Title - Journal of 12/1391 John Thomas Cratchley

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P.C. John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley was born on 21st January 1881 to Matthew and Clara Cratchley in the Derbyshire town of Melbourne. The 1901 Census shows him employed as a gardener's labourer while living with his parents and four siblings at 182 Mount Pleasant in Melbourne. On 1st December 1906, he married a local girl, Agnes Mary Jackson, at Melbourne Parish Church. The couple's first child, Donald, was born the following year before the family left Melbourne for Sheffield where Jack joined the City Police Force. In 1911, Jack and Agnes, together with their three surviving children, Donald, Vera and Evelyn, were living at Oak Street in Heeley, Sheffield. Another child, Harry, followed in 1914.

Left: John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley when a Police Officer before the war. Photograph courtesy of Mal Hamilton-Warwick.

Jack volunteered for army service on 30th March 1915, and was posted to E Company of the Sheffield City Battalion with the number 12/1391. The following journal entries have been transcribed from a foolscap-sized notebook with a hardcover in which Jack had written in ink; it seems likely that he made notes while in the Army, and copied them into the notebook on returning home.

The following transcript was made by Jack's granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick, and appears here with her kind permission.

On 30th March 1915 I enlisted in the 12th Yorks & Lancs regiment, known as the Sheffield City Battalion. For the first two weeks our headquarters was at the Jungle, Townhead Street. Our training ground was at Norfolk Park where we had a hard fortnight's training under an Army instructor named Costello, and after our day's work we went home, where we lived until such time we was taken to Redmires Camp where we trained with the Battalion who had been there for some weeks previous. The Battalion left Redmires Camp for Cannock Chase on May 13th 1915, and I was left at Redmires with E Company where I acted as Military Policeman, along with another. We stayed there till the middle of July when we moved to Silkstone Camp near Barnsley, where I only stayed a short time. On 31st July I went with a draft to Ripon where the Battalion had arrived in the early hours of the morning. I was posted to A Company and we soon made ourselves at home. The camp was an ideal one, three minutes walk out of Ripon where we spent some happy hours after parade.

On the night of 25th September 1915 in drenching rain we marched to Ripon station and entrained for a long journey to the south of England, arriving next day at Hurdcott Camp near Wilton, Salisbury, where we did a certain amount of training in manoeuvres. Shortly after we marched across the downs to Larkhill Camp, remaining there from November 16th to November 30th 1915. Here we received the short rifles and machine guns, our Battalion taking four of the five prizes put up for the inter-Brigade competition. In parts I and II, our Battalion made the best record in the 94th Brigade, and in parts III and IV, they came out on top. We returned from Larkhill to Hurdcott Camp, one half of the Battalion, the other half which had been given a short farewell leave from Larkhill, had been recalled. The Division received sudden orders to prepare for Egypt. We embarked on December 21st 19151 on board His Majesty's Troopship Nestor (Blue Funnel Line) anchored at Devonport.

Just before we left England the Battalion formed a band in which I played the E-flat Bass and as the ship left the dock we played "Auld Lang Syne" etc. We passed Plymouth Hoe with destroyers on either side and we went to sea, this being my first time, and also my first time in seeing the sea. We had been sailing about three hours when I began to feel a little queer, as the big ship was rolling nicely at that time. I had witnessed a nice few of the men with sea sickness, but later my turn came, and as we passed through the Bay of Biscay I proved to be a bad sailor, staggering like a drunken man, but anyway by this time I was not the only one, and I could hear the good sailors shouting "here's another" as first one and then another rushed to the ship side to feed the fish.

