Monthly Archives: December 2015

31 December 1915

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

The weather, the situation & ourselves remain unchanged.  There are rumours of departures tomorrow, but nothing has yet been heard to indicate that our people are likely to put in an appearance.  So the holiday continues & I am rapidly assuming quite a sea-side complexion.  Another week & we shall have exhausted all that there is to see in this place & then I suppose we shall begin to get very bored with  everything.  One of the gunners down here is very keen on climbing one or two of the surrounding mountains, mere hills only but in appearance very like our friends the Rhinogs & that district, & rising to about 2,400 feet not more.  Sometimes in the morning there are some gorgeous views to be obtained, & they will make the climb well worth the trouble.  Another thing worth considering is that we have done nothing in the marching line for over ten months, & this will go some way towards getting us fit, & into some sort of training.  The food at this place has been getting steadily worse & worse, & has diminished at the same time in quantity.  Yesterday we kicked up a row about it, & swore vigorously at everybody from the manager downwards, with the excellent result that things have improved very much today.  Tonight we are each inviting one guest & having a small dinner party to be followed by a cinema or something of that sort to celebrate the “Nouvelle Ane”, a great fete in this place.  The Adjutant of the Monmouths is coming with us, & we shall have dinner at some restaurant, which one we have not yet decided.  As I believe I told you, we have a French General staying here, he seems a thoroughly good sort, though a little bit fierce at times.  He is writing a report now & sitting just opposite me.  I cannot understand much of it all but it sounds very much as if he was trying to get all the officers & N.C.O.s whom he inspected this morning either executed of kicked out.  The post is waiting so I must cease.

30 December 1915

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

There is some difficulty about the posting & censoring of these letters, & consequently, I have no idea how long they will take to reach you, or whether they get lost en route, or what.  Since leaving the scenes of more or less active warfare to come for my Riviera holiday, I have not had a single letter so know nothing at present of what has happened to you all since the 18th. on which you wrote the last letter which has turned up.  Two parcels that you have mentioned have not turned up, the one from Chip & Dini, & a book you spoke of as coming from Gran.  Doubtless they are now following me about, & will eventually reach me.  The troops who have so far arrived are all in Camp, a very nice spot close to the beach with good scenery all round them, the Generals & their Staffs of course stay at hotels & I suppose my General will do the same when he arrives.  I believe one at least of the Herrons must be somewhere here, so I am going to search for him.  Tomorrow night will be New Years Eve, & of course a great festival so we are preparing for a “beano”.  The Monmouth Adjutant is coming to dinner, & afterwards we shall go off to some Cinema or theatre.  Everybody I believe gets very rowdy, & probably there will be a “scrap” or two.  There are a largish number of English Officers about all quite ready for a “rag”.  As the men have to be in bed by 8 p.m. they will not be seen “scrapping” which is something.  There are also swarms of French troops who are very friendly to us all, & who will doubtless add to the row.  In fact I expect a pretty lively evening on the whole.  Yesterday afternoon there was no work to do so we went up to the Notre Dame de la Garde, a Church stuck up on an enormous pinnacle of rock —- on the top a great gilt Madonna about 40 feet high.  One goes most of the way up in a gigantic lift.  The view from the top is very fine as one can see the whole of the town & docks, the ridges running into the sea on either side, the mountain landwards, & the Chateau ’dIf,  & other islands out to sea.  Unfortunately it was not a very clear day but still well worth a visit.  There is absolutely nothing to say how long we shall be here.  The government which sends an able-bodied officer to the Riviera for a holiday is one to be commended; of work there is little or none, what there is, is mainly watching very interesting things going on.

