News has been received of the battle fought at Neuve Chapelle earlier this month. Nevile West (Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment) was involved.
Neuve Chapelle, 19/3/15. “I think I may tell you, now that it is all over for the present, that our Regiment and my Company led the attack on Neuve Chapelle, which you have probably read much about. The attack was dated for last Wednesday, March 10th, and the night before I was detailed by the Brigade to take a party out to remove all the wire in front of our trenches, the Germans being about 100 yards away, at the time a most precarious game, as they heard us working at it and cutting, and so sent up magnesium flares and opened fire on us. Fortunately none of us was hit.
The attack commenced the following morning with half-an-hour’s terrific bombardment of the Hun trenches, which, being so close, proved a terrible ordeal for us sitting cramped in the wet trenches, several shells pitching short in amongst us; anyway it blew all their barbed wire entanglements away, and their trenches and themselves to blazes.
When the half-hour was over, we advanced, the only opposition being a machine gun which did for several. The Hun trenches were a terrible sight when we got there, masses of horribly mangled remains, and the whole air full of picric acid fumes from the lyddite shells. The front line (ours) went straight across the three lines of their trenches, and proceeded as far as the near side of the village, when we started entrenching ourselves under heavy enfilade fire, shrapnel and high explosive shells included.
This was due to the attack on our left primarily failing; their second go cleared the situation, however. Another regiment then passed through us, took the village, and established a line a few hundred yards on the further side. The Indian Division was on our right, and they were too impetuous, and receiving less opposition, got too far ahead, and had to be brought back a bit. Prisoners and wounded were streaming down the road from Neuve Chapelle to our Aid Posts all day.
It was a terrible day, horrible sights. May it be a long time before I see such another, and when quiet came not with darkness, but about midnight, one’s nerves were all over the place. During the actual proceedings one has little time to think. The next day was quieter, the Huns shelled us continuously, but not so vigorously. My skipper was wounded, while next to me, by a shrapnel shell bursting overhead; and therefore left me in command of the Company, as I am still; being alone like that, at such a crisis, a horrible feeling of loneliness came over me, and does come now.
The next morning (Friday) the Huns made a counter-attack on our position, shouting in pure English, ‘Don’t shoot, we are the H.L.I,’ and as that regiment was on our right, and slightly in advance, we were at first taken in, but when it was discovered that it was the Huns advancing, rapid fire was opened, and the ground in front of our trenches now is heaped with their dead, and those that were wounded crawled into our lines. We cannot bury them, so must leave them there to rot; won’t it be terrible if the weather gets really warm, and the sun hot?
That same morning, the Huns, having failed in their counter-attack, bombarded our trenches and the village furiously for an hour, and God alone knows how we lived through it, the bits of shell and the fumes were horrible; it is impossible to get away from either, and I saw two men blown quite 30 feet in the air.
Their bombardment lulled at about 10.30, and at 11.00 we started bombarding their trenches preparatory to attacking again. We could see the wretched Huns flying for all they were worth. A and C Companies were then in support to the Rifle Brigade. When our bombardment ceased, the R.B’s got out of the trenches, and began to attack; they fortunately hadn’t gone far before (I should think) about 12 German machine guns opened fire, and God knows how any of them escaped; I was right in the open at the time and it was hell. Those that remained crawled back at dusk. A great friend of mine who was in the 1st Battalion with me was riddled with bullets, and killed instantly.
A bullet hit my camera which was in my coat pocket, and just turned its course enough. Otherwise, ‘I shouldn’t have gone no further.’ My luck has been extraordinary; may it long continue so. We have just been sent two more 2nd Lieutenants. Apart from that we have only five Officers left.
Well, such is my news, but you will learn more about it from the papers, as they get the operations taken as a whole. The Huns lost terribly, and I fear we did also, although with the modern machines of war, one can expect nothing else. It is terrible, real hell on earth.”