Allen is still away so I am still doing his job for him. This is being done on the office type-writer at which I am not yet an expert as you can probably observe from the numerous mistakes & erasures. We are not yet in the trenches & do not know when we are to go in, but imagine that we shall have another day or two’s rest. I have just come off Church Parade, a very cold & not over dry affair, the only consolation being that the sermon was short. The Division has been granted nine D.C.M.s for the recent battle & our Bde has collared seven of these so we have not done so badly. This Regiment has one; awarded to what the journalist is pleased to call a bomb-thrower, but we call a grenadier not being a society of anarchists. We have several new Subalterns, most of them undoubtedly officers but certainly not — they will need a great deal of instruction before they’re fit to be called members of this mess. I have started already to give them daily lessons in how to behave, & I only hope Allen will not turn out to be too mild & kind-hearted to carry on the good work. There are rumours that our never-to-be-sufficiently-maligned reserve battalion is “sending” us out a full Captain, if this turns out to be true there will be some fun. I know that Colonel will not put a man over a Company who has not seen service in this war, quite right too. At the same time a Senior Captain will not like being put junior to some Subaltern which is what will have to happen. It may only turn out to be idle rumour so we will wait & see & hope for the best. Just at present we are lucky enough to have a room big enough to hold the whole mess so have had one or two very merry evenings together. I too have a bed with real sheets, & share a room with the Colonel. The Doctor also has a bed & one or two of the Company Commanders as well. In fact the only thing to disturb our equanimity is the ceaselessness of the gun-fire which we can hear fairly easily from our billets. I have come to the conclusion that a typewriter is a foolish instrument; when I read over what I have written it does not look at all like what I meant to say. Also I could have written at least twenty five letters in the time it has taken me to write this one.
Not content with giving me one Adjutant’s job they have given me two. Tomorrow we are going to be inspected by the King. Each Brigade is providing a battalion composed of one large company from each regiment. I have been chosen as Adjutant of our Brigade Battalion, & consequently have been very nearly worked to death. So far everything has gone swimmingly & I don’t anticipate anything going wrong tomorrow, except possibly my mare. She does not love the cheering very much & I am quite prepared to have to give the King a display of horsemanship particulars of which will not be on the programme. Talking of horses – with the exception of one hour for lunch I was in the saddle the whole of today from 9.30 a.m. – to 5.30 p.m. a very tiring business on the whole. Dad asked me in his letter if I could explain the meaning of my account of my own doings in the recent battle. Really I did nothing at all, spending most of my time at Brigade Hqrs. My other effort was a thing of a few minutes – there were no Germans anywhere – it was merely a question of leading a few stragglers back into a bit of line that we had captured, but which they were leaving for some reason best known to themselves.
I have been working very hard at my job as Adjutant & enjoying myself at it very much indeed; so much so that I shall now be quite sorry to have to give it up when Allen comes back. It is just the job for me & suits me down to the ground. Plenty of opportunity for organization which I love, & still more for swank which I never could do without. I now appear on a horse always, spurs & a switch complete. I have to keep a groom & fairly do things in style. I am afraid there is no chance of leave for three weeks or so at least. We shall have to go to the trenches again soon, & simply cannot spare the officers to go running away on leave. Beasley, wounded at Ypres, has come back to us & brought with him another new Subaltern. We hear Knighton is coming out again, & with him Barrowcliff who left us right back at Sawbridgeworth. Also three new Subalterns of quality unknown. With regard to Pringle I am afraid the Corporal was killed – a very great pity, he was a good fellow. A. Company suffered pretty heavily, & curiously enough the only surviving officer is Thomson, 6ft 5 high & a man who would never trouble to try & take cover or make any elaborate arrangements for his own protection; if there was anything to be done anywhere. Lawton has died of wounds & the other two were killed outright.
