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Sabre and Foil Fighting

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Gronow of the Guards

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The Irish Guards in the Great War - Volume 1

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The Irish Guards in the Great War -  Volume 1
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Author(s): Rudyard Kipling
Date Published: 01/2007
Page Count: 336
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-135-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-148-4

Regimental histories are always fascinating for those who study the campaigns and battles in which regiments fought. This monumental work is a comprehensive unit account of a famous regiment during the First World War – and as such it will fascinate every military historian or genealogist. It is, of course, also much more. Written by Rudyard Kipling, whose son fought with the regiment, it benefits not only from being written by a great writer – which ensures that it suffers from none of the dryness usually associated with such tomes – but also, inevitably, is suffused with the humanity, humour and personality that is so familiar from his works of fiction. Mulvaney himself is just a step away within these pages – and that makes this history exceptional. Highly recommended!

At the opening of the rush the Germans made a close-range bombing-raid on one of the corners of the Keep and at last pitched a bomb on to the top of a sand-bag redoubt. This so annoyed one of our bomb-throwers, a giant of the name of Hennigan, of No. 1 Company, that he picked up a trench-mortar bomb (no trinket) which lay convenient, cut down the fuse for short range and threw it at a spot where he had caught a glimpse of a German officer. The bomb burst almost before it reached the ground, and must have made a direct hit; for nothing upon the officer was recognisable later save the Iron Cross, which in due time went to the Regimental Orderly Room. Hennigan was awarded the D.C.M.; for his bomb also blew in and blocked up the communication-trench through which the bombers came a matter which he regarded as a side-issue compared to his 'splendid bowlin'.

The companies were relieved in the evening by a company of Grenadiers, and as they wandered back through the new-taken trenches in the winter dusk, lost their way among all manner of horrors. One officer wrote: "I fell over and became involved in a kind of wrestling-match with a shapeless Thing that turned out to be a dead man without a head . . . and so back to Beuvry, very tired and sad for the death of Tommy" (Musgrave).

There were other casualties that moved laughter under the ribs of death. A man reported after the action that his teeth were "all broke on him." His Company Officer naturally expressed sympathy but some surprise at not seeing a bullet-hole through both cheeks. "I took them out and put them in my pocket for the charge, Sorr, and they all broke on me," was the reply. "Well, go to the doctor and see if he can get you a new set." "Iíve been to him, Sorr, and it's little sympathy I got. He just gave me a pill and chased me away, Sorr."

A weird attempt was made at daybreak on the 7th February by a forlorn hope of some fifty Germans to charge the newly installed line at a point where the Coldstream and 2nd Grenadiers joined. They dashed out across the ground from behind a stack, the officer waving his sword, and were all killed or wounded on or close up to our wire. Men said there seemed no meaning or reason in the affair, unless it was a suicide-party of Germans who had run from the attack of the day before and had been ordered thus to die. One of their wounded lay out all day, and when the Irish were taking over the relief on the 8th some Germans shouted loudly from their trenches and one stood up and pointed to the wounded man. Said the Grenadiers who were being relieved: "Come and get him!" A couple of German stretcher-bearers came out and bore their comrade away, not thirty yards from our trench, while our men held their fire.

In the same relief it fell to the Irish to examine the body of a single German who had crept up and of a sudden peered into our front-line trench, where a Grenadier promptly shot him. He dropped on the edge of the parapet and lay 'like a man praying.' Since he had no rifle, it was assumed he was a bomber; but after dark they found he was wholly unarmed. At almost the same hour of the previous night another German came to precisely the same end in the same posture on the right flank of the line. Whether these two were deserters or scouts who would pretend to be deserters, if captured, was never settled. The trenches were full of such mysteries. Strange trades, too, were driven there. A man, now gone to Valhalla, for he was utterly brave, did not approve of letting dead Germans lie unvisited before the lines. He would mark the body down in the course of his dayís work, thrust a stick in the parados to give him his direction, and at night, or preferably when the morning fog lay heavy on the landscape, would slip across to his quarry and return with his pockets filled with loot. Many officers had seen C's stick at the back of the trench. Some living may like to learn now why it was there.

A draft of one hundred men, making good the week's losses, came in on the 8th February under Captain G. E. Young, Lieutenants T. Allen and C. Pease, and 2nd Lieutenant V. W. D. Fox. Among them were many wounded who had returned. They fell to at once on the strengthening and cleaning up of the new line which lay less than a hundred yards from the enemy. It supported the French line where that joined on to ours, and the officers would visit together through a tunnel under the roadway. Of this forlorn part of the world there is a tale that stands best as it was written by one of the officers of the Battalion: 'And while we were barricading with sand-bags where the old trench joined the road, a dead Coldstream lying against a tree watched us with dull unobservant eyes. . . . While we were trudging along the pav, mortally weary (after relief), said the Sergeant to me: "Did you hear what happened last night? You saw that dead man by the tree, Sir? Well, the covering-party they lay all round him. One of them tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he were asleep. And presently, the C.S.M. that came down with the relief, he whispered to the Corporal, "How many men have ye got out, Corporal?" "Five, Sir," says the Corporal. "I can see six meself," says the C.S.M. "Five belong to me," says the Corporal. "Count 'em, lad," says the C.S.M. "Five came out with me," says the Corporal, "and the sixth, faith, 'tis cold he is with watching us every night this six weeks.""
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