Monthly Archives: November 2015

30 November 1915

LaCoutre

I hear today that the port of Boulogne has been closed for the last two days so it is quite possible that the addressing of my last two letters to the flat will cause delay in their arrival instead of your getting them sooner as I expected & intended.  This I am sending to the Vicarage to avoid any more mistakes.  I suppose it is the somewhat doubtful weather in the channel which causes all this trouble; they say that these storms break loose the mines which then float about at random & are a source of great danger to anyone & everyone attempting to cross.  Today has been really glorious; there were a few spots of rain somewhere about midday, but for the rest the sun has been both warm & bright.  Besides this the air has been clear, in other words ideal for observation purposes.  This being the case, the Brigade Major & I decided to try the ghastly journey to the trenches, & see what we could see up there.  We armed ourselves in thigh-gum-boots, mounted our horses & rode as far as we could without coming under the direct observation of some telescope-hogging Hun gunner.  A short walk across some very sloppy & clinging plough, over a few very full dykes, & through a dilapidated farm-house or two, brought us to the start of a so-called communication trench.  We waded bravely in & struggled along as best we could.  Where the water was too deep we got out & crawled along outside under the shelter of some friendly bank or anything else that would cover us from the watchful eye of the sniper.  The Brigade Major is a very careful man indeed & I always know that if I am with him I shall run no risks.  We reached the front line without mishaps & started to work our way along it.  Here things were by no means so easy as when I was up there two days ago.  Then there was ice & one could walk on it, now one has to plough through water & mud.  Then the banks were frozen hard & one could plant a hand on firm ground to support oneself.  Now if one throws out a despairing hand it sinks up to the wrist in the most filthy slime imaginable.  Part of the way was alright but by the time we had gone a hundred yards both of us had got water over the tops of our boots.  I for my part had both my feet awash which was very unpleasant, & would also have been very cold, had we not kept on the move.  We got quite a good view in several places of the land above & beyond, & saw one or two curious works that the old Hun is busily putting up – in preparation I suppose for the long-expected never fulfilled “great push” when it does finally come off.  Otherwise there was nothing very interesting – one or two duels in the air which came to nothing except a multitude of falling particles which splashed into the water all round, fortunately avoiding our unprotected pates.   We returned to the more healthy area by the communication trench up which I went two days ago & found that it had degenerated sadly.  It was no longer possible to wade down several portions of it & we had to use great care & caution & wriggle about all over the place to get out at all.  Long rubber boots are bad things for walking in, there is bound to be a certain amount of movement inside & ones feet get rather chafed at times.  This of course does not happen with waders & brogues because the latter keeps the former from slipping about.  We had our horses to meet us jogged home to lunch, at about 2.30pm.  I was absolutely ravenous but managed to restrain my hunger long enough to allow for my changing my wet clothes & getting into something more or less dry, & a trifle more respectable than my mud-stained trench gear.  The remainder of the afternoon I slacked away over a novel but after tea accompanied the Staff Captain on a horse –once more to settle billet squabbles.  Again some Highlander people had settled themselves in some of our billets & it took all Viccars red hat to get then to shift at all; in fact it was only with great difficulty that we succeeded in getting back for dinner.   As soon as the General gets back the Colonel is going on leave.  His idea I believe is to be at home for the end of the Uppingham term – somewhere about the 18th December.

