely be to run, but survival in that case would mean courts martial, conviction, the firing squad and ignominy for the family at home. And, of course, for those who lived through war there was no psychological help.
    Thirty years ago there was a sizeable community of WW1 veterans who had lived through ‘the war to end all wars’ only to find that it didn’t and that they were plunged into another twenty years later.
    Great work, Wilf, and thanks to his grandchildren for making it possible for us to read it.

  2. Pingback: Ready for the worst – World War I Diary – Wilf Sellars

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