Edgar Walter Savours was born in 1897 and was brought up on Fontygary Farm which today is the Fontygary Inn on the western edge of the village of Rhoose. Throughout his life he kept diaries and journals and he published them in his memoirs. His gift for writing takes you right to the heart of the action and spares no detail.
What follows is an extract from his memoirs, recalling his memories of active service during the First World War when he arrived in Flanders in 1918. This is the first of two such extracts which I shall be blogging over coming weeks.
I shall never forget my first experience of enemy shell fire. I was a 2nd Lieutenant in command of an infantry platoon of 20 NCOs and men. With my battalion the 24th Denbigh Yeomanry Royal Fusiliers I had come from Egypt in May 1918.
We joined the 31st Division on the front, east of Harzbruck in Flanders. We were in reserve trenches. Each evening at dusk we marched up the forest sides or tracks, platoon by platoon, to the front line trenches then situated immediately in front of Nieppe Forest.
For two nights we worked almost undisturbed erecting barb wire defences, repairing trenches and placing war stores in position. The German Verey lights lit up the sky but did not alarm us. There was occasional machine gun and rifle fire, showing that the sentries on both sides were alert.
We worked quietly and returned to our reserve positions, when our task was done, for breakfast and sleep.
On the third evening we had almost reached the front line when all hell was let loose. The enemy guns opened up a terrific bombardment on our positions. Shells exploded around like thunder claps, trees fell with crackling thuds, dirt and soil whizzed about us. The smell of explosive material reached our nostrills. The din was unbearable and seemed to go on and on for ages. I thought none of us would escape alive. However, when at last the barrage did end, to my surprise we all stood up shaken and terrified, but uninjured. The men had needed no orders to fall flat on their faces on the ground when the bombardment commenced. A few casualties were reported in adjoining platoons.
After a rest and after making a count of heads I ordered the men to proceed to their working stations but we did not easily forget the experience – perhaps because it was our first under shell fire. We were to have more.
Some days later I was ordered to attend a conference of officers who were to take part in an attack at dawn. We were told that our division was to attack the enemies’ position in front of Nieppe Forest and capture the devastated village of Vieux Berquin across the valley. The divisions on our flanks were to support.
The raw Yeomanry brigade officers were impressed by the calm and matter of fact way the other seasoned officers discussed the proposals. They had taken part in Many battles before, some wore several wound stripes
Cyril Falls in his edition of Military Operations in France and Belgium states that by 1918 the British Army had become a magnificent fighting machine unequalled in war before.
Our battalion was given the task of acting as carrying party and of mopping up behind the second wave of attack, done by the East Yorkshire Regiment. I later handled written orders detailing objective lists of stores to be carried e.g. machine gun parts, ammunition, picks and shovels. We were to make two trips across “no mans land” with material. I was allocate two platoons on the day the barrage from our guns opened up. Zero hour arrived. Cautiously we advanced walking, wounded men met us returning – one shot through the mouth, others bleeding. mAchine guns rattled, one smelt cordite. We encountered the enemy hiding in slits in the ground under corrugated iron shelters. They were Saxons. How near they were to our lines: presumably listening posts.
The East Yorkshires were well ahead by now and these enemy troops were glad to surrender coming out of their holes like rabbits. Forward we went, eastwards with our loads. Things were getting a bit confused. There was a Prussian sprawled dead across his machine gun. He had caused some damage but theSaxons were more willing to put up their hands and walk west out of battle.
Had we gone too far forward? In a dip of ground with about ten men of our party I spotted an enemy occupied trench, I took a few pot shots with my revolver. Some of the men fired their rifles. the enemy heads disappeared, as if ready to surrender. Our job was carrying and we moved right to some Yorkshire lads who soon had the enemy group in the bag.
The firing seemed to have quietened down. We returned to collect and deliver more stores.
Later I was standing at the edge of the forest before returning to reserve when a wounded German on a stretcher carried by an enemy party passed down the forest side followed by Captain Thomas, my company CO, who incidentally was my cousin from Cardiff. We chatted and a few seconds later followed down the side some 50 yards behind the stretcher party. Suddenly we saw a german shell hit the Germans. All were killed. I turned to Captain Thomas and remarked “I think I have saved your life sir, by delaying you.” He gratefully agreed.
Part two of these extracts from his memoirs will follow soon.
This exert is taken from the book “Fontygary, Rhoose and other family farms” by Edgar Savours – Edited and re-published by Elaine Savours (April 2011). If you would like to know more about the contribution made by other local men to the two World Wars, they are discussed in this video about the lost regiments of the county And of course Glamorgan’s most famous day of the Second World War; the great escape for Island Farm is discussed in this video.