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Lesley Ewing / 13-8-2014 14:42:14
We were also on the same tour with the previous writer, for a total of 5 people in Nathan’s comfortable 
minibus.  Having  smaller group (the bus seats only 8 max.) has many advantages, 
including the opportunity and flexibility to make adjustments to the schedule.  
As the previous writer noted, there was time to visit the Hospital Cemetery burial site of his fallen
 relative.  Nathan is extremely knowledgable, not only about WWII, but the history of other countries
 as well.  We had a great day, including a very tasty lunch in Ypres.  
We highly recommend Nathan’s tours.

Connon Craig / 12-8-2014 22:43:53
Myself and my wife and 13 year old son had a great day in the company of Nathan, he is a truly exceptional person with a huge wealth of knowledge about WW1 and the war in Flanders, Nathan educated us and showed us numerous sights we would never have found ourselves. He also took us to ”Hospital Farm Cemetery” to see my Great Grandfathers resting place. He was a Sapper in 51st Signal Coy.
A truly remarkable day spent with Nathan and one we will never forget.
Thank You Nathan from the Craig Family from Scotland, August 2014

Paul Graham / 7-8-2014 2:30:21
Sapper 10549 Frederick Victor Thornton, 3rd Division Signals Company

We can recommend Nathan Ghysbrecht as an amazing guide guide. With a wealth of knowledge about WW1 and the Flanders Feilds, Menin Gate area around Belgium. Our tour was booked by Sue & Dave for us as we where still in Australia. We are so glad that they booked with Mr Nathan Ghysbrecht owner of Flanders Fields Battlefield Day Tours in Belgium well in advance.

Nathan’s black mini-bus, decorated with red poppies, is able to accommodate eight passengers. It is comfortable and air-conditioned. We shared our day-trip with other English people. We were picked up from our Bruges hotel promptly and driven firstly to the German WW1 cemetery in Langemark. During the day, we also visited Tyne Cot, WW1 cemetery, hills of Flanders, Mount Kemmel, Messines Ridge.

The Passchendaele Museum was exceptionally interesting. We were able to spend time in a dugout tunnel and wander round the various rooms filled with exhibits. We visited Hill 62, Hill 60, the Menin Road, and other bunkers and craters. After that we called in for lunch in Ypers, Then our party was then free to visit the ’In Flanders Fields Museum’ in Ypers which was fascinating. Then we meet up again with Nathan near the Menin Gate for our last pictures for the day and our trip back to our hotels.

One thing Nathan did for my / our trip was to show us where my great uncle Sapper Victor Thornton AIF. Travelled during WW1 from this diaries as a despatch rider. Nathan pointed out many of the places Sapper Thornton travelled along to roads and battles he fought in during WW1 ( see attached article )

Sapper 10549 Frederick Victor Thornton, 3rd Division Signals Company

Lyn McDonald, Mildura.

Lyn’s grandfather dictated his WWI diaries to his daughter when he was in his 80s. They provide a wonderful insight into his experiences on the Western Front as a signaller with (mainly) the 9th Brigade.

Nathan, you are a special person... an knowledgeable historian and guide. You showed us the horror of war, the sadness of our human loss, and the spirit and determination of the Belgian people in rising out of that devastation. This was a valuable experience to be remembered always by your new Australia and English friends.

Paul, Zofia , Dave and Sue

Paul W Graham

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Sapper 10549 Frederick Victor Thornton, 3rd Division Signals Company

Lyn McDonald, Mildura.

Lyn’s grandfather dictated his WWI diaries to his daughter when he was in his 80s. They provide a wonderful insight into his experiences on the Western Front as a signaller with (mainly) the 9th Brigade.

Frederick George Thornton and his wife Annie from ‘Riverview’, Warren, in western NSW saw three of their sons go to the Great War: Frederick Victor (b1894), George Harold (b1896) and Norman Federal (b1899).

Frederick Victor Thornton was my grandfather and he dictated stories from his war diaries to my mother when he was in his eighties. He died at the age of 97, which was a great age considering the years of medical treatment for lung problems that resulted from him being gassed.

