Today – Rememberance Day – is when what was known then as the Great War, now World War One, officially ended. The day we remember and respect those who have fallen in battle.
One thing often lost is the personal connection to those wars. The following is the diary of my great-grandfather. He wrote it shortly after the war; while the events were fresh in his mind.
The Diary of George Frederick Cobb.
During service in the war, in England, Gallipoli, & France, in the years 1914-17.
Commencing Nov 9th 1914
Made up my mind to enlist & joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on the above date. I had six chums with me & we were sent to Pontefract where we stayed until Nov 18th when they asked for volunteers to transfer into the Yorkshire Reg. commonly known as the Green Howards & being fed up with Ponte – we transferred & were forthwith sent to Darlington where we commenced training in earnest & on the whole we didn’t have a bad time but I must mention the fact that while here we broke the record for marching for Kitcheners Army doing 49 mile in on day with only one casualty which happened to be the big drum.
On March the 7th I came back from the Machine Gun School after six weeks at Durham & was sent on my final leave as I had been warned to proceed with draft to the Dardnelles on May 20th & we left Darlington by the 7-15PM train on that date being given a hearty send off. We were going to Devonport where we arrived on Tues May 21st at 10am but on the way we had stopped at two places, Swindon & Exeter, where we had some buns & cocoa which were provided by the Mayor & Mayoress. At 3PM we boarded the S.S. Borda & set sail at 6PM having an escort of 4 torpedo boat destroyers & had a fair voyage until we got to Malta where we arrived on May 31st.
We stayed here for 10 hours to land some R.A.M.C. men & cargo. At 6PM on the 1st we left Malta & got our first bit of real excitement. We were chased by a submarine & about 6 hours traveling found us where we had started but we set off again & had a bit better luck this time & we arrived in harbour at Lemnos which proved to be a Greek Island at 7⋅20PM on the 4th of April, but did not land until the 6th as the sea was too rough. However on the 6th we landed & marched to West Mudros a village if I may so call it, as there were only about twenty houses of which the Greeks were the inhabitants. This village was a distance of four miles from the quay side & I can tell you it was some march in the blazing sun & by the time we reached it we were all about done up & hungry but all we got was Bully Beef & biscuits & by what I could see we were faced with the prospect of nothing else during our stay here as boxed of both were stacked up all over the place.
At about 7PM we were given a blanket & told that as the tents were already overcrowded we should have to sleep out until we had put some up for ourselves however we didn’t mind seeing how hot it was but had we known I think there would have been a protest for during the night it turned bitterly cold & to make matters worse a cyclone came on * unless you have seen on you cannot possibly realise what it is like. It fairly chucked down with rain & the hurricane was tossing boxes of biscuits about like paper & by the time morning came we were all thoroughly fed up not to say soaked to the skin & nothing to change into & we were all wishing the Kaiser, well I will leave you to guess as it wouldn’t do to put it in ink.
On the 7th & 8th we were pitching tents but we didn’t get into them until the 9th & during the afternoon we were on fatigue unloading a boat load of biscuits but I got out of this about half an hour after we started as I had a nail went right through my thumb & I was out of action for a couple of days.
12th Aug 1915 we received orders to go up the line & we receive our first dose of firing from the Turks on the night of this date. We started as we were entering the trenches on 7⋅20PM & kept rapid fire up until 12 o’clock & after that we only got an occasional shell now & again until four o’clock when all was quiet for the rest of the day & no one would have know there was a war on but for the surroundings which were very desolate.
On the night of the 13th & 14th we were suddenly startled by the sound of heavy gunfire coming from the sea which started about 11 o’clock & shells were seen to burst all along the Turkish line. This was kept up until just before daybreak when our ships withdrew. The day of the 14th was quiet except for bursts of Machine Gun fire. In the night of the 14th-15th I was sent out with two other men to cut the grass which was growing to a good height in front of one of our advanced posts. I was here very lucky as we had only been out about twenty minutes when all of a sudden a Machine Gun got us first time & I aw the two who were with me roll over & I soon found out that they were hit & how I missed being hit I don’t know but I had already found out it was a game of chance. I found it was useless trying to get them back by myself as one was hit in the chest & the other in the ankle & the one who was hit in the ankle had let up a yell & the Turks were making it pretty hot around that quarter so I crawled back to get help & we succeeded in getting them in but the one ho was bit in the chest died on the way to the dressing station. All went well until the 16th when we were relieved by the Dorsets & we came down to the beach for a rest.
