I hope you were not unduly alarmed at getting a letter from the Padre, and I expect by this time he has called and told you all about it. I was much too blind to write, and even now the Doc. does not want me to do more reading and writing than is absolutely necessary. My eyes are almost all right again, and only the glare of the bright sun worries them at all now. For a time however they were horrible to look upon, and exceedingly painful. Hewson, the Doctor and Ashdowne had to go to Hospital, and only the latter has so far come back. He and I are living in a bivouac in a large field while the Battalion is in the line. The Colonel refused to allow me into trenches with them although I am very much fitter than he is. He has a chest full of mustard. The 24 hours when it all happened were distinctly hectic and one day I will tell you all about it. Everybody played up splendidly ad much credit is due to the C.O. and others. All our batmen are away goggle-eyed in Hospital and consequently I have already lost half my kit. It takes a Bosworth to look after me.
On May 17/18th the cellar ventilator at the chateau was hit by a gas shell and in Hills’ own words in his book “became a death trap.” Hills was half blinded by the mustard gas.
Shirt sleeves once more, and a real hot day. So hot that I am sitting out of doors in the entrance court of our chateau. The latter has been in it’s time rather a fine building but recent excavation and alterations by our worthy Teutonic friends have not exactly improved it’s appearance. There is for instance a sad deficiency of glass in the windows and whoever billets here next winter may find the place uncomfortably cold. There is a park adjoining filled with wild hyacinths and, in a day or two, lilies of the valley – shell-holes of course but one gets used to them. The little photo I found knocking about a dust heap – a rather uncommon find as autographed photos of the Prince Imperial cannot be too numerous. Tomorrow I shall probably have a bad day. I have got to go and prosecute at about 5 Courts Martial – never a very pleasant job. I usually leave it to my assistant, but there are rather tricky cases and I want to take them myself to avoid any trouble. It will be an all day job I am afraid. I shall probably be having a new assistant soon – Dunlop does not greatly impress the C.O. and he is certainly very slack. Ashdowne, our Lewis gun officer – will take on the job in a week or two I expect. He is an excellent fellow though rather young. However he has keenness and that is a quality one does not always find in the modern Subaltern. He always has a most wonderful bored “la-di-da” manner which is a great asset. The lad I told you about who manages to escape the other day from the Boche patrol has been awarded the D.C.M. It is not improbably that he will come along as my runner until Sullivan comes back. He is a very meek looking youth, and I don’t know how we shall get on at all.
The hot weather did not last long and yesterday and today have quite ruined May’s reputation. It is cold and damp and cheerless and depressing and I fact everything that it should not be. Camp would be terrible but as we have left it that is not a matter of great moment to us. Once more we are in a cellar – not the same cellar but still a very comfortable one on the whole. The only problem is the supply of fresh air which is distinctly difficult to arrange. All underground dwelling-places are fuggy but this one seems fuggier than most. Probably by the time this reaches you we shall be having decent weather again and so I must start considering the question of summer clothing. I am proposing to get inoculated again during our next rest period. There are so many stinks in this land of dead things and swamps that I don’t intend taking any unnecessary risks during the summer.
I ought to have written some time ago but have been rather busy. For the last three days we have been in Camp and have enjoyed ourselves exceedingly. The first two nights were distinctly wet – after that is cleared up and today has been hot and delicious. We have a Battalion mess and tonight the Drums are going to play for us. Camp is very nice, It is not too cold and I for one like being in the open air – not that our cellar was any too bad – in fact the last was the best “tour” in the line we have had since we came to France. I hope Dad will manage to see Sullivan, he is a man who has been absolutely invaluable to me, and he and I get on excellently together. In fact I have never found anyone else who suited me so well. He is Irish and a trifle wild, so goes well with my sober self. I cannot remember whether in my last letter I told you that one small party of ours had run suddenly into a large number of Germans on patrol and that one of our men was missing. He got back the next night – knocked out the 2 Boche, crawled into a hole, waited till daylight to get his bearings, and then came in – jolly good show.
Ascension Day Celebration in a wood this morning, very excellent surroundings.
The sun came out the day before yesterday and it was warm – this was repeated yesterday and it was again warm. Today there is a cool wind but it is still in parts warm. Consequently as you might imagine we are winning the war and everything in the garden is beautiful. Our particular patch here contains some delightful apple blossom. We are in the same cellar as when I last wrote and are all enjoying ourselves immensely. The line is on the whole quiet – not to say very quiet and we can wander about by night much as we please. This being a portion of the front where the old Boche not very long ago did a small push we are more or less devoid of trenches. This sounds dangerous and uncomfortable. As a matter of fact it is far preferable to the ditch walking monotony of trench war-fare and much safer because seeing no trenches the Boche doesn’t know where to shell. My runner Sullivan who burnt his face very badly with some petrol has gone to England and is in Hospital at Waterloo – King George’s Hospital. If Dad could find time to take him round a few cigarettes or something I should be very grateful. He is a most excellent lad. Williams who used to be with us – the great “Slingsby” in fact – Andrew knows him – is a prisoner in Germany – caught I suppose on the Somme. No more news now. I hope you are all well and enjoying some decent weather.
