The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

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Captain Mervyn Crawshay’s diary ends abruptly, mid-sentence, on 29 October 1914.  He was killed in action a few days later on 31 October 1914.

Captain Mervyn Crawshay is commemorated on the Menin Gate.  His remains were discovered in 1970, along with those of another soldier, in a wartime shell pit in an isolated site near Messines.  Neither could be identified.  Their remains were reburied at Cement House Cemetery, Langemark, in August 1970.

The body of Mervyn Crawshay was identified 22 years later, in 1992, when a member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s records section undertook research to establish the identity of this unknown officer.  A new headstone was erected at the grave in 1993.

You can read Captain Mervyn Crawshay’s entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website here:

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/4009555/CRAWSHAY,%20MERVYN

The First World War diary of Captain Mervyn Crawshay can be consulted at Glamorgan Archives (www.glamarchives.gov.uk).  Further documents relating to his service in the army can be found at the National Army Museum in London (www.nam.ac.uk) and at the Royal Dragoon Guards Museum in York (www.rdgmuseum.org.uk).

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The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

27 Oct 1914

A Squadron is in supporting trenches. I go round before dawn, find Spurrier., see Blackburn and just get back before the shooting begins, there is little of it.

In dug outs in rain part of time, relieved by Connaughts in evening. The usual furious muddle about it.

28 Oct 1914

A very comfortable night get my boots off, in the house where I found the signalling  going on, and after breakfast we actually go back and see our long lost horses, groom, clean and ride them. Gallop round a field enclosed by trees, all the time keeping a sharp lookout for aeroplanes, such is our present life.

Change my Squadron to a little farm near by as this place is over-crowded and a sea of mud.

Then up to our old pitch by windmill, see various aeroplanes being shot at.

Not very encouraging news today, there is very hard fighting on the left and we are hanging on, get quietly back into Messines and take over the outer line, formerly held by C squadron, from Connaughts.

A very cold night, frost.

I am on left of line with 11 troop.

Turned out twice by firing to meet the attack only a few shots however.

Our orders remain the same, to hang on to the last here, so its simple

29 Oct 1914

A big battle going on on our left. At first only cannon can be heard, but by 12 can hear musketry and machine guns. It seems to be coming this way. Lie in the cold trench, read papers, think of other times, one might almost be buried and done with, hour after hour, hear we may not be relieved even tonight.

The day is wintry, and one’s feet wet.

War from the cavalry solders point of view as he expected and as it is, are two quite different things.

Am relieved by Wild’s Rifles in evening after a lot of palaver; Pathans and Sikhs.

The getting in and out of trenches was rather a comedy in rain and dark, it might have been otherwise Currans cough for instance.

The Afrides are going German hunting in the wood.

I get a comfortable billet and sleep and a letter from Vide and good news re Haigh having

The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

20. Oct 1914

We were to be relieved at dawn, but 2 squadrons of the 18th, owing to a mistake, come late, they pay the penalty of casualties at once. A squadron has trumpeter Lines hit and cannot leave the trenches till quite late in the day, being pinned in by machine guns etc.

We eventually get back to the “B” of Bois de Ploegstrut.

Nearly get hit by a shell which pitches into the middle of some led-horses of Division Headquarters. A scurry like a wasps nest ensues inside. Shells on the lawn and into house etc all day.

Listen to the din of a brigade RFA and 60lb Battery. Suddenly saddled up in evening to rush off to support 2nd Brigade and Goffy, although we were reserve Regiment of Division.

Came on hill 63, saw in looming mists of evening cavalry down road shells bursting behind them and in them.

We are hurried to Messines to put it in a state of defence and hold it till the last.

Hunt m[achine] gun positions at dark and behind barricades the squadrons try and dig themselves in during night.

I dine with B in a very nice house we consider the local situation for us, a very trying one, indeed liked the prospect of the morrow almost less than any I have known.

The 18th lost heavily where they relieved us at Le Ghies, 80 men.

The Tins badly hit, lost man of theirs came to me in Messimes, unarmed.

Sleep in a very comfortable bed in the doomed city.

21. Oct 1914

Out 1 hour before dawn, hide machine guns horses in a brewery, the others of regiment go a long way back to comparative safety, site trenches at dawn.

A squadron moves 4 times before the beat is found.

Uhlans come early, but don’t give much of a target in fog.

