4 November 1917

It is again a really disgracefully long time since I have written and once more I must make work the excuse for my delay.   The officials of the various spheres above our little one have been most exceptionally generous with bits of paper, most of them more of less superfluous, which they shower down upon us ceaselessly.  During our last so-called rest I never had any at all.  Fortunately some of the labours of the day were out of doors and had to be performed on a horse, so I managed to get some exercise, and the weather was by no mean bad.  We played another “league” football match and beat a sapper company by 4-0 on a wet field – on the whole not a bad game to watch.  The following day we had a “rugger” match against the Field Ambulance and after a terrific game succeeded in winning by 14-3 pts.  They wanted me to play but I thought it wiser to limit my activities to running up and down the touch line with a flag.

The Padre has gone away to do a “course” – presumably to learn how to preach; he will I am afraid, be most horribly bored.  Burnett is back from his school and Allen (C.S.) comes back today from his.  We are also going to have an American Officer to stay with us for a bit; he ought to be very interesting.  You must not get downhearted about the Italian business.  I do not think that, bad as it is, it is as bad as it looks on paper.  It may prolong things a little because a victory will encourage the faint-hearted sausage-mongers of Berlin, but it does not alter the ultimate result of the war.  London does not seem yet quite immune from air-raids – but I don’t suppose they are really very formidable, if one keeps calm.

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28 October 1917

Just a very hurried line to let you know that I am alive and kicking but most terribly busy.  There seems to be a never ending stream of paper going through the orderly room.   My clerks are very faithful but sometimes most inordinately slow and I get, am now, very bad tempered.   To judge by your letters the country must be looking very nice indeed just now with autumn tints at their best.  There are one or two spots round here that are by no means bad.  Wollaston and I have been for a ride of about 22 miles today to visit our brethren of the “Second line”.  Slingsby Williams seemed very fit and well but Vincent did not look up to much.  There were also one or two others there that I have seem about the place before.  They were dwelling in a part of the country that we inhabited ages ago and it was curious and very interesting to see huts and things springing up on ground where we walked with exceeding care.   The C. O. has come back from his conference rather tired but otherwise very fit.   It is good to get him back again.  Burnett now becomes second in command again – and incidentally “John” instead of “Sir”.  Petch and Russell both got a slight wound a few days ago, but I do not think it will be a very long job with either of them though I daresay they will get to England.

23 October 1917

To H.G.H

There is not much concrete about us that I have been able to discover but they have just installed electric light which is a very great saving to the eyesight.  A guttering candle and small handwriting are enough to blind one in a very short time.  We have certainly comfortable and moderately safe quarters so have no complaints.  I seem to have solved the knee problem most effectively.   At first I had rather more trouble with it than I cared to think.   It was very swollen at times and also exceedingly stiff after a night of sleeping in my breeches.  At times it was so weak I could do scarcely anything with it.   I now keep it bandaged always day and night, with a pad of thermogene wool all round it.  The result is good, and there are no more swellings or stiffness and I can do as I like with the joint.

21 October 1917

The Colonel has gone away for a week to a wretched conference and J Burnett is now in command.  It will mean rather more work for me as the C.O. was in the habit of doing a very great deal himself.   However I don’t suppose that will worry me much.   The C.O. is a great man as I said before.  No one knows yet what is going to become of Col. Jones – he was over to dinner a few nights ago, and is at present out of a job.

I have been to two most extraordinarily good concerts at our neighbouring town – in the local theatre.  They were given – (are given I should say as it is a nightly show) – by a Divisional Concert Party: about a 20 performers and a string orchestra of 25.   It was a wonderful show, and the ladies were positively marvellous.  Of course they are lucky to get the theatre, as it costs them very little, and with large audiences – it is always packed – they can make any amount of money and keep a good store of dresses and scenery.   We played another of our league matches again yesterday and won it – against the 4th.  It is the first we have managed to win.  The other two were drawn and lost.  Unfortunately our Captain got badly knocked yesterday and will be away for at least a month if not more.

