Corporal John Harold Becker
A Soldier's Diary
My Personal Experiences and Impressions of the Great European War
Rank and Name: Pte. J. H. Becker
Regimental Number: 123389
Battalion: 75th Battalion
Brigade: 11th Brigade, Canadian
Date of Enlistment: Sept. 3, 1915
Where enlisted: St. Thomas, Ontario
Wednesday, May 2nd, 1917
Received orders today to prepare for move to France tomorrow. We are all ready. The boys seem sorry to see me leave but this is what I have been hoping for for a long time. Reverted to Private but hold stripes to conduct draft.
Thursday, May 3rd, 1917
Left Sandling - 26 men for 75th, about 100 for 3rd and 75 for 124th. Many "good-byes" around camp. Went via Redhill, reached Southampton about 5:30 p.m. On board boat immediately (The Helmstim) and left dock about 7. Destroyers conducting us from harbour mouth.
Friday, May 4th, 1917
Reached Le Havre at 6:30 a.m. and disembarked right away. Slept on Transport dock in a temporary horse stall all night. Pretty cold but had a snooze in my Greatcoat. Marched from Docks about 5 miles to Camp - very hot and dusty. 14 in tent...Medical inspection etc. today.
Saturday, May 5th, 1917
Reveille 5:30. Marched about 2 miles to training area for final instructions. Back about 1 o'clock. Wear steel helmets, carry gas masks and full equipment. Hot day. Not allowed out of Camp. Rested in afternoon. Took stripes off this a.m. Meals good but not fancy.
Sunday, May 6th, 1917
Church parade in a.m. Band concert on at the square in front of Camp. Good. Several French civilians there. Hot day. Regular summer weather. Had to be where we do not have to shine up all the time. We are down to hard tacks now.
Monday, May 7th, 1917
Up to training Camp again from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner up there. Training heavy. Weather still hot. Lots of Troops here from all over. Drafts coming in and going out all the time. Am with Haggan an old A Coy 91st boy, second trip up.
Tuesday, May 8th, 1917
Training Camp same as yesterday. Got a pass to Le Havre tonight from 5 to 9. It is a beautiful old place. The streets are wide and lined with trees. The French certainly take care of their trees. Went down by train and back by train.
Wednesday, May 9th, 1917
Training as usual. Weather still hot. Slight sprinkle of rain tonight but not much. Trees all out in blossom. Country beautiful. Lot of German prisoners in a Camp here. They exchange what few sour-livers they have for cigarettes and biscuits.
Thursday, May 10th, 1917
No training today. Went on fatigues to a neighboring Camp being built for Australians we hear. Helped at a portable sawmill .... Weather still fine and hot. French money was a problem at first but is pretty easy now.
Friday, May 11th, 1917
Training again. Weather hotter than ever. We have a pipe band and a brass band here. They play us to and from the training area. Have learned a few words of French but it is not necessary. The Canteen YMCA and Sal. Army huts are all English spoken.
Saturday, May 12th, 1917
Training in morning. Slept in afternoon. Had a bath in cold water. Saw Frank Janaway just back from Hospital. Was wounded at Vimy Ridge. Weather hot. Hope we move soon. Am getting tired of training.
Sunday, May 13th, 1917
Another hot day. Church parade in a.m. Band concert in afternoon same as last Sunday. Spent a lazy afternoon. No signs of moving yet. Crops are showing up fine hereabouts.
Monday, May 14th, 1917
Training area again. Hot day. Slight rain in evening . Very particular about Gas training here. Have both P.H. Helmet and Box Respirator. Saw Dave Gill today back from Fresnoy. He is well.
Tuesday, May 15, 1917
Training again. Sid Wigmore one of my old platoon walked in tonight. Wounded at Vimy. He is in 75th. Feeling well. Reports all boys who are left OK. Am feeling fine.
Wednesday, May 16th, 1917
Training Camp. Nearly through. Just a couple of lectures today. Had our Respirator tested. OK. They are a great rig.
Thursday, May 17th, 1917
No training today. Did a fatigue in morning. Easy. Slept all afternoon. Band concert in evening. Slight rain. Big draft came in today from Blighty.
