29 August 1916

We have just had a most terrific and awe inspiring thunderstorm, which vented its  chiefest wrath smack over the top of this beautiful little country village.  We, that is to say my shanty and myself escaped death by drowning but  not be very many inches, while the lightening simply dug huge holes in the back garden.  I must ask you of course to bear in mind that as an Intelligence Officer I am, and have to be, a most accomplished liar.  The storm having now subsided we have a large fatigue party filling up the holes – almost of the available troops engaged in 1 building a pontoon bridge from the office to the mess  2 constructing a canoe for me  3 making a balloon waistcoat for the G.O.C. and  4  rescuing submerged staff officers who, owing to the weight of red and gold carried on their August persons were unable to swim home.  The effects of the inoculation wore off as I anticipated and I was able to trot round trenches yesterday.  In the evening I went up to my very best nook and was well rewarded.  What exactly happened I don’t know, but something so exciting that streams and crowds of Bosches came forth from every corner of the globe to look at it.  Of course we were able carefully to locate and mark down their abodes and some day perhaps a few atoms of unexpected cast iron will mingle with their sauerkraut, and give them, we hope, severe indigestion.  Everybody here is very bucked over Rumania having decided to put a finger in the pie.  They all seem to think that there is now a reasonable chance of the war ending by 1925 – some even go so far as to say December 1924 but that is perhaps rather too optimistic.  However, as the old saying has it, the first seven years are always the least pleasant.   My arm is still a little tender from the serum.  I believe that is the correct expression for the injected poison.  Morning rides have therefore been rather out of the question so Huskisson has been keeping Kate fit.  He is very fond of riding and has no horse, so is only too glad to find that I don’t want mine.   Col Jones is in great form and his reports from the trenches are always most amusing.  Just at present his Intelligence Officer is away so he writes the report himself.  Serious pieces of important information all interspersed with comic criticisms, remarks and gibes of all sorts.  It takes me all my time to sort out what to send to Division and what merely to laugh at.  It is well worth it because it gives us all a real good laugh and makes depression absolutely impossible.  We are to have some Bde sports here presently I believe which are to be a very great event with bands and everything complete.  There will probably be one or two jumping competitions and a steeple chase, and then the rest of the afternoon will be devoted to tugs-of –war, flat races, three-legged efforts and other things of that sort.  There is going to be an Officer’s Musical Chairs on mules–bare-back which may be quite amusing.  When the band stops one has to stick a tin on a post – I shall certainly enter and equally certainly fall off.

27 August 1916

Violent fits of shivering alternating with still more violent attack of perspiration are at the moment keeping me amused.  My temperature varies between 91 and 108 – all the result of being inoculated last night.  The event itself was by no means devoid of excitement.  At the first attempt the needle bent badly, and the Doctor, having sworn volubly, decided that a second attempt would be necessary.  My own personal opinion is that the first attempt was quite sufficient, and that I received my full dose of germs in spite of the bent needle.  However we had a second dose which proved quite successful.   Just at this moment it came on to rain and we decided to give it two or three minutes before going out.  Then a most amazing thing happened – I fainted.  Goodness only knows what for – because there is no pain in being punctured and in any case I wasn’t worrying about it. The whole thins surpasses my comprehension.  However what’s done is done, and can’t be undone.  By tomorrow I expect I shall be flourishing like a green bay-tree, and going about with that unquenchable enthusiasm which always distinguished the Super-Intelligence Officer.    I see from the paper that the zeppelin have again been amusing themselves.  I hope they were not anywhere in your neighbourhood.  It is about time we fetched down one or two of them again. I daresay they will return a few short one of these nights.  Fortunately we don’t see much of them here.  In fact it is more than a year since I have set eyes on one in this country.   For the last few days the weather had been shewing signs of breaking up, and today it broke with a vengeance.  We have had half a dozen showers of the heaviest rain I have ever seen.  For about ten minutes in each case it simply came down as hard as it could.  My little shanty stood the storm all right, but not so the house against which it leans, and which provides a home for Bonnassieux and Huskisson.  Then the roof and walls all seemed to leak, at any rate there was a considerable quantity of water over the floor.  I do not understand why it doesn’t come in to my abode – as it is only a roughly built affair with a thatched roof.  Yesterday afternoon I escorted the Brigadier round some of the nooks and crannies rom which I watch “the interesting details of the Bosche’s private life”.  He seemed quite interested in it all, and was very bucked when we managed to see a party bringing in the harvest several miles behind the Bosch lines.  I had been up and about the trenches all the morning so by the time I got back to billets I was just about as tired as I wanted to be.  All the afternoon – in addition to the ordinary complement of glasses and telescopes, I also had to carry “Auntie” about with me for the Brigadier’s benefit.  Auntie is a large monocular periscope of many magnifications and a most serviceable weapon, but of no mean weight.  It has turned out quite a bright evening and with any luck we ought to have a fine day tomorrow.  I certainly hope so because I shall be fit enough to do a certain amount of work.  We were rather heavily shelled here a week ago and both Col. Jones’ horses were killed – he is rather upset about it.

