Monthly Archives: November 2016

19 November 1916

Just a very hurried scrawl to tell you that I propose coming on leave & may even arrive before this epistle reaches you.   The exact date of my departure & arrival on the other side has not as yet been disclosed to me, but it will I think be at an early date.

The Boxing yesterday went off very well in spite of most appaling weather.   It was very cold & inclined to sleet, so you can imagine that the conditions were by no means ideal for an open air performance.  However everybody played up very well & there was some very pretty boxing.  We saw several knock-outs & fortunately there was not much “blug” about except on one Gentleman’s nose.   Personally, I think it is a very poor game banging each other about.

The 5th won the Light Weights & they Heavy – the 4th & 5th other people carried off the Feathers & the Middles.

Tomorrow we are doing a little scheme & I as usual represent the enemy.  Unfortunately they cannot spare me many people & I have to put up a flag or two to represent my battalions, while a couple of drums have to do the work of my machine guns.   However I expect I shall win because my arguments, though generally unsound, are always specious & can convince the average umpire.   No time for more I must go & issue my orders A!

Home on leave from Nov 22nd – Dec. 3rd.    4 Leave

17 November 1916

I have just realized that it must be nearly a week since I last wrote: there is absolutely no excuse for such remissness & I will therefore not attempt to make one.  It is no use trying to write letters unless I feel in the right mood for so doing, & for the last few days, probably because violent exercise has made me very tired, I have not felt that right mood.   Tonight I am also tired but possibly can manage to struggle to the end of one letter. The weather which is always the most important factor in all our doings has fortunately been fine, though most bitterly cold.   We have had 3 white frosts running & should therefore I suppose have rain tonight.   As a matter of fact there is at present no sign of a change, & it is freezing hard as ever.  We have played off all our Brigade football matches & our 4th Btn. finally won the day, beating ours 4-0 yesterday afternoon.  They always seem to have the best team in the Bgde, & we always seem to be runners up.   I only hope they will manage to pull off the Divisional Cup – they did last time.  The brigade Boxing we settle tomorrow – it will have to be an open air show & will be very cold in consequence.  So long however as it refrains from raining & snowing we do not mind how cold it is.  The shew will be in the grounds behind our chateau & we are making great preparation for it.   The difficulty is to find timber wherewith to erect a ring.  Meanwhile we still train for the Cross Country run.  Each evening between tea & dinner we sally forth scantily clothed & run for a mile or two at a good pace, get very hot & stagger home again feeling all the better for it. Godsal, Grinling & Huskisson all come at times, & several of the clerks & other attachés to Bgde H.Q. are very keen.  I hope we shall make a good show on the great day itself.  I find that I am really pretty fit & can last quite well over any distance up to about 4 miles & a half.   There have been several most excellent games of rugger. & beyond a hole in my shin & my thumb slightly dislocated, I have so far come out unscathed.  The second injury sounds much more terrible than it really is: the thumb returned almost immediately to its former & correct position, merely left a slight swelling to remind me of what had happened.

My waders have arrived quite safely & are the centre of much envy & admiration amongst all who behold them.  Now that they have arrived I expect fate will decide that we see nothing but beautifully dry trenches all through the winter.   However they will be very useful when the fishing season starts next spring.  Meanwhile there is one really sad piece of news – the Kitten has been quite ill, to start with she strained a fetlock & got a swollen leg – went dead lame & was unrideable.   Next she caught a cold & developed a severe bilious attack. So on the whole, as you may imagine, she has been far from her usual self, & has indeed looked miserable & most pathetic. She is getting very much better now & I hope to be able to ride her in a day or two.

Cannon has gone home on leave. His Mother who has been ill for a very long time got much worse, & he was called for. She died before he could get home – I don’t think he was over keen to go, but thought he ought to & so went – it won’t be much of a holiday for him.  Grinling & I went out to dinner a few nights ago with the 5th.  We had a very merry evening & sang all manner of songs until the cows came home.   The Colonel was as usual in tremendous form, & made impossibly bad puns & jokes all the evening.   I don’t think Grinling ever quite realized what a bawdy lot we were & was most agreeably surprised, he certainly enjoyed himself immensely.  I am writing this to the accompaniment of vigorous chuckling on the part of the General.   He is reading Ian Harp’s Knight on Wheels & seems to be enjoying it tremendously.   I read it not long ago & thought it excellent, though perhaps not quite up to “Happy Go-lucky” which is one of his that I like best.

