EXCERPTS FROM THE 1915 DIARY OF SERGEANT ABRAM WEBB OF BELTON
By kind permission of Christine Yates, his great niece
Abram Webb was born on 1st October 1887 and enlisted in the King’s Royal Rifles at the age of 19. After serving the first 12 months in England, he went to Malta where he was transferred to the 1st Suffolks and travelled to Egypt with his new regiment. There he was promoted to the rank of corporal and at the outbreak of WW1 returned to England in November 1914. Two months later in January 1915, his regiment was sent to France but after 3 weeks he was invalided back to England with frost bite. He stayed in England for 6 months and was made a sergeant in the 8th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment before returning to Belgium and Northern France.
The diary Abram kept was unfortunately badly damaged, but the pages which survive were copied by his brother Charles. It begins in July 1915 on his return to France and describes not just the horror of life in the trenches but some of the day to day activities, from helping the locals gather in the harvest (which was rewarded with some wine), inspection parades and going to the river to bathe.
Sargt. A. Webb – Second time in France – had 9 months at the beginning of the war – got frozen in.
Diary commencing from July 25th 1915.
Second time going out to France.
Sunday 25th July Sailed from Folkestone about 10·30 pm – landed at Boulogne – stopped there the night.
Monday 26th July Nothing doing – went out in Boulogne in the evening – had a nice time.
Tuesday 27th July Marched to the station and entrained – travelled as far as Amiens – got there about 7pm – marched to Pierregot – distance about 9 miles – sleep in barns for the night.
Thursday 29th July Route march – distance about 10 miles also rifle kit inspection – finished for the day – had some good wine gave to us.
Friday 30th July Bayonet fighting and bomb throwing drill – nothing else doing except helping the natives with harvesting – lots of apples here.
Saturday 31st July 3 hours route march – full pack – very hot – thunderstorm in the evening.
Sunday 1st August Church parade and helping the natives harvesting – had some good wine with them.
Monday 2nd August Inspection by General Monro – myself was on brigade guard – stood to the present for one and a half hours while the General inspected the 53rd Brigade – rained all the time – got wet through.
Tuesday 3rd August Came off brigade guard – the brigade had another move – marched from Pierregot to Millencourt a distance of about 20 miles – started about 4 pm – arrived there about 10·30pm – all the troops was about b…….. up – it was a march if you like – billeted again in barns.
Wednesday 4th August Rested except for a few inspections – we are now about 6 miles from the firing line – the old city of Albert with its ruins is about 3½ miles away – the old church Notre de Brebieres and the Golden Virgin in a total ruin – you can hear the guns going off quite plain at the present – the German artillery are again bombarding Albert but the natives or peasants cling to the old city like grim death.
Thursday 5th August Nothing doing except watching the German artillery shelling the French airmen.
Friday 6th August Myself and four N.C.O.s went up to the firing line – took over the entrenching tools from the Norfolks – we was in the shell fire all the time – the company came about 2pm – we made some more reserved trenches in case there was a retirement – I went back to Albert – stopped about half an hour – did not half enjoy myself – had some good wine gave me – the company worked at the trenches until about 6pm and then marched back to Albert.
Wednesday 11th August Stood by in the trenches from 3 am to 4·30am – nothing much occurred in this part of the line – it seems very tame here to what it was when I was up in the trenches at Ypres last year – the trenches are very good here – about 9pm we got shelled by the high explosive and whizz bangs – got one man killed – the bombardment lasted about 1 hour – then the machine guns commenced fire on our trench – our guns responded for about half an hour – the remainder of the night was very quiet except for a bit of rifle firing – there is a big attack going on to our left flank by the sound of the firing.
Friday 13th August Very nice morning – very quiet on both sides except for a few snipers – I picked a sniper off – he was in some long grass in front of our trenches about 200 yards away – I must have killed him for he has not moved since I hit him – 2·30pm thunderstorms half filled the trenches with water – our artillery is dropping shells in the enemy’s trenches also into a ruined village which the Germans hold – they have got a good range – we are wet through – heavy rifle firing on both sides – I am very wet and cold – could do with something hot.
August 24th Up about 6·30 – served breakfast – about quarter of a lb of bread per man with hard biscuits – about 9am the German artillery bombarded our headquarters at Bray – we send back about twice as many shells as we received – the infantry are not doing much – nothing much doing all day – just a few shots now and then – our artillery are again sending shells on to the village – 10pm the Kitchener Artillery are getting relieved by the regulars – they have all been to Ypres – we are just behind the artillery.
August 25th It has been very quiet all the time – we have been in the supports – 9am expecting a parcel – just come from M.B. – been on ration fatigue for firing line – rotten job – West Kents had a trench blown up – 1 officer and 10 men killed while I was there – our artillery dropped some shells in the German support trenches – there is a lot of rapid firing going on – we are expecting to be gassed but does not come off.