Friday, May 18th, 1917
No training. Rifles tested today. Mine is an old model but in fine shape. Should get a few "Heinies" with it. Slept in afternoon. Weather fine. Expect to move soon.
Saturday, May 19th, 1917
Final training this a.m. Rapid Musketry Orders to "Stand By" in afternoon. Final medical inspection. Will leave tomorrow. Rained heavily this evening.
Sunday, May 20th, 1917
Rained nearly all day. Paraded 3 p.m. for the Line. Short speech from Chaplain and prayer. Marched to Le Havre station. Entrained about 6:30 p.m. Left 9:30 p.m. Lucky to get 3rd class carriages instead of Box Cars.
Monday, May 21st, 1917
Travelling fair speed, touched Yvetot and St. Quin de Bruile during night. Arrived Abbeville about 8:30 a.m. Hot tea and hot water. Weather dull. Touched Frevent, Aux-Le-Cateau, St. Pol and detrained at Callone-Ricourt at 5 p.m. Went into billet in a haymow. Good billet. Guns are sounding plainly.
Tuesday, May 22nd, 1917
Slept well. Rats and Lice scarce. Had hot tea at 7:30 a.m. Moved off 8:30 a.m in heavy rain. Marched about 5 kil. to Ferfay. Mud bad. Billeted in empty mow. About 100 of us. Lots of straw. Good billet. Slept all afternoon. Nice little French town. We are in the centre of a big mining district 30 kils. from Arras.
Wednesday, May 23rd, 1917
Slept well. Am not packing blanket. Too heavy. Slept on straw, Greatcoat and ground sheet over me. We are attached to 4th Division. School here. Drilling here again. Squad drill seems out of place within sound of the guns but someone has to have a soft job. We have cows, pigs and chickens for neighbours. They are friendly.
Thursday, May 24th, 1917
Empire Day. Drilled in morning. Sports in afternoon. A number of races and jumps. I "also ran" in the 100 yd. and 220 yd. I am showing up in my old age. Good prizes - 1st 15 francs, 2nd 10 frs., 3rd 5 frs. We are all well and happy.
Friday, May 25th, 1917
Same place. Same billet. Drilled all day. Very hot. "Jake" place. Could stay here for duration. Guns were handing it to Fritz last night all night. We have a Y.M.C.A. for writing and reading. All kinds of sporting goods. Water is rather scarce.
Saturday, May 26th, 1917
Hot day. Water fatigue today and Water piquet till 9 p.m. Easy job. They drill all day Saturday here. Friendly people here. Old bachelor lives at our billet. He always puts out water for our messtins.
Sunday, May 27th, 1917
Parade for distribution to different classes this a.m. Church parade under a tree. Slept in afternoon. Walk in evening to a nearby mine. Lots of coal coming up. Work there night and day. Many women employed on surface. Shaft about a kil. down.
Monday, May 28th, 1917
On a Sanitary Fatigue. Easy. Nothing to do all afternoon. Hot day. Another draft came in today. A band also arrived from the line. We will have some music I guess. We need ii in this God-forsaken place. Some good farms around here. Crops are wonderful this year.
Tuesday, May 29th, 1917
Drill again. A cooler day than usual. Four of us walked in evening to a neighboring mine and climbed a big slag heap. Had a beautiful view of country for about 15 kilometres. Lots of mines and little villages in this radius. Could hear guns from the line plainly.
Wednesday, May 30th, 1917
Ordinary drill today. Am getting tired of forming fours and saluting by numbers. Do not know when we leave. Probably Sunday. Hot day again. Nothing special to mention.
Thursday, May 31st, 1917
Drill today. Fine day. Nothing special on. Saw 17 aeroplanes up at one time today. Some scouts in Battle formation. A great hum for a while.
Friday, June 1st, 1917
Drilled all day. Hot day again. Gen. Byng here for a little while. Boxing bouts in orchard tonight. Bomb Wells put on Exhib. with Capt. Archibald. A few Exhibitions and competitions. Some good bouts. Wells is wonderful with his mitts.
Saturday, June 2nd, 1917
Drilled all day. Nothing special. We go up the line tomorrow. Shined my buttons and equipment tonight
Sunday, June 3rd, 1917
Paraded 5:30 a.m. but did not leave until 3:30 pm in Lorries. Rode about 22 kils. to Carency. On edge of old 1914 German line. Vimy Ridge just over a short ways. Carency an awful mess. Rec'd several letters. All old ones.
