© Peter Hodgkinson 2016

Dr Peter E Hodgkinson Chartered Clinical Psychologist - Military Historian

The Diary of Lance-Corporal ‘Roddy’ Rodinson

Part Three - The Western Front

16 March

Disembarked from the Briton at 7 o’clock, stayed in sheds until 9.30, then marched to the station in rain. Left Marseille at 11.15 in a horse truck, 40 of us, most miserable journey. Stayed at Orange for tea.

17 March

On the train from Marseille to Huppy, North France. Fine day, beautiful scenery. Wrote a letter to Mabel, home, Will & Gert. Breakfast at Macon, dinner Dijon, tea Tonnere(?).*

*Actually Veneray-les-Laumes.

18 March

Still on train. Called for breakfast Epluches, dinner at Creil & arrived at Pont St Renny at 3.5 (illegible) Rode in transport. To camp at Huppy, arrived 8.30.

19 March

Billeted in a barn at Huppy. Rifle parade at 8 AM, carried kit bags rest of day. Went for a walk at night with Scott and Henderson. Returned at 8 PM.

20 March

Up Early 6 AM. Fell in 8.30 for 10 miles route march. Back in camp for 2 o’clock. Rest of day off. I and Scott went to see Beal re. article for paper, then retired to bed.

21 March

Up at 6 AM on company squad drill at 9 to 10.30, then route march afternoon. Handed in kitbags for 3 time (sic), then played section football match in orchard in rear of barn at night. Photograph for our tent groups.

22 March

Up at 5.30, marched to range as guides for wood (sic), then fired 15 rounds. Returned at 4 PM, cleaned our rifles, had tea. Spent the night at the café. Returned to bed at 8 PM. Most miserable night.

23 March

Took or rifles to armour coy(?), then physical drill in filed at far end of village. Then route march until dinner. All kinds of parades in afternoon. Café at night, our feet wet through.

24 March

Mess orderly, up at 6 AM to find four inches of snow. Awful day for walking about. Company on route march afternoon. Drew our smoke helmets. Went to the café until 8 PM then retired.

25 March

Rifle & kit inspection, smoke helmets etc. Rest of day off. A nice sunny day but a bit frosty.

26 March

Up at 5 AM to be ready for 7.15 to start our four day march. Marched from Huppy through Pont Remy to Longpre, a distance of 12 miles. I, Scott & Jerry on guard. Most awful guard.

27 March

Relieved off guard at 7 AM. Joined our company and left Longpre at 7.45 for a 13 mile march to Vignacourt a most cruel march. Landed at Vignacourt at 3 PM ready to collapse. Raining when we landed.

28 March

Up at 5 AM. Left Vignacourt at 8.30 for Beauquesne a distance of 14 miles. Felt it very much in my shoulder. Arrived Beauquesnes at 4 PM, took me all my time to stick it. I and Scott went out & had a drink and retired early in the barn (illegible).

29 March

Up at 5.30, left Beauquesnes at 8 AM, a distance of 10 miles. Arrived at our destination at Bertrancourt at 12 o’clock after a hard 10 miles march. Fine morning but snow 3 inches in afternoon. Most miserable night in the huts we were billeted in just behind the firing line.

30 March

Up at 7.30. Rifle and general inspection, then the rest of the day off. Camp very wet and muddy. First time to see the German planes shelled, a grand sight. On fatigue in afternoon, digging trenches in camp.

31 March

Went for a hot bath to Beaussart from Bertrancourt 4 miles away, had a fine time. Rest of day off. I, Scott, Jerry and Rigg*had a walk round village then returned to hear we were to go to the trenches tomorrow.

*Private A.K. Rigg, a Scot, killed 1 July 1916.

1-2 April

In the trenches in Labyrinth.* Rifle inspection then prepared for the trenches. 4 men and NCO per platoon. I & Scott (illegible) for B left camp for trenches at 2 o’clock. Burnt all my letters before leaving. Arrived in trenches at 9.35 [9.40 (illegible)] with the Durhams in the trenches. We were in support for D company of Durhams, had a rough night. Dugout in support trench blown up, rest of night quiet.

*Gibson & Oldfield in Sheffield City Battalion suggest this instructional visit did not take place, saying “no one else mentions going to the trenches”.

3 April

Spent the day in support trench. Had a bad strafing do at 6.30 to 7. Our battalion came in at 7.30. Relieved the Durhams in Rat Street. At 10 PM I was on sentry go. Straight off 2 (illegible) at 10.15. Quiet night.*

*The battalion was holding a 1300 yard front 1400 yards west of Serre.