26 August 1916

It is a positively disgracefully long time since I wrote to you, though no doubt you saw my letters to other members of the family.  I have been kept pretty busy on the whole one way and another and have not had over much time for anything but work for the Department.   Work has been very much as usual for the last few days.  I still wander round and look at the other people whenever I get the chance, and make occasional visits to batteries to learn details of any new things, and in general keep going the cooperation between them and us.   Yesterday morning I was stung on the nose by a bee – a most unpleasant performance.  Fortunately there was a doctor at no great distance to whom I flew with the maximum possible rapidity.  With the aid of a little carbolic he was able to prevent what I most dreaded – a bulbous nose, and I have nothing to shew for it.  We are having very hot weather and on one or two days there has been a most splendid view – just the thing for us of course.  Today there are a few slight showers but nothing to hurt.  I have been riding each morning before breakfast, and come back feeling very fit indeed, especially after the cold bath.  The mare goes very well indeed and thoroughly enjoys herself on these excursions.  Reports have just come in so I will stop and attend to them.

19 August 1916

(To H.G.H.)

Very many thanks for the letter which came to me while still I hospital – here is an answer better late than never.   War is a most amusing and diverting occupation but after a time it begins to affect one’s youth.  I am about twice as old as I was 18 months ago and worth about half as much.  My hair is not actually grey but a sudden shock such as a shell bursting somewhere near no longer leaves me unaffected.  On such occasion I recover to find my heart going about 400 to the minute and my hand shaking. – In the old days one sneezed and walked on.  All this is very depressing but I cannot help taking it into consideration, when I start thinking as I sometimes do, on what I am going to do après la guerre.  It is very much the same with all of us who have been out any length of time and I expect from all accounts it is considerably more so with the Bosch which is one consolation.  The knee is going well, still bandaged but giving no trouble – nor will it again, in my opinion though the Doctors will not guarantee that it won’t start all over again with no apparent provocation. I have been round trenches today, and was round yesterday – the rain makes walking rather unpleasant, but I am quite glad to get back again.

15 August 1916

I am still in the same spot but everything has gone so well that I should not be surprised if they let me return tomorrow. The knee has almost entirely healed up, and there is not I think anything left which could cause another outbreak. I shall not be at all sorry to get back as I have been away about a fortnight and am getting hopelessly out of touch with affairs. Cannon has been doing my job and is I think pretty tired of it – at any rate I gather he will not be sorry when I get back. Hacking has returned to his regiment and his place has been taken by an elderly Subaltern named Huskinson who seems to be quite a good sort. Bonnassieux is running the mess at present, I only hope they won’t want me to take on the job again when I get back. I do not much love doing it. We have had several changes in the patients. “Face” is still here but the bibulous and ferocious Scotchman has gone. There was a Doctor with a gnat-bitten “lip” for a few hours and the patient with dysentery is still in existence. Tonsillitis and trench fever have gone up today for the first time, and two new ones have come in who are on their way through to the C.C.S. One of them who has had rather a hard time of late and is badly shaken has been awarded four months rest in England – so he has nothing to grumble about.  The hospital staff are still going strong: i.e. the Major and the two corporals who attend to us.  The night corporal is a most excellent fellow and very thorough – so much so that I am not really sorry that there is no longer need for any formentations.  His were always most efficient, not to say efficacious – it was all I could do not to scream during their application.  I forgot in my last letter to thank Andrew for the photos which are excellent – though I must say that you are not exactly wearing a “this-is-a-grim-war” expression in one of them – doubtless you know which one I mean.  I have got quite a collection of family photos now but can always do with lots more.  It has now consented to rain again and I am very doubtful whether it means to stop before next year.  According to the count, with the wind in this quarter it very often rains for a month or so at this time of year – so we know what to expect at all events.  I had another trip to town yesterday afternoon.  My purchase included some most delicious meringues, some very tasty (and talkative Cheese) and some greengages which were not at all bad.  I also got a pot of “foie gras” which I gave to the Doctor’s mess by way of a thank offering for the kindnesses conferred, and to pave the way for future trips, if not for myself, at any rate, for future patients.  I censored a letter of Bosworth’s today in which he told his wife that we should very soon be returning to Bde Hq. probably today or tomorrow, so I suppose he thinks I am about cured.  He is a curiously silent and ugly person but a very useful little man, and I should probably find it very difficult to get a better batman.  My room so far is mine alone, and will remain so unless some luckless officer arrives in the middle of the night, when, mine being the only vacant space he will be thrust into the “other bed”.  Another somnambulist is not likely, but the range of possible complaints makes the expectation all the more exciting.

