September 1917: Days of Attrition

The Pioneers of 11th DLI continued in training and re-equipment at Seaton Camp in the early part of the month, though interspersed with laying rail track on the Pilckem Ridge, building dumps or laying trench railways. They probably played little or no part in 60th Brigade’s sports day on 8 September. Next day, they relieved the Welsh Division Pioneers on the Canal Bank and were immediately back to work as before: dugouts, bivouacs, railways, trench tramways. The Lewis gunners under Lt Atlay joined the infantry battalions to provide anti-aircraft cover on the Steenbeck and at Langemarck and were later involved assisting with infantry attacks on German trenches.

Casualties were few, but a regular form of attrition in the form of wounded and killed, particularly as the battalion was moved into the forward areas to wire the front-line trenches. At one point, D Company were supposed to help out on this work but their infantry guide lost his way – the photographs one sees of the blasted, muddy landscape illustrate how easy this could be, trying to cross from the Canal Bank into what was left of the terrain around Langemarck.

Finally, on 28 September, the battalion were relieved by the West Yorkshire Regiment and retired to Seaton Camp once again. All told, six officers and 53 other ranks were struck off the battalion strength as sick, wounded or dead. Twelve men were killed, and a couple more died of wounds a few days later. Casualties may have been numerically less than those for the infantry battalions, but what might seem a day’s labouring was always a risk to life and limb. However, the days in the Ypres Sector would soon end and a new adventure come into operation.

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