4 April

Rat Street all day on sentry. At tea time I was making the tea when a shell came & just about buried me & the fire. On no. 4 at night. Wet night and very cold. Night very quiet.

5 April

In Rat Street on fatigue, building up the trenches. Had a strafing do in the afternoon. Rushed down to no. 6 to try and escape it all. Lasted about ½ hour. On no. 3 at night. Very cold and tired.

6 April

In Rat Street on fatigue. Sentry on No. 6 post. Quiet all day until 9.2 PM when the bombardment started & went on until 11.5. It was simply awful. Also had tear shells, had to use our (gas) helmets. Wet during the night.

7 April

In Rat Street all day. Got relieved by A Company at 4.30. Glad to get a rest, first rest for a week. Went into supports, but had a free night until 3.50 when we had to stand to.

8 April

In the support trenches, a grand day.

11 April

Stood to at 3.30 AM. On fatigue from 8 to 12 dinner. Opening trenches blown in. At night building parapets in Borden Avenue from 12 to 4 AM. Wet night, up to our knees in water.

12 April

Very wet day. I on fatigue cleaning Egg St and making a fire for dinner. Got relieved at 4.30, came out of the trenches & arrived at Bertrancourt at 7.30, wet to the skin & felt most miserable.

13 April

Up at 6 o’clock to go on digging. Making trenches under shell fire and back in camp at 2 o’clock. Rest of day off. Wrote a letter home & for Mabel.

15 April

Went sick with diarrhoea & kidneys, so had a good rest. Dr ordered me to take castor oil but I saw Rob who gave me 2 liver pills. Received a parcel from Mabel. Went out with Rob at night.

16 April

Sick, and was put on light duties so had to go digging in the camp in afternoon. Rest of day off.

17 April

On day party up at Colincamps, making dugouts for Royal Army Medical Corps,* as we understand for the great advance. Wet day, an awful mess to work in. Stayed in all day after returning.

*At Colincamps.

18 April

On early morning party to Colincamps to dig in the RAMC dugouts. At night I & Scott went to a café for an hour to pass the night on. Camp simply awful to stay in.

19 April

Mess orderly until 11 AM when I was told that LD men would have to act as mess orderly, so I had to go on the night working party. Left camp at 6.45, arrived trenches near Sucre* about 6 miles walk at 8.30. Left there at 12 o’clock.

*The Sucrerie, near Colincamps, on the Serre Road, now a military cemetery.

20 April

Arr(ived) in camp at 1.50 AM, slept until 11.30 AM & got ready for hut inspection. On barbed wire instructions in afternoon. Spent the evening in camp. Went to bed early & had a good night’s rest which I needed.

21 April

On 8.30 party to Colincamps dugouts for the RAMC first clearing station. Returned at 4.30, arrived camp at 5.30. Very nice morning but wet afternoon. Returned wet through in puttees & feet.

22 April

I and Rigg missed falling in with the 8.30 party so were put on digging a pit for rubbish near the incinerator. Wet day. Finished at 4 PM. Feeling wet and miserable. Both on Town Scavengers party, easy job.

23 April

On 8.30 party to dugouts at Colincamps. First fine day for a fortnight. A poor way of spending Easter Sunday. Returned to camp at 5.30, worn out and tired.

24 April

On 8.30 party digging in dugouts at Colincamps. Grand day. Finished at 4.30, arrived in camp 5.30. Felt too tired to go out again so stayed in & wrote letters to pass the night away.

25 April

On 8.30 party digging at Colincamps. Returned to camp at 5.30. Grand day. I and Rob had a walk round the fields, back for 8 PM. Wrote a letter home & t) Mabel, bless her.

26 April

Grand day. On the 8.15 party to Colincamps. Grass weaving in wire netting for gun emplacements. Had t(w)o len(g)ths  to finish. Landed back in camp at 4 o’clock. I, Scott & Hendy out at night.

27 April

Left camp at 7.30 for digging trenches up at the Sucreries in the Avenue. Grand day. Asked to take on a stripe but refused. Arrived back in camp 2 o’clock. Spent the night packing ready for trenches.

28 April

Left Bertrancourt for Colincamps at 8 o’clock. Spent the rest of the day in camp. Beautiful day. Had to change our billets  to no. 53 near RAMC dugouts. Were netting beds. Spent the evening writing letters.