Right: John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley in army uniform. Photograph courtesy of Mal Hamilton-Warwick.
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Pte. John Thomas (Jack) Cratchley

On December 22nd we was well into the Bay of Biscay, the ship was dipping and then rolling on her side as if she was going over, with the waves like blue mountains in front of us. Dinner time came and I scrambled below deck, the longer I stayed down below the worse I felt. The dinner for that day was what they called mutton broth, minus mutton, but several [stars] on top of the broth. The mess orderly that day was an old sailor who had just served out dinner on plates when all of a sudden the ship gave an extra big roll and there went the plates and broth down to the end of the table, and that was the end of the first day's dinner, which made no difference to me as the looks of it caused me to run to the pail a few times, and sick I was for five full days. We reached the Strait of Gibraltar on the night of Christmas Day, when the searchlight from the fortress was turned on our ship, which caused us all to rush to that side of the ship to see what was happening, but I felt as if I did not care if the boat was torpedoed or not, for at this time it would have been a happy relief for me if they had thrown me overboard, being reprimanded the same day for not being on parade. Captain Allen then gave me two pills to take and said I should be better after. "Was I" - the pills came back partly dissolved!

December 22nd 19152
I began to feel better, the sea of the Mediterranean being very calm and like the top of a table. We could then feel that we was nearing a warmer climate, and could see quite clear the coast of Morocco and Algeria, Tunis, Sicily, Tripoli.

On December 29th we made a short stay at Valetta. There we saw scores of Maltese children dive under the ship for coins, some brought up the coin between their toes.

After tea we left Valetta and sailed through the sea that was alive with German submarines. We had been sailing from Valetta for some hours when the ship made a circle round and sailed back for about twelve hours towards Valetta. The rumours went round like flash out of a gun that we had been turned back for France, but afterwards we were informed that we were being chased by submarines. Part of the men were posted in various parts of the top deck on submarine guard. Machine guns were fixed on either side of the ship ready for action. The Nestor carried a six inch gun, which was manned by two sailors of the Navy, and owing to the submarine alarms the Nestor drew up at Alexandria on New Year's Day 1916.3 They were large docks with all kinds of warships and transport etc. It was a grand sight. On the quay side there were scores of natives jabbering, who knocked one another over for coppers which the troops had thrown from the decks. The Egyptian police cuffed them with their staves unmercifully.

At seven in the evening we entrained for Port Said passing through Tel-el-Kabir, Ismailia and several other places, landing at Port Said after thirteen and a half hours jolting train ride. At Ismailia there was a strong force of troops, British, Australians and Indians, Camel and Cavalry Corps, and right down the line to Port Said were camps and troops. We encamped behind the town.

For nearly three months we worked on the defences of the Suez Canal owing to threats of the Turks at that time. We visited and toiled hard at the following places. Port Said, Salt Works, Tinch, Ras-el-Esh, El Firdan [El Ferdan], and Kantara, the last place being destroyed by the Turks some weeks previous to our landing.

The first two days at Port Said it was the band's daily job to draw the Battalion's rations etc., then band practice in the afternoon, and bathing parade.

January 27th 1916
We struck camp at 4.30 a.m. and entrained for El Firdan [El Ferdan] up the Suez Canal, arriving there about 11 a.m. After dark it started raining and it was very cold. We landed on the other side of the canal about 8pm, put up tents and slept sixteen in a tent, wet to our skins, which was very lively I can assure you.

January 28th 1916
We had rations to draw, clean our instruments and band practice in the boiling sun during the day. At night we was fetched out to unload two barges of wire, finishing about three next morning, on two biscuits and a tin of bully beef. They called it El Firdan [El Ferdan] but all we could see was a little wooden building for the station and desert, but we soon altered the looks of it and made it like a little town, light railways and full gauge. We made good roads and laid water pipes across the desert for several miles. The drinking water came from the River Nile in barges, then transferred into large tanks on the canal side. We was very poorly fed for the first two or three weeks, and we was only paid twice during our stay in Egypt. The money all went in food when we had the chance to purchase it. We used to purchase small Arab cakes from the dreadful smelling natives which smelt worse than pigs, and we was pleased to eat them.

