|A British tank stuck in a German trench at Cambrai|
Ivor Gurney was a machine-gunner at Third Ypres, practising (he tells us) his 'Scales and arpeggios' on the unlikeliest of musical instruments. Better that than killing Germans at close hand, although he was criticised by comrades for having taken what they considered to be a 'cushy' job. Machine-gunners were often targeted by artillery fire, although that may have still seemed preferable to going over the top with the battalion. From his hill overlooking the battlefield, Gurney 'watched Gloucesters go in a smother / Of gun smoke'. His closest friend, Don Hancox, was injured in the assault of 22 August 1917, and died of wounds the next day.
Years later, in the asylum to which he had been confined, suffering from what was probably schizophrenia, Gurney remembered 'The stuck tanks' which had disappeared into the Belgian mud. Several remain there to this day. He won his ticket back to Blighty a fortnight later having inhaled gas, but he felt that the 'Real reason' had been the involuntary shaking of his body 'at such Hell of din'. Still, he could think admiringly of Passchendaele 'exalted and gilded' by September sun, and the courage in the faces of the men who went over—'many for the last time'.
The battlefield of Third Ypres today. © Brian Davies