Very many thanks for several letters, a parcel of very welcome books and chocolate – I am eating the latter while I write – and also for the two letters from the School-people. I am at present having a rest. I don’t need one but my temper lately has been so bad and my language so unprintable that I was told to take one and packed off here. Here is HQ. 1st Corps. One of the General Staff Officers is on leave so I am keeping is office chair warm for him – a poor game really but I suppose very restful. Eyes get tired very quickly and are not right yet so I don’t mind. I am here for a fortnight within a stone’s throw of the Btn. So don’t alter the address on my letters, it is not worth while. This afternoon I am going to try and fine Ganny, I believe he is not very far away. I had a letter from Mrs de G to say that he was not seriously wounded and had returned to duty. I don’t expect I shall find him but it will give me something to do.
Very many thanks for two letters – I have been having quite a large post lately, several of the old hands having written – people one had almost forgotten. The weather has not yet broken, though it is cooler today and there are one or two ominous looking clouds about – I expect we shall have rain before very many hours are out. There is no news – we have got one or two new officers – one of them only 19 and never been out before – a rarity these days, and one well having as a rule, as his first time keenness ought not to have worn off – I hope not at all events. The Padre has returned from leave, he seems to have managed to enjoy himself in England, and there does not appear to have been much difficulty about obtaining food. I don’t suppose his wants are very luxurious or very numerous. My eyes are still not quite right – nothing seriously wrong but weak, watery and bloodshot – they get very tired is I do much work with them, reading, writing etc. The glare of the sun is also at times rather grim. We are having a comparatively peaceful time and for once in my life I have been a little bored at having nothing very particular to do for an hour or two during the day.
Just a line or two while there is nothing particularly much to do. The weather has changed again at last – I was afraid it might. Today is not nearly so hot as its predecessors, and there are unmistakable signs of rain in the near future. However our old cellar is more or less rain-proof though some of the trenches will probably get a bit wet. All our gassed servants have gone to England and Bosworth has arrived in Southport Infirmary. In addition to being blind for a bit he appears to have been much blistered. However he seems quite content with his present lot and I had a very cheerful letter form him a few days ago. One of my clerks has also been sent across, but he is I understand still too blind to do anything – cannot even write a letter. My store of literature is gradually becoming exhausted and I should be very grateful if you could send me out a book or two in some cheap edition. I have never read anything by Mark Twain so if you could find something by him I should like it. Will you also try and procure a copy of Merriman’s “Velvet Glove”. There may be one in my room. We want a copy in order to settle an argument. I am sure I am right but we cannot prove it – and I cannot find a copy anywhere in this country. We had a very merry evening the night before last – in Battalion Mess – with two most excellent guests – one of them Col. Sir Ian Colquhoun is a great man – late of Scots Guards, now commanding a second line Btn. We sang afterwards in the best old fashioned way.
Just a line or two to let you know that I am flourishing except one eye which is still a trifle “wonky”. The other is in great form and as good as new. Went on the bust last night – rode eight miles to see a show – concert party affair – excellent – best in France – had big dinner afterwards and rode home again. There were four ladies in the party who were little short of marvellous both in “get up” and acting. Weather delicious though a little inclined to be hot. I hope my thin “breeks” will be out soon as thick cord ones are rather oppressive when riding in very hot sun. Evening most ridiculous – shelled round our old bivouac while we were out last night, and pushed one small piece through the roof – also one through Jim Ashdowne’s bath – which being canvas has ceased to be serviceable – he has to borrow mine. Most absurd thing Boche has done yet and quite unaccountable, as occupants both inoffensive at the moment. Pencil is rotten – have lost my best one – no time for more – this very sketchy – forgive but horses are waiting.
Many thanks for two letters which have arrived since I last wrote. The “orange-juice” description does not hold in my case – red-hot brick dust under one’s eyelids is a much more apt simile and exactly describes one’s sensations. Jim Ashdowne and I are still living the “simple life” in a bivouac and as the weather for the last four days has left nothing to be desired in the way of heat and brightness we have had, and are sill having an excellent time. I do not however like being away from the Battalion and trust it will not have to happen again. Old Hewson, our Intelligence Officer, was apparently so gassified as to be sent to England. I believe he was quite blind for more than a week. However I suppose a month’s rest will soon put him right again. I had a most amusing letter from Pte Sullivan – he seems to have enjoyed himself tremendously on his afternoon visit – and is much impressed with Dad. I had a lengthy letter from Col. Trimble yesterday – he seems to have transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and is at present at Grantham on a two months course, prior to getting command of a Machine Gum Battalion. I do not know what has made him give up the Infantry. He always used to threaten to go to the tanks when he was feeling bored, but this is quite a new venture as far as I am aware. I saw Lyttelton this afternoon, he had seen Talbot (not Neville) a few days ago. Neville is now in England with a twisted shoulder, and is, I understand, very much in love. Lyttelton himself is a most marvellous man – he has been here ever since the Division came out, and his nerves are absolutely unaffected and seemingly unaffectable. Our present position is very noisy at nights – much noisier than in trenches. One seems to hear a good deal more of the guns when one is a little way back.
