Claps, attacks and rats as big as cats

PUBLISHED: 17:39 03 August 2006 | UPDATED: 11:56 04 May 2010

ON the day of the attack, despite protests from the brigade-major, Riddell ordered that the battalion canteen would open at 3.30pm in a dugout then in German hands. This was intended to inspire the men with confidence. As the stretcher carried by two men

ON the day of the attack, despite protests from the brigade-major, Riddell ordered that the battalion canteen would open at 3.30pm in a dugout then in German hands. This was intended to inspire the men with confidence. As the stretcher 'carried by two men, and laden with cigarettes, chocolates, matches, and biscuits with a large notice 'Cambs' Canteen' marched past the waiting men 'a suppressed murmur of applause greeted its arrival.' And Riddell heard a voice saying 'He's Sure'.

It is a difficult leap of imagination to put oneself into the thoughts running through each individual mind as he prepared for the battle ahead.

As the attack started the noise of war was intense. Riddell says 'The drumming of the gunfire, the explosion of the shells, and the continuous rattle of machine-guns and rifles are beyond the descriptive powers of literature'. These threw up fountains of earth and as he watched Riddell knew that men of the Cambridgeshire's were at risk of being killed.

He could also see that The Black Watch to the right of his men had not reached their objective and 'were being mown down by machine-guns as a reaper cuts corn'.

One soldier in the thick of this was Walter Eusden. Walter was born in Cambridge in 1881 and was a married man with 7 children. In January 1914 Walter joined the 1st Cambridgeshire Regiment and on the 4th August 1914 was mobilised with his regiment. His last surviving child (one of three more children born after the Great War) now lives in Ely and contacted the paper through her son and daughter-in-law.

Jess Adams and her son Paul can remember Walter talking about the war. Although he was assigned to the cookhouse Walter was involved in a great deal of fighting. He was shot twice, once in the arm and also gassed. The family have two of his four medals, the bullet he was shot with and his identity tag with name and number on it. Along with two postcards he sent home to his family from the front.

Walter told stories of the lice that were constantly plaguing them and how he used candles along the seams of his clothing in a desperate attempt to get rid of them. For the rest of his life he was always troubled by sore feet and said they were like washerwoman's hands because they had been constantly wet in the trenches. The family also remember Walter telling them about the rats that infested the trenches he said that they were as large as cats and everywhere to be seen.

At one point Walter had been called away from the cookhouse, when he returned it had been shelled. Riddell describes this as the fortunes of war. Walter Eusden did return to his family, many of his comrades did not.

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