Gerald Benham’s notes from diaries 1917.

Gerald Benham’s notes from diaries 1917.

15 Decr Played football for O.T.s v Ipswich School. We won 8.0. I scored 2.
Spent day with Bernard Pretty & wound up with tea and a bath at his
17 “ Col B**ter notified that he would very soon be returned.
25 “ Found three pieces of amber. (I played football for the Bn every Sat
throughout the season. We only lost one match).

George Ryan’s letter home dated 24 Dec 1914

George Ryan’s letter home dated 24 Dec 1914
“D” Company.
9th Battn Middx Regt
Victoria Barracks
24 Dec 1914

Dear M & F,

Thanks very much for your letter dated Nov 27th. I didn’t get it till Monday as the mail was late. I expect we shall have another mail this week; there ought to be a special one for Christmas. I hope it isn’t late though.

We are looking forward to a fairly decent time. Of course we’ve got a holiday to-day as usual & I suppose we shall have all day Sat. I hear we are going to get a piano from one of the other bungalows (the canteen or some other place) & some of the fellows are going to put up paper ornaments so it will seem a little like Christmas in spite of the weather. We almost took the roof off last night singing (?) carols.

We are allowed 3d a day messing allowance. We do not get the money but we get extra food, whatever we like to order. Since we came here we’ve only had butter & a few other odd things so we’ve got a fairly big balance which will be spent on Christmas fare, so we look like having a decent “spread” both for dinner & tea.

Well there doesn’t seem to be much to say this week; I suppose there will be more next week. I have not received that letter of May’s yet that dad said she was going to write but perhaps she never wrote it after all.

Hoping you are all quite well & getting on alright; I’m feeling A1.

Love to all,
Yr loving son
Thanks very much for the papers.

P.S. Dear May,

In my top right hand draw, you will find a thing that I believe was once a writing-case. Well in there you will find a photograph of yourself. Please send it to me together with a nice long letter with all the news. Fondest Love
George X X X

George Ryan’s letter home dated 17 Dec 1914

George Ryan’s letter home dated 17 Dec 1914

“D” Company.
9th Battn Middx Regt
Victoria Barracks
17 Dec 1914

Dear M & F,

I had no letter this week but I suppose I’d better write a few lines just to let you know I’m still alive. In fact I’ve had no letters at all yet except that one of yours. I ought to have had one from the office as I wrote to Mr W from Gib asking him to send me a diary, but perhaps it will arrive next Sunday. The mails seem very much delayed. I suppose they come all the way by boat.

We’ve about settled down to this place now, but I expect we shall soon get tired of it, there’s hardly anywhere to go in our spare time. Of course there are rumours about us moving shortly but I think we are here for a few months. We generally go to some soldiers’ recreation rooms in the evening about 20 min walk from here. There’s a reading room, billiards & supper rooms. The prices are as cheap if not cheaper than our own supper bar. You can have quite a good “tuck in” for 5d or 6d. There’s nothing to go in the town for. The native part is an awful place. It beyond description. It looks as if there’s been a big fire or an earthquake. The dogs don’t seem very fond of us soldiers. They all start barking directly they see any of us, and the smells & the dust are enough to choke you. I shan’t stroll round that part very often.

There’s an English Church in the English quarters about a quarter of an hour’s walk from here. We had a Church Parade Sun. morning & took our rifles, bayonets & 20 rounds of ammunition each. There were racks in front of each seat for our rifles. It’s been a rule to take them ever since the Mutiny, as a regiment of soldiers were trapped in church.

C Smith & I went to the Evening Service but of course we didn’t take rifles or anything with us then.

We are not working extra hard at present; we get the whole day off Thursdays, half a day Sat & of course Sundays. We find it very nice getting two days of rest per week.

I forgot to tell you we have a cup of tea in bed every morning. Or rather it’s a “mug” so I get about twice as much as you have, unless you have two cups. They are pint mugs & all we have to do is to walk about half a dozen yards for our mug, get our tea & sit in bed & drink it. It goes down alright as we get no breakfast till 7.45 before which we do ¾ of an hour’s drill.