29 November 1915 (2)

LaCoutre

During the night the frost suddenly ceased, the wind took a slight turn towards the south & westward direction & it started to drizzle.  This gave place during the morning to real rain & this afternoon to a real big shower followed by incessant downpour.  The ground is now returning to its original condition of being one long, large, lovely puddle in which the luckless army slips & slops & covers itself in mud.  Chilblains have started to appear on my heels, but they naturally come out with the thaw & doubtless will disappear as quickly as they came.  This morning with the exception of a trip to the 5th, I stayed indoors & busied myself with shoals of clerical work.  The 5th were having a squabble over billets with some codger of the RAMC who was trying to bag one of our best eligible dwelling houses as a home for some of their evil practices.  Needless to say we have been very firm & flatly refused to budge.  We are in our area & he is at least a mile outside his, so we shall put an armed sentry on the door, & anyone who appears will have to spend a wet cold night on the road outside.  Should someone appear the least truculent towards our sentry we shall of course clap him under arrest at once for attempting to force a sentry, which is a serious crime on active service.  Personally I don’t imagine that any RAMC will turn up at all, they have probably got good beds where they are & will not risk a night in the open.  I have now taken over the management of the trench stores which are handed on from one battalion to another in the trenches.  I have to check the returns which are sent in each time there is a relief, & deal with every sort of thing from a high explosive bomb to a gum-boot, or a mud-scoop.  As the various regiments always make a large number of errors in their lists & omit half what they ought to show, while showing other things twice, it is by no means an easy matter to keep track of all that goes on.  There are not only the trenches to think about but also the posts in rear, & the various headquarters & such like, all of whom have their own separate stores.  This afternoon I mounted the undertakers nag & rode up to the trench headquarters to try & see if the Adjutants concerned could give me any explanation of some of the curious things in their store returns.  While I was there it came on to pour in the most ghastly manner & I decided that the only thing to do was to out my horse in a stable, & go & call on the battery in the hope of finding a little shelter.  Lyttleton was there & I had a “dish o’tea” with them.  To get there was no easy job as they had been firing a good deal during the afternoon, & the old Hun in his effort to knock them out was throwing quite large crumps just in the path along which I was proposing to go.  I managed to get there alright but had to make a detour to do it.  Detours in this country are rather tricky things, & in some respects are like their opposite numbers – short cuts.  The country is so intersected with ditches that one never knows when one may not run into some fat great river that is absolutely uncrossable. If one is in a hurry to get away from some shelling & runs into one of them, it is, as you might imagine, most unpleasant.   It is pretty hard work on this new job but I must say I like it very much, & infinitely prefer it to the ordinary trench-routine work, though that was by no means unbearable.  So far my efforts as Mess President have been a success & as we have managed to snare a hare I am hoping that we are alright for the present.

29 November 1915 (1)

To  H.G.H.

LaCoutre

Mother tells me she has now deserted you & you are consequently left alone.  I gather from her letters that you are sitting in a large & draughty house, deserted by everybody, brooding over sermons & woolly hat, & generally in a bad way.  I am therefore writing a line or two in the hopes that by a perusal of my usual twaddle your mind may for a short time, at any rate, be diverted from the above mentioned & not very exciting amusements.  As a matter of fact I suppose the MAYBYS took you Flatwards on Tuesday so that you have set eyes on your better-half at least once since her departure.  The weather is bad & I cannot at present do much of my intelligence work, but as they have thrust upon me also the management of trench stores & things of that ilk I can find plenty to do indoors & we are simply flooded with shoals of “paper” from the higher authorities, all of which needs attention.  In a week or two the Staff Captain is going on leave & work will be heavier still for I shall have to add most of his duties to mine.  I can see several squalls ahead.  The higher red-hats will welcome this glorious opportunity of having a junior & inexperienced person on whom to vent their wrath, knowing that I cannot stand up & fight them as Viccars, who is a Major, both can and does.  I expect it will be one long row for ten days, & I shall welcome the hour of Viccars return.  I have been wondering for some time how long the old Hun would be willing to sit still & have all manner of shells thrown at him, all day & half the night. Today he has been trying to have a smack back.  High explosives have been ploughing great holes in all sorts of innocent clover-fields, & the air at times has fairly whistled with large objects hurtling on their unnecessary & unprofitable course, usually to end up a good half mile away from any gun, house, billet, or head-quarters.  They must have wasted quite a deal of useful money on the whole performance, & so far as I have been able to learn they did not even succeed in killing  a hen, let alone wounding any real live men.  I see from the paper that the General has lost his wife, he must have got home just a day too late to see her alive.  It will not be a very cheerful mess for some time when he comes back — & I expect our Christmas will not be an uproarious gathering.

