Monthly Archives: July 2016

31 July 1916

I was not destined to enjoy for very long my freedom from formentations. The day before yesterday I went up to spend the night wandering round trenches and called on Barton on the way up. He seemed to think that my idiotic knee had not entirely ceased being idiotic after all, and so yesterday and today have had to be more or less rest days – office work and nothing really interesting. That night however I had quite an enjoyable time and stayed up long enough to see the sunrise. We are at present having summer weather really hot, but always start the day with a heavy mist. We had very much the same thing for a week or so last year. It is simply gorgeous out between five and six, or thereabouts. Before that it is rather cold but by five it is just beginning to get really warm without getting too hot. Of the heat I will never complain – anything in fact except the rain. There is only one grouse that I can raise at present and that is that I am nightly devoured by squadrons of mosquitoes. At present solitary scouts are hunting round my candle – of which I have bagged five victims – now laid out in a row before me. But it is really no good as the number that I destroy now will not have the least effect on the number that will come and slaughter me tonight. Poor Williams has got a couple of pieces of bomb in him from an accident at his bomb school yesterday afternoon. Some silly old bomb went off when there was no reason for it to do so, and he got a piece in the chest and a cut over the eye. Neither was very serious but I expect they will take him to England. It is a great nuisance – these things will happen sometimes even in the best regulated schools. This time last year we were having just about the worst time we ever had – living in that never-to-be-sufficiently-maligned wood, being potted at with shrapnel. Doubtless you remember hearing all about it at the time. It is very different now – here we are quite peaceful by comparison. It is true the old Bosch occasionally tries to strafe a bit with mortars and things but it is mostly noise, and very seldom does anyone get hurt. Tomorrow I think I shall be once more free to wander – and I hope permanently so. For a small scratch it has been really quite a lengthy business getting the thing right. I think the cause of all the trouble is the general foulness of the water and the land of this hopeless country – the slightest cut goes wrong if it is not kept covered up until it heals. Next time I shall know what to do.

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28 July 1916

Having not written for about a month it is now about time that I did so. Doubtless the lack of news gave you the hint that I was now back at my old games and that my knee had ceased to be troublesome. I paid my first visit to the trenches, since convalescence, yesterday and got very hot doing so – the weather has improved vastly. We start each morning with a heavy, damp Scotch mist, but that clears for the afternoon and then all is well. The trenches are looking their very best just now – the poppies and the cornflowers look very well against the darker background of thistles and the general effect though too wild for the horticulturist is none the less very pleasing. Scarlet Pimpernels grow here, there and everywhere and there is never any need to search for him. Today I had to conduct a red-hatted Staff-officer round the trenches – an amusing fellow in some ways. We got spotted in one place and the Old Bosch let fly quite a lot of shrapnel at us. We of course were in a trench and so could not be touched: it was very amusing to see the red-hatted one squatting down in a corner, wondering whether or not the next shell would remove his head. I am afraid I shrieked with laughter and enjoyed myself immensely. At first the shooting was not over good but they corrected very quickly and in the end were bursting them just above us. Shrapnel is very harmless when one knows what to do. There is rather a good story told of the cavalry in this last stunt of theirs, one cannot of course vouch for the truth of it. They apparently were drawn up on some turf, beyond that was a cornfield where the Bosches were. At the right moment the officers yelled Hooroosh, and the men cheered and off they went. They crossed the turf like a streak of lightening, and got well into the corn. Unfortunately their horses were unaccustomed to charging men, and when they got within a few yards of the enemy stood quite still and started chewing the corn. The poor old cavalry leaned forward with their lances but could not quite reach – so they had to dismount and do the job on foot. All this to be taken cum grano salis – as they say. I ran into J.D. Fry the other day – at least he passed me on the road and yelled to me. He is looking very fit and seems to be enjoying himself very well. When war broke out he got to Malta – since then he has been in Egypt and Gallipoli, and had a scrap with the Savasi – so he has not done so badly on the whole. The day before yesterday I went over to call on him and found another O.M.T. with him, by name Hill. I was at school with him but cannot say that I remember him very well. They are living not so very far from here so I shall probably see them again presently. The show that I went to see about a month ago has now got a new revue so I must make tracks to go and see them again when I can find spare time to do so. They are so popular that one has to book seats a week before hand in order to get in at all, and it is never very safe to make engagements more than a day or two ahead in this jolly old country. I hear C.L. Nicholson has got a “Division” – he has been fairly rapidly promoted lately, though I believe he had to wait a good time for his first step or two in Staff work. He will now be Major-Gen. Nicholson. Our own new G.O.C. is a terror in some ways, that is to say he wears a monocle and glares at one in a terrifying manner. He is also, incidentally, very theatrical, lays his hand on one’s shoulder when speaking and all that sort of thing. I daresay he will get on very well – he certainly seems to have a most enormous amount of energy – more than one could say of his predecessor.

