Officer in Waiting
4 May - 12 June
The Somme Again
13 June - 24 August
Dompiere & Mont St. Quentin
25 August - 6 September
7 September - 10 November
11 November - 28 Feb 1919
The WWI diary of Percy Smythe was transcribed by his daughter Betty Smythe.
To War Again
Sunday 14th. (cont'd) We fell in at 2p.m. and marched off down the broad green avenue. The people of Southampton turned out in thousands in their Sunday best and crowded along the three miles or so of roadway between our camp and the wharf to see us off. Most of the children (dear little kiddies they were too), and some of the less shy of the flappers, lined the pavement and held out their hands for us to shake hands with them as we passed.
And many an old lady murmured a fervent "Goodbye and God bless you, my laddie", probably thinking of her own loved ones "over there". Even the little schoolboys looked so earnest in their wishes of "Good luck, soldier", it was quite a refreshing change from the usual cool indifference with which people seem to regard our departure from their locality.
Comme je regardais les visage des foules avec leur nombreuses expressions différentes, mon coer a désiré bien une dernière vue de la figure de ma chérie petite fiancée, un dernier sourire de ses jolie bouche, et peut-être un dernier baiser adorable sur les doux lèvres affectueux. [As I watched the faces of the crowds with their many different expressions, my heart desired one last good look at the face of my little darling fiancée, one last smile on her pretty mouth, and one last affectionate kiss perhaps on the lovely sweet lips.]
But of course that was wishing for the impossible.
Soon we came to the end of the long avenue of spectators, through the big gates and on to the wharf, where, later on, we embarked, about a thousand of us altogether, on a small old paddle-wheel steamer called "La Marguerite". The boat was crowded about as full as it could be. Made a meal of the ration of bread, jam, and cheese, and then the transport started off, just as it was getting twilight. At one of the wharves we passed there was moored a ship which had a large hole in its hull, probably caused by a torpedo. Southampton and its rather dirty uninviting harbour were soon left behind, and our boat sped on towards the open sea. The evening was dull, and again I seemed to be oppressed with that feeling of loneliness. En vérité, l'amour n'est pas le bonheur entièrement. Il a ses malheurs et ses tristesses. [In truth, love is not entirely happy. It has its troubles and sorrows.]
Lay down on top of a large box with a lifebelt for a pillow, to try and get some sleep, but there was a lot of talking going on among some chaps who could not be bothered turning in. Managed to get a few little snatches of sleep, however. We arrived at La Havre somewhere before midnight.
Monday 15th. Was awakened about 3a.m. by an unusual stir, and found that rations of biscuits and cheese were being issued. Procured some, and had an early breakfast. Strolled around the ship, and finally settled down in a quiet place in the stern, and slept till morning. Had another breakfast of army biscuits and cheese, and then went up on deck for a look round. The harbour which I had seen from the deck of the hospital ship last Christmas Day, is a very much nicer one than that at Southampton.
Disembarking from the old paddle boat, we marched off about nine o'clock through muddy, dirty streets between rows of dirty-looking buildings. If this was a fair sample of Le Havre, well, its not much of a place to see. But they say the town proper lies the other side of the water. Untidy-looking fruit vendors followed us with barrows, baskets, or bags containing pears or apples. After a tramp of about five or six miles, we arrived at last at our camp, about eleven o'clock, and were put into tents. Met Corporal Sweetnam, who was a lance-corporal with me in No. 4 platoon last November. He told me that Viv was the only captain left in the battalion after their last attack. Was very sorry to hear that little Arthur Henry, also Sjt. Scrivener, have been killed. It was only a few weeks ago that I was talking to Scrivener over at Perham. Wrote to Viv, telling him I'd probably be with them within a few days.
This afternoon we were issued with steel helmet, gas helmet, box respirator, rifle, bayonet, etc., and were afterwards given a vapour bath.
After tea, went to the C. of E. hut and wrote a letter to my little girl, and one to Mum and Dad.
Tuesday, 16th. We were put through a gas test today, both with lachrymatory (weeping) and chlorine gas. Afterwards we were warned for draft to our units, and will probably go tomorrow. A persistent drizzling rain set in this afternoon, making things miserable generally.
Wrote to Vera Billingham this evening.
Wednesday, 17th. The draft has been postponed. This morning the Duke of Connaught came to this camp on a tour of inspection, and we were lined up along the road to stand at attention as his motor went by. Fortunately there was no great fuss made like when he visited Perham Downs.
Wrote to Dorothy's former boy this evening, telling him, as kindly as I possibly could, of the relation Dorothy and I have formed with each other. Also wrote to the dear little girl herself, and put the other letter in with it for her approval.
Wrote to Miss Burke, at Corowa.
