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Nine days at Amiens: Harry Hickson’s diary

August 9, 2018

8th August 1918, by Will Longstaff: German prisoners of war being led towards Amiens

The Battle of Amiens – the decisive allied offensive of the First World War – began on August 8th 1918, a hundred years ago yesterday. Harry Hickson, my grandfather, was there. He was an artillery officer who wrote a diary of his experience at the Western Front. He arrived in France in July 1917, and survived both Passchendaele and the Amiens offensive.

As before when I’ve quoted from Harry’s diary, his words speak for themselves without needing much commentary from me.

August 8th

Our big show has come off at last.  This morning we made an attack on the Bosche that will live in history as the “Battle of Amiens”.  We were synchronising our watches with H.Q about every hour during the night and that gave us an idea it was to come off, but no official word came through till very late.  Zero hour was set for 4.20am and everything went off very smoothly.  Shortly before that there seemed to be a deathly stillness of the early breaking of day, then at the fall of a handkerchief in each battery thousands of guns belched out and the very earth trembled.  The Infantry went forward behind an impassable barrage, and suffered comparatively few casualties thank goodness.  Tanks, cavalry, motor machine guns etc all combined in this great advance.

We hear the Bosche have been driven back about 10 miles, and heaps of prisoners came down the line.  We were early out of section as we were out of range about 8 AM.  I was standing with our Major and Major-General MacDonnell of the Canadians when the latter inspected one big crowd of them, he was none too gentle with them!! One German who seemed to be of high rank complained because he had to walk down the line!

This evening I went forward with a motor cycle and sidecar to reconnoitre for a new position and saw some perfectly ghastly sights.  I also got some very interesting souvenirs!  I got back about 8.15 pm.  The Major went forward this morning to take over some captured Bosche guns and turn them round on the enemy, one of the ironies of war!

August 9th

A lovely day, but windy.  We are still advancing, cavalry and tanks doing awfully well.  I saw the general this morning, the Brigade has gone forward leaving 145 Battery (8″ guns) and ourselves behind.  The Major returned, but has gone off again with a side car.  The Bosche are miles from here now.

August 10th

A lovely day, but still breezy.  Last night the Bosche did an awful lot of bombing round here, every plane they could muster I should think!  I slept out in the middle of a field and didn’t feel a bit safe!!  I went off to Brigade at 9.30 AM and saw the Colonel, he told me to reconnoitre for gun positions somewhere near Beaucourt, and I took Gay with me.  I selected positions and got back about 2.30 pm.  The Major had gone to Saleus to meet Mawby who was bringing up two new guns.  Lunt and I went forward with a working party at 6.30 pm to dig positions.

We slept in a deep dugout and it is lucky we did as the Bosche did an awful lot of bombing round here.  There seemed to be a constant procession of planes and over 50 bombs were dropped.  4 tank fellows were killed.  Cavalry and tanks are still advancing, we hear that Peronne has fallen to us again and also Roye, the latter doubtful.  This evening I saw our C in C, Sir Douglas Haig – for the first time, and gave him a salute, which he returned.  He was coming back from the line in his car, I knew the latter because the Union Jack was flying on the bonnet of the radiator, the only man who is allowed to do that.

Sunday 11th

I was up at 7.30AM to mark out our positions.  It was a lovely day, but very hot.  This is a topping valley, but there are plenty of dead cavalry horses, which doesn’t make things very pleasant, also there are lots of tanks.  Lunt and I went round exploring for dug outs for our men.  A complete Bosche 5-9″ gun battery is also here, a good capture.  At about 7 pm, some lorries came up and brought me orders to pull out and go back, it was very annoying after our hard work.

August 12th

Last night we had a simply awful time.  We left the position about 9.45pm and the Bosche were bombing it just as we left, but we managed to get clear.  They were bombing again when we got to Beaucourt and we had to go through it again, but worse was to follow!!  The Bosche managed to hit an ammunition dump with one of their bombs at Domart.  This flared up and lighted everywhere for miles round and we were bombed all the way, it seemed a procession of planes.

