Monthly Archives: May 2016

29 May 1916

I have moved & am now in a new mess – learning all about everything until such time as our people come here again and take over.  My opposite number – that is to say the fellow who does the job for these people & whom I am understudying is quite a sportsman.  He spent the whole of yesterday out between the lines in a rotten broken down ruin, with about enough cover to hide half a black beetle. Needless to say I have not the slightest intention of following his foolhardy example.  My present abode is in a dug-out – and a very good one though not very large.  There is just room for a bed – a small table & a washing stand.  I bath in the corridor outside & shall probably shave there also.  Tomorrow morning Bond – he is the other fellow – and I are starting very early, & are going round to have a look at things.  We shall come back to breakfast – probably with a most tremendous appetite.  Yesterday was the anniversary of Viccars’ wedding day & we celebrated it with a most terrific blow out.  Godsal happened to have two chickens sent him most opportunely, & Viccars himself provided a bottle or two of Veuve Cliquot.  We had Lugee of the 4th in to dinner & the whole thing was a great success except the butter.  Everyone likes the butter except the General who said it was filth & that he had never tasted worse.  As he has said this about every kind of butter we have tried – & we have had six different kinds in the last three days – we are getting used to it – but it is a little trying for the wretched Mess President. Just as we were enjoying the Port there was an enormous row, & every Bosch gunner within earshot seemed to open fire at once.  The din went on for about ten minutes when it stopped as suddenly as it had begun.  We of course only had the noise – some poor wretches presumably had the shells – though we have not heard of any damage being done anywhere about.  By the way is Boosey all right because I know that his Division have been having a very thin time of it lately.  I hope he himself did not come in for any Bosch strafe.  We are all very thankful that we moved away when we did.  Yesterday we had a large Church Parade followed by the presentation of a medal – or rather the ribband by the G.O.C. to a private in the 4th who had distinguished himself.  The G.O.C. read out a list of all the honours won by the Brigade & got rather muddled once or twice.  He was heard to speak of C-Gen-les & distinguished monduct quedals.  However all went very well, & everyone was duly impressed which is the great thing.  The Divisional Chaplain took the service – one Hales by name – a great improvement on the last man.  Hales is in this  mess & is a first rate man – also incidentally a High Church man who has the energy to take an early celebration every day in a little shelled out village just behind – or rather in the line.   Viccars was just a little annoyed yesterday because I got the band to play the wedding Glide for his benefit.  He was just having a quiet after diner snooze when the familiar strains of the real wedding March broke forth – and roused him with a start. The fact that it tailed off into rag-time went some way towards appeasing him but did not do everything – & he was still a little sore about it in the evening.

