July 4th 1916
Came the order to pack up. Those who had any kit to pack up, I had a little and was lucky to. That order did us as much good as a big rum ration which I had never seen while in the trenches on this occasion. We left the trenches at dusk and marched about seven miles to Louvencourt landing there early hours next morning, staying there till the 6th when we marched off to Longuevillette, near Doullens. We lost eight bandsmen July 1st.
July 8th 1916
We entrained at Frevent for Steenbecque.
July 10th 1916
After the most tiring march ever experienced we landed at Merville, a beautiful country town where we spent a few days. This place sometime afterwards was blown to pieces and captured by the Germans.
July 15th 1916
We marched off from Merville to Fosse [la Fosse] and from there to the trenches on the Neuve Chapelle sector, holding that sector till September 16th 1916. The remnants of the battalions were amalgamated for the time being, but was afterwards reinforced, and each battalion carried on as usual. This sector was fairly quiet except for the minnies, which were disastrous, leaving holes big enough to bury a house in. There was scores of graves in this sector of unknown British and German soldiers, and rats like rabbits. One of our men one night while sleeping in a dug-out got part of one of his ears bitten off by one of these giant rats. The rats had bored down into the graves of these soldiers, which appeared to be like rabbit holes. The villages which we was billeted at, and spent some happy hours while out of the trenches, were Merville, Lestrem and Croix Barbee [la Croix Barbet], Vieille-Chapelle, La Fosse, and other little villages where we were able to get plenty of eggs, beer, bread etc. It was a treat on coming out of the trenches to get amongst the French civilians, we felt more at home. We even could get chipped potatoes, and all kinds of wine, which we made good use of when we had the money to go at. We went down close to the trenches to orchards and helped ourselves to the fruit, and we had a finer time in this sector than any. But I shall never forget being in Richebourg St. Vaast, where we saw a number of skeletons peeping out of the broken tombs, which had been disturbed by shells of the enemy. The tops of the tombs was missing, and the coffin lids also, which gave a good view of the skeletons in the coffin. This was in the cemetery. The church was blown to atoms and a large bell from the belfry lay on the ground, the latter weighed some hundred weights. The weather was grand in this parts and while in the trenches I had gone out in early morning and gathered roses from what used to be a flower garden at one time at the rear of some house, the house a heap of ruins on the La Bassee and at Lacourture [La Couture]. We there saw a large mound on the road sign, with a sign 'Here lies 30 German soldiers'. On this sector our battalion made a large number of bombing raids, and gathered some good information, finding the German front line was only a dummy one. On several raids they killed many Germans but brought back no prisoners. In this sector the battalion lost five killed, twenty wounded, and four taken prisoners of war. Several of the men performed good work and were brought to the notice of higher authorities. Us stretcher bearers had rather an easy time here, but we had made up for it previous, and after leaving this sector. In this sector we got the name of the Hellish 31st by the Germans because we gave them little peace while there, but at this time our artillery was very short of shells etc.1
Above: Sheffield City Battalion band. Photograph taken in July or August 1916. Back row, left to right: 12/1391 John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley, 12/1900 Harold Turner, 12/2119 Thomas Edward Howson, 22347 Walter Padley, 21764 Leonard Kirkby, 12/1005 John Henry Nash, 12/1079 Frederick Herbert Turner, 12/243 Herbert James Summerfield; second row from back: left to right: 12/362 George W. Eyre, 12/237 George Stables, 12/732 Arthur Milner, 12/477 Cecil Perkins (drummer), 21950 Alfred H. Coggon, 12/152 Leo Albert Horrax, Wild; second row from front: 21763 John Edward Bingham, Stevenson, W. Williams, 12/890 Ronald Chatterton, 12/532 George Leslie Tirebuck, 12/60 William T. Bunting; front row: 12/770 Bernard Rush, 12/883 Allen Buckley (conductor), 12/1110 John H. Wright. Identifications were made with the help of the biographical list in Gibson and Oldfield's "Sheffield City Battalion" (2006). The photograph appears here with the kind permission of Jack Cratchley's granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick.
September 16th 1916
Our battalion took over the Festubert sector, where the snipers made merry, and one of our men soon became the victim of a German sniper. This sector was made of Islands Posts, which was dangerous to move in during the day on account of the snipers.
October 3rd 1916
At 3.45am Col. Fisher, whilst trying to visit the Islands Posts was sniped through the head and died instantly. He had only come from a course of instructions from Boulogne on the 2nd October, and was buried on October 3rd in the large military cemetery at Le Touret. Col. Fisher was only with our battalion a short time but proved himself a gentleman.2
October 5th 1916
The battalion left Le Touret, and billeted for the night in Vendin-Lez-Bethune. The billet where us band slept was a cart shed, all open at the front, and it snowed and blowed, so we had to make the best of it, and woke up next morning and found ourselves covered in snow.
