I have been working quite hard for a change & have had no time except in the evenings after dinner, & then the composition of an epistle worthy of the ex Head Monitor of M.T.S. is a work far behind my Capabilities. As a matter of fact I generally play picquet with Major Martin. Last night at the hour of 3.16 a.m. I was awakened, the cause of the awakening being unknown to me. For two minutes I remained in a semi somnolent condition & was then roused still further, but not completely, by a large crash. This was followed by some footsteps, & female voices moving stealthily in the direction of the cellar. “Ah” thought I “Grandmother has come up and fired a shot, good” & promptly resumed my slumbers. The truth was that a German Aeroplane had dropped a couple of bombs, one about a mile & the other 500 yards away, doing no damage. The voices of course were the female civil population of the farm seeking safety in the seclusion of the cellar. On the whole quite a lot of excitement – through the whole of which Major Martin slept peacefully & I only half woke. A.F. London was preaching about 6 miles from her last night & if I had been less stiff I might have managed to get over to hear him. As it was I had his sermon second hand. It was apparently a regular crusade – holy war etc. His text was “go in & win” – up guards & at ‘em, you are all right – don’t worry, fight” sort of business. I believe he was really very good. Tell all my kind correspondents that I will wire presently when time permits, & that I am not like the gentleman in the Agony Column of the Times who as a lonely Officer “had underestimated the number of ladies who would write him chatty letters & regretted that writers cramp prevented him from answering any more”.
We are on active service – I have a hot bath every morning , porridge, toast, bacon, eggs for breakfast – hot luncheon & pudding – soup , roast, sweets, savoury, cheese, fruit for dinner, on the whole we do ourselves fairly well – n’est ce pas?
Ferme du Grand Fasin – Steent-je
Letters are a blessing out here, they arrive quite reasonably promptly, & everyone seems to have a large quantity daily with the exception of my poor self – who average one every three days. We have moved again – are now in the best billet we have had since we came abroad, it’s a farm of course but fairly warm and distinctly comfortable. The weather today is simply glorious, it had been snowing but is now as clear & bright as it can be. Aeroplanes were up this morning. We watched one being potted by the German Artillery, who quite failed to go anywhere near it. We are now at a place called Steent-je – I can tell you this with safely because you cannot possibly find it. Post going.
Today is gorgeous, very cold but bright, & when in the sun & out of the wind quite fairly spring like. Unfortunately I am so stiff that I can hardly move much less get about with vigour. The Adjutant at lunch yesterday suddenly suggested that I should go for a little ride with him, to refuse is impossible, so off we went. He was on his Charger “Berlin”, I on Major Martin’s “Black Pig”. We went eight miles – eight miles of unexpurgated agony. However I improved gradually, & after a collision with a motor, a young gallop, sundry other things of mere minor importance we arrived home safely. We went to look at a funny little village (News Eglises) which for some reason or another the Germans are in the habit of bombarding it is quite deserted & some of it absolutely smashed to atoms. Fortunately while we were there things were quiet and we saw no adverse shells. In spite of the fact that the wind is blowing a hurricane there are Aeroplanes up day after day, their flying is really wonderful & they are as cool & unostentatious about it as possible. The Lincoln Chaplain failed to turn up today so we had no celebration, but hope for the best next Sunday. If the worst comes to the worst several of us are going to Mass. The Colonel has just suggested a ride with him, so I am going, that is if I can lift my leg over the creature’s back. This will be considerably more gentle than the effort of yesterday with the Adjutant.
(To Mary) Steent-je
We are in a very funny farm here not a bit like Talsarn It is built in a square, with a large farm on two sides & the house on the other two. The cows are all in stables, & there is one gigantic pig which is the most hideous object that I have ever set eyes on. There are also about a dozen little pigs with most enormous ears, & very ugly noses, also most horrid creatures. The churn is worked by a wheel with a dog inside it, so that the dog walking alone makes the wheel go round. The whole place has a smell worse than Battersea PR. Road. All over the country there are a large number of Wind-mills, in fact from our back window I can count eight, & from one farm we were at, we could see sixteen at once. When I was telling you about the farm I forgot to mention the hens, they too are very dirty & ugly. Our man who looks after our food put a box & some straw in our food cart so that the hens could come & lay in it. One old hen came along but the farm people saw it all so we had to give up the egg. The hens don’t cluck properly here, they make a noise just like the “buzzer” on my telephone, & sometimes I get up & rush to the telephone & then find that no one is calling me & it is some old hen.
Thanks very much for the arrangement you have made for the Illustrated London News, I expect one will turn up very soon. Today I had quite a flood of letters. The Brigade Chaplain is to come to us on Sunday & hold an open air Celebration which is good. I believe the great “London” will be somewhere near in Holy Week, but don’t suppose we shall see much of him.
