Monthly Archives: August 2015

31 August 1915

50 Ypres

Once more I must make heaps of work & a shortage of officers my excuse for not writing before.  Jeffries has been away ill until last night & Williams is occupying an outlying post by himself, & is unable to help.  Knighton is still away with water on the knee, & so the company was left to the tender mercies of Mould & myself.  Mould then proceeded to get a kind of “flue” – neuralgia & all sorts of silly things & though he managed to stay in the trench, the greater part of the work has descended on my shoulders.  I, of course, the more work I get, am all the more healthy & am consequently thriving at present.  At present we are occupying the trench immediately on the left of the one we were in last week, & so much the same conditions prevail.  Occasional whizz-bangs that manage to do very little damage, & at very very long intervals a trench mortar or two. On the whole they give us a comparatively peaceful time for which I am not sorry as it makes life very much more enjoyable.  Curiously enough I have got a new job, & still more curious it is a job outside the battalion.  They have made me Brigade Intelligence Officer, though what that means I do not know. At all events it is something to get the Brigade to take notice of one, as a rule one feels one is known to no one outside the Battalion.  At present I stick to my ordinary work, & in fact will probably continue to do so with special little bits of work to do at odd times.  If I can only manage to do these jobs well there is always hope that I may get something better.  At all events it is a chance & I am going to do my best with it.  Other than this there is no news except that the Dentist may have to be postponed for a week on account of the new job.  I am just going to have lunch with A Coy. & the Hon Rawdon Hastings.  I expect we shall have a theological argument on some subject or other – probably the Pope.

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28 August 1915

Ouderdom

Our rest this time has been much more restful, & our company got off very lightly indeed in the way of fatigues.  The General’s inspection passed off alright.  Before he was an Infantry Brigadier he had been an R.E.  The result of course is that in the trenches he is very keen indeed on draining & wiring & other engineers work, but as for inspection he just runs around, & no more notices too much beard than he does to little boot-lace.  He asked a few people what they had been in civil life but beyond that appeared to take no notice of any one in particular.  The same evening I went for a ride with young Williams who is not a great horseman, but we went about ferociously all over the country & managed to have a very good ride.  I was, as usual, on the Adjutant’s old horse, now well used as I believe you know in the more humble position of drawing our medical cart.  Yesterday was one which might well be described as varied.  To start with an early Celebration at 8 a.m. in the mess hut, then breakfast, & then various Church parades during the morning.  These we can no longer have in the open air as before because of the great activity of the enemy’s aeroplanes in this benighted spot.  If they do manage to get sight of a largish body of troops they can switch their artillery on to them with most remarkable rapidity.  After lunch I had a little instruction in bomb-throwing, & the various kinds of bombs used by the British Army.  Grenades hand & rifle, jam-tins & double cylinders, pitchers & Bethunes, in all I am now a most efficient anarchist.  After the instruction we threw a few live bombs to see what they were like – a most curious performance.  One throws one’s bomb, standing in a little hole, then ducks & takes cover, because the bits fly sometimes as far as 100 or even 200 yds from the explosion.  All these army bombs are filled with a very high explosive, & either have a shrapnel casing which splits up & flies about, or contain the ordinary little shrapnel bullets.

After tea we played the XVIth Lancers at cricket.  We had a team composed entirely of Officers, while they had two or three officers & the rest men.  We managed to raise 53 – the Adjutant, Langdale, played a great game & made most of the runs.  We then got them all out for 31 so won a most glorious victory.  They seemed a very decent lot of fellows & the whole show was quite a success.   The weather for the last few days has been very hot & quite a change from the weeks & weeks of wet that we have had lately.  We go trenchwards tonight & if only it will hold out we might have a reasonably satisfactory stay up there.  Everything is arranged for my trip to the Hospital & I shall go as soon as this tour is over, stay there for six days & come back in time for the next tour.  I don’t suppose I shall want to stay there longer than the bare six days.  They say the feeding is not up to much, & unless I can get some doctor to say that I am run down, nothing to drink.  If only some doctor will be kind enough however to certify to that effect they will try to liven me up with champagne.  The only difficulty that I can foresee is that I never look run down – in fact I can never persuade anyone that there is anything the matter with me.  Wollaston, lucky beggar, has gone to St Omer on a machine gun course, he will probably have a jolly good fortnight’s holiday.

