Title - A Subaltern's Diary

The following diary entries were written by John Leam Middleton, in June 1916 a 22-year-old lieutenant with B Company of 12/York and Lancaster (Sheffield City Battalion). Later promoted to the rank of captain, Middleton transferred in June 1917 to the Royal Flying Corps. By the end of war, he held the rank of major with the Royal Air Force, and had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The diary entries on this page appeared in two installments on 30th June and 1st July 1937 in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and Star. Every reasonable effort has been made to trace copyright but the owner of this website welcomes any information that clarifies the copyright ownership of any unattributed material displayed.

Wednesday 14th June

The S.M. and I left early to take over support trenches from 10th East Yorks. The Battalion arrived about 5 p.m., "A" and "D" in front line, "C" and "B" in support. We are in "Monk." Our dug-out in Rob Roy is absolutely done in by a shell; also the old Battalion Headquarter’s dug-out in "Monk."

Thursday 15th June

Captain Moore1 left to go a three days’ artillery course. Beal2 and Cowen3 went to a court-martial in Bus, Butterworth went sick, so I am left alone. Cowen returned at 7 p.m. Beal went sick! "C" Company had one killed and four wounded in "Excema" whilst fetching rations last night.

Friday 16th June

Cowen and I are having a rotten hard time. I believe the Great Advance is coming off next week. I hope so. "Oil cans"4 were chucked at us this afternoon, but no casualties. After Stand-to Ibbotson and Vickers found two Boche rifle grenades. I had a very amusing time shooting the detonators off with my revolver.

Saturday 17th June

In the afternoon "C" Company were heavily shelled, and C.S.M. Marsden, Sergeant Clay, and Private Thomas were killed5. The Boches also counter-mined one of our mines this morning, burying some Barnsley men. A big fight took place at about 4 p.m. We drove them away.

Sunday 18th June

I left the trenches at 8 a.m. with Scholey6 to go on a Divisional course. I do not think I take an active part in the attack. Great preparations are going on behind the trenches. It is going to be some "do." Reported at Divisional School at 4.30 p.m.

Monday 19th June

The General told us last night that we were to be observers during the attack. We spent all day walking about the trenches, "getting to know them." The Russians have captured Czernovitz and half a million men. The advance is postponed until Saturday, when the bombardment starts.

Tuesday 20th June

Spent all day in the Divisional O.P. in Wagram Trench. Saw a British aeroplane shot down just behind Puisieux; it fell from a great height. Also saw a British aeroplane loop the loop six times.

Wednesday 21st June

Went to "Wagram" Trench O.P. at 2 p.m. We did not see much. Our artillery seems [to be] getting active. The bombardment starts on Saturday, I think. We got back about 7.30 p.m.

Thursday 22nd June

Went up to North Divisional O.P. at 9 a.m. On arriving back at 5 p.m. I was told about C. Ibbotson being killed7. I was very upset about it. After dinner Foers8 and I went up to see Woodhouse, of the Artillery. We had a very amusing time. The bombardment starts to-morrow midnight.

Friday 23rd June

Two officers per O.P. go up for a 12-hour shift. A terrible thunderstorm broke over at about 2 p.m. It went quite black, and the captive balloon over Bus broke loose, but was caught over Sailly-au-Bois. The trenches will be full of water.

Saturday 24th June

The bombardment started at 5 a.m., but only wire-cutting by the 18-pounders. Foers and I got to the O.P. at 10.30 a.m. The Boches had plastered our gun-pits with 5.9’s all the early morning, but nothing was hit. It was a fine sight, and was continuous.

Sunday 25th June

Got back here at 1 this morning. The trenches were full of water and blown-in in parts. Nothing much happened. Left for trenches at 8.45 p.m. Colincamps has been shelled to pieces. The bombardment continues.

Monday 26th June

We reached our O.P. at about 10 p.m. last night. Foers was on duty first, so went straight down into our dug-out made by the sappers especially for us. At about midnight Foers and a corporal of the Signals came running down the steps to turn me out, shouting "gas". I got my helmet on and went slowly up the steps. I was very tired. There was no gas about, so after about 10 minutes I went down the dug-out and to sleep again. We spent the morning looking through our field-glasses, but there was little to be seen. At 10 a.m. our "heavies" started, and all the other guns seemed to join in. It was great. A wonderful curtain of gas and sulphur shells was put along the Boche front line. The afternoon was more or less quiet, just an intermittent shelling all the time. We were relieved at 9.30 p.m., and we reached Bus at 11.

