Chapter Four – SEPTEMBER 6th, 1915 – THE LOOS SECTOR, FRANCE

Captain Charles Huffington entered the IV Corp Headquarters in Vermelles and presented his papers to the Corporal manning the reception desk. “Welcome, Sir,” said the Corporal, getting to his feet and leading Huffington to the meeting room down the hall. He opened the door and Huffington passed through, to be greeted by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Rawlinson personally. “Here he is; cometh the hour and cometh the man,” greeted Rawlinson warmly, offering his hand. A little stunned, Huffington accepted the handshake and is directed to a seat at a large map table. Seated there already is a cross-section of the top brass from Rawlinson’s staff. “Captain, you are here before the main officer briefing, as we have very special duties for your company.” Huffington looked over the selection of maps on the table, all of the current front line around the city of Loos, stretching to the environs of Lille.

“As you can see, Captain, this is our current position in the Loos area, with the French supporting our right flank. We have planned an assault on Lille for some time now and your company gets to play a crucial role in our plans. We are taking a leaf from the Hun this time and giving him a taste of his own medicine. General Haig has decided that we will be using mustard gas and this presents extra safeguards needed for our troops before the assault begins. You will double your gas training sessions for the next two weeks. You have been chosen to operate using the tactics of the German storm troopers. You will be given extra Mills bombs and a flamethrower platoon will be allocated to you from Henderson‘s company. You will have to get to the German wire ten minutes before the artillery barrage is lifted to their support trenches. You will then be expected to take their first trench un-opposed and consolidate your position, to support the main force of the 6th Battalion moving twenty minutes behind you.”

Realising just how much preparation and training would be required, Huffington asked for a detailed timetable. “Is there a setting off date decided, Sir?” “We move on the morning of September 21st. You will have to be in position not later than 0350 hours, as the artillery will lift at 0400. The general assault will commence at 0630 hours. We have your field maps in this folder,” Rawlinson’s aide hands it over. “Train well for this one, Captain, it will make a huge contribution to the overall achievements. If we can repeat these tactics successfully along the line, we can take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the first day and reach Lille by October 4th.”

“However, there is another reason for calling you here today, Charles,” Rawlinson smiled warmly, as three stewards entered on queue to distribute champagne flutes to the now standing officers. “I may call you Charles?”

“But of course, Sir.”

“I met your father in ’09, at exercises in Somerset. Damn good officer. Ran rings around the 1st Battalion boys at Ashcott and pushed through to Catcott unopposed. Really splendid stuff. How is the Colonel?”

“He lost an arm at Mons, Sir. At the moment he is running the OTC in Lichfield.”

“Well you must send him my best, Charles.”

“I certainly will, Sir.”

“So, to the other news. It is not often that a crusty old staff officer gets to greet a real life young hero, like Charles here.” He looks around the room, taking in the murmured sounds of approval from the gathered group. He stroked his moustache proudly, before continuing. “I have received the report from Major Grant, concerning your rescue of”, he glances down at the sheet of paper he has been handed by his aide, and “Corporal Sanderson and it reads splendidly, my boy. I have talked to Grant and have endorsed his recommendation of a presentation of the Military Cross for gallantry. I have forwarded the chit to Haig and expect it to be approved in a couple of weeks. Congratulations, Charles.” Another handshake. “Sanderson didn’t make it, unfortunately. However, you cannot win them all, eh?” He drains his glass. I expect to decorate you myself, in Lille next month. Shouts of “Here, here!” from those assembled, now crowding around Huffington with their own offered handshakes.

“Well, I must get on,” says Rawlinson, as he picks up his hat and swagger-stick. His aide collects his briefcase and gloves and in a swirl they were gone. A mire ten minutes later, Captain Charles Huffington MC was sitting in a staff car, being driven back to his little bit of line, feeling very pleased with himself. He opened his field book and starts to scribble notes about gas training. He also noted that a flamethrower platoon would be reporting, the day after tomorrow.

to be continued

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