The Great War Diary of Cpl Brumfitt Atkinson of Addingham
26th MAY 1915 to 15th JULY 1916
Ex-Cpl Brumfitt Atkinson – photo taken in the 1930’s
Brumfitt Atkinson born 30 January 1878 in Addingham. He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a young man in 1898 and served in the Boer War in South Africa – Transvaal, Mafeking, and The Orange Free State. As a former regular soldier who was time-served, he re-enlisted, aged 37 years, and re-joined the same regiment, in Keighley on 12 January 1915, as Bombardier, and was promoted to Corporal on 12 May 1915 then to Sergeant on 4 March 1917, when serving in France with the 19th Siege Battery the Royal Garrison Artillery. At the time of his re-enlistment, Brumfitt was a limestone quarry breaker, married to Mary Alice née Whitaker, and living at 8 Victoria Terrace, Addingham. The couple married in 1907 and had several children.
Brumfitt was gassed and wounded on 2 July 1917 and on 23 August 1917. His various injuries were gunshot wounds to his shoulder and throat and he was later treated at 2nd Australian Field Hospital with gunshot wounds to his thigh. A message from the General Hospital at Wimereux on 10 December 1917 said that he was dangerously ill, then a week later was “out of danger” and his next of kin informed. At some stage, Brumfitt was injured again and he lost an arm. This effectively ended his army life and, after leaving hospital, he was discharged from service on 2 October 1918 and awarded a Silver War Badge. Brumfitt was said to be of very good character and he was granted a pension for a total of 12 years of his service, effective from 5 October 1918, and received 1s. a week for life in addition to his disability pension. At the time of discharge, he was in 106th Siege Battery and on 4 November 1918 received the King’s Certificate for Service. Returning, in 1918, to 8 Victoria Terrace, he later lived at 30 Victoria Terrace until his death in 1940 aged 61 years.
Brumfitt kept a diary for around 18 months of his service in France. It was a punishable offence to keep a diary whilst on active service but many men did. The concern was that if the diary fell into German hands it might give the enemy an advantage, an insight into Allied activities and risk lives. His diary, a pocket-tattered notebook written in now-fading pencil, records 15 months of experiences, and sudden deaths, on The Western Front, mostly in the Bethune/Loos areas. The diary ends abruptly on 15th July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme….
Leslie Syree transcribed the diary (he is no relation but became involved because of his interest in the Great War). The bracketed information was added by Mr Syree. It is not known where the diary is now.
26 May 1915 – Wed: Left BRISTOL for FRANCE and arrived at BOULOGNE early 27 May and went to the rest camp to await the arrival of the (traction) engines (for pulling the guns).
31 May 1915 – Mon: Arrived at St.OMER and got orders to proceed to HAZEBROUCK next day. Sent away two letters. Went to AIRE instead of Hazebrouck.
02Jun 1915 – Wed: Arrived at BETHUNE and proceeded to GORRE and took up position.
03 Jun 1915 – Thu: We were under shell fire in the morning and in the afternoon fired three rounds per gun.
04 Jun 1915 – Fri: Quiet morning. Fired ten rounds into LA BASSEE at dusk.
05 Jun 1915 – Sat: All quiet. Fired eight rounds registering at SALOME.
06 Jun 1915 – Sun: Quite a lively day. Destroyed the railway triangle (near LA BASSEE). Fired ten rounds. Fired again in the evening and made a bulls-eye; destroyed a tower and factory. (Our gun) fired six rounds. (German) shells came very near, splinters flying all over the orchard. Got to know later that (our) firing had been very effective, blown down an observation tower and set fire to a factory. (Our) major congratulated the detachment and ordered (the results) to be recorded in the progress report.
07Jun 1915 – Mon: Everything quiet, nothing doing. Put guns on platform during the night.
08 Jun 1915 – Tue: Quiet day, nothing doing. The usual (German) shells falling very near the battery, doing no damage.
09 Jun 1915 – Wed: Fired 21 rounds registering again, otherwise all quiet.
l0Jun 1915 – Thu: All quiet again. Rain stopped observation.
11 & 12 Jun 1915 – Sat: Nothing doing, all quiet.
13 Jun 1915 – Sun: A heavy bombardment started just after daybreak and (we) heard the rifle fire from the trenches. Continued all morning, expected a big battle. Bombardment continued until early next morning.
