19 November 1917

Work must again be my excuse for a lapse in letter writing – or rather energy, not exactly work.  We have slightly altered our abode and I have consequently spent about 18 out of every 24 hours wandering all over the place, learning my way about.   This is a good spot, albeit not quite so dry as out last health-resort and I think we shall manage to enjoy ourselves as usual.  We have got a most magnificent headquarters several yards below the surface of the earth. The C.O. has a room to himself – there is an enormous mess – the Major and I have a very excellent bedroom and the rest of the officers are in another compartment.  Down a passage are orderly room and signal office.  It is eminently safe and very comfortable but to my mind there is one great objection to all deep dug-outs – and that is the air – or rather lack of it.  I always wake up with most horribly funny lungs, and it takes about 15 minutes open air walking to restore me to a decent state. I am ever so much happier if I can live and sleep above ground.   After all one can always slip down the bunk-hole if the old Ludwig gentleman proves in any way obstreperous.   We are all making most terrible pigs of ourselves with chestnuts.   I had never before realized what exceeding delicacies they are, but now that I have been converted, I do my best to make up for my former omissions.   We have a large plateful everyday after lunch and dinner.   The Regimental Christmas Card has appeared and is a great success.  I will send you or two to the family when we get a little nearer to the festival.  I have already got rid of one or two to the more distant fronts such as Mesopotamy.

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13 November 1917

I got rather tires of waiting for my third “pip” to come through, so sent in a hastening notice which has produced a permit from the Divisional Commander to wear the rank, so you may now address me as Captain & Adj. – It is not really of any importance because it carries no pay with it, however I suppose to the uninitiated 3 pips look better than two, there is no real news of any importance.  I have seen Col. Toller once or twice lately – he seems very fit and I think still manages to enjoy the war all right.  He is living not so very far away and I dare say we shall see more of him now than we have for some time past. OIf Col. Jones there is no news at all – no one seems to know where he is – perhaps Italy.  We are all very busy just at present and there has in consequence been even more “paper” than before, if such a thing is possible.  Even as it is I believe we are much better off than a great many other units, we certainly manage with fewer clerks, and less stationery boxes.

11 November 1917

We had a Celebration this morning in the little “Church” hut here.   There were seven of us in all – it would be full with twice that number.   Services are very regular now-a days and one need never be more than a fortnight without a celebration – sometimes there is one every Sunday.  Our present abode, a sort of forward rest-billets – not the real rest that comes every three weeks – is in a little battered village.  We ourselves are in the local seminary for young ladies run by some nunnish sect – all of them long departed.  One wing is conspicuous chiefly for its absence, and our wing has needed considerable repairs – sandbagging etc. to make it more or less habitable.   I wonder what the austere Mother Superior would think of our mural decorations, cuttings form Tatlers, Sketches, Punch etc: I am sure the young ladies would be horribly shocked.

Wollaston has gone off today to the Army School for a 5 weeks course of instruction in soldiering – It is a good scheme for an officer who is making this amusing game his profession.  I daresay he will get a staff job when he returns.

8 November 1917

Just a line or two while I am waiting with nothing particular to do for once in my life.   We are, touching wood and crossing fingers, extremely fortunate just at present as regards the weather, and though we are almost half way through November, there has not been any very terrible rainfall: in fact trenches are most respectable, so, as you can imagine, life is by no means bad.   It has of course become considerably colder than it was a month ago, nobody minds cold so long as it is dry. Our American visitor has left us.  He was an excellent fellow; very anxious to learn, and by no means unduly full either of himself or his country.  If there are many such as he in the U.S. army they should do very well indeed.  I heard yesterday from Col. Jones but cannot make out from his letter quite where he is or what he is doing.  I rather gather he is still with our first Battalion.  I must write to him and try to learn some further details as to his whereabouts, if that is possible.  Our latest recruit from school is making a reputation for himself already, and is undoubtedly a marvel at patrolling.   He seems absolutely fearless, and goes about all over the place by day and night.   He is one W.M. Cole by name, very small, meek, and innocent looking and a jolly good lad in every sense of the word.  An old poacher-sergeant goes about with him and takes care of him – a truly awful blackguard but a first rate man, and worships Cole like a young god.  There is no news of interest; the war is still going on very much the same way as before, and we are a very merry party – perhaps the best lot of officers as a whole that we have ever had.

6 November 1917

To H.G.H.

How are you getting on with the cares of the air, and the Parish, which makes you worry most and is there still a single vacant pew?  In any case I hope you are not too pessimistic, though I can quite imagine that the Italian business has caused a certain amount of gloom amongst certain people who overestimate its importance.  There is absolutely no need to worry about it all.  We have got an American officer attached to us for three days – he seems a good fellow and should make a very good soldier.  I must confess that I cannot weigh him up; he is much deeper than the average Englishman of the same age, and seems to look at thing from a totally different point of view.  He is wonderfully equipped, and, if typically, it would seem that his country has no intention of doing things by halves.   His field-glasses, compass, coat – everything are all not only tres chic but I think also very serviceable and good.

