For the first couple of weeks of November 1917, the 11 DLI war diary continued to refer to its HQ camp site by cryptic references (W3.c.5.7) indicating the level of secrecy around what was in hand. They were actually in the vicinity of the village of Gouzeaucourt. The work was all labour and little rest, so it is doubtful if the men had much time to think about what was going on, though we can be sure there was plenty of speculation. They were building shelters, communications trenches, but mostly working on road improvements. On 7 November, Captain Palmer left the battalion to join the Tank Corps and his place in charge of ‘A’ Company was taken by Captain WGL Sear.
A typical working day was 5 November when “Four companies (were) working on Villers-Plouich-Gouzeaucourt Road and Villers-Plouich-Gonnelieu Road. A party of 50 under 2/Lt Atlay (were) working on railway.” Meanwhile back in England it was Bonfire Night, though what sort of celebrations were made is anybody’s guess. At Number 6, Bridge Terrace in Darlington, Florence Bashforth gave birth to Thomas’s third child, John Raymond Bashforth, who would one day be my Dad.
Something of what was afoot became more apparent to some the lads, as on 9 November they were working on a model of the forthcoming operations. After several more days of the usual work, on 17 November, the battalion moved camp to the equally mysterious ‘W.5.b’. The stage was almost set.