03 June 1915

HELLES - Major Norman Burge, RMLI, RND - Burge, who in days would be commanding Nelson Battalion, was not aware of the imminent attack until late on the 3 June and his account, although intended to be humorous, nevertheless neatly illustrates the mood during the night before an attack.

"You always know when there's going to be a battle, because people come and tell you to get up and bally well be smart about it too, at 2am. So up you spring with a pleased smile and wring him warmly by the hand and put on everything you can find, prattling merrily all the time such as, "What a delightful morning!" "How nice you look, old dear!" Then someone strikes a match, 'cos he can't find his best girl's lock of hair to wear next his heart (messy habit I call it) And he is gently reproved by those in authority with a smiling, "Nay brother, nay, lest the light attract the attention of the enemy, so please blow out that light!" At least, it's something like that, only generally longer and a little louder. And then the men fall in with a certain amount of scuffling. It appeared in the early stages that everyone desired to be an even number when they numbered off. This was because the odd numbers carried a pick or shovel as well as the ordinary gear. Now they know the value of these tools and the scuffle is to get them. Then everyone moves off & presently you get to a maze of trenches. When you get to the middle, you find a Staff Officer who says you're all wrong and you'd better go back. You argue with him, but more out of convention than anything else, 'cos he always wins. Well, you try to please him and go back, but you can't because another battalion is coming up and the trench is very narrow. Eventually a compromise is reached. One lot (the one who lost the toss) scrabble as close to the side of the trench as they can and the others squeeze pass, scraping grooves in the stomachs of the scrabblers with stray bits of equipment which may and do happen to stick out. As soon as the General has had two bits of bacon, the battle begins!" 

HELLES - In the final days before the next leap forward - the planned attack all along the line at Helles on 4 June 1915 - the practice of sapping forward to reduce the distance they would have to charge across during the attack was continued. This eminently sensible measure threw up an example of the continued intransigence Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston 's and his unwillingness to adapt to the grim necessities of circumstance.

Photograph of Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, GOC, VIII Corps

 Brigadier-General Marshall had been attached to the 42nd Division to provide assistance to the inexperienced staff of the 127th Manchester Brigade when he learnt the details of the proposal for the night of 2-3 June 1915.

"A night advance was to be made on the night of 2nd June and all the troops destined to carry out the attack were to dig themselves in within 200 yards of the enemy trenches. In front of the Manchester Brigade the line of the enemy trenches formed a re-entrant, and, with an almost full moon, I would have preferred not to advance into this re-entrant, so I ventured to point out that the resulting casualties might be very heavy. However the orders were very explicit and had to be carried out. The result was the brigade made the advance successfully, and dug itself in all along the line within the stipulated 200 yards. Luckily the enemy fired high and the resulting casualties only amounted to fifty or sixty, nearly all being wounded cases. Hunter-Weston came down on the 3rd personally to congratulate Lee's Brigade on their successful effort; to me he said: "There you are! You see the thing has been done with no casualties". I gently murmured "Fifty" to which he retorted: "Well, that's nothing, it would have been worth doing if you had five hundred". (Brigadier General William Marshall, (attached) 127th Brigade, 42nd Division).

IWM DOCS, N. O. Burge, ms letters, letter dated 6th June 1915, W. Marshall, Memories of Four Fronts, (London: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1929), p79