26 August 1915

In my last two epistles I neglected to tell you that during our last tour in the trenches something happened.  Appearing in the trench one morning I noticed that one or two men were staring somewhat hard at me, as though something were the matter.  Hastily returning to my mirror I discovered that one side of my face was distinctly swollen, & later in the day I started toothache.  A visit to the Doctor produced the statement to the effect that there must be an abscess hovering about somewhere.  He also gave me the cheerful information that my teeth were in a thoroughly bad condition & that sometime soon I must go & see a dentist.  The nearest is at our clearing hospital  in the Monastery on top of a hill known as the Mont des Chats, a fine place with good air & a good view, but rather a long way off.  Thither I rode yesterday afternoon, a long ride & somewhat detrimental to the seat of my breeches – also it was very hot.  The dentist was quite a cheery little fellow & proceeded to overhaul me.  I shall have to spend a week at the Hospital, shall probably go during our six days in support dug-outs, because then I shall be least wanted.  At present we are fairly short of officers.  Knighton is still away & has developed water on the knee, Jeffries has suddenly got colic & is in a very weak state.  The result – Coy in hands of Mould & everything a hopeless muddle.  We have just had a new pattern of smoke-helmet issued, & when clothed look more than ever like a group of blood-thirsty inquisitors.  Two glass windows, a breathing tube, & a complete covering for one’s head.  The fumes of the thing itself are almost enough to suffocate, inoculate, & asphyxiate the innocent wearer.   This afternoon we are being inspected by our new Brigadier.  We do not at present know what is his particular fancy, bootlaces or beards, packs or respirators.  The result of course is that we are making a rather hopeless attempt to get everything perfect which is not very easy.  After today we shall doubtless know what it is that has to be particularly extra special for him.  Possibly long hair will be found fault with; as our barber has been wounded this seems very probable.  Personally I have had mine done by a bomb-thrower who has the instruments & is not a bad amateur.  In fact he has not made at all a bad job of my cranium.  I see from yesterday’s paper that the 10th Middlesex are not at the Dardanelles, that is the regiment that has Foote, Fisher, Gifford, Coleman & heaps of other O.M.T.s in it, I wonder how they are getting on.

24 August 1915

Ouderdom

This morning has been spent in orderly rooms & courts of enquiry.  I had the misfortune the other day to find two men sleeping at their posts & of course they will have to be court-martialed.  It is a horrid business, more especially as they are almost certain to receive the maximum penalty.  They are bound to be found guilty, & the only possible punishment that a court is allowed to give is that of death; I am not looking forward to the trail by any means.  Today we are engaged on internal economy finding out the various platoon deficiencies, & getting the men bathed seriatum & privatum.  For the latter they are marched off by fifties to a fairly large town about five miles away & quite a good spot if the Huns don’t happen to be shelling at the moment.  They have a funny habit of dropping great big things in there at unexpected moments usually managing to do little damage to anybody, though they sometimes make hay of a few horses, town Halls, Churches etc. they sometimes even shell our billets here but that is so very rare that no one takes such an event into consideration.  The news about the Baltic business has cheered everyone up immensely, so much so that we spent a most riotous evening yesterday, & sang & ragged until the early hours of this morning.  There is also other good news that leave has started again, & by & by with any reasonable luck you may see me at home again.  It is quite possible that my turn will come sometime before the end of November.  One other piece of cheering news, that at last my name is going in for promotion & that in two months time – that is about the usual War Office period – I may with great good luck get my second star.  Frankly I think I almost deserve it – most of the other people who joined on mobilization in other regiments got theirs some time ago.