27 May 1916

After the most terrific & nerve-wearing preparations for the feeding of the C.in C. – that gallant officer did not come to lunch.  The lobster & the salmon & the trifles & the truffles were all downed by vulgar persons of the rank of Brigadier, mere nothings compared to the great C.in C. Personally I decided that my time could be more profitably spent in trenches, so did not see him myself, but I am told that the inspection was quite a success, & that he seemed very well pleased with everybody concerned.  As a matter of fact I have heard that he always takes his lunch with him in a luncheon basket – wherever he goes, so that we might have known there was no heed for all the luxuries.  Grinling who came to take my job has gone already.  The Division suddenly came to the conclusion that officers attached to learn staff duties would be of more use with other Brigades than their own – so there was a sort of general post.  We have got the Sherwood Forester – by name Hacken – in civil life a padre – though he does not look much like one out here.  This evening we have had a feast – The C.O. & Adjutant of the Monmouths came in to dinner – the Adj with whom I went on leave the time before last. Col Jones very nobly sent in some asparagus which he had had sent him from Uppingham – it was excellent in spite of the journey.  Tomorrow we celebrate the Anniversary of Viccars’ wedding day – it is, I believe to be a great occasion – “Veuve Cliquot” & other such things have already been putting in an appearance.  They day after tomorrow I leave the mess & go to live with the Brigadier in trenches so as to pick up all the threads of intelligence before our own people come in.  As I know most of the people in the other mess it won’t be very strange, but ought to be a most amusing & entertaining time.  What I relish less is having to stay on another week after my Brigade has gone to rest – in order to carry on the good work with the next people – with whom I am not on such good terms.  My mare is recovering by degrees & is now fit to ride carefully.  I rode over to the Field Cashier this morning – a distance of about 4 ½ miles & she managed that without very much difficulty.  She is suffering from a bad eye in addition to her other troubles & had to wear a patch over it.  She is always a little nervous, but the patch made things many times worse.  She didn’t like anything noisy passing her on the “blind” side.  There is some excitement just now over the Divisional “Soccer” Cup – our fourth battalion are left in for the final & stand a fairly good chance I think.  They have got a Sergt. Major who makes them train very hard, & is largely responsible for their success so far.   The weather has now improved again, & today was really quite respectable.  The band performs every evening on the village green from 6-7.30 & there is a large audience.  Almost all the men who can get there do so – & a large number of officers make it a sort of general meeting place.  I want to get the band some Gilbert & S – but find that it is impossible owing to the copyright which has something to do with Germany.  They have only got Iolanthe & The Mikado – & we could well do with the Yeomen – Gondoliers – Pinafore.

25 May 1916

The weather has now changed for the worse, & both yesterday & today can only be described as wet.  Yesterday as usual I was up in trenches, this time accompanying the General.  We seemed to be followed by shells almost wherever we went, & on one occasion fairly skedaddled down a trench to avoid a couple of obstreperous whizz-bangs.  There was another General taking us round & he, so far from caring for the beastly things, seemed actually to like making straight for the spot where the last one fell.  We got on quite successfully until about midday when the rain started, then things became unpleasant, & finally by the time we had an “Intelligence” Conference – that is to say the battalion intelligence officers & myself met to discuss various things in general, & the doings of our opposite neighbours in particular.  It poured hard the whole time so I expect some of them got pretty wet on their long way back to their various villages.  They are a fairly bright lot though nothing to shout about – one I think will not prove very much good.  This morning as it was still wet & trenches were therefore out of the question, I lectured to the scouts, snipers & intelligence men of two of the regiments.  This meant plugging over to the next village on a bike which was by no means pleasant – one had to wear a coat & got very hot in consequence.  This afternoon I went for a longish trek on a bicycle as the weather looked fairly promising.  I rode over to the next division’s school of instruction in ways of & means of combating asphyxiating gas. Not that I wanted to know anything about gas but because I had heard that one Cooper was there – an O.M.T. whom I knew pretty well.  I found him all right in a dug out being gassed – he had been there for two hours, & the test was nearly over.  I found him very fit & enjoying himself like the rest of us.  He gave me some tea & after that we discussed things & persons for about an hour.  I shall probably get over & see him again one day as he will not be so very far away from us.  This really is a most wonderfully quiet piece of the line: the few shells we ran into yesterday were exceptional & by no means the regular think.  It will probably become less so shortly because we never seem to be long in a good spot i.e. it always becomes hot when we have been there a week or two.

