We have moved & are here for one night, going on again in all probability tomorrow. We are very closely packed, & there is scarcely any accommodation for officers though I myself have been lucky enough to secure a bed. My room will hold either the bed, or me, but, except with great difficulty, not both of us at the same time. This morning started very brightly, & we had a warm & sunny journey; arriving here just about midday. I walked all the way & quite enjoyed it. We had no mishaps, & managed all the hills without trouble. We found everything ready when we got here, & had lunch in an Auberge – that is all of us except the General & Godsall who went into ——– a town of some size about a couple of miles from here. They say they had a wonderfully good lunch but we ourselves did none too badly. After lunch the Major & I rode over to another young town there is in the neighbourhood, & met several old friends that we have not seen for some time. On the way home it started to rain & this has kept on almost without cessation ever since. We got back just in time for tea at our new H.Q. After tea I walked over to the other town where the General had lunch & paid a call on “Ours” who had just arrived. We shall probably join them there tomorrow & stay there for the night – not making any very long trek. I ran into another of the Marseilles railway officers this afternoon, he is working at this station curiously enough. It is rather a strange coincidence that two of those whom we knew down there should find their way into the same area as ourselves up here.
Once more we are to get on the move, & tonight is to be our last in this village. I shall be quite sorry to leave the railway station where I have a very comfortable bed, & the mess is by no means a bad place. Fortunately the thaw has, I think, really set in at last, & our transport ought to manage the roads without over much difficulty. Viccars will probably go on ahead to look for billets for us, & I shall be left with my usual job of bringing things along, & seeing that we don’t leave too much either behind or by the wayside. We usually have considerably more stuff than we ought to, so packing is a fine art. This morning started with a mystery, most exciting, & in a way quite dramatic. It was thus. The 8.30 pm train last night when crossing a bridge ran into something. It took a hundred yards to pull up & then there was found the body of a horse. It was completely dark & the solution of the mystery was therefore left until daylight. This morning our investigations began. A sentry said that he had seen a man riding a horse along the line from the direction of B to A, the latter our station. The horse was found at a bridge about 100 yds short of A. Near it was found one stirrup iron & leather, a part of a girth, & a waterproof cape. The line was originally a single one & had been recently doubled – so that while one half (longitudinally) of the bridge was solid, the other half was open sleepers laid on trestles. Apparently the rider rode along from A, but just after he had crossed the bridge by the solid side heard a train coming on his line. He therefore crossed on to the other line, & tried to go back. The horse apparently put its foot in between the sleepers, & broke its leg. The rider finding he had not time to get everything away, took off the bridle & cut off the saddle, leaving one stirrup underneath the horse. But where is the man? He is nowhere to be found & it is all most mysterious. All this of course provided admirable amusement for the local & military sleuth hounds who tracked the hoof marks back to A, & examined all the remains & looked very wise, &, incidentally discovered nothing. Somewhere about midday it came on to rain, & as it was no weather for outdoor sports we decided on a kit inspection. This little game I carried out in a loft. It is a weary business as it is awfully hard to remember what each man ought to have. You might tell Dini next time you see her that I am very sorry but I do not wear a “red” hat. Only people actually on the staff wear them, & I am not on the Staff – only attached to Bde Hqrs, that is all. The General & Bde Major, & Staff Captain all wear them, but they are properly appointed staff people whereas I am only a sort of bottle washer, doing work about the ‘ouse. I do not think there is anything more to say just ——————-.
This afternoon I set out to walk to the 5th Btn. and quite failed to realize that they were five miles away. Ten miles is not, on the whole, a very terrible walk but except on the main roads which were fairly free from snow, one had to plough through six inches or more of soft clinging stuff. Occasionally where the sun had not had a chance things were even worse because the surface was still very slippery indeed. Everybody of ours seemed in the best of health & spirits, & all appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. The lads of the village, aided by most of the local school children were carrying on a vigorous snow ball offensive against A Company, who were managing with equal vigour to “keep their end up”. Most of the troops have had to knock off ordinary training & set to work at clearing, scraping, cleaning & otherwise rendering passable the various main roads of supply. I have just received a Christmas Card from Pte R Cattley of the S.B. Section Winnipeg Rifles. It has taken rather a long time to get here, but better late than never. I am ashamed to say that it is ages since I wrote to him: I must certainly do so now. Our former interpreter has returned to us – Bonnassieux by name. In former times he used to run the mess but whether or no he will continue to do so I cannot say; very probably I shall carry on with it, now that I have got everything under my thumb. At present there is no sign of any leave being granted, but we are all hoping for the best. I do not mind there being no leave provided the reason for the stopping is the coming at last of the “Great Push”, but for any smaller reason I object very strongly. The old Sergt Major is due back in England very shortly with an operation pending on his leg, in which he has managed to break a blood-vessel. I should think that his fighting days are almost over, in any case he has earned a long rest now.