Arab town Port Said is what I call a dung heap. The stench is cruel and as we passed, going to and fro on bathing parade on the sea shore, we noticed foul, pigeons, goats and pigs, and even donkeys, in the Arab's living quarters, which are all made of wood. When the Egyptian police came across any Egyptians, or Arabs, drunk they laid into them unmercifully with their staves, then locked them up. There were some fine men on the Egyptian police, especially the mounted who had some of the loveliest ponies I had ever seen, all with long tails, and can travel across the desert faster than any English horse.

At Kantara there was several old buildings which had been partly destroyed by the Turks bombardment previous to our arrival. The road through Kantara is the road which Christ took across the desert when he escaped out of Palestine into Egypt, by what the natives told us. In those days we had to shave and wash ourselves and leave the rest for drinking out of just over a pint of water, but we had plenty of time during the day for bathing in the Suez Canal while we was at El Firdan [El Ferdan] and Kantara. When I first went down to the canal to bathe I took soap with me and started to lather me after having a duck in the water, but to my surprise I appeared as if I had rubbed myself all over with jam, and had to get handfuls of sand to get it off, for salt water and soap does not agree with each other!

On February 6th 1916 we was surprised to see the ship Nestor, which carried us safely from England, come sailing up the Suez Canal, and we all cheered as it sailed past. Whilst at Kantara numerous families of Armenian refugees arrived and was put in wire cages and guarded by troops. They looked specimens of misery with their goats.

Troops arrived from Gallipoli at Port Said which relieved us, and on March 10th 1916 our Battalion embarked at Port Said on His Majesty's Troopship Briton, and sailed for France. The voyage took five days, we arrived at Marseilles on March 15th 1916. It was a fine trip, the sea was fairly calm and fine weather we enjoyed all the time. The Briton was one of the fastest transports afloat. As the vessel approached the port the scenery was fine. We could see the large cathedral, Ste. Marie Majeure, erected on the site where once stood a temple of Diana overlooking the harbour of La Joliette.

We passed through the Gulf of Lyons, with its massive rocks and scenery. The Battalion left one of its number behind at Port Said, who died after we had left, being 12/987 Pte. H. Marshall of Rotherham.4

The ship anchored at 3pm but we did not land till next morning, and during the evening we played various selection of music on one side of the boat, and the band of W. Yorks on the other side. I received a pile of letters and newspapers that night, the first for three weeks, which put new life in me. Next morning we landed and at 11.30 a.m. we played the Battalion to the entraining point. The Battalion's strength was Officers 30; other ranks 986.

On our way to the railhead we saw our first batch of German prisoners labouring in the dock yards and some of them looked like giants. They were some of the Russian guards of which we came in contact several times shortly afterwards. The train was of coaches and cattle trucks. I managed to get in a coach but we were stacked like sardines and couldn't move. The train moved off and within eighteen days we had taken over a part of the British front line.

As the train moved off round hillsides etc., we witnessed the finest scenery and country I had ever seen. The train entered a tunnel which took twenty minutes to pass through, and still the sea was in sight. We could see the lower Alps covered with snow. Arles was the first stopping place shortly after Avignon. Here, and all other places, we met with good receptions. We passed through the following places on our way through the heart of France: Marmans, Arles, Avignon, Orange, Valence, Chalon, Rully, Chagny, Borbn, Meursault, Juvroy, St. Just, Longueau, Amiens and the outskirts of Paris. After three days and three nights we landed at our destination.

At Orange pretty Red Cross Nurses served out rum and tea and it was delightful to see some decent young women, and the rum put new life into us.

Pausing on the way to Dijon a French Red Cross train drew up full of wounded. We reached Dijon about noon and then Les Laumes where we had tea issued. During the night we passed through Tonnerre, Joigny, Sens, Fontainebleau, fringe of Paris and Versailles. Next morning we saw St. Germain, Amiens reached at noon, and shortly after the detraining point, Pont Remy, a few miles from Abbeville at 10 p.m.

March 18th 1916
We marched off several miles to a village called Huppy. Me and the rest of the band were billeted at a farm, where we lay on about four feet of chaff in a barn, which made a grand feather bed. The marching and being packed in the train for three days and nights had made us very tired, and we slept well the first night at Huppy.

