Another glorious day, but so hot. We are relieved tonight. A lately joined officer went out in front without telling sentries, and was shot dead. Poor fellow; his own fault, and all through keenness. The relief tonight will, I fear, be very late. It doesn’t begin before 10.00 p.m., and the 8th R.I.R. [Royal Irish Rifles], who come in, are new to this bit. Our rest place where we go tonight are huts in a wood, on a steep slope, with deep excavations, in case of shelling, to hold 800 men. My brain is woolly with heat. So far no casualties this tour except that of last night, and one Sgt. grazed. We have seen very few wasps here, but mosquitoes are bad. I’ve had a very peaceful time this tour, and the surroundings most pleasant. Personally I regret going out, but the men in front line want a change. I’ve bathed them all twice, and everyone has a new shirt. Every one walking about in shirt sleeves, including self. I hear three wounded ones in London are quite enjoying themselves—young Shill., Gibson and Jackson.


The officer killed was Second Lieutenant Hugh Henderson Dunwoody, who had joined the Battalion on 20 June. In the early hours of 31 July, he was on trench duty. Privates Robert Rowntree and Robert Seaton manned an isolated sentry post and at about 2.00am Second Lieutenant Dunwoody visited their position. He had been there for about ten minutes when he thought he heard something in front, and Private Rowntree was given permission to investigate. Having crawled out twenty yards, nearly to the wire, Rowntree suddenly heard a noise to his left and saw a man with a revolver raised in his hand. He fired once, the man dropped, and Private Rowntree returned to the post claiming to have “shot a Boche”. Unfortunately, he had shot Second Lieutenant Dunwoody who, according to Private Seaton, had followed Private Rowntree out of the post. Private Seaton saw him shot, and when the body was recovered soon afterwards, it was confirmed that the twenty-seven-year-old officer had been shot through the head and had died instantly. No blame was attached to Private Rowntree. Second Lieutenant Dunwoody was buried in Ration Farm (La Plus Douve) Annexe.


Captain P C Radbourne

Captain P C Radbourne

We are to be relieved on Monday, and go to that wood where we were for one night before we came in here—a dirty place! Personally we are much more comfy here, but it’s a change for the men, who are not comfortable in the front line in this heat. No shade, and heaps of flies. A farewell letter from Spender, who has gone as G.S.O.1., 4th Army, with rank of Lt. Colonel. He is now with XV Corps in the thick of it. Saw P. today in the trenches. He said the ‘Russkies’ were doing well. If only they could make Austria sue for peace the Huns would be done. See from a German Col.s letter, in Friday’s ‘Times’ that they have suffered badly. M.G. fire was not so bad last night. Think the Huns were relieving. The heat is making people cranky, and is rather trying. We here are really well off, and have shade and air. Drinking water is a great difficulty. It has to be brought about three miles and then carried up to the line, about ¾ of a mile, in petrol tins—our bit is quite short, only about 400 yards, instead of 1,200, which means much less fatigue. The Bosche has just started with 5.9’s on the dump, about 300 yards behind us. Of course, nothing there at this time.

10.30 p.m.  M.G. fire not so bad tonight. The new Captain, one Radbourne, a Colonial, was with Botha in S.W. African campaign. Shill. knew him in 10th. I have put him under S. to learn trench routine. They’ve sent back my application for V.C. for Cather, to put it stronger, and send in quintuplicate! They are the limit. It’s so hard to write without exaggerations.


The details of German casualties referred to by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker were contained in the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Bedall, the commanding officer of 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment, who was captured on 13 July. The contents of the diary were abridged in the ‘Times’ on Friday 28 July.

‘Captured Colonel’s Diary. Bavarian Losses on the Somme.’ (28 July 1916). The Times. p 7.


A lovely day, but hot; trenches getting smelly and full of flies. M.G. fire at night very irksome. At present they haven’t bothered us with shell fire. The trenches are only breast works and would crumble away. We are on the bank of a small stream, and I have rigged up a bath-house, found boilers and fireplace in working order—so we bath men each day. I bathed yesterday; splendid bath. I captured Shill. to come down this a.m., and he’s bathing now, and is staying to lunch. They are having a bad time in front line, and are very crowded. They’ve sent 22 of our men, who were slightly wounded on July 1st, to 2 R.Ir.Rif [2nd Royal Irish Rifles]. I got a letter from them imploring to be brought back. I have written in an official. The men are settling down fairly now. Sgt. Johnston is perfectly all right notwithstanding all he went through. Luckily the Bosche gives us credit for a good deal more astuteness than we possess.


It was Sgt. C’s evidence that I wrote to Mr. Atkinson. I don’t think the Border Regt. would know. Identity discs are taken from the dead (or should be) and sent to the Regt. or base. Of course one doesn’t know what the Huns do with them. The relief was quiet; passed off all right, and was very easy, being so near. M.G. fire at night is bad, it’s hard to move about anywhere, but the days are very quiet. H.Q. very good and well hidden; sandbag dug-outs. The Bosche has just begun his afternoon hate; heavy stuff on our left. A gas alarm last night about midnight, and every one ‘stood to’, but it was away on our right, and didn’t come near us. Though 500 of the old lot are left they are mostly employed. The slightly wounded, who are back, are ‘nervy’. It will take time before they are all right. The cream went over the parapet on July 1st. Three new officers just come. One blessing of this place, one can sit outside in the air, not always underground.

