Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Major William Norman Ashplant And The Somme

In a letter to Henry Brinsmead Ashplant published in the “London Free Press” September 23, 1916.

“Referring to the lucky nature of my wound, Major Ashplant says, gee, but twas a near thing for me, another half inch and I’d be pushing daisies. I’ve got the piece of shrapnel, a very nice souvenir from Fritz, and an ugly piece it is, from one of his deadly high explosive 5.9 shells, one of the best shells made. I had only come up from what recently was a German dugout, now our advance battle battalion headquarters, to get a breath of fresh air and a rest. Our artillery and that of the enemy were pounding away at each other, with all calibre guns, but about 10 shells of ours to his one…..I had just laid down on the side of the smashed up trench in my “tin hat”. Two or three of my runners (message carriers), were stretched out resting around, when “plug”. I felt as though half my head had gone.

I up and hopped it around for a second and soon realized what a squeak I had. The velocity of the falling splinter seeming like a brick, compared to what it actually was. One of my runners soon had my field dressing out from my tunic and going down into the dugout, the artillery liaison officer washed off the dirt splash and blood and iodined the wound, after which I strolled down to our front regimental first aid post, and got temporarily fixed up. I was ordered to immediately get to the main dressing station, and get inoculated against tetanus.

You can bet I was feeling nearly all in, having only had four hours sleep in 60, which under the hellish strain of this battlefront is near the limit of a man’s endurance. For 18 solid hours I had been at the bottom of that dugout, reeking with the contaminated atmosphere of those irritating lachrymatory gas of tear shells which Fritz had been liberally dosing this vicinity with, and the place is swarming with big, bluebottle flys which thrive on the dead, laying around half buried.

I had spun off scores of messages and instructions incidental to an adjutant’s duties in the field in direct phone communication with the O.C. (1) companies in the front line and support s and the reserve battalion headquarters in the rear, etc.

I wasted no time getting away, as I was, of course, a walking case. We beat it over and, but had to pick our way through the German artillery barrage. Heavens alive ! I thought the Ypres salient was hot stuff, but it’s got nothing on what is transpiring around here. On getting to the dressing station, I found our brigade major being fixed up with a badly smashed left arm….Fritz’s 5.9’s (great favourites of his) were plowing about close to the right, searching out some of our batteries, which were firing from well-concealed positions, all around our route. I eventually got into the 6th. Australian dressing station and had the serum against tetanus pumped into my right breast. Also was given two steaming cups of cocoa, dosed liberally with some Scotch. Lord, how that did go down ! …………From there with Capt. Cosby(2), who had been hit with shrapnel in the right hand, we were brought on here by an Australian ambulance. I was given a hot bath, a good dinner, and the staff sergeant dressed and readied my scratch, and put me to bed like mother would have done. I certainly was feeling tough.

Next morning I strolled down to watch some German prisoners badly wounded, and being fixed up, Prussian guards, and some big fellows, which the Australians had trimmed up in the morning.

Tis an awful shambles, close to the lines we are holding, and hundreds of Germans and Australians lay there, at present unburied. It’s been an inferno all right, but believe me, Fritz is getting it hot now, and his morale is getting shattered. He is fighting a losing game and his troops are beginning to know, and sooner or later, their army will revolt and turn on their arrogant, besotted, selfish, military leaders, but Germany has to be cleaned from within. ……One of these Germans and X.C.O.(3) speaking a little English, said ‘We did not know what a bombardment was like. Verdun was a picnic to this,’ so I guess we are giving it to him pretty bad.

Fritz has now learned pretty well the art of putting his hands up, and these prisoners are glad to be in our hands. Two big wire cages of prisioners are in close proximity to here. It’s surprising how indifferent you get to what may happen when once in line, but he’s a lucky man who pulls through this war and gets amongst the hot stuff without losing some of his anatomy. I guess I’ll clear from here in a week or so and get on the job again.”

1. O.C. - Officer Commanding
2. I found three Cosby’s - Frederick Lorne Crosby of Pt. Hope, Ontario; Crawford Stuart Cosby of Toronto, Ontario ( a civil engineer); and Norman Weber Cosby of Toronto (also a civil engineer). Take your choice.
3. X.C.O. - guessing here but I think he means former C.O.

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