Memoirs & Diaries - The Diary of Thomas Fredrick Littler: January-June 1918

Thomas Littler, author of the diaries This section of the site comprises the wartime diaries of Thomas Fredrick Littler.

Click here to read an introduction to the diaries.  The following section of the diaries covers the first half of 1918.

Diary Entries for January to June 1918

January 6th 1918
When I underwent another very slight operation to have the sinews of my leg fastened again.

January 16th 1918
I left Thetford and marked category Aiii I was drafted to Newark, Nottinghamshire, and posted to No.11 Company, Royal Engineers Training Depot, Coddington Hall.

January 23rd 1918
I had a telegram telling me of the sudden death of my dear Dad Mr Edward Alfred Littler.

January 24th 1918
I proceeded home and a very sad home too.

January 26th 1918
Placed my dear Dad at Rest in St Johns Churchyard, Hartford.

February 2nd 1918
Leave expired and had to leave my dear Mother all alone this time, but my sister Mrs G Ward did her best.

February 12th 1918
I was marked Category Ai and considered fit to go abroad again.

March 8th 1918
I went home on draft leave.

March 15th 1918
I returned to my unit and was informed I was to proceed with a draft to Salonica.

March 17th 1918
I left No. 11 Company at Coddington Hall and was posted to No.5 the Draft Company, ready to go to Salonica.

March 20th 1918
The Salonica draft was cancelled and the same draft was marked for France, as a big enemy offensive is taking place against us.

March 29th 1918
It is Good Friday and at 1-30a.m we left Newark to proceed to France, a draft of 150 strong. We had breakfast at the Union Jack Club, London and left Waterloo Station at 2-0p.m and arrived at Southampton at 4-0p.m and went straight on board the St George transport Ship, and sailed away from the docks at 6-0p.m again leaving dear Old England behind.

March 30th 1918
We disembarked from the St George at 6-0 a.m at Le Havre and proceeded to the Rest Camp, and stayed there till 8p.m when we marched to the station and boarded the train for Rouen, but the train did not leave till 2-0 a.m and in the meantime it poured with rain.

March 31st 1918
The train left Le Havre at 2-0a.m and we arrived in Rouen at 10-0a.m and marched up the Rue de Calais to the Royal Engineers Base Depot, and immediately we drew rifles, bayonets, iron rations, oil sheets, blankets, sheep skin coats, and ammunition.

April 1st 1918
We were issued with our gas respirators, and went through our gas test.

April 2nd & 3rd 1918
We stood to ready to go up the line, the enemy offensive on the Somme was still going strong.

April 4th 1918
We left Rouen at 4-0p.m and boarded the train in cattle trucks, and proceeded up to the firing line, and as dusk drew on we passed through Abbeville.

April 5th 1918
We are still in the train and at 0-0a.m we passed through Tilques and at 11-20 we stopped at Hazebrouck, we went on after to the rail-head at Weursveldt, and marched to Steenvoorde a distance of 8 kilos on the borders of Belgium.

April 6th 1918
We marched from Steenvoorde to Poperinghe a distance of 14 kilos and reached our Brigade, the 122 Brigade of the 41st Division in the 1st Army, and posted to the 228th Field Company Royal Engineers, and I was posted to the strength of No4 Section. Our Army Commander was General Plumer, our Divisional Commander was General Lawford, and our Company Commander Major Shaw M.C.

April 7th 1918
It was Sunday and we had a days rest.

April 8th 1918
We paraded at 8-0a.m and left School camp at Poperinghe and marched throuh Brandhoek and Vlamertynghe to Ypres, a distance of 14 kilos, Ypres was practically flat.

April 9th 1918
We stood to all day for work but luckily none came.

April 10th 1918
Stood to all day and at 9-0p.m we had to pack up hurriedly, and 1 & 2 Sections went up the main Menin and Potijze roads and mined the roads, and 3 and 4 Sections were mining bridges across Ypres and Comines Canal, and worked till midday next day, the reason for this was because the Germans had started another big offensive against us, in the Northern Sector on the 1st Army Corps.

April 11th 1918
We returned from work at midday tired out.

April 12th 1918
I saw a furious battle in the air this morning, 4 German planes engaging three British, 2 German planes and two British came down and fell in our lines, 1 German plane caught fire and fell in his own lines, the other one made his escape, and the remaining British plane hovered above and then made off. In the afternoon we had to go and re-mine a bridge crossing the Ypres Canal, placing 70 lbs of guncotton under it, and connected with both electric and instantaneous fuse, finished at midnight.

