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Category Archives: Festubert

9 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 9th

Dear Mother, better start here on 2nd thoughts, though I’ve put the date t’other way up. Is’nt it simply splendid, & you must have seen it by now, a man in our 1st Battn: has been given a V.C. the first ever won by a native in the Indian army What a gorgeous thing for the regiment, and it will make people know us now, & no one can say “oh, yes 39th, never heard of them, who are they-” We are all, as you may imagine, most fearfully pleased. The King pinned it on himself, & said “Let’s see, this is the first one in the Indian Army, is’nt it.” You see, the V.C. was only allowed to be won by natives after the Durbar, it was one of the Durbar concessions to India; and to be the first to win it is indeed an honour.

I enclose two cuttings from papers which you have doubtless seen, but it will tell you where we are, or whereabouts, anyhow! It was at F—–t [Festubert] that the man got the V.C. From what I hear it was as follows: after 2 frontal attacks had been made on some trenches captured from us by the Germans (I told Ben all about this) the 1/39th came in from the flank and fought their way yard by yard down the trench. You must remember a trench is only a narrow little thing, 3 feet broad, so anything you do fighting down one you’ve got to do alone, or nearly so, as there’s no room for anyone else. Well trenches are made with things called “traverses” in them, that is, pieces of the ground, in which the trench is dug, left there, & the trench runs round it, so:-

ERPB to GFB 1913 12 09

in this plan the dots being men in the trench. The idea of these traverses is that if a shell bursts in the trench, it’s effect is only local, & only hurts the men in that part of the trench, as the traverses stop the flying bits from going into other parts of the trench, see? F’instance: a shell bursting in trench A might kill all the men there, but men in B would be saved by the traverse; & vice versa of course. Well, fighting down a trench, the enemy can of course hide behind these and it’s exciting work running round them.

That’s what the chap got a V.C. for, for being in front all the time, and running round each traverse as he came to it & bayonetting the Germans in the next bit of trench; does’nt sound much, but it’s jolly plucky and 16 men were killed like this before the trench was taken. Still in these muddy trenches, mud is simply awfuI. Tell the Dudmans I should like a waistcoat pocket Kodak for Christmas, & please send some films. No news much, but I thought I must tell you about the V.C. Ben will be fearfully interested.

Love to all

Ted

Send me any papers or pictures you can about this V.C.

I hear the Stock Exchange are betting the war will be over before Christmas


A Durbar was a ceremonial occasion. Ted is probably referring to the 1911 Durbar which celebrated the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary.

A Naik was the equivalent of a Corporal in the Indian Army. Naik Darwan Sing Negi was the first Indian to be awarded the VC, though the action for which Khudadad Khan was received his VC took place earlier, and Khudadad Khan, who came from what is now Pakistan, is recognised as the first member of the Indian Army to win the VC. 

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

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25 November 1914 – D H Drake-Brockman Memoirs

D H Drake-Brockman, Ted’s Colonel, mentions him when describing an incident in the official history “With the Royal Garhwal Rifles in the Great War 1914 – 1917”.

The next day, 25th November, we received orders to proceed to Festubert, presumably to relieve the 1st Battalion. We were directed to rendezvous at Gorre Church, where we would get orders. We arrived there at 1.45 p.m., and naturally expected to be met by some staff officer to give us orders. After waiting some time, and no one turning up, I set out with my adjutant, Captain Berryman, to search for the missing staff officer. After inquiries, we eventually ran the Brigadier and his Staff to earth, ensconced in a comfortable brewery with warm fires. Nobody then deigned to take any notice of us, and after waiting some time, we got orders what to do. We then went to the front line to see the situation and arrange matters, leaving the Battalion resting at the rear under cover of a large farm. At dusk we moved up and relieved our 1st Battalion in the same trench that they had recaptured, with three Companies, the fourth Company remaining behind at La Couture, under Major Stewart.

The brewery, the fires and the dinner clearly rankled Drake Brockman who had the line officer’s impatience with the staff officers’ willingness to send others into danger from positions of relative safety and comfort.  Earlier in the book he seethes:

The situation could not have been properly appreciated by the Brigadier of that Brigade …. It is very easy to say that “the trenches must be retaken at all costs,” and that “the attack must be carried out immediately,” and so forth, from a comfortable brewery well in the rear, with warm fires and a good dinner. These were favourite expressions of the Higher Command at that period of the War. A personal reconnaissance by the Brigadier is very necessary, as well as by any Commander, before he launches his troops into an attack. Their strength also has to be considered.

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Posted by on 25 November, '14 in Col Drake Brockman, Festubert, Ted Berryman