Monday, June 4th, 1917
Slept in a tent in Battn House with Ed. Birmingham. He is well. Moved up to a woods and joined Battn in Reserve. Went for a bath just under Ridge. Needed it. Moved to old Fritz dugouts on Vimy for night. They are wonderful pieces of work. Some heavy artillery near us.
Tuesday, June 5th, 1917
Slept out on hill in a shellhole last night. Warm. Fritz aeroplane came over and dropped bombs on 87th Horse lines. Some casualties. Moved back to woods for training again. Country is in awful state here. Shell holes thick as bees. Mine craters on Ridge like Lakes. Back to Ridge again to sleep.
Wednesday, June 6th, 1917
Slept in a dugout. It will hold a whole garrison. Slept well. Back to woods for training. Have seen lots of old 91st men. Jack Gray a Sergt. here. Percy Holden a Corpl. Several of the old boys still kicking. Nichols here. Kelly has been missing since April. Going into line tonight. We are expecting to pull off a show.
Thursday, June 7th, 1917
Took over front line about 1 a.m. Came in over Vimy Ridge via Givenchy. Most wonderful sight I ever saw of Battlefield at night. Continuous flashes. Fritz strafed us a little coming in and during night. Got my wind up a little but I keep my head down, you bet.
Friday, June 8th, 1917
Fritz quieter last night. Threw dirt over me once 8 pieces of shrap. Sing all around. It is a wonder how anyone comes out of this alive but I do not seem to be afraid. I am in God's hands. Expect to go over tonight. May He bring me through. We are about 100 yds from Fritz here.
Saturday, June 9th, 1917
Fritz bombarded [crossed out word] out of us last night starting about 7. He blew our trenches in in spots and buried me once. It shook me up but I am all right. At 11:45 p.m. our barrage started suddenly and we went over the top for Fritz's line. It was awful. I reached the German second line with the first wave. We came back in an hour. Several prisoners. Number killed, wounded.
Sunday, June 10th, 1917
Yesterday was quiet. Stretcher parties from both sides went out with Red Cross flags and brought in men from No Man's Land. We moved back to support today. Was on a Ration Party last night. Everything going fine. Rather a funny Sunday. We have to fix up this trench. Fritz smashed it up.
Monday, June 11th, 1917
Quiet day. Rained last night and trench full of water. Am in mud up to my waist. Have a pretty good little funk hole. Fritz put over a few but not many heavies. He has been pretty quiet since we went over. Am still wondering how I lived.
Tuesday, June 12th, 1917
Fritz shelling a little heavier today. Weather better and trenches drying. Water ankle deep in places though. Was out ... communication trench about half mile for water yesterday afternoon. Pretty risky. He dropped one across the road from us. Believe me, we scattered in a hurry.
Wednesday, June 13th, 1917
We were relieved last night about 11:30 by 38th, Fritz bombarded us for about an hour from 9 o'clock very heavily. Only two wounded. The ground shook like an earthquake. My part of the trench was OK. Stuck to my funk hole pretty close. Back over Vimy Ridge to huts at Chateau-de-la-Haie. Slept all morning. Bath in afternoon. Fine.
Thursday, June 14th, 1917
Paraded 8 a.m. to Brigade Training Ground for Rifle Grenade Instruction. Easy. Beautiful day and we are camped in a big wood. Went to Divisional sports in afternoon. Very much pleased to see Bill Hogan today. Signalling H.Q.s right at the Chateau. Bob looking fine. Nothing much doing at night. Little sing-song in the big "Y" tent.
Friday, June 15th, 1917
Hot day again. Raining again. Was on Machine Gun today. Went over to Ordinance Camp in evening near here and saw Bob Anderson, old MCR man. He is fat and well. Marked Base Duty from Pioneers. Has a good job. Reports St. Thomas boys in Pioneers well. Getting a little mail now.
Saturday, June 16th, 1917
Hot day. Drilled again all day. Tried Advancing Assault Tactics. We may pull off a show again next time up. Stayed in Camp in evening. Nothing special to report.
