I am still very busy indeed, & have very few moments to spare for anything but work, as you have doubtless gathered from the shortage of letters that you have received. I have simply not had time to write – except one miserable field service postcard which I sent off to Dini just to show I was still alive. It was, and is, so very nice getting back to really hard work, and though at present I have an extra large allotment I think it not improbable when I get things more sorted out, I may have a little more spare time. Everybody keeps very fit & in the best of spirits, & I keep on meeting old friends, who all seem just the same as ever. I went round to old Bonnassieux this morning swaggering about with two ribbons “up” – a croix de guerre & a military medal. I shall probably go & dine with him in a day or two when we get a little less warlike. Today we have been much amused by a visit from a newspaper man – some reporter from the town of Leicester who wanted to see how we lived. He was much impressed, and I think on the whole enjoyed himself, though he was a little bored with a steel helmet and a respirator which he had to carry.
It is very nearly a week since I wrote but I have been worked off my feet ever since I got back to my Btn. Which I did last Saturday night. I found everybody in great form and full of good spirits especially Wollaston, the Major, & old John Burnett. As I more or less expected I have been reinstated as Adjutant, and Woolly has gone to “B” coy. I think he is a little sad about it but that cannot be helped. The C.O. is still on leave getting married, and Colonel Jones is once more coming to France, but to whom or for what purpose, no one knows. He will not be sent to us. Petch has a Military Cross, an event which we are celebrating this evening with a dinner. We start in two hours time and so far they have not succeeded in getting any port. I hope all will be well. Here am I jabbering away to you about all this nonsense and you are practically driven from home. I am exceedingly sorry to hear that you have had to leave London & hope that it will not be for long: at the same time you will certainly be more comfortable away from the noise. I am not sorry for poor Dad left there to face it all alone on Sundays.
The knee is standing the strain excellently. I am in the saddle for several hours a day – cantering about – running on my feet, and on the horses – in fact doing everything: beyond a small jar or two I never feel anything amiss. It was really rather like coming home after the end of term to get back here – not that I mean to imply that my leave was like term time, but it was very nice finding oneself once more amongst all one’s old friends. There are many gone; but those left all seemed awfully glad to see me. They are all delightful. The Battalion does not seem complete without Shields who was an institution but I daresay we shall get used to his absence in time – as we have the others. There is no time for regrets & the old C.O. would never allow any.
Thank goodness my stay in this abominable place is coming to an end & I join my Battalion tomorrow. At least we set forth to join our units tomorrow, the journey is always liable to take a little time. However I expect the next letter that you get from me will come from that haven of rest – Btn H.Q. I have met several friends down here since I last wrote. First of all I ran into Trotter who was in the Head form with me, next Cannon – “Long Percy” who used to be one of Kemp’s H.Q. Mess. The latter is an Instructor at the Training School to which all these Depots are attached. At the same school is a very merry Captain in the 4th Btn. named Bobby Evans whom I know well, & one in our second line whom I know slightly. I dined with Cannon in their mess the night before last – thereby having quite a respectable meal, a thing which it is impossible to get here. Last night two of us had dinner down in the town, where I spent most of the day – it was too hot to do much except sit of the beach & look at the sea. All the heat was apparently working up for a gigantic thunderstorm which we had last night. The lightning was as bright as I have ever seen, & the rain came down in bucketfuls, simply swamping most of our tents.
We had a very successful crossing & arrived all serene once more in the jolly old land of frogs. The other officer of my regiment who should have been there was not, but there were more than a dozen belonging to other Battalions, some of them Regulars, with whom I soon became acquainted. We did not come straight on up here at once but spent the night in a wretched Rest Camp, a miserable place miles out of town, where there were no Batmen & one was even expected to carry ones own valise about. We came on here yesterday & here we seem likely to stay – for an indefinite period. One point of great satisfaction is that I go back to my own Battalion, that is already settled. Here we are on a sandy plain & in tents, you can imagine the result – one’s kit, mouth & clothes always gritty. The mess, full of course of new officers of the most new order, is not a very comfortable spot & I shall not be in the least sorry to get moved on. Old Huskisson came by the same train from Folkestone, he is likely to become Staff Captain as Grinling has been moved to be a Brigade Major. I hope old Husky gets it, he is a first rate man & I know him well. Today we have been fitting & testing respirators, a performance which I believe we repeat tomorrow even more strenuously than today. As far as one can judge from rumours & reports, all the stories one has heard about the new Boche gas are grossly exaggerated, and really there is nothing to fear from it, if one keeps one head. Things seem very little altered since I was last here. Same old filthy trains and unlit carriages. Same way of loitering along & stopping hours between stations. Same playful habit of depositing one about a mile from the platform with no means of conveyance for one’s kit. Same French children very cheerful and very rude. Only it is not raining at the moment, several of us are just off into the town to get dinner there – meals not being very high class in this establishment.
Captain Hills didn’t write any letters between 15th January and 2nd September 1917.
It is likely that Hills’ knee injury prevented him from staying on the front line and that he probably went to England for medical treatment during this time.
The letters blog will return on 2nd September 2017.
This silly old knee refused to mend as it should do, so I have retired once more to the Field Ambulance – while the Regiment has gone up into the line.
Several more of less exciting thing have happened since my last letter. The first incident occurred the night before last and can only be described as disastrous. I went up with a party to do some wiring; not that an Adjutant generally does things of that sort – but I happened to be the only person who knew the way. The night was very dark and I suddenly felt my left leg disappear from under me down a hole. It went right down and my right leg stayed on top, twisting my right knee, and slipping a cartilage. Fortunately the cartilage decided to return whence it slipped: but the necessary walking that I had to do that night and yesterday morning have resulted in water on the knee.
