At the end of June 1915, King George V made a formal inspection of the 20th Light Division, including 11th DLI Pioneers, at Witley Camp on Salisbury Plain. The last groups of men went home on pre-embarkation leave. Several of them overstayed their passes, including James Logan and Robert Barron, for which they were admonished and docked pay. Patrick Connolly went awol for a few days, was fined a week’s pay and sentenced to seven days field punishment. Stephen Davies missed the embarkation as he was in hospital for an operation. Patrick McEvoy and James O’Neill were both promoted to Sergeant on 19 July, the day before embarkation.
At mid-day on 20 July the battalion set off for Southampton, embarking on the transport ships at 8 pm. They sailed overnight, landing at Le Havre at 2 in the morning. At 7 am they left the boat and marched briskly up the hill out of the harbour, in swanky DLI style. Their sprightly march was rudely interrupted. Crossing a narrow bridge they were scattered by a runaway wagon and horses. No-one was hurt but in the panic one soldier lost his rifle over the parapet.
The battalion was taken by train to St Omer and from there they marched round the countryside for several days before settling near Merris. Based between there and La Rue du Bois, in a safe area behind the lines near Laventie, 11 DLI began work, mending roads and clearing ditches.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, men from the reserve battalions were also having their pre-embarkation leave, as they prepared to come out as reinforcements. Among them were Lance Corporal David Davies of 17 DLI and Corporal Thomas Bashforth of 16 DLI, the latter being my grandfather.