Just a line or two as long as I can keep awake, It is not yet dinner time but I am extraordinarily sleepy – often the case for the first day or two in rest after a longish tour in trenches. There is always so much interesting work to do in the line, that I get little or no sleep some nights and makeup for it when we come out. Our last tour in trenches ended up in great style with two Bosches to our credit. He came nosing around our wire entanglements with a small patrol for some unknown reason, and selected for this escapade the very part of our line held by my old no 14 platoon. “Fourteen” were always a blood-thirsty lot and they lived up to their reputation. Letting drive with a machine gun they managed to bring one down with a hole in his leg and captured the other unhurt. The first I heard of it was at about 2.15 AM when I was woken up to hear the news and found myself two seconds later to my great surprise confronted by a beautifully dressed German non-commissioned officer. I struggled out of bed, lit a candle and forthwith set fire to the newspaper tablecloth. Blow it out I could not, but a grey-gloved hand descended in a dignified manner and squashed the flame – A most remarkable German. Everybody is of course very “bucked” about it, and I expect we shall have a “celebratory” dinner. The “Drums” performed this evening at “Retreat” in great style. The fifes appeared for the first time and were really jolly good; everybody was surprised and pleased – not to say electrified. If they go on at their present rate of progress, they will be easily the best rums in the Division in a week or two: I am not sure that they are not the best now. I am going to have dinner with F Coy this evening – I hope I shall not go to sleep in the middle of it all – that would be most impolite and undignified.
There is not a great deal to say and my thoughts are somewhat disturbed by the noises in my boudoir-orderly-room. There are workmen in the house! To be absolutely truthful the frightful enemy put a shell this morning on the roof. I am so far down that of course it could not come through, but some of the timbers in the hall ceiling gave way, and a certain quantity of loamy soil was admitted to the foot of the stairs. I was out at the time; if I had been here I feel sure I should have had palpitations. In any case I have got two entrances, so, even if the one had been knocked in, I could always escape by the other. Although it was of course most extraordinarily ill mannered behaviour on the part of Old Ludwig and his friends. We were at breakfast at the time and some of us who had finished thought it wise to beat a dignified retreat down our new funk-hole – a tremendous mansion half way or more to Australia. No shell every made could possibly penetrate its dark and damp recesses. I can’t say that I personally like the place – it’s bad for rheumatism. Col. Currin has come back from his leave and goodness only knows what they will do with him now. He has no job and cannot very well stay with us in a subordinate position. There is I am afraid no doubt about which of the two men of the Battalion would rather have as commanding officer. However it is not good grousing. Weather still holds good and in spite of a red sky this morning, there is no real sign of rain coming.
The good weather still continues uninterruptedly and if it were not for the frosts at night one might imagine oneself at least 2 months ahead. Col. Currin should have returned from leave today and as they have not up to the present found any job for him, I expect he will have another two months or so in England. If the weather lasts he well be a very lucky man. We are all flourishing here and only wondering when this great and much news-papered German offensive is going to begin. It may rain if he doesn’t start soon, and it is always a poor game trying to do a big attack in bad weather. I expect there is much speculation at home as to when it will come: everyone over your side seems to take it for granted it will come sometime and somewhere. I see Charterhouse has had rather a bad show with a top floor burnt – it must have got a very good hold before being discovered or doubtless it would have been got under control fairly easily. The knee is very much more comfortable again and the chilblains have completely departed – thanks to the sun. I am getting very little sleep but that does not seem to worry me very much and I am thriving on it as usual.
Gorgeous weather for the last three days – a bit cold at nights perhaps with a sharp frost, but a really hot sun making up for everything by day. We are back once more in our old home in the line -not quite the home as we left it. My dear little Orderly Room has gone, something hit it, and being about as strong as a house of cards it not unnaturally collapsed. My new office is below ground and therefore comparatively safe. Unfortunately like most underground dwelling places it suffers from a lack of light and air: I loathe having to do all my work by candlelight, but I suppose it cannot be helped. Otherwise our home is much as it always was. I am in the same bed, the other being occupied by the C.O. instead of old John Burnett who always used to share the room with me. The silly old gentleman over the way makes a good deal of noise, and kicks up the dust a bit and throws things about, but on the whole manages to do remarkably little damage, & causes us little or no anxiety. The Sportsman turned up yesterday and the chocolate, three days ago, for which I have, I believe, already thanked you. It was very good and I demolished the last piece about 2.30 AM this morning when I came in from my nightly prowl round the line. I am really very fond of wandering about more or less at random round the line, accompanied by the faithful and imperturbable Sullivan. The only thing we need now to complete our state of bliss is a crocus or two and a snowdrop, they don’t seem to grow in this horrible ploughed up country – its all potatoes and mangles.
