SUNDAY, JULY 23rd

The evidence about ‘At.’ is most confusing. I enclose list of men. Our casualty list went to Base, and they notify W.O. [War Office], I suppose, but you may imagine, with such numbers, how difficult it is, and mistakes occur.

I am not sanguine that we shall break through, but it’s been the biggest thing against trenches of the whole war. I came on here (near Messines) early yesterday and inspected the line, very hot, rather beat. Came back about two miles short of line here, and Battalion came in about 9.00 p.m. Huts in a wood. We and 12th here. Both Headquarters in [Red] Lodge, such a crowd. Then orders came we were to take over a different bit of line. We and 12th on the left, 11th and 13th on right. I don’t complain as we have got a better bit. Went down this a.m. with Bull and walked round the new bit—took 3½ hours, and so hot. Fixed up how we will divide it. Bull takes front line, and I support. Headquarters of course, crowded, and we only take in diminished staff. But accommodation for seven quite good. Balance goes back to Transport, three miles back. Fergie sleeps here, and Menaul comes into the line, and Pratt. So glad we are with 12th—makes things easy. But Practical Joke Department have been busy with us. We have been 22 days out of the line, nominally to refit, and we have had 11 moves! Quite impossible to do anything, or train anyone. We are about 4½ miles E. of Bailleul—N. end of Plug Street Wood. This is our rest place! when out of the line. This constant moving about makes official correspondence so difficult. This country is undulating, and wooded, not flat.


Footnote

The sectors occupied by 36th (Ulster) Division until June 1917 were at the southern end of the Wytschaete/Messines ridge about one and a half miles north of Ploegsteert (‘Plug Street’) Wood.

The German line here followed the high ground south from Wytschaete to a point about 2,000 yards west of Messines, then east towards the town before dropping south again along the ridge to the Messines-Ploegsteert Road, which it joined at La Petite Douve Farm. The line then lay generally south-east towards Warneton. To the south of Messines is the River Douve valley, a wide flood plain running west to east, littered with isolated farmhouses turned into strong-points. South of the River Douve the ground rises again and Hill 63, about 3,000 yards south-west of Messines, provided a vantage-point for the Allies and some cover for Ploegsteert Wood to its south. At this time much of the north-west corner of the wood was still standing, but it was criss-crossed by tracks, communication trenches and the detritus of over a year of shell and mortar fire. Red Lodge, a collection of dirty dugouts and wooden huts located at the north-west corner of Ploegsteert Wood, was the closest billet to the front line. 

The fire trenches here were mostly sandbag breastworks built above ground over shallow trenches. Many of the defence works in and around the salient were built in this fashion because of the very high water table. The problems with standing water were exacerbated by the frequency with which the River Douve burst its banks, the techniques developed by the Germans on the high ground to drain their trenches down the slopes into the British lines, and the destruction of the old drainage systems wrought by two years of artillery fire. The German positions were much better, characterised by concrete blockhouses, and farms reinforced into strong-points and surrounded by trenches and thick belts of wire. They were sited to provide good fields of fire over the British line. The most visible of these were La Petite Douve Farm and Ontario Farm to its north-west.

Plug Street Wood and the River Douve

Plug Street Wood and the River Douve

 

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