April 13th 1918
We paraded at 8-0 a.m and worked on the same bridge as the night before, and I was detailed off to patrol the bridge from 8-0p.m till 8a.m next morning, the shelling in Ypres [now Lepers] was very heavy and we had one man wounded Sapper Bert Mills, but other detachments in the town suffered heavily.

April 14th 1918
(Sunday) I came off guard at 8-0a.m and got down to sleep, but had to parade at 2-0p.m, hand in pack with all personal effects, and went up the Menin [now Menen] Road and dug a line of trenches for the infantry to fall back on, as the Germans had advanced on both sides of us, and we were in a salient and were forced to evacuate Passchondale ridge, many towns and villages fell in his hands.

April 15th 1918
We carried on with the same work as the day before, also did some barbed wiring entanglements.

April 16th 1918
We were laying a mine under the Menin road and railway, and completed the work, also a bridge at 150yds distance towards Ypres, and 6 of us were detailed off to guard the mine the whole night while the infantry and artillery fell back to new positions.

April 17th 1918
After the infantry had fallen back and the rear guard had crossed the 1st mine, we blew up the road successfully, and retired to the bridge, and the infantry had then got across that, and Lieutenant Read blew up the bridge, and Major Shaw, M.C. our O.C. stood by to watch it go up, and a flying missile struck him in the back, killing him instantly, and we carried him back to Ypres.

April 17th 1918 [second entry]
I was detailed off to bury our O.C. along with 6 others, and buried just outside our Orderly Room, Lieutenant Read is very ill.

April 18th 1918
Lieutenant Read is much better, we were up in the line working all day, we had one casualty, Sapper Brown being wounded in the arm.

April 19th 1918
We were up in the line working all day.

April 20th 1918
We left Ypres at 9a.m and marched back 4 kilos to Vlamertynghe, and paraded for work on the horse lines at 1p.m. till 6p.m.

April 21st 22nd 1918
We were stripping the field in the rear of Ypres of all obstacles in case we had to evacuate Ypres hurriedly, both nights we were bombed and swept with machine gun fire from the airoplanes.

April 23rd 1918
We prepared a strong reserve line in the rear of Ypres.

April 24th 1918
We finished the work of the day before.

April 25th 1918
(Thursday) There was a terrible bombardment along the whole sector all day, and I, with an officer and a party of infantry mined a bridge on the Vlamertynghe and Poperinghe railway, also started to mine another bridge on the Vlamertynghe and Ypres railway.

April 26th 1918
Finished the bridge of the day before and were called back to stand by in billets, the bombardment is going much more strong.

April 27th 1918
Still standing by and in the afternoon had to go to the front line and support the infantry over on right, as the Germans were making heavy attacks on us, and we had to fall back and the enemy finally captured Kemmill Hill, we lost many men and the shelling was terrible, we were withdrawn from the line about midnight.

April 28th 1918
Rested all day in billets in Vlamertynghe, The battle for Kemmill Hill continued and the French were rushed up, we had two batches of reinforcements.

April 29th 1918
We had to leave our billets at Vlamertynghe as the battle grew worse, as late last night the French retook Kemmill Hill, and the Germans were again attacking to retake it.

April 30th 1918
The Germans recaptured Kemmill Hill, and towards evening a lull came over the artillery, we worked all night digging in, in the rear of Kemmill and Locre and in front of Scherkenburgh Hill, the dead lying around were numerous from both sides.

May 1st 1918
The enemy did not attack this day; at night we cleared the ground of the dead which were thousands, and it was a sickening job.

May 2nd 1918
We made a strong line in front of Vlamertynghe, and made permanent billets in Dirty Bucket Camp.

May 3rd 1918
We finished the trench, the Germans got range of it and shelled it, we had one casualty, Sapper Mac Muir.

May 4th 5th 1918
Went sick fed up with work & war.

May 6th 1918
Went on parade, and we worked in front of Vlamertynghe, mining a bridge near the Vlamertynghe Chateau the Belgian residence of General Von Bissing, Nurse Cavells murderer.

May 7th 1918
We finished the work of the day before.

May 8th 1918
During heavy fire we mined the road leading to Vlamertynghe Chateau, and blew down trees which were proving to be range marks for the enemy.

