Monthly Archives: December 2016

29 December 1916

It is very late & I am somewhat weary, but have got sufficient energy to scribble a letter, so will go on until I go to sleep.   It is pouring with rain, which it has done most of the day, most of last night & most of yesterday – & consequently everything is flooded.   One cannot see more than a few hundred yards even at midday so it is not much use my going observing – in fact my job is my no means lively just at present.    Yesterday & the day before were spent very largely in making the final arrangements for the Boxing.  The Divisional Competition was held yesterday afternoon & we had to find a competitor in each class for the Brigade. Our middle weight was scratched at the last minute, but our other three all put up a good fight, & we won the light weights with a ruffian named O’Shaunessy of my Regt. He had been promised leave if he won & did not intend making any mistake about it. He went for all he was worth & polished off his opponent in about thirty five seconds.

Today I have had a very lengthy motor-ride. I had to attend a lecture at a place some forty five miles from here & we left at 3 o’clock, not getting back here until just after nine.   It was a very wet performance but the lecture was well worth it. It concerned the growth of the army, its administration, advantages & limitation, & was very interesting.   The lecturer was a General from G.H.Q. of the name of Stewart.     Tomorrow or the day after, I am not quite certain which, Adkin the History Professor is again lecturing: this time he will be somewhere in our neighbourhood & I am going to hear him.  He was the fellow I drove over to hear once before – sometime in September if I remember right. One really sad thing is happening.  Godsal has got promoted – he has been given a General Staff job with another Division & is leaving tomorrow. It is good for him but a great pity. I have got very fond of him, & I rather regard him as a model soldier. I certainly have learnt more about soldiering from him than from anybody else I have ever met.   He is a most cheery person & the Mess without him will be even more gloomy than it has been of late.

We ate the plum pudding the night before last – it was gigantic & excellent.   The Brigadier struck the shilling first go off & was fearfully pleased with himself about it.    It really was a jolly good pudding so once more my thanks for it.   No time for more.

26 December 1916

Very many thanks for an enormous plum pudding which has just arrived – too late it is true for our Xmas dinner, but in plenty of time for a New Year “Bust”.   It looks & smells most excellent, & will doubtless possess an unrivalled taste when we come to investigate its interiors.

Christmas Day as far as the weather was concerned was fairly successful.   It rained a bit in the morning & came on fairly heavily at night, but during most hours of day light was fairly dry. I got up some time before dawn & cycled into one of the French Btt H.Q. where there was an 8 o’c celebration in one of the dug-outs. The Padre was a little late & very muddy.   He had started at 4.30 am & taken a service at every one of the three Coy HQs in the line. Unfortunately on his way home he slipped into some sort of a sump-hole & immersed himself, cassock, surplice & everything else.    However one can get along very well without a surplice & we did not worry about such detail. I biked back to breakfast & the rest of the day differed very little from any other day.

Viccars came back from leave soon after tea, & was much disgusted to find that he was not expected.  We have got so used to him overstaying his leave by a fortnight or so, that we had made no arrangements at all for billeting him.  Consequently he had to share our room for the night & was very uncomfortable, which doubtless was very good for him.  This afternoon Grinling departed again for his other Brigade, & Viccars & I are going to share the room until we quarrel – which wont be long. My waders have proved themselves very useful & are the envy of all who see them.   The puncture has been satisfactorily repaired &I wear then now quite frequently.   One cannot walk with great rapidity wearing them, but that is of no account.   Nor does it very much matter that the brogues are somewhat large, they will shrink after several wettings & in time be an excellent fit.  I have finished “Les Miserables” & am now embarking on Field Service Regulation which I have hot read for some time, & is a really wonderful book.   Although it was written years before the War, it is quite up to date, & one has to obey its maxims as much as one can.

By the way, there is one other “want”: I am using the last battery & bulb for my ORILUX Electric torch. The refills & bulbs are to be bought from a gentleman in the Strand named STEWARD.   Will you get me one bulb & three refills – they are horribly expensive but good.

23 December 1916

Unfortunately this village cannot run to an early Celebration on the 25th. So that I shall probably have to walk a mile or two, in which case I can get to Church at 8.15 am. – Failing this I must go to a midnight celebration at one of the Btn. Head Quarters – I shall be able to do one or the other – it depends on whether I am out or about by day or night.

I suppose it is just conceivably possible that the Boche will make himself objectionable on the great day, – it is just the sort of thing that would appeal to him.   One thing is quite certain, that there will be none of the fraternizing which characterized the 1914 proceedings.

The weather today is about as bad as can be. There is a hurricane blowing, torrents of rain & hail – slates & chimneys crashing into roadways –& more still where houses have become somewhat dilapidated owing to shell fire, whole roofs & walls suddenly collapsing.