I hope you were not unduly alarmed at getting a letter from the Padre, and I expect by this time he has called and told you all about it. I was much too blind to write, and even now the Doc. does not want me to do more reading and writing than is absolutely necessary. My eyes are almost all right again, and only the glare of the bright sun worries them at all now. For a time however they were horrible to look upon, and exceedingly painful. Hewson, the Doctor and Ashdowne had to go to Hospital, and only the latter has so far come back. He and I are living in a bivouac in a large field while the Battalion is in the line. The Colonel refused to allow me into trenches with them although I am very much fitter than he is. He has a chest full of mustard. The 24 hours when it all happened were distinctly hectic and one day I will tell you all about it. Everybody played up splendidly ad much credit is due to the C.O. and others. All our batmen are away goggle-eyed in Hospital and consequently I have already lost half my kit. It takes a Bosworth to look after me.
On May 17/18th the cellar ventilator at the chateau was hit by a gas shell and in Hills’ own words in his book “became a death trap.” Hills was half blinded by the mustard gas.
Shirt sleeves once more, and a real hot day. So hot that I am sitting out of doors in the entrance court of our chateau. The latter has been in it’s time rather a fine building but recent excavation and alterations by our worthy Teutonic friends have not exactly improved it’s appearance. There is for instance a sad deficiency of glass in the windows and whoever billets here next winter may find the place uncomfortably cold. There is a park adjoining filled with wild hyacinths and, in a day or two, lilies of the valley – shell-holes of course but one gets used to them. The little photo I found knocking about a dust heap – a rather uncommon find as autographed photos of the Prince Imperial cannot be too numerous. Tomorrow I shall probably have a bad day. I have got to go and prosecute at about 5 Courts Martial – never a very pleasant job. I usually leave it to my assistant, but there are rather tricky cases and I want to take them myself to avoid any trouble. It will be an all day job I am afraid. I shall probably be having a new assistant soon – Dunlop does not greatly impress the C.O. and he is certainly very slack. Ashdowne, our Lewis gun officer – will take on the job in a week or two I expect. He is an excellent fellow though rather young. However he has keenness and that is a quality one does not always find in the modern Subaltern. He always has a most wonderful bored “la-di-da” manner which is a great asset. The lad I told you about who manages to escape the other day from the Boche patrol has been awarded the D.C.M. It is not improbably that he will come along as my runner until Sullivan comes back. He is a very meek looking youth, and I don’t know how we shall get on at all.
The hot weather did not last long and yesterday and today have quite ruined May’s reputation. It is cold and damp and cheerless and depressing and I fact everything that it should not be. Camp would be terrible but as we have left it that is not a matter of great moment to us. Once more we are in a cellar – not the same cellar but still a very comfortable one on the whole. The only problem is the supply of fresh air which is distinctly difficult to arrange. All underground dwelling-places are fuggy but this one seems fuggier than most. Probably by the time this reaches you we shall be having decent weather again and so I must start considering the question of summer clothing. I am proposing to get inoculated again during our next rest period. There are so many stinks in this land of dead things and swamps that I don’t intend taking any unnecessary risks during the summer.
I ought to have written some time ago but have been rather busy. For the last three days we have been in Camp and have enjoyed ourselves exceedingly. The first two nights were distinctly wet – after that is cleared up and today has been hot and delicious. We have a Battalion mess and tonight the Drums are going to play for us. Camp is very nice, It is not too cold and I for one like being in the open air – not that our cellar was any too bad – in fact the last was the best “tour” in the line we have had since we came to France. I hope Dad will manage to see Sullivan, he is a man who has been absolutely invaluable to me, and he and I get on excellently together. In fact I have never found anyone else who suited me so well. He is Irish and a trifle wild, so goes well with my sober self. I cannot remember whether in my last letter I told you that one small party of ours had run suddenly into a large number of Germans on patrol and that one of our men was missing. He got back the next night – knocked out the 2 Boche, crawled into a hole, waited till daylight to get his bearings, and then came in – jolly good show.
Ascension Day Celebration in a wood this morning, very excellent surroundings.
The sun came out the day before yesterday and it was warm – this was repeated yesterday and it was again warm. Today there is a cool wind but it is still in parts warm. Consequently as you might imagine we are winning the war and everything in the garden is beautiful. Our particular patch here contains some delightful apple blossom. We are in the same cellar as when I last wrote and are all enjoying ourselves immensely. The line is on the whole quiet – not to say very quiet and we can wander about by night much as we please. This being a portion of the front where the old Boche not very long ago did a small push we are more or less devoid of trenches. This sounds dangerous and uncomfortable. As a matter of fact it is far preferable to the ditch walking monotony of trench war-fare and much safer because seeing no trenches the Boche doesn’t know where to shell. My runner Sullivan who burnt his face very badly with some petrol has gone to England and is in Hospital at Waterloo – King George’s Hospital. If Dad could find time to take him round a few cigarettes or something I should be very grateful. He is a most excellent lad. Williams who used to be with us – the great “Slingsby” in fact – Andrew knows him – is a prisoner in Germany – caught I suppose on the Somme. No more news now. I hope you are all well and enjoying some decent weather.