Communication trenches & defence – January 21st, 1918

Monday Jan 21st, 1918

Reveille 7am.  Bath in Bath Valley 9am. Charlie Wild leaves us for Dock, sorry to lose him. 1:30 kit inspection.  Parade at 5:30 for night operations digging communication trench.  Johnny spots us and lets fly with his machine guns and trench mortars but thanks be to God all return safe. Hot crowd went, we came back. Changed dug out too – Number 21. Wrote home 9th letter.

The Plan

Frank is a member of a working party from B Company out this evening digging a communication trench.  This was part of the Programme of Work devised several days ago and outlined in Appendix IV of the Battalion’s diary.  This Appendix also contains a related Defence Scheme.  The following map shows the area in which both B and D Company are working.

Salonika 1915-18
Sketch made by an Officer of 13th Battalion showing, inter alia, the reserve trenches in Tortue (click to see larger image)*

Programme of Work

This document provides information, by Company, of what work is to be undertaken, its location, the number of officers and troops in the working party, and what time of day or night it should be conducted. Work is under the control of various parties including the Royal Engineers and the Maintenance Officer.

Expanded view of previous sketch (click to see larger image)*

Almost half of B Company, including Frank, will be working on one of the Communication Trenches in Tortue from the junction of ST2 &ST3 to the front line.

The rest of the Company is to be engaged in constructing a loop trench around the Observation Post on Tortue. (See OP just below Frank’s Communication Trench on map.) All work is to be undertaken after dusk.

The other three Companies will be engaged in a variety of similar tasks. These include digging new and deepening existing trenches; gas and bomb proofing dugouts; installing search lights; and general maintenance.  Company D will be located closest to Frank as they are working on the reserve trenches in Tortue themselves.

Defence Scheme

This outlines the instructions in the event of an enemy attack taking place while the parties are working.  For B and D Companies, this means manning the right and left portions of the Main Reserve Trench on Tortue. The Officers of both Companies are to report, by telephone, to Brigade HQ and Battalion HQ, Vladaja from the Company station on Torquay (just visible on lower right of map).

In Practise

Sappers digging communications trenches in apparently more benign conditions than Frank’s working party encountered.**

Frank and some comrades under the command of one Officer and the guidance of the Royal Engineers goes out at dusk to dig the communication trench.  Unfortunately because of strong moonlight, the party is spotted by the enemy and Johnny uses both machine guns and trench mortars to disturb the work.  Frank gives credit to God that all in the party return safely.

Note that while Frank has written his 8th letter to his wife and daughter, he has, as yet, received no mail from Blighty.

13th (Service) Battalion War Diary – 21st January 1918 – Vladaja Camp

Working parties on La Tortue have to be very careful these strong moonlight nights, any exposure causes immediate enemy sniping and shelling. The Vladaja gas chamber has been allowed to the Battalion on the 23rd inst: Lt KH Allen the Battalion gas officer will e in charge of the arrangements. 2 OR struck off effective strength with effect from 21-1-18. 2 OR invalided to UK struck off from 2-1-18. 22 OR transferred to Labour Corps with effect from 1-1-18 (AAB 3rd Echelon GHQ BSF BLK/A1/14470)

References & further reading

* This sketch was made by an Officer from the 13th Battalion. Source – National Archives, Kew

** photograph from Field Marshall (Earl) Haig’s papers,  National Library of Scotland

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