October 6th 1916
We marched to Robecq, a nice country village. Well we got a grand billet here, about four feet of clean straw to lie on and we nestled in it same as pigs.
October 8th 1916
We entrained at Berquette for Doullens, reaching there at 4 p.m. German aeroplanes was dropping bombs on the place as we arrived. Then we had a long march to a village called Marieux. There we stayed until October 18th. We had several drafts of men come, also a new C.O. Col. Riall.3
October 18th 1916
We marched back once more to Warnimont Wood, on our way we came across lots of German prisoners on road repairing who had a few curses hurled at them. The roads at this time was a foot deep in mud which made marching very heavy. I was dead beat on this day, with my feet all over blisters, (how we stick it).
October 21st 1916
C and D companies was sent nearer the line to Courcelles-Au-Bois, to help the Royal Anglesea R.E.s in laying a full gauge railway. Then A and B companies relieved them. A hundred of our men working at Hebuterne came under hot shell fire, killing one and wounding seven, all belonging to the first draft and being all the time in the trenches.
October 22nd 1916
We cleaned our instruments and played a service in the morning, and played a selection to the men during the night.
October 23rd 1916
Us bandsmen played No 7 Platoon at football beating them 2-1. At night we played to the men and officers' mess.
October 24th 1916
Band practice and on fatigue all day.
October 25th 1916
Band practice and trench digging for bayonet fighting. I received a parcel from wife's sister Lizzie, what a godsend.
October 26th 1916
Trench digging all day. I went at night to have a blow with the 11th East Yorks band.
October 27th 1916
We played A and B companies to Bus for a bath and back in the morning. Band practice afternoon.
October 28th 1916
Band practice and playing at officers' mess.
October 29th 1916
Band practice and on fatigue all day.
October 30th 1916
Packing up, battalion went in the trenches at Hebuterne, we was left behind to load up and landed at Couin about nine at night, where stores remained. It was raining all day and we was wet to our skin.
October 31st 1916
Us bandsmen got up at 7am and after we had partaken of bully and biscuits for breakfast, we set off for the trenches at Hebuterne to the battalion. Old Gerry made us double going across Sailly Plain, he was dropping shells all around us. This road being the only way into Hebuterne from Sailly was always under shell fire night and day. The trenches here in the winter was full of water, we had to wade through it when it was up to our stomachs and even up to our armpits. Many a poor soldier lost his life while wading through mud and water in these trenches, it was impossible to get them out in places.
Above: Extract from Jack Cratchley's journal entry for 1st November 1916. The extract appears here with the kind permission of Jack's granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick.
November 1st 1916
Raining nearly all night and very cold. We stood to at 5.30a.m. and after stand down we had rum and tea which did us all good. I went to Sailly in charge of eight men to fetch some flasks for keeping tea warm for the troops. We had a grand reception going and coming back over the plain, having to lie on our stomachs for nearly an hour, or we all should have been hit or killed. This plain was a death trap.
November 2nd 1916
Raining all night, we had been carrying sand bags to the front line all night. At night I was put in charge of three men, bandsmen, and we was on guard at Battalion HQ in Hebuterne.
November 3rd 1916
On guard all night but at 10a.m. the order came 'your bandsmen pack up', we went to Sailly. Just as we was leaving Hebuterne a shell dropped the other side of an old building we was just passing and pieces of tiles was dropping on our steel helmets. One chap got the end of his nose cut off by a piece of tile. We had to run out of the village as Gerry played little hell. We was billeted in a house not badly wrecked, but all round it was shell holes which did not look very nice and just at the back was a battery of 9-2s going all night, so you can guess how the earth trembled and how we slept, but being in a house we was quite safe.
November 4th 1916 (Sailly)
We went on fatigue for the engineers, sapping. We had to carry bags of chalk up the big dug-outs and empty them on the top, we had to work like n*****s, the officer in charge was a rotter.
November 5th & 6th 1916
On REs fatigue again in the village. There was a terrible bombardment these two days and nights.
November 7th 1916
Raining fast we packed up ready to move back to Thievres by motor lorries. The battalion came out early morning and we landed in Thievres at 1.30pm wet to our skins.
November 8th 1916
Still raining. Cleaning up and rifle inspection in the morning. Cleaning our instruments afternoon.
November 9th 1916
Short parade in the morning and then band practice all day.
November 10th 1916
Small route march in the morning, and we played to the men at night.
November 11th 1916
On parade drilling in the morning and we played at officers' mess at night.
November 12th 1916
Packing up again, we moved off at 1pm and marched to Warnimont Wood. It was very heavy marching.
