At present we are bivouacked round a large field, our second since we moved from our huts. Bivouacking means simply forming up & lying down as you are. The men have no blankets, but make small tents out of their water-proof sheets, & sleep in their overcoats. This is all very nice when the weather is fine but not so jolly when you are flooded out. Yesterday & last night it flooded, simply poured, deluged-Noahed Arked & everything else. I was in my valise out in the open & the rain seemed to come in at almost every point. However today is lovely & we are gradually drying ourselves in a hot sun & S. wind, anti-gas thank goodness, more especially now that we are in a region where the enemy have been known to use gas. It is now about ten days since we have been in the trenches & the result is that we are getting very fit, & what exercise we take, namely a ten-mile march per diem, is just keeping us in the pink of condition. It is all the hanging about in wet, sloppy, dark, cramped, narrow, stinking trenches that takes all the best out or us. I hope you will be able to see the C.O. at Uppingham sometime before we get him back here, the sooner this happens the better. I am sure that you will be amused when you see him, he is not the least my idea of a Colonel even if he is yours. I have not seem any O.M.T.s nor any others that I know, & do not seem likely to at present as most of them seem to be in Armentieres which is in the opposite direction. I had a letter from Seaward but can not answer it as the censor has not only erased the mane of the place which he was idiot enough to put on his letter but also all traces of address & everything else. I must at least know his regimental number before I write otherwise to write is useless.
We are moving & at present of course I cannot say where. Today is our last day in these billets & if our next lot of billets & trenches are as comfortable as these have been we shall not do so badly. I spent last night in Wollaston’s bivouac tent, the weather is so warm that it is really very nice, one of the best nights I have spent. He has got a little green tent which just holds two very comfortably, very nice in summer but I expect by no means so enjoyable when it is snowing. We have been having a very good time during these last four days rest. In the morning parades for inspection to see that everything is complete, in the afternoon cricket etc & in the evenings fairly long rides across country. After dinner as often as not there has been a really good rag fortunately without any bones being broken up to the present. In our new place I don’t know what we shall get. Everything depends on whether our rest is spent within reach of German shells or not. Here we have been within easy reach but out of sight, & not once, the whole time, has a shell come within a mile of us. In some place I know that even during the four days rest there has always to be a man on duty to yell “Ware Shell”. Yesterday we had a very close & minute inspection by our Brigadier who looked everyone in the face for about half an hour, a more thorough inspection I have never seen. In my platoon there were unfortunately two men in the rear rank who had not shaved so when drawing near them I started the conversation on boots, promptly the General looked at our boots & nothing else for the next six men, when he next looked at faces he had passed the two unshaved & all was well. As a matter of fact he had no fault to find with our platoon at all,
I have had bad luck. I was within ten days of getting leave & its now all cancelled. The leave season started & some of ours got home – I was to have gone in ten days but all leave is now stopped, only temporarily we hope. The night before we were relieved this time we had a really thin night. For two minutes I thought we were in for it, really in the soup. The Huns managed to explode a mine somewhere fairly close, & at the same moment there came mortars, bombs, grenades & a fairly heavy rifle fire. The earth rocked, clouds of smoke, crash after crash, & many flashes. This lasted for two minutes, no one knew what had happened. My people expected an attack & caring nothing for orders, imagining presumably that I was blown up, fired over the parapet, regardless of the fact that they were exposing themselves to a fairly hot fire. As luck would have it no one was hit & I managed to quiet them. The show however was not over, & we had to stick if for some time before we could find out whether or no the trenches on our left were in the hands of the enemy. The row was terrific & the men really splendid. My people always regard these matters as a joke however serious they may appear. I have heard that the poor fellow who got shot on the patrol has got back to the base so have hopes that he will recover as he has been able to be moved. The Adjutant has been on leave & had a rather amusing time. He was riding in his motor smoking a Woodbine when a little tiny man yelled at him – “Kitchener wants you”. I had a gorgeous ride this afternoon all over the place across country. I have a weird horse but it can go quite hard if I will only let it.
Locre, Kemmel, Dranoutre
Just a line or two from the land of stinks to let you know that we are all going strong. Our former Dr. a young chap who saw service in Turkey but was invalided just before we came out has rejoined us much to the delight of the whole regiment who dearly love him. Last night we had rather a bad half hour on patrol work. One of my fellows got hit in the body, & getting him back into safety was just about the stiffest bit of work I’ve had since we have been here. I don’t think the wound will be serious but we cannot tell yet. The bullet has lodged somewhere either in his back muscles or under his ribs, no bones are broken. I am very glad Dad was able to get to see the lad Smith — likewise glad that he was cheerful. The rumour about our return to England has now fizzled out, & no more is heard of it just now.
The enemy have been indulging in quite a lot of “hate” recently with very little effect. They shell quite frequently & have never succeeded in hitting anybody, or anything. One man scratched for every two hundred shells is about the average I think. We hear the Colonel is doing well, he is in London, & I believe that they have hopes of saving his finger. It was really the most marvellous escape anyone ever heard of.