Today is the Anniversary of the beginning or our real active service – the day on which we left Sawbridgeworth. It seems more like twelve years than twelve months, so much has happened in between. However they have been a jolly good twelve months, & I for one have nothing to grouse about. Yesterday, as I told you, we were to move, & for once in our lives we did as we expected. Viccars came over here early to look for billets, & we followed very soon after him. It was freezing hard, & there was snow at intervals, so that you can imagine the state of the roads. So bad were they that it was impossible for us to use our waggons, & for heavy transport we had to rely entirely on our motor lorries which were far from numerous. Personally I am very comfortably housed here, but on the whole the arrangements here are not so satisfactory as in the last place. We are not compact, & there is a long walk between the mess & the office. I am in the Railway Station, & have quite a good bedroom there. The only objection is of course the noise made by the constant steam trains. Today it was snowing when we got up & has kept at it hard & steadily ever since. The R.A. Band, some forty instruments, who are touring France, played here during the morning. They were jolly good & their selections included the ever popular Bric a Brac. This last almost induced Viccars & myself to make a disgraceful exhibition of ourselves & dance down the road. All day troops have been going through. Out of the village is a long steep hill up, & this soon became slippery. By midday there was a jam in the transport & ever since then we have been keeping some six hundred men & every available horse at work pulling them up. There must be five hundred vehicles of one sort & another, & what they would do if there were no troops in the village I cannot imagine.
I heard a gun go off! It was probably one of ours, but think what excitement, how we all quiver, how some turn pale – ah! It is a grim war: we must be within twenty miles of the line almost. Yesterday was spent in a move – fortunately we had a fine day for it & everything went smoothly in consequence. I went over early in the morning in a motor lorry, a very nice ride but exceedingly cold in the feet – result a good crop of chilblains. We are now in a Chateau unoccupied, & almost unfurnished. There are a few chairs, mostly broken, a dining room table & several bedsteads. I have a room to myself, & one of the better beds, but for it with a missing pane of glass in the window. We are gradually decorating our mess room with Bairnsfather Sketches from the Bystander, & some of Kircheners horrible things from the Sketch. The cyclist fellows are in the same village as ourselves, & I paid a call on Pullinger yesterday. He seems to be very flourishing but is rather bored at still being a junior Subaltern. He has discovered one of his IVth form “kids” has got his Commission in this Division, & shudders to think that the latter may get promoted first. Today has also been fine but very cold, & now late in the evening it has started to snow, quietly & steadily. If we have as much snow as we have had rain lately, we shall very soon be unable to get out of our front door. This afternoon I walked over to the 5th who are only a couple of miles or so away. Headquarters gave me tea & both the C.O. & Toller seemed very fit, & full of life. After tea I paid a visit to Farmer & the others of his Company, a good many just at present as they have got a superfluity of officers. There are very few left now of those who originally came out from England in my platoon, a year ago; not more than half a dozen at the most.
Yesterday I wrote no letter – there was nothing very much to say, & I had been using a pencil all day & by evening my fingers needed a little rest. It rained of course, & rained hard & steadily all day without stopping. There was no wind & it was not cold it was just wet. Except to walk once or twice from billet to office, & office to mess & back again, I never went out at all & spent my time at map work. We used to have a really first rate map maker in the office but he has now left us, & we have got no one. Viccars wanted some maps doing of our new area & so I by way of practice did them for him. They took rather a long time to do, &, as I had none of the proper weapons, were a bit of a job lot as you might imagine.
The “new area” reminds me that we are moving tomorrow some distance nearer, & may, if the wind is in the right direction, hear one of our own big guns go off, if it is only far enough behind the line. What excitement! I am beginning to wonder whether my nerves will stand the strain.
They have just thrust a new job on to me in addition to my other duties – I have become a sort of Brigade Anarchist. I am now the mastermind who plots the assassinations & keeps the individual assassins supplied with the necessary weapons. Personally I shall not have to do any bombing, I do not care for the amusement as much as some people seem to.
Today another trip to town to buy a few more things for the mess. As it did not start raining until tea time I had quite a pleasant ride. The wind was very invigorating, so was the horse, especially on the approach to any mechanically driven vehicle.
At last a really good day, both as regards weather & other events. In place of the latter it would perhaps be more correct to say war, or tactical operations or manoeuvres, but I prefer my word & it will do. I rose at the early time of 6. & breakfasted half an hour later, starting with Godsall at 7.on a motor lorry. I was on the box, inside there was too much of a crush, as there were many officers of the ——s on board. We went gaily on for about 30 miles mostly in the direction of the “Line” & finally fetched up at our destination, a small village. On the road we passed Toller, wearing his W.S.O. Hatband – it is quite a long time since I have seen any of the 5th. Having arrived we started on our job. What it was is of no importance, the main point is that we had a six mile walk straight across country & good country it was too, with some first rate views. There was a strong fairly cold wind blowing, but it was a dry wind & coupled with a bright sun made the whole thing a really good show. I felt that I personally could have walked for miles. We returned to our car & after a picnic lunch, sandwiches, cake, cheese & Perrier – we started home. The homeward journey was a trifle cold & one or two spots of rain fell, but nothing to talk about.