23 May 1916

I have been working fairly hard for the last few days.  Most of my hours of daylight were spent in the line – learning our way about our own, & getting all the news I could about the other gentleman’s trenches.  The weather has been exceedingly hot & so have I, but on the whole I have enjoyed myself quite a lot.  Tomorrow I am going round part of them with the Brigadier & after that we are to be honoured with a performance by our Divisional concert party, the “Whizzbangs”.  These gentlemen have not been running since we returned from the last, but before that time they were quite one of the best concert parties out here.  One gawky gunner made, & I believe still makes, a most amusing prima donna – & all the others are quite up to scratch.  A neighbouring Division has a similar institution which goes by the name of the “Bow Bells”.  The performers are all pros – whose salaries in peace time average about £50 a week.  They are said to be extremely good, and as one has to book seats in advance – most unusual out here – they probably are.  Several of us think of going over to see them when we get a free day.  This evening we have had a lecture from the intelligence officer of some former occupants of this delightful place.  He accompanied his remarks with lantern slides which were by no means bad – being mostly photographs taken by the air people.  It was quite interesting on the whole but should I think have been even more so.  I thought we were going to have a real row last night but fortunately it subsided – it was in this way.  During the evening an R.E. officer appeared & dismantled our only village pump – a deep well on which we rely entirely for our water for some four-hundred animals.  He explained that in the course of the nest few days another & better pump would be installed.  The Brigadier wasn’t having any & expressed a desire to talk to the man.  So over he came just at dinner time – in fact we were well into the hors d’oeuvres when he appeared short, black, scruffy, dirty, with an ill kempt moustache, no chin & round shoulders, he was a typical plumber – probably wore a seedy bowler on the back of his head before the war.  All went fairly smoothly until he started to explain to the Brigadier (who is an R.E. mind you) what exactly a well is, & why one needs a pump.  Then things began to happen, & if we hadn’t got him out of the door straight away I don’t like even now to think of what might have happened.

21 May 1916

We seem to have got into real summer weather for the last few days it has been as hot as we ever had it last year. A broiling sun & a cloudless sky – a blessing after the usual weeks of rain, to which we have almost got accustomed. Yesterday was a day of moving, & consequently not one of very good enjoyment.  I got a ride in the morning early just for one last look at the forest, and finally came on here in a motor lorry.  “Here” is not a bad little village but we have not a chateau this time.  There is a decent sized mess in one room, & two good offices in another.  We all have to sleep “out”.  I am in the same house as the Brigadier, & have to go through his room to get to mine.  This he doesn’t much like so as a rule I make use of the window which fortunately has a low sill.  I have a very comfortable bed & am in sheets.  Today was strenuous, there is no other word for it.  Setting forth early I made my way, a bicyclette, to the trenches & there met the four battalion intelligence officers & a guide.  For the whole blooming broiling day we plugged round these trenches getting hotter & hotter.  I have never been so hot & never want to be so again – at all events not just yet.  It is a curious place and not in the least like anything we have previously run into.  It certainly is the most comfortable bit of the line anywhere to be found – & in war lingo Khushi.  It is usually an understood thing that nothing could possibly be expected to grow in the neighbourhood of the trenches – least of all in “no man’s land”.  In this delightful place there is a large tree mid way between the lines, simply one mass of beautiful white blossom.  We wandered through an orchard today where the old Boshes put several lachrymatory shells a few days ago.  The smell of them is still hanging about round the shell holes & amongst the trees.  It is rather like mustard & cress with here & there a slight suspicion of nasturtium.  I do not think any of my four intelligence officers are going to be really great but have hope that they may improve with some careful attention.  They have all either been out some time, or have just returned after being wounded some months back.  Williams of the 5th will be one of them, & he & I always get on well together.

19 May 1916

You seem to have had quite a good time at Kingsgate. I rather envy you there these very hot days by the sea.  The weather here leaves absolutely nothing to be desired & I don’t mind how long it lasts.  Yesterday I was unable to do very much except potter about the village & have an argument or two with the always fractious owners of billets.  In the evening there was a Commdg. Officers Conference & I was definitely put in charge of all the Brigade Intelligence for which I shall be responsible.  Grimling, of the Lincolns, is going to do my old job, & I think he deserves it.  He is a married man & has done a lot of very hard work out here without anything to show for it.  This morning I arose early once more & went for a ride – it was gorgeous out & the forests were at their best.  Unfortunately my mare has not recovered from her fall & is still rather lame – so I had to borrow an old nag of the interpreters.  I too am very lame but can ride with comfort which is a great blessing.  The rest of the day has been almost too hot for any hard manual labour.  Billets have had a good deal of my attention & there have been one or two claims to settle.  One old lady is claiming £2.2. damages because someone has dug a small hole in the middle of one of her fields.  That is the sort of thing one occasionally gets – of course it is monstrously absurd.  We had a very merry dinner the other night with Col. Jones.  Godsal & I were there & two old Uppinghamians formerly of Jones’ house.  The never-to-be sufficiently marvelled at Collins produced some Champagne from goodness knows where, & also some fresh cherries – those were the pieces de resistance.   Last night we also gave a dinner party to two or three neighbours & our chef d’oeuvre was trout – fried in butter.  They were not caught but bought – & very good they were too though not quite up to Welsh standard.  There is a large trout farm not so very far from here, & one can always get any quantity from there fairly cheap.  By the time you get this we shall probably have left this heavenly spot & moved somewhere nearer the actual scenes of strife.  As a matter of fact I don’t think there is very much of the latter in these parts.

