Memoirs & Diaries - The Diary of Thomas Fredrick Littler: January-June 1916

Thomas Littler, author of the diaries This section of the site comprises the wartime diaries of Thomas Fredrick Littler.

Click here to read an introduction to the diaries.  This portion of the diaries (below) covers Littler's war service during the first half of 1916.

Diary Entries for January to June 1916

January 2nd 1916
I was taken ill with 'Horse Exema' [eczema] on the arms and went into the 1st Eastern General Hospital in Cambridge for treatment.

January 11th 1916
I left hospital and went home on ten days sick leave.

January 21st 1916
I went back to Cambridge and signed 'Foreign Service' same day.

January 26th 1916
I left Cambridge and went back and reported myself at Headquarters in Norwich.

January 27th 1916
I passed the Doctor and was marked A1 category, fit to go abroad.

January 31st 1916
I left Norwich and went to Oswestry in Shropshire and was posted to the strength of the 3rd Battalion Earl of Chester Cheshire Regiment, whilst here I underwent strict training ready for going abroad.

February 27th 1916
I was placed on draft and had four days draft leave.

March 15th 1916
The draft was ordered to prepare for abroad, and we all drew our 'Active Service' kit.

March 18th 1916
Signed my articles, received my Pay Book and made my Will. Ie. In the event of my death I leave the whole of my property and effects, to be disposed of by my mother as she thinks best, Sarah Ellen Littler, 41 Flower Street, Castle, Northwich, Cheshire, Signed Thomas F Littler, 2795, Cheshire Regiment.

March 21st 1916
I left Wittingham Camp, Oswestry, and went with the draft by train to Southampton.

March 25th 1916
We sailed from Southampton on the 'Copenhagen', the crossing was rough, and it was a Sunday night.

March 26th 1916
Disembarked at Rouen Docks at 7 a.m. and marched to the Territorial Infantry base. Here I saw the first regiment of French Cavalry.

April 1st 1916
Having finished five days very strict training at the Base, on what was known as 'The Bull Ring', our draft was passed out and marked efficient to be sent up the line to the firing line.

April 6th 1916
We were issued with 120 rounds of ammunition (per man), fur coats, mackintosh capes, and ground sheets, also passed by the Dr as fit.

April 7th 1916
We marched away from the camp, and entrained in cattle trucks, and left Rouen at 4p.m. and slept the night in the trucks, we were packed very tight and the only food was biscuits and bully beef.

April 8th 1916
We detrained at 8a.m. and had the opportunity to walk about a little, as we were all cramped, and the French trains travel very slowly and very roughly, we then travelled to a place called Doullens and arrived here at 9-30a.m. had our breakfast on bully beef and biscuits, and left the broad gauge railway altogether, and got a longed for wash, in a rest camp, made the acquaintances of some Indians and stayed in this rest camp 4 hours, and then we boarded a light railway, and travelled 14 kilometres on this and left it at a village called Pas [-en-Artois] and marched to the Battalion Headquarters at Grand Rullecourt (on the Arras front), here we had a barn to sleep in with one blanket and there being many large holes in barn made it very cold.

April 9th 1916
I went on church parade along with an old chum who I had met the night before when joining the Battalion, George Booth, all the night previous I had been kept awake with the role [roll] of the guns on the front.

April 10th 1916
Our draft was split up and men posted to different companies, I along with eight more was posted to No9 Platoon, (c) Company, my officers were 2nd Leiu Larne over the Platoon, and Capt Hartley over the company, the officer in charge of the Battalion was Leiu Colonel G.H. Groves C.M.G .

April 11th 1916
I started my parades with the Battalion the 1/5 Cheshire Regiment, and as the Battalion was a Pioneer Battalion our work was repairing all roads which led to the line and were cut up with constant transport. I also learnt that this village had been occupied by the Germans, during their advance in 1914, as the main road to Arras passed through it.

April 12th 1916
We did same work as on the day previous, and it rained heavily all day, at night I mounted billet guard and remained so all night.

April 13th 1916
I did nothing having been on guard all the previous night, but the company had orders to move at 12 noon and I had to move with them, to a village about 6 kilos away called Sars-le-bois, here we could hear the guns much plainer also at times hear the machine guns, there were civilians still here.