March 19th 1916
We spent the day resting, something unusual in the army at this time. We soon made friends with the farmer and his family who allowed us to cook our food in his house, and later we had our food there also, spending many hours at night learning how to speak a little French. Two of our bandsmen who knew the French language had to act as interpreters, who got on fine, and managed to bargain for a few vegetables every day while we stayed.

March 20th 1916
We was soon at it again. We had a route march of ten miles round by Abbeville, and back again about two in the afternoon, then we had dinner and the rest of the day was ours. We had a walk round the village but could not see many young Frenchmen, all had been called to the colours.

March 21st 1916
The band spent the day cleaning our instruments and at practice, while the Battalion was doing various parades and fatigues. On this evening I wrote my first letter from France to my wife informing her of our arrival in France.

March 22nd 1916
The band was digging trenches on some wasteland, for bombing practice. It rained all the day. During the day one member of the band met with a slight accident, as the digging operations was taking place. A man named Summerfield5 was shovelling when Leo Hoarx [Horrax]6 in the rear of him put the pick through the former's hand and into the crutch of the shovel. It was an accident but all the same some nasty remarks was made, and Hoarx [Horrax] was handed a shovel instead of the pick. One shouted it was just like a clerk, others told him to go and dig by himself, and the language was rather strong.

March 23rd 1916
We had a firing practice and stretcher drill, and ambulance lecture, passing the day nicely, then the evening to ourselves.

March 24th 1916
We woke up to find a white world, being about six inches of snow, which kept up all day. After breakfast we had a route march about ten miles, and it froze the valves of our instruments as we was playing. It was a big change from Egypt, and we was a picture on returning!

March 25th 1916
Us bandsmen spent the day cleaning instruments again, and practice. This was a grand day and the sun soon cleared away the snow. At night we had to parade for kit of which we was deficient.

March 26th 1916
Up at 5 a.m. At 8 a.m. we left Huppy and marched fifteen miles to Longpre, arriving there about 2.30 p.m. Us bandsmen had to carry full pack and play, which nearly broke my heart, and put a few blisters on my feet, but I stuck it out. We slept in an old building with windows out, but we felt better for our night's rest.

March 27th 1916
At 8.30 p.m. we left Longpre and marched another fifteen miles, full pack and instruments, to a place called Vignacourt, arriving there about 2 p.m. On entering the village I had to fall out for my first time, I was dead beat and should have fell to the ground, but for clinging to some railings. Major Clough7 and the Padre was mounted at the rear of the Battalion, and on getting up to me Clough shouted "what have you fallen out for?" I said, "I am dead beaten with this load to carry", and he said to follow on at the rear of the Battalion, and the Padre then carried my instrument. We had to go before a doctor that night, about forty in all, with blisters on our feet. Slept the night in a barn.

March 28th 1916
At 8.30 a.m. we left Vignacourt and marched another fifteen miles to a village called Veauquense, arriving there about 3 p.m. We was all beat but had to stick it. This day I told our band sergeant that I should not blow another note on the march when we carried full pack. I was told he would put me under open arrest if I refused to play. I then told him he could put me under the turf, I wouldn't play and play I did not when carrying full pack. That day there was only about three who did play, the others refused. I was told I was the cause of it all, and I asked to see the doctor to see if the weight of my kit and instrument was fit for a human being to carry.

March 29th 1916
At 8 a.m. we left Veauquense and marched nine miles to Bertramcourt [Bertrancourt] at 12 noon. We arrived and we could hear the guns very plain and see shells bursting round one of our aeroplanes in the sky. We was five miles from the trenches, guns firing all night. Snow fell and we spent the night in canvas, huts full of water and mud, what a home, but we had worse than this in a very short time.

March 30th 1916
We was resting nearly all the day after our few days marching, in which we covered 54 miles. At 8.45 a.m. the German guns was peppering shells at one of our aeroplanes right over our camp. Shrapnel flying in all directions. Sergeant Ward, who had gone up to the trenches by motor a few days previous, along with several other NCOs, to gain a little experience, a good wind blew his way, giving him a nice blighty, he was the first of our Battalion to get wounded.