In early 1915, Frederick Victor (known as Victor or ‘Vic’) and George went to Sydney to enlist. George was accepted but Vic was knocked back due to his bad teeth. However, Vic was finally accepted at the end of 1915 and left for England in early 1916, where the troops trained on the Salisbury Plain prior to transfer to France. The third brother, Norman, enlisted in May 1917, having put his age up by a year. This quote from Vic describes their reunion:

I received word that my younger brother Norman was in England awaiting draft as soon as he was 18 years old. He duly arrived as reinforcement to 36th [Battalion] but as it was split up I claimed him and he was attached to the 34th Battalion. I was with the 34th mostly and also the 33rd and 35th, signalling, and he could be used as a runner. We were at Rivery in the front of the Americans when he joined us in the Sunken Road. I was very upset at his enlistment, so young, but we made the best of it.

Unfortunately, George Thornton died of wounds at Fleurbaix, France, on 28 September 1916, aged 20, and is buried at Anzac Cemetery, Sailly-Sur-La-Lys (Memorial Panel 163). He served with the 56th Infantry Battalion as Private 3127.

[Above: Photo of George Thornton, a ‘souvenir from Egypt’.]

Vic Thornton started work for the Post Office in Warren at the age of fifteen as a telegraph messenger and then transferred to Sydney in 1911 to train in wireless operation. In 1913 he was attached to South Head Signal Station for nine months as a Morse-operator. It was about this time that compulsory military training was introduced and he joined the St George Rifles at Victoria Barracks and later transferred to the 16th Signal Troop, where he said he was very welcome being an operator. They had their own horses and gear at the barracks under the command of Major Maher. Annual camps were held and they rode the horses to Parramatta for six weeks – a real holiday from work. Being a farm boy, Victor loved motor-cycles, and his skills with signalling, and also as a motor-cycle rider, were put to good use in France. [Right: Vic Thornton at the time he joined the Post Office, aged 15.]

Extracts from my war diaries – Frederick Victor Thornton

‘How I won the War when the Germans first used gas and caught the British napping - sometime in 1917, North of Armentieres and Houplines, towards Ypres’
The poor Canadians were the first to cop it as far as I know and some twenty thousand troops were affected. It was of the phosgene type, released unexpectedly and carried towards the Allied line, where they had no protection from it and no means of combating the situation. Gas masks were not available at the time and the soldiers were breathing through woollen articles such as dirty socks.

But the British were equal to the situation and gas masks or hoods were rushed in. They consisted of a hood over the head with plastic eye-holes to see through and a rubber tube for the mouth that you could breathe out, but not in. They were awful contraptions. The bottom of the mask came around the neck.

They were replaced as soon as possible by the bag-type respirator that looked like a school bag of olden days and fastened around the neck and rested on the chest. When in use a rubber hose affixed to a tin of granulated charcoal in the bag and attached to a mouthpiece and a clamp to block the nose. These were improved on but appeared to fulfil the purpose. They were used when gas was present, but later they [the Germans] were able to put over explosive gas shells, some containing mustard gas, against which you could only cover-up.

On one occasion we were issued with a container of four anti-gas tubes that you crushed in their covering of cotton and sniffed. The instructions were so vague so I asked my brother Norman if he knew what to do and he said, ‘Yes, just bust them open and suck them’. Just as well we didn’t have to use them!

When the British had enough gas available they decided to give the Germans a taste of it and the position chosen was on the Australian sector, established in the small village of Houplines, not far from Armentieres, south of where the Germans used it. No-man’s land in this area was about one hundred and fifty yards wide and the front-line consisted of sandbag trenches.

The operation was in charge of the British Engineers and the gas was contained in large cylinders, about six feet long and ten inches through, with a fitting tap, etc at one end and hose lines attached to them for run-off purposes.

These were brought up by the English engineers and placed into position in our lines with an English officer in charge. The pipes were laid at night and he required a signaller to accompany him. Unluckily for me I was chosen.

We had to go about seventy-five yards into No-man’s land to ascertain the action necessary to convey the gas towards the German lines. It was a very hazardous and disappointing operation.

The wind had to blow in the German’s direction at about five kilometres an hour. We spent three nights out there waiting for the right conditions for zero hour, under a sheet of rusty galvanised iron.