The 10th Hants are in the Dardanelles- hope Laury is alright

23 August 1915

50 Ypres

Work, work, work & consequently no letter.  We are now in huts again after the most strenuous six days that I have ever spent in my life.  We came into a trench dirty, broken down, shelled & uncomfortable.  By yesterday morning we had got it clean, repaired, dry, safe, neat & comfortable, & what is more, by steadily putting in iron-plated loop-holes each night we have been able to worry the enemy quite a lot for the past two days.  It is true that they knocked a good deal of the parapet down again yesterday but with one last final effort we managed to get it all tidied up & rebuilt by the time that the Lincolns came to relieve us.  Putting in loop-holes has become really rather a sport.  Before it can be done it is necessary to make a fairly large breach in one’s parapet, that is always supposing the enemy have not been obliging enough to do so beforehand for you with a whizz-bang.  All this week there has been a nice bright moon, which shone down full upon our trench from behind German lines, so that too much movement might be visible, they are only 80-90 yards away.

As soon as any such movement is spotted of course the Huns send over a great fat flare which usually drops quite close to one’s work & makes the whole place as light as daylight.  This is somewhat terrifying because one thinks one is bound to be spotted, whereas in reality they can see nothing unless someone moves.  Several times they knew of our existence, & opened several rifles on us but of course without success.  We always managed to finish our job before light, & got quite a lot of congratulation for our work.  While the Germans were quiet our parapet was quite a marvellous sight, like a young bee-hive.  Men were scrambling & walking along the top, hitting sandbags with shovels, mending bad places, cutting out old plates & scraping them clean, climbing out in front to put the last touches of concealment to their loop-holes, & in general showing that at last they had grasped the fact that unless the Hun can see both his man & his sights he is not dangerous.  They are at last getting confidence, & no longer have that dread of the German bullet which is so necessary by day.  The result is that my platoon are very rapidly becoming a very much more useful lot for fighting purposes.  A stray bullet may pick one man off on some unlucky occasion, but the confidence that they are steadily gaining will more than counteract the loss of one man, much as such a loss is to be deplored.

Poor old Knighton is at present hors de combat, he slipped down a sap & has strained a cartilage in his knee, so that I have a little bit extra work to do, but nothing very much to grouse about.  Mould is very much as usual petulant, selfish & tremendously absent minded, he makes the most appalling howlers in his speech.  We have also a new Subaltern by name Williams, young & innocent looking, but a thundering good soldier.

18 August 1915

Salient A1.5

Here we are in a trench, a funny old trench full of all sorts of excitements.  We arrived as usual in the dark hours of the night only to be told by the people whom we relieved that they were afraid that there was rather a lot of work to get done.  The substance of the other Officer’s conversation as we walked down the trench was something of this sort.  “We were shelled this afternoon & they have blown the parapet down in three places – here the trench has got stopped up, you will have to dig it out.  Back here they have got a maxim trained on the breach.  Here you will find they have knocked so much of the parapet down that what is left is not bullet proof.”  And so on in this strain till I really began to wonder whether we were taking over a trench or a scenic railway full of new thrills.  So that night we set to work & rebuilt our parapet until the trench had resumed a more or less normal appearance.  The next morning there was suddenly a loud bang just outside – we heard no whizz & no whistle so everyone said “rifle grenade” or “bomb” – next minute there was another & a few sandbags got dislodged.  Just a sudden explosion, nothing more – most disconcerting.  It turned out that they were whizz-bangs – the real thing – they just come & burst, you cannot hear them coming.  This morning early they started the same sort of game again.  I was on duty in the trench at the time & as it was getting a trifle warm down one end, I decided to go a bit higher – so moved along.  I had just got into a bay where I thought I should be fairly safe – the next thing I knew was a bang, & myself lying on the floor of the trench with half a ton of sandbags on top of me.  This particular whizz-bang, in addition to its prostrating me, made a whacking great hole in the parapet almost large enough to drive a horse & cart through.  This we have duly mended & are now waiting for the next little lot.  So you see the excitement is kept up.  I have had no time to do anything except work, sleep & eat, & the result is that my beard is getting very long, & I am simply covered in mud from head to foot.