29 April

Up at 6.30. Fell in at 7.45. Working party in 3rd line trenches, arrived there at 10 AM, left there at 4.30. Spent the evening having a good wash and writing letters. Were woke at 11.30 with our guns straffing the Germans, so I & Scott & Joe Askew had a good walk & viewed the bombardment.

30 April

Working party in the 3rd line trenches. I received my stripe, Lance-Corporal unpaid. We remained in the trenches. I took a guard in 7 (illegible), Scott, Gunson,* & Taylor, my first job as a Corporal. Thunderstorm during the day.

*Private E.E. Gunson, a Sheffield Telegraph reporter.

1 May

Fine morning. Spent the day in 3rd line trenches just down the Roman Road near Sucr(eri)e. Had a quiet day until 4 PM when the Germans sent over 18 high explosives and killed Senior,* and wounded Todd & Simpson in the place I had been working only a minute before. I and Scott were only (illegible) yards away. Was relived at night by 15 & 16.

*Private F.H. Senior, a Sheffield University Student.

2 May

Spent the night a no. 10 billet in Colincamps. Up at 5.45. I slept in a cart in the yard. D company put on a working fatigue instead of going in firing line for a fortnight. Down at (location missing) behind the Barnsleys. Left camp at 7.30, back at 4.30. Spent the night washing & shaving, then turned in for a good night.

3-4 May

Up at 6 o’clock on parade. At 7.20 on working party with Royal Engineers working down Excema Trench making terraces and revetting. Showery day, returned at 3 PM, in camp 4.45 after which Major Hoette required me and Ratcliffe to take two stretchers down to Observation Wood – 7 of our men killed with one shell.* Then we had to make ourselves acquainted with the trenches to act as guard for the Company. Arrived back in camp at 3 AM after a rough night, very tired. Next morning Major Hoette had us up at 9 AM to learn the trenches from Roman Road to Paradise Avenue, a distance of about 8 miles in the trenches. A hot day. Arrived back in camp at 4.15. Had rifle inspection and retired for the night.

*Probably Lance-Corporal F. Ratcliffe, also of D Company. Wounded on 1 July 1916, he designed the battalion memorial in Sheffield Cathedral. The wounded were from C Company. Three men wounded earlier were being tended in an old German dugout, whose door faced the enemy, a shell entering directly. Six men were killed, one died later.

5 May

On working party opening some old French trenches. We even dug up bodies of French soldiers. Had a rough day with shells from the Germans. Returned to camp at 3 o’clock, arrived in camp 4.20. Wrote a letter home to Mabel, then packed up to remove under canvas across the way in an orchard. Reminded us of Egypt except for the guns close by.

6 May

Up at 5.30 & removed to our orchard home and paraded at 7.10 on working fatigue with the RE in old French trench. Had a rough morning with the German shells. Returned to camp at 4.30. Fixed up our tents & turned in. Had a good night’s rest.

7 May

Another Army Sunday on fatigue revetting in the old French trench. Had a rough time from the Germans with whizzbangs. Wet afternoon. Returned at 4.15.

8 May

On fatigue in the old French trench with Corporal Smith.* Showery day. Very quiet. Back in camp 4 PM. Spent night in tent (illegible).

*From C Company. Three men wounded earlier were being tended in an old German dugout, whose door faced the enemy, a shell entering directly. Six men were killed, one died later.

9 May

 On fatigue deepening the trench work. Beautiful day. Returned to camp by 4.15. Saw Jim for the first time. Spent the rest of the night in camp.

10 May

On fatigue with Corporal Smith in the old French trench. Fine day. Returned to camp by 4 o’clock. Went with Scot to the café at night.

11 May

On fatigue in old French trench with Corporal Smith. Cowen came & showed us German implements dug up by 13 platoon on opening an old German trench. 4 bodies dug up. Saw Jim again. Spent the night in camp.

12 May

On fatigue with Corporal Smith in old French trench. Showery day. 13 platoon on piece work so finished by 2 o’clock. In camp by 3.15. Spent the night in camp.

13 May

On fatigue in old French trench. Very wet day so were allowed to leave work by 12 o’clock. Anniversary of my wedding day so I & Scott had a bottle of champagne. Cost 5 fr(anc)s.

14 May

On fatigue in old French trench but conditions were so bad owing to rain weather (sic) we were withdrawn by 9.15. Had to go out again at 7.40 on night work in an old German trench up to our knees in mud & water.

15 May

Had the day off. Waiting orders to pack up to join the battalion but received orders that we had to continue with fatigue work. Our front had a bombardment from the Germans – we lost 17 killed & 66 wounded.* The Royal Berks had the German bombing party and took 31 prisoners, killed and wounded about 150 of them. Bad news for us.