14 Jun 1915 – Mon: Section was on the guns at 4am and came into action about 10.30am. Fired ten rounds. Thought to have achieved their objective. Shifted a battery of German guns. Action continued into the afternoon.
15 Jun 1915 – Tue: Action continued, blazing away as hard as they could, angle and elevation varying. Very little heard. They had made good shooting in the morning and must be doing a lot of damage. It still continues after 6pm, blazing away, battery time five seconds intervals. (I) have given over writing down the number of shells fired. Saw a lot of wounded come walking down the road from the trenches, mostly belonging to the East Yorkshire Regiment, who told us they had had a bad time. Reports say they have captured three lines of trenches. Firing still continues but our guns have given over. They have fired nearly one hundred rounds and they have only two guns at the right-half of the battery. The others are at St.OMER waiting for ammunition, the right-half having taken all the ammunition. The noise was deafening and the rifle and machine gun fire has been continuous. Went on guard until early next morning. (German) trenches were taken (but our men) had to evacuate again. The 7th Division on the left were able to hold what they had taken and gained a lot of ground. Men coming from the trenches said that it was as bad as the engagement at YPRES.
l6Jun 1915 – Wed: Were on the guns at 3am but all was quiet up to 9am. Finished the day off with firing a few rounds at a (German) trench and achieved our object. Told that the firing was very good. Registered the last round.
17 Jun 1915 – Thu: Quiet morning, opened with a few rounds. Just by the angle it looked as if the target was LA BASSEE. The target was a row of houses in which were some machine guns that had stopped the advance of our men. The houses were completely destroyed. Later in the day a note was received from the GOC RA that the Field Marshal C-in-C had personally been to see him and had complimented him on the work being done by the heavy artillery of the 10th brigade, the message to be conveyed to all ranks.
18 Jun 1915 – Fri: Quiet day. Calm after the storm.
19 Jun 1915 – Sat: Early morning a (German) bombardment commenced, continued for nearly one hour and died away as suddenly as it had commenced. Quiet afternoon.
20 Jun 1915 – Sun: Morning opened very quiet. Easy day.
21 Jun 1915 – Mon: Easy morning. Went out in the afternoon to lay telegraph cables to GIVENCHY A few (German) shells and bullets came near us, but everything passed off all right.
22 Jun 1915 – Tue: Did a bit of drilling. Just fancy – on active service – to give us something to do!
23, 24, 25, 26 & 27 Jun 1915 – Sun: Quiet days.
28Jun 1915 – Mon: A few (German) shells fell away to the left of the battery and a great feature of the firing was the number of blind shells – seven or eight in succession.
29,20 Jun, 01, 02 and 03Jul 1915 – Sat: Quiet days.
04Jul15 – Sun: ADDINGHAM FEAST; all quiet here.
05 to 14Jul 1915 – Wed: All quiet Capt Davis complimented Cpl Harding on his fifth round falling straight into the German trenches. There were 30 direct hits on the (German) trenches in the afternoon. Action lasted until late at night.
15Jul 1915 – Thu: Spent a day in BETHUNE on pass.
16&l7thJul 1915-Sat: All quiet.
18 Jul 1915 – Sun: Broke the silence after a month, and fired on LA BASSEE (railway) STATION but there was a ground mist and the shot was unobserved so turned our attention to two (German) batteries and compelled them to shift on, and destroyed them. Was told that the shooting was very good.
l9Jul 1915 – Mon: In action again, fired a few rounds. The enemy answered, fired a lot of rounds at BETHUNE doing a bit of damage in the town near the (railway) station, killing two little children. Towards nightfall (the Germans) fired a lot of rounds in our direction in a rapid manner, but all were falling short in the wood to the left of LA BASSEE CANAL. The last round fired from No.1 gun at 45 degrees elevation. Have not heard the result.
20&21 Jul 1915 – Wed: Quiet days.
22Jul 1915 – Thu: (We) fired a few rounds at LA BASSEE which it seems they are reducing to ruins, and also a few at SALOME. At night a heavy cannonade was heard on our right; must have been the French.
23Jul 1915 – Fri: Quiet day until the evening, when No1 gun opened fire, destroyed part of a railway, caused a series of explosions. By the angle it seemed as if LA BASSEE was the target. The major complimented the detachment on their smartness and accuracy. Heard from good authority the target was a goods yard at LA BASSEE and there were 18 direct hits, the shells dropping in a radius of 25 yards, destroying a battery of (German) guns that were inside the shed on trucks that were run out, fired and (run) back (inside the shed) again. This was the (enemy) battery that had shelled BETHUNE a few days before. Some 20 to 25 rounds were fired (by us) – “good shooting”.
