A colleague from work recently lent me a copy of the book 'Mud beneath my boots' by Alan Marriott. Mr Marriott has used the journal kept by his uncle Len Coley to produce this extraordinarily good account of one soldier's personal experience on the western front from 1916 to 1918.
Len enlisted at age 17 (lying about his age, using an assumed name of Len Collins ) in 1915 and served with the NZ Division in France, fighting on the Somme, Ypres and again at the Somme in 1918.
The book is well written, and provides a fascinating insight into both the fighting, and the 'war weariness' that must have engulfed so many soldiers after years of war.
Here is a small extract from the book, describing action at Passchendaele in 1917.
"Meanwhile, I made arrangements to move up to the right flank of the Hawkes Bay Company. With the aid of willing helpers. I secured my position from snipers. I erected a barricade of timber and sandbags taken from a dugout that was useless to us. I was sure Fritz would post snipers on the ridge overnight to try and silence our guns in the early morning and I wanted good protection. I completed my job and took a rest while I had a chance.
Their second attack came at 4pm. But my gun was now cool. I had cleaned it and it felt in beautiful order. I wanted to get down to tin tacks straight away. If Fritz succeeded with this attempt, it would give him a whole night to consolidate his position. And we had to prevent that at all costs.
Fresh reinforcements for the Germans poured over the ridge in front of me and I decided to hold my fire. The Germans were a poor target with the sky behind them. I waited until the face of the hill gave them a background. I opened my fire, emptying one drum in a single burst. When I gave a short burst from the second drum it jammed. It took nearly minute to clear the expanded cartridge case, and I was at it again.......
...... Our concentrated fire from four guns at this end played havoc with Fritz. We wiped out their right wing, their remaining men fleeing. This broke up their attack and we lengthened our range another 200 yards towards the German right wing. We could see that the Aussies were being hard pressed. The fleeing German line in front of us probably saved them on their end. The whole German attack now gave in very quickly."
This is an extraordinarily good book, a great read and thoroughly recommended.