The NCOs do not seem to know a great deal about bombs

Sydney was battling through his digestive issues – not to mention his self confidence.


Monday 22 July 1918

As I had had a hard day yesterday, what with the reconnaissance & my indisposition, I did not attend the first parade but went to aid post & there obtained some castor oil for inspection uses.

Went on 9.45 parade. Did platoon training which included some interesting fire orders work. After lunch rested & censored letters.

At 5.15 gave a lecture to all NCOs on bombs, chiefly about the mills bomb. The NCOs do not seem to know a great deal about bombs. I hope I didn’t bore them stiff. After the lecture there were no other parades.

Spent remainder of day in writing, playing patience etc. To bed fairly early. Feeling better after castor oil!

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EZ177/8/15)

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The difference between fair terms & absolute surrender

The son of the vicar of Radley, Captain Austin Longland was serving in Salonika with the Wiltshire Regiment, where he struggled with the heat, but hoped the Germans were about to give in.

Thursday July 6th [1916]

Temperature in here continues at 95-105 degrees I’m told by the doctor. Also I’ve just had my 2nd dose of typhoid & perityphoid inoculations & have a day off duty in consequence. Twice clouds have gathered, & once we had a violent storm of thunder & lightning but never a drop of rain. Needless to say all beauty’s gone. The sun glares down, trying the eyes, and our view of the town is blurred by a continuous cloud of fine grey dust. I have told you that from the sea up to the hills the ground rises steadily till the last steep ascent, & we’re therefore, tho’ considerably below the level of the actual hills, some height above the town which is about 5 miles away. We are to the left of the road this time, but we can see the sites of our 2 early camps and get a rather different view of the town & the citadel. You remember the shock I had on returning our bivouacs last Sunday fortnight & finding them gone and all my kit packed. My first idea then was that we were going forward – first stop Nish or Sofia, but when it was known that we were to march back over the hills no one knew what to expect.

The men were more cheerful than I’ve seen them in this country – all firmly persuaded that they were going back to France – an opinion which I hadn’t the heart to discourage, but did not hold myself.
Since then nothing has happened. From about 6 to 6.45 each day in the morning the battalion does its old physical drill, & parade which the officers, except Waylen who takes it, do not attend, going out instead to study tactics with the NCOs, each company by itself. This lasts 6 till 9. Three days a week we go a route march from 5-8 a.m. In the evening we parade from 5.45 till 6.15. doing physical exercises gain, officers & all – & that is the day. The NCOs class was ordered by the Brigade & is most useful – tho’ of course it’s what we ought to have done at Marlboro’. So from 9 till 5.45 every day & from 6.30 onwards we have nothing to do except sit in our hut.

Wood as usual is scarce, so there’s not chance to make a chair. At present I am seated on 2 sand-bags, which raises one off the ground a bit. We have a hut for a common room, but tho’ it has forms and a table, it’s very hot & full of flies. Here the flies grew so unbearable that I ordered yards of muslin from the town & with its aid we ae at last at peace. We feed in a hut off a sand bag table & seated on sand bag seats. I’ve just been busy trying to make that fly-proof – harder but even more necessary. If you sit still for a moment you can always count over 50 on the plate in front of you.
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No half time: kill or be killed

Sydney Spencer summarised the lessons he had gained from his army training. This was the last entry in Sydney’s diary, although we will still be hearing from him in his letters after he went overseas.

28 February 1916
Captain Shaft

Physical Training

Fitness by training. Bayonet not obsolete as many people think.

Physical training has been worked out for 100 years.

During retreat from Mons, new recruits going by in a train saw an old wounded soldier, & called out “Are we down hearted” & they answered “No”, but he called out “Then you will – well soon be”.

Physical Training massages the inside orders.

Physical Training trains the brains.

Men whose insides are all twisted up get straightened out. Such exercise requires mental as well as physical force.

Bayonet

We have a great advantage over the Germans. We fight more extended than any other nation. In other words he is so to speak alone & must “carry on”. Not so with Germans. The German lacks the resource & initiative. The German is gone when it comes to close quarters.

Our fighting spirit must be controlled & skilled.

Direction of Bayonet.

In bayonet fighting “No half time”. One goes out to kill or be killed.

No “orders” should be given in bayonet fighting practice after actions are once learned. All to be done by signs & prodding at your man.

Company Training

All men, if possible, should be put on in company training & men should be trained in his own company.

Keep a Company Diary, & a Record of each day’s work, & sketches, plans, messages & remarks of his own or visiting officers’ work.

Keep a note of capabilities of your men, NCOs & officers.

Diary kept as a confidential document or as a company book. These diaries should be kept till the next “Company Training”.

Training of NCOs.

6 days to NCO & chosen Privates.

1. Map Reading.
2. Outposts, Flank, Advanced, Rear Gun.
3. Duties of Patrols.
4. Writing reports.

Fire direction.
Indication of targets.
Instruction by lectures & practical work. Frequent questionings.
Reforming after an assault. A lot of practice & arrangement required.

Lectures should be given every day if possible on the next day’s work.

Lectures include Regimental Records, Cleanliness & Morality. 1st Aid, Observers.

Every company commander, & every platoon commander, should have an observer.

How to load pack animals.
How to make knots.
Cooking.

Men should be reminded of faults such as slowness. Taking cover clumsily.

The new importance of night marching. Aircraft. “Disappearing Drill”. Company commander makes programme. Hang it in Orderly Room.
Tactical scheme to be carried out. CC should go out beforehand & see ground over which work is to be done.

He should be commander & umpire always, not umpire sometimes and commander at another time. After each operation hold a pow-wow.

Platoon & section commanders should see that men do work in right way or they won’t do it in actual warfare.

“Habit” to be aimed at in loading etc.

Diary of Sydney Spencer (D/EX801/14)