Our Canteen, supper bar, library etc are run by the R.A.T.A. (Royal Army Temperance Assoc) so I have joined it, which is the same thing as signing the pledge. The sub is only 4d a month. A moderate drinker can be a member for 2d a month but of course he doesn’t get the same privileges as full members.

By all accounts we shan’t have much money to draw weekly out here. There are several compulsory stoppages, washing, sports, hair cutting etc. Evidently our grumbles on board the Dilwara were of some use; we’ve been given 3d a day messing allowance for the voyage (35 days).

My eyes started getting bad; I suppose it’s the glare of the sun, as they ache a bit too sometimes, but now I use the ointment they seem alright.

We are still wearing our old uniforms; we’ve been measured for the new ones so I expect we shall have them shortly now.

Well I hope I shall get a little more news this Sunday. I ought to get May’s letter that you mentioned at any rate.

Hope you are all quite well & getting along alright. Has dad still got something to do?

Love to all,
Yr affec son

Narrative of the operations from November 30th – December 3rd 1917



(a) Dispositions. At 6.0 a.m. the Division was disposed as follows:-
59th Inf. Bde. Right Front Sector.
61st Inf. Bde. Left Front Sector.
60th Inf. Bde. In Reserve about FIFTEEN RAVINE and VILLERS PLOUICH.

(b) The 59th Inf. Bde. had relieved the 60th Inf. Bde. on the night of the 29th/30th.
(c) At about 7.0 a.m. the enemy opened a bombardment on the 12th and 55th Divisional fronts. Inter-communication between Battn and Coy. Headquarters on the 20th Divisional front conclusively proves that up to 7.30 a.m. no events had taken place on our front, while at 7.15 a.m. an S.O.S. GRAND (37th Inf. Bde., 12th Div.) was received. This clearly shows that the 20th Div. Front was not attacked till at least half an hour after the attack on the 12th Division. At 7.30 a.m., however, the enemy shelling appeared to spread to our front and soon intensified. Standing barrages were put down on the posts in the outpost line and another on the main line of resistance. This barrage (which included smoke) lifted later on to the valley W. of the CAMBRAI Road. A third barrage which included a proportion of “mustard gas” shells, fell on the Sunken Road leading from LA VACQUERIE to MASNIERES. The bombardment was followed at about 8 a.m. by an infantry attack on the entire Divisional front. The attack appeared to be launched in echelon from the left, the 55th Division having been attacked first; a few minutes later the 12th Div., then the 20th Div. the chief weight of the attack appeared to be thrown on the point of junction of the 12th and 55th Divisions. The outpost line of the 20th Div. was overwhelmed by a converging attack from RUE DES VIGNES and CREVECOEUR and driven back on the main line of resistance. This line was then heavily attacked by machine gun fire from low flying aeroplanes which also dropped smoke bombs thus concealing the approach of the hostile infantry who advanced, in what appeared to be Artillery formation, in successive lines (8 to 12 of these lines were counted). The leading line fired as it advanced. Partly owing to the weight of the attack, and partly to the fact that the enemy had by this time penetrated the line of the Div. on the right to such a depth that the main line of resistance was entirely out-flanked, the 59th and 61st Inf. Bdes. were forced to fall back to a line running approximately as follows:- L.34.a.5.2. – L.34.c.8.9. – L.34.d.5.7. – R.5.a.2.8. – R.4.b.8.2. – R.10.b.2.8. – R.11.c.2.9.

