ROBERT GRAVES AT BAZENTIN

This is a present day photograph of High Wood taken from the British Reserve lines at Bazentin. The lane on the left of the picture leads from Bazentin to High Wood.

Delville Wood lies to the right of High Wood

Bazentin Cemetery is just off the right hand side of the picture.

The 2nd battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers had moved up "Happy Valley" (alongside Mametz Wood) incurring some casualties when doing so, in order to occupy trenches by the cemetery in preparation for the forthcoming attack on High Wood scheduled for the 20th July 1916. In visiting one of the strong points under his command, Graves made his way in bright moonlight along the road on the left of the photograph. There he found a dead German sergeant-major wearing full equipment including his pack, lying in the middle of the road with his arms stretched out wide. The warrant officer was a powerful man with a full black beard. Graves discovered that there were small hollows nearby into which wounded men of the 2nd Bn. Gordon Highlanders had crawled to escape enemy fire during a recent German counter attack and sadly, had subsequently died. "They looked as if they were hiding from black beard," wrote Graves.

On 20th July Robert Graves was himself very badly wounded in trenches at Bazentin cemetery. He was then carried from the Regimental Aid Post (located in the quarry just behind the cemetery), the short distance into Mametz Wood where use was being made of a German Dressing Station captured during the 38th(Welsh) Division’s attack of the 12th July. So bad were his wounds that his recovery was thought to be hopeless and he was placed upon a stretcher awaiting death.

Care here was provided by orderlies of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Some members of this Corps had a very bad reputation with the troops, it being alleged that when the wounded were in no position to object, some orderlies would steal the wounded man’s possessions. Robert Graves was particularly incensed about this, stating that apart from some papers, all his personal belongings, except a ring on his finger, had been stolen. The survival of the ring he attributed to the fact that it fitted too tightly for the thief to wrench it off. Graves said that the Corps initials stood for "Rob All My Comrades"!

However, the next morning, 21st July while clearing away the dead for burial, an orderly noticed that Graves was breathing. Immediately, he was placed in an ambulance and taken to No. 36th Casualty Clearing Station at Heilly (about 5 miles from Albert) and eventually by ambulance train to No 8 Hospital at Rouen. Later Graves was considered fit to make the long journey to London and to Queen Alexandra’s Hospital in Highgate and he was eventually to recover from his wounds-physically if not mentally. The battalion Commanding Officer (Lieutenant-Colonel Crawshay) had seen the badly wounded Graves and was informed that there was no hope that Graves would live. Accordingly, he wrote a letter of condolence to Robert’s mother. The Times newspaper reported his death and Graves became the proud possessor of a letter of apology from that newspaper’s advertising manager indicating that no charge would be made for the announcement that Graves had not died of his wounds!

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