March 1917

Throughout the month 11th DLI worked in the Montauban area, constantly moving camp around Le Mesnil and Rocquigny and then on to Le Transloy. Mostly they were on work parties: wiring, trench digging, road works, clearing the old battlefield area of debris, salvaging wood and other general tasks. Most of the work was done at night, especially in and around the trenches. Shell-fire was an ever present danger. During one of these jobs, 2nd Lieutenant Noel Fletcher was killed, one of several casualties on a daily basis. At the end of the month it was a relief to get a batch of 50 reinforcements, described by the diary writer as ‘One of the best drafts received – good, strong, hardy-looking men – all from Durham’.

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February 1917

At the end of January 1917, my grandfather, Sergeant 14956 Thomas Bashforth got back to the battalion from his first home leave. The battalion were enjoying a week’s rest, which comprised physical training, drill, bayonet practice and baths. On 8 February they went back into the line: A Company to Guillemont and the rest to Montauban, where the main Companies worked on the Hogsback Trench and one of several ‘Sunken Roads’. All leave was cancelled, though there was an influx of new recruits: an officer (un-named) and 89 other ranks. The men were hard at work all month improving trenches: dugouts, saps, duck walks, camouflage screens, shelters, knife rests, wiring and the like. During the last week they concentrated on road repairs and track laying around Sailly-Saillisel, Le Mesnil, Manancourt, Bus, Ytres and Lechelle. This was work probably building up to the assault on Le Transloy Ridge.

The only oddities were a couple of accidents: Private Tombling of C Company was accidentally burned (a communication from a descendant tells me that this was supposed to have been caused by a flame-thrower) and there was a court of enquiry on 13 February led by Captain Palmer. Two more men from C Company were accidentally killed in a train accident around 13/14 February – probably Private 25211 James Connfey (serving under the name Carthy) and Private 16241 John Salkeld Long, both of whom are buried at Boisguillaume Cemetery.