November 13th 1916
Band practice and feet inspection. Big advance started on Serre and Hebuterne front. The artillery was sending thousands of shells over.
November 14th 1916
Up at 5a.m. Packing up again. Battalion went in trenches at Hebuterne again. The band stayed behind to clean camp up. This was my first staying out of the trenches.
November 15th 1916
Fine and frosty morning we had band practice all day, the guns still thundering away.
November 16th 1916
We drew Battalion rations and band practice.
November 17th 1916
Sharp frost and a little snow during the night, ration drawing and fatigue.
November 18th 1916
On fatigue loading packs up, battalion came out of trenches for four days at Sailly on reserve. On this occasion the battalion lost seven men killed, ten wounded and seventeen in hospital with trench feet.
November 19th 1916
Ration drawing and band practice, very quiet day with the guns.
November 20th 1916
Band practice morning. I went to Authie in the afternoon drawing new clothing.
November 21st 1916
On fatigue in the morning at Courcelles and band practice at night.
November 22nd 1916
I was mess orderly and on fatigue. The battalion went into the trenches again.
November 23rd 1916
Packing up ready to move with the Quartermaster's Stores.
November 24th 1916
Loading up stores, which moved to Coigneau [Coigneux], us bandsmen stayed in Warnimont Wood while battalion was in the trenches.
November 25th 1916
Wet day. We was practising all day.
November 26th 1916
Band practice all day. I went to Authie at night to have a feed.
November 27th 1916
We packed up and left Warnimont wood, and marched to Coigneau [Coigneux], about four miles.
November 28th 1916
On engineers' fatigue digging drains on the road-side, so much water about.
November 29th 1916
Digging drains, and scraping mud off the road. Our battalion came out of the line to Sailly.
November 30th 1916
Quarter Master's fatigue in the morning. I went to Authie in the afternoon on fatigue.
December 1st 1916
Cleaning our instruments in the morning. At night we marched to Sailly and played to the men.
December 2nd 1916
Mess orderly and general fatigue, practice at night.
December 3rd 1916
Scraping mud off the road etc. morning. Played to men at Sailly afternoon.
December 4th 1916
On fatigue in the morning, and at 3.30pm we went to Hebuterne on engineers' fatigue, carrying tree trunks down into the trenches for making dug-outs. We landed back to our billets at one next morning. Gerry made us run for it on coming back across the plain.
December 5th 1916
Unloading men's packs etc. Battalion went in the trenches again.
December 6th 1916
On fatigue all day, practice at night.
December 7th 1916
On fatigue at the transport lines, mud larks etc. Practice at night.
December 8th 1916
Wet day, on fatigue, practice at night.
December 9th 1916
Moving again to Rossignol Farm, Coigneau [Coigneux], the battalion came out at night.
December 10th 1916
Resting morning. We played afternoon and night to the battalion.
December 11th 1916
Band practice morning, baths afternoon, playing to men at night.
December 12th 1916
Snowing, played to men twice during the day.
December 13th 1916
Band practice and playing to men twice during the day.
December 14th 1916
Practice morning, playing dinner time to men, and played at a Battalion concert in a large barn at night.
December 15th 1916
Raining, route march nine miles. We played the battalion, and played officers' mess at night.
December 16th 1916
Cleaning instruments in the morning and played A & C companies as far as Sailly-au-Bois, they were going in the trenches on fatigue.
December 17th 1916
Moving again, loaded up. I wrenched my back. The band went with stores to Coigneau [Coigneux] again.
December 18th 1916
On waking up I couldn't move, my back was so bad. I had to lie down all day.
December 19th 1916
I felt a lot better after a day's rest, and having my back rubbed with oils.
December 20th 1916
On fatigue at transport lines, and loading C. company's packs. I went with them to Sailly, and blankets also. C. company came out of the trenches.
December 21st 1916
Loading all packs and blankets. A. company and Head Quarters came out of trenches to Sailly.
December 22nd 1916
Band practice all day.
December 23rd 1916
Raining and blowing a gale. On fatigue and band practice.
December 24th 1916
Cleaning instruments and practice.
December 25th 1916
Loading up we moved to Sailly Dell, and we played at church service at dinner time.
December 26th 1916
Played at dinner time to men, and at night in the Church Army Hut. While playing at night, a shell dropped near the hut.
December 27th 1916
Played during afternoon only.
December 28th 1916
Playing to men twice during the day.
December 29th 1916
Practising during the day, which was wet, went to see some perriots [pierrots?] at night.
December 30th 1916
On fatigue packing empty shell cases up in boxes.
December 31st 1916
Went to Church Service in the Church Army Hut.
January 1st 1917
We played at Battalion football match Sailly Delph [Sailly Dell] in the morning. I and several more went to Couin in the afternoon. I got on champagne and it got me down.
