This silly old knee refused to mend as it should do, so I have retired once more to the Field Ambulance – while the Regiment has gone up into the line.
Several more of less exciting thing have happened since my last letter. The first incident occurred the night before last and can only be described as disastrous. I went up with a party to do some wiring; not that an Adjutant generally does things of that sort – but I happened to be the only person who knew the way. The night was very dark and I suddenly felt my left leg disappear from under me down a hole. It went right down and my right leg stayed on top, twisting my right knee, and slipping a cartilage. Fortunately the cartilage decided to return whence it slipped: but the necessary walking that I had to do that night and yesterday morning have resulted in water on the knee.
The next piece of excitement was yesterday morning in the early hours. Creed was out with a patrol when they sighted some Boches. He immediately went for them, wounded and captured their officer, and scattered the enemy back to his line. This of course was great and we are celebrating it with a “bust” tonight. I am settling down all right into my new job, and I think will very soon get the hang of things. There is plenty of work which is one thing I like, and also plenty of room for improvement. If we can only manage to introduce a little of the last we shall get along very well. I have a very good Sergt Major to help me.
There is oceans of work to do. I am enjoying myself tremendously & keeping very fit. Allen has gone to Bgde. H.Q. with my old job & I am now Adjutant. The C.O. came back from leave two days ago & is just the same as ever, if anything rather more so. Most unfortunately he has had to go to a Commissioning Officers Conference, & will be away about a week. Old James Griffiths is commanding again in his absence, & we shall get along all right, but it is not the same thing as having the C.O. here.
Work has been the chief order of the day lately – the office has needed a good deal of reorganizing, & I have had a bit of a job collecting some of the papers & things which seem to have been scattered broadcast all over the Mess & kitchens & everywhere else.
Just at present we are up in trenches again & consequently there is considerably less paper showered upon us form brigade etc. – & one gets time to stroll round the lines & see what is going on. There is a most appalling amount of work always to be done in trenches & there never seems to be half the necessary number of men to do it. Fortunately while the Brigadier is away we do not get “strafed” for not having achieved the impossible. We had a very nice little dinner a night or two ago given by A Coy. – it was quite cheering to get back again amongst the old original people. We are very short handed for officers – a lot away on courses & odd jobs – but what we have got are jolly good. There is no sign of Wollaston yet though we have heard more than once that he is on the way out. Rumour has it that there are a lot of all sorts & kinds of Subalterns coming – there will doubtless be plenty of work for me on the choicest specimens of them. We have a most excellent H.Q. here with a really first class armchair. Where on earth it came from no one knows, because no one has ever seen such an armchair in France. Out here they do not know what comfort is in the chair line. No time for more.
A good many thing s have happened since I last wrote, & have been the cause of considerable delay in writhing. Soon after my last epistle several things occurred which led the Brigadier to imagine that all was not quite as it should be with the Regiment & one of the Coy Commanders was given a bit of a rest. This left them short of officers so I offered to go & look after a Company for a bit. I did so during a tour of four days in the trenches & thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got of course muddied up to the eyes & had to swim in places, but we did a lot of work & hardly slept at all – net result I am feeling extraordinarily fit. I am still commanding the Company but shall cease to do so in a day or two & become Adjutant. Allen’s transfer papers have hot come through yet but he is giving up the job in any case. There is no denying that things are not quite as they should be, & the Brigadier lays the blame for half the trouble at the door of Allen. Perhaps he is right. In any case I am being put in to get things straight if possible. It will not be an easy job – as I shall be almost alone. The C.O. is a wonderful man, but his ideas on discipline are not in accordance with those generally accepted, & though admirable for the old T.F. are of little avail when dealing with some of the people that we get here just now. Meanwhile the Brigadier has just gone on leave, so we are left in peace for a day or two at all events. Sandall is commanding the Brigade. I am sorry that you will now imagine that I am undergoing much more danger in my new job than before. It is not so, & even if it were one cannot help being somewhat of a fatalist. While there are shells about one may get hit anywhere, even in the softest of jobs. I shall take as much care of myself as ever, & hope for the best. Bosworth is going on leave tomorrow & will get me one or two things that he considers necessary for cleaning the strappings on my bags. don’t know whom I shall have as my batman in his absence.