24 July 1916

Many thanks for the Taylorian – there is not much in it these days except a list of rather gloomy interest. I think it is about time that I joined the M.T.S. club – a thing that in the ordinary course of events one would do immediately after leaving school. I do not know that there is any particular advantage in so doing except to keep in touch with people, which is always a good thing to do. When I have time I will drop a line to Hayes and ask for particulars. At present I find plenty to do in spite of my miserable knee. Maps, reports and all kinds of written work are always flowing in, together with a fairly constant stream of visitors to my little den. Bomb officers and intelligence officers and sundry other people of that calibre are constantly finding me in the midst of my frustrations. 6-7 I always make my hour of rest, and go and listen to the Band which plays in the village at that hour. They have managed to rake up the Mikado, so with that and Iolanthe we get a taste now and then of Sullivan. Yesterday being Sunday they had worked hard in the morning playing hymns for Church parade that by the afternoon they were almost played out. So much was this the case that the trombone gave out in the middle of a solo through lack of the necessary wind – a most pathetic interlude. Am glad to hear that Tennyson-Smith’s wound is nothing serious – he is obviously one of the right sort – or he would be back in England with it by now. When there is any real fighting on they have to keep the hospitals here clear to meet eventualities, and even the slightest wounds are sent home unless one fights to be allowed to remain. Being sent home is all very well, but it is remarkably difficult to get out again. When things have healed up, life out here is not at times all enjoyment, but it is never anything but acute boredom in a reserve unit, such as one gets posted to after being wounded. I should probably have got home with this knee of mine it I’d left it another day, and tried very hard. Tonight we are having a bust. The General, whose liver has fortunately improved, wants to celebrate the anniversary of his joining the service – some 30 years ago. So we are to eat chicken and drink phizz and generally forget that there is a war on. Tonight probably at 2.0 AM the enemy will do an attack and the only person capable of action and clear thought will be the Intelligence officer, who will doubtless deal very ably with even the most complex situation.

