My abode has once more altered, this time to a commodious and quite luxuriously furnished cellar. It is in fact two cellars which join – one the mess, the other a bedroom for the C.O. and myself. When they do not shell it is a most pleasant spot. It is not bad even when they do – but they don’t often. The old Boche is pretty good to us on the whole. We had a very exciting experience coming into trenches a night or so ago. The C.O., Doc and myself were riding up with one groom: we had just passed Banwelll and his Company on the road when the old Boche suddenly put over about 50 gas shells absolutely smack at us – all round – right, left, front and rear. The whole thing was over in about 3 minutes, or even less. Banwell’s horse threw him, and bolted in terror, and ours followed suit as hard as they could go across a ploughed field. We all managed to stick and pulled them up after about 100yds. Non one was any the worse but it is about as near a thing as we have had for some time. Things of that sort are rather like taking a tonic, one feels tremendously fit after them and in great form. We are all flourishing and enjoying life immensely – would do so still more if only the weather would improve. It is not actually raining at the moment but it is far from warm, and we usually get some rain during the night. As this is our time for work and movement it is rather unfortunate. By day we stay below and no one shows himself – but as darkness comes people begin to appear, and what was an absolutely lifeless village by day – becomes a sort of Piccadilly by night.
Very many thanks for a letter, a Sportsman, and some most excellent little “slip-pads”. They are very useful but I feel half afraid of using them because the paper looks so high-class. As a matter of fact for about two weeks we could not get any stationary at all, the supply went wrong somewhere and we had to use up backs and odd ends even for the most respectable official correspondence. We are at present in a chateau farm house – a jolly place which we have been in before with a tennis court. It is nearer the Boche than it used to be owing to the latter having “pushed” a bit. But still the two ladies stay on though their servants have all fled. They are gradually getting their valuables and furniture away and, I expect, will go themselves before long. It is really extraordinarily brave of them to stay at all. They are practically the only people left in the village, and are having to do all their own work. One’s husband is a prisoner in Germany – the other is unmarried. I believe they are both of good family. The health of the Btn has greatly improved and we are once more fit again which is a great blessing. I too have recovered and am feeling in the most lively health – much to the consternation of some of the slower spirits amongst the men of Btn HQ. The work as usual makes itself felt by its never failing presence. It seems to increase daily though I suppose really that there is no more now than there was a year ago. I found a white hair this morning when I was brushing my wig – however I have pulled it out and hope I shall not find any more.
Just a line or two before going to bed. We have just done a ”move” and fetched up in a Girls School. All the Officers of H.Q. and two Companies are sleeping on mattresses in one of the class rooms. I think we shall be fairly comfortable but I have seen places which are more so. However I don’t suppose it will be for more than one night so that doesn’t matter. I had a most excellent dinner with A Company last night – Petch’s Cook really made a marvellous effort, and to detail all the items to people rationed like yourselves would be too cruel. Just before dinner we had a mighty game of rounders. HQ. v B Coy Officers. Needless to say we lost chiefly owing to the exceeding poorness of our fielding and the wildness of the throwing. I nearly managed a rounder on one occasion but failed just at the last lap. The card case continues to be a great benefit, it lives in my pocket and the cards signify by the colour of their edges how often they are used. Cole and I very often get a game of picquet or ecarte. I have also learned the rules of Bridge, and the Padre, Doctor and myself often manage to find a fourth, and have a hand or two. Of course at present I am more of less useless but it is a good game, and perhaps in time I shall become somewhat more efficient. The “epidemic” has greatly decreased now, and the prospects are distinctly less alarming. In another three days the Battalion will, I think, be fit for anything, except for a few officers who were rather late in getting it.
Very many thanks for several letters which have come since I last wrote – to wit two from you, one form Andrew, and one from Mary. The latter also included a water colour for which please thank the donor very much for me. Incidentally you might tell her that her spelling is very good but if she pronounces “poytry” as she spells it she ought to be smacked! I hope the mumps held away all right and that everybody is now entirely free from any fear of infection. Our epidemic of influenza spread with alarming rapidity, we had 250 down within a few hours and had to pack the whole lot off to Hospital. No one can imagine what was the cause of it all. I was very rotten for two days but managed to stick at my job and am now O.K. again except for a heavy cold and a rotten taste in my mouth. The last is beastly. I had one rather bright moment at lunch the other day – the G.O.C. came in and of course we all stood up. (This was the day I felt worst) He talked for about 5 minutes and I suddenly realized the room was going round and round. I held on to the table and managed to remain on my feet until the General had gone. Then by dint of stooping down almost to the floor to get my chair and sit on it – I managed to pull myself together. No one noticed it but it was the nearest thing to a complete faint I have ever had – in ordinary circumstances. If the General had not gone when he did I expect I should have gone “Flop”. The weather is now improving which is a blessing because I do not very much care about our present abode – small and dirty and not much of a place to live in on a wet day. I have been having some delightful rides – one extra good one before breakfast this morning with Brooke – Petch, Cole and Bertie. Brooke and Cole both came off but fortunately did not damage themselves. The mare is not very fast but quite comfortable and what is more important very safe. She never stumbles or falls head over heels into silly little ditches – or anything unpleasant of that sort. No time for more.