The next piece of excitement was yesterday morning in the early hours. Creed was out with a patrol when they sighted some Boches. He immediately went for them, wounded and captured their officer, and scattered the enemy back to his line. This of course was great and we are celebrating it with a “bust” tonight. I am settling down all right into my new job, and I think will very soon get the hang of things. There is plenty of work which is one thing I like, and also plenty of room for improvement. If we can only manage to introduce a little of the last we shall get along very well. I have a very good Sergt Major to help me.
There is oceans of work to do. I am enjoying myself tremendously & keeping very fit. Allen has gone to Bgde. H.Q. with my old job & I am now Adjutant. The C.O. came back from leave two days ago & is just the same as ever, if anything rather more so. Most unfortunately he has had to go to a Commissioning Officers Conference, & will be away about a week. Old James Griffiths is commanding again in his absence, & we shall get along all right, but it is not the same thing as having the C.O. here.
Work has been the chief order of the day lately – the office has needed a good deal of reorganizing, & I have had a bit of a job collecting some of the papers & things which seem to have been scattered broadcast all over the Mess & kitchens & everywhere else.
Just at present we are up in trenches again & consequently there is considerably less paper showered upon us form brigade etc. – & one gets time to stroll round the lines & see what is going on. There is a most appalling amount of work always to be done in trenches & there never seems to be half the necessary number of men to do it. Fortunately while the Brigadier is away we do not get “strafed” for not having achieved the impossible. We had a very nice little dinner a night or two ago given by A Coy. – it was quite cheering to get back again amongst the old original people. We are very short handed for officers – a lot away on courses & odd jobs – but what we have got are jolly good. There is no sign of Wollaston yet though we have heard more than once that he is on the way out. Rumour has it that there are a lot of all sorts & kinds of Subalterns coming – there will doubtless be plenty of work for me on the choicest specimens of them. We have a most excellent H.Q. here with a really first class armchair. Where on earth it came from no one knows, because no one has ever seen such an armchair in France. Out here they do not know what comfort is in the chair line. No time for more.
A good many thing s have happened since I last wrote, & have been the cause of considerable delay in writhing. Soon after my last epistle several things occurred which led the Brigadier to imagine that all was not quite as it should be with the Regiment & one of the Coy Commanders was given a bit of a rest. This left them short of officers so I offered to go & look after a Company for a bit. I did so during a tour of four days in the trenches & thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got of course muddied up to the eyes & had to swim in places, but we did a lot of work & hardly slept at all – net result I am feeling extraordinarily fit. I am still commanding the Company but shall cease to do so in a day or two & become Adjutant. Allen’s transfer papers have hot come through yet but he is giving up the job in any case. There is no denying that things are not quite as they should be, & the Brigadier lays the blame for half the trouble at the door of Allen. Perhaps he is right. In any case I am being put in to get things straight if possible. It will not be an easy job – as I shall be almost alone. The C.O. is a wonderful man, but his ideas on discipline are not in accordance with those generally accepted, & though admirable for the old T.F. are of little avail when dealing with some of the people that we get here just now. Meanwhile the Brigadier has just gone on leave, so we are left in peace for a day or two at all events. Sandall is commanding the Brigade. I am sorry that you will now imagine that I am undergoing much more danger in my new job than before. It is not so, & even if it were one cannot help being somewhat of a fatalist. While there are shells about one may get hit anywhere, even in the softest of jobs. I shall take as much care of myself as ever, & hope for the best. Bosworth is going on leave tomorrow & will get me one or two things that he considers necessary for cleaning the strappings on my bags. don’t know whom I shall have as my batman in his absence.
I see the Honours list are out & that Kemp’s son has got a M.C. Several people in the Brigade have also got them, but unfortunately no one in the 5th. However they cannot all have them.
There is really nothing very interesting happening just at present but I will write & give you an account of my first impressions as Adjutant. I expect I shall get long all right somehow.
It is very late & I am somewhat weary, but have got sufficient energy to scribble a letter, so will go on until I go to sleep. It is pouring with rain, which it has done most of the day, most of last night & most of yesterday – & consequently everything is flooded. One cannot see more than a few hundred yards even at midday so it is not much use my going observing – in fact my job is my no means lively just at present. Yesterday & the day before were spent very largely in making the final arrangements for the Boxing. The Divisional Competition was held yesterday afternoon & we had to find a competitor in each class for the Brigade. Our middle weight was scratched at the last minute, but our other three all put up a good fight, & we won the light weights with a ruffian named O’Shaunessy of my Regt. He had been promised leave if he won & did not intend making any mistake about it. He went for all he was worth & polished off his opponent in about thirty five seconds.
Today I have had a very lengthy motor-ride. I had to attend a lecture at a place some forty five miles from here & we left at 3 o’clock, not getting back here until just after nine. It was a very wet performance but the lecture was well worth it. It concerned the growth of the army, its administration, advantages & limitation, & was very interesting. The lecturer was a General from G.H.Q. of the name of Stewart. Tomorrow or the day after, I am not quite certain which, Adkin the History Professor is again lecturing: this time he will be somewhere in our neighbourhood & I am going to hear him. He was the fellow I drove over to hear once before – sometime in September if I remember right. One really sad thing is happening. Godsal has got promoted – he has been given a General Staff job with another Division & is leaving tomorrow. It is good for him but a great pity. I have got very fond of him, & I rather regard him as a model soldier. I certainly have learnt more about soldiering from him than from anybody else I have ever met. He is a most cheery person & the Mess without him will be even more gloomy than it has been of late.
We ate the plum pudding the night before last – it was gigantic & excellent. The Brigadier struck the shilling first go off & was fearfully pleased with himself about it. It really was a jolly good pudding so once more my thanks for it. No time for more.