24 Jul 1915 – Sat: Quiet day.
25Jul 1915 – Sun: Morning was quiet and in the afternoon (our guns) opened fire, presumably at LA BASSEE again, firing about twenty rounds. Airman’s report, Capt Barrett, says several direct hits on gun battery target. Also a large explosion of ammunition was observed. (German) guns were firing in the morning and were put out of action in the afternoon.
26Jul 1915 – Mon: The morning seems to be a quiet time as we did not get into action until well into the afternoon, when (we) engaged a hostile battery, and the airman’s report said that there were nine direct hits out of 13 rounds. The airman made a mistake in his observation, taking German shots for ours, causing the captain to think that the (gun) platform was at fault – so we had to re-lay the platform again, taking us until 11pm to finish it; and when the report came in they found out that good shooting had been the result and (we had done the re-laying) work for nothing!
27 Jul 1915 – Tue: Nothing doing.
28Jul 1915 – Wed: Everything was quiet until the evening.
29Jul 1915 – Thu: A few rounds were fired in the evening.
30Jul 1915 – Fri: Everything passed off quietly; heard a rumour that there would be a big action on the anniversary of the war (4th August 1914).
31 Jul 1915 – Sat Quiet
0l Aug 1915 – Sun: Germans shelled a farm just to our right, blowing the building, putting about 80 to 85 rounds into it. A field battery occupied this position and had one killed and two injured.
02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07 & 08 Aug 1915 – Sun: All quiet.
09 Aug 1915 – Mon: A few rounds fired early in the day, otherwise all passed off quietly with us, but heavy firing and fighting was heard on our left, and a few hundred yards of trenches were taken.
10 Aug 1915 – Tue: Quiet.
11 Aug 1915 – Wed: Came into action in the afternoon and secured two direct hits on two aircraft guns. Later came into action again and the airman signalled “OK, the first two rounds” – the last one was not observed. Have not heard what damage was done or what the target was.
12 Aug 1915 – Thu: Fired a few rounds towards evening. Did not hear the result.
13 Aug 1915 – Fri: Quiet
14 Aug 1915 – Sat: Came into action in the evening and fired 21 rounds. The airman’s report said there were six (?), all the shells falling in a radius of 25 yards of the target. This was the best series that had been fired and was very quick, all going very smoothly on No.1 gun; No.2 gun jammed their shell and did not fire again. The target was two (German) batteries and must have done a lot of damage.
15 & 16 Aug 1915 – Mon: Quiet days.
17Aug 1915: From this day up to 26 Aug nothing occurred except we got orders to move.
27Aug 1915 – Fri: Left GORRE for our new position leaving there at 7.30 in the evening, arriving at BULLY VOl LAINES at 12.3Oam.
28 Aug 1915 – Sat: Moved off at night again for BULLY GRENAY to take up the new position in an old sandpit.
29, 30 & 31 Aug 1915 – Sat: Still working on the position.
0l Sep 1915-Wed: Gunners DEVINE and BRADLEY were buried in their dug-out through the face of the pit giving way. They were dug out and artificial respiration tried with them but both died and (they) were buried in the cemetery close by, they being the first two casualties of the battery.
01 June 1916: Have not kept up diary for a good time but am starting again. We moved into position behind Bully nearly a fortnight since and have just got settled down a bit. We had a warm time of it the first day we were in action, the Germans using gas, and taking 1,500 yards of trenches on the Vimy Ridge. The enemy fired a barrage on all the roads and batteries about here.
Our position is a funny one, lying between two roads and as (Germans) fire on these we come in for the spare shells that fire a bit wide, and they were in good number. The position is a very open one behind stacks of unburned bricks but we have made a tunnel that we can get into when they commence shelling us heavily.
Today our people tried a new system; all the heavy guns in the district opened fire at a certain time, firing on (German) batteries and in all it was said that there were seventy odd guns firing all at once. It was a novel way but it must have been a good one as there was no reply from the Germans. They have been very quick in returning our fire before, but there was no answer at all until late at night when one heavy (German) gun opened up and fired a few rounds on our right, and a few shrapnel (shells) came over on the road to try to catch anything that was about.
