Up pretty well all night. A machine gun sweeping round outside the dugout. Relieved unexpectedly in the morning by the 59 Field Ambulance about 5 o’clock. Marched down to P & O trench1 with wheeled stretchers. Had breakfast there. Marched on to La Clyte with an officer called Captain Marsh. Marched from there to Berthen with only one officer and two men fainted on the way. Packs carried supplies. My heel gave me some trouble through my socks being worn out. Everybody mad with Captain Marsh for his foolishness. After dinner the Bailleul party ordered to return and we went back in the motor ambulance. Had a bath and a walk round the town at night. Slept in the old billet at night.
Started work at about midnight and carried 3 or 4 cases from the Blue Line to P & O trench1. Absolutely tired out in the morning. Relieved about 8 o’clock. Went down to brasserie. Slept until about 1 o’clock, when we were turned out and called up to P & O trench. Turned in there and slept till tea time in the sun. We were told we were not to go up until 4 o’clock in the morning. Turned in and slept well.
Saw one of our aeroplanes shot down by German anti-aircraft guns.
[Written above date:] Messines – Wytschaete1
Awake at 3.15 am with the mines going up2 and shaking the ground. The barrage commenced then and continued until 9 o’clock. Most intense bombardment in the world’s history. A man on the battery behind got his heart smashed with the recoil of the gun and we brought him round to the aid post. Bascombe, Driver, Lee and I in number 8 squad from 2 parade. Went up the line about 9 o’clock. Brought our first case from the Red Line3 post. German trenches absolutely knocked out of existence. A fair number of Germans dead, but not many injured. A good number of German prisoners, who carried down wounded as they came. Worked from the relay post (our old front line) to the P & O4 line most of the afternoon. The first party went down at about 9 o’clock. We stayed on for the night. Called out before midnight to go to the blue line. A long walk and we were shelled most of the way down. Had to go round to P & O trench and were shelled very heavily at the new dugout.
“The mines going up”: This was the beginning of the Battle of Messsines Ridge, which started at 3:10 am with the detonation of 19 large mines under German army lines, still said to be collectively one of the largest non-nuclear explosions of all time; see note on 22 May. It is interesting that by the time ALL wrote up this date in his diary – which would necessarily have been a few days later – it was already known (or at least being said) that this had been (in ALL’s own words) the “most intense bombardment in the world’s history.” The mines are well known to have been heard as far away as London. ↩
The Red Line, Blue Line etc were targets set for the British advance on specified days of the attack. ↩
P&O is the correct reading. Other contemporary records speak of a P&O line or trench, but none appears to offer any clue about the derivation of the name. See contemporary map (with “P&O trench” clearly visible) and associated discussion at this page on the Great War Forum. This P&O trench is said to be to the South-West of Sint Elooi (a.k.a. St. Eloi; C on the map), which would put it somewhere to the North of Wytschaete. ↩