Battle of the Somme

The following text is the concluding part of Arthur Linfoot’s own typescript note entitled “Battle of the Somme”. It is derived from his own diary transcription of 1976 but is distinct from it, was also written in 1976 and covers the dates 16 June – 8 August 1916. Illustrations and footnotes have been added by this site’s curators and are not included in the original typescript.

Two pieces of trench art (the matchbox cover engraved "The Great War"; the paper- knife engraved "Albert", and "Ancre" on the reverse; the handle is a spent .303 cartridge, for a Lee Enfield rifle or a Lewis machine-gun); and a piece of shrapnel preserved by ALL (exact origin not known but possibly related to the July 26 entry below).
Two pieces of trench art (the matchbox cover engraved “The Great War”; the paper- knife engraved “Albert”, and “Ancre” on the reverse; the handle is a spent .303 cartridge, for a Lee Enfield rifle or a Lewis machine-gun); and a piece of shrapnel preserved by ALL (exact origin not known but possibly related to the July 26 entry below).

Wednesday, 26th July. Relieved at about 8 o’clock. I kept the piece of shrapnel taken out of the shoulder of the Y. & Lancs. soldier as a souvenir. Went back to our dressing station and marched from there to the transport lines and on to headquarters at the Chateau. Heard that a big ammunition dump had been blown up and that Sgt. Jones had been killed and Sgt. Brown wounded. A number of our men had been gassed and gone down the line. Fine day. Returned with Lavere to our old sleeping place. Parcel and letter from home and I had eggs and brown bread and butter for tea.

Thursday, 27th July. Had parcel eggs for breakfast and then walked around to stretch my legs and see what was happening. Saw some German dugouts near our horse lines; wonderful places with long tunnels underground. Canadian soldiers in them and one of them told us a lot of yarns. They were making a ‘corduroy’ road with timbers of whole trees to improve communications over newly won ground. Ordered up the line at 5 p.m. to Capt. King’s aid post, in the open near the chalk quarry. Nothing for us to do. Sat shivering in the cold all night and managed to get about 2 hours sleep. Pretty miserable and windy all night. Very few shells coming over but our guns firing fiercely all night and the noise deafening. The 6th Black Watch cut up badly in the reserve trenches. Lavere and I tried to build a small shelter without any success. Seven dead men lying side by side on stretchers outside the aid post. I wrapped myself in an overcoat and groundsheet off the aid post dump in an effort to keep warm. Kept awake with the cold. The chalky ground very hard to lie on. Just the odd German shell.

Ralph Kenyon Sandwith
Autographed portrait of Ralph K. Sandwith from ALL’s archive.

Friday 28th July. Up at about 5 o’clock after sleeping very little. Walked to and fro to keep warm and noticed a small book on a salvage dump (equipment and such like taken off wounded men) outside the dressing station. It was a new testament and on the flyleaf was written, “Read a verse each day and God will keep you safe. Mind you say your prayers. Loving Mother.” In the grey dismal dawn it was all very pathetic and depressing. Moved back to near the chateau and went back to old bivouac. Weather still fine. Had a bath in a canvas horse bucket and felt a lot better for it. Newspapers from home and a letter from Sandwith1 (a barracks friend; killed a few months later). Turned in about nine o’clock.

Saturday, 29th July. Slept well and up at 5 o’clock. Marched up to the big Canadian dugouts and on from there to our advanced dressing station at 8 o’clock. Built bivouac in the big open dugout. Dealt with five stretcher cases and a few walking cases from artillery near us. Lay down at about 4 a.m. and slept badly owing to the noise of the guns and a few German shells. Felt depressed and “windy”. With Bascombe all day.

Sunday, 30th July. Up at 7 o’clock. After breakfast we marched down to the horse lines. Made a big shelter from the rain with waggon sheets and waggons. Very hot day, and I felt very tired. Germans shelled heavily to the left and right of us with big stuff. After tea a few squads of bearers were sent up in reserve to the 59th ambulance and the rest of us came back to the Chateau near Fricourt. Told to be ready to fall in and go up the line any time. Slept in the bivouac with Lavere again. Gas alarm in the night.

Monday 31st July. Up at 7 o’clock. Very hot all day. The remainder of the bearers came down from the trenches in the afternoon and we marched off to Laviéville at night. Went to our old billets in the farmyard where the shrewish wife lived.

Tuesday, 1st August. Slept well. Orders to prepare for inspection. Received letter and parcel from home and wrote acknowledging them. Duggins and I went into a neighbouring field and put up a bivouac there. Had dinner and tea out of my parcel. Nice change to bully and biscuits.

Wednesday, 2nd August. Orders again to prepare for inspection by C.O. These cancelled and ordered to clean waggons and pack them. Inspected by C.O. in the afternoon. He read to us a letter from General Rowlandson (Commander of 19th Division) saying he appreciated the work of the division while in the 4th Army and referred to the 19th as the captors of La Boisselle and as having given valuable help in the capture of Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit. Transport waggons moved off.

