14 December 1916

It is within the bounds of possibility that I shall presently change my position.   Allen the Adjutant of ours is applying for a transfer to another unit, & there is at present no reason to suppose that his transfer will not go through.  If it does there will of course be a vacancy, & the job has been offered me by Col Jones.  I have accepted.   Unfortunately there is one rather prominent obstacle, namely the Brigadier. For some reason or other he is annoyed with Allen for going, & with the C.O. for recommending him; consequently her refuses to let me go at present. This he has no right to do, as I belong to the Regt. not to him, & if they want me, no power in the world can stop me going to them. Incidentally it is promotion for me, & I cannot see why he should object. So long as the C.O. is firm & does not give way all will be all right, as I am quite confident it will.  Meanwhile things are in a somewhat unsettled state.   He won’t talk about the matter at all with his Staff people, & officially I know nothing about it, so cannot very well argue with him.  I expect however that the C.O. will come & talk things over one day soon – and we shall win in the end.  There is no better job than that of Adjutant & it is one that I have always wanted ever since it was first offered me in August 1915, when as now the Brigadier objected Jones gave way to him then because he thought that my attachment to H.Q. might bring me some job.   It has not so now things are as they are.   It will mean of course plenty of work but that I like: it will also mean living with the cheeriest set of men that ever walked this earth & that is a most important consideration.  Please do not imagine that I shall be going to a job more dangerous or anything of that sort.  I am quite certain that in our present abode we are far more likely to “head” a crump than they are at Bgde. H.Q. So far this letter has been rather serious, but I wanted to get it off my chest.   Please do not talk about it to anyone, as at present the C.O., Brigadier, & his red-hatted followers are the only people who know anything about the whole tomasho, & it is all very secret.

The weather still continues to be very beastly. It rains or snows with great regularity each day & everything is coated in thick & abominable mud.  The trenches are bearing up very well where they have been revetted, elsewhere they tumble down in periodical avalanches, engulfing everything & everybody. However the Germans are merely a mile away & most of the time we can walk about on the top without any fear of being seen – they can probably do the same – it is generally as thick as a London fog in these parts.

The alarms & excursions that I spoke of in my last letter still continue each evening but do (not) worry us overmuch, as up to the present they have not actually hit us.   These little things come comparatively slowly & we have plenty of time as a rule to take up our beds & walk to the cellar, the funkhole, or in the case of serious bombardment down the mine.

Huskisson is still away on leave & Cannon with his weak heart are making tracks for Cap Martin or some other place in the South of France – We have another attached officer now in his place, a fellow named Gilbert from our 4th Btn.   He was with the Queen’s Westminsters for many years & is by no means a chicken.   He is by trade I believe an artist who illustrates books or something of that sort. He seems a very decent fellow & has a head on his shoulders which is something.

The alarums & excursions are just recommencing, so it is possible I may have to break this off & dive downstairs though I don’t suppose it will be much – they are stopping already – have stopped in fact – so no need for any disturbance. I don’t think I shall get too many cakes.   Cannon was our chief source of supply & now that he has gone we shall want them badly I expect.  It is very good of all you kind people at home to send us out so much.

Next time I write I will send you one of our terrible Xmas cards, one that is of the fated lot I carried here from Boulogne.  The design is distinctly poor & the whole affair very shoddy – we are quite ashamed of Div. H.Q. & consider that they might have produced something much better.   However such as it is I will send it along.       No time for more must go & dress for dinner.

11 December 1916

Very many thanks for your letter.  I cannot say that I found the enclosed note from M.T.S. but doubtless it was there since you said it was. I am glad our old friend the clarionet has turned up safely, some day perhaps I shall resume my experimental labours upon it!   I might also have it out here & play it in the front line trenches if we find we cannot beat the Boche by any other fairer method.

We devoured the goose last night & found it excellent though we were a small party for so large an animal. Huskisson is still away on leave, & the always delicate Cannon has left us, this time I think for good.  He has had a horrid cough for some time & yesterday morning he nearly collapsed. The Doctor diagnosed bronchitis, congestion of something & a hopelessly futile heart, so he has gone for a trip to the S. of France, & is not likely to see any active service again.  He was very upset about having to go – not to say a little worried about the heart – he has had rheumatic fever once.