Machine Guns on WELSH RIDGE succeeded in holding up the enemy advancing from the N.W. from the direction of QUENET FARM while the 91st {92} F.A. Bde. in LA VACQUERIE VALLEY, (R.12.a & b) repulsed four attacks, firing at 200 yards range, but the gunners were finally overcome and forced to leave the guns after having removed the breech blocks.
The first indication that the enemy had broken through the front of the 12th Division was noted from Div. H.Q. Men could be seen retiring over the high ground about GONNELIEU. A Staff Officer was sent at once to ascertain the position about GONNELIEU and GOUZEAUCOURT and met men of various labour units and Railway Construction Coys. falling back from the direction of LA VACQUERIE, GONNELIEU, and QUINTIN RIDGE to the main GOUZEAUCOURT – VILLERS PLOUCH Road.
Most of these men were unarmed, and as none were acting under definite orders, those who were ordered to hold the bank of the GOUZEAUCOURT – VILLERS PLOUICH Road.
Meanwhile the 60th Inf. Bde. (then in Reserve) was ordered to move as follows:-
1 Battalion to LA VACQUERIE
3 Battalions to reinforce the QUINTEN RIDGE – GONNELIEU line.

When however it was reported that the 20th Div. front had been broken, 2 Battns of this Bde. were ordered to move to the HINDENBURG Line; 1 to LA VACQUERIE; and 1 to GONNELIEU.

The 2 Battns ordered to the HINDENBURG line were however by this time engaged in fighting about GONNELIEU and QUINTEN RIDGE and could not be extricated. Thus the Divisional Reserve were not available to make a counter attack on the 20th Divisional front, or to recapture the lost guns.

(d) At 11.40 a.m. the situation was as follows:-
The Reserve Bde held a line, R.31.d.5.5. – N.W. outskirts of GONNELIEU – LA VACQUERIE, with elements of the 12th Div. between it and the right of the 59th Inf. Bde., while the 59th and 61st Inf. Bdes. held a line approximately the same as described in para.1. (c).
The enemy had by this time penetrated as far as GOUZEAUCOURT from the direction of GAUCHE WOOD, and the situation was critical.

(e) At 12 noon orders were issued for one Battn of the 60th Inf. Bde. to make good the summit of QUENTIN RIDGE about R.31.d. and R.32.a., and if the enemy were found in occupation to counter attack and drive him off. Owing to heavy M.G. fire and also to the fact that the situation on the right flank was so obscure, one Coy. from the Battn. carrying out the attack had to be sent to GOUZEAUCOURT (which was then in the hands of the enemy), and the attack was unable to gain the top of the Ridge. The Coy. detached towards GOUZEAUCOURT however did good work in mowing down the enemy retiring S. from GOUZEAUCOURT before the counter attack of one Bde. of Guards. No artillery was available to support this attack.

(f) At 4.45 p.m. the situation was as follows:-

The line ran approximately from L.34.central – R.5.a. – R.10.a. – R.17.a. – R.16.d.5.0. – LA VACQUERIE – N.W. outskirts of GONNELIEU – GOUZEAUCOURT with a gap about R.10.b&d.
As no troops were available to fill this gap, the III Corps was asked for reinforcements, and two Battns. were allotted to the Div. from the 6th Div., the C.O’s reporting at Div. H.Q. (This was not done).
One Battn. (the 2/6th Sherwood Foresters) was sent to the 59th Inf. Bde. and located in the HINDENBURG Main Line in R.10.c. and R.16.b. while the other Battn. (1st Buffs) was used by the 60th Inf. Bde. to fill a gap in R.21.

(g) The line remained more or less the same as indicated above during the remainder of the day, while the enemy made periodical attacks up the LA VACQUERIE Valley.

2. (a). At 1 a.m. the 60th Inf. Bde. (less 1 Battn. holding LA VACQUERIE), were ordered to attack from QUINTEN MILL to GONNELIEU inclusive with a view to re-establishing the line of the Ridge. The attack was met by heavy M.G. fire, and although the right pushed forward, the left encountered a hostile attack launched simultaneously with our own and failed to gain ground.

(b). At 2.10 a.m. Div. H.Q. was transferred from VILLERS PLOUICH to Q.29.central (QUEEN’S CROSS).

(c). At 7.0 a.m. the Guards Division carried out an attack and seized the high ground between QUINTEN MILL and GONNELIEU including the latter, but a hostile counter attack about 10.0 a.m. drove them from the village itself.