Thursday, 3rd August. Up at 5.30 and breakfast at 6. Sent on waggon duty. Put my kit on a motor ambulance and went with it to Mericourt station. Met the unit there and told to follow them. Hurried back to Laviéville, got my pack and hurried to Mericourt Stn. where I met the others. Entrained in cattle trucks at about 10 o’clock. Passed through Amiens and Longpre about 1.30. Got off train there and were led in wrong direction. Marched about three hours in the hot sun and was tired. Washed feet and legs.

Terribly dusty roads and I had a blister under my right heel. Billeted in a bivouac in a field with Duggins. Walked to the village – Vaushelle – after tea. Had two eggs at one house and a feed at another.

Friday, 4th August. Up at seven. Had restless night owing to Duggins pulling the blanket off me. Idle all day. Wrote letters and walked to the village at night. Stiff and rather weary after recent exertions.

Saturday, 5th August. Up at seven. Did nothing all day apart from having boots repaired. In the evening walked to a neighbouring little town called Flixecourt with Cpl. Stanton and Duggins. Had eggs and chips. Delightful summer and enjoyed the walk back through the corn fields and woods. Everything looked lovely in the setting sun.

Sunday, 6th August. Up at seven. Field church service and good preacher. Commenced to read a book by Clark Russell. Lovely scenery and beautiful summer day. Had short walks in the afternoon and evening with Duggins. Wrote up diary. Turned in at nine o’clock with orders to be up at 4 a.m.

Monday, 7th August. Reveille 4 a.m. and breakfast at 4.30. Fell in at 6 and marched off to Longpre which we reached at 8 o’clock. Had choice of 3rd class carriages or horse boxes and chose the horse boxes. Left Longpre about ten and passed through Boulogne and St. Omer. One of the mules got loose and jumped off its truck and was killed in a tunnel. Arrived at Bailleul about 9 o’clock. Unloaded the waggons off the trucks in the dark and one of the mules fell into a ditch and it took several men half an hour to get it out. Marched off at about ten and had one rest. Felt very tired and sleepy. Reached a farm and stayed there for the night. Midnight before we got down to rest. Slept on straw and slept well.

Tuesday, 8th August. Up at 9 o’clock and had breakfast and told dinner would be at 11.30. Fell in in full marching order and marched off about midday. Crossed Belgian frontier and reached a village about 2 o’clock. Duggins, Cpl. Stanton and I bivouacked together. Very nice place. (Found out later the village was Westoutre.) Walked into the village at night and found the little shops sold a great variety of goods and that many of the people spoke some English. Bought some milk at the farm. Weather still fine and very warm. Gas alarm at night.

During the months of August and September the Division was in the line Vierstraat Wytschaete – Spanbroekmolen – a quiet front after the Somme. I was sometimes in the advanced dressing station at Vierstraat – caves dug into the bank on the roadside, held up by elephant iron and covered with concrete ‘bursts’ and earth. Sometimes I worked with working parties enlarging and improving these dugouts, sometimes worked in the main dressing at the village of La Clytte a few miles back, and sometimes acted as orderly in a field hospital set up by the ambulance in a convent school at Westoutre. We sometimes slept in bivouacs and now and then in the hospital-cum-schoolroom. We paid occasional visits on evenings to Bailleul to attend the well-known army concert party, The Merry Mauves, and walked the few kilometres home with the Very lights climbing into the dark sky to the South and the occasional dull boom of guns. A comparatively easy and quiet time when we all recovered our strength and good spirits and enjoyed the sunshine and open-air life. The natives worked in fields not more than half a mile from the Front Line and life in La Clytte, Bailleul and such places was as peaceful is if there was no War, although all of them were within gun range.

During the month of July, the 19th Division suffered 6,500 casualties and four of its men won V.Cs. The Division returned to the Somme Battle early in October and took part in the Ancre- Grandcourt- Thiepval fighting.

Notes. During the month of July and early August the men in action at the Somme never undressed and seldom got an opportunity to take off their boots and puttees. They mostly slept on the ground in the open, apart from incidents recorded such as sleeping on the estaminet floor. Army blankets in wartime are not at all like blankets in a normal house. They were about 6’ x 3′2; dark blue, grey or brown in colour; always filthy, often lousy and sometimes had big patches which were stiffened and discoloured with blood. These minor discomforts were always overshadowed by the constant dangers, and weariness coupled with the need to be always in the alert when within the battle zone.

Arthur L. Linfoot

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  1. Ralph Sandwith, who was first recorded in the diaries while ALL was in Sheffield and with whom ALL had stayed in touch by letter. A photograph of Sandwith is adjacent to the 28th July paragraph on this page. See also all diary posts tagged Sandwith and Ralph Kenyon Sandwith at Lives of the First World War. 

  2. Six feet by three feet or just under 2m by 1m.