January 2nd 1917 – Tuesday
The Battalion went in the trenches again. Band moved back to Coigneau [Coigneux].
January 3rd 1917
Quarter Master's fatigue all day, at Coigneau [Coigneux].
January 4th 1917
Wet day. I was mess orderly. Band practice at night.
January 5th 1917
Fine day, band practice in the morning. On fatigue in the afternoon.
January 6th 1917
Loading two companies packs etc. up, coming out to Sailly for four days.
January 7th 1917
Frosty morning. On fatigue during the morning. Band practice afternoon. Me and several more had diarrhoea bad.
January 8th 1917
Band practice and fatigue during the day.
January 9th 1917
On fatigue all day. Band practice at night.
January 10th 1917
Packing up all day ready for moving further back.
January 11th 1917
Breakfast at 6 a.m. I went to Sailly and helped to load three motor lorries with blankets etc. We landed at Beauval at 2 p.m. and unloaded motors. I went to meet transport to direct them the way, landing back 5 a.m. next morning.
January 12th 1917 (Beauval)
I got up abut 11.30 a.m. I had my breakfast in bed, and we had an easy day.
January 13th 1917
Cleaning out instruments in the morning. Rifle inspection afternoon.
January 14th 1917
We played the battalion to church service, we played at the service, and played the battalion back again.
January 15th 1917
I went sick with bad cold and cough, my first time since leaving England. All the band had to join their companies on parade. At night we played at Y.M.C.A. hut. I was feeling rotten but I went.
January 16th 1917
I was feeling very bad, and didn't go on parade today.
January 17th 1917
I was a lot better. On parade and cleaning up in the morning. C.O's inspection afternoon. Played at Officers' Mess at night.
January 18th 1917
Route march of eight miles in a snow storm in the morning! It froze the valves of our instruments.
January 19th 1917
On parade with our companies in the morning doing company drill. Played at concert in Y.M.C.A. hut at night in Beauval.
January 20th 1917
On parade in the morning. Started with sore throat.
January 21st 1917
Only kit inspection during the day. My throat feeling better after rubbing with some stuff.
January 22nd 1917
Up at 5.30 a.m. We moved from Beauval to Candas about four miles further back. The band was billeted in an old house.
January 23rd 1917
On parade with our companies in the morning. Band practice afternoon. Cpl. Stables went on leave.4 This cheered us up because we thought we should be getting ours soon.
January 24th 1917
Cleaning instruments morning. Practice in the afternoon.
January 25th 1917
On parade with company in the morning. Practice in the afternoon.
January 26th 1917
At 8.30 we paraded to play the Battalion on manoeuvres, but owing to it freezing so sharp, we couldn't play, it froze our valves. We marched with the Battalion and was able to play them back as the sun got out and made it warmer.
January 27th 1917
On parade with company. Very frosty all day.
January 28th 1917
Played part of Battalion to church service. It kept freezing our instruments. Order came round that all leave cancelled till further orders. (rotten)
January 29th 1917
Packing up again. We marched off from Candas at one and played battalion to Bonneville, three miles. We got a billet in a hut, the best since being out here.
January 30th 1917 Bonneville
On manoeuvres with battalion morning. Practice afternoon.
January 31st 1917
Helping company cooks all day and had a good feed.
February 1st 1917
On parade with company all day.
February 2nd 1917
February 3rd 1917
Firing course in the morning. I was inoculated in the afternoon and excused duty for 48 hours.
February 4th 1917
I felt stiff all over after the inoculation.
February 5th 1917
Feeling alright. I had no parade.
February 6th 1917
On parade practising an attack on a wood near Candas in the morning.
February 7th 1917
Practising an attack with the battalion all day near Candas.
February 8th 1917
We packed and marched off from Bonneville at 10 a.m. landing at Terrasmasil [Terramesnil] at 1.30 p.m.
February 9th 1917
Up at 6 a.m. loading up again. At 9.30 a.m. we left Terrasmasil [Terramesnil] and marched to Courcelles to hear the big guns roaring out death once more.
- Jack clearly made use of Richard Sparling's "History of the 12th (Service) Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment" to build on his own recollections of the battalion's time at Neuve Chapelle. [back]
- Lt.-Col. Harry Bruges Fisher was killed in action at the age of 38 while in command of the Sheffield City Battalion; he is buried at Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg-l'Avoue. [back]
- Claude Phineas Bookey Riall was a regular army officer with the East Yorkshire Regiment. He held the acting rank of Lt.-Col. from 15th July 1916 to 19th May 1917 while in command of the Sheffield City Battalion. On 3rd October 1917, he was given the rank of Major with seniority from 1st September 1915. [back]
- 12/237 George Stables. [back]
Permission to publish this transcript of John Thomas Cratchley's journal is by kind permission of his granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick.