Up at 7.15. Most of the chaps *. I got a pair of new boots. Fine morning. No parade in the afternoon and I did a bit French. Had short walk at night with Harry Bascombe and Vic Barber. Read a bit from Everyman1 and read an account of an Italian and a French victory. Italians 7600 prisoners at *2. French 4000 prisoners.
Name (shorthand outline S-v-d- ?) not identified, but in the 6th Battle of the Isonzo (August 1917), the best episode of the War for Italy, Gen. Cadorna captured Gorizia on the 8th, made a bridgehead over the Isonzo (now Soča), and ended this offensive on 17th August. ↩
Usual day’s work. On at night. Third Battle of Ypres1.
ALL probably added the words “Third Battle of Ypres” some little time after this date, as it is unlikely that he knew on 31 July that a battle of this name – and its number – had started that day. The battle continued until 10 November 1917 and later came to be better known as Passchendaele because the village of that name (now Passendale, Flemish; (A) on the map; about 30km NE of Bailleul (C), where ALL was at this time and 13km NE of Ypres (B) itself) became a much-contested objective.
There was a prolonged disagreement before the battle began between the Army and the politicians; Lloyd George and others didn’t want another blood-bath, and Haig didn’t get the politicians’ agreement to go ahead until 25 July, by which time of course all preparations and preliminary activity had taken place. One purpose of Passchendaele (as it had been of the Somme), which may have forced the politicians’ hand, was to take pressure off the French. It had been the pressure on the French at Verdun before the Somme in 1916. In 1917, General Nivelle’s offensive (which, like all the other offensives, was intended to end the War quickly) had started in mid-April and ended on 9 May; it began with a British attack around Arras, designed to draw off German reserves before the French attacked on the Chemin des Dames and near Reims, further south. The plan failed, and ended in French mutinies, which appeared to threaten an overall Allied collapse. Nivelle, who had replaced Joffre as French Commander-in-Chief in December 1916, was in turn immediately replaced as Commander-in-Chief – by Pétain of WWII collaboration fame. The (ostensible) territorial objectives of the Passchendaele offensive are mentioned in the footnote on 22 May. When the trench lines had settled in late 1914, Ypres had ended in a small salient of its own, but in spite of its poor defensive location the Allies continued to defend it, not least for morale reasons. ↩
Usual day’s work. Heard that the Russians have stopped fighting in places1 and the Germans are driving them back. Freddie went on leave. Fritz2 shelled a lot. I got a new patient in Freddie’s ward.
German aeroplanes over at night bombing. A lot of anti-aircraft stuff in action and the noise pretty loud.
Off at night and went to Y M with Harry Bascombe and Gus. Had short walk afterwards.
“The Russians have stopped fighting…”: ALL had noted the February Revolution in his diary entry of 18 March, and had also noted a rumour of Russian withdrawal from the war on 19 May. In fact Russian involvement in the war, though increasingly unenthusiastic, continued officially until October/November 1917. ↩
Fritz: a name given to German troops by the British and others in the First and Second World Wars. ↩
Up at about 6.50. On duty as usual. Kept fairly busy. Off at night and went to the Pierrots. They were fairly good but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I have done concerts. With Gus Rodman and Dai Davies. Went to bed late as usual. A lot of guns1 going up the line.
“A lot of guns”: this was in preparation for the Battle of Messines Ridge, which began on 7 June with the detonation of 19 mines of unprecedented size under the German lines (2 more are still there, unexploded.) On this occasion, the artillery barrage did not begin until the mines were blown, so that the Germans had no warning of the attack, which took place immediately after a comparatively short but intense bombardment. Apparently the Germans had not picked up any signs of the impending attack, though it seems from ALL’s diary that artillery movements were there to be seen.
Passchendaele, or the 3rd Battle of Ypres, which began on 31 July, followed Messines Ridge, and besides its quasi-political objective (to relieve the French army, by then suffering from mutinies following the failure of Nivelle’s attack of mid-April – 9 May in the Reims/Chemin des Dames area and the associated British attack at Arras), it was intended at least to capture the higher ground to the south and east of Ypres, from which the Ypres salient was constantly threatened, and possibly to enable the capture of the Belgian sea-ports. The front line ran in an approximate semi-circle round the east side of Ypres, and from the southern point of this the Messines Ridge ran further southward. ↩
Up at 6.40. Kept busy all day. Stayed in at night and helped with dinner. Wrote some letters. A lot of guns going up the line1. Rumours of Russia turning it in2 and the war being over soon3.
“A lot of guns…”: This movement of guns (and troops) is noted over a period of several more days. See note on 22 May. ↩
“Turning it in” (if this reading is correct; it seems an early date for this colloquialism) means withdrawing from or abandoning some endeavour. ↩
Revolutionary Russia did eventually withdraw from the war in October/November 1917, having been increasingly disorganised in its war efforts after the February Revolution of 1917, the rumour of which ALL had noted in his diary on 18 March, but sadly the war was not over soon. ↩
Commenced work again 5.0. o’clock. Had bath first thing after breakfast. Went to bed and stayed there until after dinner. Had late dinner and lay down again. Went into grounds after tea and read and tea and did a bit of French. Glorious night.
Rumours that the British have had a nasty setback.
Up at 6 o’clock and went up the line on the dugout fatigue. Rained heavily all day and we returned at dinner time after simply unlocking a waggon of stuff. Good news in the papers about the advance at Arras.
Went to service at the Y M at night and played1 for a short while afterwards. Had serious talk with Harvey and felt better after it.
“Played”: Not a game but a keyboard instrument of some sort; a piano or organ if such was available in the YM. ↩
Up at 8 o’clock. Practically nothing to do all day. Wrote letter to Ernie. Received letter and parcel from home. Cold day and a few showers of snow. Read some of “Villette.”1 The man badly wounded in the arm2 died tonight. I felt a bit * as is Captain Strickland.
Mooned about until 2 o’clock. Came back to the billet and roused * house. Up at 6.30. Cleaned up ready for parade. Dull morning. Marched off about 11 o’clock. Passed through Hazebrouck1 and saw the people going out of the big church. Sat by the roadside and had tea served up. Arrived at Outersteene2 about 4.30. Decent village and good billet. Went out with Holman and had eggs and chips. Supposed to finish guard but didn’t go on it. Had short walk in the direction of Meteren3. Four of our chaps went into Méteren. Turned in early. Had meat and tinned tongue for supper. 22 kilos. Heard rumour of Bapaume being captured and revolt in Russia4.
Hazebrouck (B): 11km NE. of Boësighem (A); Michelin square H3. ↩
Outersteene (C): Outtersteene is 10km E. of Hazebrouck, 5km SW. of Bailleul (D), Michelin square I3. ↩
Meteren (E): Méteren is 6km NNE. of Outtersteene, 5km W. of Bailleul (D); also Michelin square I3. ↩
The February revolution in Russia had started on 8 March 1917 (23 February in the Julian calendar). ↩