April 14th 1916
Our billets were barns, and found them infested with rats, we even had them walking over us when asleep.

April 15th 1916
We did our parades as usual, but had no food this day, as it ran 9 men to one loaf, the firing was heavy on the front all day and night.

April 20th 1916
I was mounted on guard all [day] and night, coming off on the morning of the 21st.

April 21st 1916
It was Good Friday and many wounded passed this day, also many horses cut about and bleeding, the sight was enough to make one's blood run cold.

April 22nd 1916
Was a good day here we heard of Russian Troops landing on French soil, also we had orders to hold ourselves in readiness to proceed up the line.

April 23rd 1916
We left Sars-le-bois and marched back to Grand-Rullecourt a distance of 6.5 kilos, and it was Easter Sunday, and very hot, and today was the first time I had seen a British observation balloon, which was at a great height, observing over the German lines.

April 27th 1916
I was on guard, and a big bombardment at Arras was in progress, and the concussion of guns brought several old barns and sheds in the district to the ground.

April 28th 1916
A brigade of 6" howitzers passed through the village from the Arras front, all of them were badly damaged.

April 30th 1916
A German Aeroplane passed over here followed by three British and a battle royal took place in the air, the German escaped. Many of the King Edward Horse (cavalry) who were in a field were wounded by bullets and shrapnel.

May 6th 1916
The battalion marched away from Grand-Rullecourt, joined the 56th Division, marching towards the line on the Somme, we passed through Sombrin, Bavincourt, Saulty, Gaudiempre, Humbercamps, St Amand, and arrived at Souastre 9-45 after a tedious march of 18 kilos, on the way we passed old disused trenches, also the roads and countryside showed wear and tear of the 1914 offensive.

May 7th 1916
I had a look round the village which had cement telegraph poles, which had been erected by the Germans previous to the war, many young girls here are mothers through the Huns, I had a look at some battered trenches in front of the village, also barbed wire entanglements and old dugouts, also a noticeable fact was that the Germans had used bottle necks in tree trunks for improvised telegraphy.

May 8th 1916
We had a days rest much to our surprise.

May 9th 1916
Our company marched 15 kilos to a place called Halloy and joined the 169 Infantry Brigade, which consisted of the London Scottish, London Rifle Brigade, and Queens Westminster Rifles.

May 10th & 11th 1916
Easy days 'resting'.

May 13th 1916
Had a short route march a[nd] passed through a village called 'Pommier' [possibly should be Pommera].

May 14th 1916
The 1st 2nd 3rd & 4th Battalions of the 'City of London' regiment were posted to the strength of our Division, this day we had to give in our macintosh capes and blankets and at night our beds were our overcoats.

May 15th 1916
I was on guard all day and night, between 9 and 10p.m a severe bombardment opened out on the front, the shelling was terrific.

May 16th 1916
The bombardment begun again between 2 and 3 a.m. it was very severe while it lasted.

May 18th 1916
We had orders to stand by, the bombardment of two days back, resulted in the 5th South Lancs capturing 250yds of trenches at Foncquevillers, on the left of Souastre, also capturing many prisoners, many wounded passed down the line.

May 21st 1916
We left Halloy and marched back to Souastre, a distance of 15 kilos.

May 22nd 23rd 24th 25th 1916
Much activity was taking place up in the line, and heavy bombardments, and B company, being in the line had 8 casualties.

May 26th 1916
We had a free trip to the Divisional Concert Party 'The Bow Belles'.

May 27th 28th 29th 30th 31st 1916
We were making a road up the trenches, and named the new cutting 'Cheshire Cut', we had to march 5 kilos to work and 5 kilos back, passing through the villages of Bayencourt and Sailly-au-Bois. On the 30th inst. we were shelled away from the work.

June 1st 1916
We started work on another road 1 kilo on the left of Bayencourt, also dug a gun pit for a 6" Howitzer.

June 2nd 3rd 1916
Carried on with the same work.

June 4th 1916
(Sunday) we had a rest, a cold bath, but a clean change of underclothing, a compulsory church service in the evening, in a old barn well within shelling range.

June 5th 1916
We worked in Bayencourt all day.