28 November 1915

LaCoutre

This morning I set forth fairly early, & with one orderly made for a so-called dry communication trench on the right of our sector.  It was by no means dry, in fact in some places there was a much as four feet of water, over this lay a coating of ice about an inch & a quarter thick, & progress was very difficult.  As a general rule the ice was just not strong enough to carry one & it was necessary to walk along the bottom breaking it as one went.  This was by no means easy as it was impossible to force one’s way along breaking the ice with one’s shins — it simply would not break.  What one had to do was plant one foot through the ice & stand on the bottom, then raise the other foot & bring it down hard on the ice so as to break a hole for that leg, & so on step by step.  At last we discovered that if we were very careful we could walk actually on the ice which we did, & with some success too.  In fact I survived during the whole day & never got the water in once over the top of my thigh boots.   Once in the front line trench I manage to do quite a fair amount of observing, & discovered several fishy places in the enemy parapet which I have duly reported to the higher authorities.  In fact I have sent them a perfect Daily Mirror full of pictures & letter-press all free gratis & for nothing.  I usually find that the Division are awfully pleased with a few sheets of slushy headline & three-half penny journalise with a few so-called sketches to liven matters up.  If one can introduce a bit of red & blue chalk as well it makes a most tremendous impression, & will almost earn one the Military Cross straight off.  Getting along the front trench was in some places a most difficult matter & we had to show a lot of judgement & skill to avoid 1) getting wet through  2) getting shot through.  Either one by itself would be easy enough to manage, but to succeed in both is a very different & difficult matter.  We came back by a communication trench with a very bad reputation, & had a much more comfortable journey than on the way up, because the ice seemed thicker, & would carry us fairly easily all the way.   Having got back without mishap I paid a few calls on my friends the gunners, strolled round to one of the battalion head-quarters & then home again in time for tea followed by a very hot bath & some clean clothes.  The rest of the evening until a few minutes ago has been devoted to the writing of my long & garrulous reports, in which I say a great deal about nothing in particular.  Happening to stroll into a little English Cemetery today I suddenly came face to face with the following inscription on a plain wooden cross

In Memory of

Lieut H.J. Snowden

1st Herts REGT

I did not know that he was killed in these parts I it came as rather a surprise to me.  His grave is in very good condition, I think that there must be someone who has the tending of these Cemeteries as his special duty.  The graves, or rather the wooden crosses are erected by the G.R.C. (Graves Registration Committee) who keep a list of where all the Officers & men are buried, for whom they have erected crosses.  Our interpreter has gone on leave & left me at present as Mess President so I have to order the meals, & look after the servants.  In a day or two I shall also probably have to go & barter with the natives on the subject of eggs, butter, milk etc all of which we are able to procure from the owners of our farm-billet.  I am addressing this letter to the flat as I suppose you are still there.  These letters ought not to take more than 48 hours to reach their destination but I gather from yours that they are sometimes as much as four days on the road.  They leave here the morning after they are dated.

27 November 1915

LaCoutre

It is now freezing hard & another twenty-four hours like the last, would, I think, turn the moat round this farm into a skating rink.  The roads might be made of stone they are so hard, & riding is now quite out of the question — the poor horse would simply slide & slip in all directions.  What little snow managed to settle in the last storm has frozen hard & looks like remaining so that the landscape has quite a picturesque aspect; though I very much doubt if the brazier-hugging mortals out in the front line can appreciate it.  They say that the cold there at nights is almost intolerable.  One cannot have the brazier actually inside the dug-out because the fumes are poisonous & a dug-out has no chimney or window.  The only thing to do is to imagine that the dug-out is an oven: that is to say, to put the brazier in before one wants to live in it, & take it out on entering.  As a matter of fact it is not so much the cold as the damp which makes one feel so cold.  The only thing in the neighbourhood which so far shows no signs of becoming frozen over is the artesian well outside our bedroom window.  This is really quite a great affair & keeps us supplied with very decent water.  Round it the rats can be seen in the early hours of the morning scampering about in all directions.  One day when I can raise sufficient energy to brave the cold in my pyjamas I shall open the window & indulge in a little pistol practice with my new automatic.  Such a proceeding would no doubt somewhat alarm the household who would probably imagine that there was an attack on, or something of the sort.  That of course would not matter, It would be a very good thing to wake up some of these Brigade headquarter people, who will eventually get their warmedal for sitting in an office “well away” & sending sheets of much-reviled paper matter to the wretched & perspiring regimental orderly rooms.   I had a very amusing & characteristic letter this evening from Col. Martin, who is still at the Duchess of Westminster’s Hospital, La Touquet.  It was full of advice how to behave when a Staff Officer which he says he imagines I shall soon be.  I must write & thank him, during the short time that I have known him he has been a very good friend to me & I was very fond of him.  His wound is healing now & he expects to be able to move to London in about a fortnight or so with any luck.   This morning for the first part I kept house & had several callers.  The General of next Brigade & his orderly officer, very polite & (the former) in a very red hat.  Followed truculent little A.S.C. Supply officer whom I had to tell off: I was very polite but firm.  Then came two R.E.s to show us how to put up a new patent kind of collapsible hut; as most of the component parts of six huts had got mixed, this proved rather a more difficult task than they had anticipated.  Then the Divisional Grenade Officer, suffering from a liver chill, very abrupt, almost rude in fact – I answered his question by Yes & No alternately until he gave up worrying me & let me get on with my work.  Lastly a Subaltern of one of the regiments, who has been chosen to look after a salvage gang for clearing lost kits & rifles out of the trenches, strolled in with innumerable inane questions, to whom I was compelled to be rude.  After lunch I sallied forth & called on the 5th Leicestershires.  They were trying to bear up as best they could but were obviously very depressed at the “latest blot” in the shape of a quite impossible person arrived from England, & calling himself a Subaltern.  He appears to be a “Shocker”, & poor Slingsby was almost in tears over the utter hopelessness of the case.  From  there I went on to the trench headquarters, & made the acquaintance of a Subaltern who is going on with some intelligence work for me, taking turn & turn about with Williams.  He seemed a very capable fellow & should do well.  I got back just in time for tea & after that meal set forth again armed with my long gum-boots & my oldest clothes.  The night of course is the best time to visit the trenches, but this evening there was no moon while I was there & it was too dark to be any good for my purposes, so I returned instead to a good dinner.  During the afternoon I saw a sight that I had never before seen since we have been out.  A fleet of no less than fifteen aeroplanes went over our lines, apparently on some sort of expedition.

