One year on the Western Front

July 1916 represented the first anniversary of 11 DLI arriving on the Western Front and found them newly stationed on the Somme after the worst experiences of the British Army so far. July 2012 represents my getting past the half-way mark in publishing the Roll of Honour, as I now have covered letters A to O. The latest list includes one of those cases where the attribution of a man to 11 DLI is disputable. Charles Oddy, from Armley in Leeds, originally served with the West Yorkshire Regiment, but found himself transferred to DLI and may have moved between the 11th and 14th battalions. While the ‘Soldiers Who Died’ database lists him with the 11th, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission correctly lists him with the 14th Battalion at the time that he was killed in action. In the absence of his service records, this is one of those army careers around which there remains something of a mystery.

July 1916

The 11th DLI was not one of the ‘Pal’s Battalions’ and not one of those chosen to be involved on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Somme campaign. They were still based at Brandhoek in Ypres and, for the first two weeks of July, continued with the daily work of improving trenches, with occasional reliefs. On 14 July they had a visit at battalion HQ from the Prince of Wales. The following day they prepared to leave the Ypres sector.

They left by train for Winnezeele on 16 July and spent time at a series of training and rest camps until arriving at Divisional HQ three miles east of Bailleul on 20 July. From there onwards it was marching, day by day, via St Sylvestre Capel, Balinchove (train to Doullens), to Couin. Here they spent a day cleaning filthy billets that they were not actually to occupy – a job the battalion diarist frequently fumed over.

On 28 July, they relieved 19th Welsh Fusiliers at The Dell, taking over “the dirtiest camp we have yet struck”. It was not entirely surprising that things were in such a state, as they were to find when they spent the last days of the month clearing the dreadfully mangled landscape left by the first days of the Somme campaign. They had set off knowing that there had been a terrible series of battles, but nothing could prepare them for the horrors they witnessed on arrival.