Thursday, 18th. Draft fell in at 9a.m. Marched to Le Havre, a distance of about five miles. This is the first time for nearly eleven months that I have carried the full gear, including 120 rounds of ammunition, blanket and waterproof, rifle and steel helmet, box respirator and gas helmet, etc. It seemed an awful weight to carry, but fortunately they did not take us too hard. Arrived about midday at our entraining place, where the train was waiting for us.
We dined on bully beef and biscuits, and the train crawled out of the station about four o'clock, and moved slowly along the side of a rather pretty valley. The hillsides were fresh and green, but many of the trees are already almost bare of leaves, winter being much more advanced here than in England.
Dusk soon crept down upon us, and, after an evening meal of biscuits and jam, I took my blanket and overcoat and got down on the floor under the seat. It was a rather cramped and uncomfortable position, but was better than sitting up, and I managed to get a fair amount of sleep.
Friday, 19th. Got up about half-past six. Later on, about eight, the train stopped at Hazebrouck, and the day's rations were issued. They consisted of bully beef, biscuits, jam, cheese, and a tin of condensed milk to about twenty of us. We breakfasted late, and then the train crept on slowly northwards, between frequent long stops, to the village of Caestre, where, after waiting about an hour or so, we detrained and marched away several miles along a rough cobblestone road through the village of Flêtre to a small camp of bell tents.
Made an evening meal of dry biscuits and tea, and afterwards strolled in to the village of Flêtre to have a look round. It was a miserable little place, however, with nothing worth while to be seen save a large church, out of all proportion to its surroundings, so bought a couple of candles and returned to camp.
The distant rumbling of the big guns can be plainly heard from here, and their flashes illumine the eastern sky like lightning. Have heard that the sixth brigade are at present at Steenvoorde, which is not very far from here, and we may possibly join them tomorrow.
Saturday, 20th. Another meal of dry rations for breakfast, and then we fell in and marched off through Caestre. It was a tiresome march over more cobbled roads, but we were given frequent halts on the way. At last we came in sight of the tall church spire of Steenvoorde, and half an hour later we arrived at the town. Our billets, however, were a couple of miles farther on, near the same place where we were billeted this time last year, after coming out of Belgium to go to the Somme. Arrived at our destination about 3p.m., and had a late dinner of bully beef and biscuits.
Went out and met Viv going over to a football match which was in progress between A and C companies. He said Wal Frazer has been invalided home to Australia on account of his wounds. Am glad of that, for Viola's sake. Viv said he was thinking of riding over to look up Vern tomorrow, so I asked him to get another horse so I could go with him. He was the only captain left in the battalion after the last stunt, and Vern was the only captain left in his battalion after their attack at Polygon Wood, when the four captains were killed. Joe Scales has been recommended for the V.C. for capturing a machine gun on his own.
Was hoping there might be some mail waiting here for me, but evidently it had all been sent back to the base. Morcom is C.S.M. of "A" Company and Jack Cummings is now a corporal, and at present has charge of No.4 platoon.
After tea, went in to Steenvoorde, mainly for the purpose of improving my knowledge of French. While there a Hun aeroplane dropped a bomb somewhere in the vicinity and caused quite a stir among the civilians. The girls in the shop I was at were awfully scared, and were contemplating shutting up shop and taking refuge in the cellar. But there were several soldiers there and they made light of it and teased the girls out of their fear. They were jolly people and sociable, and they provided us with chairs to sit on, so I stayed there with the other boys talking to them in French as best I could.
Returned to billet later, and wrote to Dorothy.
Sunday, 21st. Finished writing letter to Dorothy. After dinner Viv had a couple of horses brought up and we set out in search of Vern. Passed through the village of Abeele, a picturesque little place with the usual outstanding feature, the village church, its large tower crowned with tall spire rising high up above its surroundings like a sentinel on guard. Crossed the frontier into Belgium, following the main road to Poperinghe. Many villages have sprung up along this road, temporary homes of Belgium refugees who fled from their homes before the invading hordes, or were compelled more recently to leave Poperinghe and vicinity on account of the increased artillery and aeroplane activity along this part of the front. Some of the cottages were very roughly put together, and were built of packing-cases, army biscuit tins, and any available odds and ends of material that would serve the purpose. Others were constructed of forest timber and mud, like the French barns in which we are usually billeted. A few of them were quite presentable looking structures, made of proper milled timber with slate or tiled roofs. The general landscape was rather pretty, the copses and squares of tall straight trees, I don't know what they are called, being the main feature. The main road was very busy with all kinds of war traffic, great motor transports like monster beetles crawling laboriously along, a few cumbersome caterpillar tractors, swift motor cars threading their way carefully in and out among the heavier traffic, innumerable limbers, cookers, ammunition carts, and transport wagons, and, last but not least, the cheeky little motor cycles, flitting about and dodging through the other traffic, like sparrows among a crowd of farmyard fowls. Even the sky was full of aircraft, taking full advantage of the fine weather to get as much practice as possible.