29 December 1915

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

We are still enjoying ourselves here in a state of complete slackness.  The weather can now be called very hot & one perspires freely if one walks too fast down the streets.  The latter are really most remarkable. From 10 am until 2.30 a.m. the next morning they are crowded, & the crowd is the most cosmopolitan & weirdly assorted mixture one ever saw.  It is quite a good way of spending an hour, to sit at one of the cafes & watch the faces of the people passing.  Very few English people are here now & still fewer Americans, in fact I have so far only seen one American couple.  There are an enormous number of French widows, distinguishable in their weeds & black but by nothing else.  They go gadding about like everybody else, looking very happy & are usually laughing heartily at something or other.  Yesterday morning I spent at the docks whither I am going to wend my way again this morning.  In the afternoon we went to the local Zoo, not a bad place on the whole.  The most amusing items were the bears, two brown & one Polar.  The former had some rather clever tricks in the begging line, & the latter provided an hour’s amusement by his efforts to raise enough courage to dive into his pool of water.  He would start from one end of his cage & shuffle along with his head in the air, apparently in the hope that he would fall in without seeing what he was doing.  His courage however always failed him at the last minute & just as one expected him to fall in, he drew back, pawed the water nervously with one paw, & then went through the whole performance over again. After an hour of this we came away but he was still performing in the same ludicrous manner.  In the evening we went to the local variety Music Hall Show.  It was packed with French Officers who enjoyed it all immensely.  Personally though I could not understand it all. It struck me as being a good deal of it most unnecessarily vulgar, but I suppose it was merely French.  There was one codger who was quite good, & also a female singer who sang folk songs & a patriotic ditty or two, who was not at all bad, but the rest was mere bilge.  There are several of the R.T.O.s staff of officers staying at this hotel & as they are rather a jovial crowd of people we have taken in with them.  Their job is not very arduous, but they make up by ragging a good deal.  Boots gets driven along the corridor & down stairs in his own boot-chariot, while the batman is called away during the filing of a bath & an overflow promptly ensues.

28 December 1915

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

We are still here, & likely to remain for at least a week, possibly by good fortune even more.  The weather is not at present anything very wonderful, warm enough no doubt but there are occasional showers, & never a clear view.  We are getting used to the warmer weather, also to the French method of timing one’s meals.  It is not at all difficult to last until mid-day on a roll & coffee provided one is not going to take any violent exercise.  There is one really first rate tea shop in the town where one can get jolly good chocolate & most scrumptious patisserie, éclairs & meringues.  One of the most amusing sights here is the tramway system.  A train can accommodate a most marvellous number of people.  No one thinks of going inside & there is no roof with seats, but some thirty or forty people squeeze onto the front & rear, hang on to the sides by their eyelids so that a train looks like one mass of clinging humanity.  It is a toss up whether or no one is requested to pay for a ticket but no one worries about that.  Yesterday we worked.  In the morning the dock & quays, & transports took up most of our time; in the afternoon we drove out to another of these camps, it was too far to walk so we hired a fiacre, a most swagger turn out.  Our job was to meet a train at one end of the town at 9.00 pm & conduct its occupants to a camp outside the other end.  The train was over three hours late so we had to amuse ourselves with a cinema until it turned up.  There was then all kinds of confusion & bustle & no one seemed to know quite what they were doing.  However everybody got away alright in the end & we finally got back here to bed at the unearthly hour of 4 a.m.  Fortunately that is the hour when the Hotel Buffet  opens so we were able to get something to eat before turning in.  The place is full of all manner of French Soldiers & their various bright colours make the streets look very picturesque.  There are a large number of Turcos with red fezzes & large baggy trousers.  Arabs too can be seen, in fact every kind of nationality.  Personally I think by far the smartest looking of the French soldiery is the Chasseur Alpin.  He takes a lot of trouble over his dress, & wears his clothes with an air.  Also his clothes seem to fit him, which is more that can be said of a large number of uniforms & their wearers.

26 December 1915

Hotel Terminus de Marseille Saint Charles

Here we are for an indefinite period, the longer the better.  It is true it will cost us a little more per day than when in the trenches, but not very much.  The weather is lovely & we have reverted to summer underclothing.   To resume our experiences from where my last letter left off, namely Abbeville.  We reached Paris at about 10 o’clock  & found that there was a train going on for the South at 12 midnight also another at  7.45 a.m. & as the latter arrived here just six hours before the former, we decided to spend the night at a hotel.  Never having seen Paris before I came to the conclusion that we ought to see as much as was possible so induced Jackson to walk me round one or two of the well known places.  We saw the Place de la Concorde & could just make out the Eiffel Tower with the aid of a bright moon.  We peeped over a bridge at the Seine, & came back past the monument to the Bastille.  The second stage of our journey was conducted in the height of luxury.  1st class on the P.L.M. express, with gorgeous meals in the restaurant car.  Towards the end – we did not arrive till midnight – we began to get somewhat tired of trains, but the thought of what we had escaped, namely 52 hours in a foodless cattle-truck, generally helped us to keep our spirits elevated.  The only blemish today has been the pestering crowd of females selling flags & badges of all sorts, it is the “journee des poilus” or some such nonsense of that sort.  This place is simply crowded with all sorts & kinds of strange people of all ranks & nationalities.  There are a few English Officers to be seen, but very few & in Paris I saw none, consequently we were the centre of attraction as we walked along the street.