August 26th Still on ration fatigue – the village of Bray is absolutely shelled down to the ground – lots of fruit about – I fire at some snipers – no good – did not get the range but got one the next time – I got the range this time coming off fatigue from the firing line at 9pm – marched back to support trenches – got back about 11·30 pm – very tired.
August 27th Sleep nearly all day – expecting a letter but did not get it – 7pm we go into the firing line trenches to help the boys make them up where they have been damaged by the German fire – came back about 12 midnight – no one killed!
August 28th Nice morning – do nothing only sleep – rations very bad – 10pm go again in the firing line to help – came back about 2am – I think it is a rat plague – thousands in the trenches – later on fetched out again to take barbed wire to the Berkshire trenches – thundering and lightning all the time – got wet through to the skin – later officers lost the way in the trenches – told them the right way but would not take any notice – poor leaders – got back about 5pm.
August 29th I am trying to dry my clothes but it a poor day for it – the artillery is doing some good work just now – I am taking the firing trenches over from the boys tonight – they are in a very wet state – got here about 9 pm – posted sentries in groups of three – German trenches about 90 yards away – go on duty again about 3 am which is stand to – the Berkshires got it hot this morning – had a mine blow up under our trench – there is a lot of rapid firing and artillery firing going on – we are stopping in the trenches 8 days – the remainder of the day very quiet – trying to get our trenches dry but cannot – up to our knees in mud – 7pm again post sentries in groups for the night – there are four or five snipers about 30 yards in front of us but we cannot spot them.
September 6th Supposed to be resting after being in the trenches for 14 days but doesn’t look like it – go and help the R.E. to make a SAP for blowing up the German trenches – 7pm waiting to hear the report of the 2 mines going up – 10·30pm up go the mines and the R.E. advance and take about 5 yard of trench – don’t lose many men – all the line is firing all the night.
September 17th Go out and look for curios – don’t find any – warned for the trenches again about 4pm – parade at 7pm – take over trenches about 10pm – the Germans send a lot of whizz bangs over but do not do much damage except knock down our parapets – our artillery shell them and soon make them stop their game.
September 18th Stand to at 4am as usual – a little firing going on to our right where the trenches are only 13 yards apart – we go to that part of the trench tonight – we shall be able to speak to the Germans and very nearly shake hands – nothing occurs except an artillery duel.
September 19th We are very near the Germans now – only 13 yards apart – you don’t have to speak or you get a hand bomb or an aerial torpedo or a trench mortar into your trenches – 7pm the Germans start with bombs and trench mortars but we soon respond with ours – also with rapid firing and machine gun fire – in the attack we get 1 sergeant and 1 lance-corporal killed in my platoon – shot right through the head and 3 wounded.
September 20th Very quiet again now but there is a big attack on the right – me and a corporal and 3 men go and bury our chums – the corporal felt rather seedy all day – very quiet remainder of the day except for trench mortars – they are very dangerous things – 6pm the Germans sent some more whizz bangs across – very deadly gun – you don’t have time to dodge them – our artillery answers the charge.
September 21st A.m. heavy firing on our right – we have to go about like mice and have men which are bomb throwers stand with bombs in their hands night and day ready to throw them if the Germans try to come to our trenches – 5pm we have another small attack nothing to mention – this is getting on my nerves – I would sooner be in the open than like this.
September 22nd They have been drum firing all night on our left hand trenches – 5pm an airplane fight – we thought ours had fetched one of the Germans down as it nearly touched the ground.
September 23rd The mornings are getting very cold now – you can hear the Germans talking and blowing their noses but we go in the reserve trenches tonight – good job – 6pm I am on guard at the mouth of the communication trench – we are here for two days – easy job this.
September 24th Started a bombardment – we are sending up 600 big shells sometime today.
September 25th Another bombardment by the artillery – nothing else doing.
September 26th Go back to the firing trenches again – go off guard and join my boys – going down the communication trench we hear shouting as if there is a charge on – when we get into the firing trench the Germans are rapid firing and maxim guns are sweeping the parapets but there is no attack – the Jocks got out of the trench shouting because on our right they had made an advance so they thought they would cod the Germans a bit.
September 27th Nothing doing only sniping.
September 28th All of our division, 12 regiments have an order to get on the parapet at 4·30am and shout like hell just to let the Germans know we have had a big advance – they did the same when they won a victory – 3 pm have orders to leave the trenches – the Essex relieve us – we go back for a rest to a place named Buire.
