First world war diaries, by TF Littler
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EXTRACTS: Click on the links below, or scroll down the page, to view diary extracts
1916 Summary
June 6th to 10th up the line from Bayencourt to Hebuterne ... support trench for the first time, and under fire ... "digging in" ... rifle blown up ... first casualties ... knee injury
June 13th to 14th buried and dug out ... more casualities
June 17th to 19th re-inforcements and relief
June 30th to July 2nd back to Hebuterne to the front line
August 10th & 11th casualties in Hebuterne ... and a lively night
Sept 15th to Oct 13th Leuze Wood, big advances ... led into enemy lines ... 376 casualties so far ... five days later 430 ... an injury ... more heavy losses ... fell sick
1917  
Feb 1st to March 24th transferred to Royal Engineers ... operation on leg ... ambulance train to England
1918  
April 12th to 17th Belgium ... an air battle ... laying mines ... O.C. killed in accident
April 27th to May 5th front line at Kemmill Hill ... clearing the dead
August 10th to 12th preparations ... the raid ... prisoners, losses and a souvenir
October 12th to 14th Westhoek ridge ... a big advance ... many prisoners and casualties
October 22nd building a raft ... sinking a raft
Nov 1st to 11th sickness ... to hospital ... Armistice
Dec 12th to 2nd Jan rotten Courtrai ... worst Christmas
1919  
Jan 10th to 15th Germany ... cold contempt ... boxing match
Feb 2nd to 24th the way home ... starting work


June 6th 1916
We had to pack our kits, and proceed up the line, we passed through Bayencourt, and then in artillery formation to Sailly-au-bois, and from here we marched in single file along a very muddy road, where in places men sank knee deep in mud, at last we reached the ruined town of Hebuterne, 400yds from our front line, there are no civilians here as the place is subject to heavy fire every day, we were billeted in the cellars of an old farm house which was minus a wall and the roof.
I took a stroll round the place after tea and found it absolutely ruined a church at one end had been badly battered and the walls all smashed and the roof gone, one side of the tower standing only, but a noticeable fact was that a crufic [crucifix?] in a most conspicuous place remained untouched.

June 7th 1916

We left our billets and went to the edge of the village, moving undercover of the broken walls, then entered a communication trench called 'Yale Street' (of y sector y29) moved along this trench in daylight for 300yds and then we were only 100yds from our own front line, and 400yds from the enemy front line, this 'com' trench was in places only 3ft deep, and we were exposed to the enemy fire, and our own work was to deepen this trench to 7ft, also make it wide enough for two men to pass, no earth could be thrown on top, but had to be put in sandbags and passed down the trench.

Everything went well 'till 3o'clock in the afternoon when 'Jerry' started to strafe, and strafed us away from the work, and managed it without any casualties, during the time we were working we had to keep our equipment on, also rifles at hand, and leaving the trench we looked 'rum cutters' being covered with mud and clay, all around the place were 'gas alarms'. This day was the first time I had been close to the enemy lines, and the first time I had got as far as a Support trench.

June 8th 1916

We worked in Yale Street Trench again, also in trench 48 which was much deeper, and about 10am our artillery opened a heavy strafe on the enemy trenches, and in reply the Germans shelled us heavily, and there being no dug outs here we were compelled to stick it, and chance our luck, there were no casualties, but four men got buried and had to be dug out, they were badly shaken, later a shell dropped on the parapet above four men and one had his leg blown off, and the trench was wrecked and we were compelled to move down a little way.

June 9th 1916
We fell in at 8-30p.m and entered "Wood Street communication trench" and passed the old fire trench and went up "New Wood Street" which was only about 2 ft deep, then got on the top, passed our front line which was being held by "The Rifle Rangers", through a gap in the barbed wire, we were paced out so many paces per man as a digging task, and told to dig ourselves in as quickly as possible.

We worked hard for about 2 an hour when the Germans opened heavy machine gun fire on us and swept us like a blanket, and being only 100 yds from the enemy lines it proved very trying, we carried on, off and on, for : of an hour when, when he got more machine guns sweeping that sector, by this time my part of the trench was about 18" deep so I could lie in it.

The machine guns keep on sweeping and the enemy opened out a "miniweffer" (trench mortar) barrage, four of our rifles were laying on the ground about 4 ft away and these got a direct hit, that was the last I saw of my rifle, also blew the trench away and left us as it were on the open ground.

