"The Story of the 9th King's in France"


On the 24th October the Battalion took over the outpost zone at Froyennes by Tournai. This was a new kind of warfare. There were no trenches, no enemy line and no clearly defined British line. Sentry groups were located in houses, behind hedges and perhaps in a ditch on the side of the road. Sentries kept a look out from a skylight window or gap in the hedge. Civilians were living in the same houses as the troops and some of these appeared rather friendly towards the enemy. One woman actually wished to take some washing to the Germans in Tournai. For the most part these civilians were women, and the soldiers admired their wonderful courage. Even though they were in the centre of the fighting they did not lose heart and there was no panic.

In the right company area was situated a chateau which had formerly been the headquarters of General von Quast, the commander of the Sixth German Army. Company headquarters were in the next chateau, the Chateau de Froyennes, belonging to the Germiny family, and the then occupier, Mademoiselle Therese de Germiny, who had remained, lent her boat to the Company, and several men were able to row on the ornamental lake which was situated at the side of the chateau in a beautiful park. One platoon was quartered in a restaurant which had a beautiful and rustic garden, though it was too near the enemy for the men to really enjoy the comfort it afforded. Another platoon found in a laundry a number of clean white shirts which the men readily donned.

Though the Germans had been defeated, they still continued to indulge in a lavish expenditure of ammunition. Probably they were firing so as to use up their remaining shells before evacuating. Day after day the park belonging to the Froyennes Chateau was searched by all manner of shell. So intense was the fire that it reminded one of the terrible moments of the Somme Battle. The Hospital or Convent in which one of the companies was located was subjected to incessant minenwerfer fire.

It is interesting to record that "A" Company elected to do the full tour of four days in the front position with the intention of spending all the next tour in support, an eventuality which did not take place as the Armistice intervened.

Coming out from Froyennes the Battalion was shelled on the road. Little did anyone think that night that the Battalion had finished with shell fire. For the men the war was over. Their last time in action was passed. Among those that trudged wearily out of action that night were a few who had landed at Le Havre with the Regiment more than three and a half years before. Though they did not realise it until much later these men were the lucky ones who were to survive the war.

The Battalion marched to Cornet and the next day to Hellemmes outside Lille, for a period of rest. Here the men were quartered in a cotton spinning factory the machinery of which was all utterly destroyed' and every man had his own bunk. The officers were billeted in private houses in the vicinity. While on parade on the morning of the 11th November it was announced to the men that the Armistice had been signed. The news of the cessation of hostilities was received by the soldiers without any manifestation of the joy or excitement that marked the occasion at home. The parade continued and the rest of the day was spent quite as usual. The news for which the men had waited so long seemed when it came to be almost too good to be true.

Some there were - savages by nature - who were not altogether glad. They had been taught to kill, and they wanted to kill. They thought the Germans had not been punished enough for their crimes and atrocities, and that the enemy country ought to suffer the same devastation as France. In the main, however, the men were glad that the war was virtually over. They would soon be able to return to their homes and live with their loved ones again. On the night of the 13th the reality of the terms of the Armistice was evidenced by the returning British prisoners of war from the German lines. A picquet was posted on the main road outside Battalion headquarters, and on arrival returning prisoners were escorted to a billet which was prepared for them. Fires were burning in the billet, and all of the late prisoners were supplied with a bed. A hot meal, tea and a rum ration were served to them as they arrived. By midnight about eighty had come through, the majority of them arrived in an exhausted condition, having marched between forty and fifty kilometres. Many were the stirring and pitiful stories recounted by these unfortunate fellows of the harsh treatment which they had received during their period of captivity. The ensuing days of the month were spent at Hellemmes under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Dawson for a few days, and afterwards Lieutenant Colonel M. E. Makgill-Crichton Maitland, D.S.O., of the Grenadier Guards, took command.

Training as usual was continued as it was not realised at the time that the fighting was finished. The parades took place in the vicinity of Fort MacMahon, which had been used by the Germans as quarters for prisoners of war. The conditions inside the fort were terrible and constituted strong evidence of the sufferings the prisoners of war must have endured. In view of the imminence of demobilisation, education classes were started, and much good work was done in this direction. In the evenings concerts and parties took place, and friendships soon sprang up between the soldiers and the Lilloises.