The Christmas Number of Punch has arrived & everyone thinks it a first rate effort.  The picture which causes the loudest outbursts of admiration is the one of the 3 gentlemen reclining, after “falling out” on the pavement of Piccadilly.  The walking sticks “piled” in the corner are an exceptionally happy touch.

11 November 1916

Many thanks for yours of the 8th which got here today with one from Dini of the 7th.   I am sorry to hear that you have had none of mine for a week, I expect they are all lying at the bottom of the Channel.   I wrote with as much regularity as usual: however I don’t suppose you have missed any items of particular importance.

I wrote my last letter just after returning from a run & contemplating a terrific stiffness for the next few days. As a matter of fact I woke the next day remarkably free from anything of that sort & went about my ordinary duties until midday, after struggling through an exceptionally large & heavy lunch I got a note from Allen asking me to go over to a footer ”pick up”. I of course accepted with alacrity & played on the left wing where I enjoyed myself immensely & got very blown.   The ground was quite good.  Several had never played before so there was a certain amount of the erratic about it all.   Petch took charge of affairs with one or two old hands to help. The new O.M.T. Padre Buck is a great man at the game & very useful. A game of rugger is by no means such a steady-going business as a run & the result was I arose yesterday feeling very stiff indeed.  Again just at lunch time came an invitation from Neale this time the Adjutant of the 4th to play for their officers against the N.C.O.s. Needless to say I went.  The game was very much faster & fiercer than the day before & we were beaten. There was some good tackling – as I found out to my cost – & one or two N.C.O.s could run like streaks of greased lightning.   Albeit it was a most excellent game & made me most terribly stiff.  After bathing & otherwise refreshing myself I went off to dine with “ours” in their Batt. Mess. Jones was in most tremendous “form” & told innumerable funny stories in his own particular style.  Altogether it was a most merry evening & we all enjoyed ourselves, & went to bed late – only to find a move planned for today.

Fortunately it was only a very short move just to the next village.  Her we occupy a fairly large spacious chateau, a most excellent mess & kitchen are the chief features, while the General’s & Godsal’s bedrooms are hard to beat. Grindling & I have got two small rooms next to each other up at the top of the house where I think we shall both be quite comfortable. There are very spacious outhouses where we can get all our men, officers & horses. “La petite Fifi” has a horse box to herself & is more comfortable than she has been for some time. She has been somewhat overworked of late & must be given a rest for a day or two.   Her coat is getting very long & she can do with a clipping – it is very heavy for her especially in wet weather.

The stiffness still continues today but I did my best to get rid of it with another strenuous game this afternoon. The 5th are not at present quite satisfied with their team & so I was tired in a new place for me – a so-called “stand off” half back, I think I managed to get on all right – it is a place that at present we are finding hard to fill – there doesn’t seem to be anyone who plays there regularly. This time there were fewer novices & it was a very much better game all round.   By the way you mentioned the other day that there was a black vest of mine somewhere about, will you send it along, as it is sometimes necessary to play in colours, & I dislike having to borrow some gaudy soccer vest of rainbow hue.  We are now in the throes of Divisional Competitions.   Matches are being played for the football cup, & people are getting ready for the Boxing Tournament.   Everyone is trying to fit in a little ordinary physical training with their military work & everyone is very keen.   I am O.C. the training department of Bde H.Q. & am instituting runs & walks & marches & little excitements of that sort to try & get everybody fit for our great event, the cross country race. The only difficulty I find is that after playing a fairly hard game of football there is not overmuch run left in me. However we’ll do our best.        Tomorrow weather permitting we shall have a Bde Church parade, & Hales the Senior Chaplain of the Division is coming to preach.   He is well worth hearing as a rule & we shall all be there in force. There is no time for more as we are already on the wrong side of 10 ‘O’clock.

