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War Diary of Royal West Kent 6th Battalion (1915)

posted Apr 30, 2015, 4:43 AM by Terry Bird   [ updated Aug 28, 2015, 7:49 AM ]
The following is an extract from the War Diary of the 6th Battalion of the Royal West Kent (National Archives reference WO 95/1861/1) in the days leading up to the death of Henry Francis Bingham Stevens. The diary is hand written. As well as Lieut. Stevens, Henry Latter (4103) and William Skinner (4929) both served as privates . 

For more information on Henry Stevens also see Royal West Kent, 6th battalion (Jan-Sept 1915) and Lieut. Stevens killed in action:gloom cast over Wateringbury (1915) and War deaths (1915).

The diary starts off recording the background to the battalion's formation in August "to meet the temporary need for additional regular battalions of infantry on the continent of Europe". The terms of enlistment were 3 years or the duration of the war. The establishment was to be 1,100 all ranks, including 29 officers and the battalion was to form part of the 37th Infantry Brigade and to be stationed at Shorncliffe, Colchester and Rainham. On 19th August 1914 Lieut. Col. P.M. Robinson was put in command; when he leaves in November 1914 to take command he reminds battalion "that a high standard of discipline is essential to success in a war and that the prevalence of absence without leave which now exists is a sign that the necessary standard has not yet been attained."  Robinson was replaced by Colonel Even and then Major Venables. 

On 28th September 1914 it is recorded that "2nd Lieutenants S. Wilhs [?], W.B. Haydon-Smith, J.S. Nann, G.W.Brown, E.C.Lewin and H.F.B. Stevens joined and taken on the strength."

On 3rd December 1914 the battalion (25 officers and 1,117 other ranks) moved by train from Purfleet into their new huts at Sandling, but these were in a very poor state with "no cookhouses, washhouses, institutes or messes". On 19th December it was decided because of the incomplete state of the huts to move into billets at Hythe "private arrangements  to be made with the inhabitants, payment at the rate of  2/6 per man being allowed." 

On 22 February 1915 the "battalion, 28 officers and 800 other ranks in strength, left Hythe marching in brigade to Aldershot, billeting at Ashford, Rolvenden, Goudhurst, Tunbridge Wells, East Grinstead, Horsham and Godalming. " They arrived at Aldershot after 8 days march on 1st March having lost 11 men sick. 

On 28 February 1915 the battalion marched past Kitchener. 

On 31st May and 1st June 1915 the battalion (30 officers and 971 other ranks) left Aldershot to embark for France from Southampton and Folkestone. Disembarked at Le Havre on 1st June and at Boulogne on 2nd June 1915. After arrival and moving to nearer the front partly by train, they received further training including trench warfare. On 24th June a party of officers went to Ploegsteert to see the trenches they were to take over from Warwick regiment which they did the following day incurring first casualty (wounded). The next day 2 men drowned accidentally while bathing. 

Generally the tone of the diary is similar for June to August; periods in trenches; periods at billet; various deaths and casualties. At an inspection by Kitchener on 18th August he expressed himself very pleased with the battalion. Weekly reporting of strength (Field returns) starts. On the return of 18th September the battalion had 27 officers and 953 other ranks; 13 riding horses; 9 heavy draught horses; 8 pack horses;35 large mules; 7 ammunition lumbers; 4 machine guns; 8 4-wheeled horse drawn vehicles; 4 2-wheeled horse drawn vehicles;9 bicycles; no aircraft, no mechanical vehicles and no motor-bikes .  The return shows Stevens was buried 100 yards E of Granners(?) farm, nr. Ploegsteert (Sh.36 c 2d 4. 3)

 Place DateHour  Summary of Events and Information Remarks
 Sept 5th  In trenches. Quiet day.
Segt C??/well reconnoitred German wire opposite trench 101 at dawn.
G.O.C. 37th Inf Brigade visits trenches.
Casualties: Pte Osborne killed in action. Pte B??? wounded

 DESPIERRRE Fm Sept 6th  In trenches. Our snipers successful. Enemy snipping less agressive. 
Breastwork for new fire trench from MONMOUTH to ESSEX CENTRAL Fm
erected on our right in conjunction with RE and ???. A borrow pit
 was dug in front and soil was thrown against sandbag revetment. 
Work ceased at 1 p.m. when trench was complete. Length of trench 105 yards.
Two covering parties occupied end of hedge in front   ????
were in position to to afford covering fire trench mortars and trench howitzers
were standing by. The work was satisfactorily completed enemy being 
apparently unaware of work going on.

 DESPIERRRE Fm Sept 7th  In trenches. Quiet day.
Casualties Cpl Bennett Pte Mills Pte Pavier wounded slightly at duty
 DESPIERRRE Fm Sept 8th  In trenches
Bombing party under Sgt. Curtis threw eighteen bombs (????) into and near WHITE Ho.
None exploded : this was due to damp lighters.

 OOSTHONE Sept 9th  In billets uneventful day  2/Lieut. B.F.Friend sick FA H.C.H.
  OOSTHONE Sept 10th  In billets uneventful day Working party of Officers 7 OR 500 furnished during day
2/Lieut.J.S. Yates taken on strength from 6th Entrenching Batn. (late 3rd Batn. RW Kent Regt.)
  OOSTHONE Sept 11th  In billets uneventful day Working party of Officers 9 OR 600 H.C.H.
  OOSTHONE Sept 12th   In billets uneventful day Working party of Officers 8 OR 500
2/Lieut. W. G. Dove taken on strength from 6th Entrenching Batn. (late 3rd Batn. RW Kent Regt.)
  OOSTHONE Sept 13th  In billets. Working party (Steenveverke) 20 men H.C.H.
  OOSTHONE Sept 14th  In billets. Relieved 6/BUFFS in trenches 95-101. Relief satisfactorily complete 9.42 p.m. H.C.H.
 Sept 15th  In trenches.
Artillery bombard MOUND (trench 95)and adjacent trenches.
Casualties: Sgt. Gover killed. Sgt Haughey Pte Chesson woundeed.
 Sept 16th  In trenches
Change in dispositions. Left Company moved remainder of its company from HARMIANS Av. into front line. Support coy now has two platoonsin HARMIANS Av. one in trench 95A and one at SEVEN TREES.
Casualties Lieut H.F.B. Stevens killed . Pte Tillett wounded.
 Sept 17th 
5.30 p.m. 
 In trenches. G.O.C. 37th Inf Brigade visited trenches. 
Some activity in bombing enemy. M.G. emplacement opposite trench 100.
Enemy retaliated with trench mortars, one of which killed one 
and wounded two artillery telephonists and wounded 
one battn telephonist. Artillery on both sides joined in. Enemy
Casualty: Pte Collins wounded.

3.00 p.m.
 In trenches
G.O.C.  37th Inf Brigade visited trenches.
G.O.C. XII [?] visited trenches. 
Casualty 2/Lieut W.G. Dove slightly wounded at duty.
 DESPIERRRE Fm Sept 19th  In trenches. G.O.C. 37th Inf Brigade visited trenches.  H.C.H.