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.
I hope you were not unduly alarmed at my description of by battered cranium – it is nothing very terrible. I have already changed from a wet to a dry dressing and expect to be rid of all these cumbersome bandages tomorrow. A few strips of plaster will be amply sufficient for the following day or two, and then nothing more will be needed at all. I daresay my old tin hat will be l little uncomfortable at first but my head will very soon get hard again. In five days at the outside I shall be back again in my office. Meanwhile one C.S. Allen is occupying my pew, and according to all accounts making a most horrible hash of things. So the sooner I get back the better. I am always very chary of assistants when I am there so am probably rather to blame for not having trained anyone to take my place when away. Mind you tell me all about your visit to his Lordship in London, and what the great man talked about – I expect he was as amusing as ever though they say the war has made him very old. This Cambrai show seems to have been first-rate – I wish we could have been in it – I am longing for a really good scrap, well managed and successful.
No1 Casualty Clearing Station
You have already anticipated my ailments by the address. Do not reply to it because by the time you have got this and your answer got back here, I shall also have got back to the Regiment. I have not been wounded – nothing so exciting – but have had a nasty jar. My horse – not my usual quite mare, but an unruly brute that contrary to all advice I tried to ride – bolted and then slipped; we came down together, and I off. My head came first and struck the pave road at about 12 m. per hour – my shoulder followed at about 8 and the legs at about 6. First and foremost my knee did not even tremble – my thigh was a bit bruised – likewise my shoulder but the collar bone stood it like a Trojan. My head of course was a little battered and my senses very temporarily driven out – to wit about 3 seconds entirely – they are coming back piecemeal and are mostly home by now. Some gunners very nobly took me in and cleaned me up a bit – I was bleeding most ‘orrible – then sent me to the nearest Ambulance whence I eventually arrived here. There are three holes in my head; two have healed up already. The third is going well but is deeper and will take a day or two – it got as far as the bone. They have shaved about a third of my cranium which makes it look most peculiar but there is no pain and no longer any headache. It took the best part of 48 hours to get my senses fully back – and I am really not at all sure that I am not still a little dazed though I feel all right. They will probably keep me here a week or so, then send me for a week to a rest camp and then back – possibly it will be even a quicker job than that. I hope so. I am afraid the Colonel is rather sick with me for trying to ride the beast – however I will make my peace when I get back.
Work must again be my excuse for a lapse in letter writing – or rather energy, not exactly work. We have slightly altered our abode and I have consequently spent about 18 out of every 24 hours wandering all over the place, learning my way about. This is a good spot, albeit not quite so dry as out last health-resort and I think we shall manage to enjoy ourselves as usual. We have got a most magnificent headquarters several yards below the surface of the earth. The C.O. has a room to himself – there is an enormous mess – the Major and I have a very excellent bedroom and the rest of the officers are in another compartment. Down a passage are orderly room and signal office. It is eminently safe and very comfortable but to my mind there is one great objection to all deep dug-outs – and that is the air – or rather lack of it. I always wake up with most horribly funny lungs, and it takes about 15 minutes open air walking to restore me to a decent state. I am ever so much happier if I can live and sleep above ground. After all one can always slip down the bunk-hole if the old Ludwig gentleman proves in any way obstreperous. We are all making most terrible pigs of ourselves with chestnuts. I had never before realized what exceeding delicacies they are, but now that I have been converted, I do my best to make up for my former omissions. We have a large plateful everyday after lunch and dinner. The Regimental Christmas Card has appeared and is a great success. I will send you or two to the family when we get a little nearer to the festival. I have already got rid of one or two to the more distant fronts such as Mesopotamy.
I got rather tires of waiting for my third “pip” to come through, so sent in a hastening notice which has produced a permit from the Divisional Commander to wear the rank, so you may now address me as Captain & Adj. – It is not really of any importance because it carries no pay with it, however I suppose to the uninitiated 3 pips look better than two, there is no real news of any importance. I have seen Col. Toller once or twice lately – he seems very fit and I think still manages to enjoy the war all right. He is living not so very far away and I dare say we shall see more of him now than we have for some time past. OIf Col. Jones there is no news at all – no one seems to know where he is – perhaps Italy. We are all very busy just at present and there has in consequence been even more “paper” than before, if such a thing is possible. Even as it is I believe we are much better off than a great many other units, we certainly manage with fewer clerks, and less stationery boxes.
We had a Celebration this morning in the little “Church” hut here. There were seven of us in all – it would be full with twice that number. Services are very regular now-a days and one need never be more than a fortnight without a celebration – sometimes there is one every Sunday. Our present abode, a sort of forward rest-billets – not the real rest that comes every three weeks – is in a little battered village. We ourselves are in the local seminary for young ladies run by some nunnish sect – all of them long departed. One wing is conspicuous chiefly for its absence, and our wing has needed considerable repairs – sandbagging etc. to make it more or less habitable. I wonder what the austere Mother Superior would think of our mural decorations, cuttings form Tatlers, Sketches, Punch etc: I am sure the young ladies would be horribly shocked.
Wollaston has gone off today to the Army School for a 5 weeks course of instruction in soldiering – It is a good scheme for an officer who is making this amusing game his profession. I daresay he will get a staff job when he returns.
Just a line or two while I am waiting with nothing particular to do for once in my life. We are, touching wood and crossing fingers, extremely fortunate just at present as regards the weather, and though we are almost half way through November, there has not been any very terrible rainfall: in fact trenches are most respectable, so, as you can imagine, life is by no means bad. It has of course become considerably colder than it was a month ago, nobody minds cold so long as it is dry. Our American visitor has left us. He was an excellent fellow; very anxious to learn, and by no means unduly full either of himself or his country. If there are many such as he in the U.S. army they should do very well indeed. I heard yesterday from Col. Jones but cannot make out from his letter quite where he is or what he is doing. I rather gather he is still with our first Battalion. I must write to him and try to learn some further details as to his whereabouts, if that is possible. Our latest recruit from school is making a reputation for himself already, and is undoubtedly a marvel at patrolling. He seems absolutely fearless, and goes about all over the place by day and night. He is one W.M. Cole by name, very small, meek, and innocent looking and a jolly good lad in every sense of the word. An old poacher-sergeant goes about with him and takes care of him – a truly awful blackguard but a first rate man, and worships Cole like a young god. There is no news of interest; the war is still going on very much the same way as before, and we are a very merry party – perhaps the best lot of officers as a whole that we have ever had.
How are you getting on with the cares of the air, and the Parish, which makes you worry most and is there still a single vacant pew? In any case I hope you are not too pessimistic, though I can quite imagine that the Italian business has caused a certain amount of gloom amongst certain people who overestimate its importance. There is absolutely no need to worry about it all. We have got an American officer attached to us for three days – he seems a good fellow and should make a very good soldier. I must confess that I cannot weigh him up; he is much deeper than the average Englishman of the same age, and seems to look at thing from a totally different point of view. He is wonderfully equipped, and, if typically, it would seem that his country has no intention of doing things by halves. His field-glasses, compass, coat – everything are all not only tres chic but I think also very serviceable and good.