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.


Me nerves are all shattered

Envelope addressed to Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc – franked 4 De 14 – again with No Stamps Available on the top – were they expected to pay postage

Letter dated 3-12-14

Dear Till

At last I have got time to answer your letter which I received in the trench. I have heard from everyone this last week and it’s the way when you can’t find time to answer them. Now Till, don’t send out the socks, for have just had some sent to me from those people in Belfast who’s wedding I went to, he is missing Till, they have not heard from him yet. Yes, I would sooner have the underclothing than the Jersey, I am proper hitchy coo you can’t help it Till. We are still in the trenches and what with the rain we are up to our eyes in mud it’s enough to feed (?) you up.

Till I haven’t been feeling myself lately what with the shells bursting just in front of our trench and the wet and cold I feel as if I could do with a rest for me nerves are all shattered, we get relieved from the trenches tomorrow night and then we go back for five days rest which we have all earned.

I had a letter from Tom and have sent him a PC for the time being he said that he is getting on alright and that he hopes I get back safe and he hopes to be round at the Hope and Anchor before long trying the cold tea. Yes we heard about L Roberts the day after he died. I expect it was a fine sight to see, so you blacked your nose and saw the funeral.

Jess has been ill but is getting on alright now have you heard from her lately I had two letters. Tell Aunt Mrs Coats old man is still with us, yes I would sooner be filling her scuttle and out here only a dream. We are still on the go and doing our bit to polish the Germans off, what does Albert think of it. Have not heard or seen them chocolates yet, had a letter from Bert and have answered it said that he stopped the blue bag. I told him that was only half his luck, better than stopping a Jack Johnson.

Till I dropped a PC to St Anne Road but have not heard from them yet. Pleased to hear that you are getting on alright and still mucking in. How is all at home still merry and bright I hope and still mucking in. Remember me to all and tell Aunt I will answer her letter soon, this time last year Till I was saying only another 20 days to Furlough what a difference this, never mind lets hope for better days in store and I trust it will be soon.

Now Till I must conclude hoping this letter finds you in the best of health and hope to hear from you soon remember me to all at home and I hope Mattie is still mucking in with the cold tea. I am gasping for a Dry Ginger I mean a pint and am just going to have a lovely drop of cold?? poured (?poarred) Tat Tar with fondest love and don’t forget to write back soon.

I remain

Your loving Brother


– Scribbled in at the top of the letter “I have received Tom’s letter but wrote before I got same, he is lucky to get leave I wish I had been home till him I liked the pint he said he was making some Duff am I right love to all Bid

– and also” Have you seen in the papers what Gen S Dorrien Said to us when he inspected the bat just have a look in the papers”.



3rd December 1914

The Battalion was relieved by the Norfolks and they returned to Dranoutre. The Dorsets’ diary is very light on content at the moment. According to the CWGC 5 Dorset men died today. There’s absolutely no mention of this in the diary. It’s very strange.

This letter is, as my Great Uncle Geoff writes in his notes to the transcription, “his most gloomiest”. I don’t want to dwell on that today.

Instead let’s focus on the conditions facing him and the rest of the Dorsets.

The conditions in the trenches were dire at this time. A rapid thaw along with persistent rain, had turned the land to mush. Gleichen does an excellent job of describing the situation:

O that mud! We have heard lots about Flanders mud, but the reality transcends imagination, especially in winter. Greasy, slippery, holding clay, over your toes in most places and over your ankles in all the rest—where it is not over your knees, —it is the most horrible “going” I know anywhere. Whether you are moving across plough or grass fields, or along lanes, you are perpetually skating about and slipping up on the firmer bits and held fast by the ankles in the softer ones. There is no stone in the district, nothing but rich loamy clay, alias mud. However much you dig, you never come across stone, nothing but sticky mud which clings to your shovel and refuses to be parted from it — mud that has to be scraped off at almost every stroke, mud that absorbs water like a sponge yet refuses to give it up again. Every little puddle and rut, every hoof-depression full of rain, remains like that for weeks; even when the weather is fine the water does not seem to evaporate, but remains on the surface.

And when it rains, as it did all that winter (except when it snowed), the state of the trenches is indescribable. Some were, frankly, so full of water that they had to be abandoned, and a breastwork erected behind. But a breastwork is slow work, especially if you are less than 100 yards from the enemy. For weeks, indeed, the garrison of one particular trench had to lie out on the mud, or on what waterproofs they could get, behind a shelter two to three feet high—always growing a little, yet never to be made to a real six feet height for reason of conspicuousness and consequent clusters of Black Marias.

Frank writes that he’d rather have underwear sent out to him than jumpers and socks. He explains that he is proper “hitchey coo”.

The phrase hitchey coo is a popular one from the time. It was used as a term for itchiness, perhaps coming from the name for the itchy fibre inside rose hips used by kids as itching powder. It’s also used to describe small insects and stinging nettles. It was the title of a popular ragtime song at the time and it’s the title of a song in “Oh what a lovely war“, a satirical musical based on the First World War, later turned into a film by another of my London heroes, Len Deighton. It’s also a song by the Small Faces, a very London band. It’s one of my favourite songs. I am sure Frank would have approved.


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?

The tattered 15th


20th November 1914

The Dorsets enjoyed a day of rest. The rest of the original 15th Brigade were spread over a wide area all the way up to Ypres. The Norfolks had also just joined the 14th Brigade and were now in Kemmel. The Bedfords were up by Hooge (now with the 13th Brigade) and the Cheshires were still with Gleichen’s 15th Brigade on the Menin Road up near Ypres. Both these battalions were down to half strength and less, having suffered large casualties in holding the line in front of Ypres; the main objective of the German attacks. Gleichen recalls:

both of our battalions, who by that time were reduced to 540 Bedfords and 220 Cheshires altogether (the Bedfords having started with 1100 and the Cheshires with 600 odd).

Image of Château Beukenhorst, Zillebeke
Château Beukenhorst, Zillebeke

Gleichen is holed up in yet another château. Beukenhorst Château later became known as Stirling Castle on British Army maps. He and the rest of 15th Brigade’s HQ narrowly avoided a shell which hit the kitchen just after breakfast. It’s good to know that he puts servants just above officer’s trousers.

Poor Conway, Weatherby’s servant, whom he had left behind, was the only casualty; his dead body was found, with both legs broken and an arm off, blown down a cellar passage at the back. The next most serious casualty was Moulton-Barrett’s new pair of breeches, arrived that morning from England, and driven full of holes like a sugar-sifter.

He’s not happy about the monotonous diet of bully beef and chocolate either until…

Help was, however, at hand; for our servants, Inskip and Stairs, who we thought had ignominiously run away, suddenly turned up with heaps of food. They had gone all the way to our cook’s waggon three miles the other side of Ypres for comestibles, and whilst we were d—ing their eyes for bolting, were trudging, heavily laden, along the road back to us—good youths.

Inskip and Stairs sound like a music hall double act. Perhaps they were.