THE Western Front in January and February 1917 was not marked by any major offensive, but was a continual struggle against shelling, sniping and mud.
Constant rain filled shell holes, and movement was restricted to slow wading through indescribable filth.
Despite this, raiding parties were sent out to gather information and bring back prisoners for information about the enemy defences.
A Dawlish soldier, Arthur Charles Burch, was in the front line in the Wiltshire Regiment in Flanders when he was killed on one such raid. A Service of Remembrance will be held for Private Burch at St Gregory’s Church at midday on Friday, February 17.
The poet Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother about a four-day period on the front line: ‘I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last four days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front. I have been in front of it. I held an advanced post, that is, a “dugout” in the middle of No-Man’s Land.
‘It held 25 men packed tight. The Germans knew we were staying there and decided we shouldn’t.’
For 50 hours Owen’s dugout was under shellfire, sometimes intense, sometimes intermittent. He wrote: ‘On the Sunday I nearly broke down and let myself drown in the water which was slowly rising over my knees. Towards six o’clock the shelling grew less intense and I was mercifully helped to do my duty and crawl, wade, climb and flounder over No-Man’s Land to visit my other post. It took me half-an-hour to move 150 yards’.
While allied troops were in a continual cycle of front line service and rest in reserve, the Germans were quietly withdrawing to a consolidated defense (the Hindenburg Line) of deep structures that would resist the attacks of Haig’s forces in the third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele, later in 1917. The Kaiser was persuaded to introduce an unrestricted U-Boat campaign against all shipping, whatever flag it flew and whatever the cargo, in an effort to block the supply of food and munitions to the allies.
This was a partial reflection on the effect of the Battle of Jutland containing the heavy ships of the German Navy in their North Sea base, and the consequent reliance on the U-Boat fleet. There were no such restrictions placed on the ships of the Royal Navy, including their largest battleships.
George Pike, a Dawlish man, joined the Dreadnought HMS?Thunderer when she was first commissioned in June 1912.
After nearly three years in the ship Able Seaman Pike was sent ashore to barracks in late 1915 and was invalided out of the service suffering from tuberculosis.
He died in 1917 and was buried in Dawlish Cemetery. He will be commemorated in a service at The Strand Church (URC) on Sunday, February 19 at midday, the centenary of his death. All will be welcome at this and other services of commemoration.