Tuesday 27th June

Bus was shelled yesterday, but most of them were "duds". Foers and I arrived at the O.P. at 10.30 a.m. At 2.45 gas was let-off by the Battalion in our front line. It was great to see the signs of "wind-up" displayed by the Boche. He fired as hard as he could at our lines, but, of course, did no good. Foers and I were not relieved until 10.30 p.m. On getting out of the trenches we saw a large number of gun-limbers, etc., just behind the gun-pits. If a few shells had dropped there would have been a stampede. We rode all the way back to Bus on a gun-limber.

Wednesday 28th June

I got up at 11 a.m. It was raining hard. I heard that the "push" has been postponed for a day or two. Bus was shelled again to-day. The shells fell much nearer to the centre of the village, and a few dropped in Bus Wood, and, I believe, killed some artillery horses.
I went to the Battalion in Warnemont Wood in the afternoon, and saw Moore and the others.
I tried to get sent back to the Battalion for the "push," and although Moore and I went to see the C.O. he said that he could not do anything, so I see nothing for it but to stop with Major Plackett9, the C.O. of the Observers. Foers and I reached the O.P. at 10.15 p.m. There was a raid this morning at 2.45 a.m. by the 12th East Yorks.

Thursday 29th June

Got back to Bus soon after noon. I went to see the Battalion again. Cowen was wounded last night. Ingold came to our billet and had tea with me.

Friday 30th June

Spent the day in the O.P. Nothing much doing, but behind the trenches there appear to be thousands of troops carrying things to the trenches, chiefly Mills bombs and trench-mortar shells. The "show" is certainly going to be "some do." As Foers and I were leaving the trenches I saw Elam10. He was seeing the chaps into the trenches. I had a few words with him, and then I saw "A" Company coming in. I spoke to a few of them as they passed. I did not see any of "B" Company. As Foers and I walked back we had to run through Colincamps. The whole village was on fire, and the shells were dropping into the place as fast as the Boche could load. They must have known that we were assembling.

Saturday 1st July

Foers and I hurried to the trenches as hard as we could. It was obvious to us that all was not well. We passed hundreds of fellows coming back. All those who were not shot in the legs seemed to have to walk. We arrived in the O.P. when the worst of the show was over. What a sight! No Man’s Land was covered with corpses, some lying on their backs, some on their sides, some all twisted into all kinds of shapes. It was a terrible sight. I saw several Boches in their trenches, which were, in most places, destroyed. Practically the whole battalion has been wiped out.
Clarke11, Colley12, Perkins [sic]13, Carr, are known to be dead. A. Beal is missing.
The strength of the battalion is now 4 officers and 19 men.

Sunday 2nd July

During the night several of our chaps crawled back to our lines from No Man’s Land. There are still many of our chaps lying in No Man’s Land who are not dead. I have seen lots of them move.
In the afternoon I walked down to see our fellows. Poor devils, they look done up. The trenches are full of corpses, and will need redigging. Foers and I remained in the O.P. all night.

Monday 3rd July

Still more fellows came back last night. We heard that a draft of 60 Derby’s men14 are waiting for us in Bus. I saw many more Boches in the trenches again to-day.

Tuesday 4th July

It has poured with rain all day. It could not have rained harder, which made the conditions worse. I do not know why we are not relieved. We are doing no good. Late in the afternoon Foers and I went back to Bus. We found the School had broken up, and everyone had gone. The whole Division is being relieved. I do not know what is going to happen exactly. We spent the night in the School by ourselves.

Wednesday 5th July

We got up and had no breakfast! We then found out that the Battalion was on its way to a village called Louvencourt. We got our baggage packed up and waited on the road until we saw a bus heading for Louvencourt.
We got on to it, but had to get out at Bertrancourt and wait for another. We were lucky, because the next one happened to be going to Louvencourt.
We arrived there soon after 1 p.m.
The battalion had just arrived and was still standing in the road.
They looked a sorry sight.
The whole lot fell in as one company, and each real company was as a platoon.
There were only six left of my platoon, Clark, Ibbotson, Boot, Fretwell15, Chapman, and Barraclough.
I spent the night in the Orderly Room. There were very few billets, as another battalion was being billeted in the village.

