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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Transcript of The Second Battle of Ypres

Please remember that all transcripts show what is written on the page; spelling and grammatical mistakes are not corrected.

(D/DLI 2/5/17)


THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES.

The streets were lined with people, it was on a Saturday
When the local lads in their fours, to the station made their way;
It was on the Seventeenth day of April, Nineteen-Fifteen,
When the band struck up that old march: 'Soldiers of the Queen'.
Our ordinary drill and training was now at an end,
We had been called to the Front, our Country to defend.
At the station we landed, through a cheering crowd,
And the smiles on their faces proved that they were proud
Of their sons and sweethearts, of course that was 'us.'
They had come from near and far to make this little fuss.
A guard of honour formed up, it was composed of our 2nd line,
As we marched into the station we thought this really fine.
And then the bugle sounded, and into the train we got,
And at 1.30 p.m. exactly, we were off like a shot.
We were full of excitement, some of us white;
Hardly thinking it was true that we were going to fight.
But soon this was over, and with hearts as light as cork,
It was 3.30 p.m. exactly when we landed in at York.
Some got on the platform, others stayed in the train,
But before many minutes we were soon off again.
Stops were made at DONCASTER, SPALDING, MARCH, and then
We steamed into a London Station about 10 p.m.
Things seemed a bit flurried as nearly all got out;
After such a journey we were glad to walk about.
The stay here was very short, fifteen minutes, that was all.
We rushed back into the train on hearing the bugle call.
We were all fairly happy, and very much alive,
When we landed in at FOLKESTONE at twelve forty-five.
From the train we walked, in silence, on to the boat,
And in less than an hour she was well afloat
Across the English Channel, as quiet as could be;
We could not at any time have had a calmer sea;
There was no merriment, not even a little song;
And at 3.05 p.m. the 'INVICTA' sailed into Boulogne.
In quietness we lined up in file, then in fours,
We felt a bit shaky, being on foreign shores.
The morning was very cold, and a little damp
When we marched from the quayside to ST. MARTINS Camp.
Here we camped till about 5.30 p.m. that night,
Then we marched to PONT DE-BRIQUES, looking fairly bright;
The journey was not heavy, just about seven miles,
We did it quite easily, amid songs and smiles.
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Anyway our march was over, we had to entrain;
Our hardships had now started, it was very plain.
In cattle trucks we were packed like a lot of pigs
Hard was our position, in such awful digs.
Our bones were stiff and sore, as near as I can tell
It was about two in the morning, when we landed at CASSELL. 
We were shivering before we started on another tramp,
Eight miles we had to march, with legs full of cramp;
Everything now seemed a dream, some nightmare as it were,
We were marching on to meet our fate, and bloody conflict share,
All looked sorrowful sights to see, but still we did not grumble,
As we burdened on our weary march, we could faintly hear guns rumble,
When first we heard the noise of guns, imagine if you can,
The look, the change of countenance, there was on every man;
Far away the noise of guns seemed like rolls of thunder,
In this awful noise of death, we were going to plunder.
We halted at a French town, a place called STEENVOORDE, 
This is where our resting place really had to be.
We stayed here for a while, and our Captains went away,
To find some likely shelter in which their men could lay;
Here the regiment then split up, each Company to different farms.
We made ourselves comfortable in sheds and cattle barns,
We did not stay very long, again we had to move,
We had to get straight in the fight, and our mettle prove;
Our Colonel and Adjutant mustered their men up to be
Inspected before moving, by General Lindsy.
We could plainly hear the noise of guns, in their death-like boom,
Little did some of us think, so sudden was our doom.
We could not march quick enough, this was soon found out,
From foot sack to motor bus, we were roughly bumped about,
Over the rough and rocky road, the firing line got nearer,
The clash of deadly conflict, was now getting clearer.
It was now getting very dark, we were well in the night,
And the flare of shell and starlights was to us a sight.
We dispersed off the busses at a place called POPERINGHE,
And marched in deadly silence to a place called VLAMERTINGHE.
In the darkness wearily, we stumbled and plodded on,
To find some suitable resting place, to rest our limbs upon;
We were to have had shelter, in some huts that were found,
But luck was against us, we lay on open ground.
This night we will never forget, to our dying day,
In the cold and grizzly night, in the wet we lay;
But not for long, the order came for all to stand to.
The news went round like magic, the Huns were breaking through,
The news kindled up the flame that was rising in our veins,
To stop the German's gallop, we had to hold the reins;
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It was now breaking daylight, and awful sights were seen,
With hundreds of wounded soldiers returning from ST. JEAN.
Yes! wounded were returning, all had the same old cry,
"Good luck to you, Durham Lads, but you're going up to die."
Our tired-out limbs were now forgot, we meant to make our name,
If we are going up there to die, we are going to die game;
Rain came down in torrents, and with shot and shell,
It was to us no other than a raging living Hell. 
We were now in the range of the enemies' guns,
Shells were dropping round us, I should say in tons. 
At last the Hun's artillery had really found their mark,
And to be cut up by unseen foes, was to us no lark.
There was only one thing for it, each man to dig himself in,
And keep well under cover, if he valued his life or skin. 
Men were going down like sheep, its awful to relate,
We lay in mud and water, and could not retaliate;
We got the order to advance, under heavy fire,
But owing to murderous gas fumes we had to retire.
We did not mean to give in, even if it meant ruin,
We attacked, and we held the village of FORTUIN.
Up to then the Durham's had been really out of luck,
But made no mistake when FORTUIN they struck.
Our first scrap was over, but a lot of men slain,
As the next few days the Huns tried their trenches to regain,
Though try how they would, they could not penetrate,
The barrier in front of them was up to now too great;
At last the order came, we had to be relieved,
What a God send to every man, when this news was received.
Weariness and torture stood out on each face,
And as we left the trenches, others filled our place;
Can one picture these Durham Lads going for a rest,
After their strength and energy had stood such a test,
Four miles we sauntered in the dead of night,
Plastered up with mud and slush, in an awful plight.
We arrived at some wooden huts, weary, stiff and sore,
The fragments of a regiment after coming from the foe,
We did not stay very long, to STEENVOORDE we had to go,
To get out of the range of guns, of our disasterous foe.
Here we got inspected by our Chief, Sir John French,
He spoke highly of our work and valour in the trench.
He said: "Men of the Durhams, I am proud of you all,
The work you have done, in memory will recall;
You have lost very heavily, I am sorry to relate,
But the way you held FORTUIN, my lads, was extremely great.
God speed you, faithful Durhams, for there's a lot more work to do,
And England need never fear, while she has such lads as you."

SIG-SGT. J. WILKES.
John Harrison, Printer, Stockton-on-Tees