Wednesday 7 January 2015

The Front Line - The Menin Road - September 1917

This is quite a long post, but Will's diary entries for September are a real first-hand account of life on the front line and I didn't want to leave anything out.

In early September 2017 the Battalion was on the move again.  They left at 8.00am on 3 September, by route march, through Steenvorde, Oxelere, Bayinchove, arriving in billets at Oosthoek at 6.00pm. They'd marched all day.

From 4-11 September, whilst at Oosthoek training was carried out, which included: bombing, musketry, bayonet fighting, practice formations for the attack, flag courses and company drills.

On 12 September the Battalion was then on the move again, this time they were heading for the front line and the trenches.

"12 Wed - Rev 6.  Came off guard @ 10.30.  Parade 11.  Inspection for moving off, Moved off @ 2.30.  Landed @ Zuytpeene @ 6o'c.  Letter from Jim & Sarah.  No time to write, being on the move tomorrow."
"13 Th - Rev 6.  B 7.  Moved from Zuytpeene to Steenvorde.  13 kilos.  Pretty tired when landed.  No letters from anybody.  Heavy going.  Getting ready for moving the following day."
"14 Fri - Rev 4.30.  B 5.  Moved from Steenvorde to Dickebusch (20kilos).  Very tired, no wash or shave.  No letters from anybody.  No time to write anythink."
"15 Sat - Left Dickebusch for line @ 12o'c.  Landed in the trenches @ 6o'c.  Very hot. Went to fetch rations for HQ.  No letters from anybody.  Not time to write to anybody. Went to front line in charge of 3 men & sandbags." 
Things continued to get more intense for the Battalion and for Will in the following week. 
 "16 Sun - Helping RE under heavy fire.  Working & rations all day up to front line in charge of 13 men."
"17 Mon - Helping REs till dinnertime under heavy shell fire. Went out @ night on rations.  Fritz shelled us all the way up & back again.  No letters from anybody."
"18 Tues - Up all night & being shelled pretty often.  Went to bed @ Rail Dug O.  Up again @ 4 carrying water to the front line.  Got back @ dinner time.  Had to move back a bit.  Move to a camp for a short rest.  Letters from Ethel.  Dog tired & thinking of Ethel all time."
"19 Wed - Rev 5.30.  Parade for a bath @ 6.  Good bath.  Writ to Ethel. Rest until 9o'c night then moved up to the line for a big push.  Stayed @ Bedford House. Slept outside. Wet & cold.  Up @ 4o'c.  Moved up line.  Few casualties.
"20 Th - Spent a night on front line.  Got shelled very heavy.  Working party lost a chum, young Jones (Welsh man).  Stop in trenches all day.  Got shelled all day & night.  Still in trenches."
"21 Fri - Went on a ration party.  Lost LCpl Jewitt.  Died of wounds.  Decent chap. And also LCpl ???  Went out wiring @ night.  Rotten & cold work.  My hands all cut to pieces.  No letters from anybody.  Thinking of my own dearest wondering how she is."
"22 Sat - Got shelled pretty heavy.  Still in trenches.  No wash or shave for 3 days. Very dirty.  Got shelled very heavy during night."
The last week in September saw a small amount of respite for the Battalion whist preparing to go back into the field at the Menin Road ...
 "23 Sun - Fritz made a counter attack & gave us hell for about 1 1/2 hours.  Cold night."
"24 Mon - Gave us a barrage early morning again @ 9o'c & dinner time.  Got gassed & got relieved under a heavy bombardment 9o'c.  Went to Cafe Belle and then to Chippawa Camp.  Landed @ 2o'c next morning."
"25 Tues - Rev anytime.  B 8.  Cleaning up.  D 2o'c.  Still cleaning & no time for writing.  Inspection of rifles.  Tea 4.30.  Pay 5.  Parade for baths 6.30.  Letter from home.  None from Ethel."
"26 Wed - Rev 7.  B 8.  Parade for GOC inspection 11.30.  Recomended for the good work we did.  Papers from Ethel.  Went out with C Blake @ night."
"27 Th - Rev 7.  B 8.  P 9.  Drill order cancelled.  Get packed up for moving off. Moved to Ridge Wood for 1 night, full pack.  Very tired.  Told off with 2 men to get prepared for an advance party.  No letters."
"28 Fri - Rev 3.30.  B 4.  Parade 4.30.  Moved to Bedford House.  Arrived there @ 7o'c.  Got billets for the Coy.  Coy arrived @ 12o'c.  Slept in open, went up to the front line on a working party.  1 letter from Ethel."
"29 Sat - Rev 7.  B 8.  P 9.  Inspection rifles & gas bags.  Getting prepared for up the line.  Bomb 100 rounds, 2 sandbags.  Ready for moving off @ any minute.  Sent FP to & ...  Strained my side.  Went to see Colonel, sent to transport." 
This may have been a really lucky injury for Will.  His own diary entry for 30 September reads ...
"30 Sun - Got excuse duty for 1 day, sprained side.  Rest all day.  Painful."
You will be able to read the official Battalion war diary entry for 30 September in my next post.

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