The First World War: Excerpts from the diary of Woodman Leonard
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.
As the First World War dragged on through the end of 1915 and start of 1916, Canadian troops settled into trench life. Shells and sniper fire were a constant threat, but long stretches of boredom, rats and mosquitoes made life miserable as well. Mail from home and the occasional baseball or football game away from the trenches made life more bearable.
When Canadian soldiers relieved the British at St. Eloi, they found massive mud-filled craters caused by underground mines detonated to destroy German defences. (Library and Archives Canada)
After leaving Ypres in the spring of 1915, Londoner Major Woodman Leonard spent the next 12 months leading his artillery brigade in skirmishes along the Western Front. He suffered regular bouts of illness from the cold, lost close friends to sniper and artillery fire and began to wonder in his diary who among them would survive.
April 1916 found him billeted behind the trenches in St. Eloi, Belgium, where after a fierce battle over craters created by underground mines, the British and Germans settled into yet another stalemate.
Diary excerpts from the Great War
April 25, 1916
Rather lazy about getting up, but after all, what does it matter under present conditions? . . . Laid out two new gun positions and looked over the ground for dugouts, mess, etc. Called at Brigade headquarters on the way back. Was surprised to learn that I was to take over the right group command tomorrow, as General T____ goes on leave . . . . Went back to wagon line for dinner.
April 26, 1916
Up at 6.30, and by hard riding reach group Headquarters and found things considerably mixed up there, as the Boche had burst a few shells very close and the inmates cleared out in a mixed hurry. The Col. left at 10 a.m. and I took over . . . The Boche blew up a mine south of Hill 60 and I turned all available guns on that locality . . . . Message from infantry at 11.45 p.m. states that deserters from enemy say gas attack was to come off at 2 a.m. today.
April 27, 1916
Had my blankets on a very fine canopied bed in what had been a beautifully furnished room. Nevertheless I hardly slept at all, with the firing and a cat, poor thing, who wanted to sleep at my feet. Had a late breakfast .... The 58th Battalion buried one of their officers in the wood behind the chateau during the p.m., which was impressive, as the guard presented arms as the corpse wrapped in a blanket, passed upon a stretcher.
A soldier Major Woodman Leonard was serving with died after applying a match to an 18-pound (eight kilogram) artillery shell, "after being told not to, which was a foolhardy thing for him to do," Woodman writes in his diary.
April 28, 1916
The bodies of two . . . officers which fell on our wire were recovered by slipping out from our trench. The Germans have had machine guns on them all along, and one was so riddled that every bone was broken. A German plane dropped a message near 11th Battery this a.m. It was in an oil cloth case and red, white and black streamers attached. In the case were snap-shots of the grave of Lieut. Turner . . . .
Young H_____, late with my battery, was killed when taking a shell to pieces.
April 29, 1916
Another fine day, with easterly wind, but too great velocity for “gassing” . . . Murray . . . is in possession of a map from one of our planes, which was brought down last week. The Boche got a direct hit on it five minutes after it landed but the pilot got away in time. Young H_____ was killed through applying a lighted match to a 18 lbs. shell, after being told not to, which was a foolhardy thing for him to do . . . The quietest day in firing since I came to Headquarters.
April 30, 1916
About 1 a.m. a heavy rifle fire started on our right. I was in bed but not asleep when the guns started to chime in, but I got up and went down . . . By three o’clock the noise had died down and I heard the attack had failed and I turned in for a few hours . . . After breakfast went . . . and paid my respects to General (Stuart) Tuxford, commanding Third Brigade. He complimented the Artillery on good work . . . Gave some instructions about replacements on the way back. Enemy shelling bridges heavily, while we were going down.
May 1, 1916
A fine day, with a good gassing breeze. Received a congratulatory cable from home on first anniversary of second Battle of Ypres. The Boche did a lot of firing with the 5.9 Howitzers in the vicinity and brought down another tree in the avenue . . . After lunch walked to my new emplacement . . . On the way back the Boche started another bombardment, which lasted for two hours . . . Received no mail today.
- 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