Surviving the Battle of Pozières, 29 July – 6 August 1916

After his special leave in England granted for the successful trench raid in Armentieres, Reg returned to the 28th Battalion on 30 June 1916 and was soon to experience the full horrors of the Western Front in the Battle of Poizieres of July/August 1916.

The next of Reg’s letters that remain was written to his brother Theo on 11 September 1916 and recounts his experiences:

1916.09.11 first page

“The Pater doesn’t look a day older and Mum is very well.

            Somewhere in Belgium

                                    11-9-16

Dearest Old Chap

I got your letter which the Pater forwarded on from Lurgashall the other day and was delighted to hear you are getting better from your attack of jaundice and fever. By Jove I would have liked to have been with you up in Darjeeling, do you remember our trip up there, leaving Manjhaul for Begusairas [1]  and the train journey to the station, losing your boy and the heat and then that wonderful trip up the hills in the little railway and how bally cold it was when we got there, 51º if I remember correctly.

If only those days could come once more, life is a very uncertain factor here old man, we have been having some terrific fighting since I last wrote you, on the Somme, the Australians made their name at Poziers which we took, also the Heights of Poziers, where desperate fighting took place, it doesn’t matter much telling you all this now as it is all over & is public property. In one charge (taking the Heights) we lost 19 Officers (14 killed & 5 wounded) and 670 men in about one hour.[2] 

Personally I was knocked down three times by the blast of shells and once buried and yet came out untouched, talk about luck or providence, our battalion came out with 67 rifles only. The trouble is when a position is captured, trying to hold on to it while the work of consolidation. trenches are absolutely obliterated and it is a hard job to find where they have been, one can only tell by a sense of position or direction and the bodies more or less [distutaled?] I pray you may never encounter a modern bombardment, it is simply hell let lose. The sights one sees are too dreadful to talk about, no chance of burial for the dead, they slowly rot on the ground, mangled and remangled by shells and the flies come in swarms, imagine trying to eat food under those conditions, also up to the knees in mud and water for 4 and 5 days at a time, I pray to God it will soon be over & this madness of slaughter come to an end. We have left the South of France now and are resting preparatory to going into the trenches at Ypres, another miserable hole, they are working the Australians for all they are worth just now, we have been fighting constantly since April 5thI don’t know how we are going to stand the winter here as our fellows are not used to the cold. I had hoped they would send us to Mesopotamia for the winter. I am now in charge of “C” Company and have been for more than a month, it is up to them to give me my Captaincy soon, as we are doing Captains work and taking responsibility for Lieutenants pay. It isn’t a  fair deal, but the military don’t care a damn as long as they can get the work done, however I suppose it will come in good time.[3] 

Did Finch take the Bulgy Snoukes up to Darjeeling or was the railway fare for one beastie too much for the pocket? I hear Simon is married! Congratulate him for me. It would be awfully nice for you to have seen all those nice people again, the Macs were awfully nice, and and the Finch tribe.[4] I would love to see them all again, besides I suppose Mac is very cocky these days as by now he ought to be a fairly decent billiard player, although he never will be a good snipe shot, tell him we’ve got good “sniping” over here. I had a splendid time at home.

I hope you don’t have to go back to Mesopotamia again, it seems such a hopeless business,[5] why not go to Australia and join up you would get a commission at
once and be sent to England to train and then we could meet again. Good bye dear old man take care of yourself, I am trying hard to do so.

                   Ever yours.

                                                Reg.”

 

[1] Manjhaul, Bihar Province, India  – where GT Gill (Theo) was working at an indigo factory in 1914. Reggie visited India for six months from 1914 to 1915 and stayed with Theo. Begusarai is nearby to Manjhaul in Bihar Province.

[2] In the first unsuccessful attack on the German trench called OG1 at The Windmill on the night of 28/29th July, the 28th BN were caught on the uncut wire and lost over 470 men. 8 of its officers were killed, including 3 of the 4 company commanders (Maj. Welch, Capt N.F. Macrae and Capt C.T. Gibbins). The fourth company commander (Capt A.S. Isaac) lost an arm and the Battalion commander (Colonel Collett) was also wounded.

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Presumably this is when Reg took over as company commander of C Coy. See the Official History, Vol III, Chap 18 for a detailed account of the action.

The second attack on 4th August was successful in taking the German trenches OG1 and OG2 but the 28th had to hold on in the face of fierce counterattacks for two more days.  This attack may have been successful in capturing its objectives, but the bombardment was so heavy that nothing of the tenches remained and the losses to the 28th Battalion and the rest of 7th Brigade were enormous.