October 3rd I have not done any writing for over a week – I have not been well this last 4 days – a touch of fever and lumbago but am a lot better now – two days ago the enemy blew up 3 of our mines just in the part of the trenches we were in and buried 2 platoons of Essex’s – the parson had to read the burial service in the trenches as the poor men were blown to pieces and buried in the dugouts.
October 9thThe enemy kept us alive all last night – trench mortars and whizz bangs were going all night but it is quieter this morning – we go in the “Hello” tonight at 4pm so we shall have to keep very quiet – 6pm here we are in “Hello” only 7 yards away from the Germans – we are getting all sorts of things here – talk about being quiet – we have to be here.
October 10th Morning is very quiet – the boys have got the wind up but it is enough to shake anyone’s nerves – 9·30am here comes some more aerial torpedoes – you can see them coming as well as hear them – they make you drop down in the trenches and roll in – when will we get out of this? – we have been having a rough day but only had 5 killed and 6 wounded in our lot.
October 11th We have had a quiet night but are going to blow a mine up today – this morning I threw a piece of slate with chalk writing over in the German trench telling them we were coming over the parapet tonight to them and take their trenches off them – but what we got back was about 12 hand grenades which made us duck but we soon sent about twice as many back and that stopped their little games – we do no rifle firing just here as we are too close and do not show our heads above the parapet or else pop goes your head off with a machine gun and down drops poor Tommy – always keep low – here comes a trench mortar but I am in the dugout – here is night again – our artillery have been giving them what for today but I expect we shall suffer for it tonight.
October 12th Rough night but nobody killed – one dugout knocked in by a trench mortar but we got all out that was buried – nobody seriously hurt – very quiet during the day.
October 27th We are again in the firing line – have just been having a snipe at two – I think I popped one over – he seemed to cock up his hand and fell back after I fired – 7pm there has been nothing doing all day – very quiet.
October 28th About the same as yesterday except we fire at a working party and kill several of them – we see them nip back into their trenches.
October 29th There has been a little more doing today – we have had a bit of rapid firing – we thought there was going to be an attack but it did not come off – the artillery fetched an airplane down – it dropped in front of us between our line and the German trenches – we fired at it very often – what sport it is – it is still between the lines.
October 30th Nothing much doing except the usual trench mortars – the R.E. had 9 killed and 8 wounded just here today.
October 31st We go out of the trenches again tomorrow and it is my birthday so I am going to keep my head low until tomorrow – I had a near escape today – a torpedo landed about 10 yards in front of me – talk about getting down – I dropped down devilish quick – it did make the dust fly about.
November 1st We are now in billets that are old barns.
November 7th There has been nothing doing all week except fatigues – it has been raining all the week.
November 8th In the trenches again – we are in the narrow part this time – got shelled going up but nobody hurt – we blew a mine up – that is to say one of the German trenches – it has gone up – you could see the legs, arms and heads go up in the air – that is what I like to see.
November 9th Been a very rough night – raining bad – getting about trenches up to shoe tops in water – been listening to the Germans talking – dropped a grenade among them – heard them run – I think they are about fed up with this part of the line – it is so close to us.
November 10thWent over the parapet tonight to find survivors – there were dead Frenchmen lying about all over the place – hands and heads out of the ground – this is the part of the line where the French lost 14,000 men in a week – 4 times they attacked and got drove back – some got buried and blown up again.
November 12thOur artillery has been bombarding a crater – knocked it all to pieces but we had to sit up for it later on in the day – whizz bangs came across one after the other – I was in the narrow part at the time where us and the Germans can hear one another talking – 7 yards about – so I was pretty safe from them as if they sent any at us their own men got it the same – but it makes you a bit nervous to see and hear them go over – they knocked our trench in for about 200 yards – nice job building it up again under fire.
November 13th We are wishing our time up as we have had it very rough – raining every day and very cold like November just.
November 14th Get relieved tomorrow – been helping the miners all day to get a mine ready for blowing up.
This is the last entry in the diary.
Sergeant Abram Webb was home on leave in February 1916 before returning to the battlefields of France. He was killed by a piece of shell on July 19th 1916 during the Battle of the Somme while waiting to go forward with his men 2 miles from Fricourt. His grave lies in the London Cemetery and Extension, Longueval, Northern France.
At the Armistice in 1918, this cemetery contained only 101 graves but was enlarged when the remains of soldiers were brought in from the surrounding battlefields. It is now the third largest cemetery on the Somme with 3873 burials from WW1 of which 3114 soldiers are unidentified. Abram’s body is recorded as in grave 9.B.51. under the name of Arthur Webb Sgt., 8th Bt. Suffolk Regiment. This appears to be an understandable error at a time of great stress and confusion.
Sergeant Abram Webb received posthumously the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1915 Star.