The man in front of me called for help and on going to him I found he had a piece of shrapnel in the left shoulder blade, this was Private Joe (Hurnival of Runcorn), also he was hit on the lower middle part of the back, many men at this time were calling for help, out of our Platoon we had three casualties L/Cpl Fineflow who was hit in the back and the pieces had pierced the lungs he was vomiting a lot of blood, and Pte Edward Coalthorpe (of Chester) who was hit in ribs and left arm, one man in No10 Platoon was also hit, Stretcher Bearer Mostan, he was serious as he was hit in the lower part of the stomach and between the legs, after we had got the wounded away we returned to billets, it was 6a.m.

June 10th 1916

We worked from 11 o'clock in the morning until 2-45 p.m. when we returned to our billets and fell in again at 8p.m. and worked on top in the same place as the night previous, and returned at 2 a.m, and we had one casualty, this being the Corporal Brooks who was hit in the right wrist, the centre of the wrist being blown clean out.

This night when a shell burst mud and stones flew all around and I had my knee cut through being struck with a stone. This was Whit Sunday morning.

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June 13th 1916
We worked from 10a.m to 2.30 p.m in a C.T. called Womans St which was close up being at the end of Dead Mans Wood St, we carried on again from 9p.m to 11.30 p.m, when the enemy gave us a heavy trench mortar strafe.

This gradually got hotter and one mortar dropping on the parapet over us completely buried three of us, we were dug out and taken to the first aid Post and medically examined and found to be suffering from shock, we returned to the company next morning much better but a bit shaky.

June 14th 1916

Returned to the company at 10a.m and this afternoon two more men were buried in a dug-out, and one Private George Shaw (Chester) who joined the Battalion same day as myself was killed having both legs blown off, and the other Private Lol Beasley (Runcorn) had one leg blown off and was just alive when got out. I mounted guard this afternoon until 4p.m the following day.

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June 17th 1916
We turned out at 11a.m to work but had to return at 12 noon as 'Yale St' was being heavily shelled. We had a draft from (D) Company sent to us as our company had got so weak from men going to hospital with wounds and sickness. We paraded at 9p.m. and passed up 'Calvary St', but had to wait a while as the Germans were shelling the woods heavily through which the trench passed. Whilst waiting a shrapnel shell burst overhead and one man Private Joe Orme (Runcorn) was hit in the face, the bottom lip being torn off and bottom teeth knocked out, afterwards we worked in 'Young Street' running off the end of 'Calvary Street', the night on the whole was quiet, but one of the reinforcements from D Company was killed being shot through the head with a machine gun bullet.

June 18th 1916
We worked as usual both morning and night, but all was quiet and we had no casualties.June 19th 1916
This morning each man had two boxes of hand grenades to carry up to the front line trench and then we came back to billets and in the afternoon B Company came up to Hebuterne to relieve us and we marched back 10 kilos to Souastre and when passing through Sailly-Au-Bois and Bayencourt I noticed all the civilians had left their homes since we went up.

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June 30th 1916
We stood to till 4p.m when we handed in our packs, and all personal effects, and started for the line, going forward in artillery formation, passed through Bayencourt, and Sailly-au-Bois up to Hebuterne, and the bombardment was more fierce than before and we knew we had to attack in the morning and the minutes seemed like hours.

July 1st 1916
After having had our rum issue we stood to till 7-25a.m when we put up a smoke screen and went over the top at 7-30 with the London Scottish and Queens Westminster Rifles, we took four lines of trenches from the Germans, but were driven back by midday to our original position, our losses were very heavy although we took many prisoners, I could not attempt to write all that happened this day, so I'll leave a cutting from the paper here. The casualties from my Battalion were A Company 112, B Company 62, C Company 91, D Company 25, in my platoon we lost the following men Lieutenant Leigh, who had taken over from Lieut. Larne, was wounded the left arm blown off, Private Harry Wakefield, Private Wilfred Carter, killed, Private Jack White, Private Frank Walker, missing, and Private Harry Frodsham, Private Sam Mellor, and Private George Parker wounded, L-Cpl R Eaton, and L-Cpl Harry Carveley wounded, the following men died of wounds during the following week Sgt Piers, L-Cpl J Kinsey, and Private Albert Clarke, Private Jack Perrin, and Private Sidney Jones, we left the line this night being too weak in numbers to hold it, and got back to Souastre about 12-30 p.m.

[newspaper cutting] Word version

July 2nd 1916

(Sunday) We rested all day, and many of us are still a little shaky.

