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My nerve is completely gone

My nerve is completely gone

L/Cpl J. F. Kerr: Just a few lines to let you know I am safe. We have just come out of the hottest fight I have ever been in and I am pleased to say we have had a win and did great work in capturing Pozieres. We all got terribly cut up and it will be a very long time before we will be able to take the field again. I have been very lucky as usual and have come out with only a few scratches and bruises which are nothing. I was buried alive 3 times and on one occasion had to be dugout. I also got a taste of gas, which has had a slight effect on me. I will be quite myself in a day or two.

I must try to give you an account of our fight. After several days of marching, we reached Albert … a sore sight as a result of the heavy bombardments. The cathedral, an imposing structure, is completely wrecked. The spire is still standing … a statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby is pointing to the ground from the top. Previous to the war it pointed to Heaven but now it seems to be pointing to Hell.

I went through the ruins of Fricourt and Contalmaison. There is not even a wall left standing – the same can be said of Pozieres. Each village has a wood just outside it, and there is not even a twig left standing. This will give you a little idea of the intensity of our artillery fire. We had very little to do that night, plenty of bombs and shells kicking about, but that was tame compared to what we got later. About daylight, I could see some troops moving and I went to move up a little to find out if they were ours or the enemy. They turned out to be ours. As I was moving across the trench one chap lost his head and fired his rifle point-blank at me. I do not know how he missed me. The concussion blew my steel hat off and I reeled over. Well enough said! I am alive yet! A few minutes later I believe one chap was shot by one of our own men who had gone off his head.
I got word to shift up to Pozieres, part of which had been captured. It was another terrible struggle getting there … the attack had just started. It was a glorious sight, but horrible. All around us was lit up with shells exploding and flares. The movement was a complete success but it was very tough fighting.

Daylight was very quiet and saw us digging for our lives. About 5 am Fritz commenced to shell us and as the day crept on the shelling became fierce, until it was a perfect hell. The shells were 5.2 x 9in and dropped in, around, and about the trench. It is hard to believe that a man could live through it. The crash, whining, was nervewracking, and every now and again someone or other would-be lifted about 50ft into the air. Men went mad, rushed over the bare ground only to be killed by flying pieces of shrapnel. Towards evening there were few men left.

The remainder of my team were all together when we got buried. We assisted one another out and then spread along the trenches so the one shell could not get the lot. I had hardly moved 5 yards when I was buried again and with difficulty managed to get myself out. Two men of the 12th were completely buried and we managed to dig both out. One had a broken arm. A few minutes later (I was again buried) and the 12th chap had to dig me out. I was very much shaken by this and feeling dazed.

I was hardly out when I heard the cry for help by the rest of my team and just as well I was a few yards off them to give them assistance because another shell had dropped on them. One was wounded and the rest killed. There were only Cpl Hearty, myself, and a chap out of the 12th left alive in the trench. We managed to get two wounded over the open country and into safety. We came back for the gun but there was no sign of it or the trench either.

How I came through it I don’t know. I am all bruised and scratched and my nerve is completely gone. To make matters worse Fritz sent over gas shells and I got a good dose of it. I was so much of a wreck that I had to ride in a motor car but I am pleased to say that I am picking up fast, and am myself again. I had 10 men on my gun, 3 came out of it. The sights and stench are awful, and it takes a strong man to stand them. We had little rations and water and practically no sleep all the time. The battalions are very much cut up but we are getting reinforcements so we will be full strength again in a week or two, and we will be back again in less than a month.

I don’t feel like it. In fact, I don’t think I will have the same nerve to keep calm and cool through it all. Well, this is a terrible tale of horrors for you to read, but if you never hear it from me you will get it from some other source. PS. I was reported killed so don’t be surprised if someone mentions it. – M.C., Maryborough WB&B Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line.