 

14 August 1916

Viccars has been out to see me and brought several letters and two parcels. For them all very many thanks, especially for the cake which is excellent. I am now able to get about a good deal though the knee is not completely healed yet and may still take several days to get right. I have at last got rid of the formentations and my dressings are all of the dry variety. The sports yesterday came off with great gusto – the favourite events being the obstacle and V.C. races and a slippery pole. The last two are not usually to be found in sports even out here. The V.C. race is on horseback – the competitor has to race 100 yds jump a hurdle, race 150 – stop, dismount, pick up a wounded man represented by a large sack, remount and ride another 400yds including two more jumps, carrying the blesse across his saddle. As most of the horses were ordinary pack and transport animals that had never jumped in their lives, the result was most diverting. Fortunately there were no serious accidents. The slippery pole was fastened across a small swimming bath. The competitors two at a time sat on this and tried to dislodge each other into the bath, being armed with a three foot broom-stick with a swab on the end of it. Everybody of course ended up in the water much to the delight of the audience. Having learnt that Barton and Williams were both in the neighbourhood I went over to see them yesterday. Both are due to leave for England today. Both were very cheerful and quite content but though not dangerous their wounds are by no means contemptibly slight. Today I went for a joy-ride in the car taking the wounded from here down to the C.C.S. a town to which we have several times paid visits and where I was once billeted in a newspaper shop. In the same shop I walked into an O.M..T. – a fellow I did not know very well. However a few yards outside I ran into H.C. Stephens whom I knew very well indeed and he and I went and had tea together. It is a most remarkably small world out here – one is for ever running into people that one knows. The weather at present is remarkable for its’ heat. It rained a little last night but not enough to cool the air, and the nights in particular are very close. Tonight we look like having a thunderstorm but I don’t know if it will come off or pass over. We get plenty of rain as a rule so I dare not say that we could do with a little now. At the same time enough to lay the dust would be rather welcome.

12 August 1916

I am now allowed up and can wander about where I please – with any luck another few days ought to see me completely adjusted. Hot formentations are now only a nightly business – by day we wear a dry dressing. The wound has not actually closed up but at least it is clean I think. The company has changed since I last wrote, our greatest loss being the Doctor who has most unfortunately returned to his regiment. “Face” is still here and is boring as ever. There is also a garrulous Scotch Subaltern – A most colossal buck–stick of whom I am heartily tired. We three are the only patients except for those who pass through on their way to C.C.S. Mould has gone back and is quite fit again. I had just got into bed last night when one of the “passing through” patients was thrust in to occupy the other bed. He informed me with great gusto that he suffered most from somnambulism and making horrid noises in his sleep. So much so that the night Corporal who is an excellent fellow and rather a friend of mine was somewhat anxious for my safety. I am almost sure that he spent the whole night just outside the door, waiting to come in should anything happen. At all events when the other bed did appear slightly restless he came in promptly with a candle and calmed it down. Fortunately there was no somnambulistic display though I was fully prepared with missiles. I had a long talk yesterday with the owner of the chateau here who is rather an interesting old chap – retired army. He is a very staunch royalist and does hot much love the present government. I have never heard of anyone out here before who spoke of a King of France and really meant it. I believe this old chap and Orleans are rather friends, go shooting together and that sort of thing. There is a miserable gramophone going just outside door and collected thought is difficult. Here is the M.O. and the post will have gone by then time he has finished so au revoir.