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August 10th 1916
Worked this morning in a trench about 10 yds from the billet, the Germans were shelling the village heavily, and about 12 o'clock noon a 5.9 was dropped direct on the billet, it killed Private Joe Orme, Private Harry Percival, and Private Dick Hearne, it wounded Private Hazelhurst, Coalthorpe, Duckworth, and Barton, and Private George Hunt (my chum) got shell-shock, losing his speech and use of his limbs, the billet took fire, but was quickly put out, and the rescue of dead and wounded went on, afterwards we had to find fresh billets in cellars which was much safer, everyone was fagged out and done, but what few were left in the Platoon had to go to work at 6p.m till 2a.m and about 8p.m an enemy airoplane swept us with machine gun fire.

August 11th 1916
We fortified our cellar by sandbagging it all round and on top, went to the trenches at 6p.m and while still daylight we were again swept with machine gun fire from a German airoplane, also he signalled to their artillery who opened out and we had to fall back, later on the Germans fired Miniweffers on our job, also we were bombed, so we had a lively night of it, but got no casualties.

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September 15th 1916
We made a big attack at Leuze Wood and advanced 1 mile in depth taking four lines of trenches, we had 12 large caterpillars to help in this attack, which begun at 4-30 a.m, our losses were slight in comparison with the Germans, our Battalion was withdrawn at 10-30 p.m being too weak to hold the line.

September 16th 1916
We rested all day and at night we had reinforcements sent to us, and went forward and dug an advanced fire trench, but the guide took us the wrong way, and led us into the enemy lines, the Germans opened a heavy fire on us, and we retired hastily but with casualties, Company Commander Captain Dickson being wounded, Platoon Officer Second Lieutenant Clements and 12 other rank also wounded, two died very shortly after.

September 22nd 1916
I had lost count of the days, but up to today we had had 376 casualties in the Battalion, and we were working every night in the lines leaving our dug-out at 5p.m and returning at 6 a.m, our attacks kept carrying us farther ahead.

September 27th 1916

We left High Wood and Leuze Wood sector and marched back 7 kilos to a place just outside Meaulte and rested two days, had four lots of reinforcements, and our casualties to date were 430.

September 30th 1916
We left this camp and marched through Carnoy, passed Trones Wood and Guillemont, and dug in at the rear of Rouleaux Wood.

October 1st 1916
We advanced again along with the French who were in touch with us on our right, we took four lines of trenches from the Germans, captured Combles and I sustained a severe cut on the leg with barbed wire, and it bled badly but I had to carry on.

October 10th 1916
We came out of the line at 10-30p.m and we had suffered very heavy casualties and only numbered about 500 strong after going in about 850 strong.

October 11th 1916
We came down to the Citadel and had a days rest.

October 12th 13th 1916
Great pain in the leg and so I fell sick, the cut will not heal up.

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February 1st 1917
Word had come through about me being transferred to the R. E.s after passing a test at the Workshops, and I was drafted to No.2 Royal Engineers Terretorial Base, we are having a severe frost.

February 21st 1917
Left Rouen at 12 noon went up the line to Bethune and arrived at 2a.m. on the 23rd and started work at 8a.m.

February 24th 1917
Got my new pay entered up at Royal Engineers rate 1/2 + 1/4 = 2/6 a day.

February 25th 1917
Leg broke out again and I had a special permit to attend hospital every day.

March 19th 1917
My leg got very bad and when attending hospital the Medical Officer thought it best to detain me.

March 20th 1917
I left Bethune as a stretcher case and went to Chocques where I was operated on, a large abscess being cut out.

March 22nd 1917
I left Casualty Clearing Station at Chocques and went in the Ambulance Train to Etaples where I was admitted into St. John's Hospital.

March 24th 1917
Placed on an Ambulance Train and conveyed to Calais, marked for dear old England.

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April 12th 1918
I saw a furious battle in the air this morning, 4 German planes engaging three British, 2 German planes and two British came down and fell in our lines, 1 German plane caught fire and fell in his own lines, the other one made his escape, and the remaining British plane hovered above and then made off. In the afternoon we had to go and re-mine a bridge crossing the Ypres Canal, placing 70 lbs of guncotton under it, and connected with both electric and instantaneous fuse, finished at midnight.

April 13th 1918
We paraded at 8-0 a.m and worked on the same bridge as the night before, and I was detailed off to patrol the bridge from 8-0p.m till 8a.m next morning, the shelling in Ypres [now Lepers] was very heavy and we had one man wounded Sapper Bert Mills, but other detachments in the town suffered heavily.

April 14th 1918
(Sunday) I came off guard at 8-0a.m and got down to sleep, but had to parade at 2-0p.m, hand in pack with all personal effects, and went up the Menin [now Menen] Road and dug a line of trenches for the infantry to fall back on, as the Germans had advanced on both sides of us, and we were in a salient and were forced to evacuate Passchondale ridge, many towns and villages fell in his hands.