I see the Honours list are out & that Kemp’s son has got a M.C. Several people in the Brigade have also got them, but unfortunately no one in the 5th. However they cannot all have them.
There is really nothing very interesting happening just at present but I will write & give you an account of my first impressions as Adjutant. I expect I shall get long all right somehow.
It is very late & I am somewhat weary, but have got sufficient energy to scribble a letter, so will go on until I go to sleep. It is pouring with rain, which it has done most of the day, most of last night & most of yesterday – & consequently everything is flooded. One cannot see more than a few hundred yards even at midday so it is not much use my going observing – in fact my job is my no means lively just at present. Yesterday & the day before were spent very largely in making the final arrangements for the Boxing. The Divisional Competition was held yesterday afternoon & we had to find a competitor in each class for the Brigade. Our middle weight was scratched at the last minute, but our other three all put up a good fight, & we won the light weights with a ruffian named O’Shaunessy of my Regt. He had been promised leave if he won & did not intend making any mistake about it. He went for all he was worth & polished off his opponent in about thirty five seconds.
Today I have had a very lengthy motor-ride. I had to attend a lecture at a place some forty five miles from here & we left at 3 o’clock, not getting back here until just after nine. It was a very wet performance but the lecture was well worth it. It concerned the growth of the army, its administration, advantages & limitation, & was very interesting. The lecturer was a General from G.H.Q. of the name of Stewart. Tomorrow or the day after, I am not quite certain which, Adkin the History Professor is again lecturing: this time he will be somewhere in our neighbourhood & I am going to hear him. He was the fellow I drove over to hear once before – sometime in September if I remember right. One really sad thing is happening. Godsal has got promoted – he has been given a General Staff job with another Division & is leaving tomorrow. It is good for him but a great pity. I have got very fond of him, & I rather regard him as a model soldier. I certainly have learnt more about soldiering from him than from anybody else I have ever met. He is a most cheery person & the Mess without him will be even more gloomy than it has been of late.
We ate the plum pudding the night before last – it was gigantic & excellent. The Brigadier struck the shilling first go off & was fearfully pleased with himself about it. It really was a jolly good pudding so once more my thanks for it. No time for more.
Very many thanks for an enormous plum pudding which has just arrived – too late it is true for our Xmas dinner, but in plenty of time for a New Year “Bust”. It looks & smells most excellent, & will doubtless possess an unrivalled taste when we come to investigate its interiors.
Christmas Day as far as the weather was concerned was fairly successful. It rained a bit in the morning & came on fairly heavily at night, but during most hours of day light was fairly dry. I got up some time before dawn & cycled into one of the French Btt H.Q. where there was an 8 o’c celebration in one of the dug-outs. The Padre was a little late & very muddy. He had started at 4.30 am & taken a service at every one of the three Coy HQs in the line. Unfortunately on his way home he slipped into some sort of a sump-hole & immersed himself, cassock, surplice & everything else. However one can get along very well without a surplice & we did not worry about such detail. I biked back to breakfast & the rest of the day differed very little from any other day.
Viccars came back from leave soon after tea, & was much disgusted to find that he was not expected. We have got so used to him overstaying his leave by a fortnight or so, that we had made no arrangements at all for billeting him. Consequently he had to share our room for the night & was very uncomfortable, which doubtless was very good for him. This afternoon Grinling departed again for his other Brigade, & Viccars & I are going to share the room until we quarrel – which wont be long. My waders have proved themselves very useful & are the envy of all who see them. The puncture has been satisfactorily repaired &I wear then now quite frequently. One cannot walk with great rapidity wearing them, but that is of no account. Nor does it very much matter that the brogues are somewhat large, they will shrink after several wettings & in time be an excellent fit. I have finished “Les Miserables” & am now embarking on Field Service Regulation which I have hot read for some time, & is a really wonderful book. Although it was written years before the War, it is quite up to date, & one has to obey its maxims as much as one can.
By the way, there is one other “want”: I am using the last battery & bulb for my ORILUX Electric torch. The refills & bulbs are to be bought from a gentleman in the Strand named STEWARD. Will you get me one bulb & three refills – they are horribly expensive but good.
