A salient point


18th December 1914

I completely missed the Dorsets’ diary entry for the 17th. I’ve edited the post now and included the map here. Apologies for the oversight. 15th Brigade had relieved the 14th Brigade. The Dorsets had moved back to Wulverghem and relieved the Easy Surreys taking over Sector B.

This was an area to the immediate south on the Wulverghem-Messines Road pushing out eastwards out from the rest of the front line towards La Petit Douve Farm. This kind of exposed position with the enemy firing at them from two sides down a slope presumably made things very hot for the inhabitants. I will draw the trench map I have when I get a moment.

At 3am in the morning the Dorsets “thickened” their firing line. Men from the Bedfords and Norfolks had been moved into their reserve trenches. The diary doesn’t say whether the Dorsets moved men into the firing line because there was no room left in the reserves or if action was expected to take place in their sector.

After this shenanigans the day was described as quiet. One man was killed and 11 were wounded. For once the CWGC agrees with the Dorsets. The one man they have listed as having died that day was John Hill. He was 32.


Super furry animaux


1st December 1914

The Dorsets didn’t enjoy a very long rest but, if the East Surrey’s war diary is anything to go by, they might have stocked up on winter clothing which had arrived at Dranouter the previous week. This included fabulously bushy fur jackets made from goatskins.

Image showing men of the 11th Hussars in the trenches at Zillebeke during the winter of 1914-1915
Not a yeti. Men of the 11th Hussars in the trenches at Zillebeke during the winter of 1914-1915. IWM Q 51176

In the afternoon they marched via Neuve Église and relieved their old friends, the East Surreys. The Dorsets were now in trenches, according to the diary, to “the north of Wulverghem-Messines Road”. I’ve indicated it on the map. Frank and the rest of A Company went into the reserve trenches alongside the Battalion HQ dugouts.

The 15th Brigade’s war diary documents that I’ve downloaded from the Public Records Office, although it’s meant to include August to December, only goes up to September. I wonder if the papers are lost or if they are just not digitised yet. Luckily some of the Dorsets’ trench maps for early December are tucked into the 14th Brigade’s records.

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?

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?

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.