Excuses for not working

One hundred years ago, throughout May 1916, 11 DLI was stationed near Oudezeele in Flanders. From here groups of men were sent out on work parties around the Ypres sector. However, 11 DLI was tasked with the job of securing the trenches at the eponymous Burgomaster’s Farm (which really was the local burgomaster’s farm and he and his wife still lived there) and preparing a defence plan in the event that they came under attack from the enemy.

This was a reminder that Pioneers were paid extra because they did two jobs. They provided labour for the Division and anyone else running short of hands for urgent tasks such as 6th Division this month, or tunnelling companies and the Royal Engineers, in this case laying cables from Ypres to Poperinghe. More often than not it was ‘trench work’, usually listed by each trench’s name in the battalion diary, and in this case mostly on the eastern bank of the Yser Canal. But Pioneers were also infantry, trained and armed as such and often so used, particularly providing guard duties for Divisional HQ this month and, as in this case, manning reserve trenches or relieving front line troops.

Excuses to get out of this were few and far between. All through the month, officers were on a shuttle service of leave, their movements assiduously reported in the battalion war diary, or they were off doing training of some sort. The best excuse for the men was a ‘sickie’ and 17 of them were sent away for treatment for scabies. This was a common and nasty bacterial infection caused by tiny mites burrowing into the softer parts of the body and laying their eggs. It was often related to similar problems with lice and was extremely contagious. Definitely good for a few days off!

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