The following diary entries were written by John Leam Middleton, in June 1916 a 22-year-old lieutenant with B Company of 12/York and Lancaster (Sheffield City Battalion). Later promoted to the rank of captain, Middleton transferred in June 1917 to the Royal Flying Corps. By the end of war, he held the rank of major with the Royal Air Force, and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Wednesday 14th June
The S.M. and I left early to take over support trenches from 10th East Yorks. The Battalion arrived about 5 p.m., "A" and "D" in front line, "C" and "B" in support. We are in "Monk." Our dug-out in Rob Roy is absolutely done in by a shell; also the old Battalion Headquarter’s dug-out in "Monk."
Thursday 15th June
Captain Moore1 left to go a three days’ artillery course. Beal2 and Cowen3 went to a court-martial in Bus, Butterworth went sick, so I am left alone. Cowen returned at 7 p.m. Beal went sick! "C" Company had one killed and four wounded in "Excema" whilst fetching rations last night.
Friday 16th June
Cowen and I are having a rotten hard time. I believe the Great Advance is coming off next week. I hope so. "Oil cans"4 were chucked at us this afternoon, but no casualties. After Stand-to Ibbotson and Vickers found two Boche rifle grenades. I had a very amusing time shooting the detonators off with my revolver.
Saturday 17th June
In the afternoon "C" Company were heavily shelled, and C.S.M. Marsden, Sergeant Clay, and Private Thomas were killed5. The Boches also counter-mined one of our mines this morning, burying some Barnsley men. A big fight took place at about 4 p.m. We drove them away.
Sunday 18th June
I left the trenches at 8 a.m. with Scholey6 to go on a Divisional course. I do not think I take an active part in the attack. Great preparations are going on behind the trenches. It is going to be some "do." Reported at Divisional School at 4.30 p.m.
Monday 19th June
The General told us last night that we were to be observers during the attack. We spent all day walking about the trenches, "getting to know them." The Russians have captured Czernovitz and half a million men. The advance is postponed until Saturday, when the bombardment starts.
Tuesday 20th June
Spent all day in the Divisional O.P. in Wagram Trench. Saw a British aeroplane shot down just behind Puisieux; it fell from a great height. Also saw a British aeroplane loop the loop six times.
Wednesday 21st June
Went to "Wagram" Trench O.P. at 2 p.m. We did not see much. Our artillery seems [to be] getting active. The bombardment starts on Saturday, I think. We got back about 7.30 p.m.
Thursday 22nd June
Went up to North Divisional O.P. at 9 a.m. On arriving back at 5 p.m. I was told about C. Ibbotson being killed7. I was very upset about it. After dinner Foers8 and I went up to see Woodhouse, of the Artillery. We had a very amusing time. The bombardment starts to-morrow midnight.
Friday 23rd June
Two officers per O.P. go up for a 12-hour shift. A terrible thunderstorm broke over at about 2 p.m. It went quite black, and the captive balloon over Bus broke loose, but was caught over Sailly-au-Bois. The trenches will be full of water.
Saturday 24th June
The bombardment started at 5 a.m., but only wire-cutting by the 18-pounders. Foers and I got to the O.P. at 10.30 a.m. The Boches had plastered our gun-pits with 5.9’s all the early morning, but nothing was hit. It was a fine sight, and was continuous.
Sunday 25th June
Got back here at 1 this morning. The trenches were full of water and blown-in in parts. Nothing much happened. Left for trenches at 8.45 p.m. Colincamps has been shelled to pieces. The bombardment continues.
Monday 26th June
We reached our O.P. at about 10 p.m. last night. Foers was on duty first, so went straight down into our dug-out made by the sappers especially for us. At about midnight Foers and a corporal of the Signals came running down the steps to turn me out, shouting "gas". I got my helmet on and went slowly up the steps. I was very tired. There was no gas about, so after about 10 minutes I went down the dug-out and to sleep again. We spent the morning looking through our field-glasses, but there was little to be seen. At 10 a.m. our "heavies" started, and all the other guns seemed to join in. It was great. A wonderful curtain of gas and sulphur shells was put along the Boche front line. The afternoon was more or less quiet, just an intermittent shelling all the time. We were relieved at 9.30 p.m., and we reached Bus at 11.
Tuesday 27th June
Bus was shelled yesterday, but most of them were "duds". Foers and I arrived at the O.P. at 10.30 a.m. At 2.45 gas was let-off by the Battalion in our front line. It was great to see the signs of "wind-up" displayed by the Boche. He fired as hard as he could at our lines, but, of course, did no good. Foers and I were not relieved until 10.30 p.m. On getting out of the trenches we saw a large number of gun-limbers, etc., just behind the gun-pits. If a few shells had dropped there would have been a stampede. We rode all the way back to Bus on a gun-limber.