March 31st 1916
We went through gas helmet drill, and afterwards through the gas chamber to test our helmets but we all came out alive. During the rest part of the day I was on a little fatigue.

April 1st 1916
We went a short route march in the morning. There was a heavy bombardment all day on both sides. German aeroplanes dropped two bombs close to our camps, but was driven off by our airmen.

April 2nd 1916
We packed up in the morning and moved off at 1.00 p.m. from Bertramcourt [Bertrancourt], and marched to Collingcamp [Colincamps] which as the crow flew was about a mile from the trenches. We was billeted in an old mud house which had stopped a shell. This village was cheerful, the roads easy a foot deep in mud, and part of the village blown down. We had some big guns just out of the village and they poured iron etc. into the Germans all night. What with the guns and shells screaming in the air I got little sleep that night.

April 3rd 1916
We had orders early morning to get battle order packed up, we knew what that meant and it was a most exciting day. At 12.30 p.m., we marched off from Collingcamp [Colincamps] to the trenches in daylight. We had a lot of manoeuvring to do before getting to the trenches, for we had to keep cover as much as possible. I was selected with two more bandsmen to go in with the Battalion as stretcher bearers. I went in one of the two Battalion dressing stations, along with Corp. Peat [Peet]8, it was a very small dug out for the job. That day and night was very quiet and no casualties.

April 4th 1916
The enemy bombarded us rather heavy in the morning, which ended in our first man Pte 12/991 Alexander McKenzie being killed by a rifle grenade.9 During the afternoon, the enemy gave us plenty of shrapnel and as I was going down the trench towards White City, a piece fell about two yards in front of me. I picked it up, but soon dropped it. I didn't expect to find it hot. I was fetching our rations.

April 5th 1916
The enemy bombarded on several occasions during the day and we only had one casualty during the day. Plenty of shells whistling over our heads going miles at the back of us.

April 6th 1916
The enemy opened fire on us at 8.00 a.m. for an hour, then our guns returned the fire. No one hurt during the morning. At 9.00pm the enemy opened fire on our trenches for two hours all along the line. We only had two men wounded by shrapnel. We afterward had a gas attack and several slight cases were brought to our dressing station along with a machine gun sergeant who was wounded in the back by a piece of copper band off the shell case. It was three inches long with one end stuck in his back. We pulled it out and dressed his wound. The bombardment was terrible, and a good breaking in for us. Our artillery set fire to some villages the same night, which was burning the next morning. The enemy did not succeed on our front.

April 7th 1916
About nine in the morning we could see the enemy burying their dead quite plain, from the previous days bombardment, all being very quiet. At eleven in the morning our guns open fire on the enemy and a village on our right flank, which could be seen from our trenches, on fire. The night was very quiet and we managed to get a few hours sleep.

April 8th 1916
There was an artillery duel all afternoon, the enemy sent a few rifle grenades over, which wounded several of our men. We had ten wounded at our dressing station, the worse being a pal of mine, Walter Nash of Wath10, who was badly wounded about the legs with a rifle grenade. He was wounded in about ten places, two being very bad.

April 9th 1916
Our artillery played the deuce all day, the enemy replied with a few rounds. One man and an officer was slightly wounded. The enemy sent a shell into Mailly-Mallet where one of the Barnsley Battalions was billeted, killing one and wounding nine.

April 10th 1916
The day was a little quieter, only a few shots fired. We had no casualties during the day or night. Me and Cpl. Peat [Peet] was eating and sleeping about all day.

April 11th 1916
Raining all day, very quiet during the morning. In the afternoon our guns played on a village at the rear of the German lines and then the trenches. About nine at night the enemy for an hour opened a terrible fire on the left of our sector. We had no casualties during the day.

April 12th 1916
It was very cold and all very quiet during the morning. In the afternoon we was relieved by the East Yorks and we got to our billets about nine at night, at Bertramcourt [Bertrancourt]. We had to sleep in our wet clothes, we was wet to the skin but we got a good nights sleep.