On the third night it was OK and the officer told me to inform headquarters and then make it back to the lines as quickly as possible. The message was ‘ten bags (meaning ten cylinders of gas) sent, all OK’. I sent the message and found that the officer had disappeared, as he knew what was brewing when the gas reached the Germans. I was at a loss for direction as we were hidden under the sheet of tin but a pull on the trusty little telephone line put me right and I made a hasty retreat in the right direction and reached the lines just as a terrific barrage of German shells and small arms commenced. The Germans had to do this as the gas would ruin their arms and artillery.

I reached our lines and hastily gave the password, ‘Aussie’, when challenged and jumped into the trench used as a machine-gun emplacement. Strangely enough, it was manned by a relation, namely Sergeant Ashley Edds [26 Ashley Sylvester Edds MM, RTA 31.1.18] of the 9th Machine Gun Battalion. He was in charge of the position so I told him my mission and destination but he wouldn’t hear of me leaving until the barrage had died down. The communications trenches were in a bad way as the Germans had shelled them severely, really expecting an attack which did not take place.

I was congratulated by the general and our officer and granted ten days rest for my effort, which I enjoyed in Paris.

[Right: A photo from Vic, which appears to be of two Vickers machine-gun crews. Perhaps his relation, Sgt Edds, is in the photo.]

‘Ploegsteert Wood – How I got caught napping!’
Between Armentieres and Ypres lay a lovely forest called Ploegsteert Wood and it was from this point the mining of the town of Messines on Hill 60 was carried out. There was a dug-out headquarters in the woods, sixty feet deep that contained rooms, offices, sleeping quarters and there were stairs at one end and a ventilation shaft at the other.

It was a quiet period so a cobber and I one day decided to have a rest downstairs. Little did we know that they were going to test for foul air. They lowered coal fires, not knowing of our presence. Luckily, we were discovered in time and taken up to the fresh air. We were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. They rang the battalion doctor who was back in the reserve trenches and he said to stick them out in the fresh air to sleep it off. It was below zero and the frost was thick on the ground. We nearly died of frostbite.

The mining of the Messines Ridge went on via a huge tunnel that took months to construct and load with explosives. Then came the vital day when the switch was pulled. What a crater the explosives made! The Australians had no trouble occupying the whole village with no resistance from the Germans. They must have got a terrible shock.

Only a few years ago a cobber told me that he saw a message in the [Australian] War Memorial in my handwriting, giving a report to headquarters of the progress made at Messines, but I can’t remember taking that message.

We were moved to Ypres in the winter of 1917 where we had a big operation in conjunctions with Canadian and British troops. The whole of the 3rd Division were given the task of taking a village east of Broodseinde Ridge [on 12 October 1917]. This village was Passchendaele.

We had to follow the Broodseinde Ridge from Railway Hut HQ along the railway line for approximately three kilometres to the hop-over point with the 34th, 35th and 36th in attack and the 33rd in support.

We got there in no time after getting tangled up with Morshead’s 33rd Battalion [Lieut Col Leslie James Morshead] and he seemed to want all the railway line but our signallers, fourteen of us under Sergeant Dale [10527 Sgt Thomas Dale, 3rd DSC, RTA 5.4.18] and one pigeoneer with five pigeons, started at 4.25am with the battalions.

We had not gone far when ‘Thrifty’, as we called him, was missing with a quantity of gear, then rounding a cemetery corner, poor Sergeant Tom Dale had his right arm shot away with a burst of German machine-gun bullets. We put a ligature on it and sent him back.

After negotiating a line of heavily fortified German pillboxes, on arrival at our destination we had five men left and the pigeoneer, Pretty Woodchamp, who was hit three or four times but refused to quit.

The shells landing in the pillboxes had little effect as they were shockproof but a chap from the 34th, at the cost of his own life, put a grenade into an opposing pillbox that was occupied by twenty-five German soldiers. We soon disposed of them. Several of them went back to HQ for interrogation. One had been working in Manly prior to the war, so he could speak good English.

After examination for booby traps we took possession and soon after Colonel Milne arrived and sought shelter with us. Luckily, we had a supply of water and we were able to make a cup of coffee on a small German cooker.

