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A soldier's catéchism by Harry Edmonds | Souvenir Français Arras

A soldier's catéchism by Harry Edmonds

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 A soldier's'catechism' by Harry Edmonds.

Harry Edmonds was born in 1891 in Australia. He had joined the Territorial Army in the year of its foundation in 1908 at the age of 17. He was "Artillery battery" commander in 1917. He described in his war notebook his Europe campaign and France campaign. We extracted some chapters concerning the visit of Bapaume city and the Beugny sector in April 1917.

Harrybis.jpg

 

 I can remember riding into Bapaume looking for water for the horses, we had heard the Germans had poisoned all the wells in their retreat, only to find Bapaume deserted, the infantry had not entered the town but continued their advance all around it.  In this way we continued through Beaulencourt, Fremicourt, Bancourt, in the direction of Cambrai. AbreuvoirAustraliens.jpg

 Bapaume - Place Faidherbe in 1917  - Water supply by Australien soldiers

We reached the shell of a farm house near Lebucquiere; that night, I, with two of my officers Lieutenants Nicholson and Gwynne were sleeping in a room the front of which had been blown out and were awakened at about two in the morning by Lieutenant Blashki (parents were Polish).  Our sleeping bags were covered with about two inches of snow.  Blashki brought me orders to advance and be in 'observation' i.e., ready to commence action, by 8.30 a.m., in support of the infantry who were to attack and capture the village of Beugny on the main Bapaume-Cambrai road.  He also brought me a parcel from my Mother, a pound of butter which was a godsend to us innured to I ife on ration margarine.  It took over an hour to rout out the men from their hide outs and start getting the horses harnessed up and hooked In to the guns and ammunition wagons.  The horses were exhausted and could hardly manage a walk, let alone a trot.  I went forward with two signallers and left Nicholson to bring the battery on.  It was dark and day was breaking when we arrived at a railway embankment beyond which was the village of Beugny. We found no infantry, the whole area was deserted. Eventually, we climbed the embankment and cautiously looked down on the road and to the right where Beugny commenced. No sign of life, we followed along the railway to our right end came to the hill where the railway embankment ceased and the gardens of the houses in the main street backed on to the railway line and were overlooked. Still no sign of life, one of the signallers, a young man Sinclair, walked down through the house on to a deserted main street and called out "It's alright. No one here".

I could not understand it. I ordered the signallers to wait for the arrival of the infantry or our guns while I went forward by myself to reconnoitre.  Dawn in a dull overcast sky with snow on the ground had now advanced into daylight. I walked away to my left front and up the opposite hill until I made out the village of Lagnicourt sheltered in the trees.   I paused when I could see a good mile ahead and scanned the ground through my binoculars.   I noticed almost on the horizon what appeared to be stretches of newly ploughed land.  I dropped my field glasses in their sling around my neck and while I was contemplating what I thought to be smoke above the village of Lagnicourt, I experienced a rude shock.  The air suddenly filled with scarcely an instant's warning of approaching shell fire and before I reached the ground as I dived a 77 high explosive shell burst right in front of me only twenty or so yards away, while at the same time a shrapnel shell exploded in the air above slightly to my right, also beyond this about thirty yards distant, a gas shell hit the ground about level with me, its grey gas vapour trailing away from me.  I dived into the small H.E. shell hole, the sides were still hot from the explosion and started to throw out as much of the broken earth as I could as the hole was none too large.  However nothing else happened.  I waited cowering in the hole exposed in the snow in the open for over ten minutes until I heard again the reports of a three gun salvo and heard the shells travelling until they burst on Beugny itself. I then got up and walked until the reverse contour of the hill shielded me and looked around.   It suddenly dawned on me what I had mistaken for ploughed land was the wire of the Hindenburg line, about thirty to forty feet wide. Another impression I recall was that just before the shell burst in front of me, I'm certain I saw for a fraction of a second a slight curved line, not straight, approach me, but this was so rapid, it left nothing more than an uncertain impression. Whoever had fired at me decided I was not worth the wasting of any more rounds.  Then as I descended the hill back to the embankment I made out Nicholson in the distance leading the battery down the slope at a walk. The battery came down ' in line' i.e. with a space of twenty yards between the guns followed by the 'firing battery' wagons.  A few rounds were fired from the same 77 battery without any damage. Meanwhile, one of the signallers who had climbed the embankment came running towards me with a dispatch from Brigade Headquarters. This informed me the attack had been postponed as it was believed Beugny was being held strongly by the enemy and would not take place until the infantry had been reinforced. Luckily, the dispatch rider, a motorcyclist, had waited and he carried a message back from me.   "ARRIVED BEUGNY AT 8.10 A.M. NO INFANTRY PRESENT AND ABANDONED BY ENEMY.  HAVE OCCUPIED BEUGNY."   I heard afterwards that there was a gap of about 1,000 yards between two sections of our advancing infantry in front of us. This was filled the same afternoon, perhaps I was the first British soldier to be seen in this sector by the enemy.
 

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Harry Edmonds returned in 1918 to Bapaume with the New Zealand troups for the liberation of the city . During a shelling of the city, he escaped just death, he tooked refuge in a school, a bell falled down just beside him. He bringed back this bell like a pleasant memory, but he asked to his son, after his death, to return this objects to Bapaume.
In 2013, his son "Bob" returned the bell , a copy of his notebook and portrait painted to the town hall of Bapaume. the town hall of Bapaume donated the notebook and these objects to the "Société Archeologique et Historique de Bapaume" museum.
 
Special thanks to  Bob Edmonds, the son of Harry, which agreed to give us the war  notebook of this father, the bell and the painted portrait.
Spécial thanks to M. Parsy for the translation in French.