June 6th 1916
We had to pack our kits, and proceed up the line, we passed through Bayencourt, and then in artillery formation to Sailly-au-bois, and from here we marched in single file along a very muddy road, where in places men sank knee deep in mud, at last we reached the ruined town of Hebuterne, 400yds from our front line, there are no civilians here as the place is subject to heavy fire every day, we were billeted in the cellars of an old farm house which was minus a wall and the roof.

I took a stroll round the place after tea and found it absolutely ruined a church at one end had been badly battered and the walls all smashed and the roof gone, one side of the tower standing only, but a noticeable fact was that a crufic [crucifix?] in a most conspicuous place remained untouched.

June 7th 1916
We left our billets and went to the edge of the village, moving undercover of the broken walls, then entered a communication trench called 'Yale Street' (of y sector y29) moved along this trench in daylight for 300yds and then we were only 100yds from our own front line, and 400yds from the enemy front line, this 'com' trench was in places only 3ft deep, and we were exposed to the enemy fire, and our own work was to deepen this trench to 7ft, also make it wide enough for two men to pass, no earth could be thrown on top, but had to be put in sandbags and passed down the trench.

Everything went well 'till 3o'clock in the afternoon when 'Jerry' started to strafe, and strafed us away from the work, and managed it without any casualties, during the time we were working we had to keep our equipment on, also rifles at hand, and leaving the trench we looked 'rum cutters' being covered with mud and clay, all around the place were 'gas alarms'. This day was the first time I had been close to the enemy lines, and the first time I had got as far as a Support trench.

June 8th 1916
We worked in Yale Street Trench again, also in trench 48 which was much deeper, and about 10am our artillery opened a heavy strafe on the enemy trenches, and in reply the Germans shelled us heavily, and there being no dug outs here we were compelled to stick it, and chance our luck, there were no casualties, but four men got buried and had to be dug out, they were badly shaken, later a shell dropped on the parapet above four men and one had his leg blown off, and the trench was wrecked and we were compelled to move down a little way.

June 9th 1916
We fell in at 8-30p.m and entered 'Wood Street communication trench' and passed the old fire trench and went up 'New Wood Street' which was only about 2 ft deep, then got on the top, passed our front line which was being held by 'The Rifle Rangers', through a gap in the barbed wire, we were paced out so many paces per man as a digging task, and told to dig ourselves in as quickly as possible.
We worked hard for about half an hour when the Germans opened heavy machine gun fire on us and swept us like a blanket, and being only 100 yds from the enemy lines it proved very trying, we carried on, off and on, for quarter of an hour when, when he got more machine guns sweeping that sector, by this time my part of the trench was about 18" deep so I could lie in it.

The machine guns keep on sweeping and the enemy opened out a 'miniweffer' (trench mortar) barrage, four of our rifles were laying on the ground about 4 ft away and these got a direct hit, that was the last I saw of my rifle, also blew the trench away and left us as it were on the open ground.

The man in front of me called for help and on going to him I found he had a piece of shrapnel in the left shoulder blade, this was Private Joe (Hurnival of Runcorn), also he was hit on the lower middle part of the back, many men at this time were calling for help, out of our Platoon we had three casualties L/Cpl Fineflow who was hit in the back and the pieces had pierced the lungs he was vomiting a lot of blood, and Pte Edward Coalthorpe (of Chester) who was hit in ribs and left arm, one man in No10 Platoon was also hit, Stretcher Bearer Mostan, he was serious as he was hit in the lower part of the stomach and between the legs, after we had got the wounded away we returned to billets, it was 6a.m.

June 10th 1916
We worked from 11 o'clock in the morning until 2-45 p.m. when we returned to our billets and fell in again at 8p.m. and worked on top in the same place as the night previous, and returned at 2 a.m, and we had one casualty, this being the Corporal Brooks who was hit in the right wrist, the centre of the wrist being blown clean out.

This night when a shell burst mud and stones flew all around and I had my knee cut through being struck with a stone. This was Whit Sunday morning.

June 11th 1916
I had my knee dressed by the Medical Officer, went to work in the Com trench, returned at 2-30p.m without a casualty and mounted guard at 4p.m. and we heard of the Russian advance on the eastern front.

