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In this section:
Interview with C.G. Barnes: 8th Battalion
Transcript Excerpt, 6 minutes, 46 seconds
Q. Tell me, in the attack when you actually went in, there was so much business at the Somme of uncut wire and troops getting hung up on it, did you have a fairly good time?
A. No, we didn't have the wire but we had concussion. It was a chalk country and the vibration from the shellfire was terrific and it didn't smother the shells. Even if a shell landed away from you, you got the concussion and it pretty near knocked the wind out of you. If it was like up at Passchendaele, you'd have the mud and that would smother the shell but this was just like something exploding on the cement road.
Q. Well, isn't that interesting. Nobody has ever mentioned that to me. You know, a thing will strike one person and he'll remember it.
A. When we were down in the dugouts that they had there, the concussion down there was like somebody hitting you in the stomach. The vibration was bad. The main thing was that you were fairly dry down there.
Q. Did you run into a lot of resistance from the Germans when you went up that day?
A. No, the shellfire had driven them right back. As far as we were concerned, the barrage they sent over in our later day, the opposition, but they recuperated very quickly. We got into Regina Trench but we had to come back because there was a German dugout there. There was a German dugout and we wanted to have that for our headquarters but we couldn't because both flanks, right and left, were open with the enemy and we had to fall back. We got right up to Regina Trench and had to come back. Well, then the Fourth Division, I think it was the Fourth Division took it two days later.
Q. Did you come all the way back to Zollern?
A. We came back to Hessian.
Q. There's Hessian there, yes.
A. Zollern was the first. Zollern was the first line we took, then Hessian and we came up to Regina and we had to come back and we held off at Hessian and stayed in Hessian.
Q. There were apparently even bits of Hessian you didn't get that day.
A. There could have been but C Company was there.
The 15th of October we were in there holding. We weren't advancing, we were just holding and the shellfire was quite bad around the sugar refinery but then the 8th Battalion was relieved around about the 15th of October and we came out.
Q. The Somme was a pretty rough go, wasn't it?
A. Very rough. The shellfire was bad. As I say, the whole thing was that they weren't organized. This was your first experience of going over and following a barrage. We had the cavalry; before that they had the tanks. Well now, if we had the reinforcements and had known how successful the tanks were going to be, we could have cleaned up right there but they weren't ready and they gave the enemy a time to fortify. It was good tank country down in the Somme. It wasn't like the mud in Passchendaele. Tanks would have been no good at Passchendaele.
Q. No, but even the Somme wasn't the best country.
A. No it wasn't the best but it was a surprise. They weren't ready to follow up, you see, and the thing was lost.
Q. But I gather a lot of the tanks did break down that day, they got bogged down.
A. We had the mechanism and people weren't accustomed to know how to rectify it to overcome those difficulties.
Q. They hadn't really worked out yet the creeping barrage, had they? You'd get the short barrages ahead of you.
A. In an attack we followed a wall of fire.
Q. At the Somme?
A. Oh yes, they had the creeping barrage at the Somme, sure. An occasional shell that was poorly manufactured would fall short and get us but we stayed reasonably close behind that shell and followed right up. Well, there was nothing left but chaos when we got there. I mean nothing could live through it. If the German got down in his dugout, he could come up after but he couldn't and neither could we. It was just like a hail storm going through a wheat field.
Q. Well, I know that, at the beginning of the Somme, for instance, in the British operations, before the Canadians got in -
A. They built a big crater to start with.
Q. Yes but there was also that long, endless bombardment that went on for weeks and the bitter complaint of the British troops was that the bombardment went on for weeks and then it stopped and the Germans had been sitting the whole thing out in these deep dugouts they had and they just came right up and were waiting for them because, as I say, at that stage of the game, they hadn't developed the idea of combining the barrage and movement. At Vimy, for instance, I gather the infantry were almost on top of the German trenches from the time that the barrage lifted so they'd be right there to stop them from coming up.
A. They had better experience by then. They had been through it before. This was the initial stages at the Somme and also the German was stronger than he was at Vimy. He was glad to come over. I'd be the same, I think.
Q. Did you lose a lot of people on the 26th and 27th?
A. Oh yes, we went in about forty strong to a platoon, a hundred and sixty to a company and, if you brought out forty or fifty men out of a company of a hundred and sixty, you did well. They weren't all killed, they were wounded but out of action. As a matter of fact I believe we lost more in one battle than they lost in the Second War in the whole war, we were exposed to it. He had these cement redoubts stuffed with machine guns and you've got to go over and to get them knocked out you had to circle and come in behind them. Well, seventy-five percent of your men are knocked down before you can get in there.