19th June 1917

The rains persisted but apart from the usual 9am strafe the Hun was content to send over the occasional salvo during the rest of the day.  At dusk the company resumed its labours with pick and shovel in no mans land.  The light in the western sky was still sufficient for the NCO to keep our labours going.  I was busy, spade in hand, when a series of strange ‘plops’ sounded nearby.  On turning to seek enlightenment from my companions not one was to be seen and I was alone in the wilderness until one after another they slowly rose from the ground.  Thirty-four little ‘plops’ were, in fact, caused by a shower of rifle grenades with their steel rods sticking up like a fence surrounding me.  Fortunately they failed to explode.  I seemed we were not invisible from the German lines since a few minutes later several shells of 5.9 calibre exploded in the middle of the working party causing eight minor casualties.  Willis, who was shovelling the products of my pick, received a splinter in the neck and Coombe a slight wound in the leg.  Stretcher bearers appeared at the double and the casualties, most of whom were quite capable of walking back to the dressing station, were carted away at top speed.  This was textbook warfare, neat and tidy, and reminiscent of those thrilling battles which, with the help of Mr Brittain’s magnificent redecorated lead soldiers, my brother and I used to play on the kitchen table in the days when Queen Victoria was on the throne.

We were not unduly worried by the casualties but the sequel several minutes later really had us bothered.  Young C-----, normally a cheerful little cockney, had evidently brooded on the incident.  Suddenly losing his self-control he jumped into the air shouting “Mother” and dashed off to the rear as fast as his little legs could carry him.  Several men attempted to restrain him but he was too quick and disappeared in the gathering mist.  The incident was probably nothing new to the NCO in charge of the party and his remark was simply, “Let him go, he’ll be back”.  The truant was not in the trench when we returned from our labours.  Desertion in the face of the enemy was a crime which we understood could attract the supreme penalty and our concern for the popular little cockney was great.  In the afternoon of the following day he sheepishly returned to the fold.  We youngsters were always conscious of the sympathy and understanding displayed by the pre-war Territorial NCOs and once again we were not disillusioned.  “C-----, if you do that again I will kick your backside so hard you won’t dare sit down for weeks – get back to your post”.  The incident was finished and thereafter young C----- kept his two feet on the ground and eventually received the honourable scars of battle.

Wet and stormy.
Digging on the front line trench.
Two shells over. Willis (2 yards away) and Coombe wounded.
Six casualties.
Also rifle grenades over.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes