• Si Biggs

The Trenches of Colincamps

Unit/ Formation: Royal Marines


Location: France


Period/ Conflict: World War I


Year: 1916


Date/s: 12th October 1916


A fine example of full-bearded RMLI Privates in France, circa late 1916.

On the night of the 12th of October 1916, senior staff officers of the RND & RM Bns. visited the trench system east of Colincamps. Whilst making their way up a communication trench, a German 5.9 inch shell landed amongst them, killing Major E.F.P. Sketchley DSO RMLI & severely wounding General Paris in the left leg, which was later amputated.


A firing party of 200 Marines from 1RM attended the funeral of Mjr. Sketchley at Forceville Military Cemetery 13/10/16.


Major-General Sir Archibald Paris KCB RMA was succeeded as GOC by Major-General C.D. Shute CMG DSO; 'a proper bastard of an Army commander', with a particular dislike of the naval traditions & customs of his new command. He alienated officers & men alike with his efforts to 'shake up' the Division. Amongst his proposed changes was the insistence that Army rank insignia should be worn. So they began to wear Naval rank on one arm & the equivalent Army rank on the other. (The Marines were unaffected by this as they already used army ranks).


Shute also tried to stop the age-old naval right to grow beards. He was defeated in this effort by one Sub-Lt. Codner RNVR, who invoked King's Regulations & refused the order. A.P. Herbert, an officer in the Hawke Bn, RND, at this time, wrote of this incident in his poem "The Ballad of Codson's Beard." It was later published in 'Punch' in January 1918, amended for anonymity, it was less than complimentary to Shute.


To the men in the RND, Shute became known as 'Schultz the Hun.'


The Battle of Codson's Beard


A.P. Herbert


Now I'll tell you a yarn of a sailorman

With a face more fierce than fair,

He got over that on the Navy's plan

By hiding it all with hair.

He was one of the rough old sailor breed

And had lived all his life at sea,

But he took to the beach at the Nation's heed

And fought in the R.N.D.


Now Brigadier General Blank's Brigade

Was tidy, neat and trim,

And the sight of a beard on his parade

Was a bit too much for him,

"What is that?" he cried, with a terrible oath,

"Of all that's wild and weird",

His staff replied "a curious growth,

But it looks very much like a beard".


The General said "I've seen six wars,

And many a ghastly sight

Men with locks that gave men shocks,

And buttons none too bright,

But never a man in my brigade

With a face all fringed with fur,

So you'll hurry away and shave today."

But Godson said "you err".


"For this old beard of which you're scared,

It stands for a lot to me,

For the great North gales and the sharks and whales,

And the smell of the dear grey sea."


Then Generals gathered around the spot,

And urged him to behave,

But Codson said "You talk a lot

But can you make me shave?

For the Navy allows a beard at the laws

And thus a beard is the sign for me,

That, where'er I go, the world may know,

I belong to the King's Navy."


So they gave him jobs in distant parts,

Where none might see his face,

Town Major jobs that break men's hearts,

and bullets at the base.

But, whenever he knew a fight was due,

He hurried there by train

And when he had done for every Hun,

He hurried back again.


Then spake another old sailor,

"It seems you can't have heard,

Begging you pardon General Blank,

The reason for this man's beard,

So I've brought you this 'ere photograph

Of what he used to be,

Before he stuck that fluffy muck,

Upon his Physionomy."


"It's a kind of a sort of a 'camouflage',

And that I take to mean

A kind of a thing that hides something

Which ought not to be seen."

The General looked and fainting cried:

"The situation's grave,

His beard was bad but Kamerad,

He simply cannot shave."


So when these thin lines sage and sag

And man goes down to man,

That great black beard is always in the van,

I've been in many a hot spot,

Where death is the least men feared,

But I've never seen anything quite so hot

As the 'Battle of Codson's Beard.'


The trenches were in a terrible state by October 1916; the rain & constant shell damage had reduced them to no more than muddy ditches, impossible to keep clean. The men's rifles & equipment were equally difficult to keep clean, but 'Schultz' would complain that the RND were to blame for the state of their kit & their trenches.


Again, A.P. Herbert put pen to paper & wrote a poem about this injustice. It was adapted into a song, at first sung by the RND, then by the whole Army, to the tune of "Wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket."


Read More/ Web Link: Jack Clegg.com

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