26 November 1915

LaCoutre

Today we have had our first snow.  There was a heavy fall this morning which lasted for about an hour & settled in places to a depth of two or three inches.  In some places the previous rain, which had been even heavier, quite prevented the snow settling, but it has now started to freeze hard so I don’t know what will happen next.  The wind has gone round to the North East & tonight is really cold, but fine, clear & except underfoot very dry.  I should imagine that we shall have low temperatures & intermittent snow-storms for the next few weeks.  Probably by Christmas everything will be frozen solid.  This morning before the snow I rode round one or two of our posts on my black mare & just escaped a wetting.  The roads were pretty deep in mud & walking is by no means a pleasure at this time of year.  Then came the snow so I stopped indoors & paid attention to my maps, for which I rely mostly on the reports sent in by those adventurous spirits who prowl about at night.  This is a great place simply made for crawling about & I sometimes wish I was back with the battalion & could sally forth as we used to.  There are all sorts of old ditches & disused trenches, trees & shell holes all over the place between the lines which of course afford plenty of cover to some bored officer in search of amusement.  At lunch time the Colonel turned up to take the place of the Brigadier, & he is now ensconced in Brigadierly State.  He is very amusing at times & I am quite sure that the Brigade Major, who is a Regular, has never seen any Colonel quite like him before.  During the morning the G.O.C. came to be introduced to the three new Senior Officers of the Brigade whom he had not yet met- i.e. the C.O.  & 2nd in Command of the 5th, & the 2nd in Command of the 4th——shires.  All three are old veterans & very old at that.  One of the 2nd in C’s has never been known to smile yet, & the Brigadier promptly nicknamed him H.M.S. Doleful.  The G.O.C. greeted him with “Hullo, you’re a bit of a dug-out aren’t you” & the poor man didn’t quite know what to say. As a matter of fact I believe had had served under the G.O.C. before—way back in ’43 or some such pre-historic date.  The C.O. mentioned has a face like a pugilist, & a voice like a bull, talks always in monosyllables & strikes one as a rule as being grumpy.  The third old’un seems to me to be rather a cow – but one must not make remarks about ones Senior Officers.  After lunch the weather cleared wonderfully, & for the first time since we came to this spot there was a view to be had.  Straightway therefore I got once more upon the mare & rode off to talk to the gunners with whom I always keep on the best of terms.  They of course invited me to their ”Oh pip” — which being interpreted signifies O.P. or Observation Post.  From here we got a fairly good view but failed to catch sight of any Boshes wandering about in any large numbers.   In one place there was smoke coming from their trenches & the gunner I was with at once rang up his battery & popped over a few high explosives.  One fell plump onto the fire, & after that the smoke was seen no more.  On the whole we manage to give the old Hun a lively time in these parts.  If ever he raises the courage to shell, he invariably gets an enormous amount more back than he gives.  I suppose he does not consider this a very important part of the line, at all events he does not seem to have many guns about.  Of course its now so hopelessly water-logged everywhere that an attack is out of the question, though I see by the paper that our fellows made a very handy little raid the other day & scuppered a few enemy, getting away themselves with only one killed.  This was jolly good.  My battalion is coming out tonight & coming back to billets not very far from where we are; here billets are not as good as in some places that we have visited, but they might be worse.  If only we can get a battalion mess it will be all right – it is a very merry gathering when they are all together, & I should certainly make a point of dropping in one night just to pay them a visit.   It is very comfortable here & one feels of course very well always – never any need to eat bully & biscuits, but I do at times miss the cheery songsters of the 5th & our uproarious evenings on our first night “out”.

