News

WWI

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

By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press

Londoner Woodman Leonard commanded an artillery unit in the First World War and kept a daily diary of life on the Western Front and during several major battles. Sun Media is publishing excerpts of the diary each week.


This week in the war

March 8 to 11, 1917: The British capture Baghdad, a serious blow to Ottoman government.

March 13 to April 23, 1917: British continue gains in Mesopotamia, capturing town of Samarrah and its railroad.

March 15, 1917: Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicates.


​Vimy Ridge has become a symbol of Canadian nationhood.

The battle on the strategic ridge in April 1917 gathered together for the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and their success, at great sacrifice, filled the country with pride.

But in the days before the battle, the men on the ground only knew that it was cold, muddy and a battle lay ahead.

“The nut we have to crack is a hard one,” officer-diarist Leonard wrote in his diary a few weeks before the battle of Vimy Ridge.

After the Battle of the Somme in the fall of 1916, Leonard took leave in England where he had a wound to his face treated.

By March, he and his artillery brigades were near the village of Aix-Noulette, just west of Vimy Ridge, and getting ready for the battle.


Canadian troops slogged through muck and mire in northern France en route to the landmark battle for Vimy Ridge. More than 38,000 tonnes of ammunition was allotted for the assault on the German-held ridge, with horses used to help haul artillery shells. (Library and Archives Canada)

Diary excerpts from the Great War

March 14, 1917

Dull with rain off and on all day. Went forward . . . and spent some hours studying the front. The trenches are ankle deep in muck and very little rain will make them impassable. As it was we had to go overland and in full view of the enemy. The division which held this front last summer and fall reverting, for which slackness we are now suffering. We entered the outpost through the long tunnel which is to be used for the battle. . . . Went through a gap into no man’s land but could see nothing but wire and tore my breeches badly. Saw one of enemy officers examining wire at mill on our left and could easily picked him off had we a rifle. They evidently use the mill for observing us.

March 15, 1917

Colder, but with occasional glimpses of sunlight. We now occupy Loupart Wood, which means the Boche are still going back on the Somme front. I complained to H______ that I had too much work to do.

March 16, 1917

Rather a nice day. Went on foot to Maroeuil but they were not there, but got a lift to Carency in a motor car and arrived late consequence. Discussed further re-arrangement of batteries from 4 to 6 guns each, adding increase to two of mine.

March 17, 1917

St. Patrick’s Day (my third in France). Bright and clear, with high wind. Much aeroplane activity, and as usual the Boche seem to be getting the better of us. . . . Attended to complaints and other matters.

March 18, 1917

Sunday. Dull and a little cooler . . . The ground to be taken between us and Vimy Ridge is of great depth and the field guns have to be moved forward before the final objective can be safely held, if gained. The scheme is worked out very minutely and will mean a lot of work. The nut we have to crack is a hard one.

March 19, 1917

Very stormy all day, accompanied all day with rain. Inspected all the batteries and have made arrangements for regular sniping.

March 20, 1917

Strong wind from north-west, and dull and raining. The wind indicator makes a noise just like some one mowing a lawn. Ordered the 9th to fire 50 rounds daily on Albercht Weg. Visited the 11th alternate position and looked over ammunition. It is in good shope. Rain changed to sleet and it was very unpleasant going. Looked over my new headquarters on way back . . . Investigated the new 6 gun establishment but could not clean it up.​

Woodman Leonard

  • Born: Nov. 23, 1883
  • Graduated Royal Military College: 1903
  • Major, 12th Battery: 1914-1916
  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO): Jan. 14, 1916
  • Promoted to Lt. Col., 3rd Brigade: June 1916
  • Died: April 7, 1917 (killed at Vimy Ridge)
  • Battles fought: Ypres, the Somme, Vimy Ridge​

Reader's comments »

By adding a comment on the site, you accept our terms and conditions