4 November 1917

It is again a really disgracefully long time since I have written and once more I must make work the excuse for my delay.   The officials of the various spheres above our little one have been most exceptionally generous with bits of paper, most of them more of less superfluous, which they shower down upon us ceaselessly.  During our last so-called rest I never had any at all.  Fortunately some of the labours of the day were out of doors and had to be performed on a horse, so I managed to get some exercise, and the weather was by no mean bad.  We played another “league” football match and beat a sapper company by 4-0 on a wet field – on the whole not a bad game to watch.  The following day we had a “rugger” match against the Field Ambulance and after a terrific game succeeded in winning by 14-3 pts.  They wanted me to play but I thought it wiser to limit my activities to running up and down the touch line with a flag.

The Padre has gone away to do a “course” – presumably to learn how to preach; he will I am afraid, be most horribly bored.  Burnett is back from his school and Allen (C.S.) comes back today from his.  We are also going to have an American Officer to stay with us for a bit; he ought to be very interesting.  You must not get downhearted about the Italian business.  I do not think that, bad as it is, it is as bad as it looks on paper.  It may prolong things a little because a victory will encourage the faint-hearted sausage-mongers of Berlin, but it does not alter the ultimate result of the war.  London does not seem yet quite immune from air-raids – but I don’t suppose they are really very formidable, if one keeps calm.

28 October 1917

Just a very hurried line to let you know that I am alive and kicking but most terribly busy.  There seems to be a never ending stream of paper going through the orderly room.   My clerks are very faithful but sometimes most inordinately slow and I get, am now, very bad tempered.   To judge by your letters the country must be looking very nice indeed just now with autumn tints at their best.  There are one or two spots round here that are by no means bad.  Wollaston and I have been for a ride of about 22 miles today to visit our brethren of the “Second line”.  Slingsby Williams seemed very fit and well but Vincent did not look up to much.  There were also one or two others there that I have seem about the place before.  They were dwelling in a part of the country that we inhabited ages ago and it was curious and very interesting to see huts and things springing up on ground where we walked with exceeding care.   The C. O. has come back from his conference rather tired but otherwise very fit.   It is good to get him back again.  Burnett now becomes second in command again – and incidentally “John” instead of “Sir”.  Petch and Russell both got a slight wound a few days ago, but I do not think it will be a very long job with either of them though I daresay they will get to England.

23 October 1917

To H.G.H

There is not much concrete about us that I have been able to discover but they have just installed electric light which is a very great saving to the eyesight.  A guttering candle and small handwriting are enough to blind one in a very short time.  We have certainly comfortable and moderately safe quarters so have no complaints.  I seem to have solved the knee problem most effectively.   At first I had rather more trouble with it than I cared to think.   It was very swollen at times and also exceedingly stiff after a night of sleeping in my breeches.  At times it was so weak I could do scarcely anything with it.   I now keep it bandaged always day and night, with a pad of thermogene wool all round it.  The result is good, and there are no more swellings or stiffness and I can do as I like with the joint.

21 October 1917

The Colonel has gone away for a week to a wretched conference and J Burnett is now in command.  It will mean rather more work for me as the C.O. was in the habit of doing a very great deal himself.   However I don’t suppose that will worry me much.   The C.O. is a great man as I said before.  No one knows yet what is going to become of Col. Jones – he was over to dinner a few nights ago, and is at present out of a job.

I have been to two most extraordinarily good concerts at our neighbouring town – in the local theatre.  They were given – (are given I should say as it is a nightly show) – by a Divisional Concert Party: about a 20 performers and a string orchestra of 25.   It was a wonderful show, and the ladies were positively marvellous.  Of course they are lucky to get the theatre, as it costs them very little, and with large audiences – it is always packed – they can make any amount of money and keep a good store of dresses and scenery.   We played another of our league matches again yesterday and won it – against the 4th.  It is the first we have managed to win.  The other two were drawn and lost.  Unfortunately our Captain got badly knocked yesterday and will be away for at least a month if not more.

17 October 1917

Many thanks for the two letters, and one from Tom. It’s a pity I cannot drop over for a day or two to see you – just at present I think on the whole there is too much work on hand.  It is really surprising the amount of work there is to do – one is never idle & seldom has a minute to oneself.  I find I do very well with only six hours sleep in the twenty four, and am getting quite accustomed again to sleeping in my boots.  Col. Jones was over again yesterday – he is still at a loose end, and does not seem to have the slightest idea what is going to become of him.  I hope they do not get rid of our present commanding officer, who really does deserve the title “Great man” for many reasons.  He is just the sort of fellow it does one good to work for – so, as you can imagine, I am quite content.  You will be sorry to hear I have been indulging in poetry again, a sad habit.  In this case I am afraid I cannot send it along home as it is topical and concerns our doings too intimately to pass the censor.  Poor Old Williams has been sent to the second line much to his distress – however I expect we shall be able to get him back again all right in a month or two.  I see F.W.R. Greenhill has been killed – the man who broke my collar-bone for me