Had talk with some infantry and they said that our people were going to try to take the double crossing and straighten out the line and that it would be a hard job too. There are great rumours that the Germans have been greatly reinforced on our front and were going to try and break through, in fact, to make another “Verdun” of the place, but we have seen no signs of it yet.
During our stay at Fosse 3 we have had some lively times, especially the last month, and if it had not been for the position, which was a good one, we would have had many casualties. But we were very lucky and only had one in the left-half battery. In the right-half they have had five or six (casualties). The wall behind the guns saved us a great deal, shells bursting fully 200 yards behind us, the splinters knocking pieces out of the wall, and if it had not been for that we should have suffered heavily. A battery on our right had two guns put out of action and two men killed.
We came into action in the evening and continued at a slow rate of fire until midnight, firing in all fifty rounds per gun. The infantry attacked about 8.30 p.m. and got over all right, and we were firing on (the German) communication trenches to prevent reinforcements coming up. All (our) heavy guns were on the same job and the flashes could be seen all around us. The Germans put a lot of shells around our position in the afternoon and early evening, some of them falling within 50 yards of the guns, but no damage was done, only knocking the Frenchman’s potatoes and cabbages up!
12 June to 1 July 1916: Came off leave and arrived at Bully in the evening and found that my section had moved to Albert (a town in the Somme district), and (I) followed a few days later. When we got there we found that great preparations had been made for a big bombardment.
Siege batteries had come from all over the British front and taken up position in the district. A few days were spent in finishing the position and then we commenced registering on our different targets. Enormous supplies of ammunition were ready – 2,000 rounds being in our position alone, and we kept getting more and more in as the bombardment went on. The noise was terrific, one great battle of guns, and the same up at the trenches showed what effect it had on the enemy. The ground was a great mass of shell holes and some were an enormous size, probably the 15th and the 12th, of which there were several in the district. It was like a huge pepperbox.
Several villages were taken and all the lines of trenches and woods were battered down, and only a few stumps left to show where the wood had been. The villages were levelled to the ground and at Fricourt the one prominent thing left standing was the church, which showed up amongst the other ruins.
Wet weather hindered the operation but one good job was when it got fine it soon dried up. The infantry suffered through it all. But one thing that struck you was the good spirits that the men were in after coming out of the trenches. The success had cheered them up although they had suffered heavily.
The dead were lying about, belonging to both sides, and awaiting burial. One German machine gun was lying in the trench and had been hit with a shell and the gun men (the gun crew) were lying in the bottom of the trench. A number of prisoners were taken, and some of them testified the accuracy of our gunfire, and were glad to surrender. They were a lot of fine fellows but they looked as if they could have done with a good square meal.
09 July 1916: We have not moved yet and the fight has been going on for eight or nine days; perhaps we will be making a move before long. Some batteries have moved nearer to the line to take up firing as the Germans are driven back.
Our guns must have fired about 1,000 rounds each since we have been here and the other batteries have done the same. The plans have been well thought out throughout this affair and every little detail attended to. Nothing has been left to chance. Ammunition and material and supplies of food have been brought in, horse and motor vehicles, and it has been one continuous line of traffic day and night, some men saying that the busiest street in London could not compare with the traffic that had passed one corner in Albert.
One feature about this is that we are not troubled by enemy aircraft. Very few have been over us since we came here and their artillery has been quiet or they have been in the trenches all the time, only one shell falling anywhere near our battery until today. The field guns and the heavies are knocking away now in front and it sounds as if we should be getting action again.
12 July 1916: Things have been a bit thick these last few days, but are beginning to quieten down. This afternoon we fired a good few rounds but all is quiet tonight and it looks as if we shall have a night in bed. A few shells dropped in Albert whilst we were in action, but it has been a very quiet time for us, only one shell dropping anywhere near the battery since we have been here.
Heard last night that the 9th West Riding (Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) had had a rough time of it since the advance started and had gone back to be reinforced and for a rest. They had lost over 200 men in the attack.
15 July 1916: Our troops are still making progress and we shall soon have to move forward as we are nearly out of range, and are expecting (to move) anytime now. A lot of batteries have already gone forward a few moves last night.
Prisoners are still coming in and there must have been a very good haul up to now. A telegram posted up in the battery yesterday said that we had done well and if we only kept on in the same spirit as we did on the first (day) of July our objective would be accomplished. The cavalry had broken through and we were in pursuit of the demoralised enemy.
This is where the diary ended.
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