Although the majority of the men from 11 DLI were working flat out during the month of January 1917, at least there was the opportunity for some to go home on leave. December had been a ghastly experience, much of the time clearing the battlefield of German corpses and creating a mass burial. I can’t be certain, but this may have been the beginning of what is now the German cemetery at Fricourt where there is a pit containing more than 17000 unidentified bodies, as well as rows and rows of grave markers. Pause to remember that most of these guys were conscripts. It would be good to start 2017 with some shared compassion for families devastated in Germany, Austria and other parts of central Europe.
Things had been so bad that several officers, including the Adjutant, had been away sick, as well as large numbers of the other ranks. Leave was overdue. 2nd Lt Kemp took 19 men away on 4 January. 2nd Lt Dennis took another 19 on 10 January. 2nd Lts Devey and Philip took 17 men with them on 20 January. Various officers individually came and went. This was at a time when numbers were depleted. Fortunately, the battalion also benefited from the arrival of an excellent draft of 82 NCOs and men, all well trained. Half a dozen new officers arrived.
Among those going home on leave was Sergeant Thomas Bashforth of B Company, my grandfather, who was in the third group, returning at the end of the month. Nine months after his trip back to Darlington, my Dad was born. Happy homecoming!
The war diary is unusually detailed for the month and provides information on how the Companies were allocated out to different tasks – almost all work on improving, revetting and wiring of trenches and creating drains, with each trench named; but there was felling, sawing and stacking of wood, building of huts – the whole gamut of Pioneer work. There was even a mysteriously mentioned ‘special task’ with the Royal Engineers that was suspended due to heavy snow, but no description of what it was. The lads would be glad when they arrived at Méaulte at the end of the month for a rest.