We had all sorts of high jinks yesterday evening when the alarums & excursions of this foolish war caused us all to take cover with great rapidity. The Bosch was unkind enough to send a few foolish little pip squeaks over after dinner, & actually chipped some of our tiles & smashed a window.   Down to the cellar we all went, those in rear hustling the others, the General pushing with the rest & everybody thoroughly enjoying themselves. The weather is horrible – rain hail & sleet at all & every hours of the day, mud everywhere, & very cold at night, – jolly old war.

So “Au Revoir”

8 December 1916

It is getting rather late but I think I have got time to dash off a letter before bedtime.  We have just been having rather an amusing interview with a Bosch, who got tired of life & came over to us.   He was only 19 & very cold, but quite happy at being captured.  His reason for desertion seems to be his being sent out of Hospital before he considered himself really fit, & also being sent without a blanket.   It was the first time he had been in trenches, & then he deserted after about 14 hours of it, so he must have been a bit of a rotter. He was a cheery looking youth & spoke with many gesticulations laughing heartily the while, grinning from ear to ear. He was finally removed in the Intelligence Officer’s car & given a blanket to prevent his dying of cold.   As he leant comfortably back in the seat with the blanket over him, he remarked with a broad grin, “that’s much better”.  (In German, of course.)

We have settled down again to the old routine & I wander round trenches each morning with great regularity.  Fortunately our present abode is very different to that of this time last year, & here there is no need to swim up to the line, or wait for a frost so that one can walk upon the ice.  There are many worse places than this, & except in very exceptional cases, I ought not to use my waders more than once a week.

Col. Jones is fit again & had returned to his Battalion much to everybody’s delight.   I have not yet paid a call on him since I came out, but shall do so at the first opportunity. Creed has been transferred back again from the 4th, so is quite content.   Here we have no news of any interest. The turkey has at last come to an end & we shall in all probability start on the goose tomorrow night.  If it is as good as the “dindon” we shall not fare at all badly. There is no more today, & it is getting very late.

6 December 1916

I rejoined my people yesterday after a fairly long & exceedingly tedious journey, during which most of us passengers got exceedingly cold & consequently very miserable.  I found things very much the same as when I left, & Husskinson has now gone on leave. Last night we spent in a Chateau in great comfort, & have now come up once more into the trench area.   We are back in a part of the line with which we are all more of less intimately acquainted.

My mare has entirely recovered from her infirmities & carried me here this morning without any difficulty or complaining; she was in fact remarkably skittish, & gave quite a spirited performance in the streets of one village through which we passed.   This last was probably due to the old complaint of “too much to eat & not enough to do”

The Christmas Cards got to their destination without mishaps.  It is true that the early hour of starting made it rather difficult to get them to the station in time, however they did arrive & we got them on the train all right.  The greater difficulty was experienced at this end when we arrived in the middle of the night, & there were no porters of other hired labourers available.   It is not easy matter to shift a crate weighing 3 1/2 cwt out of a guards-van onto the ground – the train was too long for one end to reach the platform. The last stage of all of the journey they accomplished in a motor-lorry, which took me home on its way.   This was most useful, as it obviated the necessity of hiring some vehicle to carry my turkey etc. While on the subject of turkey, I may say that the bird turned out to be absolutely A.1. We had to eat it last night as it had somehow managed to get bruised on the chest. It was excellent & we had some of it cold for lunch today. The goose is in very good condition & will keep for some time yet.

I found a parcel from you waiting for me when I got back, with the black vest – Dini’s scarf & a pair of bed socks. These last will be especially welcome as my cold railway journey has presented me with an excellent large chilblain on the foot, which at present causeth me much irritation. Please thank Dini for the scarf which is regarded by all with greenly envious eyes – if it cannot keep me warm, nothing can.

You will be sorry to hear that Col Jones is at present away in Hospital with a bad cold.  He is on the mend now & will probably be out in a day or two. During his absence Griffiths is commanding the battalion with Shields as second in command.   Everyone else in the regiment seems fairly fit except Thomson who has also got a bad cold & has had to stay in bed for the last week or so. It is the first time he has missed a parade since the Division came out, so I expect he is very sick at breaking his record which must be almost unique.

I have just had a very amusing letter from Shrewsbury containing a “Stickleback” photo of Andrew – really a very creditable likeness.  His description of a feast in the bedroom – an illicit feast, I gather – is very entertaining, particularly where he enters into details of how the new “Scum” is paying the penalty for having over-eaten.   I shall have to try & find time to drop him a line or two

In my present abode I am sharing a fairly comfortable room with Grinling.    We are of course back to the old regime of home made wire-netting beds; no more luxurious mattresses for us.  The “Piver” travelled quite safely & my head has received a large dose this evening – it really is most excellent stuff.