April 13th 1916
Cleaning stretchers first thing and resting the other part of the day.

April 14th 1916
Me and the other stretcher bearers did nothing during the day. Battalion digging trenches.

April 15th 1916
Me and another stretcher bearer went up to the trenches to find a box the Battalion had left behind and a happy journey we had. It was snowing and hailing, and shells dropping round us, which made us wonder if we should get to the trenches. Our guns let the enemy have it at night.

April 16th 1916
Us stretcher bearers did nothing all day. At night all the Battalion went trench digging and came back wet to the skin. I was asleep when they came back.

April 17th 1916
I was assisting Cpl. Peat [Peet] in the morning, at the doctors hut, bandaging bad feet etc. Pte. Foxon got wounded while going through a bombing course.

April 18th 1916
Up at 5.30 a.m. I was assisting the Medical Officer at sick parade morning and night.

April 19th 1916
I was assisting Medical Officer in the morning. Me and three more stretcher bearers went up to the trenches at 7.00pm till 2.00 a.m. with a party digging trenches. I received a parcel on getting back from the Wesleyan Chapel, Melbourne.

April 20th 1916
I was resting all day, went up to the trenches at night with stretcher, with a digging party. Raining all the time.

April 21st 1916
Assisting medical Office at sick parade. I had some violent pains in my stomach and diarrhoea all day. Our big guns was firing all night.

April 22nd 1916
We had ambulance class in the morning and had still got diarrhoea. The CO sent for our instruments which had been dumped a few miles off which landed at night. We cleaned them after tea. There was a heavy bombardment all night.

April 23rd 1916 Easter Sunday
Ambulance class and band practice in the morning and afternoon. I was a good lad at night, I went to church service.

April 24th 1916
Ambulance class and cleaning our instruments once more after the rain. Band practice all afternoon.

April 25th 1916
Ambulance class and band practice in the morning. Played a programme to the Battalion at night, which cheered them up a bit.

April 26th 1916
Band practice morning. In the afternoon we went to a village called Bus for a bath and clean change. This was our first bath and change since leaving Egypt, just 46 days without a bath and clean change.

April 27th 1916
We was at band practice all day and played a programme at night to the Battalion, this was a grand day.

April 28th 1916
Very hot. At 8.30 a.m. we left Bertramcourt [Bertrancourt] and marched about two and a half miles to Colincamps. We slept in a barn, the roof had been riddled by shrapnel. What a grand thing it did not rain, but we felt quite safe and happy until a piece of tile fell down on someone's head.

April 29th 1916 Very hot day.
Me and another stretcher bearer went and lay down in a field, there we saw German shells exploding about four hundred yards in front of us, all morning and afternoon. They was trying to find some of our guns. At 11.30pm we was nicely asleep when our guns, which sounded like thousands, all open fire together, it soon woke us up, we thought Gerry had come. We went into the road, it was a grand sight to see. All quiet at one.

April 30th 1916
I was up at five in the morning. I was too cold to sleep. I was resting all day and at night up the line again with a digging party till 2.00 a.m. We had a thunder-storm in the afternoon.

May 1st 1916
Resting all day, we lay watching the enemy shelling a battery of our guns. The finest bit of work I had seen done was this afternoon when an ammunition column came galloping up to the guns and unloaded their shells and galloped away again, without anyone getting hit, shells was bursting all round them at the time.

May 2nd 1916
Up the line again. We left Colincamps at 11.00 a.m. and marched to the trenches in front of Serre the same sector as before. One of E companies bearers was sick so I had to take his place. We had two slightly wounded. Our guns played the deuce.

