September 1916

When he sent the September battalion war diary to Divisional HQ at the end of the month, Major Hayes commented: “I foreward herewith War Diary for September 1916. The delay in sending this in is regretted but was unavoidable owing to continual moves and lack of office accommodation in the trench”. It tells its own story of what happened to the battalion in the weeks after the Battle of Guillemont.

There was a brief ‘rest’ behind the lines at Mericourt, with a little road-making and drill to get the lads back into the mood for more labour! They were hardly in one place more than two or three days from 15 September: Citadel – Talus Bois – Bernafay Wood – Sandpits – Meaulte – Citadel – Maltz Horn Valley – Talus Bois – Trones Wood. There were only 440 men available – half the normal battalion size. Nevertheless it was an endless round of trench repairs, trench digging, cleaning dirty billets, road making, track repairs. Often as not, ‘billets’ consisted of old trenches and shell holes. They were under almost constant artillery bombardment. Casualties came as a steady attrition – hitting unexploded ordnance, caught by moonlight and a well-targeted shell.

This what the Somme meant in September 1916. Among the casualties were Privates Robert David Bennett and James Martin Thompson killed at night, Privates John George Cummins and John Iveson dying of wounds the day after. It is likely that Sergeant Hodges was wounded, as he was replaced in B Company by my grandfather, now Sergeant, Thomas Bashforth.


The Battle for Guillemont, 3-4 September 1916

Unusually I am presenting the text from the Battalion War Diary covering the role of 11 DLI in the attack on Guillemont. It conveys the matter of fact tone of these records for what were in fact momentous events. One would hardly realize the scale and nature of the attack on Gullemont on the morning of 3 September.

That some men of A and D Companies 11 DLI went in with the initial infantry attack, as indicated in some accounts, is not supported. However, war diaries are not necessarily always totally reliable. They are shorthand accounts made under pressure, they tend to be slanted towards giving a good appearance to the unit, and they will cover up any departure from Operational Orders that Division need not know about.

Whatever the actual facts, it cannot be denied that 11 DLI had spent several harrowing nights in the trenches preparing the attack infrastructure with the Royal Engineers, including the night before the attack, with little if any rest before they went over the top. Whether it was zero hour, or zero plus 2 or plus 10, it was under heavy artillery bombardment and blistering machine gun fire across ground that had been torn to shreds and strewn with dead bodies for weeks before.

Transcript from 11 DLI Battalion War Diary [TNA: WO 95/2108]

In Trenches

31 August 1916:

6 PM – Four companies proceeded to work. A Coy under the OC 96th Fd Coy RE. B&C Companies under the orders of OC 11 DLI and D Coy under orders 83rd Coy RE. Casualties night of 31st – ORs Died of wounds 2, Wounded 9

1 September 1916:

6 AM – Bright clear morning. British Heavy generally active during the day

6 PM – A&B Companies worked with Right Brigade. C&D Companies with Left Brigade. Casualties: Lieut J H Marples wounded Gas. O. Ranks killed 1, wounded 9.

2 September 1916:

6 AM – Fine morning. British Heavy Artillery commenced fire at 8 AM and continued all day. Great activity in the Air.

6 PM – Work carried out same as night of 1st. Casualties, Other Ranks wounded 4.

3 September 1916:

6 AM – The morning opened fine but cloudy. British Heavies continuing their fire from 8 AM yesterday. Very great number of British Aircraft up, also Kite Balloons.

8 AM – Battalion marched out for operations. A Coy working with 69th Brigade, D Coy with 47th Brigade. B&C Companies in Reserve at Bernafay Wood. Only sick men in camp. A Coy were employed in consolidating positions and making strong points. They went out at Zero hour + 10 the company worked all day and night. D Company moved to Guillemont at Zero + 2 hours and assisted 47th (Irish) Brigade to consolidate, worked all the afternoon and most of the night. B&C Companies worked with 84th Fd Coy RE at about 7.30 pm, they carried wire etc, dug a new trench east of GUILLEMONT STATION and cleared old German trench for Communication trench to new front line. Casualties: Lieut W A Cunningham very slightly wounded. OR 20 wounded and 4 missing.

4 September 1916:

5 AM – the CO went with Capt V Pollock to 1st objective gained after 3rd and found A Company assembling there. Shell fire very heavy, found 5 wounded men in SUNKEN ROAD. Men of A Coy were hit by shell fire. No water for men and no stretchers. CO and Capt Pollock left 2 Lieut Ward digging in with 2 platoons of A Coy. CO returned and reported to CRE and then received orders to send 2 companies to BRIQUETERIE. 12.45 PM CO and Major Lloyd proceeded to Brigade HQ at BRIQUETERIE. B&C Companies HQ with Lewis Guns moved off at 2.15 PM for BRIQUETERIE.

1 PM – CO went with RSM and Orderlies to front line and reported to Col White in command. Enemy barraging fairly geavy during afternoon. Received orders to bring the 2 companies up at dusk.

9.30 PM – Major Lloyd who had remained with 2 companies bear ARROW HEAD COPSE arrived and again received instructions to guide B&C Companies to front line and assist Infantry to consolidate near LEUZE WOOD. At 1.30 AM Major Lloyd and 2 Platoons C Company arrived in front line. Remainder had lost touch and arrived in support line. Brigade was relieved and the Battalion returned to CRATERS about 6 AM 5th Sept. Casualties Captains Pollock & Pemberton, Lieut Cunningham on sick list from 1 PM 4th. Lieut Robertson, 2 Lts Stubbs and Ward wounded. OR Killed 3, Wounded 52, Missing 1.

On 5 September, the battalion was rested for two days before going out for R&R.


More Names Discovered

With the publication of Letter R names into the Roll of Honour, I can also add that I have discovered more than ninety additional names, officers and other ranks to progressively add to those already listed and letter sequences yet to come. I am in the process of researching the individuals in question and will catch up on these over the next few weeks.