Just a line again before we return to trenches — good ones gain I believe & some more of K’s to instruct which will doubtless keep us amused. We have just got some of our sick & wounded back again from the base. Two of my platoon who were wounded about a month ago have returned, the poor brutes never got to England at all, as they of course hoped they would. I am now almost up to full strength again – & have only three away wounded – one of whom may return possibly. The Colonel is in London somewhere & we hear that with luck they may save his little finger – he really had the most extraordinary escape anyone could imagine. Everyone & everything round him was laid out, & he got off with what are mere minor injuries. There is one thing which surprises us all out here & that is the outcry against the Daily Mail – why we cannot imagine. It may have been a little violent against K. but every word it says about ammunition is true, & until we get our high explosives we cannot get on. I am glad to hear that the zeps are not dropping bombs on Bromley, infernal impudence I call it, coming to London at all; I cannot imagine why they weren’t stopped.
They have issued us a new type of respirator now – a helmet with a “mica” window –sort of celluloid affair – which is excellent until the window gets smashed as it will in the first twenty-four-hours – it is then useless.
The above date brings one back somewhat to all sorts of funny things that I have almost forgotten – speeches, plays, prizes & much hard work in general. First of all many thanks for your parcels. The candles are always very useful, needed for the dugouts in the trenches. It is a curious thing that the night which one would think would be very long and tedious, passes very quickly – it’s the day which sometimes seems to drag. One German the other day yelled out “What about the Luisitania?” The answer was immediate “Waiter my coffee please”. You say that you cannot imagine what a trench is like, I will try & describe it to you. Suppose you come in at one end with the Germans on your right. On your right will be a neatly built wall of sandbags – with a tin or two here & there half full of dirty looking liquid — the fluid in which one dips one respirator. Against the wall is a step on which stand or crouch a few men with rifles. Behind them is the trench itself, along which one can walk, & then the back wall, sometimes low, sometimes high, with funny little dugouts in it. After walking 20 yards you run into a high wall – a traverse or buttress round which the trench presently winds its way. This is to prevent culpable fire. The trench is supposed to be wide enough for stretcher bearers but as a rule it is not.
I had to go to be examined by Doctors this morning because I once had typhoid, they were afraid I might be a carrier pigeon or something of that sort. I don’t think they discovered anything so there is no hope of my ticket on that score. There is one piece of rather cheering news. Just before he left us the Colonel had to recommend the names of Officers for a course of instruction in Adjutant’s work – to be attached to a regular regiment. He put down three names the third of which was mine.
We had really a jolly good time in my little bit of trench not a single casualty. Personally the only inconvenience that I suffered was that a bullet split a sandbag open just above my head, showered earth all over me, & the shock caused me to sit down somewhat suddenly in the bottom of the trench. My Corporal thought I had been hit, I wasn’t too sure about it myself – however the only result is total deafness in my right ear, which I expect will pass off in time. Talbot & I had a very enjoyable 48 hours, which included a “crawl” in the direction of the enemy. The grass is so long that one cannot see much but we thought at one time that we could hear a German patrol somewhere on the move. However we could not find them & returned disconsolate. One very amusing thing happened, & he took with him an R.B. Corporal wearing one of the regulation hats. On these occasions it is not wise to wear anything with a very regular shape, so turning round I said “take your hat off! A little later looking back, I saw a large round white patch glistening in the star-light, he was bald! When we got back he merely asked Talbot “Is anything more expected of me tonight Sir?” The whole thing was what Stalky would call a giddy jest, & Talbot’s account of it over a cup of cocoa at 3 a.m. made us shriek with laughter for nearly half an hour. How he struggled with his revolver for seven minutes trying vainly to draw it because I had said to him “without wishing to be a scaremonger, I think I should carry my revolver in my hand”. He could not get over this afterwards & related it with much glee. The R.B. are very good – the men smart, soldierly, well disciplined – the officers efficient & quite the nicest lot of men I have ever met, most of them of course, “Stars” in some way or other. A very persistent rumour has got about that the T.F. will return home as soon as a few more K’s are out here. Much, of course, as we should like to see our homes again, at the same time, life back in England – while the War is still going on would be impossible, more especially as people would imagine that we had been sent home in disgrace.
I have a sort of idea that it is about time a letter arrived at the “Vicarage” as the Colonel calls it. Talking about the Colonel he had very bad luck this afternoon. A stray shell has robbed him of one of his fingers, & bruised him rather severely down the side. He will have to leave us of course but we hope it will not be for long. Altogether it was a nasty smash, as his servant & orderly were both killed as was also the Colonel of the 4th Lincs. We are sandwiched in between a couple of platoons of K’s Army – to wit the great & only (7th) Rifle Brigade. Their officers are about the best of fellows that we have ever come across. The two platoon Commanders on either side of me are Shoveller the Capt. Of English Hockey and sitting in my trench, in my dug-out in fact – Gilbert Talbot. Little did I ever think I should be able to teach anything to the Great Gilbert, about whom everyone speaks with so much awe. We are living very much like fighting–cocks up here. The Germans are quite a good way away & seem fairly willing to leave us in peace.
I have had an exceedingly busy day rushing all over the place & having only just got in & now we are off again. I have had a tremendous package from Gran & will write & thank her at the very first possible opportunity. Nothing of any interest or importance has happened; K’s are all about and around us & are at last learning to behave a little better to the territorials.