Very many thanks for another letter, also for the toffee tin of chocolate which fetched up today and will be very acceptable in trenches. The weather today has been really lovely and I got quite hot walking round the line this morning: poor Sullivan perspired freely, he is becoming obese, and I walk rather fast at times. Our A Coy played their final match this afternoon against Bde HQ and managed to beat them – 3-1 thereby winning the “Rowley” cup. The General presented it himself after the match amidst great applause, and it was subsequently filled with cheap champagne and much quaffing took place amongst the team. We all went over to see the game which was not by any means a bad one. It was rather amusing in the dim hours of this morning. We were all woken by a distant bombardment – nothing very much, probably only someone doing a raid. There were also a few distant gas shells about, and the sentries duly warned us to be alert. The old Soldiers like myself merely turn over and go to sleep again for all these noises – we did so – not so the C.O. – the sentry sent to warn him found him pacing up and down the road. If he is going to turn out every time a few gas guns go off I am afraid he may find himself somewhat short of sleep before many days are out. It is quite probable that Moore will be going for a six months rest very shortly and I should not be surprised if Burnett gets some job or other away from the Battalion. Should that happen Jim Griffiths will be the only officer senior to me except the Colonel. I am getting most horribly old, and shall have to try and raise a little dignity and give up my childish behaviour. Moore deserves a rest, as he has 3 years continuous service in the line and has never been sick. He is a good fellow.
Here we are once more amidst the scenes of war; one might almost say home again. This is a comparatively quiet sector and we are all more or less glad to be back again. In fact my orderly – Sullivan, and myself felt quite light-hearted and light headed when we found ourselves once more walking along the old familiar “grid” paths and trenches. We have a most excellently comfortable H.Q. with a very nice little bedroom attached to the Orderly Room in which Dunlop and I have each got a bed. Dunlop, in case his name is new to you, is my assistant. He never does any work except when I am away, but he has an excellent manner and always manages to look extraordinarily busy. The weather today has been simply grand – cold of course except in the middle of the day, but fine throughout, and the sun when shining – splendid. I am now looking forward to the first day when one can say there is a real feeling of spring in the air – there is not of course at present. I believe all the trenches we are likely to have to deal with at present are fairly dry so I shall not – thank goodness – need my waders. It makes all the difference to one’s enjoyment of life if one can get round the line dry-shod.
Another days trekking has been successfully completed and we are now back once more in a very familiar neighbourhood. The weather which looks somewhat threatening early this morning improved beyond all expectation and this afternoon was lovely. Consequently marching was my no means bad and we reached our present abode with only one man having to “Fall out” which is excellent. Now that we are back in the war again, so to speak, we can once more get some of the little luxuries which are so comforting. This place for instance (and most other in this neighbourhood) has most excellent baths – plenty of clean clothing for the men, and heaps of hot water – all practically unknown in the peaceful regions we have just left. I have myself had a most refreshing bath this evening just before dinner. Tomorrow we shall in all probability move again, but only a very little way. Here we are very comfortable – tomorrow I expect we shall be less so but that does not matter. Tell Dad I managed to get a quiet rubber or two at ecarte last night and 1 of piquet – at which incidentally I was well “rubiconed”. The papers still seem very full of the coming Bosch offensive, I wonder where it will come. At all events he will have a poor time wherever he decides to have a try. I should not be surprised if he is thinking and saying precisely the same things about ourselves. I had my gas bag tested yesterday in some “tear” gas – the stuff is still hanging to my clothes and makes me weep at intervals.
There is just time for a line or two before the post goes, so I may as well write it though there is not a great deal to write about. The weather has greatly improved and is now very much warmer – fortunately for the chilblains which are now much less noticeable. We are going to trek again tomorrow, and if it keeps fine, ought to have quite a good march – though a longish one. Bromfield was over here this morning to see one or two friends – his battalion is also moving but in the opposite direction. This afternoon I rode out to try and find Tetley who used to command the 4th and is now somewhere about – but could not discover him. He is the Colonel I met that Sunday morning in the Park when we went for a walk after Church. Great amusement is being caused in the Mess by the introduction of what is known as Doomsday Book. Hitherto the drinks have been equally divided amongst all of us, and we all paid the same shares. The new C.O. objects to this as being unfair to the tee-totallers, (there aren’t any), so we now have to write down every drink we have. “Two –pennorth” of lime juice sounds most odd. I suppose we shall get used to the idea in time. Our little Doctor is still away: we were expecting him back today but he has not put in an appearance. The emaciated one is becoming somewhat more lively, and I daresay, in time, if he stayed long enough – he might become quite a cheerful fellow. Lady Mary and I are rapidly becoming friends and she went very well indeed this afternoon. She jumps about at almost anything out of the ordinary – but I would far rather she did that then be absolutely devoid of any spirit at all. Some animals are most horribly dead and uninteresting. No time for more. The Post Corporal is waiting.