22 July 1916

Very many thanks for you “hurried” letter – it came yesterday and I was looking forward to another today. The postman however seems to have decided that it would be better to deliver it tomorrow. Today I heard from Sellar, he has at last got a job – a naval instructor like Akhurst . He ranks eventually as a full Lieutenant but will in all probability spend his next few months learning the game at Greenwich. Poor Banwell’s foot has got much worse again – chiefly owing to a careless hospital orderly, who slammed on a fomentation without getting it properly dry, and blistered the poor fellow’s foot most horribly. It is now rather worse than it was before. My knee, on the other hand is improving very rapidly indeed. I am becoming quite a dab at slamming on the fomentations and shall be about again as usual by the middle of next week if not before. I manage to hobble about a good deal and can find plenty of office work to do to keep me well employed. Yesterday afternoon I went even further and actually delivered a lecture – to one of the regimental “hate” gangs. A “hate” gang is the name usually given to the regimental snipers, observers and intelligence people – whose job it is to hate and strafe the Bosch. It is a most remarkable feature of this country that though the weather is by no means averse to being bad for three weeks on end, it seems to be totally incapable of being good for more than 48 hours. Yesterday was a delightful day – today it may rain at any minute – gloomy, overcast and depressing, and even cold at times. I am almost beginning to believe that there must be some truth in the idea that gun-fire can have an effect on the weather. There does not seem anything else which could cause such positively atrocious beastliness. The General’s liver is still a trifle troublesome and he descended very heavily on our mess waiter at lunch today because the plates were cold. The poor youth is always exceedingly nervous in the August presence, and this outburst very nearly finished him. I don’t expect he will last very much longer – the General will “out” him, and some other poor wretch will be found to suffer for the next few months. The 5th caught it rather badly in billets yesterday morning – that is to say they had a very hot ten minutes, fortunately no one hurt. Barton was in his bath when the first salvo came, and one of the shells fell close adjacent. He hopped out with exceeding swiftness and made straight for the cellar – unclothed and dripping only to find that it was already full of other officers mostly pyjamad and all the civilian population of the billet. All’s well that ends well and no one was hurt so we can afford to laugh over the matter now that it is over. The rain has coms as I knew it would – only a drizzle at present, but probably a shower of real strength by this evening, and a torrential downpour at night. Our trenches will once more assume a winter aspect, and all our labours will begin again. The new Staff Assistant that I spoke of, by name Cannon, is a rather curious person, but as he has innumerable and very bulky parcels sent he is most useful to the mess. He comes from Stoneyhurst and is a R.C. so I keep my eye on him very cautiously and trust him about as far as I would trust a Hindoo. When war broke out he joined the W. Kents or some such regiment and went to India as a private soldier: so he has seen quite a lot of the world since this jolly old war began. At present we have got a guest staying with us in the shape of the Colonel of the 4th who is a bit run down and needs a rest. He is going to live here for a couple of days so as to be fit to strafe his battalion again when they next come out of trenches. Not being well he is naturally a trifle gloomy – the Brigadier is livery – Hacking never does say much – it cannot be described as a very jovial mess. Here come the reports, I must read them through and write mine.

21 July 1916

It is really most amusing. Just when the weather looks like improving and we have got a delightfully interesting lot of trenches to play about in, I am put hors de combat in a most foolish way. About a fortnight ago I had a slight knock on my knee which just broke the skin. Everything went perfectly, in fact I had ceased to think about it, until yesterday evening when it started being rather painful. By this morning it was considerably swollen, still more considerably inflamed, and very obviously poisoned. So this afternoon Barton came over and cut the beastly thing for me, and now I am stuck for a week – hot fomentations three times a day, and not allowed to move from the mess office-billet area. I have to keep my leg up whenever possible; altogether it is a most miserable performance. Perhaps it is just as well that is has been done in time, because another day or two and my leg would have probably been transferred to another sphere of utility – helped to light the fire or something of that sort. Fortunately it does not prevent my doing office work so I can carry on most of my intelligence job – in the way of writing and reports and other nonsense of that sort. What I can not do is go up to the line, and see things for myself. Meanwhile the General’s liver is very troublesome. We all get strafed daily for everything or nothing, and except at, or after dinner is almost unapproachable. No one seems to be able to do anything right, and as most of us do everything wrong, so you can picture our happy home. I heard from Wollaston yesterday – he does not seem at all contented with his job and is very eager to come back and join us. I wish I had seen him on my last leave and must make sure of doing so on my next – WHEN that comes off. We hear that Ward Jackson, after being very bad indeed, is now going on pretty well and has got to England. Our other wounded are not sufficiently serious to worry about. Banwell has rejoined us and is almost well again. There is a most tremendous difference between this year and this time last year as regards our comfort and everything. This of course is partly due in my case to my living at H.Q. where we not unnaturally “do” ourselves rather better than the unfortunate gentlemen who are compelled to spend their entire existence in the ditches. But the country is so different. No longer a few farms each with its pond and pollard willows – Plains as flat as a pancake and intersected with innumerable water-ways – no woods worth telling of – no decent villages. Here we have much more home-like country. Each village a nice pretty little place nestling in its own trees with plenty of orchards and fruit gardens. A wood here and there and occasionally a forest – chateau with real grounds – streams, hills and everything else. Then again the people here are ever so much nicer. One can understand what they say for one thing, and they look at one in a more or less friendly way; last year one met nothing but scowls and sour looks. Another great advantage about our present abode is that it has not been continuously fought over. It is not at all blown to unrecognizable atoms: the lines are just where they were when the two opposing armies stopped, one advancing and the other retreating – nearly two years ago. So, as you may imagine we don’t mind staying here “for the duration” as our fellows say.