17 October 1917

Many thanks for the two letters, and one from Tom. It’s a pity I cannot drop over for a day or two to see you – just at present I think on the whole there is too much work on hand.  It is really surprising the amount of work there is to do – one is never idle & seldom has a minute to oneself.  I find I do very well with only six hours sleep in the twenty four, and am getting quite accustomed again to sleeping in my boots.  Col. Jones was over again yesterday – he is still at a loose end, and does not seem to have the slightest idea what is going to become of him.  I hope they do not get rid of our present commanding officer, who really does deserve the title “Great man” for many reasons.  He is just the sort of fellow it does one good to work for – so, as you can imagine, I am quite content.  You will be sorry to hear I have been indulging in poetry again, a sad habit.  In this case I am afraid I cannot send it along home as it is topical and concerns our doings too intimately to pass the censor.  Poor Old Williams has been sent to the second line much to his distress – however I expect we shall be able to get him back again all right in a month or two.  I see F.W.R. Greenhill has been killed – the man who broke my collar-bone for me

11 October 1917

Just a line or two while I am waiting for the Brigade despatches to come along.  The weather has become distinctly Autumnal, and though the worst of the rain seems to be over for the moment, it is by no means warm even in the sun.  This morning started very brightly but it has clouded over now and I should not be surprised if we had a shower or two before night.  We are down once more to the old familiar game of paddling about wet ditches, and clambering along the side of a trench with a six-foot pole thrust into the other side to prevent one slipping into the young river that runs along the floor.  My own particular pole is a very light but strong bamboo with a spike – a most handy weapon both for walking and rat-sticking.  The first appearance of these long sticks always produces much humour and mirth from the onlooking soldiers.  “While Shepherds watched their flocks by night” I had shouted at me the other day, while I was going up to trenches with the C.O.   Old John Burnett has come back from leave and is now second in Command while James Griffiths is in Aldershot on his 3 month course.   John is looking wonderfully fit, he is a marvellous fellow.   We are a merry party at H.Q. – the only somewhat wet blanket being the Doctor, who takes himself and his work much too seriously.  He seems to imagine it his duty to find out that the whole Battalion has scabies.  The Colonel pulls his leg always, and the poor man can’t always see the point.  Everybody seems to expect the war to end in a day or two.  Personally I cannot see why it should, but it is a good thing to be an optimist.  The funny old gentleman who lives in the ditches over the way gets a pretty poor time of it one way and another.  He must be getting very tired of being knocked about.  No time for more.  Here comes the morning consignment of written verbosity form the folks in the armchairs.

7 October 1917

The weather has taken a distinctly unfavourable turn.   It is raining now and has been doing so most of the day – it did so yesterday – it will I dare say do the same tomorrow.   The worst thing about this country is that when it starts raining – which it does fairly often, it never seems to want to stop, and what’s more it comes down in bucket-fuls.  We are just at present at rest in the very desirable residence with the tennis court – hardly useable just now.  We work very hard all the morning but devote the afternoon mostly to games and such-like pastimes. There was to have been some rugger today but the weather was too terrible. I was to have been referee: perhaps it is just as well that the game was cancelled.

After Church Parade this morning I rode over to see the 1st Btn who were not far away. I did not manage to see Col. Jones but came across John – a company commander whom I met at the Base. It rained the whole way back and I got very wet but I don’t know that that mattered very much. There was an early celebration this morning to which I got – there is usually one once a fortnight to which I can get, in fact the average is nearly 2 for every 3 Sundays.

4 October 1917

Just a line or two during a spare five minutes to wish you many happy returns of the day – if this arrives in time – and at the same time to reassure you. I am afraid newspapers are apt to be very misleading and there are other troops from the Northern Midlands besides those in this Division.  We are living in the most peaceful trenches, and the atmosphere is one of complete calm – as a rule. At all events we have not been making any ferocious attacks. I hope you have not been caused any needless anxiety. I am gradually getting very much attached to the new C.O. – he is obviously a very fine man, and what is particularly admirable is his attitude towards the people above. He knows his place exactly but is never afraid to stand up for his rights and the rights of his Battalion, and consequently is always out to get the best he possibly can for the men. He usually succeeds. The knee has had a great deal to do during the last six days, round the line twice every 24 hours and wandering about all sorts of curious places in the dark. It has stood it very well and I think the only thing which worries it at all is the horrible dampness of underground life.   I wake sometimes very stiff in the mornings.  Six hours sleep a day is all I need and all I get – and fortunately for me the C.O. doesn’t mind my getting out & about it when he isn’t wanting me in the orderly room. The padre came round trenches with me last night – he is curiously devoid of any fear at all. I don’t think he likes shells and bombs and things but he certainly never shows his dislike for them, He has a considerable influence on the men.

