It would misleading and unfair to the entertainment value and writing ability of the author of this book to describe it as a regimental history. Nothing justifiably so classified began with the expletive, ‘Fed up!’ Nevertheless, this excellent account takes the reader to the heart of the light infantry regiment raised in Guernsey and from its nearby islands, a regiment of local men who were proud of their independence and their heritage as decedents of the Norman warriors who accompanied Duke William on the conquest of England—the country they all acknowledged as nothing less than their own. Blicq, the author, was one of their number—an ordinary soldier and proud to be one of the worst in the battalion! So he predictably brings an element of humour into his graphic portrayal of his comrades and indeed, the text is full of wry period dialogue. Intimate portrait of life on the march, in camp and in the trenches is vividly painted giving the reader a picture of the Guernsey men’s experience of life and death on the Western Front. The reader joins Blicq—half of the infamous ‘Duo’ into battle at Hendecourt, Cambrai, Marcoing, Masnieres through the near catastrophic German onslaught of 1918 to the Passchendaele sector and Doulieu-Estaires. This is a remarkable story of the men of a small island state who loyally and with humour and determination rallied to its call and, in many cases, sacrificed to the last full measure, leaving an appalling legacy of death and injury for the Channel Islands in the post war period. This is an unusual view of a unit at war on the Western Front from original sources and recommended. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.
A lad with half a leg hanging and placed by two bearers on a stretcher, rose from a lying posture as the Royal Guernseys passed.<br>
“’Ere, Guernseys,” he hailed, “I was with you at Canterbury—Buffs. Jus’ got in the way of a Blighty. Anybody got a fag?” It was supplied and the party moved on. About to descend into the sunken road the bearers ducked to that fatal shell whine ... too late. Three blood-soaked figures were visible through the lifting-smoke stretched inert on the ground.
“If only ’e ’adn’t stopped,” muttered several hoarsely. Life is chance!<br>
The first great onslaught of artillery fire slackened towards mid-day, sharper crack of rifles and wicked splutter of machine guns becoming for the first time noticeable. Enemy shells became fewer and fewer, his power of resistance—weak from the opening—deteriorated to little more than a rout. The prisoners were swelling an already long roll ... nine or ten thousand on the nine-mile front.
Ribecourt, on the Normans’ front, had fallen after a brief skirmish, the German last line of defence reached and artillery support was still far to the rear when the Ten Hundred, passing through the Division ahead, took upon their own shoulders the responsibility to carry the Push through its last two miles and to force the capitulation of Nine Wood, now plainly visible at the top of the next long incline.<br>
They went for it, hell for leather, in a long line of skirmishers. Their rifles cracked with the rapidity that tells the marksmen—and they could shoot. But Fritz would not have any. They did not like (those who had time to look back on their record sprint) the nasty gleam of those Norman bayonets. It was a soft thing; they moved onwards unchecked even as during the rehearsal. Tanks ahead reached the hill-crest and stood black and ugly against the sky; further to the right one was burning with high leaping flames. The Normans panted up the slope, poured into the two quarries in one bloodthirsty rush to find “nothing doing,” scrambled out again, and reaching the Wood’s edge calmly pushed their way through with all the phlegm of veterans to their objective some thirty yards beyond the last row of trees and commenced to dig in. Someone spotted a sniper post, coolly stretched himself out on the ground, muttered: “Three hundred yards,” and squinted along the sights.<br> Ping, ping ... two bodies fell limp from a platform—up a leafy tree. The Private slowly cut two notches on his rifle-butt.<br>
Two black, charred figures grinned hideously from out of the smouldering remains of a British aeroplane as the two Guernsey Brigade Scouts hastened back to their Headquarters, to report the objective carried with only ten casualties. Away by the narrow bridge above Marcoing one living and three dead machine gunners were lying in a mangled heap. Still further back a shattered lad, unable to move, stretched out right in the track of an oncoming tank, shrieked frenziedly for succour ... then abrupt silence as of a whistle shut off even while the eyes were riveted fascinated on the inexorable crushing machine. A ghastly heap of tangled, mutilated bodies, unrecognisable as such except by the grey German uniform, were lying beneath a tank blown in by a shell—the crew huddled inside in a gruesome mass.<br>
At the bottom of a hollow a grey-cloaked figure was bunched in that strange posture bearing the hall-mark of fast approaching death. His dull eyes filled with terror at the sound of my footsteps ... strange ingrained knowledge of the Hunnish method of dealing with similar cases pervaded his mind.<br>
“It is—finish,” he whispered pitifully in bad English.<br>
“Where are you hit?” He shook his head slowly.<br>
“It is finish,” he reiterated weakly.<br>
“Want anything—any water?”<br>
“No.” A battery of artillery rumbled noisily down the adjacent roadway. His eyes brightened.<br>
“You never win,” he muttered, defiance strong in his tone. But one glance took in those stoic mounted Britishers, five miles deep in the enemy lines, yet unexcited, unmoved. Thus would they fall back thirty leagues if need be, phlegmatic and unconcerned—knowing not when defeated and therefore never beaten.<br>
“I think we will if—”; but life had passed from out the other’s tired body. A rush of pity surged over one on looking into the pale boyish face: eighteen, perhaps nineteen. Little grey, bloodstained German warrior in the first flush of Youth: honour to you for the life you gave your Fatherland; for the staunch patriotism so high in your breast. May the Dawn into which you were ushered while a foe watched your passing have great compensation.<br>
Near the unscarred Crucifix a diminutive khaki figure, an inch or so shorter than his rifle with bayonet fixed, stood peering haughtily from beneath a steel helmet, several sizes too large, balanced on his ears.<br>
“’Allo, Guernsey,” he greeted, “what price my tame outangs?” indicating a dozen grubby prisoners, “this one yere swallowed ’is false teeth wiv fright an’ this porker yere ’as got ’is knees out of joint wiv shaking.”<br>
“Why are they holding up their—?”<br>
“Oh, becos I cut the braces. Even a prisoner won’t run away if his trousers are coming down. Nar then, Jerry—march. No comprene? Pushey alongay roadie pour tootsie—see?” He, fag-end in mouth, helmet far on the back of his head, rifle slung and hands in pocket, swaggered along behind his “outangs” on their journey to the cages.