The old ‘O.G. 1’ line [Old German 1 line] at Pozieres, France, looking north towards the Windmill from a point about 200 to 400 yards north of the junction with Pozieres trench. The photograph illustrates how completely the trench was filled up, so that only the muzzles of buried rifles are showing. This section of the trench had evidently been rebuilt at one time, as the sandbags seen in the foreground are on the German side.

October 1916 – The battlefield near Pozieres village, in France, showing how completely the trenches dug by Australians on 23 and 24 July, just south of the Bapaume Road, had been obliterated by shellfire.

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A number of messages written by Reg during the night of 4/5th August in the file of 7th Brigade:

RHG message - 04 08 16 
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[3] Actually, Reg had just been promoted to Lieutenant on 28 August, and in less than a month after writing this letter, to Captain on 1 October 1916.

[4] ‘Finch’? E.J. Finch perhaps?

‘Bulgy Snoukes’ may be a dog or a horse – GTG’s photo album has many photos of named dogs and horses. One dog is ‘Bully also known as Boolgy’

‘The Macs’? perhaps Mr and Mrs E.G. Macpherson

‘The Mauhns’ or Munns – perhaps Ferrers and Margaret Munns?

 

[5] see GTG in Mesopatamia with the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles

RHG visit to India – November 1914

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and many men in Australia rushed to volunteer for the army that was speedily being raised to fight in Europe. But Reg did not volunteer at first.

In late 1914 Reg visited his brother Theo (GTG) who was on the staff of an indigo plantation in India (Manjhaul, Bihar State). Reg is recorded in a local paper as visiting India for six months, returning in March 1915 (Daily News, 12 March 1915). Six months seems a long time to be away, especially if Reg had his own business or was working as an accountant or clerk for a company.  It is interesting that Reg’s wife Laura does not seem to have gone with him. According to the same local paper, Laura had been on her own six month trip to the UK and Europe in 1912 ‘Mrs. Reginald Gill, of Fremantle, who is on a six months’ holiday In tho old country, leaves this month (says an English paper) on a tour of Holland, Switzerland, the Rhine, and Norway.’ (Daily News, 12 July 1912)

It is not known whether Reg spent all six months with Theo or just a part of this time. From the dates of the photos Reg was with Theo from at least November 1914 to January 1915 – click the following photos to enlarge:

GTG photo album - p.25

Theo is seen on a 2½ hp Singer motorcycle and Reggie is on a 2½ hp Motosacoche.

GTG photo album - p.43

 

GTG photo album - p.14a GTG photo album - p.14b

Reg’s letters to Theo from the Western Front nostalgically mention a trip they took with friends up to Darjeeling.

The letters also mention The “Munns” and the “Macs” and the “Finch tribe” – possibly Ferrers and Kathleen Munns and their daughters Margaret and Helen,  Mr and Mrs E.G. Macpherson and E.J. Finch pictured in later years in Theo’s photo album.

The Munns

J.W. Spencer & E.G. Macpherson - 1919

J.W. Spencer & E.G. Macpherson – 1919

GTG photo album - p.8 c

 

 

 

GTG photo album - p.14d GTG photo album - p.14 copy

E.J. Finch was a manager at the Indigo estate at Manjhaul in the state of Bihar where GTG worked.

 “MUNJHOUL

One has to give but a cursory glance at the 4,500 acres of land on the Munjhoul estate, in the district of Monghyr, cultivated on behalf of the proprietor, to see that farming operations have been conducted on thoroughly up-to-date principles, chief among which are a systematic course of manuring and the draining of superfluous water from the soil.

The whole estate comprises an area of about fifteen square miles in extent, and the control of this huge property is vested in Mr. F. H. Holloway, for whom Mr. E. J. Finch is manager. About 4,500 acres are kept in hand, and Java indigo (700 acres), wheat, chillies, tobacco, and other, native crops are grown successfully.

An indigo factory was built at Munjhoul, on a bank of the little Gandak River, in or about the year 1836, and the produce, manufactured under the old system of beating by the hand, may be put down at an average of 9 seers to the acre. The only steam power used on the premises is in connection with the processes of boiling and the pumping of water for the vats. Tobacco, cured on racks, yields 8 maunds to the acre, and all crops are sold where grown, with the exception of indigo, which is sent for disposal to Messrs. Begg, Dunlop & Co., the agents in Calcutta.

The four out-stations are : Sisanni, seven miles distant in an eastwardly direction from headquarters ; Bundwar, four miles to the south ; Gurkpura, nine miles to the north ; and Bissenpore, four miles to the west.