Just a very hurried line or two just to let you know that the weather is beastly – raw, damp and wet, and that we are going through an epidemic of “flu”. The cause cannot be ascertained but whatever it is we have a horrible large number or men and several officers down with it. It is the worst bit of luck that the Battalion has ever had as it will make it practically impossible for the authorities to send us into s show in our present condition. Everybody has been so keen to have a go at the old Bosch, and now it looks as though we are going to be kept back by this rotten sickness. We managed with considerable difficulty to get a Battalion Mess “going” yesterday – Ante and Dining rooms all complete and very comfortable – now we hear that we have to move out of our huts into the neighbouring village – so I suppose the whole thing will be knocked on the head. This also is bad luck. It looks very much as if I should have to live about 400 miles from the Orderly Room and another 65 from the mess – a system with which I am not particularly enamoured: no time for more – I am afraid this letter is rather a grouse – but I have got flu.
We are at present living in the lap of luxury, and but for the weather having suddenly turned cold could wish for nothing better. I have been sleeping in a bed for the last few nights, and we are most of us living in huts which can generally be made pretty comfortable. The country is just beginning to look interesting. There are several small woods about – full of white anemones – the orderly Room is simply surrounded with them. The black thorn is in full blossom and looks lovely. In fact if it weren’t for the somewhat ceaseless rumble of guns, and the never ending line of motor lorries on the main roads, one would forget that there was a war on at all. The C.O. and I had quite a good ride this afternoon. The mare went very well and cantered excellently along some stretches of turf that we managed to find. If it were not for a bitterly cold wind I suppose we should be enjoying real Spring weather. The sun comes out in a half-hearted way, but there is always the wind to spoil it all. We managed to get a Battalion Dinner last night and had a very successful evening. Songs were the order of the day, as usual and though the new Subalterns are not quite up to the standing of the old, they will doubtless learn in good time. Tonight I am going to dine with D. Coy. – I trust it will not be too “wild” an evening. Most of the Subalterns are very annoyed with me at present on account of some rude things I have been saying to them. However that is not of the slightest consequence and they will doubtless recover in time. The “Drums” are going wonderfully, they played the other day at Church Parade and their evening performance Retreat is watched and admired by crowds.
Many thanks for a long letter full of information. I am sorry to hear about Lesley Boosey, but his people are in some ways fortunate as the news has come through very quickly and they have not been kept waiting a long time in suspense. I believe there is some slight hope of Toller also being a prisoner, though up to the present no one knows anything very definite. Today is simply lovely, real spring at last – I spent an hour or two this afternoon lying on the grass in the sun. Both sides having got tired of misty wet days when one could see nothing, immediately took advantage of today’s clearness and have been banging away at each other with long range guns most of the afternoon. We fortunately are so placed as to be able to watch the “busting” shells well away on both sides and live ourselves in peace. I hope the weather continues not for the sake of the observation, but because I am sure we can fight better when it’s warm. Our dinner was not such a colossal success as could have been hoped. The chicken was distinctly elderly and much skill was required to effect its dismemberment, carving was entirely out of the question. The sausages which should have accompanied it were inadvertently given us for breakfast the day before – so they too could scarcely be called successful. However the rest of the dinner was not at all bad. The party – mostly D. Coy., were very cheerful and we all went to bed very late. That did not matter greatly as no one had the slightest intention of having breakfast before 10 AM today. We are a small party just at present as John B Barnett and Hewson are all away with the Transport links having a bit of a rest. We are in back trenches, and this being at present our only rest we do no work and try to enjoy the weather. Fortunately we manage to get into pyjamas at night a great comfort which makes all the difference to one’s existence. Here is some more work blown in.
