Remembering those who fought in the Great War.

John Lang KRRC



His Baptism of Fire

Gourock Rifleman’s Experiences

An Interesting Letter

Rifleman John Lang of the 8th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, has just sent an interesting letter to his father – Mr William Lang, of 53 Kempock Street, Gourock, in which he states:

We have just arrived out here, after travelling from place to place, each shift bringing us nearer the firing line. During our travels we sleep over night in barns or out in the open.  At nights it is not too warm in the open but much fresher than under cover. It is a funny thing out here from the very first day you arrive until you depart(which will be a welcome day) that you are fighting against things connected with the Germans. Before you reach the trenches it is germs, and then when you are in the trenches it is both germs and Germans. The only time you have no trouble from any is if you are lucky (?) to get into hospital. Then you are freed from them. Well the day has come when we are to go into the trenches at night. We have slept the night in an open field and the place has to be cleaned up and everything put in order. Some General is coming to see us and tell the tale. Everything is ready for his arrival, so we are free till then, but we are not allowed to leave the field. He arrives at 11.30 and has a glance over us. He then gets up on the highest part of the field and tells us all to draw in close. Then he tells the tale of what we have to do and what is expected of us. How that when our Army gave way the ‘Terriers’ were sent to help them and how they stood their ground. This had surprised the Regulars and we were to surprise them more so(which we did) as they thought that we would be of no use with so short a training. I did not hear all he had to say as I was too far away. However bad it all is as we have heard from the General, we are all eager to get there. We get ready at 7pm and march off about 7.30. We pass through a village, not far from the field where some ‘terriers’ who hold-into the trenches we are going to are billeted. There are two battalions. One battalion is in the trenches while the other is out resting. While passing them in the village they tell us it is cussie (quiet) where we are going. After marching for about two miles we are halted. Here we lie down for about half an hour or till dusk as we have to go over a hill which can be seen from the German lines, and they would shell us. When it is dark enough we start off again, passing through another village. Here we pass a party which has come from the trenches and going in that direction we halt for a short time. When we start again we go off by companies, each company going to a different part of the trench. Once outside the village we get into single file so that we will not be too big a target if anything occurs. We have another stop at headquarters for orders, then off we go through a few fields. By this time we can hear the crack of the rifles, and sometimes stray bullets come rather near us or go whistling past. When we get nearer the trenches we are told to keep still any time we see a flare go up. Without having any casualties we reach a trench of some kind, where a few ‘Terriers’ are posted who tell us to keep our heads down and not make a noise. Soon the questions go round. Is this the firing line? Where are we? Then the word is passed down to follow on and keep our heads low. After about half an hour’s strenuous work trying to get along the trenches we arrive in the firing line. The orders for the trench are given out, and so many men are placed in a traverse. (The trenches are divided into traverses of 10-12 feet long. A butt of sandbags divides each traverse. Some are smaller than that, each holding 3 to 6 men.) We have good company with the fellows who are in the traverse and are to look on and learn what has to be done. It is now we find out what real warfare is like. As this is a very quiet place we think nothing of it at present. Rifle shots going off break the silence while a great number of flares light up the scene. Sometimes the boom of a trench mortar or a grenade going off is heard further along the line. When we arrived in the trenches we took off our packs only and then had to stand to. That is to stand in readiness for a charge with fixed bayonets. This is done every night at dusk and also at sunrise, as that is when attacks are generally made. This only lasts an hour each time, but our bayonets are always kept on the rifle all night. Nothing happened that night. No one is allowed to sleep during the night, only during the day. There was plenty of time to sleep during the day, for there was little to disturb us until about 2pm or shortly after that the Germans sent over about 20 shells, but none of them did any damage, as they fell short or long. We did nothing during the day but sleep, eat and drink or stroll around the trenches. When night came we had to go through the usual stand to, and some of us went on guard. That is to stand up on the parapet and watch all that is going on between the trenches. There is also a guard on during the day but he looks through a periscope to see what is going on. The guards fire an occasional shot during the night but anyone fires during the day. During this night, after stand to some fellow gave the Germans five rounds rapid not that they saw anyone. (You very seldom see any Germans about. If you were only to fire when you saw one there would be very few shots fired.) but just for the sake of firing. This made the Germans wild. Whither it did any damage to them or not we do not know, but they sent over a trench mortar which did damage to us. A rifleman was severely wounded. He died a few weeks later. Two more mortars followed but did no damage, and some time passed before things quietened down again. When daylight came we had another stand to for an hour, and then started our daily work. As usual it was quiet during the day until the artillery started, and then the cursing began. The reason for this was that it was generally our artillery that started. They only sent over about a dozen shells and we in the trenches got the reply back of two or three to every one of ours. When the German shells landed anywhere near our trenches we made shift to another part in order to be out of the road till things quietened down and then returned to finish our rest until the order came round to get our packs ready that we were going out that night. We were not sorry to hear this although so short a time in the trenches. (But now that we have experienced more give us the offer to finish the rest of the war in these trenches and we will jump at it.) We were all ready by 7pm and welcomed the order to move off. Going out of the trenches is worse than coming into them, for you go along in single file and are getting along fine when suddenly the word is passed along to halt in front as some have lost connection. This is a trying moment, for bullets are flying all around and at any moment we may be discovered and be shelled or a machine gun trained on us. Latterly we were started, and off we went, having to run now and then either to catch up on the line or go through a gap etc… After a struggle going through trenches and running through fields we arrived at headquarters where things were put right. We then marched off again, passing through the same village and back to the next where we were billeted in a school. Some soup was handed round and we dropped off to sleep the best way we could on the earthen floor only to get up shortly after 7am the following morning and prepare for rifle inspection etc.. We were out for two days rest and then back in the same trenches to have the same easy time.


Awarded the Military Medal. 

Buried at BRONFAY FARM MILITARY Cemetery, BRAY-SUR-SOMME, France. Grave Reference I. D. 38.

Newspaper Clippings relating to John Lang KRRC

John Lang KRRC