June 25: Very heavy storm. Had to swim in communication trenches in places. Battn out working all night & wet through to top of the head. In this state we marched back to camp at ——–.
Found huts merely roofed with sacking and soaking through at 8 am. Billeted men in the village at 10am.
[Lieutenant Josiah Taylor]
About the twenty seventh of June my Battalion was given the task of digging what was known as a Russian Sap, this was a narrow trench leading from our front line towards the German barbed wire, at the time we were not occupying the front line, but were quartered in a small village about three or four miles behind.
We paraded about nine p.m. in fighting order, all were issued with shovels, except every sixth man who was issued with a pick. We proceeded through the maze of rear trenches, and through our front line. The troops holding the line wished us luck as we filed past, and as quietly as possible we tried to make as little noise as we could, but it was difficult, what with our rifles, picks, shovels, tin cans, barbed wire and all the things that No-Mans Land could contain to cut out all noise.
On the way up the line to this operation we suffered a set-back in the way of a terrific thunder storm, with torrential rain. That rain seemed to flood the whole area, some were wading thigh deep, and in the deepest sections little men had great difficulty in keeping on their feet, in fact it was rumoured that some had drowned, whether this was correct or not I am not prepared to say. We swam, slithered and crept to our allotted task in NO-MANS LAND, and commenced to dig our secret trench towards the German wire, I think my position was about half way, we dug very carefully and very quietly in the squelching mud. We were saturated with a brown slime, when we had got down about two and a half feet, and the Germans had not discovered us, we considered we were making good time, and so we were.
To gain a complete picture of this operation the hazards must be taken into consideration, firstly the whole operation had to be finished, the trench covered in, and the excavated earth hidden in some way, and all the digging Battalion out of the area before the June dawn. The constant flare of verey lights, the probing machine gun and rifle fire, and every time a German flare sailed into the air everybody remained perfectly still, with our faces pressed closely to the ground. Of course the Germans were keyed up, they expected something to be going on, these last days of June, so they were taking no chances, and just before our Officers were prepared to consider our task well and truly carried out, someone must have made more noise than was good for the situation, up went the verey light, another, and another, we crouched silently in the water in the bottom of our freshly dug trench. The sides of the trench were crumbling with all the rain, but it was safer down in the water at the bottom than being up on the top to face what we thought would be coming our way if the suspicions of the Germans were roused any further. That was the case, they were not sure what was going on, their Officers must have decided to be on the safe side, and ordered withering machine gun and rifle fire. S.O.S. to their artillery for shrapnel, they swept the whole front for about half an hour, but fortunately for us they decided that whatever they had seen or heard had been dealt with and exterminated.
When all was quiet enough we dragged ourselves backwards from the operation into our own front line, and so back to our billets in the little village behind our front. We had sustained casualties but we considered we had got of lightly.
[2305 Pte Frank Longson]
25: This is “V” day. Wire cutting continued by T Mortars & 18 Pdrs, unfortunately the 2″ trench mortar was knocked out. This mortar was cutting wire in the vicinity of LITTLE Z. Progress in wire cutting is being made on the right front, but on the left front it is not satisfactory. The weather has broken down again & the trenches are becoming worse.
139 Infantry Brigade: Headquarters War Diary [WO95/2692]