I do not go up to the front side at night. I find I cannot see anything, and only stumble about and do no good. Many interruptions, and have a minute to finish. Padre has come up today, I’m glad to say. We could find no room for him at first, but have squeezed him in. Fergie said “Padre is just gasping to come up!” We are 513 strong about, but what with men employed, etc., only 200 trench strength.


The term ’employed’ refers to those men in appointments precluding them from being used in the trenches. This included the men working for the Quartermaster and in the Battalion Transport, clerks, some of the signallers, etc, and men detached to posts in the rear area and the Base Depot.


Another warm close day. Mosquitoes are bad here. These constant and sudden changes always mean articles mislaid and lost. My indelible pencil has gone now. Charlie wants me to move back and take turns with Bull in commanding both Battalions. I find it more restful here, and the men are here. Behind they worry one all day, and every day. Quiet, except for a burst of shrapnel over a party of ours whom they spotted digging a new trench. No damage done except one man grazed by a bullet and back at duty. M.G. fire very active again this evening.


The relief was completed about 1.30 a.m. Not a bad place to relieve at all. We have come off well, as the 12th have taken the front line, and we are in support and have a fairly easy time. Our H.Q. are quite comfy and we have fitted in all right. Yes, get H.P. to agitate about Ulster Division men being sent back to Ulster Res. Bde. He will manage it all right. You cannot believe what the men say about officers being killed. Their various stories do not tally. A man writes saying he saw ‘At.’ killed just outside our line, which I know is wrong. Gen. N. round today; very affable. A draft of 40 arrived today, and three officers tomorrow. There is not much room here, and I’ve had to have some out of the line, which I don’t like. Shill is simply splendid, and an enormous help. We have dug-outs to ourselves, which is a great boon. Cole Hamilton, Pratt, Menaul, and the 12th Adjt. and myself. Coy. messes crowded rather, I fear. The 11th R.B. [Rifle Brigade] left a man for us to bury as they hadn’t got a Wesleyan minister! Strange some people are. Have asked Padre to come today, but if he can’t must do it myself. Another fierce attempt to take Poziere last night; partially successful.  Stuart Wortley and H. Fanshaw gone home. Latter’s place taken by his brother, the Gunner, who is our Corps Commander. The 11th Bde. in 4th Div. lost the Brigadier and four C.O.s in the Push. Holt has not moved with us. Expect he’s still S. [South] Fergie’s sending you a typed copy of casualties; there are bound to be inaccuracies, but it will be right in the main. C.M.J.’s kit was sent off on July 5, but with so many (16) there will be delay, and much formalities—inventories to be made, valises sewn in sacks, and sealed, as if we had sealing wax and seals, and we moving every day; then to be sent to the railhead, and three times they were sent back from different railheads; perfectly maddening it was, as we had to cart them round the country. This is a quiet bit of the line. So far days are peaceful, but M.G. irksome at night. The trenches are shallow, as you come to water about three feet down. They will be bad in wet. Sgt. Keith came back last night. He stated he saw ‘At.’ fall our side of the ravine. Personally I don’t believe him. It’s contrary to evidence, and he’s given to romancing. The weather is dull and hot, but no rain, thank goodness. We have got the greater part of Pozieres. I am not sanguine about breaking through.


The senior officer casualties in 11th Brigade were, in fact, somewhat worse than recorded by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker. The Brigade attacked with its own four battalions and two attached battalions. The brigade commander and four commanding officers were killed and the other two commanding officers wounded.

Killed: Prowse DSO, Brigadier General Charles Bertie, 11th Brigade; Thicknesse, Lieutenant Colonel John Audley, 1st Battalion, Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry); Palk, Lieutenant Colonel The Honourable Lawrence Charles Walter, 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment; Wood, Lieutenant Colonel Donald, 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own); Innes CMG, Lieutenant Colonel Edgar Arthur, 1/8th Battalion The Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Territorial Force).

Wounded: Green, Lieutenant Colonel James Edward, 1st Battalion The East Lancashire Regiment; Franklin, Lieutenant Colonel William Hodgson, 1/6th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Territorial Force).


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.


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



Orders to move at 10.15 a.m. Came at 9.05 a.m. Again hurry packing. We go today to Locre, about nine miles I think. Don’t know what it means. We go now to V Corps. I saw John Hotham on the road and had a short talk. He says they are off South. We go into the line tomorrow night. Not too bad a part, I believe. Came on this morning with Coy. Commanders and Fergie, and am just going up now with them to have a look. Two battalions (ourselves and 12th) take over one battalion front. Of course, this means a squash for headquarters, two battalions having to share. Cloudy, looks like rain, but very hot. We are just south of M_____ [Messines].