April 15th 1918
We carried on with the same work as the day before, also did some barbed wiring entanglements.

April 16th 1918
We were laying a mine under the Menin road and railway, and completed the work, also a bridge at 150yds distance towards Ypres, and 6 of us were detailed off to guard the mine the whole night while the infantry and artillery fell back to new positions.

April 17th 1918
After the infantry had fallen back and the rear guard had crossed the 1st mine, we blew up the road successfully, and retired to the bridge, and the infantry had then got across that, and Lieutenant Read blew up the bridge, and Major Shaw, M.C. our O.C. stood by to watch it go up, and a flying missile struck him in the back, killing him instantly, and we carried him back to Ypres.

April 17th 1918 [second entry]
I was detailed off to bury our O.C. along with 6 others, and buried just outside our Orderly Room, Lieutenant Read is very ill.

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April 27th 1918
Still standing by and in the afternoon had to go to the front line and support the infantry over on right, as the Germans were making heavy attacks on us, and we had to fall back and the enemy finally captured Kemmill Hill, we lost many men and the shelling was terrible, we were withdrawn from the line about midnight.

April 28th 1918

Rested all day in billets in Vlamertynghe, The battle for Kemmill Hill continued and the French were rushed up, we had two batches of reinforcements.

April 29th 1918

We had to leave our billets at Vlamertynghe as the battle grew worse, as late last night the French retook Kemmill Hill, and the Germans were again attacking to retake it.

April 30th 1918

The Germans recaptured Kemmill Hill, and towards evening a lull came over the artillery, we worked all night digging in, in the rear of Kemmill and Locre and in front of Scherkenburgh Hill, the dead lying around were numerous from both sides.

May 1st 1918

The enemy did not attack this day; at night we cleared the ground of the dead which were thousands, and it was a sickening job.

May 2nd 1918

We made a strong line in front of Vlamertynghe, and made permanent billets in Dirty Bucket Camp.

May 3rd 1918

We finished the trench, the Germans got range of it and shelled it, we had one casualty, Sapper Mac Muir.

May 4th 5th 1918

Went sick fed up with work & war.

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August 10th 1918
More training for the raid, which we understand is going to be a big one.

August 11th 1918
Same as yesterday and my work on the raid will be fuse runner and connector.

August 12th 1918

Rested till 7pm and then set out for the line, we had our orders at 10p.m, the raid being made on 4 separate machine gun posts and 4 sappers going over to each post and 50 infantry men and an officer at each post. No.1 and 2 Sappers of our 4 carried a torpedo candeloe and placed it under the enemy wire entanglement, no.3 ran the fuse from the front line to the candeloe and connected up, no.4 brought the Exploder and connected with the fuse and blew the wire. The infantry rushed the gap and captured the occupants of the posts and made them prisoners. There was very heavy shelling the whole night and we got to the infantries company HQ at 1am. Out of 200 infantry men who went over 35 are missing and out of 16 Sappers 7 are not accounted for, we captured 44 prisoners and 8 machine guns, I got a good souvenir in the way of a German revolver, and we got back to our camp at 8 a.m.

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October 12th 1918
Worked same as day before at night moved billets to a large sap in Westhoek Ridge.

October 13th 1918

Moved up to forward positions ready for a very big attack.

October 14th 1918

In very severe fighting all day, the enemy put up a slight resistance with his infantry, but his artillery shelled us with shells which burst overhead and liquid fire dropped on us, we had many badly burnt, and killed. We advanced a depth of eight kilometres captured many villages. We worked our way forward through gas to the town of Wervick, thousands of prisoners came in, Menin town all ablaze in the distance, this was ground held by the enemy since his 1914 advance, at night I had to guide the transport up to our new billet in Wervick, we had a very rough night of it. The shelling was very heavy.

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October 22nd 1918
Making a heavy raft and using a barge to make it, the job would have been a complete success but for Lieutenant Kelsey who messed the job up, and after six hours work the blessed concern sunk crossways in the River Lys, and made a hash of everything, about ,50 worth of tools were lost also.

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November 1st 1918
We left our billets at 8pm and two Sappers were detailed off to each General Service Wagon, which were ten in number, each wagon had four rafts on, five wagons broke under the weight, and still going on with the other five; two over-turned when a shell bursting close by sent the donkeys amok, got there with the remaining three, and coming away a shell dropped right in one wagon, killing two drivers, and wounding one, four sappers killed and two wounded, and five horses out of six badly hit, two we shot on the spot. It was 10a.m when we got back, we had been to the River Scheldt.