Oct. 23rd. Again went into the trenches & on the morning of the 24th I was warned to go back to G.H.Q. with two more & a corporal to take a woman sniper who had been caught by our patrol during the night. When we got to G.H.Q. the woman was searched & was found to have a string fastened round her neck containing 24 Identity Disks: belonging to our fellows & the Australians & the General ordered her to be shot straight away & we were ordered to blind-fold her & lead her on to the beach & to give you an idea of the hatred our fellows had for her I will tell you what happened.
No sooner had the volley been fired than the six which composed the firing party dashed forward & plunged their bayonets into her body an act which I considered very indecent on the part of a British soldier as the woman was already dead. After this episode the like of which I never want to witness again I was sent back to the trenches & was making bully beef stew on the 25th when I had the narrowest escape I had had up to now I had placed the tin of bully beef on the parapet & was reach for it when I must have got my head too high for I head the ping of a bullet & soon found it had pierced my helmet right through & I considered myself lucky & kept low after this.
Oct 30th: Contracted Dysentery & was sent on Hospital Ship Induma from the Peninsula to a Canadian hospital at Lemnos. We here got a change from Bully & Biscuits. I remained here for nearly a month the best part of my time in critical condition.
Nov 23rd. Left Lemnos for England on Hospital Ship Aquitania after two previous attempts the boats being full both times.
Nov 27th arrived at Naples in Italy where we stayed for 24 hours to coal & water. We had a splendid view of the town from deck & could also see Mount Vesuvius which was smoking. Dec 4th arrived at Southampton after a shaking up in the Bay of Biscay as it was very rough. Was sent to Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Nr Portsmouth. It was not a bad place but I was anxious to get home so I worried the colonel of the hospital who was dying to send me to Bournemouth to a convalescent home until he discharged me from hospital on Jan 21st 1916. I was sent on 10 days leave which expired Jan 31st when I reported at my Depot Richmond & I must say had an easy time while here.
Feb 19th I was sent to West Hartlepool a town on the East Coast & went before a medical board & was passed Temporary Unfit & exempt from all duties (& me & I?) more had nothing to but answer roll call at 7 o’clock in the morning which we used to do from our beds as it was too early to get up at least we thought so.
Mar. 20th. Transferred to Machine Gun Section & carried on until May 17th when the camp was flooded out & on the 18th I was sent into hospital at Newcastle suffering from Nephritis caused thought sleeping in the water as there was not a dry place in the camp. 2nd of July I was sent from hospital back to my regiment & on the 4th of August I was warned for a draft & after a bit of a fight I got 48 hours leave. Aug 10th left Hartlepool by the 7 o’clock train at night & arrived at Folkstone at 8 o’clock the following morning.
Aug 11th. We went to a rest camp & had breakfast such as it was & at 10 o’clock boarded the Princess Victoria for France where we arrived at 12:30 disembarking at Bölonge. We then marched to a rest camp a distance of about 2 miles from the dock & arrived here at 2 o’clock as it was all uphill & and the roads were made of rough cobblestones & we were thankful when we got there. We stayed here until 9:45 the following morning, Aug 12th when we marched back to the station at Bölonge and boarded the train which consisted of cattle trucks for Etaples, where the base was situated. Arrived here where we got the best meal we had had since leaving Hartlepool at 1 o’clock, and I must say if you don’t like fast travelling go to France as I believe if you were to get out at the front end of the train you could gather a bunch of flowers & then catch the rear end, not to mention the stops on the way for the Engine driver to mash his tea or something of the sort.
The next day was Sunday so we only had Church Parade but on Monday the 14th Aug we had No. 1 and C.O. inspections & was sent up the line to join our regiments. I got drafter to the 2nd Batt. Yorkshire Regiment which was then at Festubert but as they were then up in the line we had to wait until they came out so we stayed in a farmhouse which consisted of nothing else but windows made by Jerry’s shells at Gorre about 2½ miles from the front line trench. Eventually they came out & was due to return to the front line on the 20th when we went in the trenches with them for the first time & I must say we caught it hot going in as I think he send every kind of shell over that he had & I think our party was very unlucky as out of the 46 who joined the regiment with me when we came out on the 27th there was only 18 left.
We went to a rest billet at Essars, close to Gorre, and was billeted in an old Estaminet which was infested with rats as indeed every place I had been in up to now seemed to be.
Sept the 1st again went into the trenches & stayed in for 6 days coming out on the 7th. We were now getting very much below strength but we again went into the front line on the 12th & stayed there until the 16th when we received orders to entrain for somewhere else so we left the trenches for Bethune, a place about 6 miles from the front line & badly knocked about but a very large part of the population had remained here. We were billeted in what had been and Orphanage once. We left Bethune by train – 9:00 for Doullens on the 18th & arrived on 12 o’clock. Marched from here to [Aio Mille?] a distance of 7 miles. Stayed here for a night & on the 19th we marched to Ribemont, a distance of 42 kilometres, or about 36 miles, where we arrived at 7:30pm. We stayed here a night & as we had decent billets we got a good nights sleep.