We managed to get a very good dinner my one night in Boulogne.   Moffet & Sandland, the two former R.T.O. acquaintances were both able to turn up & we discussed former tines & generally talked nonsense far into the night.    Viccars has not yet come back from his school, when he does it will probably be to go on leave, it is quite 3 months, I believe, since he had it.

3 December 1916 (2)

Hotel Dorvaux. Boulogne

Just a hurried line to let you know that we got across all right today & are going on tomorrow. The sea was positively glass-like & we got across very comfortably in spite of a fairly thick mist which enshrouded the channel.   I met the R.T.O. Saward ?  as soon as we arrived – he is the man who put me up for the night last time I was here.   He is coming to dinner with us tonight as also is Moffat another of the railway gang we met at Marseilles.  He is a cheery fellow & I was quite glad to see him again for a few minutes.  Apparently today was the first day of the very early start form Victoria & only a few knew about it.  The result was we had comparatively few officers returning with us.  The Mans Card Depot is at present closed, but will open in the morning when I hope to be able to arrange everything satisfactorily.

The birds are so far all right & unless we get seriously hung up ought to last all right.   The hamper was so large that I dispensed altogether with the black haversack, & have left it at the flat for Dad to call for anytime en passant. I have just met a man in a tea shop that I have not seen for ages. I first saw him – not to speak to – in a theatre at Luton.   Next in March 1916 in a dug-out where I again recognized him, &, if I remember right had tea with him.  And now I spotted him again.  He tells me Boosey is acting Staff Captain of his Brigade, & is consequently a mighty man.

3 December 1916 (1)

Alexandra Pavilion for Officers

52 Grosvenor Gardens.   S.W.

I have just five minutes to spare before starting the 2nd time for the Station.   Things, as is often the case on the S.E.C.R. do not seem to be working with commendable smoothness.   I was there quite early for the 1st train & met by a R.T.O.  who did not seem to agree with my intentions to travel by it.  The railway with more thoughtfulness had provided a train for each office – mine is going I believe at 7.20 or 7.30 or any old hour, & I am O.C. train.

I had a very comfortable night here & slept excellently.  Tell Mrs Norman that the bed, bath & breakfast were first rate – my only criticism being

  • all officers with horrible coughs should be refused admission
  • if bacon & eggs are provided for breakfast, an extra charge might be made, & a table-napkin provided
  • More air might be admitted to the Dormitory

It really is excellent & one has no right to criticize at all

The turkey & goose turned up in a monstrous hamper so I have packed some of my things round them – trousers etc – They look very tempting & I only hope they won’t fly away on the journey.

19 November 1916

Just a very hurried scrawl to tell you that I propose coming on leave & may even arrive before this epistle reaches you.   The exact date of my departure & arrival on the other side has not as yet been disclosed to me, but it will I think be at an early date.

The Boxing yesterday went off very well in spite of most appaling weather.   It was very cold & inclined to sleet, so you can imagine that the conditions were by no means ideal for an open air performance.  However everybody played up very well & there was some very pretty boxing.  We saw several knock-outs & fortunately there was not much “blug” about except on one Gentleman’s nose.   Personally, I think it is a very poor game banging each other about.

The 5th won the Light Weights & they Heavy – the 4th & 5th other people carried off the Feathers & the Middles.

Tomorrow we are doing a little scheme & I as usual represent the enemy.  Unfortunately they cannot spare me many people & I have to put up a flag or two to represent my battalions, while a couple of drums have to do the work of my machine guns.   However I expect I shall win because my arguments, though generally unsound, are always specious & can convince the average umpire.   No time for more I must go & issue my orders A!