November 2nd 1918

I fell sick, but had to march to Lieghem 14 kilos in front of Courtrai, in pouring rain, was wet through, and felt ill.

November 3rd 1918

Feel bad, and have gone sick again, the village is being very heavily shelled, four men killed last night, the poor civilians in this village are starving and living in cellars for safety, but many have been killed, and dead bodies of men and women and children; German soldiers and British soldiers lie about the streets.

November 4th 1918

Left the billets at Lieghem and marched to Ingoyghem four kilos away, felt far from well, but was on parade and didn't go sick.

November 5th 1918

Felt very ill, and went sick and was sent to 138th Field Ambulance, with a temperature of 101.5, the Field Ambulance is in Ooteghem, in the afternoon was conveyed as a stretcher case in a R.A.M.C car to the 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Station in Courtrai, and stayed the night.

November 6th 1918

Feel worse, and my temperature has risen to 103.2, and my complaint is called the "Flue" which is raging over the whole of Europe, in the afternoon I was put on the 13th Ambulance Train and conveyed via Ypres, Poperinghe and Hazebrouck to Boulogne, placed on a car and taken to the 54th General Hospital at Wimereux, arriving here at 6a.m, the train stopped, many times on the way to hand out men who had died on the journey.

November 7th 1918

Feel no better and have slight Broncho Pneumonia.

November 8th, 9th & 10th 1918

Feel very ill, and rumour is strongly afloat that the war is ending.

November 11th 1918

We had news in hospital that the enemy had pleaded for an armistice and that terms had been handed to him, which he accepted as armistice terms, and he is thoroughly beaten, it is a day of rejoicing and everybody seems happy and glad, bands are playing outside and guns firing salutes, but I feel too ill to take much interest in it.

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December 12th 1918
Stopped at Courtrai, billeted in the Museum, this being the 41st Divisional Reception Camp.

December 13th to 24th 1918

Still in Courtrai, and it's rotten as we are not allowed to receive any correspondence whatever.

December 25th 1918

Christmas Day, absolutely fed up, its the worst Christmas I've ever had.

December 26th to 31st 1918

Still in Courtrai, we have caused many disturbances in the town.

January 1st 1919

First day of the New Year.

January 2nd 1919

Still in rotten Courtrai.

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January 10th 1919
Detrained at Wahn at 5a.m and marched to a village about 10kilos away, here the people shut doors and windows in our faces, tried to be as unfriendly as they could, but it made no difference we were top dogs, we left this village after a three hours stop, and marched on to Cologne and billeted in a theatre, the civilians here were on the whole not too bad, but we held them in cold contempt, as we are the victors and they the victims.

January 11th 1919

We are in Kalk a part of Cologne, have been round the city this day, and I find it a most magnificent place.

January 15th 1919

I took part in the Divisional Boxing contest for Divisional championship for middleweight, won the first two bouts, but I got knocked out by Sgt Rundell of the Kings Royal Rifles in the semi-final.

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February 2nd 1919
Homeward bound, boarded the train at Honrath, passed through Rosrath, to Cologne, and stayed in the Weidenbach Barracks the night.

February 3rd 1919

Left Cologne at 9a.m and passed through Duren, Aix-le-Chapelle, Leige, Huy and Namur today.

February 4th 1919

Still in the train passed through Nivelles, Charleroi, Mons, Ath, to Tournai.

February 5th 1919

Still in the train and passed through Lille, Hazebrouk, to Dunkirk, arriving here at 11a.m and placed in what is called the Dirty Camp. We had dinner and paraded full marching order, supposed to have a bath, and proceeded to No1 Demobilisation Camp, in Dunkirk town, to await embarkation.

February 6th 1919

Still in the camp and placed in Demobilisation Drafts, I was placed in draft 61.

February 7th 1919

Left this Demobilisation Camp which is called Mardyke Camp, at Dunkirk at 9-30 a.m marched down to the docks, boarded the transport ship Viper at 2p.m, sailed 2-30p.m, had a rough crossing, and arrived at Dover at 6-0p.m, boarded the train at 6-30p.m and came to Prees Heath Camp arriving here at 3a.m.

February 8th 1919

Arrived at Prees Heath at 3a.m and handed in kit and rifle at 5a.m, got all my papers by 6a.m, had breakfast and boarded the train at 11a.m for Crewe, waited for a train at Crewe, got to Northwich at 6p.m, home at last.

February 9th 1919

Months leave started today.

February 10th 1919

Put on my civilian clothes.

February 24th 1919

Started work at Brunner Mond and Co.s Winnington.

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