November 1916

November 1916 began well for 11th DLI. They marched out of The Citadel and took a train from the railhead to Sailleux on their way for a much-needed rest. Unfortunately their first night was in a rough bivouac, as there were no available billets. The next morning they marched 16 miles in rain to Bourdon along bad roads. The next few days were spent there, cleaning billets, doing drill, PT, having lectures and church parades. On 8 November they marched out for Picquigny, where they stayed for a further week of recuperation, but only after ‘cleaning some very dirty billets’ recently occupied by Aussies. The issue of succeeding to dirty billets is a constant refrain in the battalion diary. Rest at Picquigny consisted mostly of drill, PT, instruction, and a battalion sports day.

Picquigny is a quiet place, a neat stop-off point for modern day travellers on the way from Dieppe to Amiens and the old Western Front areas. We visited it on a Saturday lunchtime and there was hardly a soul about, apart from a funny, harmless old guy trying to beg change. But we found a great little auberge where they served up a brilliant salmon salad. Even in out of the way places like this, the French do wonders with simple food.

It was good for the battalion to have a proper rest, as the subsequent weeks would be close to hell. On 16 November they set off for a further week in Corbie (cleaning very dirty billets) and back to the Citadel, which was deep in cloying mud several inches deep. From here they moved on in pouring rain to Montauban, setting up a new camp, improving accommodation, building a light railway and doing much needed drainage – the roads were practically impassable. There was worse to come.

More names added to the Roll of Honour

I am pleased to have today added names beginning with ‘S’ to the roll of honour pages – a significant number over two separate sub-pages. Included among the names is Private 17982 Fred Smith of Bishop Auckland, about whom I have only recently heard, as a result of contact from his grand-daughter. Amongst what he has left to the family are a number of significant mementoes and this has prompted me to start a new page, probably in a month or two, in which I will figure some individual members about whom we know more than appears just in official records, with photos where available. Meanwhile the public talks have finished for this year, at Sedgefield in September, but the next one will be in York, at the Western Front Association meeting on Saturday 12 January 2013.

October 1916

Wherever Tatler Trench was at the beginning of October 1916 in relation to the front line, this was where 11th DLI had its headquarters. The first week or so was a continuation of trench work, at night, under fire, with the added danger of gas shells. The slow attrition continued, wearing the men down until the 9th, when the battalion pulled back to Waterlot Farm and on to rest, first at Meaulte and then at Treux. Ten days later, they were back at The Citadel, a massive encampment behind the lines near Bray-sur-Somme. This was their base, from which they sent out work parties, mostly on roads, railways, mining, building huts. It was a miserable month – changeable weather, frost, rain, cold, wind – the men were wet through after work, with the camp thick with mud. Corporal Thomas Bashforth found himself promoted to Sergeant, taking the place of Sergeant Hodges in B Company. Well done grandad!