Recollections of the British front line on 21 March 1918

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A private of the North Staffordshire regiment describes his experience on 21 March 1918, the first day of the German offensive, Operation Michael.

‘There seemed to be thousands of Jerries swarming down the slopes behind us and we retired to a refuge behind a barricade of sandbags. I’ve not the sligtest idea whether I was hitting anything. I certainly never saw anyone fall. I’d been in France 10 months and this was the first time I’d fired at the enemy. I wasn’t frightened; it seemed to be something that was happening outside of me.

‘I was lying there with my friend, Private Sykes Dobson, with whom I had enlisted, firing away, when we saw a mouse come out of a hole and sit up between us. I immediately moved to hit it with the butt of my rifle, but Dobson said: “Don’t do that. Leave the little bugger alone. It’s better off than us.” The mouse scooted off.

The young second lieutenant who appeared to be in charge of us ordered us to move out towards another position. I told him I wanted to stay with Dobson, who was wounded, but he refused to let me and threatened to blow my brains out if I didn’t come.

I resented this but had to do as I was told. That officer was certainly wound up a bit.

The space for rifle fire in this next position was rather restricted, so, after having a rifle discharged in my ear, I suggested that I should fire while my companion loaded.

After having two rifles shot from my hands, I turned to speak and found the only British person visible disappearing into a small tunnel under the embankment. I found the tunnel full of our wounded, many of whom greeted me.’

Private F Beardsell, 2/6th North Staffordshire Regiment.

The battalion suffered heavy casualties on 21 March. Among the dead was Private Sykes Dobson, who is listed on the Arras Memorial to the Missing.

The lieutenant colonel commanding the battalion was also killed. Thomas Thorne was 44 and the son of Bezley Thorne MD. He is buried at Ecoust Military Cemetery, near where the battalion was overwhelmed in 1918. He had formerly served with the Middlesex Regiment.

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