The cares of the Adjutancy — Allen is still away & I have his place – have taken up all my time & made letter writing impossible. We are settling down again by degrees & with the aid of a small draft of men from England the battalion is beginning to assume a more or less normal appearance. Officers are of course sill conspicuous by their absence but doubtless that will be shortly rectified. You have probably seen in the paper that we still retain the front edge of the Hohenzollern Redoubt – we do. We won it & kept it & not only the front edge but the whole thing because the rest is so battered that neither side can hold it. The cost was great – Hastings, Langdale & Moss lie there still as I said, but none the less it is our first battle & we got the place, & what is harder, kept it. At present we are resting, & getting baths, new clothes & other such luxuries. The men seem very fit & rather proud of themselves, though personally I would have liked to have seen fewer return from the battle. There were too many when one considers how many officers came back untouched. Last night we had a merry little dinner party at H.Q. here. The Col. Of the 4th Lincolns & a Captain of his came in, while we had the Dr who is a great man – Burnett, Jackson & Wynne. Our C.O. was in great form; produced champagne, & port & liqueurs & rum punch, & tried very hard to make the Col. Of the 4th merry. It is very sad losing half, or even more than half one’s mess (men?), but it is absolutely essential that those who are left should carry on as if nothing had happened, & retain their good spirits. I think the C.O. will get something out of the battle, he was absolutely first rate. The Doctor also & Wollaston deserve a bit of ribbon of some colour or other. We have been inspected by one or two Generals & others who say nice things to us. One of our bomb-throwers was being questioned by one of the above-mentioned Generals as to what he had done. He replied he had blown half an officer’s leg off. This amused the old General tremendously who guffawed for some time, & wanted to know why he chose only half an officer to operate on & not a whole one. Hope to be able to get leave soon, though it is not in sight yet.
When I wrote my last letter to you I was quite prepared, not only not to write for four days, but not to write another for about forty or four hundred. The truth of the whole matter is that some time ago they officially informed us that we were at length to do an attack, & the next day told us what we were to attack. This was nothing less than a most formidable affair which we had already had a go at twice before. So for the last week we have been practising all kinds of manoeuvres new & strange to us, but such as are commonly practised by those about to attack the enemy. Then we came up & viewed the situation, & then yesterday after a heavy bombardment we attacked. The 5th were in support & so suffered least. Col. Martin of the 4th was wounded in the knee early on in the assault & stayed for twelve hours directing operations, although quite unable to move. None of his Officers have escaped unwounded. The other two battalions are in the same condition having three officers wounded between them. Thank goodness our C.O. is alright tho’ Toller has concussion. Hastings & Langdale are both killed – Petch, Lawton, Thomson, Wynne, Marriot, Moss, are wounded. Williams was hit but after being dressed he returned to work. Wollaston, though wounded in the back & arm rallied weary men, & collecting a few enthusiasts led a successful bombing party, working on for four hours after his wound. I escaped without a scratch; why I don’t quite know. I went up to observe & missed every shell, then finding a rabble coming back I sallied forth in true theatrical manner & walked about in our newly captured line, finally, as I say, returning unscathed. Well, we have the Bosch trench but our casualties have been heavy — so have his for that matter. One thing is certain & that is that they will have to give us a rest now, simply because we have none to go on with. I don’t know much about the men’s losses but if they are in the same proportion as their officers we have not got many of them. The weather is now quite good though at times it gets remarkably misty. Once we get out to rest leave ought to start again so I have great hopes of visiting Bromley before too long. The Colonel has behaved most splendidly during the show & most certainly deserves a mention in dispatches, while there are great hopes of a Military Cross for Wollaston, I hope he gets it. Allen much to his annoyance had to go sick just before the battle, & was consequently out of it all. This means that at least we have an Adjutant left.
P.S. I thought it best not to inform you of the coming fray, there was no need to cause a scare & I was afraid you might worry.
Just a very hurried scribble before going up once more to the trenches. We have been expecting to go up for the last few days but it is only this evening that we have got our orders. I have twice been up to visit our new line & learn the way about, & for the next few days will be engaged on my intelligence job. We shall probably be there for four days, or so, & I think it quite probable that letter writing will be impossible so don’t expect anything for the next few days. Poor old Allen had had to go sick; he has only just been made Adjutant so is naturally very upset at having to miss his first visit to the trenches in his new capacity. After the tour I expect I shall return definitely to the battalion & in that case ought to get “D” Coy for my own. But everything is at present in a state of uncertainly & they may send us back one or two wounded Captains which I sincerely hope they will.