I believe I told you that Barton had turned up a few days ago but had not yet got back to the Regiment.   Yesterday he was wounded – a marvellous escape from complete destruction.  A shell burst next door to him, & he has got off with a badly shattered ancle.   It will not be long before he sees his ”Missus” again, though some months I expect before we see him here.  The Brigadier goes on leave again in January & there is a great deal of speculation as to what he proposes to do: we all think that he is tired of his present job & will go & try to get some influential friend to get him another.  We also think it not improbable that he will marry again.   In this case the lady is, we are sure, to be found at Brighton – though what her name & what her occupation, we do not know.   I think a change would in one way  do him good, a man can be too long at one job & get stale – but of course “de duchibus nil nisi bonum”.  I have just finished reading & have really enjoyed Thackeray’s “Snobs” & have now plunged into a translation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”.  I have seldom read anything much finer than his description of Waterloo – it is absolutely magnificent.   What the original French is like I can only imagine – the translation is excellent.  Please tell Dini that the Sportsman turns up with great regularity each Thursday – & is much appreciated.  It is very nice to read the doings of various people that one knows, who still find time to career over a football ground.   There is as a rule quite a good description of most of the school matches, & I can follow the doings of M.T.S. The trenches are now in a pretty horrible condition.    Where ever they are unrevetted the sides avalanche continuously onto the floor & from there a ghastly pea-soup like puddle sometimes three or four foot deep.  Where the sides of the trench are strong the whole thing forms a sort of conduit for collecting water, & a whole army of men has to be employed pumping the place clear. In some cases the only way to visit the line is by night “over the top” – none too safe a performance on a very dark night as the place is lettered with shell holes and one may take a cold plunge at any minute.  The whole aspect of the weather is so miserable that I am beginning to feel depressed & must stop this letter & go to bed.

21 December 1916

There is still no sign of any of my parcels – I very much doubt if anything posted after the 14th or thereabouts will reach us much before the New Year – there is such a tremendous amount of baggage to deliver.

Godsal has had a most amusing book of cautionary rhymes sent him called the “Hun Hunters”.   It is very cleverly illustrated & costs half a crown – quite worth getting.   Some of the allusions are very topical & not to be understood by those who have not been with the B.E.F. but most of it is plain sailing.  Anyone can understand:-

“Generals are chosen I am told

For being very, very old”—

Col Jones has gone on leave – he is not very fit & had had a bad cold, cough etc. – Before he went he had a long interview with the Brigadier, in which it was decided that in the event of Allen’s departure I took the place.  The C.O. won.   Should Allen not go – I shall go & understudy staff work at Div. H.Q. a poor “office-boy” sort of a game.   So far nothing has come through about Allen.     Huskisson has come back from leave, feeling very fit & bringing a turkey & half a stilton: the latter has to be chained at nights but is very good all the same. The rusty nails flavour is very predominant.   It is getting very late & I have a long day tomorrow, so I must stop.

16 December 1916

Nothing more has so far transpired concerning  Allen’s moving to another unit, so that at present peace reigns supreme in the happy home.    Barton has returned, but is with a Field Ambulance, I expect he will get back to the Regiment before very long.   He is terribly changed since his marriage – much quieter & smoother – alas who’d be anything but a Bachelor?!   The weather is still very terrible, & the mud consequently the same as ever. I have been slopping about in it & getting very wet.   One can never make up one’s mind to put on waders, but always regrets not having done so, as soon as one gets up into the line.  It is getting late & I am half asleep so I will “Ring off”.

14 December 1916

It is within the bounds of possibility that I shall presently change my position.   Allen the Adjutant of ours is applying for a transfer to another unit, & there is at present no reason to suppose that his transfer will not go through.  If it does there will of course be a vacancy, & the job has been offered me by Col Jones.  I have accepted.   Unfortunately there is one rather prominent obstacle, namely the Brigadier. For some reason or other he is annoyed with Allen for going, & with the C.O. for recommending him; consequently her refuses to let me go at present. This he has no right to do, as I belong to the Regt. not to him, & if they want me, no power in the world can stop me going to them. Incidentally it is promotion for me, & I cannot see why he should object. So long as the C.O. is firm & does not give way all will be all right, as I am quite confident it will.  Meanwhile things are in a somewhat unsettled state.   He won’t talk about the matter at all with his Staff people, & officially I know nothing about it, so cannot very well argue with him.  I expect however that the C.O. will come & talk things over one day soon – and we shall win in the end.  There is no better job than that of Adjutant & it is one that I have always wanted ever since it was first offered me in August 1915, when as now the Brigadier objected Jones gave way to him then because he thought that my attachment to H.Q. might bring me some job.   It has not so now things are as they are.   It will mean of course plenty of work but that I like: it will also mean living with the cheeriest set of men that ever walked this earth & that is a most important consideration.  Please do not imagine that I shall be going to a job more dangerous or anything of that sort.  I am quite certain that in our present abode we are far more likely to “head” a crump than they are at Bgde. H.Q. So far this letter has been rather serious, but I wanted to get it off my chest.   Please do not talk about it to anyone, as at present the C.O., Brigadier, & his red-hatted followers are the only people who know anything about the whole tomasho, & it is all very secret.

