Still more and more work, and to add to our troubles and worries another C.O. They suddenly posted one Col. Wood to Command the Btn and as he is senior to Currin the latter has had to go and has gone on leave today. He may come and call. I am heartily sick of this changing about. It is not fair on Currin, it is still less fair for the Battalion, which cannot possibly be expected to remain thoroughly efficient if the head is being for ever changed. Incidentally my work is doubled, and for a time a new C.O. is bound to be dependent on his Adjutant. Col Currin was in many ways quite unlike any C.O. I have ever seem – but never can there be found a man with a smaller regard for danger, one more cheerful in the worst circumstances, and a kinder hearted C.O. At first sight he appeared somewhat wild to us but we soon learnt that he would back us up in everything, and knew that we could never be in too tight a corner for him to be there with us. I for one am very sorry that he has had to go.
I am still alive after our run last night, and moreover I have done another tonight. We managed to do about 1 and 1/2 miles along a road up and down a hill in 9 minutes which wasn’t so bad. My knee was of course bandaged but stood it very well and will I think be all the better for some really hard exercise without any jerks or twists. We have suddenly gone back to frosts, starting yesterday evening, and today was in consequence bright and, when out of the wind, warm. Tonight it is freezing hard and if it holds out as long as the moon we may get another spell of fine days without any rain. One unfortunate has happened, the mare is not so well as she should be. I fancy she has an unsound digestion. I am really too heavy for her, and with one thing and another she if quite out of sorts. I shall have to give her a rest for a week or so. We are in the midst of a great deal of football and games of all sorts which go on every afternoon; the morning of course is devoted to very strenuous training. Our running is done in the darkness – we are so shy. The C.O. runs extraordinarily well in spite of his 46 years. The Padre came back from leave today, and Major Burnett will be back in a day or two. Then H.Q. will be complete again for at least two months, since none of us can possibly be due for leave again much before them.
I believe it is now more than a week since I wrote except for the scrap end just to shew that I was still alive. We did a big move last Friday and Saturday which meant “up early and later to bed”. The weather was disgusting and the roads consequently abominably heavy – so that by the time we reached billets, some of the men had gone just about as far as they could. On the second day we had to do a tactical scheme as well which did not tend to improve matters. However nobody perished from overwork, and we eventually “fetched up” in the two villages which we now occupy – miles from the war – in fact we cannot even hear it when the wind is the right way. We have got quite a comfortable billet though some of the men are none too well off – the houses in this part of the world are somewhat tumble-down and antique. Personally I sleep over the mess and am very well placed. My Orderly Room is not bad, thought we all wish the inhabitants were not quite so fond of stewing sauer-kraut – I shall never want to see a cabbage again – certainly not smell one. We spend all our time training, shooting, bombing, bayonet fighting and getting fit with games and goodness knows what. I am going to try a little running again and see how my knee will stand it. I expect a little real hard exercise will do me no end of good and clear this beasty cold away. Many thanks to all and each one of you for your birthday letters – Dad’s came today – the others all hit the right day exactly. It is very good of so many of you to write such long screeds – at present it is absolutely impossible for me to dream of answering them all. Many thanks also for the Chevalier Album. Eight or ten of us attended a Requiem Mass today in the little village church – for the soldiers fallen in the war. I told the Cure beforehand that we did not know how to behave and what to do, so he said it would be all right if we stood all the time – which we did. The incense smelt very nice but gave out after five minutes, and no amount of coaxing on the part of the grubby acolyte (who retired and sat on the vestry floor and blew into the censer in full view of everybody) could persuade it to give forth its accustomed fumes. The service lasted and hour and consisted very largely of a droned and half shouted duologue between the Priest and the Clerk (?) The sermon was short and good, and they had rather a good Litany in French at the end, to a tune that I know quite well but cannot place. Everything else was of course in