16 August 1915

Ypres barracks

We are off to the trenches tonight so I have just time to write one letter before we move off.  We got our Church Parade this morning followed as I expected by a celebration.  For the first time since we came here we have had almost the whole service.  A large room was found, a table, two candles placed in bottles, some flowers, we had no cross, but a small picture of St Anthony of Padua, presumably looted, added an air ecclesiastical.  Sandbags made excellent kneelers & really we managed to have a very quiet & reverent service.  Matins was also quite a success except for the hymns.  Our pianist was very good at comic songs but no great hand at hymn tunes which accordingly suffered.  By the way the various stages by which we acquired our piano are really rather interesting – I will set them forth in tabular form.

1 Pte X discovers a piano in possession of Gunners who offer to lend it us.

2 Pte X with party sent to fetch piano

3 Pte X returns saying not allowed to shift piano without a pass from the Town Mayor – This also orders of Military Police who are joint partners with the Artillery for the piano

4 Captain Y & 2 Lt Z call on Town Mayor who is out

5 Capt. Y & 2 Lt Z repeat call. Town mayor wishes to know

  1. a. Why he has never heard of the piano
  2. b. Whether it is wanted for military purposes
  3. c. Whether it is a clandestined piano

6 Town Mayor gives pass to move piano on condition that it is returned the next morning to Belgian Gendarmerie

7 Piano is fetched & used for sing-song

8 Piano wanted for Church Parade two days later – allowed

9 Corpl X & party sent out to return piano as ordered to Belgian Gendarmerie

10 Corpl X stopped by Military Police who demand permit to move piano or threaten arrest for looting

11 Cpl X meets Capt Y who goes to Town Mayor & gets permit.

12 Belgian Gendarmerie refuse to accept piano

13 Piano returned to us

14 We have piano, cannot get permit to move it anywhere & are going to the trenches tonight.  Next occupants will probably be arrested for looting piano.

The great point of course is that the sing-song was a success – a great success.  Last night we had the piano in the mess & having invited the cheery souls from the other half-battalion to dine with us, we spent a really first-class evening – several songs & lots of choruses – a certain drummer named Ward proving quite a good vampist or vampire.  Today I have wasted an enormous amount of time playing dominoes with Tomson but it has been raining & we have had little or nothing to do.

15 August 1915

Ypres

Sunday morning & we are still here, not yet shelled out.  It is a really peaceful morning, only very occasional gun-fire audible & not more than half a dozen shells over the town so far today.  Last night we had a most successful concert for the two Companies in one of the large rooms of this place.  Some artillery people were good enough to lend us a piano that they had previously looted from some shattered house, & from 6.30 to 8.30 we kept up an almost continuous noise.  We found several quite good vocalists, also some funny men who really were funny, & what is perhaps still more necessary, a first rate pianist who could accompany anybody at anything.  The piano is still here & all this morning we have had a mixed bag of comic songs, rag-time choruses & as it is Sunday a few hymns jostled in amongst the rest.  The other half battalion are observing the Sawbath somewhat more correctly as they have got the Padre with them – he will come to us tomorrow & we shall get Matins & a celebration, always supposing the Germans do not choose that hour for bombardment.

Today a tremendous packing case arrived from Harboro for the men of the half company who come from there.  Every man got a writing tablet & envelopes, a tin of sherbet powder, two khaki handkerchiefs, a card of bachelor buttons, & some tobacco & cigarettes.  Really a most stupendous package, & one which does great credit to the two ardent Harborians who have taken so much trouble in getting the stuff together.  There has been one sad accident.  The wash house got shelled the other day & I lost my washing in the general ruin.  The result is that my want column is now lengthened.