17 July 1916

The weather has broken up again as I was afraid it would. Today started with a Scotch mist which very soon turned into a real soak. It is not cold, far from it, but the whole atmosphere is about as damp and steamy as one can imagine. This of course means that it is the worst possible weather for a view and I have had few opportunities during the last day or two for studying the habits and customs of my interesting friends over the way. I went for a short ride yesterday afternoon with Viccars and found my gee going most excellently. She was fresh and consequently a trifle inclined to pull me along, but we got on excellently together. We passed quite near a battery firing and I’m glad to say she did not object in the slightest to the noise. Most animals would have stood on their hind legs and pawed the air, or turned somersaults. We got back just in time to hear the band play Bric a Brac. Considering that not one of them has ever seen the piece, and very few of them ever heard the music before, they did very well indeed I thought. The audience seemed very bucked especially when Viccars, red hat and all, was so carried away that he performed a sort of tango-cake-walk in public. What they all want now is the music of the “Bing boys” – who they may be I do not know. The interpreter has gone on leave again – he always seems to be running away to his home at Lyons, and has leave a most disgraceful number of times. I wonder if it will start again soon for us.

 

16 July 1916

My last epistle, if I remember right, was written while I was a guest at someone else’s board. The following day I returned tour people only to find that they were due for trenches again the next day. So one night’s rest was all that I got – a good night none the less in a real bed with real sheets – all very comfortable. H.Q. were in about the best chateau that we have ever struck – a large mansion, well built, comfortably furnished, and everything in the best of taste. Deer roamed about the park, a glorious place with lawns and meadows and gorgeous trees of every conceivable shape, size and nature. There was also a fruit garden. The rain has spoilt the strawberries but not the currants or raspberries. The last two were almost a record crop and simply dropping off the bushes for want of picking. The owners who are still in residence were quite glad that we should take what we wanted; as a rule they made large quantities of jam, but this year the scarcity of sugar makes it impossible. A large cherry tree provided us with some of the sweetest cherries I have ever eaten and another day or two would have given us bushels of splendid red gooseberries. But it was all too good to last – I knew it would be; we never stay long in these glorious places. Not that my present billet is anything whereat to grouse; I am particularly comfortable. A small cottage with a rather wild garden provides Hacking, Bonnassieux and myself with a lodging. Earlier in the war it was used by a French M.O. who built himself a lean-to log hut at the back to use as an operating room. This hut is now my office-bedroom and is as good as anything I have had in the “trench” area. Yesterday was a very busy day. Part of the line we are now in is new to us, and I spent the morning wandering round all sorts of curious places getting rather wet at times but by degrees learning my way about. Lunch of course was cold by the time I got back, it almost always is, but that is only a trifle. In the afternoon after finishing the reports I had to be off again to try and find a way of getting from A. to B. without going through C., when C. is a village which once in a blue moon the Bosch sees fit to shell. We discovered a way in the end which I hope will satisfy the General but it took a lot of finding. While this was going on the band gave its first performance of Bric a Brac which of course I consequently missed. I hear that it went very well but will reserve judgement until the lucky day when I form part of the audience. After dinner I was out again – this time watching the pyrotechnic display with which the Bosch so very often gladdens our eyes. He is a master in the use of all manner of coloured lights, and really does devise some wonderful shows. For instance when he gets really panicky and sees clouds of smoke or gas rolling towards him, he sends up a beautiful golden rocket, breaking into six or seven other rockets each giving out showers of first rate golden rain. I wanted to clap when I first saw it, but remembered just in time that I was standing quite alone on a most desolate road, with an odd bullet now and then whining miserably overhead. The weather has improved of late and yesterday was warm and very pleasant. Today too is by no means bad thought it looks as if we might have a shower or two. It is now time that I went out to do some work so will close.

