November 1916: End of the Somme?

According to the official histories, the Battle of the Somme ended on 18 November 1916, hence the centenary commemorative events last week. Whether the troops on the ground noticed anything very different is another question. There is no sign that there was anything especially different from one day to the next.

The War Diary for 11 DLI is a good illustration. Most of the month was spent providing the troops with a well-earned rest, integrating much needed reinforcements, getting them trained up and recovering battalion fitness. From 8-16 November, they were at Picquigny where they had the first real rest away from the firing lines. This small town lies just to the west of Amiens and today is extremely quiet and sleepy. The regular influx of 1000 or more squaddies, including the Australians who just preceded the Durham Pioneers, must have been quite a shock to the local community. The troops were kept busy with PT exercises and drill, as well as their own concert party.

After this short break, they were moved forward to Corbie, a rather larger town on the banks of the Somme to the east of Amiens. On 18 November, it poured down, so there was indoor work and lectures until 12.30 and then rest. Next day was a Sunday, so it was Church Parade and more rest. The rain continued as the men were marched on to the Citadel and then back to the lines at Montauban. They would have become familiar with what we nowadays ‘remember’ of the Somme and its rain and clinging mud, as the rest of the month was spent trying to make their camps habitable with better accommodation, drainage and constant cleaning. They were being moved from camp to camp as a clean-up squad for the benefit of other battalions, though three Companies each day were light railway building. The Diary for 29 November recorded: “New Camp taken over. 11 AM, Transport moved off to new Camp. Dug outs filthy. Road into Camp practically impassable to Transport.” The mud is not a myth.

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