Unfortunately this village cannot run to an early Celebration on the 25th. So that I shall probably have to walk a mile or two, in which case I can get to Church at 8.15 am. – Failing this I must go to a midnight celebration at one of the Btn. Head Quarters – I shall be able to do one or the other – it depends on whether I am out or about by day or night.
I suppose it is just conceivably possible that the Boche will make himself objectionable on the great day, – it is just the sort of thing that would appeal to him. One thing is quite certain, that there will be none of the fraternizing which characterized the 1914 proceedings.
The weather today is about as bad as can be. There is a hurricane blowing, torrents of rain & hail – slates & chimneys crashing into roadways –& more still where houses have become somewhat dilapidated owing to shell fire, whole roofs & walls suddenly collapsing.
I believe I told you that Barton had turned up a few days ago but had not yet got back to the Regiment. Yesterday he was wounded – a marvellous escape from complete destruction. A shell burst next door to him, & he has got off with a badly shattered ancle. It will not be long before he sees his ”Missus” again, though some months I expect before we see him here. The Brigadier goes on leave again in January & there is a great deal of speculation as to what he proposes to do: we all think that he is tired of his present job & will go & try to get some influential friend to get him another. We also think it not improbable that he will marry again. In this case the lady is, we are sure, to be found at Brighton – though what her name & what her occupation, we do not know. I think a change would in one way do him good, a man can be too long at one job & get stale – but of course “de duchibus nil nisi bonum”. I have just finished reading & have really enjoyed Thackeray’s “Snobs” & have now plunged into a translation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”. I have seldom read anything much finer than his description of Waterloo – it is absolutely magnificent. What the original French is like I can only imagine – the translation is excellent. Please tell Dini that the Sportsman turns up with great regularity each Thursday – & is much appreciated. It is very nice to read the doings of various people that one knows, who still find time to career over a football ground. There is as a rule quite a good description of most of the school matches, & I can follow the doings of M.T.S. The trenches are now in a pretty horrible condition. Where ever they are unrevetted the sides avalanche continuously onto the floor & from there a ghastly pea-soup like puddle sometimes three or four foot deep. Where the sides of the trench are strong the whole thing forms a sort of conduit for collecting water, & a whole army of men has to be employed pumping the place clear. In some cases the only way to visit the line is by night “over the top” – none too safe a performance on a very dark night as the place is lettered with shell holes and one may take a cold plunge at any minute. The whole aspect of the weather is so miserable that I am beginning to feel depressed & must stop this letter & go to bed.
There is still no sign of any of my parcels – I very much doubt if anything posted after the 14th or thereabouts will reach us much before the New Year – there is such a tremendous amount of baggage to deliver.
Godsal has had a most amusing book of cautionary rhymes sent him called the “Hun Hunters”. It is very cleverly illustrated & costs half a crown – quite worth getting. Some of the allusions are very topical & not to be understood by those who have not been with the B.E.F. but most of it is plain sailing. Anyone can understand:-
“Generals are chosen I am told
For being very, very old”—
Col Jones has gone on leave – he is not very fit & had had a bad cold, cough etc. – Before he went he had a long interview with the Brigadier, in which it was decided that in the event of Allen’s departure I took the place. The C.O. won. Should Allen not go – I shall go & understudy staff work at Div. H.Q. a poor “office-boy” sort of a game. So far nothing has come through about Allen. Huskisson has come back from leave, feeling very fit & bringing a turkey & half a stilton: the latter has to be chained at nights but is very good all the same. The rusty nails flavour is very predominant. It is getting very late & I have a long day tomorrow, so I must stop.
Nothing more has so far transpired concerning Allen’s moving to another unit, so that at present peace reigns supreme in the happy home. Barton has returned, but is with a Field Ambulance, I expect he will get back to the Regiment before very long. He is terribly changed since his marriage – much quieter & smoother – alas who’d be anything but a Bachelor?! The weather is still very terrible, & the mud consequently the same as ever. I have been slopping about in it & getting very wet. One can never make up one’s mind to put on waders, but always regrets not having done so, as soon as one gets up into the line. It is getting late & I am half asleep so I will “Ring off”.
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.