8 November 1916

The weather still continues to be absolutely appalling: it does not actually rain unceasingly all day, but there are comparatively frequent showers of terrific intensity.   Fortunately we are situated on a hill & the water can get away, but even here things are very flooded.   All the underground draining arrangements are overflowing down the streets & the consequent odour is by no means pleasing.

Yesterday morning I went into a neighbouring village to see the Senior Chaplain & arrange about some sports which he is organizing for the Division.  There is to be a Football Competition, a Boxing Tournament, & a Cross Country team. The first two are more or less straightforward, the latter is more complicated.  A course is selected, say 3 miles & a definite time say 25 minutes.  Each unit runs by itself & there is no racing.   The unit wins which has the biggest percentage of men finishing in the time.  The percentage is taken from the number to finish & the total number in the unit.  A battalion therefore ought to have a couple of hundred starters.   We are training already very strenuously: all Bgde H.Q. Officers except the General are going to run.  If the present weather continues the “Going” across country will be very bad indeed.  In order to equalize matters everyone is to run in Service boots – what we shall do over plough I don’t know: those who manage to finish will be pretty exhausted I expect.

The village I went to is not half a bad place.  It used to be one of the important towns in the neighbourhood & owns an Abbey Church – quite the most beautiful Church we have seen in France yet. I happened to meet Bonnassieux in the street outside & he conducted me round. It is all Gothic built on one plain. The West front is very fine & there are one or two things inside that are very good. There is no very intricate carving, & the interior looks bare on the whole – but by comparison with other Churches we have seen it is very pleasing.

There are some curious little panels carved in alabaster which are said to have come from the Midland Counties of England. Unlike a great number of the local Churches, there are less gaudy tints & cheap candlesticks. The only mural decoration are a few oils, some of them by famous men.   The whole thing is well worth seeing.  Today I have been riding round all the morning & busied myself with oddments during the afternoon.   After tea Cannon & I went for a 3 1/2 mile run which we accomplished – along the road – in about 26 minutes – not so bad for a start. I expect to be horribly stiff tomorrow.

6 November 1916

Things here are going on much the same as usual & I do not think there is any news of particular interest.   The weather cannot be called good, today, there have been a number of very heavy showers with fine intervals, also it rained all night.  The result is that the ground is very sloppy indeed.  In spite of this I was in the saddle almost the whole of yesterday afternoon, & all this morning.   Kate has been partially clipped as she was getting a very heavy coat; I think she is rather glad & feels freer in consequence.

Yesterday morning after Church Parade I spent my time trying to improve my field sketching but my fingers got so cold that I could scarcely hold my pencil.   However I managed to do a little, until I gave it up, thoroughly tired at the innumerable hay stacks which stand as thick on the ground as bristles on a hedgehog.  The only time that they are really useful is when one is caught in a shower & can shelter behind them.

Viccars rode over to lunch, he seems very miserable about his Staff School & complains bitterly of being underfed & over worked.  He doesn’t look like either.   I think really he is having a good time & thoroughly enjoying himself.  The School at which Burnett was, is one run by the Army for the instruction of Company Commanders & others.

Before dinner Huskisson & I tried a little night marching by compass. We had 3 bearings given us & a course of just over 2 miles, every step of which we paced.   We fetched up only 40 yards short of where we should have done – not at all bad on the whole.   The ground is very treacherous hereabouts & one is apt to disappear somewhat suddenly, down a steep grassy slope or into an old trench.  We must have been a peculiar sight I stalking along in front with my eye fixed on some distant mark (in one case a cow which had the bad manners to move) Huskisson plodding along behind solemnly counting “eleven. Twenty-six – eleven twenty seven – etc. At all events we earned our dinners.   Today I have been out all day except at mealtimes, when I am always in  & generally punctual – This morning a cheval, & this afternoon on my flat feet – studying the country & finding little places of interest. After tea I went for a brisk walk with old Huskisson – he has not been feeling very well & thought a walk would do him good.   As a matter of fact he came home feeling much worse & has gone to bed without any dinner.   This last was just as well as it was ducks & plum-pudding.   I must off to bed as we shall probably have a long day tomorrow.