I am afraid you may at times be somewhat anxious to know what has happened to me especially with all these Boche efforts all over the place. By this time you have possibly read all about a fresh attack he has made – we are just hearing all about. Please do not worry – no news is in this case, generally good news. I thought at one time of sending you a Field P.C. every day but came to the conclusion that a lost mail, or the impossibility of getting a card for a day or two, or the Post Corporal being unable to reach HQ. or some little mischance might leave you 3 days without a card and your anxiety would at once be increased the thousand –fold. So do not worry – I will write whenever I can – work (not shells) at present prevents more frequent writing. We are not and have not, and probably will not be in the line of any Boche “push” – I sometimes wish we could be. We are proposing to have a small feast tonight at HQ. I don’t know how it will turn out The Interpreter has managed to secure a chicken which just at present is a tremendous luxury. It is some time since we had a chance of getting near any decent shops – so we have been living more or less on the “simple life” principle.
Just a very hurried line or two in the intervals between work. I have not much time to spare. Today is I believe Sunday – though it is not very distinguishable. The Padre had a service this morning at 8 AM to which I meant to go, but did not get to bed until 3 AM so simply could not get up. I have seldom worked so hard and had so little sleep – and it is most of it not particularly interesting work. Paper, paper, and paper again from morning to night – yards of it. We are still in the same old smelly Bosch dwelling-hole, and the ground outside is muddy. It rains frequently not in showers as it ought to but in one continuous very wetting drizzle which soaks through one’s clothes and turns the trenches into pea-soup. I am very dirty and could so well with a bath to say nothing of a good night’s sleep. We have had come amusing times lately. About a fortnight ago we were in a piece of the line where the old Boche was expected to attack – in fact a prisoner actually gave the day. The night before the supposed show we went into trenches. Nobody actually said goodbye, but brigade HQ. and all the others looked very sympathetic. “Poor old Vth” so to speak. “I don’t suppose we shall ever see anything of them again”. It was a most cheering performance, and with the staff so confident of the coming attack, it was comparatively difficult even for our always cheerful selves not to be somewhat affected by their depressing influence. Personally I never really believed it for one minute – as you can doubtless gather from my letter at the time. We laugh over it all now but at the time it was just a little grim. The men were, I think, largely disappointed – we should all of us rather enjoyed having a go at this “mowing down” business.
This is a nasty dirty place and we are all living in a horrible old German dug-out yards and yards below the earth. Air is not to be found and one wakes in the morning with a mouth that can only be described as gummy. We are in trenches as usual and very quiet ones. I don’t think the gentry opposite are either energetic or enthusiastic. They are probably elderly and comparatively respectable with a dislike for war. So far as you can doubtless gather we have kept out of the battle: it is often our luck to do so. Battles may be – usually are in fact – distinctly unpleasant affairs, nevertheless I am sufficiently blood thirsty to wish that we might occasionally be allowed the chance of slaughtering some of these oncoming masses. Perhaps our turn will come – I hope it does – our people are all in great form just now and we shall give him much to think about. I have a new clerk. It is only about 2 months since I got my last – red hair and a horrid grin. I knew I couldn’t stand him for long, and now I have given him the push. The new one is rather a pasty youth but can gallop away at shorthand as quickly as I can talk, and that is a great advantage. I don’t like his face but that can’t be helped – I need not look at him. My faithful philosopher clerk “Jas Lincoln” is still going strong – he is a slow old gentleman but very trustworthy and accurate, and absolutely imperturbable. I always feel more comfortable when he is about. I cannot remember whether I told you about the scrape into which my runner Sullivan got himself into the other day. He struck a Sergeant – a very serious crime – and I had the most appalling difficulty in extricating him and avoiding a Court Martial. The whole thing is now settled, and he once more trudges along behind me as of old. He is a really good man – one of the best soldiers in the Regiment. These old German dug-outs are all very well, safe and all the rest – but for some unknown reason they made them always most impossibly narrow. A couple more feet would have made all the difference. The air does not get a chance to circulate, and is consequently most foul, but our bedroom is about 8’ long, 6’ wide and 6’ high and contains four beds, one above the other on each side. Burnett, Dunlop a gunner and myself sleep there. I fortunately am on top. The air is not so good but the bed very much more comfortable – at least less uncomfortable. We are a tremendous crowd at mess, and can hardly move at all. The news from down south seems to be remarkably good. There is no doubt that a very large number of Bosch have been killed, quite apart form any wounded – these we know can be numbered in thousands. I only hope that the people of Germany get thoroughly frightened at their lack of success, and go “amok”. Then our time will really come – if only a rot sets in we shall have the time of our lives.
We have had at last to wear a distinguishing mark. You may remember that long long ago we wore a peculiar yellow splotch on our backs. We may have a much more artistic affair on our arms. Personally I hate the whole thing and wish we weren’t made to wear them. However an order is an order and there is no getting away from it. There was rather an amusing episode over the bill. The first 2000 badges came and with them a bill for £72!! We gasped and wondered where the money was to come from. However about a week later came another saying that was an error – it should have been £10. 6. d – rather a difference.