We had no communication with headquarters for forty-eight hours. Runners were sent back but did not get there and we had no telephone line and ‘helio’ was impossible. At last we got a pigeon message through and HQ sent a runner who got through to us and we were informed that the Canadians to the north did not move, owing to intensive machine-gun fire and bombardment and many casualties. The New Zealanders and British troops to the south did not make much progress, so we were instructed to return to our original positions and the 33rd would cover our northern flank.

We were almost surrounded and we were lucky to escape capture. Prisoners who were sent back just crossed over the rear to their own lines again. Our losses were terrific. The 36th Battalion went in with 800 men and returned with 200. The 34th and 35th shared likewise.

I was with another chap from Victoria and we were taking two prisoners back with us. Unfortunately, we were blown up by a huge shell and I lost my cobber and the two prisoners. When I recovered I was minus my tin hat and gas mask.

On arrival at Railway Hut, our point of departure, we found that all that had not gone over with us had been evacuated with gas poisoning, so we made our way further back to Ypres. My cobber Sam was in this group and was lucky to be evacuated to England, never to return.

I reported to the first aid officer in Ypres and my reward was ten days rest in the Catacombs in the city. These were huge underground dug-outs in the inner walls of the city, which at one time was surrounded by a large earthen wall straight up on the outside and sloping on this inside, with a huge gate to enter the city. This was an ancient means of defence.

I was given a bag of straw and a couple of blankets to put on a wire netting bunk. You got little sleep as the beds were lousy and you spent most of the time delousing yourself out in the sunshine if possible. We got a tin of coffee, no cups, and a biscuit from the Comforts Fund daily, and one morning I emerged and who should be in charge of the coffee but Reverend Tom McVitty [Captain Chaplain Thomas McVitty, AACS, RTA 12.5.19], a former Presbyterian minister from Warren. It was a real surprise. He was a full-blown Major Padre in the forces and he brought our coffee and milk up daily. He arranged a day out together and commandeered a car to take me to Poperinghe. We visited the officer’s mess for lunch and also went to ‘Toc H’ as this was the place where the society originated. We had afternoon tea at the YMCA.

On rejoining my unit I found that it was sadly depleted. Colin Simpson, our officer [possibly Lieut Lawrence Gordon Simpson, 3rd DSC, RTA 25.11.17], was gassed and back in England. [Simpson’s service record shows that he was discharged due to chronic bronchitis, rather than gas – Ed.] We had to regroup owing to lack of reinforcements. The 36th Battalion was cut up and placed in the 33rd, 34th and 35th, and we were sent down south on the Somme as it was feared the Germans may attack in that vicinity.

‘Despatch riding’
Time rolled on and General [Charles] Rosenthal was still in charge of the 9th Brigade and General Monash the 3rd Division, but later on Rosenthal took charge of the 2nd Division and Monash took on the Australian Corps of five divisions. The Australians remained ready and mobile.

With my ability and experience of motor cycles, I was offered a job as despatch rider, which I accepted. Could you imagine me on a brand new war model Triumph, fitted with their first gears? I was asked to go for a preliminary test of about ten kilometres over cobbled roads with snow and ice on them and I was allotted to Division HQ and given maps, spare tube, etc.

[Right: Outdoors portrait of 10672 Corporal Victor Roy Willoughby Shaw, 3rd Divisional Signals Company. Australian War Memorial Negative Number DAOD1710. Vic would have had a similar motor cycle.]

I lasted about forty-eight hours at Divisional HQ running to brigades etc. and then suddenly I was given a despatch for the 9th Brigade and told to remain with them for instructions. This was about 15th or 18th March 1918, and then came the surprise: I was given the despatches that contained orders to move immediately to a place called. Abeele. I managed to find all the 9th Brigade units by map locations but it was rather difficult in the dark. I then had to take a despatch to the 10th Brigade, who were situated a few miles away. They too were out on rest, along with all the other Australian personnel of the 10th Brigade. Headquarters was near an old blacksmith’s shop and I managed to run a horseshoe nail into my rear tyre. As I had to proceed to Abeele, about eighty kilometres distant, I decided it was best to put my new tube in and mend the old one.