I see that todays paper talks about the possible evacuation of Petrograd, I suppose this doesn’t mean anything more that the evacuation of Paris at the beginning of the war.  Talking of Petrograd will you please discover whether anything momentous happened at the other place to which some of our relatives sometimes go ( it is pronounced Moorunia – how it is spelt I don’t know ) – on July 31st or Aug 1st because the name kept running through my head the whole of one of those days , I am not sure which.  It was very curious because I hadn’t seen the name & had no particular cause to think of it, but still I kept finding myself saying , or rather thinking, the word Moorunia.  I am not superstitious but I should first like to know.   Tomorrow night we are going off to the trenches again for six days, & then right back for our six days rest.  But I certainly must say that it has to be a good billet & good rest to rival the last six days which have been six of the very best.

My poetic effort has made quite an “impact” – The C.O. wants a copy & one of the men took the trouble to copy it out & send it home.

To The Slackers

August Bank Holiday 1915

In The Trenches


Five score men with shovel & pick,

We’re diggin’ for all we’re worth;

An’ its no soft job for the night is thick,

An’ it’s clammy clay-clogged earth.

We started at half-past nine last night,

We’ve got to dig till two –

This is our way on Bank Holiday,

Is it the way with you?

All through the night we’re here to dig.

With a ten minute rest each hour:

We cannot shirk, we’ve got to work,

Though the pouring pelting shower.

While the bits of lead whine over head

Every minute or two—

This is our way on Bank Holiday

Is it the way with you?


At two o’clock we’re back again

To a rain sopped  * “chatty” bed;

With a couple of sandbags round our feet,

And a haversack under our head.

Above us, a beam & a few old sacks,

An’ the rain-drops dripping through-

This is our way on Bank Holiday

Is it the way with you?


The ration of rum’s too small to taste,

Our bread’s been packed with the coke;

We’re not allowed to build a fire,

For fear they’d see the smoke.

We’re cold & wet, but cheerful yet,

We’re a damp but careless crew

This is our way on Bank Holiday

Is it the way with you?


There’s a rifle to clean, An’ we’ve got no rag,

The gauze on the pull-thro’s worn

There’s a wash to get, an’ clothes to patch

There’s most of our trousers torn.

An’ the day seems long, ay, terribly long, With nothin’ else to do-

This is our way on Bank Holiday,

Is it the same with you?


A whistle, a whir, a deafenin’ crash,

The crack of a shell split tree,

A cry, a shout, the stretcher’s out – “Is it Blighty or R.I.P.?

Shrapnel, they send them now and then

In the hope of catching a few-

This is our way on Bank Holiday,

Is it the same with you?


At half past nine we’re off again

To dig in the same old ditch

At half past nine on come the rain

And the night’s as dark as pitch.

And so we end as we began, Diggin’ from ten till two-

This is our way on Bank Holiday,

Is it the same with you?


*Note- a “chat” is Mr Atkins’ word for the unauthorised inhabitant of his clothing, sometimes found on service

13 August 1915

Ypres

Many thanks for another letter & all the news that it contains, I only wish I could watch you a tricyclette, doubtless it is a truly dignified spectacle compared with the vacillatory progress of Miss Latter.  I wrote to Dad yesterday & gave him a lengthy account of all that we are doing & have done lately, mostly I think a repetition of what I have told you in my last letter or two.  We are still in the same place & have not as yet been shelled out, though we should not be a bit surprised if an unexpected visit dropped in one day.  The Huns still hammer away for all they are worth at the Cloth Hall, & the Cathedral, it is an awful shame that they cannot leave it alone.  Yesterday they put twenty four gigantic shells into it, not to mention several of the smaller variety, & a few shrapnel.  The big’uns simply shook everything, houses rocked all through the town, & one could see the ground heaving.  They were some new kind of armour-piercing affair & went about ten feet into the ground before bursting – when they did it was of course like a young mine going off, or rather up.  We were nearly half a mile away, & had enormous bricks simply hurtling through the air.  As far as billets are concerned we are as comfortable here as anywhere we have yet been.  A cold tub in the morning, a large dining room, a large bath room with plenty of large wooden tubs – a colonnade when its wet, nice iron bedsteads & in fact, everything the heart of man can desire, even port glasses (loot) & the other evening a bottle of port sent from home.    You know I told you one of our men had got the D.C.M.  the G.O.C. in C – old Stuart-Wortley turned up to pin the ribbon on his breast – a most impressive ceremony was arranged – all correct until the actual pinning on time came then the G.O.C. discovered that he’d left it behind! Oh dear, Oh dear!

