Major Geoffrey Hayes, commanding 11 DLI Pioneers, apologised to 20 Division HQ for sending in the monthly diary a couple of days late on 2 October 1916: “I forward herewith War Diary for September 1916. The delay in sending this in is regretted but was unavoidable owing to continual moves and lack of office accommodation in the trench.” Even a cursory glance at his report shows just how true was his justification.
The first week incorporated the Battle of Guillemont, in which the battalion played a considerable role. After a short ‘rest’ involving copious amounts of drill and road-building, they were back in the line at Bernafay Wood and immediately employed digging more assembly trenches for another assault at Lesboeufs. They were back out to Méaulte, where they had barely cleaned out the filthy billets before they were sent up to a different part of the line in the Maltz Horn Valley to try to create shelters in the midst of heavy rain before more track-building and then marching across country back to Trônes Wood area and back into the trenches at Waterlot Farm. They were seldom more than a couple of days in any one place.
But enough of the battalion HQ whinge. Come the middle of the month the strength was down to 440 men organised in four companies, half the normal strength, and they continued to take casualties. For readers of my book, they will be familiar with the death of letter writer Private Robert David Bennett and the horrific accident taking the lives of three more men when one of them hit an unexploded shell as they cleared trenches. On a personal note, my grandfather, Corporal Thomas Bashforth was promoted to Sergeant in B Company on the last day of the month. None of their names appear in the diary, of course, unlike the arrivals of several new officers and some shuffling of their posts. That’s my whinge on behalf of the ‘Other Ranks’.