We arrived at Poperinghe, which I had been told had been bombed and shelled to pieces, but which in reality appeared practically as intact as it was this time last year. A number of the buildings, however, had been well ventilated and provided with additional entrances in walls or roof, one had lost its entire front wall, and a few had been quite demolished. These included the building which adjoined the William Tell estaminet, which I remember we used to pass on the way into Poperinghe from Ouderdom.
Passing through the town and out along the Ypres road, we made enquiries and learned that Vern's brigade, the 14th., are at present in the line and are due out tonight, being relieved by the 15th. brigade. So it was no use going on any farther, and we circled around Poperinghe to avoid the traffic congestion, and got back on to the main road again.
I was too late for the company tea when we got back to billet, so Viv asked me in to tea at the mess. It was quite a decent meal too.
News has come through from some headquarters that the French have attacked on the fronts of three armies, at Bullecourt, Verdun, and somewhere else. Also, the Huns made a zeppelin raid on England, and lost four of the zeppelins while returning across France, one being captured entire. Viv says the Intelligence Department reports that the Germans have replaced all their divisions but one on the Flanders front with fresh divisions, so it looks as if a big attack on their part is imminent. We are to move up near Ouderdom on the 26th. of this month, do a week's road-making there, then a week in the forward lines at Ypres or thereabouts, and finally a week in the trenches, including two days in the front line, on garrison duty only, for there is to be no attack this time. Viv reckons the Flanders attacks are only intended to gain all the high ground before settling down for the winter. No attempt is being made to break through, but the French and British between them are carrying out a policy of wearing out the German resistance and using up the reserves. Perhaps in the spring a serious attempt to break through may be made.
Monday, 22nd. Up about eight, just in time for breakfast. Parade at 9.50, finishing up the morning's work with a football match for physical exercise. The afternoon's parade was much the same.
Started letter to Mum and Dad this evening.
Tuesday, 23rd. Orderly Corporal today. Finished letter to Mum and Dad, and wrote to my little girl at Andover, also to Mrs. Morgan, and to the Base Post Office, notifying them of my new address.
Went into Steenvoorde this evening, and spent an hour or so in the shop where were Madeleine, Camille, and their cousin. There were several of our boys there who could speak French well, so I was content mostly to listen and try to understand all that was being said. Its about as easy as learning to read morse from a telegraph instrument. Am improving, however. Camille showed us a photo of her young brother, who has been missing for over two years. Poor girl, she seemed very sad about it. They are refugees from Lille, where they lived before the war. Spent a pleasant evening there.
Wednesday, 24th. It was announced on the parade this morning that the French have taken 7,600 prisoners and over 60 guns in their new offensive near Soissons. Gas demonstration this afternoon. Did not go to Steenvoorde this evening, it being wet and unpromising.
Thursday, 25th. Commenced a letter to Aunt Lydia. Went in to Steenvoorde this evening, to the "school". Met a 56th. Bn. man who told me they are billeted only a few kilometres away.
Thursday evening, 25th.:- A nice long letter was waiting for me from Dorothy when I came back from Steenvoorde. The dear little girl had just received my first letter from Le Havre. She had left a note for me at the Y.M.C.A. that last Thursday night before I left. I had had half a mind to go down to the village that evening in case there might be a note at the Y.M.C.A., but, thinking that probably there would not be, went to Tidworth instead. Dorothy says she is going to have some photos done soon, and will send one over. English boys of the 18-19 class are now occupying the camp at Perham instead of the Australians. The dear child begs me to take care of myself and not run any unnecessary risks. She would write again on Sunday (this letter was dated Friday 19th.), so there should be another one for me in a couple of days or so.
Friday, 26th. Finished letter to Aunt Lydia and commenced one to cousin Flora. A number of promotions were in orders today. Jock Cummings, Jack Toohey, and a couple of others were made temporary serjeants, and I was made temporary corporal, besides several others. That means 4/- a day more than before. Will soon be able to pay off my debts to Viv and Vern, and then begin to save up for that bonnie little bungalow cottage that Dorothy and I have dreamed about.
Letter from Clytie with a photo of Jean, Doris, and herself. It was a very nice one. Looked up Vern at his billet tonight, and had a good old yarn with him.
Saturday, 27th. Early reveille this morning. Marched out about eight o'clock, and crossed the border into Belgium. Skirted round to the south of Poperinghe, passed through Reninghelst, and arrived at a small hut encampment about midday, extremely tired.
Wrote a good long letter to Dorothy this afternoon. Cannot post it, however, until we get settled down somewhere. The boys got a fire going in an old fire-pot in our hut this evening, and it was very cheery and pleasant after the cold draughty barn we have been billeted in. We move again to another camp tomorrow...................
Monday, 29th. Posted Saturday's letter to Dorothy today. A few Hun `planes came over this way during the morning, but kept very high up and dropped no bombs.
