Just time for a line or two sitting in bed before snuffing the candle. It is our first night in after the Christmas festivities and the Major and I are back once more in our old dug-out. There is about a foot of snow outside and many chinks in the door – our only warmth coming from the mess-fire next door. I am wearing all the clothes I possess including boots and puttees, and have three sandbags on each leg. One blanket and one’s coat is all that one can bring to trenches so one has to do the best with all sorts of odds and ends. Our Christmas was a very merry though rather cold one. Our celebrations were all on the Monday – a day which was more suitable to the trench reliefs than the 25th. The men fed first – an enormous spread of pork and plum-pudding. The Sergeants followed, and lastly our own at 7.30 pm. We sat down 32 in all and I will send you our menu when I can think of it. I have not got it with me now. Everyone was in great form and the C.O. was tremendously cheery. We had an uproarious evening and eventually got to bed in the small hours of Christmas Day. The day itself we spent very quietly. Church in the morning, and a slack time in the afternoon. In my case spent polishing off arrears of work. In the evening I dined with my old Company D – a sort of family gathering, and early to bed. On Monday just as we were finishing lunch we had a most unexpected visitor Broomfield – now a Colonel and commanding a battalion of the Manchester Regiment. He seemed very fit and quite pleased to see us – of course Moore, John and myself were the only ones he remembered. I expect we shall see him again soon, as they are not far away from us. I have a cold in my head and a ferocious and awe-inspiring cough, but feel very fit withal, so take some of the Doctor’s best pills and laugh at it all. I dare say leave, if and when it comes, will put me right in no time. I don’t suppose they will let me go very much before the 15th or 16th of next month – possibly not till later. Bosworth managed to get home for Christmas, and is tremendously happy about it – he will not be back for some days yet. Meanwhile my Irish Roman Catholic Orderly is officiating for him – the great Sullivan of whom I believe you have heard. I hope you are all keeping fit and are not unduly worried by raids.
J.D. Hills was home on leave from 6 – 22 January 1918
We had a most successful football match the day before yesterday which we all went to see. The Major – old John Burnett and I rode home together across country: he is always a bit wild as soon as he gets mounted and on a bit of turf. He gave an enormous yell, of the type known I believe as a “View Halloa” – shouted something about all after the old dog fox – and galloped off. I yelled after him to be careful of obstacles but it was of no avail and of course my mare went away after him like greased lightning. Next moment we were both properly tied up in a circular wiry entanglement (fortunately not barbed), and it took the best part of a quarter of an hour to get the horses out. Even then John was quite irrepressible. However we got home all right without further mishap. We are now in trenches but if nothing untoward happens we shall be out at rest for Christmas Day so ought to manage a most excellent time, and have a good dinner – not so much from the food point of view as the company.
We had a very good little dinner last night, Burnett, Banwell, Brooke, Cole and myself – in a littler room at the back of a provision shop in the neighbouring city. The dinner was excellent, remarkably cheap – and the party a very merry one. We forgot all about fighting and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Not the least enjoyable part was the ride home on a clear frosty night – about six miles – incidentally about half an hour before some foolish aeroplane dropped a bomb or two on our “dining” city.
There are one or two books I should like, if they are obtainable. I find I am appallingly ignorant about all our S. African Campaigns – Zulu Wars, Bechuanaland, and Matabele Shows – Jameson Raid and the 1st S.A. Business. If you can find either a fairly full history of S.A. or separate histories of all these wars I should be very grateful. A sort of summary giving the name of a battle or two is of no use to me. I want to study the tactics of these little shows, so that I expect nothing will be any use except a separate thing on each war.
I rejoined my job on the last day of last month having heard there was an inspection coming off, and knowing that my stop-gap on a horse looks more like a performing chimpanzee than an Adjutant. As it turned out the Inspection was off and I arrived back just in time for about the heaviest four days work I have ever put in. Swarms of petty moves, and operation orders and early starts and changings of billets and such a worry and scurry as never was. Now we are peacefully settled in some very comfortable trenches and I am gradually getting straight. My head is quite all right, and the only thing now to worry me is a certain amount of feebleness, caused, no doubt, by having left about 2 pints of my best blood in the quadrangle of an Artillery Brigade H.Q. I had a bad shock when I got back to find that Col Trimble had gone. He was suddenly told to report too his own Regular Btn and command that – he has been replaced by one Major Currin D.S.O. a South African mounted rifleman – who has been fighting ever since the Jameson raid , and has seen service all over Africa, besides a year or two out here. I am awfully sorry to lose Trimble – a first rate C.O. – a good friend and one of the best men I have ever worked for. He has written me an exceedingly nice letter but that will not make up for his loss; he was very upset at having to go and tried hard to be allowed to stay. Our new C.O. is large, bluff, hard swearing – hard fighting – jovial – somewhat Falstaffian in appearance and brave as a lion. On the other hand he knows nothing of any internal arrangements and leaves all office work severely alone – which as you may imagine, means a very great deal more for me to do. However I never did mind work so that will not trouble me much. I had a letter from Col. Jones – he seems to have got back to England but will not say the reason why. In fact I do not know what is going to happen now. I wish something definite could be settled with regard to the Command of this Btn – it is a poor game always chopping & changing, and rather hard to keep up ones enthusiasm. We are having considerable difficulty with the fire in our present drawing-room. We can burn anything by night – when smoke cannot be seen, but by day have to observe great caution and generally end in feeling distinctly chilly. Old John Burnett and I share a very respectable bedroom, & I manage to keep pretty warm at nights by means of a blanket.