Witness to War: Wednesday, Sep 18 – 1918

Private Raymond Duval, MM, was a soldier of the 14th Battalion (Royal Montreal Regiment) CEF who served overseas during the last two years of the First World War. He participated in some of the fiercest fighting seen by Canadians during the war and was decorated for bravery at Passchendaele. Determined to preserve his memories of the First World War, he maintained a daily record of his experiences. Here is what he wrote precisely 100 years ago today:

Wednesday, Sep 18 – 1918: Same thing getting ready to move went to Agnez les Duisans and saw [?] Hart at 24th Bn.

Author’s note in 1954: On August 7, my running partner, Tommy Church, and I were assigned to Battalion Headquarters for the show, and moved that night to our jumping off trench, a short distance in front of the real front line (this was in Caix Valley). [The] next morning, the barrage opened up at 4am with a real bang, and the boys were away. It was a thrilling sight, and our objective was reached on time. The tanks put up a good show, smashing machine guns, nests, and strong points. Many prisoners were taken.

            Ernie Roberts was wounded today and sent out of the line; we hoped not serious. The attack went on to above Caix Valley, where we went over at 12:45 pm without a barrage, as our guns had not come up, and the enemy [had to] be kept off balance, so as not to get organized for a counter attack. But we got a bad cutting up, and we lost many of our men, and most of our officers. Met Canon Scott here, [who had] cheery words for wounded friend and foe. During the advance I came across him as he was giving a drink to a wounded German.

            [We] went back to BCo, where we were immediately sent to [a] new area to [reconviter] along with two officers, one being Capt. Carson of #4 Co. Unfortunately, while in an old flattened trench, the Germans put over a heavy barrage, and we had to get back fast. Shells were bursting all around, and one big shell burst on the parapet, [or] at least where the parapet was supposed to be. [It] killed both officers, [and] wounded Capt. Carson’s runner. My partner got a slight shrapnel wound in the knee, [though] bad enough to let him get out of the line. And once more, I was left alone. It was a nerve-racking night.

            After staying here for 3 days, we moved up the line in support of the 13th, 15th, and 16th Battalions, and went on to close support for 4 days, where things quieted down a bit. From this point, we came out of [the] line and marched to Beaufort and bivouacked in a wood, and had a long sleep in the open under the stars.

            Next day was very hot, and we moved off at 8:30pm in heavy marching order to Hangar wood – arriving at 3:30 am, after a very hard march. This was a strenuous period, and the short rest was badly needed. A pleasant incident was the receipt of Canadian mail, always a great event.

            The [aforementioned] events refer to the “Battle of Amiens,” [where another] event occurred which cannot be forgotten. [This was] when we saw the cavalry go into action charging the enemy, who answered with a murderous hail of machine gun fire. It was an awesome sight to see these men charge at full gallop, thousands of them it seemed, as some of us watched from a rise in the ground on the right of the attack. In a few minutes, it seemed that dozens of, yes, hundreds had been shot and unseated, and large numbers of frenzied horses were galloping in every direction, their riders lying on the ground amidst the carnage. Truly magnificent, but the price was far too heavy.

            Our regiment (RMR) had a very hard day, too. Our casualties were also heavy, and we heard that we were mentioned in dispatches. After a short rest and reassembling, we came by train to one of our old haunts, Aubigny on the Vimy front on the outskirts of Arras. [We arrived] very late, and slept until noon of [the] next day in rude [?]. On the same evening, we went forward [up the line] and relieved a number of men from a variety of 2nd Division units [at] about 5am, and located in dugouts. While there, my running partner, Gauthier, and I were sent up to [the front line] to 4 Co on a message. When we returned to our Co (No. 2), they were moving off, and while we were collecting our equipment, we lost track of them. Finally, we came to Brigade Headquarters in Chalk Pit, and while waiting, shells started to drop very thickly, so [we] took shelter in a cave, and Signal Sergeant told us it was impossible to locate [our] battalion at the time, [so we] stayed overnight.

            [The] next morning, we went over top in short cut, and met the first bunch of prisoners being taken back. Here we came across Capt. Pinault, who had been severely wounded, and he requested [that we] carry him to R.A.P., which we did. Again, we could not locate our battalion, and [so we] wandered around in forward areas for two days, very tired and very hungry, [until we] finally found our unit in rear of “Cognicourt,” for which we were very thankful. Our losses were very heavy, and [we] found that Norman Catto, Von Bing, and I were the only ones left in our Co of the old gang.

            Here, we again received a lot of Canadian mail. Following this, we took busses and came to huts in Bourneville. [During our time] here for a few days rest, we had the usual kit inspections, etc., and best of all, a much-needed bath. While here, Norman and I walked to Agnes-les-Duisons,” where we met two of our old comrades; among them was Charles Charlton, who was now a Lieutenant, having been granted a commission, which necessitated his going to England for several months course at Bexhill.

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The RMR Foundation thanks Natalie Dyck for generously sharing her publication of “The Diary and Memoir of Private Raymond Duval” in order for us to be able to share his story with you 100 years on. You can learn more about Private Duval here.

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