This afternoon Viv marched the company off to go to a picture show at Winnipeg camp, but on arriving there, we learned that the pictures were off till tomorrow, so we had a bit of a route march instead.
Wrote to my little girl this evening.
The guns have been very quiet, but some enemy `planes are getting about tonight, and our Lewis and anti-aircraft guns have been spitting at them.
Tues. 30. It appears that the Italians have had a great set-back. Germany claims to have taken a hundred thousand prisoners and a large number of guns. Of course it may not be near so bad as they make out, but there does not appear to be any official contradiction from Italy, who has admitted yielding territory.
Signed acquittance roll this morning for some Australian Christmas War Book which is being published. It is to be after the same style as the "Anzac Book".
This afternoon we were marched off to the pictures at Winnipeg camp, in the selfsame hall where we had picture shows this month last year.
Some fine parade, this. On the way there we passed a place where lay three dead horses, killed by one of the bombs dropped by the German `planes last night. A number of these bombs had fallen in the near vicinity of our camp during the night, but none actually within the camp area.
The pictures were good, though there were only two, a long drama in four parts and a bit of Chaplin foolery. On the way home we came upon some "tanks" just setting off on a journey somewhere. They looked great hulking ponderous monsters, and crawled laboriously away through the mud. Had a look inside one while awaiting its turn to move off. The motor was situated right in the centre of the monster, and there was not too much room for the crew to move about inside.
Nice letter from Dorothy this evening. She has written to "that boy" herself, and fully explained things. Rewrote my former letter to Pike. The Italians have retreated from the Bainsizza plateau, and the Huns have penetrated into Italian territory.
Wednesday, 31st. Wrote to Mum and Dad today. Suggested that they look out for a nice block of land for me at Kogarah, so I'll have something towards getting a home for my little girl and I after the war is over.
The decoration awards for the last stunt have come out. Viv has been awarded a bar to his M.C. Joe Scales got a D.S.O.
Packed up by last diary, most of my letters from Dorothy, and various articles that I can manage to do without, to send over to Mrs. Morgan to put away for me.
Wrote a short letter to Dorothy.
Thursday, 1st. The British and French are hurrying help over to Italy, where the whole Isonzo front seems to have collapsed. We are to move farther up tomorrow, probably somewhere near Ypres.
Paid this afternoon. Drew full corporal's pay, 70 francs, equal to about £2-11 Paid Viv two pound off what I owe him. Got leave from the afternoon parade to go to Reninghelst, a few miles away. Killed the journey by scrambling into various motor transports as they came along. Bought a number of rather pretty postcards for my Christmas mail to Australia, besides getting various other necessary articles. Got back to camp too late for tea, but managed to get some hot beans and a tin of bully beef at the cookhouse.
Took the postcards I had bought and wrote Christmas Greetings to nineteen Australian correspondents, including seven to the homefolks. The others were to:- Clytie, Jean, Doris, Mr. Harward, Mrs. Tanner, Miss Prigg, Beattie Bostock, Vera Billingham, Jack Elliott, Ettie Cunynghame, Miss Burke, and Lorrie Maloney.
As last night's letter to Dorothy was a short one, I wrote a first instalment tonight of a long letter to be finished and posted in a couple of days' time, when the post reopens. It is closed at present until after we move up.
Friday, 2nd. Packed up ready to move this morning. Having nothing to do all the morning, I spent the time doing a bit of an ink sketch of a cottage in a garden. The Germans claim 120,000 Italian prisoners, and one thousand guns.
All the British guns, however, were saved.
Moved out about 3 o'clock this afternoon and marched off towards Ypres. We walked along at an easy pace, and I could not help thinking how different it was from the marches we used to do in the 3rd. battalion. Viv seems to be very considerate of the men in this way, and always takes them at a slow rate. And yet some of them, and especially Paddy White, were continually grumbling. Before we reached our destination Paddy was cursing Viv a treat and calling him for everything (not within Viv's hearing, of course), and saying that he had no feeling or sympathy for his men. Well, some fellows are never satisfied. He also had a grievance against me, for malingering, as he said, in England for the last ten months.
We arrived, about dark, at a small camp of trench shelters near Ypres. The walls of these shelters are built of sandbags full of earth, and the roofs are pieces of waterproof canvas stretched over the top. They are warm and fairly comfortable, and are much preferable to the cold barn we were in near Steenvoorde, though not so nice as the huts we have just left. Got in the same shelter as Paddy White, and after a while he changed his tune and began talking about Viv's bravery and daring in their last stunt, and said that he deserved a V.C. if ever anyone did.
It is a dark night, and the ground is very slippery and pitted with shell-holes, mostly full of water, so one has to move about carefully. There is a big siege gun close by, and, if he gets hurling iron foundries about during the night, there won't be much sleep for us. Fritz is putting a lot of shells over this way, but they are falling well wide of the camp.