8 August 1916

The formentations have at last had the desired effect and things are now going more rapidly in my knee. That is to say all sorts of varicoloured things are being produced from the inside of what looks like a perfectly ordinary though rather large knee. There was no need for a knife though I almost wish they had decided to use one before, as for the last few days things have been distinctly painful. I am absolutely motionless and getting bored in consequence, it will be a great relief to stroll about a bit. At present I cannot put my foot on the ground without the most remarkable excruciations. Enough of knees. The other bed is at present occupied by the Doctor man of whom I told you in my last letter; he has had a slight relapse and has had to stay in for a day or two. I expect he will be up again and out tomorrow. Mould is up and very fit, expecting to return to his unit almost immediately. I hope the man with the face will also go soon – he bores me – unfortunately I see no prospect of it. However we live in hopes. There was a certain amount of excitement the other night and Barton, who, of course, was in the middle of everything, managed to run himself on to one of our own bayonets when getting into the trench. It went a few inches into his thigh but is nothing very serious and he expects to be back in about three weeks or so. He may of course get to England – in which case he will probably get married and we may not see him back here for some time. The regiment will be very sorry to lose him, he is a most valued institution. I hoped that he would come to this hospital but apparently he has gone elsewhere. It was rather characteristic of him that having punctured himself he strolled quietly back to his dug-out, bandaged himself up and went on with his work. It was quite by accident that the C.O. discovered what had happened from some soldier who saw it – and then of course Barton was ordered out. I have just been censoring letters and have come across one really good example of the danger of using a dictionary – a priceless jewel of dog French put at the end of a letter.

“Ecrive dos bientot s’il v.p.” You will of course see how he has arrived at it. Interval of five minutes for a formentation – and a very terror too. The squeezing operations which are the feature of the present stage are exciting but none too pleasant. Do you know if there is any fairly small edition of Browning which you could possible get hold of and send out to me. I believe Everyman has two volumes which contain all except the King and the Book which I cannot hope to tackle out here. I have been reading the few selections of him in the blue anthology that you sent out and have almost learnt them by heart. He has always appealed to me ever since Lumb first introduced me to him.

5 August 1916

I am still in bed, and still undergoing fairly frequent formentations. My knee is I think improving and there is still hope that I shall not be evacuated any further back down the line. The other bed has already changed hands once since I last wrote. The gentleman with the trench fever got sent down without delay to the C.C.S. Last night they suddenly pushed in a man of our 4th going down to the same place to have his teeth seen to. He left this morning and at present I am alone, that is to say the other bed is unoccupied. What tonight will bring forth remains to be seen. As to being alone I am scarcely ever that as my room has practically become the sitting room for the few other patients who are living more or less normal lives. He with the face is here fairly frequently, and is, entre nous, a shocking bore – quite the opposite is the previously gloomy doctor man who has now revived somewhat. We have been reading Demosthenes’ Philippies together, that doesn’t sound very exciting but is actually productive of quite a lot of amusement. The doc. and I have a good deal in common, although he is a Scotchman which is rather against him. We both read the works of one Kipling, and our tastes in music and literature are very similar. Unlike most of his nation he can see a joke almost as soon as it is made. Mould dropped in a few minutes ago – he is just allowed up and expects to be sent back in a day or two. He stutters just as much as ever, and is quite as madly in love as before – oh dear! These engaged people with their dreamy far off looks and lop-sided smiles –pshaw. The weather has improved quite considerably this afternoon, and though there is still a modicum of wind, the sun is shining and it looks as if we might have a fine day tomorrow. I am so near the window that a fine day is a distinct advantage, and makes a deal of difference to one’s comfort. This is a curiously run hospital in some ways – it doesn’t seem to have a doctor. An orderly jams a thermometer into one’s mouth as 6.30 AM and slams on the formentations when he feels inclined. It is true that a Doctor comes round after breakfast and chats quite merrily about the weather and the state of his stomach – owing to the ptomaine I told you about. He may be in some way connected with the hospital and so with my knee, or he may not, it is really hard to say. There is another orderly who brings me an occasional meal and in the evenings makes my bed, but that is all that goes on. I suppose it is all right but it certainly seems a trifle curious. I find that the post does not go till morning so am finishing this the day after the date at the beginning. The postal arrangements are now absolutely unfathomable: one used to know more or less how the posts went, but now every unit seems to have its own time. My visitors were here most of the evening – that is to say the other three patients, who get so jolly tired of each other’s company that they have to come here for relaxation. When they’d gone I started to read a most thrilling novel called Dr Syn – unfortunately I had no candle so had to use my electric torch to finish it. It was rather a question which would last the longer the torch or the book, the former won by about five minutes. The book was so gruesome in some parts and the light in my bedroom so uncanny – a dying torch and ‘orrible shadows that I almost got the jim-jams. It is all about Romney Marsh and smugglers and pirates, and parsons, and ghosts, and sailors. Most exciting – I should advise you to read it. Today is going to be really hot again – there is a most delicious patch of sunlight coming through this window – and I only wish I could get out and sit in the garden. However I look like being another week in bed yet, then possibly a week or so with a stick, so goodness knows when I shall get back to work again. The post is going so I will close.

