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


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.

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