For a while now, I’ve had my suspicions that my battalion were attacked on the road to Ypres.
It started when I clicked through the route on Streetview (I know it was the correct route because of all the cemeteries and memorials along the way). I had a memory of being involved in a fire fight in one of the wooded areas on that road.
More recently, I had a memory of being in a fire fight where the smoke from .303 cartridges was so thick, my eyes watered and my nose began to run. I asked my father, a military veteran himself, and he said that the watering eyes at least sounded like Cordite though that was the only effect he knew of from burning cordite but that it certainly had an effect on the nose as well in its raw form.
Today I finally got a moment to relax and I had a flash that seemed to stitch it all together. I think the Germans weren’t trying to stop our column so much as harassing us on the go. I seem to remember a sequence of events that started with light shelling. They didn’t need to do much. I only remember one shell hitting near us. It was horrifying though, it was a large shell and it must have killed a dozen or two men. After that, they opened up with rifle and machine gun fire and we took cover in the woods near the road, returning fire until the air was so choked with smoke from our rifles that our eyes watered from the smoke.
I could be confabulating, or I could be stitching together unrelated memories in a sequence that kind of makes sense. Shy of getting hold of the 2nd Shropshires’ war diaries (whenever they end up getting posted) the best I can do for now is look for the physical evidence.
Looks like it’s off to the CWGC website again to see if I can find a cluster of Shropshires in one of the cemeteries along that road… I don’t like this kind of research; it’s always sad when you can read a casualty list in a war cemetery and find evidence of one particular moment of calamity. It’s one thing to read about the event but it’s quite another to actually be able to see the cemeteries where the victims are buried.
If I can confirm this it’ll be up there with when I identified that pockmarked hill with light-colored soil from my memories as Hill 60; it’ll be a gut-wrenching confirmation.
Come to think of it, writing this actually got me thinking about Hill 60 again too. I don’t know why, but I’ve been numb about it for a long time, and now it’s starting to hit. If memory serves, the only reason I survived was because our company got strung along, as the going was slow on parts of the hill. It left me exposed but somehow, I got through. Why? I only had a few months left to live. Why did it matter? Yes, surviving Hill 60 meant I got a known grave in a distinctive location that helped my confirmation. But what difference does it make really? Instead, I had to endure several more months of the same and I still got it in the end. What kind of cruel joke is that?
I don’t think I’ve been this upset about this sort of thing in a while. I’ve had a few moments where I got triggered and felt kind of “off” for days on end and even cried for a little while, but I numbed up again quickly. This is really the worst I’ve felt about it in months.