Wrote another instalment of the letter to Dorothy, and then turned in.
Saturday, 3rd. All night long Fritz poured in shell after shell into the wood over on our right. Some of them wandered over this way and fell very close to our camp.
Orderly corporal today. Had a look at the siege gun, which is a 12-inch monster on a railway mounting. Counted two hundred and thirty great shells lying about in rows waiting to be sent on their journey of destruction. They say the gun will be firing today or tonight.
A Hun aeroplane flew over this camp at a very low altitude this morning, and although quite a lot of machine guns were firing at him, he sailed through it all unmolested. If he noticed that the camp is tenanted, we may expect some "iron rations" later on.
The howitzer fired a few shots soon after I made the last entry herein, and has fired occasional shots during the day. Every time the monster barks, the noise gives one's head a feeling, for a moment or two, as if it had collided violently with something hard and solid.
The mail this morning brought me a bundle of sixteen Australian letters, but not the one I had hoped for from Blighty. The sixteen included three from dear old Mum, three from Viola, one each from Dad, Ida and Rita, besides two from Clytie, two from Miss Prigg, and one each from Mrs. Tanner, Vera Billingham, Kitty Winters, and Maggie Elliott.
It was quite a treat to get so much home news. With Rita at home to do the housework, Mum has had more time to spare on the garden, and has got it quite nice with borders of asters, sweet peas, pansies, and violets around the lawn. There was a memorial service at Jerilderie for Bert and for Joe Osborne, also of the 3rd. battalion, a nephew of Mrs. Steele. Mum is getting the name Koppin Yarratt made for our place. Dad's cheery letter came as a pleasant surprise. He suffers with his eyes, and finds it hard to write, so that explains why so few letters come from him. Viola's letters were nice. She seems to have grown much older and more serious in her ways, and also more religious. She expresses some strong views about nationalism and conscription, etc. They have been having some good Fellowship camps, and are expecting an exceptionally good one next Christmas. Viola had been knitting some sox and other things to send me by the next parcel mail, so they ought to come along soon, that is if they have not been returned to the base and there collared by some covetous official. She has found another friend, a schoolteacher at Rockdale, one M'liss Shea, of whom she is very enthusiastic. They have had great trouble in Sydney with the trams and trains on account of the strike. Ida's letter was very interesting and amusing, four closely-written pages, mostly in French, in three instalments dated June 17th., July 30th., and August 4th. respectively. She wants me to send her a sketch with some verses (composed by myself) for her autograph album. Also, if she passes with honours in English, I am to send her, as a reward, some badge or button made into a brooch. The young rascal says she has found a girl for me, the aforementioned M'liss Shea of Rockdale, whom she avers is a beautiful creature, with a lovely skin, grey eyes, and nice black hair. H'm. Very sweet of Ida to be so thoughtful of me, but -- il n'y a qu'une fille pour moi dans le monde entier, c'est ma chérie bien aimée, la chère petite enfant qui m'aime et m'attend en le beau pays d'Angleterre. [there is only one girl for me in the world and that is my darling beloved, dear little child who loves me and waits in the beautiful country of England.] Rita also asks for a sketch for her autograph album. She says they are growing a lot of strawberries at home now. Miss Prigg, Mrs. Tanner, and Maggie Elliott send sympathy for our loss of dear Bert. Sam Connelly is unfit for further service, and is to be sent back to Australia. Maggie advises me not to follow Vern's example and get married over here. Kitty Winters expresses satisfaction that I'm not going to get married before coming home (I had been assuring them at home that there was no danger of anything like that on my part!), and Vera Billingham declares that she is done with me for ever if I follow Vern's example while there are so many girls in Australia who will be old maids on account of the war. Vera is at a place out Coogee way now. Eric, she said, was at a school at Grantham last time he wrote but she had not heard from him since February. Well, he is a nice sort of boy to have! Vera's letter contained a snap of herself taken while at Taree. She says that Les Warner has been killed in action. That is bad news indeed. There's two of our most energetic C.T. boys gone now. It seems unusually hard on poor little Essie, first to lose her lover, then her brother. Both of those boys will be greatly missed at the Temple; in fact, it will not seem the same place without them. But God's will be done, for He alone knows what is best.
News has come through from Headquarters today that the Italians are making a stand on the line of the Tagliamento River, and that the Germans have retired on a nine mile front before the French up here in Flanders.
Finished letter to Dorothy this evening, fourteen pages. Took it over for Viv to sign, and, as he was alone in his dug-out, stayed there yarning to him for the rest of the evening. We talked about our three girls, his, Vern's and mine. Viv was quite interested in Dorothy, and reckons he will go and see her next time he is over on furlough.