Wednesday 28th June
I got up at 11 a.m. It was raining hard. I heard that the "push" has been postponed for a day or two. Bus was shelled again to-day. The shells fell much nearer to the centre of the village, and a few dropped in Bus Wood, and, I believe, killed some artillery horses.
Thursday 29th June
Got back to Bus soon after noon. I went to see the Battalion again. Cowen was wounded last night. Ingold came to our billet and had tea with me.
Friday 30th June
Spent the day in the O.P. Nothing much doing, but behind the trenches there appear to be thousands of troops carrying things to the trenches, chiefly Mills bombs and trench-mortar shells. The "show" is certainly going to be "some do." As Foers and I were leaving the trenches I saw Elam10. He was seeing the chaps into the trenches. I had a few words with him, and then I saw "A" Company coming in. I spoke to a few of them as they passed. I did not see any of "B" Company. As Foers and I walked back we had to run through Colincamps. The whole village was on fire, and the shells were dropping into the place as fast as the Boche could load. They must have known that we were assembling.
Saturday 1st July
Foers and I hurried to the trenches as hard as we could. It was obvious to us that all was not well. We passed hundreds of fellows coming back. All those who were not shot in the legs seemed to have to walk. We arrived in the O.P. when the worst of the show was over. What a sight! No Man’s Land was covered with corpses, some lying on their backs, some on their sides, some all twisted into all kinds of shapes. It was a terrible sight. I saw several Boches in their trenches, which were, in most places, destroyed. Practically the whole battalion has been wiped out.
Sunday 2nd July
During the night several of our chaps crawled back to our lines from No Man’s Land. There are still many of our chaps lying in No Man’s Land who are not dead. I have seen lots of them move.
Monday 3rd July
Still more fellows came back last night. We heard that a draft of 60 Derby’s men14 are waiting for us in Bus. I saw many more Boches in the trenches again to-day.
Tuesday 4th July
It has poured with rain all day. It could not have rained harder, which made the conditions worse. I do not know why we are not relieved. We are doing no good. Late in the afternoon Foers and I went back to Bus. We found the School had broken up, and everyone had gone. The whole Division is being relieved. I do not know what is going to happen exactly. We spent the night in the School by ourselves.
Wednesday 5th July
We got up and had no breakfast! We then found out that the Battalion was on its way to a village called Louvencourt. We got our baggage packed up and waited on the road until we saw a bus heading for Louvencourt.
Thursday 6th July
The Battalion fell in at 10.15 a.m., and away we marched. Allen16 is in command. I did not know where we were bound for. We marched a very long way.
Friday 7th July
This is a very pretty village, and there is no one near us. Allen sent for the officers during the morning, and told us that except for arms inspection each day we were to do as little as possible. We were to be left in this village for a long time, and were to be made up to strength again. The prospects of a really good rest are most promising.
Saturday 8th July
I spent an excellent night in a comfortable bed. I got up at 9 a.m. Orders were received, however, for the battalion to pack up at once and prepare for a move by train. We fell in right away and marched off. Our dream of a long rest was soon over. We marched to Doullens, and then turned north, and up the hill. After marching 15 miles we reached Frevent, where we got into a train. I went to sleep at once.
Sunday 9th July
At 2 a.m. I was awakened; we were at Steenback [sic]. We detrained. It was still dark, and very cold. We then set off again on foot. We marched along a road which was dead straight for miles.
Monday 10th July
We had a whole holiday to-day. Spent the morning wandering about, and in the evening Moxey and I went into Merville, and met Foers and Tyzack18 at the Hotel de Ville.
Tuesday 11th July
All the morning was spent in making out indents for new clothing and equipment for the men. In the afternoon "B" Company had a rifle inspection. Moxey and I went into Merville again in the evening. We made friends with some people who kept a grocer’s shop in the corner of the Grand Place…
Wednesday 12th July
I took "B" and "C" Companies down to the divisional baths, and had one myself. In the afternoon all the officers went to a village called Callons-sur-Lys [sic], where we were welcomed into the XI Corps by the Corps Commander19.
Thursday 13th July
Splendid ideas as to how a battalion should be run. We did arms drill for an hour. Another course has started, this time on map-reading. I knew very well that I should be put down for it, I always am. Cowen was also told to go, so off we went to Brigade Headquarters. They showed us nothing we did not know. In the afternoon there was a short parade for the new recruits. I went into Merville again in the evening. Moxey was Orderly Officer, so I took Rowlands20 with me, much to his delight.
Friday 14th July
Our spectacular parade this morning was cancelled on account of Orders having been received for the battalion to pack up and be ready to move off at half an hour’s notice. I wonder what they have in store for us now. No Orders had come through by tea time, so Moxey and I went down to see our friends and to say "au revoir…"
Saturday 15th July
Orders came through at 10 a.m. We were to fall-in at noon. I could not find out where we were bound for, but we set off in an easterly direction, which was disconcerting. After about two and a half hours’ march we arrived at our destination, which was Croix Barbee.
Transcript and Notes © Andrew C Jackson 2019