Thursday 6th July

The Battalion fell in at 10.15 a.m., and away we marched. Allen16 is in command. I did not know where we were bound for. We marched a very long way.
As I was in command of "B" company I had a horse. I could not have managed without one. I gave Scholey a ride after lunch. We passed through Doullens, and straight on. At about 6.30 p.m. we reached a village called Longuevillette. We have marched over 20 miles, and everyone was done up; even me, and I had ridden most of the way!

Friday 7th July

This is a very pretty village, and there is no one near us. Allen sent for the officers during the morning, and told us that except for arms inspection each day we were to do as little as possible. We were to be left in this village for a long time, and were to be made up to strength again. The prospects of a really good rest are most promising.

Saturday 8th July

I spent an excellent night in a comfortable bed. I got up at 9 a.m. Orders were received, however, for the battalion to pack up at once and prepare for a move by train. We fell in right away and marched off. Our dream of a long rest was soon over. We marched to Doullens, and then turned north, and up the hill. After marching 15 miles we reached Frevent, where we got into a train. I went to sleep at once.

Sunday 9th July

At 2 a.m. I was awakened; we were at Steenback [sic]. We detrained. It was still dark, and very cold. We then set off again on foot. We marched along a road which was dead straight for miles.
At 10.30 a.m. we halted just outside Merville, and billets were found for us there. We had breakfast, and lay down and went to sleep. Cowen and I have a nice little room with one bed in it. Cowen will sleep on the floor! In the evening Moxey17 and I went into Merville, which is a nice little town, but the biggest we have struck so far.

Monday 10th July

We had a whole holiday to-day. Spent the morning wandering about, and in the evening Moxey and I went into Merville, and met Foers and Tyzack18 at the Hotel de Ville.

Tuesday 11th July

All the morning was spent in making out indents for new clothing and equipment for the men. In the afternoon "B" Company had a rifle inspection. Moxey and I went into Merville again in the evening. We made friends with some people who kept a grocer’s shop in the corner of the Grand Place…

Wednesday 12th July

I took "B" and "C" Companies down to the divisional baths, and had one myself. In the afternoon all the officers went to a village called Callons-sur-Lys [sic], where we were welcomed into the XI Corps by the Corps Commander19.
He seemed quite a nice old man, and he promised that he would keep us out of the line as long as he could so that we might have a rest.

Thursday 13th July

Splendid ideas as to how a battalion should be run. We did arms drill for an hour. Another course has started, this time on map-reading. I knew very well that I should be put down for it, I always am. Cowen was also told to go, so off we went to Brigade Headquarters. They showed us nothing we did not know. In the afternoon there was a short parade for the new recruits. I went into Merville again in the evening. Moxey was Orderly Officer, so I took Rowlands20 with me, much to his delight.

Friday 14th July

Our spectacular parade this morning was cancelled on account of Orders having been received for the battalion to pack up and be ready to move off at half an hour’s notice. I wonder what they have in store for us now. No Orders had come through by tea time, so Moxey and I went down to see our friends and to say "au revoir…"

Saturday 15th July

Orders came through at 10 a.m. We were to fall-in at noon. I could not find out where we were bound for, but we set off in an easterly direction, which was disconcerting. After about two and a half hours’ march we arrived at our destination, which was Croix Barbee.
The 13th and 14th Y. and L. went straight into the trenches at Neuve Chapelle. We are only about two miles away.
"B" Company were all billeted at one farm. Cowen, Cloud21, and the Padre are with me. This is a very nice billet. In the evening the band came into the yard and played to us. Rowlands has gone off with "A" Company to occupy Strong Posts.

