December 1916

The last month of 1916 was not to see any of the previous attempts at fraternization. Given the brutality of the previous months, this should come as no surprise. For the men of 11th DLI exhaustion would have put paid to any such thoughts anyhow. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the battalion were hard at work in and around the trenches near Montauban and Combles. While the rest of 20th Division went on rest, the Pioneers remained in the lines – making tracks, carrying wood, digging a new Intermediate line, shoring up trenches and extending a light railway. Reinforcements arrived, but they were mostly former white-collar workers who would have found the work beyond anything they had experienced before in civilian life.

Although a few small parties were allowed away on leave, Christmas Day and Boxing Day found the men clearing decayed German corpses from the old battlefield and creating a mass grave (possibly the beginnings of the one now found at Fricourt). The Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings message will have met with no cheer in return. Major Hayes made impassioned pleas to Divisional HQ for a break, the battalion Adjutant filled the diary with painful descriptions of the state of the men, but it was not until the very end of the month that relief came. The exhausted men struggled out of the lines through thick mud, taking two hours just to get the transport moving. They got three days rest.

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