The ‘Infernal Den’ at Doo Doo Farm

On 16th May 1916, Ernest noted: “Ploegstreete. Moved off to Doo-Doo farm 12 miles march”

Doo-Doo will become a central base for Ernest and the Company over the coming months although Ernest is not always consistent with the spelling, calling it “Do-Do”, “Dou-Do” and other variants.  It must have been a headquarters for successive companies of the Royal Engineers in this region of the Front.  An internet search threw up a reference in a memoir entitled: “THE WAR SERVICE of the 1/4 Royal Berkshire Regiment (T.F.) By C. R. M. F. CRUTTWELL” (e.g. http://www.ajhw.co.uk/books/book312/book312.html – other sources are available).  In the chapter entitled “Holding the line at ‘Plugstreet’ ” (a common, and deliberate, misrepresentation of ‘Ploegsteert’), the journal gives this account from May 1915: “Throughout the end of April and for many days in May the wind blew steadily out of a cloudless sky from the north-east, and every morning we anxiously sniffed the breeze as we fingered the inadequate and clumsy respirators of those times. Every day a new pattern arrived with a new set of instructions. Then our sappers were ordered to make boxes of gun-powder which were to be fired by fuse and thrown over the parapet to dissipate the gas. In doing this they succeeded in blowing up several of their own number in their infernal den at Doo-Doo Farm.”A year later 

A year later in May 1916 the War Diary of the 237 Field Company gives the map reference of the location, including some further information on the expected duties and responsibilities of the Company:

“16.5.16: The Company moved from the Farm De-la Belle Croise at 8.0am & proceeded through Bailleul to Dou-Dou Farm (Map reference sheet 36 NW B 5 c77) arriving there at 11.30am taking over the billets & work vacated by 64th Field Coy RE (9th Division) on the morning of the 16th May.  Lieut Monteith RE & 3 NCOs from the 64th Fd.Co. remaining behind.  The 9th Division Infantry are still holding the line.  We are working with the 27th Infantry Brigade. Our sector of the front extends from Trench 103 on the South by the WARNAVE up to trench 120 on the North in front of the centre of the East end of PLOEGSTEERT wood.  The 26th Brigade with the 228th Field Company are on the left and the South African Brigade, with the 233rd Field Company on our right.  The trenches are high-level breastworks & in good condition & dry.  The left of the line – Trench 117-120 have been considerably damaged by shell fire.

Map 36 NW is archived at http://maps.nls.uk/view/101464966 and an excerpt below  magnifies B5 c77, showing that the farm was actually called “Douddu”.

36.NW Douddu Farm
Excerpt from 36NW 1:20,000 showing position of Douddu farm in relation to Nieppe, Armentieres and the front line

Map 5A (Hazebrouck, 1:100,000) shows us that Douddu was just over the Belgian border.  On the excerpt below, the region that the Field Company diary describes as the responsibility of the 237th is marked in green, showing the geographical relationship of this work area to Douddu.

Douddu and 237th work area
5A Hazebrouck 1:100,000. Relationship between Douddu farm and the 237th FC work area

After arriving at Douddu, Ernest tells us he was initially based in the carpenter’s shop on the farm.  This places him in No.4 Section, as the Field Co. Diary tells us that No.1, 2 & 3 section were moved out to TOUQUET BERTHE with No.4 remaining on the farm.

After a few days, Ernest is ‘shifted up to billet near Ploegstrete Wood’ on the 21st , where he notes he  is employed in CT (Communications Trench) 120.  This must have been at/near TOUQUET BERTHE as the Field Co. Diary notes that Section No. 4 moved here and began work on machine gun placements and also, intriguingly, dummy trenches:

21/5: “Orders to carry out several “dummy” works were received. These will be done tomorrow night.”

22/5: “During the night, the dummy trenches were constructed and aeroplane photos will show if the work looks genuine.”

These locations are visible on the following map, which a composite of parts of the 1:20,000 36.NW and 28.NW maps.

36.NW and 28.SW Douduu Farm
Field of operations of the 237th Field Company R.E., May 1916 (36.NW & 28.SW 1: 20,000)

Following the dropping of a German ‘Whizzbang’ on Laurence Farm on 23/5, a new cupola dugout was started, which Ernest may have been involved with as from the 25th May to the 7th June his diary entries note continual work on an officer’s dugout, with the construction of staircases, corridors etc.  On the same day , 7th June the Field Company diary noted that:

10.0am TOUQUET-BERTHE (advance billets) was shelled & set on fire.  Luckily the dump had been transferred 3 days ago to HAMPSHIRE Fme.  No casualties but 2 officers & 27 men lost all their kits etc., 3 bicycles & the carpenters shop & mess & mess gear were destroyed.

It appears that Ernest was no longer at Touquet when it was shelled as his diary on the 7th merely notes he was working on the Officer’s dugout and then shifted back to Douddu on the 8th – no mention of shelling, a fire or a lost bicycle !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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