Sunday, 4th. A very nice letter from my dear little girl this morning. Also five more from Australia, three of them from Mum and one each from Vera Webb and Kitty Winters. There was also one from Mary, readdressed from Perham Downs. They have been having exciting times at Sydney with the strikes. Mum and Dad went in to the C.T. to see the unveiling of the Honour Roll, but there were so few there, on account of travelling difficulties, that it was postponed. Mum says she is keeping up Bert's Starr-Bowkett for me. There is £53 paid into it so far. Also she has £86 in the bank and £10 in War Loan for us boys. Dad will get Bert's insurance money, and is agreeable to pay off the home. Mary got the memorial picture Mrs. Morgan sent her, but wasn't sure if it was to be kept or not, as Mrs. Morgan didn't tell her.
On a fatigue job this morning with four men, repairing the duckboards at the junction of Gate Walk and Pioneer Track, where a shell had landed during the night and sent the duckboards flying all roads.
Took a walk into Ypres this afternoon. It is considerably more battered and ruined than when we were here last year, and yet it seems to look beautiful and picturesque in its desolation. Naked walls, or portions of walls, still stand up here and there like silent sentinels guarding the dead. Great heaps of rubble and shattered masonry, intermingled with shapeless masses of splintered timber, ranging from thin roof laths to huge supporting beams, now decayed and rotten through exposure to the weather, line the streets on either side. The cathedral has lost a lot more of its tower, and all the minarets have now disappeared. The contour of its walls, all gapped and broken, surrounds the pitiful mass of wreckage. Climbed all over the ruins and picked out a number of nice pieces of marble of different grain and colour. In several places there were the remains of narrow spiral stairways. Followed one of these down under the ruins, and there, over a broken doorway, was an unbroken pane of glass about nine inches square. It reminded me of an incident recorded in an article on Ypres I had once read. Someone laid a wager that there was not a whole pane of glass to be found in the city. Someone else took it up, and, after an all day march, came back with an unbroken pane of glass, one inch square!
Scrambling up another broken spiral stairway, I came upon a dark and narrow passage in the middle of the wall. It led up over the arched entrance on the southern side facing the Cloth Hall. Would have liked to take a photo or two of the noble ruins, but there were too many folks about for it to be safe.
This evening I wrote out a suggestion for an improvement on the mouthpiece of the Small Box Respirator, to overcome the trouble with saliva in the present pattern. Drew diagrams of the suggested alterations, and gave the lot to Viv to send in.
Monday, 5th. Letter from Elsie Billingham and one from Kitty Winters. Wrote to Dorothy this evening. They say there is to be a "hop-over" early in the morning.
Tuesday, 6th. A lot of shells were flying about this way during the night, and some of them whizzed by close overhead, seeming to land near the ditch a couple of hundred yards back. Paddy White came in drunk in the small hours of the morning. Fritz had been shelling the crossroads near Little Gate, and a piece of shrapnel tore holes in Paddy's tunic sleeve, just missing his arm. The bombardment started some time later, and all the guns opened up. In spite of all the noise I went off to sleep, but every time this big howitzer fired it woke me up again.
News came through this morning that the "hop-over" proved entirely successful, all objectives, including the town of Passchendaele, being taken at an early hour.
Wrote to Mum and to Dad this evening, also to Mary. Viv says we go up to the line on Thursday.
Wednesday, 7th. Wrote to Vera Billingham. Asked her to call on our folk at Kogarah. Orders have just come to hand that we move up into supports today, in order to make room for the 7th. Brigade, who are coming out from the line.
Later: Packed up, leaving one blanket behind in the pack, and taking the other with us. Got a letter from Dorothy, dated Nov. 1st., in which the dear child was disappointed at not getting a letter from me. She and her friend, Miss Thompson, have started to learn dancing.
We moved off about 3p.m., going by Gate Walk and Pioneer Track, then along a railway line for some distance and on to another duckboard track. The whole of the countryside was a network of shell-holes of all sizes, and in places there were large mine craters full of water. The duckboard track was in good condition, and made good walking. We were halted at a place where there were some gun positions, as the ridge in front (Westhoek Ridge) was being shelled with big stuff in the vicinity of the track. A few gas shells also put in an appearance. We were kept waiting there some time, and then it came on to rain lightly. Near by there was one of the new tanks, capable of carrying and firing a 6-inch howitzer or a 4-inch field gun. They are longer and slightly different in shape from the other tanks.
over this area to make communication with the frontline possible. AWM.
It was beginning to get dusk when we moved on again. A few shells came over our way, one landing only about forty yards away. After crossing the ridge we left the duckboards and struck off to the right through the sloppy slippery mud, picking our way in and out between the shell-holes. Once my toe caught against a telephone wire, and I peremptorily took possession of Flanders with both hands, after the style of William the Conqueror.