The weather still continues to be very beastly. It rains or snows with great regularity each day & everything is coated in thick & abominable mud.  The trenches are bearing up very well where they have been revetted, elsewhere they tumble down in periodical avalanches, engulfing everything & everybody. However the Germans are merely a mile away & most of the time we can walk about on the top without any fear of being seen – they can probably do the same – it is generally as thick as a London fog in these parts.

The alarms & excursions that I spoke of in my last letter still continue each evening but do (not) worry us overmuch, as up to the present they have not actually hit us.   These little things come comparatively slowly & we have plenty of time as a rule to take up our beds & walk to the cellar, the funkhole, or in the case of serious bombardment down the mine.

Huskisson is still away on leave & Cannon with his weak heart are making tracks for Cap Martin or some other place in the South of France – We have another attached officer now in his place, a fellow named Gilbert from our 4th Btn.   He was with the Queen’s Westminsters for many years & is by no means a chicken.   He is by trade I believe an artist who illustrates books or something of that sort. He seems a very decent fellow & has a head on his shoulders which is something.

The alarums & excursions are just recommencing, so it is possible I may have to break this off & dive downstairs though I don’t suppose it will be much – they are stopping already – have stopped in fact – so no need for any disturbance. I don’t think I shall get too many cakes.   Cannon was our chief source of supply & now that he has gone we shall want them badly I expect.  It is very good of all you kind people at home to send us out so much.

Next time I write I will send you one of our terrible Xmas cards, one that is of the fated lot I carried here from Boulogne.  The design is distinctly poor & the whole affair very shoddy – we are quite ashamed of Div. H.Q. & consider that they might have produced something much better.   However such as it is I will send it along.       No time for more must go & dress for dinner.

11 December 1916

Very many thanks for your letter.  I cannot say that I found the enclosed note from M.T.S. but doubtless it was there since you said it was. I am glad our old friend the clarionet has turned up safely, some day perhaps I shall resume my experimental labours upon it!   I might also have it out here & play it in the front line trenches if we find we cannot beat the Boche by any other fairer method.

We devoured the goose last night & found it excellent though we were a small party for so large an animal. Huskisson is still away on leave, & the always delicate Cannon has left us, this time I think for good.  He has had a horrid cough for some time & yesterday morning he nearly collapsed. The Doctor diagnosed bronchitis, congestion of something & a hopelessly futile heart, so he has gone for a trip to the S. of France, & is not likely to see any active service again.  He was very upset about having to go – not to say a little worried about the heart – he has had rheumatic fever once.

We had all sorts of high jinks yesterday evening when the alarums & excursions of this foolish war caused us all to take cover with great rapidity. The Bosch was unkind enough to send a few foolish little pip squeaks over after dinner, & actually chipped some of our tiles & smashed a window.   Down to the cellar we all went, those in rear hustling the others, the General pushing with the rest & everybody thoroughly enjoying themselves. The weather is horrible – rain hail & sleet at all & every hours of the day, mud everywhere, & very cold at night, – jolly old war.

So “Au Revoir”

8 December 1916

It is getting rather late but I think I have got time to dash off a letter before bedtime.  We have just been having rather an amusing interview with a Bosch, who got tired of life & came over to us.   He was only 19 & very cold, but quite happy at being captured.  His reason for desertion seems to be his being sent out of Hospital before he considered himself really fit, & also being sent without a blanket.   It was the first time he had been in trenches, & then he deserted after about 14 hours of it, so he must have been a bit of a rotter. He was a cheery looking youth & spoke with many gesticulations laughing heartily the while, grinning from ear to ear. He was finally removed in the Intelligence Officer’s car & given a blanket to prevent his dying of cold.   As he leant comfortably back in the seat with the blanket over him, he remarked with a broad grin, “that’s much better”.  (In German, of course.)

We have settled down again to the old routine & I wander round trenches each morning with great regularity.  Fortunately our present abode is very different to that of this time last year, & here there is no need to swim up to the line, or wait for a frost so that one can walk upon the ice.  There are many worse places than this, & except in very exceptional cases, I ought not to use my waders more than once a week.