(d). At about 6.0 p.m. on the evening of December 1st, two Coys. of the 11th D.L.I. (Pioneers), who were then under B.G.C. 61st Inf. Bde. were placed at the disposal of the 59th Inf. Bde., who put them under the command of the O.C. 11th K.R.R.C. in the HINDENBURG Line and R.10.c.

(e). During the night of the 1st/2nd December no further attack was made by the enemy on the Divisional front. The Guards Division took over the front held by the 60th Inf. Bde. from QUINTIN RIDGE to GONNELIEU, while the 183rd Inf. Bde. 61st Div., relieved the 12th K.R.R.C. in LA VACQUERIE, thus releasing the whole of the 60th Inf. Bde. who were withdrawn to FIFTEEN RAVINE – VILLERS PLOUICH Area.

3. (a) During December 2nd the enemy confined his attacks to LA VACQUERIE where he was repulsed three times by the 183rd Inf. Bde.

(b). On the night of December 2nd/3rd the 183rd Inf. Bde. relieved the 59th and 61st Inf. Bdes., whilst the 184th Inf. Bde. went into Divl Reserve at about R.8., the command passing from G.O.C. 20th Div. to G.O.C.61st Div. at 7 a.m.

(c). At 8.0 a.m. on December 3rd the Div. was disposed as follows:-
60th Inf. Bde. SOREL
61st Inf. Bde. FINS

The line as actually handed over to the 61st Div. ran approximately as follows:-
L.35.b – R.5.a. – R.11.c. – R.17.c. – R.22.b. – R.21.b. – R.20.d. – R.20.c. –R.26.d.

4. Div. H.Q. moved from Q.29.central to SOREL, and was established at SOREL at 7 a.m. December 3rd.

20th Division. 8 December 1917

20th Div. No. G.179.
The Division has now between withdrawn from the line to re-organize and re-equip. This is the first time since the active participation in the heavy fighting in Flanders in August that the Division has been billeted in the Back Area. From August up to the present time the Division has had practically no rest, and has been engaged in active operations during the whole period except for about 6 weeks when it was holding trenches with three Brigades in the line on the Third Army front.
On the 16th August the 60th and 61st Inf. Bdes. captured LANGEMARCK and ground to the North and East of it; the forcing of the STEENBEEK preparatory to this operation being undertaken by the 59th Inf. Bde. The Division on this occasion took all its objectives, with the exception of a small portion of EAGLE TRENCH, and many prisoners and machine guns. The Division received the thanks and praise of the Army and Corps Commanders, and added fresh honours to its name.
On the 20th September the Division again took the field and captured strong German positions on the XIV Corps front. EAGLE TRENCH at the conclusion of the days’ operations still held out, but two days later it was in our hands after a stiff fight, and nearly 200 prisoners were captured; again the Army and Corps Commanders were loud in praise of the gallantry and tenacity displayed by all ranks of the Division. The captured ground was handed over to another Division.
The 20th Division was on 30th September sent off to the South to join the Third Army and take over a portion of that line.
On the 20th November the great offensive in front of CAMBRAI began, and the 20th Division gained all its objectives, displaying all its well-known courage and fighting qualities. Although the Division had been holding the line previous to this operation, and had no opportunity of training or rest such as other Divisions in the back area enjoyed, it carried out its task without a hitch and added another victory to its long roll.
In the subsequent operations during the German counter-attack the units lost heavily, but the enemy’s advance was checked for the time being in the HINDENBURG LINE, and at LA VACQUERIE.
I wish all ranks, and especially the reinforcements of the Division, to realise the important part their units have played in the hard fighting which has driven the Germans over and over again out of their strongly prepared positions, and especially the HINDENBURG LINE which the enemy looked upon as impregnable.
The Division has a grand record behind it, second to none, and I feel confident that when called upon again to take the field, everyone will strive to live up to its reputation of which all, are rightly, so proud. Our rest may be a short one, and every day must be utilised to get the Division into fighting trim.