Sunday, June 17th, 1917
Quiet day very hot. Church Parade at Brigade this a.m. Presentation of medals for April 9th show. March past Brigadier. Read all afternoon. Got a bunch of letters. All old. Went over to see Bob in evening but missed him. He was out to a Ballgame some place.
Monday, June 18th, 1917
Drilled again today. Very hot. Got more letters from home. All the back ones are turning up. Went over to see Bob in evening. Had a nice visit with him. Hope Bob stays on his job. He wants to get out with a Brigade Section.
Tuesday, June 19th, 1917
Rained a little today. Had bombing in a.m. Nothing doing in afternoon. Moved up in Reserve at Berthonval Wood at night. In tents here. We are going out for Divl. Rest soon, probably before we go in the line again. We are just about a mile from Mt. St. Eloi.
Wednesday, June 20th, 1917
Drilling today. Very wet and muddy. Rained all night. Nothing special to report. Very quiet on the front this week. Only guns sounding are anti-aircraft occasionally. We have some triplanes here that are very fast.
Thursday, June 21st, 1917
More rain. Drilled between showers. Got couple more old letters. They are drifting in. Nothing special to write.
Friday, June 22nd, 1917
Rain in morning and some in afternoon. Do not drill in rain. Tent leaks. Saw Mac Mcnaughton today. Glad to meet him again. He looks fine. Went to Mt. St. Eloi got him in evening and we walked to Camblain L'Abbee. A long hike but we enjoyed the visit.
Saturday, June 23rd, 1917
Beautiful day. Got a box from home. Great. Drilled all day. Went for bath in evening to Souchez Valley. Fritz very quiet lately. Our rest coming off soon.
Sunday, June 24th, 1917
Battalion Church Parade in a.m. Nichols and I went over to Mt. St. Eloi and on to Camblain L'Abbee. Had a visit with Mac. Fine day. Fritz quiet. Heard from Jack Gray that Arch. B. McCall was around here. Have not seen him yet.
Monday, June 25th, 1917
Drill again today. Nothing particular to state. Guns a little more restless today. Heavy rains. Got a box from Pauline. Much good stuff therein. A box goes good out here.
Tuesday, June 26th, 1917
More rain today. Drilled between showers. Nothing startling. Guns were going it a bit today but were quiet most of time. Fritz is blowing Lens up. We hear big explosions and see fires all the time. Am a Lce. Cpl now.
Wednesday, June 27th, 1917
Was ordered out on working party last night but it was cancelled. We hear 10th Brigade has advanced through La Coulotte and Fritz is retiring. He cannot hold Lens long. It is the belief here that the war will finish in August. Nice day.
Thursday, June 28th, 1917
Rained some today. 12th Brigade is now in line and we are still advancing a little. Now on outskirts of Avion. We may go into line soon. Went over to 2nd Battn. Last night saw Mutt Lemon, Bill Stokes, a lot of fellows from 91st. They are well - the ones left.
Friday, June 29th, 1917
Nice day. Rained very heavily last night. A big barrage started last night at 6:45. Do not know what was coming off. We are going into line tomorrow night to reinforce 12th Brigade.
Saturday, June 30th, 1917
Some rain today. 12th Brigade are up in Avion now. Heavy fighting continues. Order to go in line cancelled today. Our rest is assured. Expect to go back tomorrow.
Sunday, July 1st, 1917
Dull day. Rained last night. Special Confederation Day services in a.m. Moved to Estree-Canchy via Maisnil Bouche in afternoon. Have a billet in a barn. Wire bunk. Nothing special. Canadians have made a nice advance. 4th Divn. On rest.
Monday, July 2nd, 1917
Started in drilling today. Nice day. Very strict here. Washed our equipment, cleaned up. Billet is full of rats and lice but better than being full of bullets.
Tuesday, July 3rd, 1917
Reveille at 4:30 and work till noon. Afternoon off. We have formed a N.C.O.'s mess and have some good eats. Nice day. Paid 15 frs. Today. Paid 5 to mess. Does not leave much but nothing to spend it on.
Wednesday, July 4th, 1917
Same routine. Rained some. Started in afternoon on school for Officers & N. C.O.'s at Brigade at Maisnil Bouche. March over and back daily. It makes a long day but will stick it out.