4 November 1916

After various journeyings we arrived here yesterday, & here we hope to rest for a short time. The two words “here” & “rest” both need explanation.   “Here” is a farm chateau with an excellent large messroom & some equally excellent bedrooms: I for one have a room to myself & real sheets on the bed.  The Brigadier had until this morning a most magnificent chamber, but was so disturbed during the night by the numerous fowl occupants of the spacious farmyard under his window, that he has changed over with Godsal into a room at the back of the house. Officers are very conveniently close in an empty house just across the road, where I also have a warm dry stable for “la petite”. On the whole we are very comfortable & I hope our stay is not too short

Now for “Rest”. Physical drill, company training, route marches, night operation, schemes, appreciations of situations, bombing, bayonet fighting, shooting during almost all the hours of daylight is of course for the regimental officers.  Fortunately I am not so placed & do not yet know what task will be allotted to me.  Today Cannon & I rode over the training area & had a good look all round.  For hours we rode across country & hardly ever touched a road, except to cross it. The weather was perfect, the animals went splendidly, & we had one or two delightful canters, much enjoyed by Kitty, who was in her element.  I came home with about the finest appetite I have ever had for lunch.  The 5th are at a neighbouring village & have, I hear, managed to find room for a battalion mess.   I must try to find time to get over to see then some day soon.   They have a new Padre attached to them named Buck, who turns out to be an O.M.T. – he has come to the right Btn. He is of course an oldish “old boy” having left somewhere about 1899 – a time when he was Capt. of the 15. Talking of rugger recalls the fact that I have just heard that the School beat Dulwich fairly heavily this day last week, which is excellent news.

The country round here is exceedingly fine & about the only part of La France which we have yet discovered, really to merit the adjective Belle.  There are plenty of hills & little woods & plantations to break the monotony – quite unlike the dead levels of the abominable Flanders.  The roads are all chalk & very hard, but one can generally get off them onto meadow land of which there is plenty.  Game of all sorts abounds, but most unfortunately we are not allowed to shoot.  Today we put up several snipe, curlew & wood pigeon, not to mention plenty of good large hares.  Our chateau owns ducks, geese & turkeys, all of which they sell for a most humble price.  6 shillings for a fine fat goose, 7 for 2 ducks, & only 10/- for an enormous turkey: they do not sell by weight, but by the look of the bird. I expect we shall be having a great night or two presently.   Now that the evenings are so much longer I get plenty of time for reading & have finished off  Whitechurch’s Cannon In Residence – Farnol’s Amateur Gentleman & one or two others in the last few days.  Farnol’s book is very good.       Viccars’ place has been taken during his absence by Grindling who came at one time to study Staff work with us & then went to be attached to one of the other Brigades. He knows all about us, & we know him well, so all is as it should be.      We have heard from Viccars, he seems to be having quite a good time, at the staff school.   I expect Uncle Rob will get transferred to Oakley all right – & am very glad to hear he has no wish to come out here again.   I thought he would find it a pretty severe game in the tanks, though of course, I gather from what small trickles of information have flowed this way, that the work he did here was by no means the type of thing in which one indulges daily.  For instance as a general rule one avoids most determinedly carrying bombs across the open & all unpleasant things of that sort. It has just started to rain for all it is worth, simply coming down in buckets.      That of course is what we always have to expect after a fine day.  It will mean that the roads will all be churned up into mud again, the country will be so sodden as to make riding anything but a pleasure.  Col. Jones has composed a relay clever Limerick, concerning a portion of the line which we occupied for some time—

D’you know ours ——  n au Bois

So charming, &  je ne sais quios-

We’ve been there so long

And found it so bon

We’ll go back there any old fois

I have left out the name of the place, but given you the metre, which as you see is the same as Bromley: – au bois is a termination stuck on to the names of half the villages in France

Transcriber’s note – see the original text for markings above the work Bromley a dash over the letter  “o” and a u over the letter “e” – see image below.

