December 1917

The first day of December dawned with the battalion under heavy shell fire, which continued all day. The 11th DLI were dug in to the Hindenburg trench (presumably so-called as it was the former German front line at Cambrai) and the ‘Brown Line’, and continued to suffer casualties. This was more than a holding operation – 2nd Lt H S Parkin led a party to clear an enemy trench in the La Vacquerie area¬†with bombs, holding it until relieved by 11 Rifle Brigade. 11 DLI played their role as infantry alongside the other battalions of 20 Division in the front line.

They held out for another day before being moved out to billets and Fins and Sorel – the line had stabilised and they were put to work consolidating reserve trench lines. They remained in billets for a few days before being moved by train to Hesden, from where they marched to HQ at Ecquemicourt and a half day holiday and kit inspection.

On 11 December, 11 DLI were moved by bus to Wardrecques, where they were joined by some replacement officers – 2nd Lts Alexander, Day, Galley, English, Gibson and Whitfield. For the next few days it was a mixture of drill, training and baths before they were shipped off back to the Ypres Salient, arriving at Dickebusch 0n 17 December. They remained based here for the rest of the month, mostly engaged in overnight wiring of trenches and carrying material up to forward dumps. The one exception to the routine was Christmas Day, when they had Church Parade during the day and were excused wiring parties at night, only for everything to go back to normal next day.

Oddly, given what would happen in a few weeks time, there was both a massive influx of new men (about 100), but the same number left to bolster the numbers in 2 DLI and 14 DLI. Having lost 280 men killed, wounded and sick, the battalion ended the month with a full complement of 35 officers but only 767 other ranks – a good 200 short of normal establishment. As the infantry brigades had suffered much heavier losses, it was a sign of trouble after a year of heavy fighting.

Although there is no evidence of any particular problems within the ranks of 11 DLI, or 20th Division more generally, September had seen mutiny at Etaples, Boulogne and elsewhere. There had been mutinies among the French that had greatly reduced their military capabilities. The Canadians also suffered similar strife at the time. Meanwhile in Russia, there had been wholesale mutiny leading to outright revolution. Disaffection was growing. The war had gone on too long for what seemed like less and less purpose.