1st November 1914 Sunday
Similar day to yesterday, worse if anything – Shells started at daybreak and kept it up all day. In afternoon Gordons obliged to fall back. We dropped our left wing to fill the gap and retired about 80 yards – In doing so left out in signal trench – Taking a message at the time – did not know what was taking place. When I’d finished the message and peered out of the dug out saw the last of our fellows getting in the reserve trenches (dug the previous day by French troops infantry) they were not occupied by our supports (we had none) – The only person besides myself left in the now perilous position was the Commanding Officer – Lord Ardee. He had remained ‘til all had reached safety of the wood behind – He was very much surprised to see me pop up out of my trench and called me a damned fool. I handed him the message by leaning out of my trench – The text of which was “For God’s sake hang on – Everything depends on you today “. The CO read it and exclaimed ”God knows, we have done our best , the odds are 50 to 1 against and our brave lads were obliged to retire “
He remained perfectly cool throughout and wrote out a reply to the message – reported that we had been forced to retire. He asked me to try and get it through somehow – I did so. Lord Ardee then told me he was going to try and reach the battalion but I knew his efforts would be of little avail. Bullets and shells were falling like hailstones all round us. However I could not persuade him to wait ‘til things cooled down a bit. His last words to me were to hang on and try and get in under cover of darkness. He would aquaint our fellows of my position (which could be seen from their new position) and they would keep up a covering fire for me. The CO got within 10 yards of our new position when he fell (at first I thought that he was killed outright, but a couple of minutes after I noticed a move from him, he was endeavouring to crawl in, and eventually managed it. Heard afterwards he was very badly wounded in the legs by machine gun fire .
I felt more at ease when I saw he had got to safety, and only now did it dawn on me in what danger I was in. Was too excited to think of anything up to this – However I kept a cool head and kept in touch with brigade on the telephone, relying on our fellows to keep the Huns at bay. Rifle and shell fire still as furious as ever, not a lull ‘til dusk. Shortly after the lull I heard voices (not English ones) – it would now be about 5 o clock Very cautiously peered out of my trench through the corner of the stack I was behind and after some little time discovered the source of the voices. It was a German outpost only about 15 yards from me – they were of course not aware of my proximity – I now seemed to lose all control of my feelings and broke down badly. In a moment all my past life flashed through my brain and my wife and kiddies too. For the first time in France I knelt down and prayed to God that I may be spared – This prayer, though only a short one was very sincere and after this I felt my courage returning, though I cannot say I was not nervous altogether, yet I had more faith in everything turning out alright. I dare not touch my telephone now in case the buzzer would have been heard by the Germans so disconnected the instrument and rendered it useless by wrenching off the key etc.. Some little time after this I heard footsteps and voices, this time very close indeed to me. It was the German outpost on the prowl, one took some straw from the back of the next stack to mine and returned to his post, the others went along to the farm, and in doing this passed less than 5 yards from me. Oh ! didn’t I quake – Had one foot in a step hole, in the side of the trench. Ready to sprint out and run for it had they attempted to come my side of the stack. They disappeared within the farmyard and were away some time. I partly guessed what had kept them. All our rations, Rum etc. including the battalion mailbag was in this farm and from what I could make out when they did get back they were fairly well loaded, could not see what they had in the darkness but could see their shadowy forms carrying stuff. They passed within a couple of yards of me again, but did not appear to trouble to look in my direction and went back to their outpost position. Some few minutes after I knew what they had done because I heard the gurgle of the rum as they poured it out of the jars. There was a lot of merriment amongst them and they were laughing and chatting with each other. After a time (about an hour) all was as quiet as the dead and I could hear no more of them. The rum had no doubt had its effect so I cautiously crawled out of the trench and wormed my way across the debris of our bikes (all smashed by shellfire) and eventually reached our lines. Gave information of the German outpost and shortly after had the joy of knowing that they were no more. 12 of our men had been out and accounted for them – all were too drunk to offer any resistance, the only one who did make a fight for it was bayoneted, the remaining four brought in as prisoners. During the night we improved our positions and I, with a couple of other signallers completed a dugout for our telephone etc. Then had a sleep, being worn out. My Company officer Capt Mullholland* killed.
The following is reproduced with the kind permission of Christ Church Oxford
Captain the Hon. Andrew Edward Somerset MULHOLLAND
Date of birth: 20 September 1882
Date of death: 31 October 1914
Died of wounds sustained in action aged 32
Buried in Ypres Town Cemetery Plot E2. 3.
Andrew Edmund Somerset was born in Blackrock Dublin, the eldest son of the 2nd Baron Dunleath of Ballywalter and his wife, Norah Louisa Fanny Ward.
He was educated at Eton, where in the Eton XI of 1901 he made 361 runs with an average of 30.08, but scored only 13 and 18 against Harrow. He came up to Christ Church in 1902, when he played in the Freshmen’s match, making 34 and 14, but did not obtain his blue. He had been a member of the M.C.C. since 1908. At Lord’s in 1909 he played for Army v. Royal Navy, and in his only innings scored 39.
After Oxford, he joined the Irish Guards. He married on 10 June 1913, Lady Joan Byng daughter of the 5th Earl of Strafford. They had one child, Daphne Norah born on 11 March 1915.
“On the 25th October 1914, after a heavy bombardment, as bombardments were then reckoned, the whole Division was ordered at dawn to advance against Reutel; the 2nd Grenadier Guards and the Irish Guards being given the work of clearing out Polygon Wood, of which the enemy held the upper half.
On the 31st, after an attack by the French towards Hollebeke which did not develop, the full storm broke. In the afternoon the enemy attacked—with rifle-fire and a close-range small piece that broke up our two machine-guns – across some dead ground and occupied the wrecked trench.
Eventually the 2nd Battalion Grenadiers was sent up with some cavalry of the much-enduring 7th Brigade, and the line of support-trenches was held. The Battalion had had nothing to eat for thirty-six hours, so the cavalry kept the line for a little till our men got food.
“A French regiment (Territorials) on the right also took over part of the trenches of our depleted line. Forty-four men were known to have been killed, 205 wounded and 88—chiefly from the blown-up No. 3 Platoon—were missing. Of officers, Lieutenant K. R. Mathieson had been killed (he had been last seen shooting a Hun who was bayoneting our wounded); Captain Mulholland died of his wounds as soon as he arrived in hospital at Ypres.”
His name is on the MCC Roll of Honour and there is a window to him in the church of Ireland at Ballywalter.