June 1917

The first day of summer 1917, 11 DLI Pioneers were stationed at Vaulx in the slowly moving Somme sector of the Front. The constant work of previous months continued apace, meticulously recorded in the Battalion War Diary. Acting Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Hayes returned to take command after sick leave. Everything that Pioneers could do was part of their employment: trench digging, dugouts including office accommodation, assembling artillery dumps, constructing Decauville railways.

It sounds exhausting and it was also dangerous – one of the areas being worked in was called Death Valley. There was an explosion at one of the dumps, wounding 13 men. Officers came and went, several of them due to sickness like Lts Cooper and Fleming. There was the ever-present danger of enemy shelling and fragments of shrapnel whizzing around.

News reached the battalion of action on the Ypres Front with the capture of Messines after the blowing of an enormous set of mines. It was the herald of things to come for the Pioneers, though at this stage they were still unaware. Work continued on Sydney Avenue. It may have sounded like some tree-lined boulevard in Australia, but was well within shot of the German long-range guns. Only on the last day of the month did the orders come to move out to Domart after a day’s rest and inspection.

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