May 3rd 1916
Making a shed for sick men to parade in when wet in Observation Wood. Enemy guns active during afternoon. The enemy hurled over a minenwerfer on C companies telephone dug-out, killing six men including Sergt. Major J W Ellis and wounding another which died on the way to hospital. A man named Todd was slightly wounded and was being dressed by a stretcher bearer named Unwin, when the shell came over and killed them. Ellis was blown to pieces. Me and another bearer named Rooch [Roche] picked him up in bits and put him in a mail bag. I picked one of his legs up twenty yards away. It was a bad sight. The others was badly mauled.11

May 4th 1916
Fine day, the enemy kept up a heavy fire all day shells falling all round our little dug out. One shell fell in front of our dug out and sent about a barrow full of earth inside and filled the place with smoke. We thought our time had come. No casualties.

May 6th 1916
Fine day. Artillery very active. The battalion was relieved during the afternoon, but six of us stretcher bearers had to remain in the trenches till next morning, till they fetched away all our stretchers and stores. No casualties.

May 7th 1916
Fine day. We left the trenches at nine in the morning and had to walk seven miles to a camp at Bois de Warnimont wood arriving there at four thirty. The camp was of canvas hut in a large wood where several battalions was billeted, between Bus and Authie.

May 8th 1916
Very cold day, we was making band stands and etc in the afternoon. We had a bath at Authie about a mile away.

May 9th 1916
Wet day. Ambulance class and band practice and we played to the troops tonight.

May 10th 1916
May 11th 1916

Same as previous day.

May 12th 1916
Battalion route march in the morning. Band practice in the afternoon. Fine day.

May 13th 1916
Raining. Ambulance class and band practice. Played to men at night.

May 14th 1916
Had a bath and band practice morning and afternoon. Playing to men at night.

May 15th 1916
Up the line again, at 2.00pm. We left Warnimont Wood and marched to the trenches. About midnight there was a very heavy artillery duel, the worst we had been in up to this date. No casualties.

May 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th 1916
In the trenches. Very quiet all that time. No casualties.

May 20th 1916
All quiet during the day. At 4.00pm we left the trenches and marched to a rest camp at Courcelles about 2½ miles away. No casualties.

May 21st 1916
Very quiet, resting all the day.

May 22nd and 23rd 1916
Road repairing.

May 23rd to 30th 1916
We was at Courcelles doing all kinds of fatigues etc.

May 30th 1916
We marched off from Courcelles-au-Bois, to Bus Wood, another camp of canvas huts. We stayed there until June 5th going backwards and forwards to the trenches on different fatigues.

June 5th 1916
The battalion marched to Gezaincourt, where we practised the assault with the remaining brigade battalions. We spent a week at this village and we enjoyed ourselves also after parade. The above village was close to Doullens, a fair sized town where we could get plenty to eat and drink. It seemed grand to get amongst French civilians after spending a few weeks in ruined villages and woods on the miserable Somme.

June 13th 1916
We left Gezaincourt and marched to Bus and spent the night there. Dead beat after marching about 14 miles.

June 14th 1916
Up the line again, same old sector. There we stayed till the 19th, then back to Bois-de-Warnimont.

June 19th to 25th 1916
On fatigue, band practice etc.

June 26th 1916
General orders came round. I was one of 40 men told [sent] off for a course of instructions on bomb and small ammunition carrying from the battalion dump in the second line of trenches to the front line. This course we went through till 29th June 1916. Cpl Peat [Peet], who had then been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, found out I was amongst this party and said, "I want you in the dressing station with me", but he was told he couldn't have me, it was too late, by R.S.M. Pollen [Polden].12

June 30th 1916
After tea we left Warnimont Wood and marched to the trenches about six miles. I was fagged out. We took over the sector in front of Serre. There was a heavy bombardment, our battalion was in the front line and second waiting to go over the top next morning. The 13th York & Lancs was in reserve to our battalion, and the 14th York & Lancs in reserve to the 11th East Lancs, who was on our left flank.13

I along with the other carrying party spent the night in a narrow trench which was called Eden trench. If the garden of Eden was anything like that trench, well Adam must have been a fool to get in it. For we had to walk in and out sideways it was so narrow, and there we stayed till daylight next morning till zero, the time for going over the top, with a few shells falling round us.