*The City Battalion was subject to box barrage whilst the Germans raided trenches occupied by 4th Royal Berkshire just to the north. There were, in fact, 15 killed and 45 wounded during the two hour raid.

16 May

We fell in at 12.30 to go and repair trenches. Worked until 5 o’clock, when returned to camp. Jim called to see me for the third time. Went sick at night.

17 May

Did not go on working fatigue, owing to being sick. A very bad head, saw the doctor, he gave me 3 tablets. Went with working party at night to trenches. In old German trench behind Staff Copse. Grand day.

21 May

On night working party. Left camp at 8.10 Marched overland to Jordan Avenue. Very quiet night. Left work at 12.40, arr(ived) camp 1.25. Very hot day.

22 May

On guard in camp at Colincamps. Tents in orchard. Very nice day. Very quiet day, had a good rest. Aeroplane guard during the day.

23 May

On guard in Colincamps for another 24 hours. Grand day. In afternoon the Germans shelled our billets & camp. Great excitement in the village. Lot of damage done & 4 horses killed & Langley* injured.

*Possibly Private C.H. Langley of D Company, a Sheffield University Student who was killed on 1 July 1916.

24 May

In the trenches on working party. Left camp at 1 AM, returned at 8 AM. Had a good morning – were left alone by Fritz. Back of Staff Copse.

25 May

For working party making trench mortar emplacement at the top of Eczema. Left camp at 7.30 PM & returned at 5 o’clock.

26 May

On working party in Rob Roy. When we got working the Germans turned their machine guns on us & killed F Walker & wounded Ed Robinson,* then the Germans shelled us off the top. An awful night.

*Lance-Corporal F. Walker, A company, was a fish and poultry dealer of Crookes, Sheffield. The other was possibly Lance-Corporal E. Robinson, killed on 1 July 1916.

27 May

On wiring party again in Rob Roy. Had a quiet night so managed to finish it. Returned to camp at dawn 1.30.

28 May

Had a 24 hour rest, but we did not get much rest by the Germans shelling us all day. Went to service at Coursailles with our new vicar.

29 May

On duty at night in Eczema trench. Very wet night. I was the officers’ orderly. Arrived back in camp at 12.30 wet through & no blanket to wrap in having been handed in.

30 May

Set out for our march to Bus at 12.30. Arrived Bus at 3 o’clock, had tea, then had a walk round the village. This is my first time at Bus.

31 May

On Town Commerce with 8 men removing rubbish from an old incinerator to tip heap. Very fine day.

1 June

Battalion out in the fields to see & watch the aeroplanes manoeuvre & see the signs used in trench warfare. Grand day, but cold.

2 June

On company drill all day. Had a walk at night with Rob to St Leger. Very nice evening & enjoyed the walk.

3 June

Battalion route march. Very hot day, so felt done up when returned. I wrote a letter to Mabel which Hendie* censored.

*Sergeant R.B. Henderson, D Company, a veteran of Boer War. He died of wounds 30 June 1916.

4 June

On RE fatigue at Bertrancourt. Called & had a bath on the way back to camp. Wrote a letter home at night.

5 June

Left Bus for Doullens at 9 AM & marched & billeted. Our company at Bretel, arrived there  about 3 o’clock. Felt too tired to move away from billets that day. Never was so done up before with a march.

6 June

Up at 6 AM, on early morning parade at 7 o’clock in field above railway. Also the same rifle drill morning & afternoon. I felt very ill at night.

7 June

At Bretel. Reported sick but got M&D,* but managed to get the day off. I never longed for home so much, so spent the whole day & night in bed.

*Dose of medicine and return to duty.

8 June

Went on brigade march in morning but was so done up I had to stay off again in afternoon. Melling* got me to bed where I stayed.

*Private J. Melling, D Company.

9 June

Reported sick & got M & no D. I think the doctor must have opened his heart. Had a great job to walk to the doctor’s and back again.

10 June

Reported sick but got M & D & I had to go on duty feeling very bad, so I fell out & returned to camp & spent the day in bed.

11 June

All NCOs had to parade to go through the attack on Serre. With company in afternoon. I felt very ill, but I and Buttley* had a walk to Doullens at night. First time.

*Private J.A. Buttery, ‘D’ Company, killed 1 July 1916.

12 June

Bretel. Up at 6 AM, on parade at 7.30 for the practice of the attack on Serre. Wet morning, fine afternoon. Got wet through in going through corn. On guard at night.