I proceeded via St Omer and Hazebrouck and Bailleul, but as the Germans were shelling these towns I had to make detours further west. I got to Abeele about 4am and reported to Major Dunlop who had set up temporary HQ in a chateau. He instructed his batman to get me something to eat. The best he had was strawberry jam and bread and a good cup of tea, but how refreshing it was after a long and hazardous journey. I had a good rest for a few hours.

Next day Australian troops began arriving by train, which consisted mostly of cattle-wagons and old London buses, painted green. It was chaos for two or three days until the troops settled in and I found their locations in case a sudden move was needed. The Germans did not appear to be ready for an attack, although they shelled our positions with long-range artillery.

About 22nd March 1918, word was received that the Germans had broken through north and south of the Somme in the vicinity of Corbie and an urgent appeal for the Australians was received from Divisional HQ. We were to entrain from Steenbecque Railway and the balance by the old London buses. General Rosenthal told me to stay by my cycle on a flat-top railway truck and, believe me, it was some job tying it on as the tracks were very rough. When all were aboard we headed south and reached a place called St Pol, where it was found that it was not safe to proceed further by train. We finished the journey by London buses, and there seemed to be miles of them. This time I had to follow the staff car on my motor cycle. I can tell you it was a bad trip, with buses pulling out and congesting traffic, etc.

We reached Heilly (19km NE of Amiens) and here we were halted and instructed to dig in, as the German patrols were in the vicinity and the convoy was copping a certain amount of shelling. Headquarters were established and instructions were given to form a line in artillery formation towards the Somme around Corbie to stem the on-rush and to dig in and detain any suspicious personnel and place them in barbed-wire compounds that were hastily constructed. Groups of Germans were intercepted making their way to the coast without arms, but carrying shovels, etc.

The British troops had been completely beaten and disorganised – the Germans had really broken through. Troops were racing to the rear and artillery teams, horses, etc were returning without their guns and no-one knew where their units were located. It was chaos indeed. Corps HQ instructed the Australians to link up with the British 66th Division but the trouble was to locate then.

At about 8pm that night I was given a despatch and told to try and locate them south of the Somme. This meant going into unknown territory, so I travelled south to Corbie which was being evacuated. I was challenged at the bridge by armed guards. I was travelling at thirty or forty mph and the only thing I could do was call out ‘Aussie’ and I kept going. Luckily they didn’t follow up their challenge and fire on me. I then avoided Villers-Bretonneux which was being shelled and on to Douaumont.

I searched the town, which had been evacuated and tenanted by Scottish troops who had taken all the Scotch from every hotel. I could find no trace or word of the 66th so I returned to inform the general. All he could say was, ‘Have a good meal and rest and I’ll get you to go out again’. He roused me about 3am and I set out to explore further south of the Somme. I came to a fair-sized town and found it contained the HQ of about six British Divisions who didn’t know of the location of any of their troops. At one HQ I managed to see the general and he volunteered the information that he did not know where the 66th Division were but they were supposed to be south of the Somme, ‘somewhere’. He said that Carey’s forces, which consisted of all the spare troops gathered up by Major Carey from rear camps, etc held the line as far as Hangard Wood, and from there to the Somme was patrolled by British cavalry. I was getting a bit weary but before leaving him I borrowed his map of the area and pressed on.

I travelled north again to Corbie. It commenced to rain and I had a nasty spill off my bike on the slippery, chalky road. I was not badly hurt so I carried on to Corbie where I came across some English soldiers holding several houses. I asked where their officers were and they said, ‘Somewhere down the road’. I saw a small red light which denoted a signal office. It was in an estaminet or wineshop.

After proving my identity, the sergeant allowed me to come in. I told him I was looking for the 66th and I was relieved when he said that they were the 66th. I told him I wanted to see the general and I eventually got into their hideout where they were enjoying a few drinks. It was like trying to break into a strongroom in a bank. When they saw I was Australian I was received with open arms and invited to have a drink. I gave the general my despatch, addressed to ‘The Commanding Officer, 66th Division’ that I had carried all through the night.

When he knew we were to link up with his division north of the Somme, he was elated and gave me a note saying that they would locate us at 9am the next morning.