12 August 1915

(To H.G.G.) Ypres

The fact that you are not at home will gradually get tricklets of news second hand does not prevent my writing to you direct.  I wrote home yesterday & will write home again tomorrow telling them everything.

After sitting in the beastly wood while in support against German attacks on Hooge, we then went up into our trenches & spent seven days there.  We got a large number of whiz-bangs but D. Coy. has no casualties the whole time, & we got quite a lot of “stuff” over during the successful counter attack on Hooge.  I have told Mother all about this attack & doubtless it will come on to you in time.    We have now been relieved & are spending the next six days in support.  Two Companies are well up towards the line.  The other two “D” is one, are back in the town in so-called billets.  The place is of course simply a ruin, but we are considerably more comfortable that we should be in dug-outs because the particular establishment that we are occupying has crowds of bed-steads, & enough roof in places to afford plenty of cover.  I was looking at the Spectator the other day & an advertisement of a “Plas” to let” caught my eye.  It professed to be Merionethshire – 5mi Harlech, 4m Aberglaslyn – 1/2 m railway & 2 mi from the sea – large place with terrific gardens & walks & fountains & things.  What & where is it?   I cannot place it at all.  I must say I wish I was there with you now – I can remember every little inch of the road round to Maentwrog & over the hills at the back & the B.M. at Caerwych Farm.  As for Tan-y –Bwlch the very name makes one think of woods, lakes & above all hills & mountains.  Here all is flat as can be, an artificial lake, all kinds of trees in absolutely straight rows, a few dotted farms, each with its pond surrounded by half a dozen pollard willows, & above all a general air of ruin & deadness.  If you do get to the abode of bliss just see whether they still sell seed-cake – whether there is still a weighing-machine in the “Duffws” side platform – & if a bicycle cape is hanging on it – we left one there some time ago.

This existence is having one curious effect on me; I am becoming a sort of Ancient Briton-a throw back. (Mere nerves!)

While in the wood when they started shelling, instead of making for a dug-out like everybody else, I could not bring myself to enter one, they seemed like a trap.  In fact the whole time my one desire is to get into the open so that I can hear exactly what is happening, which way the shells are going or coming etc.  Until this morning things were pretty quiet but at 6.30 am they started, & carried on with one shell every quarter of an hour until mid-day.  They were not 17’’ crumps, but were certainly very heavy stuff, fired not from a howitzer, as are the 17’’ers, but from a naval gun.  The result was that we never could hear them “crawling” over they just came almost as fast as a whizz-bang.  They must have been 12’’ or 15’’ & were fitted with a patent armour-piercing cap.  The result of this was that with the exception of two which hit high up on some building, they all ploughed deep down into the ground for 8 or 10 feet & then went off.  The noise down there was not very great but the shock was terrific.  They were quite a long distance away from us, as yet it is no exaggeration to say that we actually saw the ground heave all round us, while buildings were positively unsafe, especially where they had already been knocked about a bit.  The two that hit the buildings were of course burst above ground & the detonation was ear-splitting.  The general effect was demoralizing more than anything else & yet the men were highly amused.  We soon knew when to expect them & all made for door-ways & other strong places.  I shaved between two, & had my bath between the next two.  Now that K’s army are getting into the thick of it, the casualty lists are full of names that one knows – Colebrook, Boosey & Talbot all within a few days, & quite a number of wounded.  We were in the wood for four days at least & I never had a dug-out:- a little wall of sandbags gave me enough cover to keep off shrapnel & I just lay down behind it.  For the rest I slept, ate & had my being in the open.  I feel sure that when the show is over I shall need a most tremendous lot of training before I can settle down to a civilized state of existence.  Certainly I am enjoying myself & having a very good time, eating well & living under the sky, in shirt-sleeves all day, rolled in a Mackintosh cape at night.