23 December 1915

Thiennes

The time has now come for a move, for myself at any rate a move of some importance & mileage.  Tomorrow morning before day break I set forth in a car for Divisional Hq. then to a neighbouring railway station & from there the somewhat tedious journey to the Riviera.  Billeting is the reason for this sudden departure, & with me will be Ward-Jackson who is coming as a detraining officer or something of that sort.  We shall probably travel by Paris.  The usual military service, very slow & very uncomfortable will take us as far as the Gay City.  There if we can manage it we want to get on board the P.L.M. express & do the rest of the journey in comfort.  All this being the case it is extremely probable that some days will elapse before you get another letter.  I will write as soon as I can but it is quite conceivable that there will be difficulties about the censoring & postal arrangements.  When the regiment is coming on I don’t know but there seems a chance of our being left for a week or two in a Riviera Hotel, living on the fat of the land.  One blessing is that one is able to draw extra pay when detached from one’s regiment.  Today has been a busy one.  This morning the General wanted me to go with him to watch an out post scheme that was being carried out by the 4th Lincolns.  We splashed about all over the place & rode across country at the General’s usual fierce speed.  I was riding the new draft-horse that I spoke of in a previous epistle & though some of it’s antics were a trifle strange it was quite a comfortable ride on the whole.

22 December 1915

Thiennes

Once again my horse & I have parted company in the middle of the road, this time with rather greater violence but not much damage except to one of the brute’s knees.  I was riding Escombe’s little black mare home from “town”, & the road, the only road, is over what they call a “pont levis” – a sort of single-barrelled tower bridge.  This for some reason had become jammed in the raised position & the road was consequently blocked for all except pedestrians who were able to cross the canal by a single plank.  We therefore had to turn back & make for the next bridge, a detour of six miles.  The mare disapproved very strongly of this proceeding & thought it quite wrong to turn away when so near home.  She started straight away to stumble & flop about all over the place. Unfortunately for both of us she did it once too often & went down.  I came straight over her head & landed full on mine with a most appalling jerk which seemed to be driving my teeth into my shoulders.  My impetus carried me on, & I completed the somersault without delay, thus avoiding the painful necessity of having to stand on my head for an indefinite period in the middle of the road.  I was not actually knocked out but was incapable of serious thought for a few minutes.  My only anxiety was for a jar of pate de fois gras which I was carrying back in my pocket.  The horses now appeared superfluous so I sent them back with the groom & walked home by the plank, no easy matter with a head buzzing like an eight-day alarm clock.  A hot bath, a little brandy & a small dinner have improved my condition, though there is a considerable bump on my cranium.  My hat must have saved the situation, without it my head would have been pretty badly cut.  As it is, a bit of a bruise, which will last for a day or two, & a somewhat stiff neck are all that I have to show for it.  This morning I had the Court Martial as arranged, it was nothing very fearsome, in fact there were some things distinctly amusing about the proceedings.  Personally the fierce escort of Kaiser-like policemen caused me some difficulty in controlling my features.  A Canadian witness with a twang that could almost be cut with a knife talked about something being said in a “very dirty tone of voice”.  This very nearly caused an explosion of undignified mirth, but my admirable self control just saved the situation.

