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The First World War: Excerpts from the diary of Woodman Leonard

London Free Press

Lt.-Col. Woodman Leonard. (QMI Agency file photo)

Lt.-Col. Woodman Leonard. (QMI Agency file photo)

Lt. Col. Woodman Leonard spent the last weeks of November at the Battle of the Somme, taking what comfort he could from the occasional dry day and the resignation of Canada's much-maligned head of the militia.

Nov. 17, 1916

Bright, with a hard frost, and ground consequently frozen quite hard. M_____ and I reconnoitering for new tracks, along which ammunition could be packed without much work being done. Saw occasional unburied bodies, both Boche and British. Went up main road and examined one of our planes which came down early in the morning. He had tried to land on main road, but had missed it and turned bottom up after striking the ground. . . . Started to make a paper knife out of a copper band of a shell. Have word that we will attack tomorrow at 6:10 a.m. . . . It is true that Sam Hughes is not longer Minister of Militia. God be praised!


General Sir Sam Hughes and staff visit captured German trenches of the Somme in August 1916. Lt. Col. Woodman Leonard wrote "God be praised" in his diary when he learned in November 1916 of Hughes' forced resignation. (Library and Archives Canada)

Nov. 18, 1916

Each battery fired 80 rounds between 5:45 and 6 a.m. And at 6:10 we opened up on an offensive barrage. Four battalions of the 4th Division attacked the Desire trench, and the 18th Division Grand Court trench. The attack was successful, and the cage just north of us was filled with prisoners. An awful morning, with a cold and driving rain. Went over and had a look at some of the prisoners, who proved to be not a very good looking lot. . . . The cage filled up several times during the day, so several hundred prisoners must have been taken.

Nov. 19, 1916

About noon H____ and I went forward, but going was very hard, as we accumulated about 20 pounds of mud, it seemed, on each foot. About 100 yards in rear of Desire support trench a sniper opened up and I dived into a shell hole and H_____ into another. An infantry man in front was not quick enough, and the sniper got him. The soldier shouted for help, and we crawled over and dragged him into a deep shell-hole. His leg was badly broken just about the knee. We put on a dressing and made him as comfortable as possible. He will have to lie there until dark, when stretcher-bearers will get him.


Troops leave trenches during the Battle of the Somme. In this week's entries, Leonard describes a couple of close calls involving German shells and a sniper.

Nov. 20, 1916

A good drying day, with a strong high wind and a little sunshine. H_____ and T_____ went forward in a.m. And former had a close call . . . Our dump ammunition considerably reduced. We have had 10 guns worn out or destroyed since the 1st Sept.

Nov. 21, 1916

Cold, with thick mist all day. One could not see more than 200 yards. M_____ down with several others and we exchanged views of the situation. Almost got lost showing the tramway to one of them. . . . Some shells lit on top of our dug out. Got word we would likely be relieved between 24th and 27th in two sections.

Nov. 22, 1916

A very heavy fog in morning, which the sun did its best to dispel by shining brightly at times. Visited battery and gave orders about general ground clothing. M____ applied for leave, so that he can get over to see his mother! Who has crossed the ocean to see him. Held office on a telephonist who failed to go over the line under shell fire. Remanded him for further evidence. Boche did a lot of shelling after dark and got a direct hit on 9th gun pit. The gun was destroyed and five men were wounded and one killed, Sgt. Stone, whose foot, so far, only has been found.

Nov. 23, 1916

My thirty-third birthday, the third in active service and second at the front. There is nothing but a hole left at the 9th g​un pit hit yesterday but none of the shells donated. The gun proper is perhaps O.K., but the carriage trail wheels and buffer are smashed to atoms.


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