Just a line to show that I am still in existence, thought there is really no news. The rest of our Brigade is to go up for its week’s instruction but we unfortunately cannot accompany it because the missing battalion whose place we took is now taking ours. Yesterday was not a very strenuous day for anybody but today we waded into some very muddy practise trenches, & tried to pretend we were being shelled, & bombed & aeroplaned. I ran out too many ‘phones, had many narrow escapes of being hung on the positive maze of wires which connected me with every portion of the trenches — The Patience Cards are a great boon & I play very vigorously in the evenings when it is too dark to do any more work. Tomorrow I am not sure what will happen to us, but I am drawing out several new schemes for moving telephones hurridly in an attack I want all the practice I can get.9:00
Just a few lines to fill up a few spare minutes after dinner at the end of a rather long day. We set forth early to practice an “attack on hostile Trenches”. The Trenches had been dug, we formed up opposite them. In the middle the G.O.C. Smith-Dorrien himself turned up, to view us; us the only battalion in the brigade which has yet been in the trenches. Fortunately he was very pleased indeed & we were all complimented on the effort which really was not at all bad. Now that the weather is so much better it is quite a common sight to see as many as four or five aeroplanes up at once, & quite frequently we see one being shelled – as a rule very wide of the mark. With regard to papers we get the daily papers a day late, but are only having Punch & the Sketch of illustrated weeklies. Any others such as the Illustrated, Graphic or Sphere would be most welcome. Also any old 1d novels you can get hold of would greatly help to relieve the monotony of certain hours. One is rather apt to get fidgety out here if not actually doing anything.
Today the weather has again been really great, & since we are not at the present under orders to be ready to move at any minute we managed to have a Church Parade this morning. The battalion fell in round a large field in hollow square; a glorious deep blue sky overhead with just an occasional cloud, & a sun whose warmth one could really feel. The Colonel took the Service standing on an up turned farm tub, while the band, without its instruments forms the Choir for the hymns, all of which had to be sung unaccompanied. The effect was really very good & impressive. The Colonel preached.
This afternoon I rode on my bike to a fairly large town (Bailleul) which is not very far from here. Made my way thence to a smaller spot where the H.A.C. are at present billeted. There I ran into three O.M.Ts. They seem to have had rather a thin time of it but still manage to keep cheerful. We have had no further news as to when we are likely to visit the trenches again; personally I am very happy where I am. We are in an exceedingly comfortable billet & so long as the weather remains at its present state of efficiency there can be no cause to complain. The Adjutant has just had a terrific parcel sent out from England containing all manner of good things, from chocolate biscuits to pate de foie gras, ham, tongue, cake and cigarettes.
Ful de Sac Farm Doulieu, France
We have done another move and I can now tell you exactly where we are. Our Headquarters is at the farm which the Crown Prince and his staff stayed during one portion of the German retirement from Paris. The Colonel is occupying the Imperial bed and I have mine on 4 chaff sacks in the potato shed – somewhat odious unless the window is left open. Unfortunately the latter opens inwards and it quite fills the room when open. We have not had any more exciting work, no trenches, though for the last week we have always been within sound of the guns. It looks as if the Germans were going to fight every inch of ground and city, until they are driven out of France, which happy conclusion is still I think a good way off.
Since a fortnight has now elapsed since our own visit to the trenches – I can safely tell you where we were. We were in the line North of Armentieres, within sight of Messimes where the Scottish made the famous charge. I shall very probably send you home a large parcel soon of warm clothing, for which I simply have not got room. The weather is now very much warmer, and even if we do have a cold spell. It will not be a long one. Could you possibly send me out the Graphic once a week – an illustrated paper is a perfect Godsend – or better than that the Illustrated London News. Another “want” is the shoulder badges and “T’s” off my old tunic, which I believe has come back to you. I have no time for any more. Hope they are all well at home. Give my love to all.
Sailly s/l Lys, France
Many thanks for the parcel of clothing and socks which arrived yesterday afternoon. This letter I am afraid will contain no information but several requests. I have just had a letter from the C.S.S.A. – Bedford St. saying that a cheque for £1 which I gave the hosiery department, the day before we left, was unsigned. Do you think Dad could possibly give them another, and I will pay him back afterwards; I don’t like entrusting cheques to the post office. Another thing that I should very much like if you could possibly send them to me, is a box of miniature playing cards, for patience. I don’t get very much time at present but sometimes there is an odd hour in the evening when one must not go to bed, and is rather at a loss to know what to do. We are simply crowded out in this place, and sleeping almost two or three deep. Personally I have got a fairly good layer of straw, which keeps my hips off the hard floor. The one great difficulty is that I don’t get enough brainwork, I hardly ever have to think at all, and the result is that I am getting most appallingly fat, inspite of getting plenty of exercise in a mild way.
There seems to be a pretty big battle going on all around us, to judge by the noise of guns and rifle-fire, which though distant is fairly continuous. The 4th Lincolns are much plagued by a sniper who takes “pots” at them, and is apparently in their billets, possibly a German in the Canadian ranks; two such have already been shot. The army airmen are doing a really great work. They are up all day in any weather, and fly beautifully, much more use than the navy people, who wait for a fine day, and then make a comparatively useless raid. Well the post is just going, so till the next epistle au revoir. Give my love to all.
A curious Sunday morning but better than the last in some ways.