Luckily we were able to entrench a bit before the real shelling started. Then they started on the city, hundreds came in the day, bursting everywhere smashing everything.

The worst of it came in the hour before dark we found a cellar, our house hit. Collier Johnson’s house wiped out, only he was below ground.

I had a near one going from gun to gun.

Only 6 wounded at end of day in regiment but it was distinctly trying.

Got a good dinner and at night ½ Brigade of infantry come to reinforce us.

A very bad day over and I thought it would be much worse.

We hear the Germans and rushed Le Ghies. We retook it, captured our own prisoners back again, who had been rushed asleep and exhausted and get 300 Germans!

Relieved by infantry late at night, then bed. Guns had to go on again at 2 am

22. Oct 1914

A great deal of firing before dawn, the real attack was further South no doubt.

I dressed hastily and went to machine guns. Unfortunately LC Spendly hit in mouth, a pure bit of bad luck.

The moment he moved across the window he got it, the only one thro’ the window.

At first little shelling, Kavanagh and I explore the now empty convent I walk in the garden, nearly catch a shell.

Go with a map, large scale, I found to the Battery commander and nearly get another, then to lunch and are hunted to cellar by howitzer.

Am now writing in cellar, waiting for better times!

I warned Black re position of A squadron he refused to move and a shrapnel burst in them, killed Rich, wounded Black and 15 others.

So I am now to command the Squadron again, in a way I’m sorry, Archie and Bouverie gone sick. The Tins have lost heavily.

24. Oct 1914

Lindenhoch

Our rest day spoilt by an airman reporting a cavalry corps marching on us.

All saddled up ready, then off.

All sorts of rumours going, big Russian victory, Italy at war, etc, etc, Haighs, big success in North

25. Oct 1914

March out in usual pitch dark back to Messines. We are in reserve by a windmill, dig ourselves into the ground. I collect tools from all sides, am sure this is one of the big lessons of the war.

Billet in town at dark, only a few shells, in big house opposite convent.

26. Oct 1914

A Squadron for duty and relieve 11th Hussars before dawn. They must have had a very bad night in pouring rain, in a miserable trench half full of water.

My particular place is a sort of little cave.

Shot at various Uhlans then the situation alters with its usual lightning rapidity, a big forward movement is to come off, all infantry withdrawn, cavalry take over a very extensive line, which brings me in support by convent, in dug outs.

The convent and church burn, so I am warm in night, almost too much so. The 2nd Brigade gone. Hear big battle.

The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

13 Oct 1914

We are rejoiced to finish with Division Cavalry.

Pursued after the brigade a quick and rather arduous march, but found our supplies behind the French fighting line, to which we got quite near, including shells.

Get champagne by the road side. A battle in progress, we are reserve cavalry on a flank, infantry Division deploying when we arrived.

Mont Noir taken with 1000 German casualties, 200 of ours.

We billet on farm near Rochonville and dry after the downpour, which we sat in. Tiger and I sleep behind the firing line, close by enemy.

We get beds and are shown the lie of the land by the daughter of the house. The Brigade has had casualties but a better day than yesterday.

14 Oct 1914

Drenching rain, the forward movement proceeds. Don’t like papers, it looks like a huge siege boiling up.

Hear 6000 marines in Antwerp, 2000 into Holland

A squadron advance to Brigade.

Our operation the taking of Dranouches from Uhlans, who luckily run, as we entered village frontally.

Flemish here can’t speak much French over frontier, a different country.

15  Oct 1914

Get up early after a very good night in an empty house and it resolved itself into a rest day, only we did not know it.

Met 2 marines who gave the naval situation, chain of mines and submarines across channel.

2000 marines lost at Antwerp, had to go to Holland.

The new aeroplane motor guns to go back to Plymouth, everything points to a winter campaign, only one can’t tell.

The Kaiser should die today by prophecy

16 Oct 1914

Reserve brigade. We have off at 7.

I am with echelon A, tomorrow will be advance squadron of the Division if we go on.

Go to Leuve Eglise in a thick fog, pack and await events in a small cottage. Next door home is shut, the owner a workman shot against a wall by Germans last Sunday.

Two German army corps reported advancing from Bruges and by coast. We are as far forward as required, perhaps further.

17 Oct 1914

Start off as advance Brigade at 6 with orders this time to take the river line, to Ploughshot into a large wood. An extraordinary manoeuvre in middle of same, sit down later to firing and guns all round.