17 May 1916

Once more my horse & I have parted company & I am temporarily hors de combat. This time it is only a slightly torn muscle somewhere in the lower regions of my back.  Walking is difficult but probably a day or two will remedy everything.  It was a piece of bad luck. My horse slipped on a muddy path & came down: I saw there was nothing for it but a fall so tried to choose a soft spot. Unfortunately concealed in the long grass was a stake-like tree stump, & it was that which did the damage.   Yesterday & today were lovely.  Several of the 5th officers go for early morning rides in the forest & I went with them yesterday.  From six to seven – a good canter – shirt sleeves & no hat – the sun just coming through the dewy forest. Not a soul in sight & not a sound except the noises of innumerable birds.  No shells – no dust – no worry, no tight uniforms – no roads, just a grassy track, where the dripping trees nearly sweep one off one’s horse they are so low.  Quite the best thing we have struck so far.  It was in repeating the performance this morning that I had my spill – but it is nothing to worry about, & I hope to be with them again on Friday morning.  Meanwhile I hobble about with a stick & look, I imagine, something like a lunatic crab.  My ultimatum has gone through all right & I am to be replaced as orderly officer.  Someone else is going to come in & understudy the Staff Captain.  I meanwhile aim to devote my whole attention to bombs & intelligence – a very much more pleasant occupation.  It is quite on the cards that Jones will try & get me back to the Regt.  Whether or no he will succeed I don’t know, but should not be at all unhappy if he should.  I rode over into our nearest town yesterday afternoon. We were there once before when I was billeted in the newspaper shop.  It is only four or five miles from here so is quite within easy reach.  There is a moderately respectable trout stream here & when we next get out here I shall invest in a cheap rod & a fly or two.  Barton the 5th M.O. caught two rainbow trout yesterday in excellent condition – ½ lb & about 6 1/2oz.  one on a March Brown – &  the other on a Blue Upright.  He – lucky man – has only just got back from leave & is now going again in order to attend an investiture – his Military Cross.  Toller is exactly similarly placed & is also going.  I am writing this to the accompaniment of the Arcadians on our band – 100 or so yards away.  They have improved a lot lately, & are now really worth listening to.  Petch arrives here tomorrow I believe, & Banwell came yesterday so we shall have three O.M.T.s with us.  Mould has also returned with a most appalling stutter – I asked him a question just as I was going out for a ride, & he had just managed to get out the answer when I returned two hours or so later.   On the whole the 5th seem a little down on their luck just now, I don’t know why.  Several officers are sick & none of them seem very cheerful.  I think they want me back again – that’s probably about the measure of it.  Godsal & I are dining with the Colonel & Allen tonight – it is Mafeking night & that always has to be celebrated.  The XVIIth Foot were one of the regiments who were in the town for the whole of the siege.