Thursday, July 5th, 1917
Same routine. Nice day. Shot some Grenades in a.m. Nothing to report.
Friday, July 6th, 1917
Same. Am getting mail every day now. Nearly all back letters up. Have had a couple of parcels this week. Nice day.
Saturday, July 7th, 1917
More rain. Work all day. Nothing special on. Things quiet on the front just now. French and Russians doing a little we hear.
Sunday, July 8th, 1917
Rain. Church parade in a.m. Bath parade in afternoon. Feel better. Pretty cool. Muddy.
Monday, July 9th, 1917
On guard at Battn. H.Q. Have charge of Guard. Three men, one post.
[From this point on Becker does not write in his diary daily]
Sunday, July 15th, 1917
Nice day. Just church parade today. Estre Canchy is a quiet place on Sunday but the villagers certainly dress up for the day. All the people are working in the fields all day long. The women do men's work. The Company moves to Maisinil Bouche to Brigade school this week.
Tuesday, July 17th, 1917
Moved to Maisnil Bouche today. A small village between Chateau-de-la-Haie and Estre Cauchy. We are billeted in the attic of an old Chateau which has seen good days long ago. Rats are ripe. A family lives in a few of the rooms in the lower portion of the house. We are doing all kinds of training here. The Brigade inspection comes off at the end of the week.
Thursday, July 19th, 1917
Training as usual. Nothing to report. Weather fairly good with rain now and then.
Friday, July 20th, 1917
We are preparing for the inspection. Today we washed all our equipment. Fixed our clothes and cleaned and shined until late at night. It is going to be a lot of work.
Saturday, July 21st, 1917
Cleaning again today. We are doing all ordinary parades as well. We hear we are to be inspected tomorrow. All the boys enthusiastic.
Sunday, July 22nd, 1917
Inspection postponed till tomorrow. Still cleaning. Lots of work to this. I believe we are going to win out.
Monday, July 23rd, 1917
On parade today from 8.30 a.m. until 9 p.m. for final inspection. We have won and are now the best Platoon in the Brigade. Our passes to Paris will come through soon. The Battn. Expects to move up nearer the line soon. We are to have our leave before we go in.
Wednesday, July 25th, 1917
Moved to Chateau today. Just one platoon from each Company while rest go up the line. Doing ordinary training at school here.
Thursday July 26th - Sunday July 29th, 1917
There is nothing to report especially just now. We are all waiting patiently for orders to leave for Paris. We are to go in four bunches of twelve each with an N.C.O. in charge of each bunch. We have drawn lots and I am to go first with my section almost intact. Today we moved to a new Brigade school called Keith Camp on the edge of Lorette Ridge a famous French Battlefield. We are to work here fixing things up. Expect orders to leave any day now. Worked this morning. Off this afternoon. Weather wet.
[From July 30th to August 11th Becker is on leave to Paris.
Saturday, August 11th - Tuesday, August 21st, 1917 Becker writes the following long entry.]
Left 11:30 pm. Last night, changed at Amiens. Got off at Colonne Ricourt and hoofed it 21 kilos to Keith Camp. Quite a change. We will not go in the line until the entire Platoon has been on leave. I often wonder how men stand it in this hellish Battle line for 12 and 14 months without any sort of leave. We can stand on top of this Lorette Ridge and command a view of the line for miles. We can overlook Lens and all the towns around and see the shells bursting on the trenches and on billets and emplacements far behind both sides of the strip called No Man's Land. At times we can hear the rattle of the Brigade Machine guns as they send out their death messages and as I watch all this from high up and far behind I think how awful for the boys down there and how awful the whole war is. It is a wonderful sight to witness but there is a feeling of repulsion at every crashing sound. Yesterday the 2nd Division took Hill 70 and I understand our Division advanced too. The 75th leave behind a number of casualties. Fritz is putting up a big scrap around this valuable mining city. The ridge I am on is just across the Souchez valley from Vimy Ridge and was the scene of a magnificent French victory early in the war. Up till now the battlefield has never been properly cleared on account of Fritz holding the commanding position on Vimy. Now British labour Battalions are going over it and giving the bones of French and German soldiers alike a decent burial. There is also considerable salvage stuff. We work hard every day here building shelter as well as the regular schoolwork.