vol10p12_13

1 November 1916

Today has been very long but anything but boring.  We arose at 5.30 and sallied forth some time later after much bustle and worry in getting kits packed in time, breakfast was eaten and horses groomed.  However all these things were accomplished in time and we got away soon after 7.0. AM. My own particular job for the day was to act as a policeman on point duty at an important level crossing just outside a railway station.  Such a job does not as a matter of fact sound tremendously exciting – but it was in fact fraught with adventures of a truly wild character.  So wild indeed were they, that they almost terminated in my being arrested by a gendarme and being marched off to the local lock-up.  The real cause of all the trouble was the fact that there was no Interpreter, and my French does not include a large number of words dealing with level crossings.   The guardian of the crossing was a very worthy, though extraordinarily excitable old dame armed with two flags, whose duty was to close the iron gates whenever a train appeared on the scenes.  A battalion of Infantry appeared on the road, so I asked Madame if there was time for them to cross.  She pointed to the train – at that time standing in the station – and remarked “on les arretera” I naturally supposed that “on” was going to  arretera the train.  The battalion therefore got going and was all across except for half a dozen waggons when I noticed the aged dame making efforts to close her gate.  Unfortunately she was endowed with a rather finer physique that I am, and any personal encounter was out of the question. However I did my best to prevent the battalion being cut in half.  It was all to no avail: the Amazonian dame swung her iron gate along the rail straight against the mess Cart, laden with Collins, and about twelve dozen of port in addition to all the paraphernalia carried on mess carts.  So heavily was it laden that instead of the cart coming to grief, it was the gate that suffered.  The later caught in the hub of the cart wheel, was dragged along and bent to a most undignified angle.  That ended it. Fortunately there was still room for the train to get by which it did without more ado. While it did so a crowd started to collect.   Madame gesticulating mildly was joined by and equally-wildly- gesticulating husband, and shortly afterwards by six gesticulating sons and seven gesticulating daughters.  These all shouted, thereby attracting to the scene some twenty stolid railway workmen who looked, shook their heads, & muttered “Ces’t la guerre”.  Then came a dozen or so officials with various types of brassards and badges – mostly resembling those worn by Sanitary N.C.O.s in the Armee Anglaise all of whom took my name and address several times. I in fact seemed to be the centre of the attraction, Madame terminating most of her most violent gesticulations in my direction.  Then came a sort of cross examination for me, while I gave an account of what happened in my best French.  They did not seem at all impressed so I wound up with my most effective shrug and said “Que voulez-vous?  Ces’t la guerre”.  This appeased the officials and the stolid one who departed, the latter to find the wherewithal to “redresser” the “barrier”.  Not so Madame whom I strongly suspected of a cold-blooded desire to smite me with her signal flags.  The “redresser” operations were unique.  First the poor bent gate was deposited in its arched formation on the public pavement surrounded by six of the stolid faction.   Six more then appeared with sticks, and baulks and beams, and lit a large bonfire under the gate where the kink was.  The heat was quite successful and the gate gradually subsided until straight again.   A few blows from a large hammer put it completely right and it was soon back in position.   At the sight of her beloved gate once more in situ Madame softened visibly, and became quite amiable.  However the shadow of the prison cell still hangs over me and doubtless full reports, and explanations, and claims, and requisitions and reprimands will be flying about all over the place as thick as fleas in a French billet.  All this will be very amusing, and I care not one little bit.      My arduous duties as a “speshul” having been thus most unsatisfactorily concluded, I repaired to the best hotel and had a most excellent “dejeuner” at mid-day.  Both food and cooking were quite good and the whole meal very cheap considering the strenuousness of the times in which we live.  After lunch I jogged slowly along on Kate, alias “la petite Fifi” until I arrived at the Chateau where I am now writing this.  After tea Cannon and I walked over to a neighbouring town and bought a newspaper – getting back in time for dinner.  Soon, very soon in fact, I shall retire to my bed which appears to be excellent, I only wish we were staying longer – we move again tomorrow. The chateau is not a bad place, we have five bedrooms and a mess in it: the family occupy the rest.   We have not seen them but can hear them very plainly as they are playing rag-time on the piano in the next room.   Like most French Chateaux the outside leads one to expect a far finer interior than really exists, however we have nothing to grouse at.