Daily Archives: June 30, 2016

30 June 1916

It is a day or two since I last wrote but as I said in my last letter we are now again at work. Dug-outs form a comfortable if not very imposing chateau, and I personally am sharing a large boarded apartment with the General. I purposely say boarded because that is a sign of great wealth in the dug-out world: most people have to be content with earthy, or at the best canvas-covered sides & roof. Not so we – we have a panelled chamber. Viccars and Godsal share one next door, and on the other side is the office. The other officers and the signallers are in another series less luxurious, but perhaps more shell-proof. This last quality is by no means likely to be tested, as we are somewhat nearer London then the firing line. You have probably read in the “Daily Mail” all about torrents of shells – the “sullen puffs of high explosive projectiles, bursting in battalions”. Do not imagine that we are suffering from earache or anything of that sort – from our present abode we can hardly hear a gun go off – more especially as the wind is in the wrong direction. I have paid one or two visits to the trenches, there perhaps there is more noise than usual, but hardly enough to justify the columns of nonsense in the Daily Mail. The weather has been so appalling until today that the trenches themselves have been most horrible places. So bad are they that yesterday when wandering about up there I simply wore shorts and an old pair of boots and got wet almost up to my waist. Today we have got some summer: there is a good drying wind and the clouds have lifted, so everything promises well for a fine day tomorrow. In the last few days we have had several cases of “trench feet” again – a disease which is practically the same as “frost-bite” – and therefore one that one does not expect to get in the middle of summer. There is just one consolation, and that is that the Bosch must have found it a wet and uncongenial task trying to walk about, let alone repair trenches, that have been dealt with by the sullen puffs here-to fore recorded. I cannot imagine what idea the old Bosch had in his head when he sent out the amazing wireless reports about the capture of Lille etc. by us – it is so obvious that if any such thing had really happened we should very soon have talked about it ourselves. It almost looks as if Von – whoever it is, is going off his chump. Although we sleep and do our work in dug-outs we actually mess in a small farm-house, just across the road. The whole female population of the village have been removed along with all the children. In this farm there is one old man left and a youth of about fourteen. The latter is a really interesting person – unkempt, wild, very strong and athletic – and yet knowing more than any average English youth of 16 with a Public School Education. When war started he was at school at Lille where he was taught English – and so well taught that he talks it now idiomatically and with a first rate pronunciation leaving school at 12 ½ !! He knows quite a lot about maths and trigonometry, anatomy: thinks as quickly in yards and miles as he can in metres and kilometres, knows more geography than I should even learn in twenty years – and has incidentally studied human nature and talks like a man of thirty. All this in an ordinary farmer’s son with no pretensions of being clever, and no ambition beyond that of the ordinary youth who wants to be an “Engineer”. For that is to be his profession I believe – his knowledge of mechanics and machinery, motors and engines etc. to say nothing of aeroplanes, is proportionately vast. I am quite sure he will turn out to be a marvellous inventor someday. His name is Michael – I forget the surname if I ever knew it. The Division are close to us in the most disgracefully luxurious suite of dug-outs that one ever saw. Long subterranean corridors leading from one office to another; electric light in every room and passages – carefully boarded skylights at safe angles, and goodness knows how many feet of earth and stuff above their heads – enough to keep out a whole bombardment of 17” shells. It is quite possible that I may be attached to Divisional H.Q. for a day or two with some liaison work – but of that I shall probably be able to tell you more later. I have no desire to go any further from my battalion than I already am; and have quite come to the conclusion that there is only one job worth doing in this war, and that is commanding a platoon or company, as the case may be. Intelligence work is of course my forte but fate seems against me in this. I never get left alone with it for long and am always having all sorts of odd jobs thrust at me which interfere with the main thing. Now it’s the Divisional Liaison at a time when in my own humble opinion I could be of very much more use if I stayed with my people. I feel that I am always being rather pulled about, and never left alone to do one job well – so after all the regiment is best. That poor wretch Bosworth has been bitten on the arm by a rat, a type of creature very common in the barn which serves him for a bedroom. He is I think rather fortunate not to be poisoned in any way by it – a rat-bite can be very serious I suppose if not dealt with promptly and properly. The General is a quaint person in his bedroom. He spends at least twenty minutes every evening cleaning his teeth – a most solemn performance always. Then in the early morning he does a series of Salome like exercises – most entrancing and amusing to watch – so much so that I invariably have to select that moment for studying the weather, for fear of being able to keep a straight face.