Just come to the end of another day’s “trekking” and are trying to settle down comfortably. Most people have succeeded but my idiot of a billeting officer had fixed the Orderly Room over a pub with a piano and a gramophone, and work with one of these going is not over easy as you may imagine. The clerks are now looking for a new place – I hope they discover something. The “Sportsman” and a letter turned up today – saying you are sending off some chocolate – many thanks for it when it arrives – please also thank Aunt Maggie, as I shall certainly not have time to do so. It is very nice to hear that Dad is getting on well, and better still that he is keeping fit – the most important thing of all. Chilblains are horrible and knee rheumatic – I also fell down a flight of steps, and skinned one arm – so you can imagine my temper and pity my staff clerks. The weather is bitterly cold and there are numerous snowstorms. Curiously enough we had exactly similar weather on this day 1916 – and I can remember turning out to help drag the transport of another Regiment up a hill. They called it the Retreat from Moscow – we might almost give the same name to our efforts or yesterday and today. The men have good billets and are all very cheery, so all is well. I expect we shall stay here a day or two before moving on. My clerk has returned and a new Orderly Room has been found, so that we can “move in” in the morning: the new place has the inestimable advantage of being within 20 yds of the mess, and my bedroom. Unfortunately it has no fireplace, but nor has our present abode, so we shall be no worse off at any rate. The “Drums” still continue to improve rapidly and managed to play us along today most excellently. This is not ideal weather for their show, and marching into a N.E. snow hurricane – little short of a blizzard – with a big drum is no particular joke. Incidentally we did not exactly welcome this wild North Easter and I should like to have put Mr Charles Kingsley on the top of one of these bleak roads we have come over and seen now long he would have stuck it, even in a fur coat. Our miniature Doctor has gone to Hospital with a “boil” and his place has been taken by a tall, thin, emaciated looking Scotsman – they are all Scotsmen these days. He is not a very lively person, and scarcely opens his mouth, so H.Q. mess, which has never been a wonderfully cheerful place, is more silent and horribly respectable than ever. I sometimes feel inclined to get up and throw plates about, or do something exciting of that sort – I am getting old and level-headed much too quickly in such surroundings. I nearly got a chance the other day of riding over to see the field of Agincourt. Unfortunately we moved somewhat sooner than we expected, and the visit has had to be postponed – very indefinitely. I believe there is nothing to mark the spot except one very small memorial, which it is almost impossible to find. I think my new mare and I shall be friends yet. She is rather young and has not been really properly trained, so at times she gets excited, but now that I know her little ways I ought not to have any trouble. She is inclined to be lazy, but is really very willing, and could I think “go on” for a very long time. In any case she is much larger than the now famous “Dolly” – one of the oldest soldiers of the Regiment.
We are now on our way out of the training area, our “rest” is at an end, and we shall presently find ourselves in trenches again before the year is over. At present we are on “trek”. I hope now that we are no longer “resting” that I shall have more time for letter writing. Latterly I have been worked from 6.45 am to 11.00 pm without intermission. In “work” of course I have to include all the sports and functions that one has to attend. Do not imagine that all my time is spent mugging in the office. For instance the night before last we had a most successful battalion dinner – it was a great show, but as Adjt I had of course to stay to the bitter end, and as far as letter writing was concerned I might just as well have been in the middle of the Sahara. Wade, the Bde Major, came to dinner with us and we displayed all our vocal powers to great advantage. The news C.O. – Wood by name is a very good soldier and will doubtless do the Battalion a lot of good. However he can never be the friend to us all that Currin was. The change has meant a deal of work and worry but we are getting over it be degrees. First of all, our no1 Platoon not only won the Bde Rifle and Bayonet Competition but also beat the best platoons in the other two Brigades, and so walks off with the silver medals given by the Army Rifle Association, for the best platoon in the Division (144 platoons). Gen. Rowley, the Brigadier offered a cup for football, for the best Coy team. Our A Coy is in the final against Bde HQ. and should win this too. At all events they have already beaten A. Coy of the 4th – our oldest and most dangerous rivals. We are having very grim weather just at present – snow, hail, and rain – and most horribly cold. I am all “be-chill-blaned” in the heels, and have a thoroughly rheumatic knee – “bon n’est ce pas”. The new mare – “Lady Mary” or “the Hon. Sybil” – I cannot decide which is a very comfortable ride, and since the first day I have not had any real trouble with her, though she is inclined to be a bit frisky after standing about in the cold.