As the centenary ticks by, I keep looking at the battalion war diary for 11th DLI and reflecting on what they were up to, especially thinking about my grandfather, Corporal (as he was then) Thomas Bashforth, and any little notes that might involve him and his comrades in B Company.
April 1916 was a game of two halves. To begin with, the battalion were stationed in a chateau near Elverdinghe on the Ypres Front in Belgium. From here the men set out on various working parties in different parts of the lines, mostly on the Yser Canal Bank. B Company was no exception, working under the command of one or other of the Infantry Brigades from 20th Division. They even got a letter that month from the Commander of the Royal Engineers who supervised their work, ‘eulogising’ what they had done. Lt RLS Pemberton, who had been in charge of them for the past month was made up to Temporary Captain.
Any idea that being based in the grounds of a chateau might have been idyllic was constantly and rudely shattered by German artillery. Such a building would have been well within range and clearly mapped, making it an obvious target every couple of days or so. Several men from 11th DLI and the infantry regiments were wounded in the process. No doubt the second in command, Major Geoffrey Hayes (later to lead the battalion), was delighted to get away for a few days training with Staff.
The whole battalion got away in mid-month, for a break at Oodezeele for their Easter holidays. Not that that entailed much rest for anyone, officers or men. In truth the Division was merely allocated to ‘Corps Reserve’ for a few days. For the ranks that meant training from 8.30 am until after noon: bayonet practice, bombing practice and PT were favourites. Following this excitement, they could indulge what was left of their energy in sports and games – officers mostly on horseback. In preparation for church parades on Easter Day, they also had the pleasure of a route march in heavy rain. In the evenings, the junior officers and NCOs had the pleasure of a series of lectures. The one on ‘gas preventatives’ would have been more useful one imagines than the one on ‘Lessons from the South African War’.
Even this relief was short-lived: back to work straight after the Easter weekend and no Bank Holiday Monday. The Pioneers were set to work in various places behind the main lines, where they were inspected by the Divisional and Engineering commanders (not including the batch sent to join 177th Tunnelling Company). No doubt the various groups of men returning from sick leave with Entrenching Battalions were glad to be ‘home’.