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Printed in the Preston Herald | 29th March 1916

Private Roland Shawcross, one of the Preston ‘Pals’, sends the following graphic account of his observations and incidents in the trenches, which he and his comrades are experiencing:-



The present spell in the trenches is serving to demonstrate the awakening of activities on our front. There is an intense and growing keenness to be observed both on our own side and that of the enemy. The frost and snow had disappeared when we moved into the front line, and apart from the crackle of rifle and machine gun fire, there were no incidents to mark the relief that was taking place. Once more that grey dark patch between the lines was scanned by our men. How distant now does that first occasion seem when we looked out into the dark veil behind which the German line was hidden. They are changed men now who stand sentinel, guarding the honour of their country; men who have known the bitterness of casualties, themselves witness to the grim swift hand of death carrying away their own comrades. Heroically they have borne the hardships and privations of the bitter campaign. Now, as the springtime approaches, they will carry out their duties with the same cheerful spirit. How confidently they work between the line repairing barbed wire! How calmly the step out of their trench security and walk into the darkness! There is no uncanny sense of danger, but a splendid confidence as they run the wire from post to post.


A flare from the German trench darts into the sky, and on reaching its zenith vividly and brilliantly illuminates the scene. Motionless our men stand until darkness once more settles down, and then their hazardous work is continued. The task completed they make their way back to the trench. There were no casualties during the first night. How welcome the daybreak! A new hope comes with the appearance of that first grey streak in the heavens. The weird fantasy of night is no more. Fires are lighted and breakfast prepared. Only too rapidly, however, the day wears on. The night is pitch black when suddenly the machine guns open fire and continue with increasing rapidity. The sentries are blazing away. On every hand men are hurrying to the fire-step. Myriads of flares illuminate the whole line. From the dug-out doors men crawl out. It is a sham attack, by our side, and we simply pour lead in the direction of the German trenches. Hundreds of rifles spit out rapid fire. The heads of the men above the trench are grimly silhouetted against the sky. The Germans reply feverishly, expecting our men at any moment. Amidst the terrific din of rifle fire, bombs and grenades, our guns commence to speak. How the shells scream as they whizz over and burst with a deafening roar on the German front line! “Cease fire!” The order runs rapidly down the line, and a strange unearthly quiet succeeds the din of war. Those not on duty return to their dugouts, that is, of course, if they have been fortunate to secure one, for dug-outs in some parts of the line are by no means as prevalent for ‘Tommy’ as those at home imagine. Our men have enjoyed the fun, and it has helped to liven things up.


The following day provided events which will live in our memories for many a week to come, as some of the heaviest of the enemy artillery came into action on our part of the front, and continued for many hours. It was a beautiful spring morning. The birds were piping their wild melodies from the feeble branches of dead trees. Ruined homes stood out vividly against the sun. There was a peaceful quiet which so often out here provides the lull before the storm. Suddenly we heard the whizz of shell, and many 5in. shells came sweeping hawk-like down just behind the front line. This was only a prelude to the German activities. A deafening roar resembling a flying express seemed to shake the earth’s foundation. Our dug-out many yards away from the scene rolled and shook like a vessel on the sea. What a sight! Great logs of wood, bricks, mud and sand bags shot skywards, and the fall of debris continued for many seconds. We knew that only a few yards away from that explosion the platoon of another company were stationed, and there were fears for their safety. Shell after shell of this type came roaring over. It was just like one could imagine an earthquake to resemble. The power of the shell seemed too terrible, too awful, to be realised. Ruined buildings fell to the ground like a pack of earth. If any of these shells had fallen short I shudder to think of the disaster which would have overcome us. That same night we were relieved to go into reserve. Enquiries were at once made by our men as to the damage wrought by the shells. The platoon which had been in such close proximity had cause to remember that day. Many of their dug-outs had been completely blown in through the force of the explosion, and these men had just to stand bravely to their post never knowing when they would be blown to eternity. For hours they had to undergo that awful suspense, and when the shelling was over there was a roll call. Two men were missing, and after a brief search their bodies were found. Once more we have realised the Germans’ power of destruction, but we know that our artillery, too, can effectively retaliate.

Paul McCormick
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