On getting in I found a letter waiting from B.B. Davies in which he tells me that all the time I was in Alexandria, the Sergt Major was there in Hosp. – & I never knew it – that is what I call real bad luck. He also told me one other thing which is about the best “bit” that I have heard for a long time. I cannot tell it you in a letter – but will save it up for when my leave does come off – sometime next month I hope.
Tonight we are having a bit of a bust – two guests to dinner – & are therefore trying to turn out a good meal for them, I only hope the Cook will succeed. I must go & dress for it now, so will envelope this.
Another soaking afternoon, this time without even any intervals of sunshine. During the night we had a young hurricane & on one occasion it got so fierce that I had to get out of bed & stop one or two things rattling. From the hurricane there was at least one temporary good result: it was so violent that it blew away the rain & we had an absolutely fine morning until midday, when, with the end of the wind there started the deluge.
Fortunately Viccars had decided to spend the morning in doors so I got away for a ride. I had the same horse as yesterday, but, except for his lurid intervals when meeting cars, it was one of the best rides I have ever had. We went about 3 miles down to the river, another 6 or so across & along the other side & then recrossing came straight home, a matter of another 5 miles or so. The country is really very flat, & I should think in springtime will be hard to beat. It is by no means dead flat & there are lots of little country lanes, in & out of the hills, which are not very high but numerous. There are plenty of small woods & lots of pretty little villages, each of them with its quaintly shaped Church. I have been inside one or two of these Churches, & I must say there is a most tremendous contrast between the in – & the ex-teriors. Outside they are usually built of grey stone which has got considerably worn away & looks to be several hundred years old. Inside are all the colours of the rainbow: new woodwork & new whitewash on the walls; hideous stain glass, & glaringly clothed figures. All the pleasure of the beautiful exterior is taken away by the positive hideousness of the inside.
On my way home I had to cross the line by the station & there met Murphy who was R.T.O. at Marseilles when we went first there. I believe I have told you all about him. It is rather curious that he should detrain the division there first, & then come to this remote corner of the globe to detrain them all again.
I should think we ought to get a move on soon & go up a little bit nearer the good old “hate” areas. To be absolutely truthful I rather hope we do, I am getting just a little bit bored with peace. It is more than 2 months since we heard the sound of a gun, except of course at about 20 miles distance. Besides it will be interesting going to an entirely new bit of the line.
Neither today nor yesterday any letters, & only one the day before. Last night we had rather a trying time with the lord of the manor. The old fellow tried to make out that the night before our guard who sleep in one of his stables nearly set fire to the show, & that he was “absolument asphixie” by the smoke which came in through his bedroom window, thereby causing him to pass an exceedingly bad night, of course the whole thing was absolute twaddle from start to finish, but one has to humour these funny old things, & they can make an appalling nuisances of themselves if they choose to set about it. We managed to calm him down all right, but only by moving the guard elsewhere.
Today has been spent in marketing. The Mess was getting very low in some things & so I rode on to town & bought large quantities of stuff which I consigned to an attendant limber. I find that in some respects my education has been sadly neglected: I have not the remotest idea what is the correct sort of price to pay for a cauliflower, or bloaters, or macaroni or anything of that sort. I managed to get most of that I wanted fairly cheaply, though in some cases I had to go in for extensive bargaining, which is not very easy in a foreign language. The town is about 71/2 miles away & it rained almost all day, so you can imagine what it was like riding there & back. In addition to the discomforts of the weather, there was also the delight of having a horse that flatly refused to meet any kind of mechanically driven vehicle. He reared & kicked & galloped & did all sorts of curious things. However this time there were fortunately no accidents. The “town” has rather a fine Church, particularly fine from outside. Inside of course it is very gaudy, but at the same time there are one or two things that are rather attractive. The decoration of the roof is quite different to anything I have ever seen elsewhere.
Many thanks for another letter which arrived this morning it was dated the 10th so we are getting more or less up to date at last. There was also one from Andrew ——-By the way next time you write will you explain to me what exactly is the system of studies at Shrewsbury: I picked up a gaudy coloured tapestry at Alexandria, & think it might look well on a study wall, being as it is, absolutely hideous. There is every chance of us getting leave again soon, so you may expect to see me presently, I don’t know how soon the General will let me go but leave is starting again & it is my turn. If I can possibly get the chance I will warn you beforehand of my coming, but as often as not these things are decided at the eleventh hour & there is no time for a letter to reach you before I turn up myself.
Yesterday’s little dinner went off very well, the phizz proving very good, & the plum pudding – one kept one over from Xmas, being absolutely excellent. I am now feeling terribly old & even found a grey hair this morning when I was completing my toilet before the mirror. I shall soon have to take to rouge & hair dyes & all other such rejuvenating appliances. Today started like yesterday with plenty of rain but has improved this afternoon. Unfortunately everyone else has gone out so I have perforce to stay behind & give an occasional eye to the office. We are gradually getting the Mess into a state of good order & ought I think to be able to run it fairly economically during the summer. Eggs are still very expensive but ought soon to get cheaper, at least I hope so. Will you send me one of the monthly C.S.S.A. Catalogues – I want to see how the prices are at home for groceries etc. We are having to pay most exhorbitantly here for things like coffee & butter.
There is nothing more to tell you just now.