Say cheese

 

30th November 1914

Letters home
Captain R.E. Partridge’s Coy. Orderlies (D Company), in trenches opposite Wychaete in November, writing letters home.

This remarkable photograph, taken by Captain R.E. Partridge (our goose hunter from a month ago), shows two sergeants in D Company of the Dorsets. If the date on the photograph is right then it must have been taken between the 26th and the 30th November 1914. You can see from the clutter behind them how temporary the trenches were at this time, with tarpaulin slung over sandbags as breastworks.

It’s remarkable because personal photography was very much frowned upon by the BEF who banned cameras from Christmas 1914. Thankfully for us, this rule was flouted and there’s an interesting collection of personal photos available to look at on the Guardian website.

Conversely, the Germans encouraged photography. There was a great documentary on BBC4 a while back called Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs which focussed on the photographs of Walter Kleinfeldt. They remind me of the incredible American Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady.


The Dorsets came to the conclusion that the German trenches were strongly held. Perhaps they had sent out a patrol in the night which would explain the outburst of rifle fire recorded yesterday. But no mention of this is made in the Dorsets’ dairy so perhaps they made simply an informed assumption about the enemy’s strength.

Rather abruptly, the Dorsets began to be relieved from 5.30pm by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and a Company of the Bedfords who took over part of the right hand of their line. The relief was finished by 11.30pm whereupon the battalion returned to billets in Dranoutre.

 

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Peppermints and perfumed soap

### 29th November 1914

Let’s begin today’s post with a deceptively bucolic description of the local terrain by Count Gleichen:

Imagine a bit of rolling country—rather like parts of Leicestershire,—fair-sized fields, separated mostly by straggling fences interspersed with wire (largely barbed), and punctuated by tall trees. Patches of wood in places, spinney size for the most part. Low hills here and there—;KemmelScherpenbergPloegsteert Wood,—but all outside our area. For villages, DranoutreNeuve ÉgliseWulverghem, and Lindenhoek, of which the two last were already more than half shot to pieces and almost deserted. Opposite our right was Messines—a mile and a half in front of our line,—its big, square, old church tower still standing; it may have had a spire on the top, but if so it had disappeared before we came. Nearly opposite our extreme left, but out of our jurisdiction and in the sphere of the Division on our left, was Wytschaete (pronounce Wich Khâte), one and a half miles off.

14th Brigade handed over control of the Dranoutre area to 15th Brigade in the morning. All the troops in trenches, including the Manchesters and the East Surreys, came under Gliechen’s command. The 14th Brigade moved with its ambulance and baggage train to Saint Jans-Cappel four miles to the west, just over the border in France. The 15th Brigade had just arrived from there after a short rest. Gleichen stayed with the local Curé…

who liked the good things of this world … and did not disdain to make the acquaintance of an occasional tot of British rum or whisky, except on Fridays.

The Dorsets received orders to gauge the Germans’ strength in front of them. Another quiet day is reported in the diary. The Germans kept them on their toes during the night with two outbursts of rifle fire.


At home the Daily Telegraph reports the war has gone quiet in France and Belgium all along the line.

The newspaper is still banging on about Christmas present ideas for the men. Peppermint lozenges and perfumed soap (bad breath and B.O. being a big no no when hunkered down in a stinking trench) should included be offered as small gifts for those family members who are “maintaining the honour of the Country”.

There are also recipes for feeding wounded soldiers. What they do to a fillet steak possibly breaks the Geneva Convention. After the steak has been hammered flat and fried for 10 to 15 minutes I am sure the men could have used it as a bullet proof vest. Thankfully, a letter from Ethel Jonson offers to set up a society to put recent Belgian refugees* to good use and teach the English to cook. She labels English cuisine as being “lamentably inferior to that of Continental cookery”. Plus ça change.

*Did they get tax credits, I wonder?

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Quite Quiet

Map of the Dorsets' trenches November 1914
1st Bn Dorsets trench map by Major Fraser – Wulverghem – late November 1914

 

28th November 1914

Today’s diary entry is very short, simply recording a quiet night, less sniping and a quiet day.

What the diary doesn’t record is the relief of the Worcesters (3rd Bn) to their right.

Knowing this to be the case, today’s map, which I mentioned a couple of days ago, shows the Worcesters as being on the Dorsets’ right. So the map must have been drawn between the 25th and 28th November 1914. The map is my version of the drawing of Major Fraser’s map from the 14th Division diary for November 1914 (WO-95-1560-2_3 page 11).

Officers of the replacement battalion arrived during the afternoon and completed the relief at 11.25pm. The Dorsets already had the Norfolks to their left. Now they had the Bedfords to their right. Was the 15th Brigade getting back together?

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Deadlock holiday

27th November 1914

The Dorsets spent the night improving their trenches. In the morning the reserve trenches were heavily shelled. This was B Company which was just behind Battalion HQ. The rest of the day was quiet.

According to the war diary 1 man was killed and 3 are wounded. No deaths are listed on the CWGC website for the 27th November 1914 and I can’t find anything on Ancestry for that date.

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Ten dud thuds

26th November 1914

There was heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the Germans in the night which had died down by the morning. But no attack was made. This pattern of rifle fire at night rising “to a roar on both sides” is recorded in The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment 1914-1918.

More orders were received from 14th Brigade about counter sniping. Frank, as a marksman, would surely have been involved in this activity. The trenches were so close that I imagine not having sights didn’t really make much difference.

I have a hand drawn map signed by Major Fraser that I am currently redrawing (I’m not sure of the copyright issue with Public Record Office scans) which shows the German lines as close as 50 yards in places (46 metres in new money). I am not sure of the date but it looks like it was copied from one drawn by the East Surreys on the 20th November so it can’t be too far after today’s date. Later Dorset trench maps change orientation from landscape to portrait.

Although little shelling was reported along the 14th Brigade’s sector, at around 2pm a large amount of shells landed over the Dorset stretch of the line. 10 out of the 16 shells didn’t explode – or were “blind” as the 14th Brigade’s diary puts it. This is also recorded in the Dorsets’ diary in less detail.

3 Dorset men were killed with 4 wounded. The CWGC records more: 6 men died, although one of them is buried up in Balleuil so may have died of wounds. The Dorsets’ diary records “situation quiet”. I think quiet is a relative term here.

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