25 November 1915

Dini’s job sounds as if it might be rather interesting if, as you say, she gets some sort of secretarial appointment. I hope she works for someone interesting, & then perhaps she will be able to give us a week’s warning before the War Office ship us off to some distant spot as the Fiji Islands or elsewhere.  It would be so nice to know beforehand that one was going to some particular place: as it is when there is a move on, one is just shunted about until one finds oneself first on some sort of vessel, next in mid ocean & lastly at some port that one has probably never heard of.  I am afraid however that there will be nothing interesting to learn about us, as we are probably a fixture.  Once they have got us here, they are not likely to send us away.  Besides this is such a lovely spot.  I am seriously thinking of advising the W.O. to have a poster printed as follows:-

WHY SPEND MONEY ON A SEASIDE HOLIDAY

WHEN WE WILL PAY YOU TO

BATHE AT

BRACING LA

BASSEE  ?

(Transcriber’s note; this was drawn in the letter with one large B covering the last 3 lines)

It almost amounts to bathing at times when one misses one’s footing & takes an unexpected plunge into unknown depths.  By the way I have put La Bassee not because we are there but because it was the only word I could think of beginning with a B.   The frost has now apparently come to an end & its place has been taken by rain.  The latter of course means mud & galore, & ditches filled to overflowing.  This morning was fairly fine & while the General was holding conference with the various Commanding Officers, I sallied forth & made a tour of some of our snipers.  They are very elated at having bagged a German or two.  This is an excellent thing as it bucks the men up & gives them something to think about & get keen over.  Williams is doing the job for my battalion, & periodically he sallies forth & examines the enemy by night.  This afternoon I called on one or two of the batteries & ran into Lyttelton.  He has red-hair but his name is not Geoffrey – the latter is his cousin – in some infantry regiment not very far from here I believe.  Then it came on to rain & by the time I got back to headquarters again I was very nearly disguised as a lump of mud.  I ploughed my way home straight across country in the dark, relying merely on a very hazy recollection of the map I had looked at in the afternoon.  I hit the bridge alright over the only really uncrossable river & fetched up very much sooner that I would have done it I had gone round by the road.    My chief occupation really is maps.  There are no very good maps of this area & we are working pretty hard to draw one up that will be some good.  Photographs from aeroplanes are the chief guide to what is going on behind German lines; but unfortunately these are very scarce round here, & the weather has so far prevented the making of new ones.  Tomorrow morning the General goes on leave.  His wife has been very ill for some time, & last night a wire came telling him to come at once.  I am afraid he will not be going back to a holiday, he is very upset over it all, poor fellow.  While he is away his place will be taken by Col. Jones who is now Senior Colonel in the Brigade.  Curiously enough he is also the only territorial Colonel.  The other three have been either killed or wounded & their places were taken in each case by regular officers.  Of these two are D.S.O.s with a good deal of African west Coast service & the third is a rather young Major who has done well in this war.