Machine guns ordered up, as Cousal sick, I take over and am amused therewith, tho’ get gunned and get no shooting.

A new haystack position, the Bays gun knocked out, the 11th in a beastly position right up by railway line behind a hedge opposite infantry entrenched, who had done it in night.

Lumly killed, various wounded. Our battery busy, some casualties.

See one of our aeroplanes working well, with lights etc.

Thought we were for very unpleasant job facing Germans.

All night we were spared, Lord knows what, by arrival of a lot of infantry and back under cover of darkness, followed by a parting salvo, to Drasoutre

18 Oct 1914

Reserve Brigade wander out at Dawn, and still do machine guns.

To a large wood and sit there all day, very little fighting but 60lb guns close to us make the day hideous.

A few shells fall, coal boxes ½ size but not close. After dark a trying march to a farm near Romeraines. There get champagne which was hidden from Germans

19 Oct 1914

In a new flea bag and very comfortable on a mattress.

Pulled out at 3 with an order to make a night march to St Yves arrive at dawn and report to O.C.4th D.Gs.

Succeed in finding my way there, farms are burning most of the day and coal boxes, but they don’t quite come our way.

A scare when I first arrived it looked like an attack, but was the Tins.

Rumour says things are not very bright. I guessed as much.

Expect we will dig in here.

5th DG m guns with Holland occupy the old advanced position which I considered a bad and untenable one.

Sleep in the Inn, shells all round and in the wood but not into us. Go round posts at night on a cycle.

The War Diary of Mervyn Crawshay

6. Oct 1914

Furious shopping, fitting out after Néry, getting teeth stopped. Tea at Cafe de la Paix, a large dinner at Maxims with various officers, Entente Cordiale and frog’s legs

7.Oct 1914

Early out shopping, ready to move at 11.

No sign of a car or a message from Foster, the ASC man. Hear of the Regiment moving and can’t think how we are to rejoin.

Lunch at the Abbé. At 2pm to our surprise, he appears, go to police for a pass and round Paris for petrol.

A furious night drive thro Subies etc, and arrive at Rocroy.

A man, Dickie, most kind, he will send us on tomorrow.

A comfortable billet

8. Oct 1914

The motor car pursuit all up behind the great battle line for miles, bump into a fight and a bulge in the line at Lassigny, and out again.

Tea at Compiegne, gunners entraining. Cross river and eventually hit Brigade near Courmelle.

They got sucked into a French bulge, delayed hours on their march, but no fight.

I motor on to the billet with Osborne, everyone surprised to see me back so soon, and sound

9. Oct 1914

A sharp frost, everyone’s teeth chatter. Don’t know what it will be like later on in Belge.

Turns into bright sun, we march all day, 1 hours halt at Oube Villiers. Hear guns far away towards Arras, a smiling country untouched by Germans.

I go round village putting out out-posts, arrange billets etc

Am in a ghostly old wing of the house, place my valise on the bed

10. Oct 1914

Onward, a cold morning and a fine day. A long march descend into a quiet and secluded valley and billet in the farm of the wife of a chasseur a cheval.

Heavy firing not far off, our infantry are near about. Patteson sees his brother.

Head at Cormelles that Herbert Gilmour has been killed

11. Oct 1914

Called at 4. Cold march to right of army, we are roped in for divisional cavalry, to our disgust.

I am sent to Verguisinal to find French, don’t find any, but a firing line in front and a hang up and gunning, only a few R. E. digging trenches.

Sit about on a coal tip all watching, for a change.

Infantry appear later, and after a little hunt in closing dark, find regiment.

We go eventually to a chateau in a field, full of French, who have to quit in night.

I lost my bed and had to sleep in bathroom.

12. Oct 1914

Start off in a thick fog thro’ Bethune, to a place called Vieille Chapelle.

The French have held it, cavalry and infantry and have evidently had a bad time.

We cross the rubicon i.e. the bridge mounted in ½ sections, soon reach the X roads, and almost at once Patteson is brought back to me with his brains out, his death a lesson in tactics.

We performed with the chasseurs à pied. Infantry come up and we hang on to the city of the dead all day. As I expected get heavily shelled, in evening leave village like a Drury Lane Pantomime, with walls falling and the church spire crashing down on to poor Patteson’s grave.

Leave several wounded.

Eventually get to billets near Bethune.

Found my entrenching tool most useful to make up place under logs, it probably saved us.