Rain, Mud and Fire: 31 July 1917

The 11 DLI Pioneers’ Battalion Diary for 31 July is economic in its description of the day, over several separate entries.

  • At 1.30 am, the men arrived at Canada Farm.
  • At 8 am, B and D Companies moved forward to work at the Canal Bank, joined by A Company at 2 pm.
  • By 4 pm they were road making from the Canal Bank to trenches captured from the enemy by 20th Division infantry.
  • At 4pm work stopped temporarily due to heavy rain, but 11 DLI remained on the work all night. Rations and water came up at 6 pm (the first meal since breakfast). While this was going on, the enemy targeted the east side of Pilckem Ridge with artillery fire, answered by Divisional artillery from 8.30 pm. A few gas shells landed.
  • The Pioneers did not return to camp until afternoon of the following day.

The Divisional History describes the scene in the afternoon as the rain came down: ‘The tracks forward were not yet completed; one road was passable, but only as far as the old German front line. As a result of our bombardment the ground was a mass of shell-holes, with pill-boxes blown upside down and debris scattered everywhere, difficult enough for infantry to move over and almost impossible for guns.’

The rain would continue for three more days.

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The Night Before Passchendaele, 30 July 1917

The Third Battle of Ypres, more popularly known by one of the target villages as ‘Passchendaele’, would commence on 31 July 1917. 11 DLI Pioneers would operate in support of 20th Light Division infantry, with the sole aim of maintaining communications and transport across the Steenbeck, exposed under heavy fire and through quagmire conditions, towards the Pilckem Ridge. The Pioneers had already been heavily involved helping construct the vital artillery tracks that would allow forward movement of heavy guns and machine guns in support of the infantry.

Lt Colonel Hayes issued Company Orders as follows. Notably, ‘C’ Company was excluded from this work (they were doing railway construction work).

11th DLI, Operation Order 58, 30 July 1917

  1. The Battalion with Transport (less ‘C’ Coy & Coy Transport) will move to Canada Farm[1] Area on night 30/31 July.
  2. The Battalion will parade in ‘Battle Order’ without packs at 9.30 pm. During the march, an interval of 200 yds. will be kept between Coys. Transport will be in rear of last Coy.
  3. Water Bottles and Water Carts will be filled.
  4. Packs will be taken by Motor Lorry. These will be stacked by Coys at F.7.b.2.2 under the supervision of 2/Lieut. P V Kemp. One man per Coy will be left in charge; these 3 men will proceed by Lorry and unload the Packs at Canada Farm. (5 men HQ will load packs on lorry). Packs must be marked. Mess Tins must not go with Packs.
  5. A Billeting Party consisting of Lieut. WGL Sear & 1 NCO per Coy, HQ and Transport will parade at 1.30 pm and proceed to A. 18.b.0.8. (Sheet 28) and there report to Staff Captain 59th Brigade.
  6. Rations for consumption on 31st (less Breakfast ration) will be carried on the man.
  7. After arrival at Canada Farm all Companies must be prepared to move at 15 minutes notice.
  8. This afternoon the men are to rest & all possible rest is to be obtained at Canada Farm.
  9. Breakfasts will be issued at Canada Farm prior to moving off from there. Time not yet known: probable time of moving about 6am. This will be communicated to Coy Commanders as soon as it is known.
  10. Further orders will be issued later re move from Canada Farm. Acknowledge. Issued at 9.50 am.

 

[1] Canada Farm is now marked by a CWGC cemetery with 907 WW1 burials. There was a farmhouse on the spot, used as a dressing station. It is not far from Elverdinghe. There are no 11 DLI burials there. For the purpose of orders at the launch of the battle, it was also known as G Camp in the War Diary.

Getting Ready for Another One

July 1917

At the beginning of the month 11 DLI Pioneers were at Domart, resting, training, drilling and otherwise refitting and getting ready for their next assignment. Reinforcements arrived – an officer and more than 70 men. Half a dozen men with an NCO went off to do haymaking for a local farmer, which must have made a pleasant change from the usual work. The leave quota was lifted to 46 men at a time.

At 8.15 am on the 20th July, the battalion met the train at Doullens, which they loaded completely in 65 minutes flat (A, B and D companies). C Company and the transport followed on a later train. By midnight the battalion was encamped at Proven (in the Ypres Sector), where they spent the rest of the month undergoing more drill, training and parades. There was a final parade and inspection ‘in battle order’ on 30 July at which point all leave had been suspended.

The CO had received instructions in Operation Order No. 58 for the battalion’s next major assignment, commencing the following day. Overnight, the battalion was moved to Canada Farm.