W. Douglas Smith Major General,
Commanding 20th Division.
8th December, 1917.
Copies to all Units.

George Ryan’s letter home dated 8 Dec 1914

George Ryan’s letter home dated 8 Dec 1914
“D” Company.
9th Battn Middx Regt
Victoria Barracks
8 Dec 1914

Dear Mother & F,

Thanks very much for yr letter dated 12 Nov also for the W. Chronicle. I said in my last letter you need not send me any papers but you can send me the W. Chron now & again when there’s anything in it.

Well, as you see we’ve got here at last. We had 3 days in the train, reaching here at 5.0 p.m. Sunday (6 Dec). It wasn’t a corridor train; but there was only 3 or 4 compartments to a carriage so there was about 18 in each compartment. They are very similar to the old N.L. minus the adverts. We got out at stations for washing & food, which was better than what we had on board the “old tub”, tea, dry bread, & stew (meat, cauliflower & potatoes). I slept on the floor.

The country we passed was very wild. A few mud hut villages here & there, but we saw nothing dangerous; only a few monkeys & wild birds, parrots etc.

I think we’re in for a jolly fine time here. There’s only 5 Companies, 1 other is a few miles away & the other 3 are at Dum-dum 300 miles away. The whole barracks cover about ½ square mile; I should think, they are quite open; there’s no wall or fence. Each building is in one long line, not square; only the ground floor, which is very lofty – quite as high as your house. The beds are quite far apart & we’ve each got a fair-sized trunk & proper rack for our rifle, equipment, helmet etc. The beds are made of corrugated iron, not round of course, but like this -. Then there’s a thing supposed to be a mattress, but it’s not very thick; & 1 blanket is all we’ve got at present. I think we get another blanket & a couple of sheets. We want them too, it’s jolly cold here at night. The buildings are so constructed so that the sun does not shine in, so it keeps nice & cool during the day, but we get plenty of air; there are big double doors between every two beds.

There’s a fine canteen, it seems a sort of general store & by what we’ve seen so far things are very cheap. We had a good tuck in there directly we got here Sunday night (10.0). We had 3 meat rissoles, potatoes, fried onions, cauliflower, bread & a small jug of tea for 5 annas (5d). It was jolly fine & went down A 1 I can tell you.

We are not allowed to do our own washing; we are stopped 14 annas ( ½d) a month for it.

Since writing about the beds we have received 3 sheets & a rug. We thought at first the rug was to go down beside our bed, then we thought perhaps it was a bed cover but I suppose it’s to lay on the iron as we roll the mattress & blankets up during the day. Whatever its purpose we ought to be nice & comfortable, as we have been promised some more stuffing for the mattress.

You asked me what tobacco I prefer; well something mild. Boardman’s I’m smoking at present. But it’s too expensive for you to send as I think the parcel rates are fairly heavy & it’s cheaper out here I think.

Bert mentions something about a scheme for you to get an allowance from the Government. We’ve heard nothing about it but a fellow told me you could not claim it if you are receiving 50% or more of your money from your place of business. If you think there’s any chance of getting it, of course send me particulars.

The weather out here is grand at present. We’ve had a clear blue sky every day for the last fortnight. But the roads are very dusty. 2 or 3 inches deep in some places.

Well I hope you are all quite well & are getting on alright. I wish letters didn’t take so long to come from England. Just fancy I you’re your letter on Dec 7th & you wrote it Nov 12.

The mail goes out here Thursdays & arrives Sundays, we get them on Mondays, so I suppose I shall receive May’s letter that you mention next Monday,

I’m glad you didn’t have to pay anything on my letter. I wrote to Uncle Tom, Aunt Charlotte, Cousin Ellen, Aunt Jinny etc just before we reached Bombay, (the same post as my last letter to you) to wish them the Compts of the Season, so I suppose they won’t have to pay.

Love to all,
Yr loving son