Latin. The disconcerting part of the proceedings was the number of offertories: I thought there might possibly be one, and so took along a small note which I put in the first plate – all well and good. Imagine however my consternation when I saw the plate coming round again about half an hour later. I searched high and low for a small coin – but could find only two pieces of paper. One was a 50 franc note – the other a matinée ticket for Zig Zag at the London Hippodrome !! Neither seemed quite suitable. However it turned out that the second collection was by way of being a sort of pour boir for the bell-ringer – who — the brute – had worked no doubt very hard – he had certainly started early and woken me up at a most horrible hour. I must say I cannot possibly imagine how anybody with a single spark of imagination, humour or initiative could be content with a form of worship such as the one carried on in this church. The congregation takes practically no part – none at all in the singing and responses. The grubby acolytes, the shoddy gaudy decoration, the cheaply painted images – all seem so hopelessly uncared for and out of place. The Church itself was built by the Spaniards in 1680 odd and could be made to look really beautiful. It is small but quite a good shape with a very a handsome chancel and apse. I cannot remember whether or no I told you about the “Drums”. I think I must have done because at the time when I last wrote they were uppermost in my mind. We have got them going really well now – 4 side drums – 8 bugles and a big drum. They are very good and put up a splendid show every evening at “retreat” – 4.0.pm when the whole village turns out to see them play, and march up, and turn the horses into the ditches etc. We had a very amusing evening two nights ago. I set a compass march for all the Subalterns, arranging for each pair to arrive at the same rendez-vous – though starting of course at different places and marching on different bearings. Two parties fetched up all right – in very good time but some of them got hopelessly lost and we had to go over the country blowing a bugle to get them back again.
My wretched cold still drags on, and thought my cough has almost entirely gone I am living in that most disagreeable and uncomfortable state when one can taste nothing, and smell nothing. I have written to Partington and told the Editor of the “Green Tiger” to send a copy to 16 Somerset Street each month, and in that way you will get a copy very much sooner than you would if you waited for me to send it from here. Great excitement has been caused here by the reappearance of the Drums i.e. the Btn bugle band. It has been defunct for nearly three years it has always been my ambition to resurrect it and now at last it has become possible to do so. They performed in public today for the first time, and made a jolly good show. At their present rate of progress they will be doing wonders in a week. All the players are fully trained so there is no fear of our having to put up with a great deal of horrible squalling and squawking at all hours of the day. We had a tremendous amount of banging and bumping all over the place a few nights ago, and the air seemed very thick with aeroplanes of all kinds and nationalities. The extraordinary part of the show is that although large numbers of people went to look at the damage, nobody seemed to be able to find any. I suppose none was done, it is often the case.
I hope you have not been unduly disturbed by the recent air-attacks, and that none of the bombs fell in the neighbourhood of Somerset Street. I see that the last attempt was driven off before the enemy could read the outskirts of London, so that is much more satisfactory. The moon will not last very much longer now and once she has departed I expect you will have peace. Incidentally I should not be surprised if our present spell of dry weather also went with the moon. We are having frosts every night, and, until today, have had bright fine days. Today is cold and far from bright. My cough has more or less disappeared, and my sore throat gone, leaving me with my voice once more returned to its normal condition. However I still have a heavy cold in my head. Once I have got rid of that I shall be all right. Another day or two should see it through. Work is very strenuous and with my Sergeant and my Assistant Adjutant away a good deal has to be done with our own fair hands. We have just received a large reinforcement – are in the throes of inoculation, and musketry courses and in fact I shall be quite glad when we get back to the ordinary restful routine of trench warfare. I had a very nice little dinner last night with Brookes’ Company. Cole is back from leave and they are always a merry party – others are sometimes inclined to be gloomy but never D.