24 November 1915

LaCoutre Cense De Reau (Farm)

We have moved into our new headquarters & settled down very comfortably.  We are in a large farm with three large rooms for our two officers & the mess & three small bedrooms for the Brigadier, the Brigade Major & Staff Captain.  There is also a largish room with three beds in which we intend eventually to put cubicles: this is occupied by the Interpreter, Escombe the Signal Officer & myself.  I think we ought to manage very well here provided we can keep warm.  All the chimneys are in some need of a clean & the most that fires can be persuaded to do at present  is to fill the room with smoke.  There is a certain amount of furniture, & one or two easy chairs are better than nothing at all, but we have not of course got the luxurious tapestries & gorgeously upholstered chairs that our last billet provided.  One thing is certain & that is that we shall in all probability be here for a month, & that gives us plenty of time to make several alterations & improvements, & as we are due to return later, it will be worth while doing so.   The red-hats went to lunch today with the Division & left the transfer of the Brigade headquarters stores & transport to the tender mercies of the Interpreter & myself.  He had the General’s mare, a really beautiful little animal, but very fresh.  The Interpreter rides after the manner of his race, that is to say with his feet close to the horse’s flanks.  The mare of course imagined that the spurs were in somewhat close proximity to her ribs & set off at a gallop, very nearly removing the rider on several occasions.  He, gallant fellow, hung on with tooth, nail, & foot – the latter of course urged the animal to even greater speed.  One luckless soldier was bowled over & the wild career was only terminated by the pair turning into a farm-yard.   I was mounted on the large & lazy black, who, to judge by his behaviour, was formerly owned by an undertaker.  His methods of progress are threefold.  First the very slow “house to church” walk; for this he keeps a solemn eye & stumbles periodically over nothing at all.  Secondly the slight – “parish-to-distant-cemetery” jog.  This is scarcely faster than a walk, & has a fairly dignified appearance.  The third he will only display when urged on with whip & spur – it is the “back from the cemetery” trot – a clumsy ambling sort of shuffle, anything but sedate or dignified.  For this last his eye takes on a malicious glint & he neighs loudly every few yards by way of clearing the roads, though as his speed cannot even then be more that ½ a mile an hour, there is no very great danger of anyone being taken by surprise, & swept off his feet.  At first halt, that is to say at the afore-mentioned farmyard we changed mounts, & I went on the mare.  I must say I liked the change for she is a very comfortable ride & whether walking of trotting goes along at a respectable pace.  The alteration was quite a success as no amount of leg pressure on the part of the interpreter would induce the funereal black to attempt to run away.  He was quite content to keep to his number three pace, & only did that under compulsion & much against his will.   We have been entertaining to tea & dinner the Brigadier & Brigade Major of the outgoing Brigade whose headquarters we have taken over.  They are both regulars but looking after a “K” Brigade.  We fed them very well indeed, & I think they were rather surprised to see how sumptuously we did ourselves.  Our china & glass compared very favourably with their blue enamel cups.  But they have only been here three months & will no doubt learn wisdom in time.

23 November 1915

To   H.G.H.