The buildings are substantially constructed, and include five very nice bungalows, factory, carpentering and other shops, sheds, and stores. Constant work upon the land is found for sixty-five pairs of oxen, and about three hundred permanent labourers are required for other duties.

Mr. Finch is assisted in the management by Messrs. P. F. Baddeley-Holloway and H. N. Philiffe.”  extract from ‘BENGAL AND ASSAM, BEHAR AND ORISSA, Their History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources’, Compiled by SOMERSET PLAYNE, F.R.G.S. (1917)

 

close up of Reggie and Theo - Nov 1914, Munjoul, IndiaGTG photo album - p.31

 

close up - Reggie's last day in India

GTG – after the war with the Bihar Light Horse

It seems GTG remained on the staff at the School of Instruction for Young Officers at Sabathu and Ambala until 1919.

 GTG’s service record is unclear when he ceased his role as instructor at the school but it seems from the photo album that he returned to civilian life quite soon after the war. He was married on 30 December 1918 at St.Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay to Annie Vera Chapman (known as ‘Vera’). Vera served in the war as a V.A.D. nurse at Bevan Hospital, Sandgate, Kent so how they met each other is unclear.

There is a photo in GTG’s album of Vera with her brother Lawrence Vaughan Chapman  who was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Rifle Brigade and was killed in Flanders on 25 September 1915.

From 1919 GTG worked at the Russelpur indigo plantation and factory in North Bihar (I believe it is now called Rasulpur). And a year later, on 15th December 1919, GTG and Vera’s first child, Vaughan Reginald Gill (known as Reggie after his uncle RHG), was born.

The photo album shows a long leave in England in 1921 where their second son David Lawrence George Gill (Dave) was born on 2nd August 1921, and then back to Russelpur. I assume GTG remained in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (I.A.R.O.) until 1922 when his service record states that  he was “Permitted to relinquish commission and granted rank of Captain – 1st May, 1922”. However it seems he was back in the I.A.R.O. in 1923 because the next entry in the service record states “Appointed Captain in I.A.R.O. – 10th April 1923”. I wonder why?

By this time it seems that GTG and family had moved to the Japaha sugar factory in Muzaffarpur District, Bihar, which GTG describes was “HQ district of same name in province of Bihar and Orissa, known as Tirhut, also called the garden of India”.

It was at Japaha that GTG and Vera’s third child Rosemary Theodora Mitchell Gill (Rosie) was born on 11th January 1924. There was a serious earthquake in Bihar in 1934, the devastating effects of which GTG captured by photograph in great detail.

1934 Bihar Earthquake (click photos to enlarge):

The last entry in GTG’s service record states “Resigned commission in A.I.R.O. – 1st January, 1930”. There are then a number of photos of GTG from 1930 onwards in the Bihar Light Horse (BLH) based at Muzaffarpur.

It seems GTG was given the rank of sergeant in the BLH. The BLH was part of the Auxiliary Force (India) and was a volunteer, part-time unit. I understand that it was quite popular to join such a ‘territorial’ unit, which were social hubs for British society in India, and due to the popularity it was common for former officers to join as other ranks. From the photos it certainly seems very sociable.

Some members of the Bihar Light Horse, Muzaffarpur
L to R: Bill Barkley, Streaky Campbell (I.P.),  McCarthy, Lt. Col. A.L. Danby O.C
On R – back: Ronnie, Frazer; front L to R: Sgt. G.T.Gill, N.V. Hayne, Morgan

It seems that Ferrers Munns, who was a good friend of GTG, wrote a short booklet entitled  “In Memory of the Bihar Light Horse” to commemorate the unveiling of a plaque to the BLH at Sandhurst in 1958. It is from this booklet that the various information on the BLH on the internet is taken.

Ferrers & Margaret Munns, Japaha 1933

With war in Europe looming, GTG returned to the UK in 1939, living at Sunbury-on-Thames. I believe that during WWII he served as an officer in the Home Guard but unfortunately his photo album stops in the late 1930s.  All three of GTG’s children Reggie, Dave and Rosie served in WWII. Reggie joined the Fleet Air Arm and trained as a pilot at NAS Brunswick in the USA. David joined the RAF and trained as a pilot in South Africa and Rosemary joined the W.R.N.S., stationed in London, Brighton and Edinburgh. And Vera served in the WVS in Sunbury – so the whole family was in uniform.

Tragically, Reggie died in a mid-air collision whilst on a training flight in a F4U-1 Corsair over Lake Sebago, Maine on 16 May 1944. It seems the two planes were discovered a few years ago submerged in the lake and there were plans to try to salvage the planes, but this was blocked in 2004 by legal action the State of Maine and the MOD.