4th Battalion and A/46th encounter gas near Ypres

After two particularly busy days of being fired upon by the Germans on the outskirts of Ypres, William Appleton and the A/46th were relieved by the 2nd Brigade Royal Field Artillery. They marched dogedly back to their billets in Watou on the 18th of December.

That same morning just over 16km to the south of Watou, Mark Wildon and the 4th Battalion were assembling in Outtersteene. They were to march to nearby Bailleul Station to catch the 12:30 train to Poperinghe across the border in Belgium, only 7km to the east of William Appleton. However this was not Mark’s final destination. The men then marched from the station south east to huts at Dickbusch, where at 5:30 in the late afternoon, they found that the state of the grounds were “…awful, deep mud everywhere. Fortunately (the weather) was fine. We were all very sorry to leave our comfortable farmhouses, where we had been for 5 weeks.”

William Appleton and mark wildon Dec 1915

Movement of William Appleton and A/46th Brigade in December 2015 (Pink line east to west). Movement of Mark Wildon and 4th Battalion in December 2015 (Yellow line south to north).

At 5.30am the next morning on the 19th, “The Germans gassed the northern sector of the Ypres Salient. The gas penetrated as far south as Bailleul and we all stood to in our huts, with tube helmets, as it was uncomfortably strong there. It soon passed off. Our artillery bombarded the Germans very heartily from early morning, all day and next night. At 3.15pm we marched off to our … dugouts near zillebeke for one night and settled in there about 6pm. The sun shone all day and the sky was particularly clear. We witnessed an exciting aeroplane duel in which the hun was driven back to his line.

Even William and the A/46th Brigade were put on alert all day since the attack at 8am, just in case they were needed to help repulse the attack. It wasn’t until 5pm that afternoon that they were all put at ease.

The distance between these two men at the time was clearly not much. Zillebeke, where Mark Wildon had just arrived, was only 3.5km south east of Ypres, just behind the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. Barely 4km separated him from where William had just entered into billets only two days previously.

Returning to Mark Wildon, on the 20th he was marched to the front line  to relieve the 6th Kings Own Scottish Borderers in Armagh Wood. W Coy reportedly had the worst of the trenches whilst Y Coy were left behind in dugouts. The other coys were also stationed in various trenches and strong posts in the area and despite the “…terrible delapidated state… “ of the trenches, they settled down for the night as best as they could manage. The unit on their right were the 4th East Yorkshires and the Durham Brigade on the left.

21st December: It rained all day, endeavours were made to drain trenches dry all trench boots which were handed over very wet. Also telephonic communications to the various Coys was established. Work was immediately got in hand by the engineers on the rebuilding of the trenches. The enemy left us alone all day except for a few … which exploded harmlessly in the wood below to our right. We had one man, Cpl Brown of W Coy hurt by a bullet through the chest while on duty in the trench.

22nd December: It rained from 11am onwards till 7pm. Work was continued on trenches and dug outs were commenced for HQ … all the boots and socks were dried and men’s feet were washed and some massaged. Trenches were infested with rats. Capt Maughan was admitted to hospital with water on heel.

Thankfully, their time in trenches was brief. By the 23rd 5 men had been singled out for police duty at Ypres whilst the rest of the Battalion were relieved by the 5th Durham Light Infantry. They used the respite to dry themselves out after “… four very trying days in trenches.”

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