Blunden's War - Part 17: Stuff Trench 21 - 23 October
These trees mark the line of Stuff Trench.
The photo was taken 95 years after the event. A fifteen year old boy in our party picked up a shell. "Put it down!" yelled the military expert.
Blunden and James Cassels, following the orders that had arrived in an envelope marked 'Very Secret', and a night in a dugout, protected from the rain with their capes, took a group of men to dig a hole for a dump of tools and ammunition where the battalion was to assemble for the attack on Stuff Trench.
The land is completely open today. But then, 'the walk to the front line lay over the most bewildering battlefield, gouged and humocked, so de-natured and dun, so crowded with brown shrapnel cases and German long handled grenades, shell holes, rifles, water bottles...a billowing desert.'
As they dug the hole and put the gear in, they were visited by a plane with a large Prussian cross: 'the bullets thumped the soft soil - and missed us.'
That night, in an early white frost, the attacking companies lay in a wet ditch until the morning. As Colonel Harrison's right hand man, Blunden was with them before the attack. Doogan said: 'this is the third time - they'll get me this time.' Blunden regrets their friendship never found the words. Doogan knew, and he was tired.
As the attack began, Harrison stood on 'the mound roof of his dugout, that simple and martial figure calling out to those as they went in terms of faith and love.'
News came slowly back. Doogan sent word Stuff Trench was taken, some forty prisoners were sent back, but CSM Lee pointing to his ripped shirt said they were being blown out of Stuff Trench. Blunden binds up the jaw of a grateful elderly German gentleman, other prisoners look sour as he directs them down the communication trench. The German shells follow their countrymen into the trench. Day two arrives, the men in Stuff Trench are now forced to eat their 'iron rations' for they could not be supplied.
That evening, following Harrison's orders, Blunden and Cassels take the new relieving companies to Stuff Trench, in the dark, through the recently captured and ravaged German fortress of Schwaben Redoubt, over the fragment of road and into Stuff Trench: 'three feet deep, corpses under foot, corpses on the parapet'.
Doogan had indeed been wounded and, after hours of sweat, was 'taken into a dugout shaft, then killed as shell after shell slipped in crescendo wailing into the vibrating ground.'
The action at Stuff Trench on October 21 and 22 was the first the battalion had seized from the Germans, and the cost enormous. As they left the clogged and greasy battlefield under the chilly sky, they saw the tanks crawling around, were issued with winter clothing, and heard rumours of their being sent to Lens or to Egypt.