21 December 1915

Thiennes

We have just finished the most enormous meal.  The General, fearful of a sudden “move” coming to disturb his Christmas dinner decided to have the latter while he could, & so chose tonight for the event.  Accordingly we invited the Cure of the village, & one or two regimental officers & sat down to tackle goose & plum pudding, accompanied by Champagne, port, sloe gin & grand marnier. The fact that I am able to write this letter testifies to the restraint shown by all of us.  Needless to say I did not mix all these terrible beverages.  The cook rose to the occasion brilliantly & it was a very merry little party.  There was no bombardment within earshot, & the pile of letters waiting to be censored was the only indication that there was a war going on anywhere in the neighbourhood.   Today turned out wet & except for a visit to the invalid Escombe I spent the morning indoors, reading for the most part.  This afternoon Viccars & I set out at about 3.45 to walk to town.  It is not really very far but this time the road seemed absolutely endless.  We were both very tired when we got there & very glad of some tea.  My chilblained feet are a great nuisance, I only hope they will get right soon.  We struggled back somehow or other, & rested with the aid of a bath & change of clothing.  Tomorrow I am to sit in on a Court martial, just by way of getting a little experience in these curious & abstruse things.  It is not a very serious case, & as likely or not, the man will be acquitted.  There are a lot of minor details that require an enormous amount of attention & it is in order to master these that I want some experience.  A member of the court does nothing but give his opinion at the end, there is no questioning or anything of that sort.

20 December 1915

Thiennes

Today has not been eventful on the whole.  This morning, as I told you, I was to take a party to reconnoitre the road to the nearest railway station.  Owing to the lateness of the two orderlies the messages did not go out in time for the start & consequently only two out of the four officers turned up in time for the start.  With these I set forth but everything turned out very smoothly, there was not the slightest difficulty about finding the way, & the road was in as good condition as one can expect to find a road in this part of the country in winter.  This afternoon I rode into “town”, a new “town” this time & one that we have never visited before.  It is a large place with a most magnificent Church quite as big as some of our cathedrals.  There are several good shops & an excellent little “patisserie” where I had tea with Toller & Allen whom I met in the square.  “Town” is not more than three miles from our present billets & I rode on my little black mare who has been behaving very well of late.  Escombe is not very well just at present, he has got a touch of “flu” or something of the sort, & of course never needs a horse now, so I get the run of his completely.  The new signals has not yet arrived but will probably do so as soon as the great day of entrainment arrives.  The sickness of Escombe means one large piece of extra work for me.  It is the signals job to censor all the headquarters letters & this has now fallen to me, as being next junior.  As it is just Christmas time there is an extra large number, & a most tremendous batch has just come in.  I bought today one or two volumes of Nelson’s History of the War.  They seem well worth reading & are very cheap.  To my mind their charm is that they mention the names of Brigades & Regiments & fill the gaps left in the official accounts & despatches. The History is quite well written & reading it is very easy.

19 December 1915

Thiennes

We have completed our move, & now after a vast amount of shuffling are all settled in for the night more or less comfortably.  Headquarters are particularly well off except for the long distances that one has to walk from bed to office, & office to mess.  The girls school is merely an ordinary day-board-school. & Viccars & I are billeted in the teachers house.  My room is very clean & there are newly washed sheets on the bed which look very tempting.  Viccars is even better off as he has a small dressing–room attached to his bedroom.  There was considerably difficulty over one part of our billeting area, as at the last minute the Corps made some alteration which meant that some of our best billets were to be given over to somebody else, a most annoying circumstance.  This of course meant that when we arrived some of the men were homeless & had to wait out in the open until new billets could be found for them.  This was not a very easy matter, however everyone is under cover for tonight, & tomorrow we shall be able to re-sort ourselves a little.  There are several indications that our stay here is not likely to be very long & it is thought probable that we shall entrain in a few days.  Leave has ceased again, & this time the wire announcing that lugubrious fact, had a rather final sound, as if to say there was never to be any leave again.  Our present village actually boasts of a railway station but it is too small for entraining purposes, so we may have to walk some miles to find a station with adequate accommodation.  My job today was to bring along the headquarter transport, consisting of several waggons, carrying kits, blankets & office stuff.  This I managed without mishap though our new horse, that had never been in breast-harness before, caused a great deal of trouble at the start, & for the first mile or so flatly refused to pull his weight.  He is a spirited animal & rather too good to go between the shafts, so I  intend to give him a trial, & if he turns out well will “swop” him with one of the existing officers chargers, one or two of which are not much catch.  Tomorrow I am going to take a party to investigate the road to another railway station; we are separated from it by a canal & a river, & though the actual distance is not more than 4 miles as the crow flies, we may have to march 8 to get there.  That’s the worst of this country there are very few bridges.