When we got to Domart we found all traffic stopped and we had to stop too.  Whilst there they dropped three bombs about 10 yards from my lorry.  One man was killed and 5 badly wounded.  The lorry driver beside me was only slightly wounded and when I put my hand inside his coat I found a piece of bomb had also been stopped by his cigarette case.  I got into a ditch on the side of the road with my men waiting for the next bombs.  We all had a truly marvellous escape, for I found out afterwards that none of my actual party had been hit.

Afterwards we struck out across country and found a chalk pit where we spent the rest of the night, thankful to be alive.  We got back to our old billets in the Bois de Gentelles about 7 o’clock this morning and had an uneventful day.

August 13th

Last night I had a safe sleep in the deep dug out, but was wakened at 3.30am and told we were again to get our guns into action.  Clough and I came forward to reconnoitre and we found a position in Worvillers.  We got back for lunch and afterwards I went back to the new position with the Major and a party of men to dig positions.  The Bosche were shelling near us with 5.9″ guns.  Our guns came up about midnight, and we worked on till 4.15am. getting them in action.  There were crowds of planes about, but 20 bombs fell near us.  This is a very nice position in an orchard near a Chateau.

August 14th

A lovely day.  Got up at 11am after a short sleep.  I slept in a dug out with some Canadians, it was very comfortable, but I am afraid the old Huns left some live stock behind!!!  Our guns were in action after lunch.  About 4 o’clock I saw a very exciting air scrap.  One of the Huns was forced down so low he almost landed, and even then he got away!  Our fellows were firing at him from the ground and scared our planes and spoilt the show.  I am afraid two of our planes came down.  After tea I laid out the new line of fire for our guns.

August 15th

Last night was a very disturbed one with plenty of bombing and shelling.  One large bomb fell near us, I hope no one was hit.  A lovely fine day it was.  The Bosche strafed round here very badly again this afternoon.  One Canadian Captain was killed, the poor beggar had only just returned from leave too.  Saw another exciting air scrap this afternoon, the Bosche managed to get away.  We did an aeroplane shoot after tea, the first time we have fired in this position.  When the Bosche retreated from here they left some traps for our fellows.  In one dug out in the grounds they left a bomb tied to a bucket.  When the bucket was lifted the bomb exploded and killed 3 or 4 men, a dirty trick.  Another bomb was attached to a sword stuck in the ground but our men were very careful not to go up and move it, but fired revolvers at it and it exploded the bomb.

August 16th

A lovely hot day again.  Last night the Hun planes were over in swarms bombing, they dropped two big ones near us, luckily without doing any damage.  Nothing else very exciting happened.  They did plenty of shelling all round us and Lieut Belfield had a very narrow escape from being hit near our No 1 gun.

August 17th

Not quite so clear today, but still fine.  There were lots of Huns over again last night, but no bombs fell near us thank goodness.  I was wakened at 5.20am to go on the guns as I am Orderly Officer.  We hear the French are advancing again just south of us, good news.  the Huns shells have not annoyed us as much today.

Since we started our splendid push on the 8th inst.  the 4th army (which we are in) has taken 25,000 prisoners and lots of guns – a very good effort.

And so the diary went on until November 11, when the war finally came to a close.

A few observations:

I find it interesting that he should describe periods of intense fighting, especially in the air, as “exciting”. But then I imagine watching aerial dogfights from the ground would be the closest thing to a spectator sport that the poor bloody infantry could enjoy in comparative safety.

Note also one of those tales of miraculous survival – shrapnel stopped by a cigarette case – to which Harry was a direct witness.

And finally, as he prepares his guns for action and bombs rain down on him, he ends his entry for August 13 by commenting that he is in a “very nice position in an orchard near a Chateau.”

Thus speaks a man who was thankful for small mercies.

From → France, History, UK

  1. kenmoore77 permalink

    Fabulous stuff Steve. Thanks for sharing.


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