13 June

Left Bretel near Doullens at 8.30 to march to Bus, full pack. Had a very rough march. Very wet day. Arrived at Bus at 3 o’clock. Had a good night’s rest & we all needed it too.

14 June

At Bus in morning. Left Bus for the trenches at 12.45, arrived at Matthew Copse at 4.45. Did very little that night. I and 5 men sent to small dugout in Rob Roy for night.

15 June

In the trenches, Matthew Copse. A rough day’s work on water & other fatigues. On guard at night. Day wet morning but fine afternoon.

16 June

In the trenches. On water fatigue from Staff Copse, also on digging in La Caters(?) near front line.

17 June

In the trenches on fatigue in La Caters, sandbag revetting. Saw 5 German planes after one of ours. One dropped nearby.

18 June

In the trenches. Still in Mathew Copse on fatigue making La Caters in order.

19 June

In the trenches. I had been off all night in readiness for ration guard, but was taken off. Relieved by the East Lancs* about 5.30. Returned to Authie Wood.

*11th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, the ‘Accrington Pals’.

20 June

In Authie Wood. Had the day off for rest. Very nice day. Had a walk to Authie at night with Willcock.* Back in camp by 9 o’clock.

*Lance-Corporal N. Wilcock, ‘D’ Company, killed 1 July 1916.

21 June

On fatigue carrying Stokes gun ammunition into the trenches from Colincamps. Had a rough journey. Poor old Corporal Smith got wounded on ration guard.

22 June

Had the day off but on fatigue evening, gas to frontline from Euston Dump* – took us 5 hours. Arrived back in camp about 7.30 AM. Started at 8.30 at night.

*This RE supply base was half-way between the Sucrerie and La Signy Farm.

23 June

Had the morning off. Rifle inspection in afternoon. At 5.20 for Euston Dump carrying footballs* to John Copse. Very wet night, so only did one journey. Arrived back at 2.30 very wet through – awful time.

*Likely shells for toffee-apple type mortar.

24 June

Morning off. Went with Lieut(enant) Carr* as guide for 13 platoon to Northern Avenue. Started in new boots which gave me socks before I got back (sic).

*2nd Lieutenant E.M. Carr, ‘D’ Company, killed 1 July 1916.

25 June

Me & my men on practice building strongpoint nearby. Finished by 3.30. Rest of the day off.

26 June

On practice in fields 2 miles from camp for our great advance. Afternoon off. Very wet weather for several days. Trenches up to our waist in water.

27 June

Me & my men finished our plan of our strongpoint in morning. Had afternoon off. I and Wilcock & Scott went to Authie at night.

28 June

In Authie Wood all day preparing for the great advance. Had orders to fall in at 5.45 but was put off for 48 hours at the last moment. I & Wilcock had a walk instead.

29 June

Had an easy day in camp. Beautiful day. Had a speech from Major Hoette at night. I and Wilcock had a walk to see the observation balloon nearby & returned about 8.30 just in time to dodge the working parties.

30 June

Took it easy all day in camp. Fell in for the trenches at 6.45. Marched to Courcelles where we had a drink of tea. Left there at 10 o’clock, arr(ived) in the assembly trenches after a rough time at 3.15 AM.

1 July

Stood to in assembly trenches from 3.15 under very heavy bombardment until 7.29 when the great advance commenced. I only went about 300 yards when I got hit in foot & head, so made my way back which took me 6 hours to get back to Staff Copse, where I got my wounds dressed. Had a sleep there then made my way back to Euston Dump.* Arrived there at 11.15 PM.

* There was a Casualty Clearing Station at Euston Dump.

‘D’ Company (with ‘B’) was third & fourth wave. Gibson & Oldfield, in Sheffield City Battalion, note that “Because Rob Roy had been destroyed, these two waves had begun their advance much further back than originally planned. The fourth wave had 500 yards to go even before it crossed the British front line”, having at least 4 trenches to cross.  If Roddy’s estimate of 300 yards is correct, it is possible that he was wounded BEHIND the British front line, Gibson & Oldfield noting ‘50%’ casualties by this point. Given the level of fire directed at the survivors in No Man’s Land inhibiting movement, and the position of Staff Copse, there is even more reason to consider this possibility. 747 men had gone into action – the casualty rate was 66%. From ‘D’ Company, 16 were killed in action, 7 died of wounds, 56 were wounded and 42 were missing.

The Diary of 'Roddy' Rodinson