May 9th 1918
I was detailed off to put water pipes in the Area Commandants Camp.

May 10th 1918
Finished the work of the day before.

May 11th 1918
We moved up the line to Ypres again, and I was placed on guard over one of the mined bridges.

May 12th 1918
I came off guard at 8a.m and was detailed off to work at night, I turned out to work at 8p.m returned at 3a.m, I was in charge of 30 infantry men connecting up posts, we were shelled going up and coming back, we had to pass through a gas barrage, thrown over by gas shells, and we had a very rough time with High Velocity Shells bursting on the lines.

May 13th 1918
(Monday) I continued working on the post and it poured with rain, and at 1a.m were shelled off the job with whizz-bangs, my infantry party had two casualties, (Hampshires).

May 14th 1918
I continued on the same work on the front line by the White Chateau on the Menin Road.

May 15th 1918
I carried on as I did the night before and we had a gas barrage to pass through and heavy shelling and my infantry party of Hampshires had one casualty.

May 16th 1918
We were shelled off the job with a whizz-bang and gas barrage, but got clear without any casualties.

May 17th 1918
We were heavily shelled with gas shells, 5.9 high explosives, and low bursting shrapnel, we were caught in the barrage and my party of Royal West Kents had two killed and seven wounded, including the Platoon Officer.

May 18th 1918
Carried on with the same job, were heavily shelled, but had no casualties.

May 19th 1918
Carried on with the same work on the same trench, were heavily shelled with gas shells, but no casualties (Whitsunday).

May 20th 1918
Carried on with the same work on the same trench, no casualties.

May 21st 1918
Worked in between the Menin and Potijze Roads, camouflaging.

May 22nd 1918
Carried on with the fire trench I was on, on the 20th inst.

May 23rd 24th 1918
Finished the trench, it being A framed, revetted, and duck boarded.

May 25th 1918
Started building new breastwork along the trench, commencing by the White Chateau on the Potijze Road.

May 26th 1918
Continued with the brestwork and were heavily shelled the whole night, and coming back had a gas barrage of 2.5 miles to pass through.

May 27th 1918
Stood to all day and had a night off work at night.

May 28th 1918
Went out on a wiring party working 100 yds to the left of Zillebeke Lake, in front of Spoil Bank, and our walk to work and back took us through Ecole village, which was badly smashed.

May 29th 1918
Carried on same as night before and were heavily shelled.

May 30th 1918
Same as night before, but finished the work having put out 1,000 yds of barbed wire entanglements, we had one casualties [sic] this night.

May 31st 1918
I was working on the right of Calvary Road in the support line.

June 1st 1918
I had charge of a working party digging a new front line on the right of Calvary Road.

June 2nd 1918
(Sunday) We carried out a big raid on the Germans, it was a complete mess up and utter failure.

June 3rd 1918
We were relieved from Ypres by the 36th Division and we had held it successfully for two months, it was the key to the Calais defences, and marched 14 kilos to Ball Camp between Poperinghe and Watou.

June 4th 1918
We marched from Ball Camp to Proven, loaded the 122nd Brigade Transport on the train and entrained ourselves for St. Omer arriving at 2a.m.

June 5th 1918
Detrained at St. Omer at 2am unloaded the Brigade Transport and marched through Tilques, Brassion, and Houle to Gans-Pette, a distance of 22 kilos.

June 6th 1918
We had an easy day, I took a walk to Watten, and we are out on rest until the following date, it's a beautiful little village, we had football matches whilst resting here.

June 25th 1918
We left Ganspette and marched 27 kilos through Watten to a farm 3 kilos the other side of Borsouck, nearer the line our rest at an end.

June 26th 1918
We left the farm and marched through Borsouck to Wormhout a distance of 12 kilos.

June 27th 1918
Rested all day.

June 28th 1918
Left Wormhout and marched through Steenwoorde to L'Abeele a distance of 17 kilos. Steenwoorde was very badly battered about and in a fearful state, and at our billet we were shelled.

June 29th 1918
We pulled down Nissen Bow huts to build Divisional Headquarters with; farther behind, heavy shelling at night.

June 30th 1918
(Sunday) same as day before.

Diary and photographs contributed by Chris Littler, visit his website at www.first-world-war.co.uk.

3 British Officers were executed by courts martial during the war, as opposed to 316 Private soldiers and 24 Non-Commissioned Officers.  The vast majority were for desertions.

- Did you know?

Thomas Littler