At the present minute I am second in Command of “D” Coy but Major Bland’s asthma is not really right, & he is very probably going to leave us, in which case I shall again have command of the Company for a short time. Tomorrow in all probability we shall go to the trenches & take over an entirely new bit of line, that we have never seen in all our little lives before. For this I know that I have got to go as a Coy Commander so I shall have to mind my p’s & q’s. It is a bit of responsibility but at the same time a great honour. At all events I could not want a better lot of men behind me & I know them as well as they know me. It is true that the two Subalterns under me are aged 20 and 18 respectively but what they lose in age they make up in efficiency, & I don’t think I need have any misgivings in that direction. As you say the casualty lists have been pretty terrible during the last few days of an attack but that is always the way. Poor old Dickinson has been laid out I see, I very nearly saw him one day by the Lille Gate at Ypres – just missed him by a few minutes. Baber was in the same regiment but he has apparently had better luck. By the way I suppose the 22nd London took part in the recent attack, I am always sure that their Division did. I hope Boosey distinguished himself & will presently appear among the D.S.O.s or Military Crosses. We have got a nice large town (Bethune) near us now-the best we have run into so far. One can buy almost anything one is likely to want, &, what is better still, the prices are not so high that bartering is impossible. I rode over there this morning, & made a few minor purchases – yesterday’s Times, it is rather nice to be able to buy at 9.30 a.m. on the following morning. The nag that belongs to the O.C. “D” Coy is a curious looking animal with the most peculiar trot that was ever seen. He is however very strong, & can go on for miles at almost any pace without showing any signs of fatigue. I hear that we are going to have 6 new officers out from England – one of whom is a Captain. It will be rather amusing to see how he will like being docked of two of his stars. The C.O. makes all new officers start again as 2/Leiuts- other wise men would be superseded who had been out here all the time, by some newly fledged person from the 2/5th
Many happy returns of the day. I hope this letter will not arrive many days too late. I have not been able to get anything in the way of a present for you, & my original intention, which was to turn up for breakfast on the 6th has been frustrated by the indefinite stopping of all leave. Our move is now complete & we are sitting in a clean trench farm-house in a district we have never seen before – never in fact have we been near it. I got out of the trenches alright the other night & went down to spend the night in our transport lines. Very early the next morning I went off with Viccars the Staff Captain in a car & came down here to look about for billets. These we found & then all the areas were suddenly changed so we had to search about for a new lot. The car had to go back but we managed to steal a Ford ambulance & get about in that. We found a Chateau for Brigade Headquarters & spent the night there. It was a very comfortable spot with a hot bath amongst other luxuries. The next day the battalions turned up by train & I returned to the 5th. I am now with D Coy. as their second in command, but it is quite possible that I shall get some special job as soon as the Brigade takes over a line of trenches again. Major Bland has come back & is commanding the Company. By the way I think you would possibly like to hear the history of your cake. It came with the other parcels, & together with a letter for me was put in a dug-out to be sent up with the transport. The whole line of dug-outs was heavily shelled & the parcel got broken open though the cake remained undamaged. The Colonel’s servant therefore put the cake in one of the food baskets & yesterday on going to the H.Q. Mess I found them eating it !!! A quarter of it had gone but I have got back the rest & shall enjoy it today. This afternoon I intend to go for a short ride. I have not been very fit lately & I think possibly a jog will do me good. A letter came from Nairn yesterday enclosing a packet of these never–to–be- sufficiently-ridiculed broadsheets. I have not looked at the selection but most of them are curious reading for a soldier. Grey’s Elegy & “Vanity of Vanities” go cheek by jowl with a little bit of Dick Swiveller & Pericles Speech to the Athenians.