June 1916 – before The Somme

It is perhaps not surprising that neither Ernest’s diary nor that of the Field Company anticipate the coming offensive.  Even if they had known, secrecy would have been at the utmost and on a strictly need to know basis.

After returning to Douddu at the start of June, Ernest appears to have been engaged in the construction of various items at the headquarters: tables, a messbox, a latrine and beds for the officers and himself.  In addition he was busy making structural components for the trenches – dugout frames, A-frames, staircases.   There is plenty of work in the last week of June, both repairing the communications trenches (which connected the main trenchlines) making machine gun emplacements and also converting a communications trench (CT) into a firing trench (FT).  The latter involved installing the ‘fire steps’, the raised platform that the soldiers could stand on to look over the parapet in order to fire on the enemy.

Trench diagram 1914
Firing trench construction diagram 1914

The Field Company diary notes that exhaustive work went on both day and night, with the assistance of working parties from the infantry, in repairing and extending the trench system also reinforcing it with dugouts.  An observation post was erected, resembling a tree.

Although there are occasional reports of artillery fire and gas, the month was mostly quiet, with the exception of temporary excitement on the 29th when a pigeon was shot at Douddu, which was found to have a metal band on its leg marked ‘COURTRAI’, however this was quickly dismissed by the Intelligence Officers of the 24th brigade.

On the 30th there is a brief step up in activity.  The infantry wirecut the enemy trenches at 7am; a barrage is sent over to the enemy trenches at 21:15, followed by gas at 22:00; a couple of raiding parties are sent across at 22:15 and recalled at 22:30 after which there was another hour of bombardment. Finally at 1am gas was sent over again.  Given the distance of Ploegsteert from The Somme, it may have been that units all along the line were given instructions to increase activity on the 30th so that the Germans could not be sure where the real attack might occur.

After the activity on the 1st July, the days that follow at Ploegsteert are comparatively quiet again, especially compared to the horrors that were taking place 50 miles to the south.

237th position to The Somme, 1916
Relative position of the 237th to The Somme in June / July 1916