12 July 1916

Our people have gone out for a bit of rest and I have been left in for a day or two just to show the newcomers the way about the place. I shall not stay long as our new billets are said to be very good and I shall not be sorry to get a day or so of real comfort and cleanliness for a change; not that we have been at all badly off here, in fact for a “trench” headquarters it is almost exceptionally comfortable. For that reason and for others I don’t suppose we shall come back here again – we never stay very long in any place that we really like. The weather which has been really good since I last wrote now shows sign of breaking up again and I think we shall have rain again before tonight. It never seems able to be fine for very long in this benighted country – and as for calling it La Belle France – the whole thing’s absurd. The villagers of this place are beginning to drift back into it, and we have been having one or two rows in consequence. The South African gunners seem to get mixed up in most things and yesterday we had a free fight. The disputants seeing I was an officer both made a rush at me – one saying that the Frenchman had struck him first, while the native pointed out to me in bad French at the top of his voice – that he was an “allie, – no Bosch – and that the African, quell villain, had seized him by the “gorge” until he was nearly “nahpoo”. If I had not laughed all would have been well, but unfortunately I, as usual, saw the humour of the situation, which had not yet struck the combatants. The latter nearly went for me, and I almost put the whole boiling in “jug”, but managed to quieten then down just in time. Banwell’s wound has turned out more serious than we expected. He returned to duty of course after having a bit of plaster put on his foot and no one thought anything more about it. Now it has become septic, and he is “down” with a bit of temperature as well. I should not be surprised if he found himself in England almost before he knows where he is. J.C. Basser another O.M.T. has just joined us, I don’t know what sort of an officer he will make, I am afraid I never thought very much of him at school. However he is keen and means well; this is a most excellent training ground out here and one can learn a lot if one is keen enough to try. I have had a very long letter from D.B. Davies who has just been blessed with a second daughter, and is naturally very pleased with everything and everybody. M.T.S. seem to be doing very well in military matters. The Corps is very strong and very successful and manage to do a terrific amount of work. They are to have a camp somewhere this year but I am really not sure where or when for that matter. I do not think there is very much prospect of any leave yet for a very long time. Just at present the war is really going on and we can’t spare any time for weekend trips. Perhaps when we go into winter trenches somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Rhine, we shall get off for a day or two. Joking apart things are going jolly well and the news is good. However letters must contain only family and private affairs so we will leave the war alone. The strawberries here have come to nothing but the red currants have been a real success, as are also the mustard and cress & the green vegetables. It is a long time since we have been able to stock our mess with fruit and vegetables without adding a shiver to the mess bill.

9 July 1916

The weather here has improved during the last twenty four hours. Today has been quite fine and warm, and yesterday was by no means bad. Perhaps after all we shall get some decent weather this year; most of us had given up hope of seeing the sun again. The poor wretches in trenches are having a very thin time trying to prevent their trenches falling in – wading almost up to the waist in mud and water occasionally running the risk of being drowned in some unsuspected sump-hole, whose lid had floated several yards away down the trench. Fortunately for my comfort there is a most excellent sump-hole just outside my front door, otherwise I should long ago have been flooded out. My batman has orders to come and start bailing operations as soon as there is a heavy shower and by that means my life is preserved from actual destruction. He, by the way, has quite recovered from the effects of his rat-bite. I see that Chase’s name is amongst the list of killed – another of my contemporaries – he succeeded me as Head Monitor in 1914. I am surprised in a way that never got promoted, he had been out here a very long time, and should never have been anything but a hard worker. I had quite an amusing day today – finding one or two excellent places from which I could view the all unsuspecting Hun walking about where he imagined he was quite out of sight. It is rather curious in a way seeing these fellows so near really, and yet absolutely impossible to reach even with a bullet. I also saw one Bosch gentleman through his periscope. He had got a large mirror fixed up in the trench, and I could see all details of him quite distinctly. Of course he himself was standing well out of sight somewhere down in the bottom of his trench.