My first visit to the dentist came off all right and an examination of my mouth produced a far better report than I had expected. There are two roots of an old friend (most of him was pulled out in Aug. 1915) which will have to come out – presumably with gas. There are also four to fill, including the one with the missing stopping. He did not do very much on Sunday except fiddle around a bit with the old grinding machine and put in a temporary stuffing. He is going to have a really good go next Sunday. I managed to faint twice but that is of course a detail of comparative unimportance. I am still suffering from a rotten throat and a bit of a cough. I had begun to imagine that it might be the teeth causing the trouble, but the Dentist says there is no sign of any poisoning so that is all right. I expect I shall soon get rid of it. We are working pretty hard each day at training, but it is very nice having a stationary home and a good bed to sleep in. Tonight is most beautifully fine and the air is consequently not infrequently disturbed by the much annoyed Boche flying about and trying to get his own back. We being in only a small village escape the delicate attentions which he is apt to pay to the dwellers in cities. In any case I don’t suppose he is doing much damage. I wonder if he is doing anything over your way.
There is just time for a letter before I go off to dress for dinner so I will make the most of the opportunity. There is not much news. The weather has been glorious and if it were not for my horrid cough which is indulging itself somewhat vigorously just at present, I should be enjoying things immensely. As it is I am hard worked but manage to get plenty of exercise and have no troubles except the impending visit to the dentist tomorrow morning. Petch’s XXI st birthday celebrations went off very well last night, and we had a very merry little dinner at his billet with a gramophone to help things along. I can hardly speak let alone sing, and as I am somewhat of a leader in the vocal department, there was not much done in the singing line. I hope to goodness my voice returns before the next ceremonial parade – I can no more shout at present then fly. I am billeted at the village school, and with sheets on the bed manage to be very comfortable indeed. This afternoon Burnett and I rode into our nearest town – a couple of miles away – but it is a dreary, dirty little place, not worth visiting. Yesterday the C.O. and I had a most trying day. We rode to a rendez-vous first – about 4 miles – then picked up a bus which took a lot of other C.O.s and Adjutants and ourselves for a trip of about twenty miles to see some fortifications. Next we walked round the latter and looked at them, as distance of 13 and 3/4 miles by map, probably more when one takes into consideration the road bends and twistings. When we arrived back at the bus we found the others not yet back – and not likely to be for two hours or more, so we made the rest of our way home, begging a lift where and when we could off passing vehicles – and ended up home about an hour sooner than we should have done had we waited for the bus. In addition to this advantage we had the pleasure of a comfortable tea in quite a pleasant little town on the way home. I was very tired by the end of it all – 14 miles walk is a long way with a game leg.
Brooke and I got back here yesterday all right to find that we are out at rest, and sitting in the midden of a flooded country. Some of the roads are under water and those that are not are very muddy. We managed to catch our train at screech of dawn all right and the journey was not at all bad, though I still have several hours sleep to make up. Huntingdon met me with the horses and a couple of miles sharp trot soon brought me to the little wayside pub, with our flag hanging out. Everybody seemed very cheerful and nothing very terrible has happened during my absence. Old Huskisson has taken Atter’s place at Bde HQ. for a time – you may remember the name, he was there for a very long time when I was with them. Your book on the war in S.A. has arrived – for which many thanks, I shall not set about the reading of it – it looks distinctly interesting. I also found several letters waiting for me – one from Col. Trimble who speaks vaguely about Doctor’s alarms, so I rather gatherer that he may be having trouble with his heart. I hope not. How is Mary’s cold? I seem to have managed to catch it all right – and am now in full swing – so must take some quinine before going to bed tonight. The Dentist is going to have a go at me on Sunday morning. I am not particularly looking forward to the performance but it must be done and there is no help for it.
Just a hurried line before turning in for the night to say that we had a good crossing and arrived safely. Brooke turned up all right – I found on enquiring that B.s Pullman seats were of the 7.50 so transferred my luggage and my allegiance to the later train. Morning had to be spent in Folkestone wandering round and trying to pass the time until the boat started. Roberts of the 6th Btn was also with us – One of the crowd of “XVIII” officers with me in the famous Calais days. Woolly turned up all right here and we have just had dinner together incidentally an extraordinarily good dinner and much better than anything obtainable in England. Tomorrow we start at an appalling hour – to wit 5.30 AM. so have to arrange to be called at “Cock-crow-40 mins.” I hope we manage to get some breakfast all right.
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