2nd Lt Ewart Richardson - "War Notes and Sketches".
2Lt Ewart Richardson was killed in action on the 27th of September 1916 aged 35. |
His home was at Bryn Teg, Marton, Middlesbrough, N Yorks. Prior to the War he had been a Solicitor in Middlesbrough since 1904 with offices
at 139 Albert Road.
He had been commissioned into the 4th Battalion in July 1915 and first went abroad on the 24th May 1916, joining the Battn at Ypres.
During the five months he was with the Battalion he kept a personal Diary of his experiences and sent essays back to his family.
After his death his family had his work published as "War Notes and Sketches", a copy of which is held by the Imperial War Museum.
Extracts have been used at various places in the website, as they are far more descriptive of the Trenches than the bald, factual words of
the Battalion War Diary.
The following two pieces tell us more about life just behind the Front.
It might be a huge fair. Horses, tents, booths everywhere, right across the valley as far as the eye can see. And through it all runs
roads where the traffic is constantly passing and repassing. There are countless men too, and along the roads and tracks they move in
little close bodies. From a distance there is little to show that they are soldiers, nothing in the road traffic to speak of war.
It is, surely, a horse-show.
To heighten the illusion, a gramophone scratches and wheezes ragtime from a tent, and across the valley a brass band blares out a dance
tune which has stirred your blood scores of times in Blighty.
At night the illusion amounts almost to certainty. Lights break out all over the valley. The roads are lined in lights, lights pass along
them, halt and move on. Fires are lighted here and there, horses whinny, mules make their own hideous noises. Certainly it is a fair.
Suddenly, on the far horizon appears and vanishes a white flash. Summer lightening? There is no sound at all. Then another, another, and
still another leap exultant into the sky. They look harmless enough these flashes, pretty too, reminiscent of a pantomime. Their colours
vary. Some are dead white, some are green, some a tawny red. Perhaps this too is part of the fair. The fireworks doubtless, a fitting
But wait. Behind from below the ridge comes a mighty thud. It is as if a giant had punted a huge football. Thousands of times have I heard
exactly the same sound in little. But after it comes a rushing tearing across the sky and dying away in the distance, while a little later
another and new kind of flash breaks on the horizon. This is but the precursor of others. Mighty thuds that shake the ground, lesser,
sharper reports, drums beating, short sharp barks, the whole gamut of explosions. Away in the valley from a clump of trees, a lurid flame
leaps out. Another, and another, and still another, and then four heavy explosions to correspond. It is a heavy battery firing from a wood.
The air is full of rushing; sometimes it seems as if steel bands were drawn across it. The darkness is dissipated by incessant flashes.
Then it is war after all and no fair. But it seems so peaceful. But war often hides under peaceful appearances. The men that walk here and
there in the valley and over the hillsides are all khaki clad. The groups that pass along the roads are columns marching in fours, helmeted
and carrying rifles and bayonets. In an hours time they will pass over the horizon where the pretty flashes play, and find them the vicious
whizz of shrapnel and the heavy burst of high explosives. Even here occasionally a shell whistles over and bursts ominously near, setting
the horses kicking.
Behind the line we wait anxiously. Our friends are there. Already the reports: This one has been wounded. It is a bullet through the arm;
someone with him in an ambulance, cheerfully laughing, for his face is set for home. Another has been hit badly, a third has gone under,
hit by a bomb. We find a grim satisfaction in hearing that the thrower was bayoneted by a sergeant in our own company. Poor satisfaction
it is though.
And so we wait. The French have taken this place, our own troops are close to a village which has defied them for a month. Soon it is our
turn to try our luck. May it be good!
And in the valley the merry lights twinkle, the men come and go, and the bands play the tunes to which we marched in Blighty.
It lies within range of the enemy guns, though in fact they have never bombarded it. Every day and night its windows rattled to the
explosions of our own artillery, and yet it is more peaceful than many a city a hundred miles away.
Constantly it's gates give
admission to loaded ambulance wagons, or open to allow them to depart on their various errands; and yet seated within it's quiet Walls
one could almost believe the era of everlasting peace had arrived.
Various now are its activities. Part of its building has been commandeered for a Hospital, part is devoted to an Officers' Mess.
But outside in the yard the children play their accustomed games, and somewhere in it's precincts, where we may not go, the religious
life goes on duly, without doubtings or fear, in a steady faith not given to many to enjoy.
There is a well-lighted hall, converted into a dining room, meals are served to officers, and there those of us who are fortunate enough
to be for a while out of the line, congregate from time to time for a quiet hour, and that rare and wonderful thing, a decently served meal.
These dinners are not grand affairs of many courses, but simple and well cooked meals from which the dyspeptic need not turn, nor the
epicure leave unsatisfied. On the Walls are painted texts in French and Flemish. A statuette of the virgin and child is the guardian of
the place. Somewhere on the walls, not incongruous expressions of loyalty, hang photographs of the King and Queen of the Belgians.
For decoration, the tables bear vases of wild flowers, and are spread with blue and white check cloths.
But perhaps the best charm of the place is the sister who, presiding deity, superintends the feeding. She is plump, red cheeked,
clear skinned, and full of laughter and as good hearted as the monks of our own well loved country are reputed to have been.
She has a smile for everyone, and will answer your jests in the little reedy voice often found in those who are plump and cheerful.
And her laughter - it is not so much sweet as infectious.
Before its sound the dead gloom of the trenches evaporates, as clouds before the sun. And believe me, it is no easy thing to defeat the
trench mood, and still more believe me, it is an essentially useful and noble function. Of all cheerfulness, that which suits us who have
just left the trenches, is the most blessed. Where is its nobility? Let him who doubts it come and live close behind the line for
three months and his doubt will be answered.
Sister, already I think you are numbered among the blest ones of this world. How many a young soldier have you nerved to face his first
experience of the dangers of action, how many have you strengthened once more in failing courage.
Numerous are the badges that have passed
beneath your smile into the firing line. Numberless the faces that have met here, ships in a harbour of refuge before setting sail once
more into the unknown seas. Many indeed have gone hence to lasting peace. Those of us that remain when men's peace returns, will revisit
in the flesh or spirit, as our destinies permit, your hall of peace and quiet amid the cannonading of a country laid desolate.
(6 July 1916).