Ernest Yates was a journalist who had emigrated from Idle to Canada but returned at the outbreak of war to join the 1/6 West Yorkshire Regt.His brother Willie also signed up at the start of the war and had recently transferred from the Royal Fusiliers to the chemical section of the Royal Engineers.Streams of shellsErnest’s talents as a writer come across in a powerful letter about being under fire that he wrote home from the trenches: ‘Shortly before 5 a.m. the English artillery started bombarding the enemy’s position and the stream of
shells over our heads thickened and thickened until the whole sky was filled with an incessant shrieking and deafening reports of the explosions. ‘The Germans replied and such a pandemonium broke loose as passed any imagination.‘As I might have expected, it was my turn on sentry duty in the fire trench. The shrapnel literally rained down and everybody except the sentries crouched down under the walls of the trenches, expecting his dose. ‘I caught a glimpse of my own face in the periscope which I had to hold up for two hours on a bayonet, and found it grey and haggard and it appeared to be about 60 years old.
We were all alike.‘There was no panic, of course, but you cannot spend two hours in hell without it telling. I was a wonderful sight in the periscope. ‘All over the German lines our shells were bursting in dense clouds of black, white and green smoke. Then our bombers got to work.Lump of shrapnel‘I had been thinking that things could not get worse but when two bombers appeared and calmly dropped a case of bombs about a yard away from me, I grinned and gave up hope.‘I was thinking of the effect of a good lump of shrapnel landing in that case of bombs. The beggars borrowed my matches to light the beastly fuse.
‘However, I watched the effect of the bombs and soon got so interested that I almost got my heart back into the right place. The bombs were hurled from the whole of our front line. Wherever a bomb exploded a circle of flame burst out, which gave off dense red fumes.‘The latter from one shell rose and spread till they joined those of the shells to the left and right. Then the whole red-brown mass rolled like a blanket and simply blotted out the German lines. What happened to the miserable wretches there I cannot conceive.‘The firing ceased about 7 o’clock and the men crept into their dug-outs exhausted in body and mind.’