1 October 1917

What sort of a time are you having in Bromley?   The weather at all events ought to be good if you are having anything like what we have got here.  It is really wonderful for October, and I hope it will last: one can wander about all the old unpaved trenches in comfort – an absolute impossibility after a little rain.  I like my work very much but should find it less tiring up here if I could only work in fairly decent air, instead of at the bottom of a great deep dug-out, which though absolutely safe is somewhat inclined to be headache producing.   As a general rule I get out soon after lunch, and stay out until it is nearly dark. On these rambles I am accompanied by a most invaluable orderly named Sullivan – an Irishman from N. London, who, for some unknown reason, enlisted in the Regular Btn of this Regiment a year or two before the war.  He considers himself my property and objects most strongly if he has to go round with anybody else, or if I take anyone but him with me. He is a most calm individual, and has an amusing but somewhat irritating habit of rolling out some inane platitude just as one is hiding one’s head ignominiously at the sound of some approaching shell. Nothing alarms him – he is consequently priceless and just the man for me. My next trip round the line, or at all events into the open air is at about 10.30pm. By that time I have generally managed to dispose of all the stackes of literature which higher units, commands, and formations see fit to shower upon us at all hours of the day. Once again Sullivan comes along with me, and we go and survey the countryside by moon-star- or no light as the case may be. Just at present a night walk differs very little from a daylight one as the moon has been lately as bright as I have ever known it.  Moore has got back to us form his month’s leave for getting married, and just at the moment is second in command. James Gfiffiths has gone to England for 3 months on a course at Aldershot.  He went away from us last night as happy as a sandboy. Burnett, who normally takes his place is away on short leave, so Moore is acting. We have plenty of officers, and they look like making a very excellent lot, and what is particularly useful a very brave and adventurous lot.  The spirit of adventure is one of the greatest assets a young officer can have, and only too often in these days it is absolutely lacking.   It is just possible I shall not have time to write again in time for your birthday, so you must accept my very best wishes now – I hope next year I shall be somewhat nearer than I am at present. Everybody here seems to imagine that the war is to all intents and purposes won. It seems to be an established fact that the enemy is in a very bad way. Though on this particular front his attitude seems as warlike as ever – it really is a little strange that he has not done more with Russia in a state of Mutiny. There does not seem to be any apparent reason why the Pickelhaube should not be walking on the Nevsky Prospect, and yet the Hohenzollern is still a very long way off the Capital. So tell Dad not to get depressed over a raid or two, and to remember that we are in a very good way indeed.  The number of O.M.T.s has been still further increased by the introduction of Cole and Westcott – we now total seven which is I think quite enough for one Battalion.

24 September 1917

It is very nice having plenty of work to do again, and plenty I certainly have.  There seems to be a never ending stream of paper pouring in upon us from every possible source, and every sheet has to come through me as a sorting office, before being disposed of – wither by the C.O, or by various Company Commanders and other important officials.  The Commanding Officer – Col. Turnble returns from his leave today and we expect to see him here tomorrow night.  I am wondering what he looks like – as my only view of him is a papers picture of him and his wife leaving the Church.  Everybody says what a good fellow he is, so I expect we shall get on very well together.  However it is just a little hard on a man to come back to his Regiment to find an unexpected and disturbing element in his Orderly Room.  The weather has been absolutely glorious ever since I got back, and except for half an hour one night I have not had to wear my raincoat at all.  It has probably been the saving of old wobbly knee, because if I had to start right away in wet & slippery trenches I shudder to think what would have happened.  As it is I am partially broken in now, and do not mind what the weather does.  My new mare – or rather my new mount – since she is one of the oldest soldiers in the Battalion – is Dolly, ridden successively by Aubrey Sharps, Wollaston, myself when acting Adjutant in 1915, and then Charles Shields for a very long time.  She is very quiet with the except when guns go off, and then she hops about a little: she is never any trouble, and is just the sort of animal I want.   We are getting swarms and swarms of officers, and shall soon have one for every ten men in the Regiment.   They are not all over bright, but I daresay we shall turn them into some fort of soldiers before the war ends.  I personally find that I am becoming very fierce – and awfully bad-tempered.