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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Reserve

Hobbies in the reserve trenches and billets were more varied than those that could be practised in the cramped and dangerous front-line trenches.

Diet sheet for ‘C’ Company 9th Battalion, 11 July 1917 (D/DLI 7/701/2/113) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Sport in general, and football in particular, was popular. As well as friendly kick-abouts, formal matches between battalions were common.

This photograph is of a match at Mametz Wood, France in 1916 between the 7th and 9th Battalions The Durham Light Infantry.

Unfortunately we don't know who won. Sergeant Barclay noted in his diary the score of another match '9DLI v. G[renadier] Guards 0-3'.

Extract from Sergeant Barclay’s diary, 10 February 1917 (D/DLI 7/41/3) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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In this extract, Barclay mentions watching a film and that he only spent one night in that week! Although Barclay does not say exactly where he is this week, he was probably either in support trenches or, more likely, resting in billets.

Throughout his diary he noted every time he ate eggs or drank champagne. This was a particularly good week 'eggs practically a daily occurrence now'.

See a full transcript of Sergeant Barclay's diary from February 1917.

Although not a regular treat, champagne was available in the trenches - there is an unopened bottle in the Durham Light Infantry objects collection.

Learn more about food.

Photograph of rafting in France, 1914-15 (D/DLI 7/805/48) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The soldiers also made rafts and sailed them in nearby rivers, streams and ponds.

This photograph shows Mr. Scott-Scott of the 53rd Battery, Royal Field Artillery, and Captain Hill, on a wooden raft with Major Harter steadying the raft in the water. It was taken in France between 1914 and 1915.

Extract from Rev. Birch’s diary, June 1915 (D/DLI 7/63/2) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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There are reports of men growing vegetables in reserve trenches, and going hunting and fishing to supplement their rations and pass the time when they were not in the front line.

In his diary, Reverend J.A.G. Birch, chaplain to the 5th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry, described a fishing trip near Ypres in June 1915.

See a full transcript of Rev. J.A.G. Birch's diary from June 1915.

Photograph of concert party by 4DLI, c.1918 ( D/DLI 7/35/1 (76)) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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Concert parties were also popular. The musicians included groups of friends and battalion bands. Some wore elaborate costumes for the performances, as shown in this photograph.

Train tickets for the Ypres Area, 1916 (D/DLI 7/776/42) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The soldiers also spent time as tourists. They visited ruins of the towns nearby (where they could buy postcards as souvenirs) and cafes and estaminets to eat eggs and chips and drink weak beer and coffee.

These railway tickets are for the Ypres area.

Probably the most popular pastime, however, was returning to Britain on leave. Only during the fiercest fighting was leave cancelled, and this was rare enough to draw comment: Barclay noted in his diary the day before the Battle of the Somme that leave had been stopped. Combined leave and railway tickets were given to the soldiers, with a destination railway station given.

Leave and railway ticket, 5-15 July 1917 (D/DLI 7/332/8) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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This is the return ticket for Regimental Sergeant-Major W.E. Holmes from Blackhill Station to France via Boulogne. His leave lasted from 5 - 15 July 1917. The ticket allowed him to travel 3rd class on any train in Britain and on any of the frequent boats across the Channel.

While on leave, soldiers and officers had to wear uniform and carry this leave pass with them at all times. This was partly because some soldiers who returned to Britain on leave did not want to go back to fight again and tried to 'disappear' - they deserted.