At last we came to another duckboard track and followed it along. It had suffered considerably from the bombardments, and the boards in many places were broken up or blown away. A lot of 4.7 inch shells whizzed by close overhead or fell not far short of us, but eventually we got out of the shelled area and came to a corduroy road, where we halted. There was some delay at this point waiting for the Lewis guns, as the limbers could not get right up on account of the mud. It was very cold, too, hanging about there with sweat-soaked shirts. When at last the Lewis guns arrived we pushed on again by another duck-board track, much less battered than the last, until we came to the end of it. The ground here was not too muddy, but was very rough and honeycombed with holes, and the night was very dark, making things rather awkward.
Crossing the ridge, we arrived at the front line, which consisted of a couple of rough trenches, one about forty yards behind the other. Most of the company were told off to strong points in the foremost trench, which is only being thinly held. A few of us were kept back with Co. Hqrs. in the rear trench. It was about 9p.m. when we got there and took over from the 19th. battalion. Fritz evidently must have observed some movement going on, for he put down a number of heavies close on our left. There were some small dug-outs or funk-holes in our trench, and of one of these W. C. Smith and I took possession. It was a task for both of us to squeeze in, and we were very cramped, but were thankful for small mercies.
Thursday, 8th. Slept off and on during the night, but it was impossible to get comfortable in such a small space. There was intermittent shell-fire, which, towards morning, developed into a bombardment.
Breakfasted on cold bacon and then slept all the morning. Dined on bully beef and beans. Numbers of aeroplanes kept up a ceaseless patrol over the lines, our `planes and Fritz's but the enemy machines seemed to have it mostly their own way. Wrote a short letter and a postcard to Dorothy, in case she might be anxious.
Our position here is on a ridge to the right of the Passchendaele ridge. Away in front, some miles away, can be seen a tall church spire, possibly at the town of Menin. Over to the left, on the Passchendaele ridge, an enemy dump is blazing away merrily, our artillery having got to their mark there.
Just before dark another bombardment opened up against the enemy positions on the Passchendaele ridge. Borrowed a book from one of the signallers to help pass away the time. It was one of Baroness Orczy's books, "The Nest of the Sparrowhawk".
Early in the evening a fatigue party arrived with the water rations, and I gave one of them my letter to Dorothy to post when he went back.
Serjeants Collery and Jolly and another chap and I took the water rations out to the posts in front, and then I was just about to settle down to a quiet read in my dug-out when Jim Collery called me to go and help bury a dead man that Viv had discovered out in front. He had been killed in the attack on this ridge about a month ago. The same four of us took shovels and stole out in the blackness of the night to the place where the dead man lay, and, while the other three excavated a bit of a hole for a grave, I undertook to secure the dead man's identity disc. It was not a very pleasant task. Tore the clothing, weather-soaked and rotten, away from his breast, and felt about his neck for the cord which held the disc. His skin was cold and clammy to the touch, and in former days I should have shuddered at the mere thought of doing such a thing, but of course one grows callous of these things. Secured the disc, and took a couple of bombs which were in his pockets. Also removed his belt, which had a clasp-knife attached to it and had a hat-badge and some German buttons fastened on it. Although the man had been dead a month, the body was still well preserved, and had scarcely begun to decay, probably on account of the cold.
It was a rough burial, and there was no funeral service. We just lifted him into the shallow hole that had been dug, and then covered him over with earth. Then we stole away back to our trench, where we examined the identity disc. He was a "C" Coy. man named Rantman.
Retired to my dug-out, lit a candle, and settled down to a little quiet reading. The Signallers' dug-out, next to mine, had fallen in, and they were trying to rebuild it, but eventually gave it up as a bad job, so I made room for one of them in with me. He was grumbling about one of the other signallers, Holyhead, who, though supposed to be on duty, was lying asleep in Viv's dug-out, leaving Viv to sit up for want of room. Later on the man in my dug-out went on duty, and then Holyhead came to me for shelter. He seemed frightened, and was very fidgety, and soon began to get on my nerves. The young beggar wouldn't keep still, and seemed bent on occupying the major portion of the dug-out, which was small enough in all conscience.
Laid the book aside just before midnight, and had just turned in when Jim Collery came along to tell me that the dry rations had arrived.
Friday, 9th. We took out the dry rations to the posts in front. It was raining now, and the broken ground was very slippery and treacherous. After coming back, had supper of bread and jam and then turned in, about 1a.m. Found it hard to get any sleep in such a cramped position, especially as young Holyhead kept fidgeting all the time and occupied about three quarters of the dug-out space. Dozed off towards morning, and was later awakened by a bombardment about daybreak. Jim Collery came for me to go on guard in case of emergencies, so turned out and watched the strafing. Our guns were pouring shells on to the Passchendaele ridge, and Fritz put down a barrage of gas shells and high explosives a couple of hundred yards in front of our position. The sky was kept in motion with beautiful coloured lights which floated gracefully down again. They were mostly green or orange, but twice I saw the pretty red flare with the ugly meaning. A few stray shells fell close to our position, but most of them were well down in front.