My abode has once more altered, this time to a commodious and quite luxuriously furnished cellar. It is in fact two cellars which join – one the mess, the other a bedroom for the C.O. and myself. When they do not shell it is a most pleasant spot. It is not bad even when they do – but they don’t often. The old Boche is pretty good to us on the whole. We had a very exciting experience coming into trenches a night or so ago. The C.O., Doc and myself were riding up with one groom: we had just passed Banwelll and his Company on the road when the old Boche suddenly put over about 50 gas shells absolutely smack at us – all round – right, left, front and rear. The whole thing was over in about 3 minutes, or even less. Banwell’s horse threw him, and bolted in terror, and ours followed suit as hard as they could go across a ploughed field. We all managed to stick and pulled them up after about 100yds. Non one was any the worse but it is about as near a thing as we have had for some time. Things of that sort are rather like taking a tonic, one feels tremendously fit after them and in great form. We are all flourishing and enjoying life immensely – would do so still more if only the weather would improve. It is not actually raining at the moment but it is far from warm, and we usually get some rain during the night. As this is our time for work and movement it is rather unfortunate. By day we stay below and no one shows himself – but as darkness comes people begin to appear, and what was an absolutely lifeless village by day – becomes a sort of Piccadilly by night.
Very many thanks for a letter, a Sportsman, and some most excellent little “slip-pads”. They are very useful but I feel half afraid of using them because the paper looks so high-class. As a matter of fact for about two weeks we could not get any stationary at all, the supply went wrong somewhere and we had to use up backs and odd ends even for the most respectable official correspondence. We are at present in a chateau farm house – a jolly place which we have been in before with a tennis court. It is nearer the Boche than it used to be owing to the latter having “pushed” a bit. But still the two ladies stay on though their servants have all fled. They are gradually getting their valuables and furniture away and, I expect, will go themselves before long. It is really extraordinarily brave of them to stay at all. They are practically the only people left in the village, and are having to do all their own work. One’s husband is a prisoner in Germany – the other is unmarried. I believe they are both of good family. The health of the Btn has greatly improved and we are once more fit again which is a great blessing. I too have recovered and am feeling in the most lively health – much to the consternation of some of the slower spirits amongst the men of Btn HQ. The work as usual makes itself felt by its never failing presence. It seems to increase daily though I suppose really that there is no more now than there was a year ago. I found a white hair this morning when I was brushing my wig – however I have pulled it out and hope I shall not find any more.
Just a line or two before going to bed. We have just done a ”move” and fetched up in a Girls School. All the Officers of H.Q. and two Companies are sleeping on mattresses in one of the class rooms. I think we shall be fairly comfortable but I have seen places which are more so. However I don’t suppose it will be for more than one night so that doesn’t matter. I had a most excellent dinner with A Company last night – Petch’s Cook really made a marvellous effort, and to detail all the items to people rationed like yourselves would be too cruel. Just before dinner we had a mighty game of rounders. HQ. v B Coy Officers. Needless to say we lost chiefly owing to the exceeding poorness of our fielding and the wildness of the throwing. I nearly managed a rounder on one occasion but failed just at the last lap. The card case continues to be a great benefit, it lives in my pocket and the cards signify by the colour of their edges how often they are used. Cole and I very often get a game of picquet or ecarte. I have also learned the rules of Bridge, and the Padre, Doctor and myself often manage to find a fourth, and have a hand or two. Of course at present I am more of less useless but it is a good game, and perhaps in time I shall become somewhat more efficient. The “epidemic” has greatly decreased now, and the prospects are distinctly less alarming. In another three days the Battalion will, I think, be fit for anything, except for a few officers who were rather late in getting it.
Very many thanks for several letters which have come since I last wrote – to wit two from you, one form Andrew, and one from Mary. The latter also included a water colour for which please thank the donor very much for me. Incidentally you might tell her that her spelling is very good but if she pronounces “poytry” as she spells it she ought to be smacked! I hope the mumps held away all right and that everybody is now entirely free from any fear of infection. Our epidemic of influenza spread with alarming rapidity, we had 250 down within a few hours and had to pack the whole lot off to Hospital. No one can imagine what was the cause of it all. I was very rotten for two days but managed to stick at my job and am now O.K. again except for a heavy cold and a rotten taste in my mouth. The last is beastly. I had one rather bright moment at lunch the other day – the G.O.C. came in and of course we all stood up. (This was the day I felt worst) He talked for about 5 minutes and I suddenly realized the room was going round and round. I held on to the table and managed to remain on my feet until the General had gone. Then by dint of stooping down almost to the floor to get my chair and sit on it – I managed to pull myself together. No one noticed it but it was the nearest thing to a complete faint I have ever had – in ordinary circumstances. If the General had not gone when he did I expect I should have gone “Flop”. The weather is now improving which is a blessing because I do not very much care about our present abode – small and dirty and not much of a place to live in on a wet day. I have been having some delightful rides – one extra good one before breakfast this morning with Brooke – Petch, Cole and Bertie. Brooke and Cole both came off but fortunately did not damage themselves. The mare is not very fast but quite comfortable and what is more important very safe. She never stumbles or falls head over heels into silly little ditches – or anything unpleasant of that sort. No time for more.
Just a very hurried line or two just to let you know that the weather is beastly – raw, damp and wet, and that we are going through an epidemic of “flu”. The cause cannot be ascertained but whatever it is we have a horrible large number or men and several officers down with it. It is the worst bit of luck that the Battalion has ever had as it will make it practically impossible for the authorities to send us into s show in our present condition. Everybody has been so keen to have a go at the old Bosch, and now it looks as though we are going to be kept back by this rotten sickness. We managed with considerable difficulty to get a Battalion Mess “going” yesterday – Ante and Dining rooms all complete and very comfortable – now we hear that we have to move out of our huts into the neighbouring village – so I suppose the whole thing will be knocked on the head. This also is bad luck. It looks very much as if I should have to live about 400 miles from the Orderly Room and another 65 from the mess – a system with which I am not particularly enamoured: no time for more – I am afraid this letter is rather a grouse – but I have got flu.