In the latest instalment of Walter Young’s memoirs, we get an eerie glimpse of the build-up to the battle of Loos.
‘The battle of Loos was now very near and we moved up one day to Noeux Les Mines. Here we stayed for three days.
‘The whole Battalion was paraded one day when Colonel Harvey gave us a short dissertation on the coming battle urging us all to do our best. According to him, about 200,000 French troops were going to collaborate with us in the attack, 200,000 more were to attack in the Argonne and 100,000 somewhere else.
‘As I knew afterwards most of this tale was fictitious and may have been purposely given out in the hope that it would somehow get to the Germans’ ears – spies were still about – and lead them to throw their forces at other parts of the line.The evening before the attack our guns were hammering away continuously. Just outside Noeux Les Mines, which was six miles from the front, stood a high slagheap.
Numbers of people stood on top and watched the bombardment of the German lines. About 8pm we paraded and commenced to march towards the front. Just before we got to Mazingarbe we turned off the road and went across country.
‘Here we lay down for a time. Lying in the open field the night before the battle. I thought much as I lay in that field, all the time with my eyes on the Platoon in front, for I was in a connecting file.
‘A thought of soldiers of generations ago, who had so lain and waited for the morrow. I wondered were I would be by the following night. But now they were going on in front. I rose and called to those in rear to lead on.
‘We went through Les Brebis and soon after into a long communication trench packed with troops. The trench was about a mile and a half long but it must have taken us nearly three hours to get through. We would move a few yards at a time and then stop. Our backs ached with the weight of the pack. The guns were firing intermittently. Eventually we got out of the trench at North Maroc which was a little beyond South Maroc. North Maroc consisted principally of one street.
‘The houses still stood but were all damaged. We went through the street and manned a support line of trenches. We lay down and dozed uneasily for an hour or so. Then, we were awakened by our guns thundering away in earnest.’
Find out how Wal’s journey continued in future editions of the Gazette and online.