Journal entry for 1st July 1916

Above: Extract from Jack Cratchley's journal entry for 1st July 1916. The extract appears here with the kind permission of Jack's granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick.

July 1st 1916
After a very heavy bombardment, and many killed and wounded while waiting the time and order, over the top boys which came at 7.30am. I could see the first wave go over the top, some got over the top, others fell dead or wounded whilst getting up, I saw the first and second wave go over, and saw many fall never to rise again. When the order came "bomb carriers come this way", we went out in the main trench and was given a bag of 20 Mills bombs, an officer was put in charge of us who lead us down the trenches till we got to where the line of trenches that used to be was as level as a table, then we had to go over the top a few paces distance for about a hundred yards, then in the trench, then out, till we reached what should have been the front line, (John Copse), we delivered our bombs and on returning found sixteen out of the forty missing. We afterwards made another attempt, but failed to do so, as the barrage was death to us if we had ventured to go further. At this time it seemed impossible for anyone to have lived. In my opinion, I don't believe that any man knew what he was doing or saying. We walked over heaps of dead just as if it was a carpet laid for us. While we was waiting for further orders in Eden trench, which had been knocked about from us first leaving it, the Germans sent a number of shrapnel shells just over our heads wounding two Barnsley men one on either side of me. I took one which had been hit in the leg to the dressing station, and on returning was asked if I was hit. I said "no, why?". "You have got blood running down your face", I pulled out my steel mirror and found it correct but found it only a slight graze on my cheek. During the afternoon we was collected together, what was left of us, I believe 47 all told. We was then told to get some food as we was going to start and fetch the dead from No Man's Land and the front line, and before dark we had started on our heavy and most dangerous task, which caused us to go over the top nearly all the way owing to the trenches being levelled. Three men to a stretcher. At this time the barrage was a lot quieter, but the enemy did not forget to snip at us as we made our way over to the front line, yes even with whizz bangs. I never thought we should land with our first corpse, for yards and yards we had to crawl and drag the stretcher behind us, and take them to an old disused French trench near an old building called Red Farm. There we had to dump the corpses one on top of another till the trench was nearly full. This job we carried on for three nights and three days. We was told that every dead body had to be fetched before we was relieved, but that was impossible, as scores of bodies were buried and could not be found without digging, which would have taken weeks.


  1. In fact, John boarded the Nestor on the previous day, 20th December 1915. [back]
  2. Jack mistakenly repeats the date 22nd December; the entry probably refers to either 26th or 27th December. [back]
  3. On 31st December, the T.S.S. Ionic carrying the Accrington Pals to Alexandria narrowly escaped a torpedo attack. [back]
  4. 21-year old 12/987 Hugh Marshall died of appendicitis in hospital at Port Said on 17th March 1916. He is buried in Port Said War Memorial Cemetery. [back]
  5. 12/243 Herbert James Summerfield. [back]
  6. 12/152 Leo Albert Horrax. [back]
  7. Major Thomas Carter Clough. [back]
  8. 12/476 Frank Peet. [back]
  9. 12/991 Alexander McKenzie is buried in Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps. [back]
  10. 12/1342 Walter Nash was discharged on 14th March 1917 as a result of his wounds. [back]
  11. 12/560 John William Ellis, 12/802 Harold Todd and 12/807 Gilbert Unwin are all buried in Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps. Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show Ellis and Unwin as having died on 4th May 1916. The other stretcher bearer was 12/497 Fred Roche. [back]
  12. 12/481 Charles Polden. [back]
  13. The Sheffield City Battalion was actually on the left flank of the attack, supported by the 14th Bn., York & Lancaster Regt. (2nd Barnsley Pals). The 11th Bn., East Lancs. Regt. (Accrington Pals) was on the right of the City Battalion, supported by the 13th Bn., York & Lancaster Regt. (1st Barnsley Pals). [back]

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Permission to publish this transcript of John Thomas Cratchley's journal is by kind permission of his granddaughter, Mal Hamilton-Warwick.

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