8 July 1916

Very many thanks for your cake, it is most excellent; thanks also for the peppermints, which were most excellent, and for several equally excellent letters, none of which I deserve, as I have not written to you for ages. However there was and is no need for you to be anxious, as no news is always good news. If there was bad news I am sure it would manage to travel fast enough. Never have we seen more appalling weather. Even the General who has been in the tropics says that he has never seen rain to compare with some of the terrific downpours with which we have been favoured lately. The trenches are simply waist deep in water and one has given up wearing any clothing on one’s lower limbs. In fact we paddle about – the water is quite warm – and one can then keep one’s trousers fairly dry for the bright moment when one gets a few hours rest in the dug-out. Of course all this refers to the people who are having actually to live in trenches. With us it is different as we simply trek up there for the day and then come down again in the evenings. In this way my day has been kept pretty full. I come in as a rule very tired and have quite a considerable amount of report-writing and other such horrible things to do. Fortunately I have been left alone to do my intelligence work much as I pleased which is a great consolation. The weather, our lack of success the other day, in fact everything combined to make me most irritable, and I have been nearly a week trying to work it off. I am feeling better now, and have in fact had rather a good time at my old game of watching the Bosch in his lair. I cannot tell you where we are but you really need not worry as we have done all the pushing we are going to do in this “push”. I believe we actually did a lot of good and achieved part of our object – the part that really counts perhaps in the eyes of the Staff – i.e. the higher commands. But we did not achieve our object from the soldiers point of view; we did not so all that we had hoped to do, and worked for, for the last six weeks. To me it is unsatisfactory; even though every individual did his utmost, even though everyone behaved with great gallantry, yet it is not so satisfactory as Oct 13. It was far finer to loose one’s whole regiment but gain a few yards of trench and keep them, than to come out as we have done and feel that we might have done better. It was not this Brigade – as I said – we were out of it – but still it was people we all knew very well. One casualty list that I caught a glimpse of, shows Tennyson Smith was wounded, I hope it is nothing serious and that he will soon get over it. In the same list Hickman’s brother Terence is, I see, missing; I did not know him very well, though I had seen him about once or twice. Many thanks for the cutting about Sellar, I am jolly glad to know he has done well. I expect he, poor fellow, would far rather see his name appearing in the casualty list than in the honours list for Maths. He has I believe tried to get into every conceivable part or rather branch of the service and been refused every time on account of his eyesight. You ask about the “mention”, I do not know that it was for anything special – just intelligence work I suppose, and the Oct 13th show. But really these things are dished out so indiscriminately that it is hard to say for what they are given. Marriott has rejoined us after a long rest in England. He was hit through the elbow at Hohenzolleren and was rather bad for a time. He is a most amusing fellow and a real good sort, so we are all jolly glad to have him back with us again. One of his greatest accomplishments is a spirited rendition of Harry Tate; he knocks spots into the gramophone record. Our mess garden here is doing us very well. Until a comparatively short time ago this village was inhabited and had a civilian population; but there came a time when the authorities deemed it advisable to turn them out and so the gardens were left all standing. We cannot let the fruit go bad so are living on some most delicious raspberries and currants, red, white and black. Another billet where Hacking and the Interpreter have their abode is supplying us with quite a good number or eggs per day; so I am looking forward to a considerably reduced mess bill. Shipston, an officer of “ours”, had a most remarkable escape the other day. He was standing before the window of a first floor room in one of these houses, shaving with a mirror on the window sill. A shell appeared on the scene, crashed into the wall under the sill, and carried a young cartload of bricks, in addition to its own bits, clean through between Shipston’s legs, without so much as tearing his clothes. In fact the only thing really disturbed was his mental equilibrium, which is, no doubt, by now restored to its former unshakable stability. We have got a new G.O.C. and are all rather anxious to know what he will be like. It makes more difference than one would imagine, to the comfort and happiness of the troops if the G.O.C. himself is a good cheery person. So many of the staff are inclined to imagine that it is their business to “strafe” always, and the men consequently live in holy terror of a red-hat – an awful pity. Please than Dini for her letter. I must say some of the details rather savour of realism. It was very lurid in parts; however anything to keep us amused is always welcome, even if the cause of our amusement is a badly behaved kitten in the War Office.