Transcript and Notes © Andrew C Jackson 2019


  1. 25-year-old Reginald Eric Jennens Moore, born in Winnipeg, Canada. Moore would be wounded in the left arm by a rifle bullet on 1st July 1916. [back]
  2. 22-year-old Sheffield-born Second Lieutenant Arnold James Beal would be killed in action on 1st July 1916 and is buried in Queens Cemetery, Serre. [back]
  3. 21-year-old Newcastle-born Second Lieutenant Jonathan Clifford Cowen would later win the Military Cross and held the rank of captain at the end of the war. [back]
  4. British troops referred to the projectiles fired by German Minenwerfer mortars as "oil cans" because of their shape. [back]
  5. 38-year-old William Marsden, 44-year-old Henry Charles Clay, a Nottingham-born Sheffield policeman, and 20-year-old Ernest Clifford Thomas. While the graves of Clay and Thomas can be found in Bertrancourt Military Cemetery, Marsden’s body could not be identified after the war, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. [back]
  6. 21-year-old Rotherham-born Ernest Scholey had enlisted into the ranks of the City Battalion on 11th September 1914. Transferred to 7/York and Lancaster when the City Battalion was disbanded in February 1918, he survived the war. [back]
  7. 20-year-old Sheffield-born Cecil George Ibbotson was buried in Bertrancourt Military Cemetery. [back]
  8. Lionel Arthur Fletcher Foers was an electrical engineer from Rotherham before he enlisted into the ranks of the City Battalion on 17th September 1914. Appointed to a commission on 29th March 1915, he was a 21-year-old lieutenant with 13/York and Lancaster (1st Barnsley Pals) in June 1916. Foers was awarded the Military Cross for his actions when leading a trench raid on the night of 23rd/24th December 1916 and survived being buried by a shell explosion on 6th May 1917 before transferring to the Royal Flying Corps. Foers had reached the rank of captain with the Royal Air Force when the war ended. [back]
  9. 35-year-old Leeds-born Major Alfred Plackett, a banker in civilian life, briefly took over command of the City Battalion on 30th June 1916 until he was wounded on 1st July. [back]
  10. 21-year-old Charles Elam, a Sheffield steelworker, had been appointed to a commission with the City Battalion on 18th September 1914 and held the rank of lieutenant at the time of the attack on Serre. Witnesses reported him being wounded and killed in the German trenches on 1st July. Elam’s body was exhumed from a location close to the German second line of trenches and re-buried in A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers. [back]
  11. 24-year-old Lanarkshire-born Captain William Spenceley Clark was killed on 1st July 1916 leading forward A Company of the City Battalion. His body was exhumed from a location close to the German front line trench in 1931, and was re-buried in Serre Road Cemetery No.2. [back]
  12. The body of 47-year-old Captain William Arthur Colley was never identified, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. [back]
  13. 22-year-old Devon-born Philip Kenneth Perkin, a Sheffield silversmith’s apprentice, was appointed to a commission in the City Battalion with the rank of second lieutenant on 18th September 1914. Witnesses reported having seen his dead body lying close to the German wire on 1st July. Perkin is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. [back]
  14. "Derby men" had attested their willingness to serve under Lord Derby’s scheme of 1915, and were called up in 1916. [back]
  15. 24-year-old Nottingham-born Albert Fretwell was a Sheffield steelworker when he enlisted into the ranks of the City Battalion on 8th September 1914. He served throughout the entire war without once being wounded. [back]
  16. 27-year-old Sheffield-born Captain Douglas Charles Allen later transferred to the Tank Corps and held the rank of major at the end of the war. [back]
  17. 22-year-old Lieutenant Eric Lawrence Moxey had been an engineer with Vickers at Sheffield before the war. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of captain in November 1917, ending the war with the Royal Air Force. Posted to Biggin Hill aerodrome in the Second World War, he was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the citation for which appeared in the London Gazette of 17th December 1940: "On 27th August, 1940, it was reported that two unexploded bombs were embedded in an aerodrome. Squadron-Leader Moxey, a technical intelligence officer employed at the aerodrome, immediately volunteered to remove them, although fully aware of the risk entailed. One of the bombs exploded, causing his death. On many occasions Squadron Leader Moxey has exhibited similar complete disregard for his personal safety." Moxey was buried in Cudham (St. Peter and St. Paul) Churchyard, Orpington. [back]
  18. 20-year-old Sheffield-born subaltern William Alexander Tyzack. [back]
  19. 54-year-old Halifax-born Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking. [back]
  20. 21-year-old Second Lieutenant Wilfred Harry Rowlands had served in France with the 30th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force before being commissioned. He would attain the rank of lieutenant before relinquishing his commission in May 1918 on account of ill-health. [back]
  21. 23-year-old Australian-born Lieutenant Cedric Charles Cloud survived the war. [back]

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