On my return to our headquarters at Heilly I saw the general who was delighted and thanked me for my effort, but no bronze medals hanging to it!

This was the end of the German invasion’s attempt to reach the coast and later attempt a landing on British soil. It was a long, drawn-out affair for some time, with short advances to straighten out the line. We could hold Corbie, Peronne, etc along The Somme.

Things were a bit hostile up around Amiens so they sent our division to the outer suburb called Rivery and we were consolidated in a sunken road. It was here in the month of July 1918 that my brother Norman [Pte 3387 Norman Federal Thornton, 34th Battalion, RTA 4.7.19] joined me.

While we were at Rivery and consolidating into our positions, I was asked to take a run east and try to ascertain the position. We were subject to spasmodic shelling by the Germans. As they rushed up light artillery, things were really chaotic on the roads with troops, wagons and horses beside the retreating French civilians, carrying what goods they could.

I had to travel on motor cycle mostly overland to get where I wanted to go. I reached a village. I think it was Morcourt, about ten kilometres from our lines and I found the town evacuated. At the railway station I found an officer on horseback. He said he was a liaison officer and another chap who said he was the RTO (railway transport officer). He had all his gear packed ready to leave. I enquired where the Germans were and he said, ‘Just over that hill’. I made a hasty retreat and reported the position to our HQ at Corbie. This was about as far as the Germans got on their trek to the coast.

We defended the area from Amiens to Rivery in the east and later pushed on to Villers-Bretonneux setting up our HQ at Blangy-Tronville, about eight kilometres away from ‘Villers’. I made regular runs on the motor-cycle with despatches for the battalions. I used to leave the motor cycle in the chalk pits west of the city and run the rest of the way. ‘Fritz’ (the Germans) used to shell this road very heavily, especially at night and I was unlucky to be caught with a burst of fire and hit with a bit of shell in the right elbow. Fortunately, the motor cycle was still usable and I rode to the first aid station where the shell was extracted. The arm became very stiff and I was unable to ride for quite a while so I was rested for a week or so and returned to my own unit signalling again.

‘August 8th 1918’
When the big offensive happened, our crowd started from Vaux Wood. Norman was now with the signallers and the 34th went up 24 hours prior to our section, so I was able to see him on his way. We went in to the left of the 34th, acting with the 34th and 35th. He was with the mopping-up party.

It was a lovely day at 4.25am on 8th August but you would think that all hell had broken loose. The crops in the vicinity had been harvested and many of them contained a 28 pounder gun and much heavier howitzers. One had to hang on to the old tin hat when passing between the bursts.

What a day! Thousands of prisoners pouring in and we penetrated twelve to fourteen kilometres into the German territory. We captured the big gun, ‘Big Bertha’, which was later brought to Sydney. We caught some of the Germans just completing their breakfast. I picked up a lovely dagger and was replacing it in its holder and it slipped, cutting my left hand, which resulted in a poisoned hand that was swollen for about two weeks despite first aid dressing.

We halted for the night in a chalk pit opposite Chipilly on the Somme and I decided to look for Norman and he decided to do the same. It was a happy reunion. Our battalions, the 33rd, 34th and 35th, were just south of the Somme, and about 4am we passed our artillery to commence mopping up and they had a great task as we had taken thousands of prisoners. Apparently we had taken the Germans by surprise. We must have gone about twelve or fourteen kilometres by the end of the day and decided to halt in the chalk pits south of Chipilly where the Germans held the British up. All the prisoners were safely in the barbed wire compounds during the day.

Next morning they decided to send some of our artillery across to the Somme to help drive the Germans out of the village of Chipilly. We were on the hill opposite the village across the river, watching the lot in perfect safety. The infantry did a good job with their fixed bayonets hunting the Germans out.

[Right: View of the Somme Valley, taken from Chipilly Heights, showing Morcourt on the left. Part of this area was taken by the Australian troops during the offensive on 8 August 1918. Australian War Memorial Negative Number E02989A.]

