I had hoped for a day of peace yesterday but it was not to be. We had an early Celebration in a local protestant Chapel, converted during the war to a C.E. Church, but after that there was the usual worry & bustle always to be found on the day before a move. In the morning there were conferences, & orders, & counter-orders, & finally our billeting area for the next night was given us. By good fortune Viccars was able to secure a car for the afternoon, & taking Bonnassieux with us we rode over soon after lunch to see the ground. It snowed at intervals & riding was very much pleasanter than the “Charabong” of the day before, & we got first look in of the area. For Bde HQ we found a White Chateau, somewhat dilapidated, but furnished & uninhabited. Six bedrooms & as many sitting rooms provide us with a fair amount of comfort, & we have nothing to grumble about. On reaching home again, there were several maps of areas & things which had to be drawn & I was working pretty late. This was a nuisance because we had an early start this morning. Today has been a curious mixture of snow showers, & bright warm sunlight. It is now freezing very hard & goodness only knows what will happen tomorrow. All this cold & wet is playing horrible tricks with my feet. Our chateau is proving very comfortable, & Viccars & I are in a little room leading into a dressing-sitting room. Our dining-room is very spacious & fortunately the fire is good enough to keep it warm. There is quite a good park, a gigantic orchard & some small woods – it is quite a pity that our stay cannot be for more than a day or two.
Work again at last thank goodness, & plenty of it. We are still in the same place but shall very shortly take over some trenches, & at present are kept busy with maps, plans, photographs, & all sorts & kinds of preparations. Yesterday there was nothing very much doing until after tea. In the morning I visited several battalions, making arrangements about bombs, & seeing to one or two things in general. After tea when I was just about thinking of writing you a line or two, a whole bundle of maps arrived, & I had to work on them in preparation for today. We have just got back now from today’s business – namely one of those horrible joy-rides which have been only too frequent during the past few weeks. The idea was that we should go & visit the trenches that we are to take over, this proved impossible. At 8.0 a.m. this morning, the hour fixed for our departure, it was snowing hard & bitterly cold; I took every available stitch of clothing & my gum boots. We had about twenty nine miles to go, & it took a good four hours, one of which was spent in extracting ourselves from a ditch-snow-drift. The whole journey took so long that it was impossible to go further than to the head-quarters & one of two of the villages: we did not get a glimpse of any trenches. The area to which we are going is a very famous one indeed; the names of most of the villages are familiar to all. Naturally we expected that the trenches would be horrible in such a place, & were looking forward to something considerably worse than Ypres. Strange however as it may appear, the people there say that they are very quiet & we can expect to have a very peaceful time. So we will hope for the best. The ride home was apalling. We were wet, very wet, & more than cold, we were actually frozen in places. My feet were about as painful as I have ever known them, & my hands still feel numbed, witness my handwriting. However a hot bath & a hot meal (jugged hare which we “found”) – & I for one feel very much improved.
Yesterday we moved in here, & here we still are. It is a modest sized town, too large to be called a village, but not by any means the largest town we have been in. The billets are rather a tight fit, & I occupy a back room over a news-vendors establishment. This is the first time that we have ever been billeted in a town & it is rather nice in a way for a change. The country is distinctly more comfortable, but it is of course very convenient having the shops. We had originally fixed up the mess in an empty house where our officers are, but when the General came he refused point blank to live there. So we had to search about, & eventually hit on this place which is a comfortable enough room but has no kitchen. We have managed to rig up our stove in the stable, & are getting along alright. It seems rather funny in the evenings after dinner instead of walking to one’s billet across a sloppy field or down some muddy lane, one just strolls down the pavement. There are of course no lights in either streets or shops, but we are not near enough to the front line to feel the effect of the Bosch activities. We are all in here now & it is quite nice not having to walk several miles to see one of the battalions. How long we shall be here I do not know but I should think that it would not be very long before we are on the move again. We have lost all our snow now, a fine sunny day yesterday melted the last that remained. Today has not been quite so satisfactory. It has been raining a little & tonight it looks as if we might even have some more snow. There is one rather interesting relic at this place – a fairly large “Citadelle”. It consists chiefly of some enormous bucked up banks, with a moat & gates & a bridge. By no means an easy thing to take when there were no high explosive shells flying about. It is now being used as a hospital, while the moat with its high banks on either side provides us with a very safe rifle range. Have you heard the latest submarine story it is really rather good, so in case you have not I will tell it you. A large convoy of troop ships was crossing the Mediterranean when one of them sighted a periscope. All immediately turned right handed so as to bring their stern guns to bear on the enemy & at the same time present as small a target as possible for torpedoes. The two cruisers who were escorting the convoy opened a heavy fire as did the troopers, while the troops in the latter made good practice with both rifles & machine gun fire. After five minutes heavy firing the periscope still showed no signs of disappearing, & as by this time the submarine ought to have been sunk, one of the cruisers lowered a boat & rowed to the spot. It was then discovered that the periscope was in reality the hoof of a dead mule. The brute must have died on some transport, & been buried at sea. Though why he should choose to float with one leg stiff & sticking straight out of the water, is a question that takes more answering, than any one of us can give. There is no leave going just at present, and as Andrew returns on April 14th I shall not hurry about asking for it until well on towards the end of the month. Even though the old Bosch is not actually making things lively for us, it is not very nice for the French to see our people going on leave while they are fighting for all they are worth at Verdun. It seems strange that we should have to wait for papers from England to learn how things are going on at a town not so very many hundreds of miles away. Tomorrow night the General & Bde Major are having dinner with the G.O.C. so we are thinking of having a very recherché little meal here on our own. There is still a bottle of phizz to be drunk that has been hanging about for some time & as one bottle is hardly enough for six, tomorrow would be a good opportunity for reducing our mess-baggage by one bottle-extra dry.