The innocence of the morning of 31 July was quickly dispelled by the hard realities of war in the Ypres Salient during August 1917 (see previous post). 11 DLI were engaged in road making and railway work under heavy and continuous bombardment. As reported in the war diary for 2 August, “the men now have a march of 14 miles daily and in addition have 6 hours work to do. ‘C’ Coy continued work on railway from 11 am to 7 pm.”
Most of the work was carried out along the bank of the Yser Canal, often harried by gas shells as well as artillery fire. The work continued like this without respite until 18 August. They marched from ‘G’ Camp, via Malakoff Farm, to Elverdinghe, from where they entrained for Proven. While this was nominally a rest period until the end of the month, as well as the usual drill, baths and re-equipment, the men continued to work on railway tracks and sidings, the Lewis gunners practised anti-aircraft work and there was continuous training.
Nominally, the battalion had a full complement of 34 officers and 957 men by 31 August, though twice as many had dropped from their numbers as had newly arrived. Among the casualties were seven men killed on one day, 16 August 1917, and all buried in Bard Cottage Cemetery at Boezinge: Privates Buckle, Donkin, Hildreth, Hodgson, Hunt, Tansey and Taylor. That day was when 20th Light Division struck across the Steenbeck to suppress the concrete machine gun bunkers on the other side and take the strategic village of Langemarck. It barely registers a mention in the war diary as, technically, 11 DLI was just doing their normal Pioneer work on communications – only blasted to hell by German artillery. It was just another day’s work and their casualties were dwarfed by those of the infantry battalions.