Col. Jones is fit again & had returned to his Battalion much to everybody’s delight.   I have not yet paid a call on him since I came out, but shall do so at the first opportunity. Creed has been transferred back again from the 4th, so is quite content.   Here we have no news of any interest. The turkey has at last come to an end & we shall in all probability start on the goose tomorrow night.  If it is as good as the “dindon” we shall not fare at all badly. There is no more today, & it is getting very late.

6 December 1916

I rejoined my people yesterday after a fairly long & exceedingly tedious journey, during which most of us passengers got exceedingly cold & consequently very miserable.  I found things very much the same as when I left, & Husskinson has now gone on leave. Last night we spent in a Chateau in great comfort, & have now come up once more into the trench area.   We are back in a part of the line with which we are all more of less intimately acquainted.

My mare has entirely recovered from her infirmities & carried me here this morning without any difficulty or complaining; she was in fact remarkably skittish, & gave quite a spirited performance in the streets of one village through which we passed.   This last was probably due to the old complaint of “too much to eat & not enough to do”

The Christmas Cards got to their destination without mishaps.  It is true that the early hour of starting made it rather difficult to get them to the station in time, however they did arrive & we got them on the train all right.  The greater difficulty was experienced at this end when we arrived in the middle of the night, & there were no porters of other hired labourers available.   It is not easy matter to shift a crate weighing 3 1/2 cwt out of a guards-van onto the ground – the train was too long for one end to reach the platform. The last stage of all of the journey they accomplished in a motor-lorry, which took me home on its way.   This was most useful, as it obviated the necessity of hiring some vehicle to carry my turkey etc. While on the subject of turkey, I may say that the bird turned out to be absolutely A.1. We had to eat it last night as it had somehow managed to get bruised on the chest. It was excellent & we had some of it cold for lunch today. The goose is in very good condition & will keep for some time yet.

I found a parcel from you waiting for me when I got back, with the black vest – Dini’s scarf & a pair of bed socks. These last will be especially welcome as my cold railway journey has presented me with an excellent large chilblain on the foot, which at present causeth me much irritation. Please thank Dini for the scarf which is regarded by all with greenly envious eyes – if it cannot keep me warm, nothing can.

You will be sorry to hear that Col Jones is at present away in Hospital with a bad cold.  He is on the mend now & will probably be out in a day or two. During his absence Griffiths is commanding the battalion with Shields as second in command.   Everyone else in the regiment seems fairly fit except Thomson who has also got a bad cold & has had to stay in bed for the last week or so. It is the first time he has missed a parade since the Division came out, so I expect he is very sick at breaking his record which must be almost unique.

I have just had a very amusing letter from Shrewsbury containing a “Stickleback” photo of Andrew – really a very creditable likeness.  His description of a feast in the bedroom – an illicit feast, I gather – is very entertaining, particularly where he enters into details of how the new “Scum” is paying the penalty for having over-eaten.   I shall have to try & find time to drop him a line or two

In my present abode I am sharing a fairly comfortable room with Grinling.    We are of course back to the old regime of home made wire-netting beds; no more luxurious mattresses for us.  The “Piver” travelled quite safely & my head has received a large dose this evening – it really is most excellent stuff.

We managed to get a very good dinner my one night in Boulogne.   Moffet & Sandland, the two former R.T.O. acquaintances were both able to turn up & we discussed former tines & generally talked nonsense far into the night.    Viccars has not yet come back from his school, when he does it will probably be to go on leave, it is quite 3 months, I believe, since he had it.

3 December 1916 (2)

Hotel Dorvaux. Boulogne

Just a hurried line to let you know that we got across all right today & are going on tomorrow. The sea was positively glass-like & we got across very comfortably in spite of a fairly thick mist which enshrouded the channel.   I met the R.T.O. Saward ?  as soon as we arrived – he is the man who put me up for the night last time I was here.   He is coming to dinner with us tonight as also is Moffat another of the railway gang we met at Marseilles.  He is a cheery fellow & I was quite glad to see him again for a few minutes.  Apparently today was the first day of the very early start form Victoria & only a few knew about it.  The result was we had comparatively few officers returning with us.  The Mans Card Depot is at present closed, but will open in the morning when I hope to be able to arrange everything satisfactorily.

The birds are so far all right & unless we get seriously hung up ought to last all right.   The hamper was so large that I dispensed altogether with the black haversack, & have left it at the flat for Dad to call for anytime en passant. I have just met a man in a tea shop that I have not seen for ages. I first saw him – not to speak to – in a theatre at Luton.   Next in March 1916 in a dug-out where I again recognized him, &, if I remember right had tea with him.  And now I spotted him again.  He tells me Boosey is acting Staff Captain of his Brigade, & is consequently a mighty man.