4 August 1916

This is a pretty miserable way of celebrating the anniversary of about the best thing England has ever had the courage to do. Instead of being able to strafe the Hun all day and end up with a good dinner and a “bust” here I am actually in bed with about four miles of bandages round this never-to-be-sufficiently abused knee. Strictly entre –nous I don’t think the Doctors quite know what is the matter with it. Barton was quite convinced it was no longer “pus-sy” and whispered some scandal or other about housemaid’s. My present medical advisor on the other had says that there is only a very slight “sign-of–eye-teas” and has ordered me hot formentations again – thereby shewing that he thinks it is still “pus-sy”. The spelling of this last word which I intend to signify “containing puss” is a difficulty. If I leave out the hyphen it is too suggestive of kittens, while the omission of the second s, or the insertion of an e would lead to confusion with the eminent divine. Septic is another bad word, it looks wrong like that, yet with a c it means to my mind something quite different. I am not, you will be glad to hear, at present being starved – in fact there is plenty to eat and the patients are actually allowed beer! I have had to knock this off lately because it makes me so sleepy in hot weather, out here there is nothing else to do but sleep so it does not matter. We area in a chateau – one of the medium sort – not one of the deer-park kind such as I dwelt in for one day a week or two ago – but yet of fair respectability in that the rooms do not all lead through each other, and have not all got windows on both sides. My, or rather our room, is long and thin with two beds – one by the window which is very nice, the other by the door which is very unpleasant. I have the former. Last night I was alone, today I have company. The other bed is occupied by a Subaltern with trench fever who is being sent on this evening to the C.C.S. I wonder who will take his place: it was I understand formerly occupied by a parson with boils. I hope I shall not catch all the complaints; in the case of my own bed I am fairly safe as its owner had merely shell-shock, which though contagious during a bombardment, is hardly likely to be infections through the medium of sheets and blankets, even supposing the former have not been washed as I suppose they have. My present doctor is a chubby Major man with a stutter – at present suffering from ptomaine poisoning through eating tinned pork-pie. He will probably do his best to kill me as last time we met I was Town-major of some wretched village and his ambulance had snaffled all the best billets, from one of which they had to be evicted. This of course is not likely to cement a lasting friendship. However by a studied flattery of his skill and a marvellous gratitude for the benefits and comforts I am now receiving I may yet be able to save my life. The weather which up to today had been lovely has changed – we knew it would soon. The sun still shines and it is fairly warm, but there is a young hurricane blowing and rather ominous clouds keep chasing each other across the course of the sky that I can see without actually getting a stiff neck. Of the other inmates of this lunatic asylum I have not yet seen much as I am not allowed out. Mould is here somewhere with his throat – he is also confined to his room and likely to remain so for some time yet I fancy. Then there is a Lincolnshire Subaltern with an ugly face – suffering from impetigo – at least he calls it that – I should say barbers rash – at all events he makes it an excuse for not shaving. A young Doctor suffering from shock completes the list so far as I know. The two last feed together next door – a somewhat gloomy existence for both of them. I do not know which I should dislike the more, to have to sit and look at a man with an ugly face, or talk to a man who is more of less dotty. Fortunately I have not got to do either. Banwell spent one night here on his way through. He is now really bad and it looks as if my original prediction that he will get to England will come true. He is of course fearfully sick about it and would far rather have been killed outright then sent back – some people are like that. The Padre who was here was named Paterson – he has left behind him a St Leonards Magazine. Will you ask Cousin E. if there was ever one of that name at Streatham – it may of course be that he is merely related to one of the Staff – or engaged to the Senior Curate’s daughter – or anything of that sort.