Home on leave from Nov 22nd – Dec. 3rd.    4 Leave

17 November 1916

I have just realized that it must be nearly a week since I last wrote: there is absolutely no excuse for such remissness & I will therefore not attempt to make one.  It is no use trying to write letters unless I feel in the right mood for so doing, & for the last few days, probably because violent exercise has made me very tired, I have not felt that right mood.   Tonight I am also tired but possibly can manage to struggle to the end of one letter. The weather which is always the most important factor in all our doings has fortunately been fine, though most bitterly cold.   We have had 3 white frosts running & should therefore I suppose have rain tonight.   As a matter of fact there is at present no sign of a change, & it is freezing hard as ever.  We have played off all our Brigade football matches & our 4th Btn. finally won the day, beating ours 4-0 yesterday afternoon.  They always seem to have the best team in the Bgde, & we always seem to be runners up.   I only hope they will manage to pull off the Divisional Cup – they did last time.  The brigade Boxing we settle tomorrow – it will have to be an open air show & will be very cold in consequence.  So long however as it refrains from raining & snowing we do not mind how cold it is.  The shew will be in the grounds behind our chateau & we are making great preparation for it.   The difficulty is to find timber wherewith to erect a ring.  Meanwhile we still train for the Cross Country run.  Each evening between tea & dinner we sally forth scantily clothed & run for a mile or two at a good pace, get very hot & stagger home again feeling all the better for it. Godsal, Grinling & Huskisson all come at times, & several of the clerks & other attachés to Bgde H.Q. are very keen.  I hope we shall make a good show on the great day itself.  I find that I am really pretty fit & can last quite well over any distance up to about 4 miles & a half.   There have been several most excellent games of rugger. & beyond a hole in my shin & my thumb slightly dislocated, I have so far come out unscathed.  The second injury sounds much more terrible than it really is: the thumb returned almost immediately to its former & correct position, merely left a slight swelling to remind me of what had happened.

My waders have arrived quite safely & are the centre of much envy & admiration amongst all who behold them.  Now that they have arrived I expect fate will decide that we see nothing but beautifully dry trenches all through the winter.   However they will be very useful when the fishing season starts next spring.  Meanwhile there is one really sad piece of news – the Kitten has been quite ill, to start with she strained a fetlock & got a swollen leg – went dead lame & was unrideable.   Next she caught a cold & developed a severe bilious attack. So on the whole, as you may imagine, she has been far from her usual self, & has indeed looked miserable & most pathetic. She is getting very much better now & I hope to be able to ride her in a day or two.

Cannon has gone home on leave. His Mother who has been ill for a very long time got much worse, & he was called for. She died before he could get home – I don’t think he was over keen to go, but thought he ought to & so went – it won’t be much of a holiday for him.  Grinling & I went out to dinner a few nights ago with the 5th.  We had a very merry evening & sang all manner of songs until the cows came home.   The Colonel was as usual in tremendous form, & made impossibly bad puns & jokes all the evening.   I don’t think Grinling ever quite realized what a bawdy lot we were & was most agreeably surprised, he certainly enjoyed himself immensely.  I am writing this to the accompaniment of vigorous chuckling on the part of the General.   He is reading Ian Harp’s Knight on Wheels & seems to be enjoying it tremendously.   I read it not long ago & thought it excellent, though perhaps not quite up to “Happy Go-lucky” which is one of his that I like best.

The Christmas Number of Punch has arrived & everyone thinks it a first rate effort.  The picture which causes the loudest outbursts of admiration is the one of the 3 gentlemen reclining, after “falling out” on the pavement of Piccadilly.  The walking sticks “piled” in the corner are an exceptionally happy touch.

11 November 1916

Many thanks for yours of the 8th which got here today with one from Dini of the 7th.   I am sorry to hear that you have had none of mine for a week, I expect they are all lying at the bottom of the Channel.   I wrote with as much regularity as usual: however I don’t suppose you have missed any items of particular importance.

I wrote my last letter just after returning from a run & contemplating a terrific stiffness for the next few days. As a matter of fact I woke the next day remarkably free from anything of that sort & went about my ordinary duties until midday, after struggling through an exceptionally large & heavy lunch I got a note from Allen asking me to go over to a footer ”pick up”. I of course accepted with alacrity & played on the left wing where I enjoyed myself immensely & got very blown.   The ground was quite good.  Several had never played before so there was a certain amount of the erratic about it all.   Petch took charge of affairs with one or two old hands to help. The new O.M.T. Padre Buck is a great man at the game & very useful. A game of rugger is by no means such a steady-going business as a run & the result was I arose yesterday feeling very stiff indeed.  Again just at lunch time came an invitation from Neale this time the Adjutant of the 4th to play for their officers against the N.C.O.s. Needless to say I went.  The game was very much faster & fiercer than the day before & we were beaten. There was some good tackling – as I found out to my cost – & one or two N.C.O.s could run like streaks of greased lightning.   Albeit it was a most excellent game & made me most terribly stiff.  After bathing & otherwise refreshing myself I went off to dine with “ours” in their Batt. Mess. Jones was in most tremendous “form” & told innumerable funny stories in his own particular style.  Altogether it was a most merry evening & we all enjoyed ourselves, & went to bed late – only to find a move planned for today.