13 May 1916

Another wet day today – there seems to be no hope of a real spell of summer weather yet.  It has rained more or less continuously the whole of today & does not show any signs of improvement for tomorrow.  Yesterday I had to spend indoors.  Our map-maker is on leave, & there was a large scale trench map to be made.  So I had to settle down to some real hard work.  I was at it the whole of yesterday & a very large part of this morning, & it is not finished yet.  Yesterday evening we had another dinner party – this time an Ambulance Colonel, an A.S.C. Captain, & one of the Adjutants were our guests.  It was an entire success, that is to say there was not the slightest suspicion of lubricating oil in the cream.  We got hold of some fresh asparagus which made an excellent piece de resistance, & I think everyone was well satisfied.  This morning we had a most enlightening lecture: in fact with exception the best lecture it has been my good fortune to hear.  The lecturer was a Scotchman & his subject the bayonet.  We are introducing an entirely new method of bayonet instruction, & he is the exponent of it.  He had a large audience & talked & demonstrated for nearly two hours; it seemed like a short half hour & everyone was very impressed.  He maintains that in the end this war will have to be won with the bayonet, & his great point is what he calls the “spirit” of the bayonet.  One cannot help feeling keen when one has listened to him & I think his ideas will undoubtedly be adopted everywhere.  He showed us the faults of the old method of instruction: gave us several examples of men who had the right spirit but could not use the weapon, & others who could do the latter but had not the right spirit.  He sounded very blood-thirsty but is undoubtedly right.  Every man ought to keep a book & jot down the number of Bosches that he kills – as it is the ordinary soldier takes rather less interest in his bayonet than he does in his cricket average in time of peace.  He also showed us how to tackle a man with a bayonet when one was maimed oneself, or had only a rifle with no bayonet: what parts of a man to go for & how to do it.  There was lots of it, & at times it was amusing as well as inspiring.  I do not think there was an officer or man there who did not go away with a strong determination to become a master of the weapon.  To turn to less serious topics.  Col. Jones has returned as I said before but has got no kit.  He has only one pair of slacks & no breeches so cannot appear on parade.  The very minute piece of shell which caused the wound is still in his hand but is doing no harm there.  As he says, it must really be a very large piece as his weight has increased two pounds in the last fortnight.  We have not so far had any more cases of horrible infectious diseases, & I trust that we are by now immune from them.  All sorts of people come & squirt all sorts of filthy mixtures on the floors & walls of the wrong rooms, & imagine that they are driving away germs: so long as they are happy we don’t mind – they wont go so far as to squirt the mess I hope.

11 May 1916

After a damp wet day the weather has now returned to its former satisfactory state, & we are enjoying plenty of sunshine. Unfortunately our domestic affairs are not as delectable as the weather.  Viccars servant has got scarlet fever, & today our mess waiter disappeared, with what has since been diagnosed as German measles.  The infectious groom-batman is suffering with a bad throat & is to see a doctor in the morning when he will be probably found to have mumps.  In the midst of all these dinner parties we managed to struggle along somehow with our disorganized staff, but my poor servant does not at all relish acting a butler.  Last night Toller, Allen, & Jackson of ours were all here & the dinner went off most nobly except for one unfortunate thing.  For a sweet we had decided on trifle, & with great difficulty I had managed to arrange about some cream.  It was to come at the last straight from the separator.  To our horror the careless operator had spilled a considerable quantity of lubricating oil over the separating machine, & the whole ”creation” was ruined by an all-pervading taste, not unlike caster-oil.  However they were all very good about it, & refrained from making any rude remarks.  The Colonel got back from England today – his wound was really a mere nothing & he is none the worse for it.  He has arrived just in time for a tremendous bust that the regiment is having tonight to celebrate Toller’s & Allen’s birthdays which are yesterday & tomorrow.  Champagne is said to be there in jug-fulls, & old Collins is certainly looking tremendously pleased with himself.  Godsal also came back today from leave, but as our map-maker has gone in the other direction – I shall still be kept pretty busy no doubt.  The General has already told me of several maps he wants me to do.  I have been having a long history lesson today from the old dame in my billet. It appears that this place has had quite an interesting career in the course of which it has been three times burnt down by the English.  Joan of Arc spent a night in the chateau here when on her way to Rouen – in captivity of course.  Marlborough also had dealings with the place.  He came as far south as our last billet & then sent an envoy here to demand the surrender of the town.  The good folk here refused, & when the envoy spoke of possible reprisals, immediately shot him.  For all this Marlborough & the “brutal” English sacked & burnt the town.  There are said to be all sorts of underground passages & things up at the old chateau but no one has yet taken the trouble to investigate them.  It looks quite the sort of place to have something of the sort.  What there is left of the really old castle seems to have been very thoroughly built, & the walls are enormously thick.  Yesterday morning I rode over & visited the old place where I was billeted in the newsvendor’s shop – we are quite close now & it is not a bad place for shopping.  I shall probably go there again tomorrow as we are entertaining a R.A.M.C. Colonel, & one or two staff officers to dinner.  The country here gets prettier every day.  I went for a long ride through the forest today & have seldom seen anything much prettier.  The town itself lies at the junction of two valleys & there are forests all round over the various little hill ranges.