June 12th 1916
I dismounted guard at 4p.m. and had to go out with the company same night, we fell in at 8-30p.m. returned at 2-30a.m., were wet through to the skin with rain, and in places the trenches were knee deep with water.

June 13th 1916
We worked from 10a.m to 2.30 p.m in a C.T. called Womans St which was close up being at the end of Dead Mans Wood St, we carried on again from 9p.m to 11.30 p.m, when the enemy gave us a heavy trench mortar strafe.

This gradually got hotter and one mortar dropping on the parapet over us completely buried three of us, we were dug out and taken to the first aid Post and medically examined and found to be suffering from shock, we returned to the company next morning much better but a bit shaky.

June 14th 1916
Returned to the company at 10a.m and this afternoon two more men were buried in a dug-out, and one Private George Shaw (Chester) who joined the Battalion same day as myself was killed having both legs blown off, and the other Private Lol Beasley (Runcorn) had one leg blown off and was just alive when got out. I mounted guard this afternoon until 4p.m the following day.

June 15th 1916
Paraded at 7.30 p.m and dug on the top from the front line support to the fire trench, this new C.T was called New Yiddish Street (Ysector). The night was quiet except for a little machine gun fire, and returned to billet at 3 a.m.

June 16th 1916
We laid trench boards in 'New Yiddish Street' from 10 a.m till 1 p.m and at night paraded at 9 p.m and dug a new ambulance trench from 'Yale Street' to the new fire trench, the moon was full and the night very light, and we got heavy machine gun fire for 20 minutes, afterwards the night was very quiet. 2nd Lieut. Larne of our platoon was wounded by the machine gun fire in the ribs and legs.

June 17th 1916
We turned out at 11a.m to work but had to return at 12 noon as 'Yale St' was being heavily shelled. We had a draft from (D) Company sent to us as our company had got so weak from men going to hospital with wounds and sickness. We paraded at 9p.m. and passed up 'Calvary St', but had to wait a while as the Germans were shelling the woods heavily through which the trench passed.

Whilst waiting a shrapnel shell burst overhead and one man Private Joe Orme (Runcorn) was hit in the face, the bottom lip being torn off and bottom teeth knocked out, afterwards we worked in 'Young Street' running off the end of 'Calvary Street', the night on the whole was quiet, but one of the reinforcements from D Company was killed being shot through the head with a machine gun bullet.

June 18th 1916
We worked as usual both morning and night, but all was quiet and we had no casualties.

June 19th 1916
This morning each man had two boxes of hand grenades to carry up to the front line trench and then we came back to billets and in the afternoon B Company came up to Hebuterne to relieve us and we marched back 10 kilos to Souastre and when passing through Sailly-Au-Bois and Bayencourt I noticed all the civilians had left their homes since we went up.

June 20th 1916
We left Souastre and marched through Henu and Pas to Grenas a village about 10kilos from Souastre, here we were still within sound of the guns and we were out for rest and training for an offensive.

June 21st 1916
I did sanitorys Cpls work for the company, and did a journey to Pommera, a village midway between Halloy and Grenas.

June 22nd 23rd 24th 25th 26th 27th 1916
Carried on as on the 21st inst.

June 28th 1916
Stood to, till 2p.m then marched 10 kilos back to Souastre, passing through Pas and Henu; Souastre had changed a little as most of the civilians had taken refuge farther away from the line, we also heard of the death of Corporal Brooks who I previously stated as having been wounded, also we had many orders read out to us as we were to advance at the hour of zero in a day or so.

June 29th 1916
We stood to all day to move up but did not, the bombardment in the line was increasing everyday, and was now practically continual.

June 30th 1916
We stood to till 4p.m when we handed in our packs, and all personal effects, and started for the line, going forward in artillery formation, passed through Bayencourt, and Sailly-au-Bois up to Hebuterne, and the bombardment was more fierce than before and we knew we had to attack in the morning and the minutes seemed like hours.

Diary and photographs contributed by Chris Littler, visit his website at www.first-world-war.co.uk.

"Hun" was a slang term used by the allies, to describe the Germans. "Boche" was another.

- Did you know?

Thomas Littler