Fortunately it was only a very short move just to the next village.  Her we occupy a fairly large spacious chateau, a most excellent mess & kitchen are the chief features, while the General’s & Godsal’s bedrooms are hard to beat. Grindling & I have got two small rooms next to each other up at the top of the house where I think we shall both be quite comfortable. There are very spacious outhouses where we can get all our men, officers & horses. “La petite Fifi” has a horse box to herself & is more comfortable than she has been for some time. She has been somewhat overworked of late & must be given a rest for a day or two.   Her coat is getting very long & she can do with a clipping – it is very heavy for her especially in wet weather.

The stiffness still continues today but I did my best to get rid of it with another strenuous game this afternoon. The 5th are not at present quite satisfied with their team & so I was tired in a new place for me – a so-called “stand off” half back, I think I managed to get on all right – it is a place that at present we are finding hard to fill – there doesn’t seem to be anyone who plays there regularly. This time there were fewer novices & it was a very much better game all round.   By the way you mentioned the other day that there was a black vest of mine somewhere about, will you send it along, as it is sometimes necessary to play in colours, & I dislike having to borrow some gaudy soccer vest of rainbow hue.  We are now in the throes of Divisional Competitions.   Matches are being played for the football cup, & people are getting ready for the Boxing Tournament.   Everyone is trying to fit in a little ordinary physical training with their military work & everyone is very keen.   I am O.C. the training department of Bde H.Q. & am instituting runs & walks & marches & little excitements of that sort to try & get everybody fit for our great event, the cross country race. The only difficulty I find is that after playing a fairly hard game of football there is not overmuch run left in me. However we’ll do our best.        Tomorrow weather permitting we shall have a Bde Church parade, & Hales the Senior Chaplain of the Division is coming to preach.   He is well worth hearing as a rule & we shall all be there in force. There is no time for more as we are already on the wrong side of 10 ‘O’clock.

8 November 1916

The weather still continues to be absolutely appalling: it does not actually rain unceasingly all day, but there are comparatively frequent showers of terrific intensity.   Fortunately we are situated on a hill & the water can get away, but even here things are very flooded.   All the underground draining arrangements are overflowing down the streets & the consequent odour is by no means pleasing.

Yesterday morning I went into a neighbouring village to see the Senior Chaplain & arrange about some sports which he is organizing for the Division.  There is to be a Football Competition, a Boxing Tournament, & a Cross Country team. The first two are more or less straightforward, the latter is more complicated.  A course is selected, say 3 miles & a definite time say 25 minutes.  Each unit runs by itself & there is no racing.   The unit wins which has the biggest percentage of men finishing in the time.  The percentage is taken from the number to finish & the total number in the unit.  A battalion therefore ought to have a couple of hundred starters.   We are training already very strenuously: all Bgde H.Q. Officers except the General are going to run.  If the present weather continues the “Going” across country will be very bad indeed.  In order to equalize matters everyone is to run in Service boots – what we shall do over plough I don’t know: those who manage to finish will be pretty exhausted I expect.

The village I went to is not half a bad place.  It used to be one of the important towns in the neighbourhood & owns an Abbey Church – quite the most beautiful Church we have seen in France yet. I happened to meet Bonnassieux in the street outside & he conducted me round. It is all Gothic built on one plain. The West front is very fine & there are one or two things inside that are very good. There is no very intricate carving, & the interior looks bare on the whole – but by comparison with other Churches we have seen it is very pleasing.

There are some curious little panels carved in alabaster which are said to have come from the Midland Counties of England. Unlike a great number of the local Churches, there are less gaudy tints & cheap candlesticks. The only mural decoration are a few oils, some of them by famous men.   The whole thing is well worth seeing.  Today I have been riding round all the morning & busied myself with oddments during the afternoon.   After tea Cannon & I went for a 3 1/2 mile run which we accomplished – along the road – in about 26 minutes – not so bad for a start. I expect to be horribly stiff tomorrow.