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Interview with John Uprichard: 8th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 7 minutes, 48 seconds
A. Yes, we held intact. The 8th Battalion was on the apex of the attack. In the 8th, there were several of us took our… from here. There was only two in my platoon that done it. There was a chap by the name of Bill Cox and myself. Well, I knew that due to the fact that I'd served my apprenticeship as a plumber and had put it on previously, you know, in civil life whenever gas got strong. Now, whether there's any neutralizing effect in the urine, I couldn't tell you but we were run out of water. You see, they weren't able to get supplies up and you weren't very fussy on what you done then because we were taking water out of the other fellow's bottles, if they had any, and you didn't have much opportunity. You were just cuddled for protection most of the time so I think that helped. Bill Cox and I, I don't know how many done it but I understand that Captain Bell who was a very, very fine man, he was taken prisoner and he died here several years back. Apparently he advocated to some of the men that they do this and they done it and he also done it apparently. He was supposed to be the first one that instructed them to do that.
Q. Now, did this cloud actually come right over your position where you were?
A. Oh yes. I think practically everyone got it, some to a greater degree than others, but everyone in the immediate front got a whiff of it.
Q. What did you do, Sir, when the thing actually came over you? Did this knock out quite a few people?
A. In ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, fellows would be spluttering and coughing and choking. Some of them collapsed in the course of time and others as I say, tried to cover their mouths up and do various things. I think that the few that probably covered themselves by using their first aid bandages, they more or less escaped it somewhat but not completely.
Q. Well then you started to fire on the Germans when they were coming toward you?
A. Oh yes, they suffered very heavy casualties. As a matter of fact, it's on record, I believe, that Sergeant Bill Aldred from the Winnipeg Rifles, he was a machine gun sergeant, he was taking prisoners, he had them piled so high that he even had to lift his heavy gun which was a Vickers, one of those heavy Vickers guns. There were only two of them in the battalion at that time. He had to lift one of them up for to fire over the bodies.
Q. Of the Germans?
A. Yes, he piled them up so high.
Q. How did they come after you, in just mass waves?
A. Mass formation, yes, in mass formation. They didn't come in skirmishing order comparable to the British troops, they came in heavy waves.
Q. Do you remember those reinforcements coming up that evening?
A. Oh yes, but I thought there was the Durhams come in there too.
Q. Yes, they came in the next day.
A. The Durhams never made it because they got such a cutting down that they were practically mowed down before they ever got into the line.
Q. How did this happen, sir?
A. I don't know actually how it happened, it was just a case that they had to come over the open. There was no trenches or anything else. They had to practically come in over an open country and we were being enfiladed from the front and the sides. You see, being the apex like that…
Q. I suppose the whole thing was confusion.
A. It was confusion, yes, that's right. From what I can gather and things I heard afterwards and discussions I've heard, I think that if they had had a man of less calibre than Lipsett, we would probably been all taken because he stood firm. He was a wonderful soldier and a wonderful man. That was April and, in May, we moved to a front that was known as Festubert. I got a message to deliver to General Currie, to Major Harbord to be exact, the brigade major. Currie was a brigadier then. This message, what the contents of it was, I don't know but I went down into the dugout. Currie was lying on a bed. From that wall over there to this bed was about the size of it and a table and two bunks and him and the brigade major had that. That was their quarters. He was lying there resting and I handed this message to Harbord and he was discussing it with Currie. In the meantime General Alderson who was a Canadian Army commander at that time came down and he had an aide de camp with him and Currie said to him, "I have a message from Lipsett and he figures that the battalion either has to be withdrawn or reinforced because the 5th and 8th are in as one battalion". He says, "Now, they've suffered heavy casualties and I'd like to pull them out". I heard Alderson say that K-5 trench must be held at all costs. That's the last I heard because this sub, this aide de camp seen me and he wanted to know what my business was there and I told him that I had a message for Major Harbord so I was told that it would be taken care of and I was dismissed so I hear no more. Now, knowing that and having heard it first hand, I couldn't prove it to nobody. Whenever the subject came up years later about Currie sacrificing men and this and that, I found it hard to believe.
Q. This was rotten, it was very untrue.
A. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was still another soldier, the same as I was a private. The same as I had to do what I was told, he was subordinate to others and he had, as a brigadier, to do as he was told.