9th June 1917

A day of waiting until 5pm.  The battalion moved forward along a well-defined track to the left of the remains of the village, Neuville-Vitasse.  Through a deep cutting above which an unexpected salvo from the British Heavies wrought havoc with our nervous systems, we reached a maze of deep trenches - the beginning of the massive defensive works of the Hindenburg Line.

Laden as we were with additional burdens consisting of panniers of ammunition for the Lewis guns, barbed wire, pickets and other miscellaneous war material the going was heavy and fatiguing.  From the guides at the head of the column a constant stream of directions was passed back from man to man – “Mind the wire”, “Don’t lose touch in the rear”, etc.  The journey seemed unending, inevitably large gaps appeared in the line of men struggling forward.  This was a golden opportunity for the humourists of the company and by the time the garbled messages reached the rear portion of the column the orders were not only incomprehensible but quite unprintable.

The support line, located in front of Wancourt with a sunken road between, was eventually occupied by B Company.  As we took over the previous occupants departed hurriedly with the usual soldier’s farewell.

The trenches were six feet deep in solid chalk with communication trenches, saps and bays branching in all directions, well constructed by the Germans.  There were no dugouts but every few yards ‘bivvies’ or ‘foxholes’ had been excavated from the side of the trench at floor level below the parapet.  Each bivvie would just allow one man to obtain a little cramped comfort, if not privacy and an ostrich-like sense of security from the attentions of the enemy.

However we were allowed no time in which to take stock of our new home.  Spades were distributed with orders to deepen the trench.  Since the tallest head was already six or more inches below the parapet we assumed the operation to be purely psychological.  After scraping away at the iron hard chalk for several hours the trench had not visibly deepened.  One hour before dawn we ‘stood to’ after which we retired to put our respective ‘houses’ in order and get a little sleep.  Off came my equipment but within seconds it was on again.  Precisely what the NCO said is best not recorded.

Rose at 9am!
Mucked around up the line.
In the trenches.
Up all night.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

"On the following night [June 9th] the Battlion moved up to the front line, where it relieved the 6th Somerset Light Infantry (14th (Light) Division) in trenches astride the railway about 1000 yards north of Cherisy. The trenches in this area had been named after animals or birds. C Company held the Jackdaw trench, south of the railway, and D Company occupied Spoor and Ape tranches north of the railway. B Company was in support in Boar and Bison, about 400 yards in rear of the front line; and A Company was in reserve in Buck and Lion, another 400 yards further back. These trenches were for the most part old German defences. They had been hastily dug and were in bad order, and there was practically no wire in front of them. A great deal of work was done by the Battlion, during its tour of the sector, in widening and deepening the trenches and in putting up barbed-wire entanglements."
Excerpt from "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" [ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Google Maps entry for Wancourt here