War Diary Commentary

G. Tingey said... Any luck yet with digging the Battalion records out from Kew?
As you say, they must have them SOMEWHERE .....
14 January 2009
I'll try again now that they've settled after the Christmas holiday. BL

Roger O'Keeffe has kindly produced explanations for some of the terms used in the War Diary. Many thanks Roger.

With a (limited) military background, I tend to assume that all readers will understand most of the terms used. Of course, that isn't always the case.

It would certainly pay dividends to go back and re-read the diaries in the light of Roger's efforts.

These are included as comments in the War Diary postings.
This refers to the War Diary of September 1917. BL

Roger O'Keeffe said...
The word "musketry" might seem odd to some readers in the context of the first world war.
In British Army training terminology, "rifle marksmanship" refers to learning how to shoot accurately, whereas "musketry" is about understanding the tactical use of the rifle in the field.

20th to 24th
Quite a lot going on. The battalion takes part in an attack, behind 10th NF (10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers) which it then relieves in the front line. It seems as if it lost 22 killed immediately on going over the top (zero hour), but only one more fatality during its five days in the front line.
Blue line seems to be the objective of its attack, and it digs in into a new trench system along that line and then moves into the front line and holds the position for four days until relieved, relying mainly on artillery to protect it from German counter-attack.
It spends the night of 20th to 21st consolidating its position – turning bits of captured enemy trench, shell holes etc. into a continuous trench line, with a fire step and new barbed wire on the side facing the enemy.
Note that on several misty mornings it calls for a barrage in front of its position to as a precaution against a dawn attack.
The “hurricane bombardment” is a short period of intense enemy artillery fire intended to create the expectation that the Germans are about to counter-attack, and thus to keep the British, who are occupying their recently-captured position, on edge and guessing about the time and place of the real counter-attack.

English-speakers often misuse the word “barrage” to refer to an artillery bombardment, but the diary makes a distinction between the two – a distinction particularly relevant to trench warfare. A bombardment is intended to destroy the target and its occupants, whereas a barrage (French tir de barrage) is intended to prevent movement. In this case, where the diarist writes “the artillery did not barrage our front” he is complaining that the British artillery did not put down a screen of fire in front of the Battalion's lines to stop the German advance. The battalion was left to defend itself with just its own rifle and machine-gun fire because Battalion headquarters in the rear had not seen the SOS due to the morning mist and therefore failed to telephone the artillery for support: it wasn't till 7:30 that a messenger (orderly) made it back a few miles on foot to inform HQ.
The SOS was an emergency signal in the form of a succession of Very lights (flares fired from a pistol) in a fixed series of colours, fired by the infantry as an urgent request for artillery fire on a prearranged line just in front of their own trenches in the event of an enemy attack.
The barrage put down on the British lines at 10 am was, I imagine, a German barrage designed to prevent the British from counter-attacking, or it may have been to cover the reinforcement or relief of the unit which had unsuccessfully attacked and taken heavy casualties.
A “creeping barrage” was used in the attack to shield advancing troops – artillery fire would be aimed to land in a line just in front of them, and the elevation of the guns would be constantly adjusted so that this impact line would move forward at a prearranged rate so as to continue to fall just in front of the advancing troops. Once the attackers had occupied their objective – typically a line of trenches which would have been separately bombarded - the barrage might be laid down beyond that line to prevent the enemy from moving up reinforcements or launching a counter-attack.
Flammenwerfer is the German word for a flame-thrower, and it's interesting that the German word is used by the diarist without the need for any explanation.
A Minenwerfer (literally mine thrower) is a German heavy trench mortar (nicknamed a “moaning Minnie”). It fired a very large projectile over a fairly short range, and was dreaded because the projectile could be seen flying through the air and did considerable damage on impact.
“Bombs” are hand grenades. They were one of the most useful weapons in trench warfare, and were very widely used in all infantry battalions – designated soldiers would carry a canvas bucket full of them or a sleeveless jerkin covered with grenade-sized pockets (from memory, I think that this was the original meaning of the term “bomber jacket”, though I can't find a source to prove this): these soldiers were originally called grenadiers until the British Grenadiers objected to this prestigious title being used by inferior regiments (never mind the fact that by this time most of the soldiers in a Grenadier battlion would be riflemen!), so grenadiers became “bombers” and grenades became “bombs”.

The Northumberland Fusiliers (from the industrial North-East of England) included about a dozen battalions of “Tyneside Irish” and “Tyneside Scots” - these pals' battalions were so named to generate competition between the local communities of Irish and Scottish immigrants to see who could raise the most troops for Kitchener's New Armies.

DLI: Durham Light Infantry

KOYLI: King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. My father was born in Dublin in 1904, when it was still a British garrison town. No offence to any Yorkshireman reading this, but he once told me that, when he was a young man, years after Irish independence and the departure of the British army, “KOYLI” was still shouted as a term of abuse by Dublin football supporters at any player who kicked into touch to escape a tackle!
09 January 2009 13:37

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