La Fosse

Today has been fairly strenuous.  This morning I kept house while the various “red-hats” went about their various duties.  That is to say the Brigadier & Brigade-Major went to visit some new works in the trenches & the Staff Captain went off to see “about billets for the “———shires” who were moving to a new area this morning.  He found them room enough but we expected to have disputes & such-like trifles, & later on in the day our expectations were realized.  One of the great troubles in billeting is that there are bound to be several houses on the outskirts of one’s area which will be claimed as the property of the owners of the next area.  It usually ends in a free fight sooner or later, but as a rule the people who get there first stay there if they have any gump at all.  This afternoon the red-hats were in, so I was able to get off.  This time I tried a rather large black horse which could be a very comfortable ride when it chose to go.  The brute however utterly lacked any kind of intelligence & for no apparent reason would suddenly come to a full stop in the middle of the road.  Spurs & a whip had no effect, its hide appeared to be as thick as its brain.  At other times it would go quite well for a mile or two, & then riding was quite a pleasure.  I had originally intended to visit Lyttleton & pay a few calls on the various batteries; the former I could not find & they were so widely scattered that one battery was all I could manage.  At about a 4 pm a drizzle started which kept on quite continuously all the way home.  It didn’t really rain but was quite sufficient to make one pretty wet.  After tea a hot & panting Subaltern of the above mentioned “—–shires”  turned up to say that their C.O. & orderly room staff, most of the officers & at least a hundred & fifty men were all sitting out on the road in the wet, because the –— Division had claimed their billets.  This very nearly drove the Staff Captain into a lunatic asylum then & there.  With great trouble & difficulty we had shunted & pushed & worried around until we had got their beastly battalion settled in, & then, by way of rewarding us, they went & gave away their Hq. & mess & everything else to some complete strangers, just because the latter claimed the houses.  After a little brisk telephone work, Viccars procured a car from the Division & he & I set forth to the scene of action.  A few minor accidents, such as running over the remains of a dilapidated perambulator & smashing up our rear mudguard thereon, delayed our progress a little, but we eventually reached the “—-shires” to find them quite contented, & happily hobnobbing with the 2nd—-s with whom they had by that time managed to come to some sort of agreement.   By the way I forgot to mention in yesterday’s letter one piece of really good news & that is that the Slingsby Baby, otherwise 2nd Lieut G.B. Williams has returned looking very fit & well in spite of his perforated ear.  He is taking over my old job of intelligence in the battalion & as he has plenty of imagination ought to get on very well with it.  It is very nice to see him back again & rather a relief also, when one only runs into all kinds & conditions of strange people on whom one has never set eyes on before.     I am glad Dini is going to try her first Government work.  If she can stand her fellow-clerkesses she ought to enjoy herself even though it is a bit boring at times.  I must say however that I imagine she will find some awful “stinkers” working there amongst whom she must be more than ever “one of us”.  The “us” business is beginning to be a bit noticeable out here too.  All these strange novelties are “thems”, with just a few exceptions who are immediately admitted to the “us” crowd.  There is a most tremendous breach between the old, or perhaps I should say, the original Army Officer & the new & latest effort.  A Coy is now in the hands of the lengthy Thomson though I am not sure that he will be able to keep it as he has no seniority.  Tomorrow we move to our new place & ought to be settled in there by tea-time.  Visits to the trenches will then be more frequent as it will be very much easier to get from there than it is from here.  I believe this place will be used as on officers rest-house; when some poor fellow gets run down he can come here & be beefed up by the Field Ambulance Authorities on Champagne, chicken & sundry other medical comforts.

22 November 1915

La Fosse

I believe we are now in for a really hard spell of weather.  Last night the wind disappeared & it froze quite hard.  Today has been bright with a nice warm sun, but there was only a slight attempt at a thaw & by five o’clock this afternoon it was freezing again vigorously.  This none of us mind so long as the rain continues to keep off as it has done now for the last few days.  The only objection to the frosts is that they make the roads so hard & slippery that riding is not only difficult but, at times, absolutely impossible.  This morning I got on to my black mare & set off for the trenches.  We started very carefully at first & occasionally tried a gentle trot.  This was scarcely ever a success & as a rule the first dozen yards saw the poor brute with its four legs all going in different directions, & myself falling lovingly on its neck.  We never actually parted company & the mare never actually fell, but it was anything but a “joy-ride”.  Coming back was better, for the sun was just strong enough to turn the slippery surface into a slightly sticky one.   The only way that the war is waged in these parts seems to be by sniping, hence my visit to the trenches today.  We are organizing a “hate” gang & are going to make quite sure that if any old Hun goes hopping about as he likes behind his lines he will find a bullet or two trying to turn him into a billet.  It ought to be rather good fun for the men who are chosen to do it, & will provide them with some amusement in these eventless days, when one’s only exercise is the extraction of one’s foot from a pool to place it in another.  This afternoon & evening we have not done anything very energetic.  I rode over to the Field Cashier & drew a little money for myself & for a few others who could not get there to draw it for themselves.  Tomorrows programme is not yet made out, so that I don’t yet know whether I shall have to stay at home to keep house or whether I shall be allowed to sally forth on my own.  There is quite a lot to see up there as well as back here; at present there is practically no intelligence work being done by the battalions, & it has all to be organized.  The Brigade has not yet moved, but I believe we are going to depart from this Chateau, this abode of comfort & warmth, the day after tomorrow.  I have not seen the new billet but it certainly cannot be so well furnished.  As a matter of fact, I believe we shall be pretty nearly as comfortable there as we are here.  I shall not get a room to myself there as I do here, but in all probability will share a large “three-bedder” with the Interpreter, & Escombe the signaller.  Viccars is going to arrange to have some cubicles erected if it can be managed.