9 May 1916

Here we are comfortably settled in our new place – & have had about as bad a day for the move as one could well want.  It has rained almost ceaselessly the whole day, & is keeping it on now – that is to say well into the night,  The Chateau has proved to be an excellent place, with sumptuous offices & a most comfortable mess – also a very useful little lounge.  In fact the whole thing is by common consent about the best thing we have so far struck.  The Brigadier is billeted on the somewhat garrulous Mayor – a very good fellow really but terribly anxious to tell one the names of all the British Generals to whom he had given a lodging.  But he makes up for his garrulousness by being very good-natured, & has given me a lot of help in the billeting today.  The Division has been very kind to us here, they keep on telling us of new units whom they are sending into the town, & requesting us to find room for them.  We hope there is room for all but it is a great nuisance having continually to squash up somebody to make room for somebody else.  We are all in for tonight, & as far as we know there is only one party coming in tomorrow, so I expect we shall be all right in the end.  There was rather a horrible scene when we first got here this morning.  Several lewd fellows of the baser sort (A.S.C. to wit) came clamouring round for billets & making a general nuisance of themselves; they had of course to be gently but firmly told to wait until they were given something, & not to push like naughty children.  They did not seem at all to like this form of rebuke, & the result will probably be a visible deterioration in our rations.  Then there was another small fracas with some Ambulance people who had spread themselves over all the best billets in the town.  These were quited by my consenting to go round & look for other accommodation, in company with their Major.  At the first place to which we came, I had a sort of feeling that he was bursting to air his French, while I was by no means averse to shewing what I could do in that line.  My natural subordination, coupled with a desire not to make a fool of myself, led me to let him open the game – but I won, for he never got further than the “Madame” – he stuttered hopelessly worse than Lothian N-I-N.  Viccars & I are with an austere looking but very friendly old lady with an English-speaking grand-daughter – companion or something of the sort.  I have a jolly room up at the top of the house with a magnificent view.  Once more I am in real sheets, & this time there is the added luxury of a small dressing-room, with all sorts of washing facilities.  I don’t mind how long we stop at this place.  Yesterday afternoon was spent in the unpleasant business of a court-martial.  It was a rotten case all through & a very difficult one to manage.  It is always hard when a fellow is had up for cowardice – that is a crime for which it is not easy for one human being to judge another.  The trail lasted a very long time, & was altogether most annoying.  After tea I met several fellows of the 4th ours – & went for a first rate walk with them through one of the neighbouring forests.  The whole country is now looking its’ best, & we only want good weather to be in a sort of paradise.  The number of chateaux testifies to the popularity of the neighbourhood, & I must say I am not surprised – it is very fine.  The other night we had trifle for dinner – it was not a success, today I discovered why.  I told the cook to soak the sponge-cake in Sherry, referring to our own marsala of which we have plenty just now.  He sent Webber, the General’s terrible servant, for some; the latter returned with Cherry brandy – near enough for him – & the cook had used it without saying anything!