It seems an odd coincidence that I commence the (more or less) final year of 11 DLI’s war diary at a time when the centenary of the outbreak of the war has firmly entered media consciousness. As I have tried in my book to keep the focus on the ordinary men, officers and other ranks, and their families and local communities, I will attempt to keep that focus despite the arguments that will rage elsewhere and the consumerist garbage that will pass for ‘commemoration’ (they are already selling the t-shirts). For me all debates about the Great War that do not start at the grassroots of experience, military and civilian on all sides, are best left to the armchair generals, revisionists and re-enactment playboys, who should be confined to some desert island somewhere, much as should have happened in 1914 to the idiots on all sides who got our ancestors into this mess.
For 11 DLI, the new year of 1918 was ‘celebrated’, if at all, at Dickebusch on the Ypres front in Belgium. New Year’s Day was spent wiring trenches, during which two men were wounded. The Lewis gunners continued to practice their particular skills. This went on for the best part of a week until the battalion went forward to Zillebeke to relieve the 11th South Lancashire Regiment. From here they spent most of their time continuing with wiring trenches, interspersed with work on mule tracks and other forward communications such as Culley’s Trail and the trenches at Perth Avenue. There was the usual gradual attrition of daily wounds and men going sick. Despite a welcome influx of new young officers bringing their numbers up to 41 by the end of the month, the number of rankers had declined by almost 100 over the month, leaving a total of 672 – about three quarters of a normal sized battalion. It was a shortage matched across every regiment and battalion in the front line, with consequences yet to be realised.