Up periscope

12th January 1915

The clipped “situation unchanged” in the Dorsets’ diary sounds like a British Rail announcement and described, with economy, another day of monotony in the trenches.

The Dorsets’ Captain Partridge features in the 15th Brigade’s diary entry for today. He’s been busy with an unnamed Royal Artillery officer, sending intelligence back to Brigade HQ. Major General Thomas Morland’s report for the 5th Division bears this activity out the following day, with the line “observations from front trenches show the great value of powerful periscope binoculars.” Presumably Partridge was using something like this through which to observe the enemy lines:

Image showing Captain J C Scott, 2nd A & SH. using box periscope with binoculars. Rue de Bois, February 1915
Using box periscope with binoculars. Rue de Bois, February 1915. Captain J C Scott, 2nd A & SH. Image from Imperial War Museum website.

One Dorset man died today, according to the CWGC: His name was Francis James Harwood and he was 34. Intriguingly, he served under the surname of Westlake. He’s listed as having been killed in action in the medal rolls. There’s also evidence that he served with the Somerset Light Infantry, which makes some sense as he was born in Bridgewater, Somerset. Quite why he’d transferred to the Dorsets is a mystery. It requires more time, and I have run out of minutes in the day, so I will leave poor Francis James alone and return to him another time perhaps.

Post cartography

Field Service Post Card franked 2 De 14 to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven

“I am quite well. I have received your letter, parcel. Letter follows at first opportunity” signed Frank and dated 2-12-14

2nd December 1914

Another service postcard means only one thing: Another letter is winging its way to Brixton.

A map of the Dorsets' trenches
Dorsets trench map – just north of Wulverghem – 2nd December 1914

The Dorsets were now in trenches just north of Wulverghem. It’s only a little way south east from where the Dorsets were last week. I found a map drawn by E.Rogers 2nd Lieutenant on the 2nd December 1914 and have done my thing to it. He’s written A Section at the top. I wonder if this means he is an officer in Frank’s A Company? If Frank is still in A Company that is.

E. Rogers remains a mystery. I have found his medal roll on Ancestry but I cannot find anything else about him at this time. Not even his first name. It’s the same with Captain R.E. Partridge. It’s a shame because it’s not the last we’ll hear from either of them.

The Dorsets’ diary reports a quiet day except heavy shelling in front of C Company’s trenches.

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.