Sept 20th. Left Ribemont & eventually arrived at [Montaboun?], a place on the Somme, on the 21st, about 7:30am. I must here say that we had to provide our own shelter as although it had been a town once there was not a brick left standing so three others & I dug a hole about 4 foot deep & fastened our waterproof sheets together & then put them over the top & we were then alright should it come to rain heavy as I may mention we were having very bad weather at the time. We here had our batt. made up to full strength & on the 28th & 29th we were on fatigue, clearing up a village called Longeville taken from the Germans & I was one of the party told off to bury the dead & I can tell you it was an awful job as the part we was told off to clear was a cemetery & coffins were blown out of the ground & men were crushed underneath the gravestones.
Oct 1st. went into trenches in front of the village of Le Transloy near Bapaume & had an awful time as all the time we were up to our waist in water & we were over the top twice & both times got within a few yards of the German trenches & were then repulsed by machine gun fire & had to cross the open ground back to our trenches under this murderous fire. Out casualty list was heavy & by the time we came out on the 11th we were all feeling heartily fed up, what was left of us.
Oct 16th. Again in the front line in the same place & were told that on the 18th we had to take Le Transloy & hold it at all costs & accordingly at 4 o’clock on that date we were once more over the top & were once more repulsed owing to our depleted ranks but at 2 o’clock in the afternoon we once more mounted the parapet & were accompanied by 4 tanks & thus strengthened we reached our objective & held it for three days until relieved by the Manchesters on the 21st & by the morning of the 22nd we were told that they had been shelled out of the position suffering nearly as many casualties as we had in taking it.
We had a few days rest this time going back into the trenches on Nov 1st & they had now got in a deplorable condition & you were scraping mud off the sides of the trenches on to your clothing & equipment whichever way you turned & it took you all your time to keep your gun clean & you also had your pistol to attend to & may I mention that while in this part of the line we had no dugouts & were not allowed to make any. Came out of trenches on 10th Nov & marched to Bailemont, a village near Arras, and on the 18th we went in the trenches at Arras & I here had another lucky escape as a shell dropped in the trenches about twelve yards away & was blown clean out of the trenches on to the parapet & it took me several minutes to find out if I was hit & when I found all was well you can bet I wasn’t long before I scrambled back & that shell proved to be the first one of a bombardment which he kept up for 4 days & we were on the alert expecting an attack which however never came off.
Came out for a rest on the 25th & went back on the 2nd of Dec & on the 4th I got my first experience of a gas attack as Johnny sent gas over on this date, but as it is a soldiers duty to watch the wind we were ready for it & he only gassed about 6 men in our batt who were not sharp enough in getting their gas helmets on, it was about 7 in the morning when he sent gas over & at 8 he advanced to the attack but we easily repulsed him before he had got half way across No Mans Land.
Dec 12th. Came out & was warned to take part in a bombing raid on the 18th & from the 12th to the 18th we were practicing this raid. Dec 18th, the night of the event, at 11:30 we advanced across No Mans Land equipped with rifle and bayonet which had been black varnished, Gas bag & 100 rounds of ammunition & a bag of bombs & we all had our hands and faces sooted. At 12 o’clock we had to get into the German trenches & do what damage we could & also secure a couple of prisoners. An officer & I went down a dugout & the germans were all under the beds & refused to come out so the officer grabbed a bag which was on one of the beds which afterwards proved to be the mail bag & gave it to me & told me to clear out & not to let go of the bag to no one until told to do so by him.
We had made a good success of this, securing 4 prisoners & the mail bag which contained the mail of which I handed to our officer when we reached our trenches, so we were given a weeks rest & on the 25th, Christmas day we again went into the trenches & came out on the 2nd of Jan 1917 & I may mention at 11 o’clock on New Years day, which is the time the German New Year comes in, he sent every kind of shell he possessed over & also kept a Machine Gun fire up until 12 o’clock when he ceased & our fellows commenced with their heavies & us with our Machine guns. This proved to be my last time in the trenches for a few days at a time as we went back on the 8th & on the 9th I received orders to pack my kit & go back to batt Headquarters as I was for Blighty & after a series of knocking about on the French Railways I eventually reached Boulogne from where I crossed the channel to Folkstone & from there I went to Richmond were I arrived on Jan 26th & left here to resume work at the Yorkshire Engine Co. Sheffield on Jan 31st 1917.
— George Frederick Cobb