‘The Somme – Hindenburg Line’
We then proceeded steadily up the Somme until we came to a standstill. We were able to proceed on our way and after a time we came to the Hindenburg Line, and the arrangements were for the Americans to attack it with about four or five thousand men. They were to hop over at about 4.30am. They had tons of artillery barrage and about the only five tanks the British could muster.

Oh, what a result! The barbed wire in front of the line was heavily mined with what we called ‘plum pudding mines’. These were set into the ground with just a plunger on the surface and as soon as anything pushed the plunger, up went the mine and so did you. You can imagine how long our tanks lasted. The whole five burnt out and the occupants were incinerated, approximately six soldiers in each tank.

The Germans had been holding this line of trenches for a considerable time and it consisted of a small canal about 10 to 15 feet deep. They used ladders to reach the top of the parapet. They had also tunnelled into the side facing the British and had access to No-man’s land without being exposed. As the Americans reached the trench, they [the Germans] attacked them from the rear with machine guns. You can imagine the slaughter, and by the time we were to advance there were very few Americans left. What were not killed had retreated as casualties.

We were standing firm in our trenches in case of counter-attack (which did not eventuate) so we had to postpone any action for the time being. We were fortunate that we located the American rum dump which they intended taking forward later. You can guess that this put us in good spirits.

It reminds me that when Norman, my brother, first joined us in the line we used to line up for our issue of rum each morning and I generally had Norman near me. I told him the stuff was no good for him so I managed to get a double issue for some time, until he woke up to me and said if it was good for me then it was good enough for him.

This position was in front of an old town called Bony. The British decided the only way the position could be taken was to soften up a portion with artillery and a battalion to get in and fight the Germans in the trenches. This was done and I think it was the 33rd Battalion’s job. I remember I kept contact from under one of the disused tanks with a D3 telephone and the Germans put over gas shells, so I got another dose, as I could not wear my gas mask and use the telephone. After an anxious time it was now our time to rest. We could see that the Germans were weakening and appeared to have had enough. This was September or October [likely to have been 29 September – Ed].

We were in the reserve at the rear of this position and I was feeling very crook after being exposed to the gas so they granted me leave to England. They might very well have evacuated me as I collapsed on my way to Dunstable, our friend’s place, and I was carted off to Aylesbury Military Hospital, Bedfordshire, which was an Auxiliary English Hospital in the high school.

I had three or four good doctors looking after me. An Australian appeared to be a curiosity up that way. I was not lonely, as I remembered a vicar’s widow from St Leonards-on-Sea often sat by my bedside. My condition was up and down and the military were very good and sent Norman on an eight day special leave to England from France to see me. I told him I was on the mend and felt I would make it and I asked him to spend a few days with my friends at Dunstable and come back and see me before he returned to France. I was at this hospital when the Armistice was signed on November 11th. I was very weak but they let me sit up to hear the rejoicings. What a wonderful day for everyone!

While at Aylesbury the ‘Black Plague’ or flu broke out and as there was a German prison camp nearby they began to pile them into the hospital. They had forty beds but they passed out fairly quickly. Brandy seemed to be a favourite medicine for them and I got the job of helping the nurses when I was up. Many of the Germans wanted you to taste it before they would drink it. I didn’t last long on that job.

I gradually pulled through after three months of great attention and I was transferred to an Australian hospital at Harefield for another three months before being transferred to a convalescent camp at Weymouth, medically unfit for further service.

It was not until May 1919 that I was finally able to board a transport home on the ‘Port Denison’.

Brian and Maureen Thomas / 1-8-2014 17:58:45
Nathan is absolutely the most knowledgable tour guide we have ever had. Not only can he answer any questions about the war, but can answer any on the surrounding area or the culture of Belgium. He was able to take us to places that we never would have found on our own or seen with a larger tour company. If you want to learn about the war in a conversational setting and see some amazing countryside, we highly recommend joining Nathan on a day tour.

Lindsay Britton / 1-8-2014 15:38:30
We had a great day with Nathan on 29th July. He knew everything relating to WW1 from the dates to the geography, the ammunition chemical make up and distance traveled to the soldier’s conditions. He is so well versed with the area that he was able to show us the most recent areas where artefacts have been unearthed. We found him engaging, polite, knowledgable, flexible to our party and great with the children. 9116

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