Smith and Terry, who had been sent away yesterday morning for an issue of dry sox, arrived about daylight, and I took the sox and issued them to the men. Breakfast this morning included some Australian rabbit, quite a delicacy. Cleaned most of the mud off my rifle, and spent the morning reading. Thanks to a tommy cooker we were able to have a hot dinner of bully beef and beans.
Young Holyhead stuck to our dug-out like a leech all day, and gave Smith little chance of getting any sleep. He seemed nervous and frightened, and probably felt safer under the rather doubtful protection of the dug-out. Even when the fellow-signallers set to work to rebuild their fallen "home", the young beggar was too lazy to lend them a hand. Strolled up along the trench where it was deserted, and took a photo of the terrain in front.
Viv says we will probably go out from the trenches on Sunday night. As Jack Cummings had nowhere to sleep at his post in front, I offered to relieve him so he could get a little sleep in my dug-out. Went out there after dusk and took over from him. He and Cpl. Harvey had a bit of a funk-hole to sit in for shelter. Sjt. Way said he had got a bundle of letters with the rations tonight, and that there were several for me, but it was too dark to see them, and of course striking a match or flashing a torch was quite out of the question.
A big patrol went out tonight under Mr. Middleton. Warned for listening post out in No-man's-land, to relieve Cpl. M’Culloch at midnight. They say there is to be a "hop-over" on our left in the morning, about daybreak.
Retired to our funk-hole and dozed off to sleep for an hour or two, when I was aroused to go on listening post. Took a couple of men and went out to the post, which was in the remains of an old shallow trench, probably one of Fritz's former communication trenches. Took over from M’Culloch about midnight.
Saturday, 10th. It was very cold crouching there in a cramped position, a chilly wind was blowing, and intermittent showers of rain passed over. A few gas shells exploded somewhere behind us, and a slight smell of the poisonous gas wandered down our way. I was very drowsy, and found it extremely difficult to keep awake. Every now and then the trees and stumps in front would spring into motion and become living things, and I would be dreaming. It was just the same with the two men too. I noticed several times that their heads would sink forward on their breasts, and then I'd have to call them back to the present circumstances. Time dragged very slowly, and it seemed an eternity before the first monotonous hour had gone past. The men frequently enquired the time, and invariably expressed great disappointment when I told them.
The second hour dragged by as drearily as the first. Several times the clouds cleared away and allowed the stars to twinkle, but each time another patch of black vapour masses would come rolling up from the south, bringing more rain. A lot of H.E. shells fell about the sunken road a couple of hundred yards or less to our left front.
We waited and watched as patiently and dutifully as we could through the rest of that tiresome night, and at half-past four, just as the first signs of dawn were beginning to lighten the sky, crept away back to our trench. Got into my funk-hole and slept soundly till half-past five, when we had to "stand to". A bombardment had started, and I remembered that the Canadians were to attack on our left. Our guns behind us thundered and roared in a furore of drumfire, and their shells were ploughing up the Passchendaele ridge. Fritz put a heavy barrage of gas and H.E. across the hollow below us, and his signal flares floated up and down in a continuous array of brilliant colours. A lot of Fritz's H.E. and H.E. shrapnel were bursting on the ridge where the attack was being made.
A bundle of letters was tossed into our trench, and it included five for me, one from Dorothy and one each from Mum, Mrs. Morgan, Winnie Fishwick, and a back one from Viv, readdressed from Perham Downs. Read Dorothy's letter there and then, amidst the awful thunder of the guns. Poor little girl. she had been afraid she might have appeared a little ........ to me during our happy meeting at Weyhhill. Her letter also enclosed a short note from Miss Smith.
Stood watching the illuminated shifting scenery for a time, until "carry on", and then had breakfast, a tommy cooker providing us with steaming hot cocoa. Turned in about 8 o'clock, rolled up in a blanket and slept till eleven, in spite of the bombardment and the cramped position.
Read my other letters. Mum says Kate Taylor and Holly Sevelein have died. Mrs. Morgan would not send my diaries to Dorothy as I had asked her, and she expresses regret that I have taken up with an English girl. Well, I suppose that is entirely my own affair.
It turned out a wet miserable day, and rainwater soon accumulated in the trench and flooded out the lower situated dug-outs. The bombardment kept on through the day, but decreased somewhat in intensity. After dinner Harvey and I curled up in our funk-hole to try and sleep. Gus soon dozed off, but I lay awake thinking over various things. Several times some loose earth came tumbling down on my head, and I didn't like our chances of being left in peace. My expectations were soon justified, for, without any more warning, down came our roof on top of us in a wreckage of mud, timber, and waterproof sheets. Gus still slept on, so I awoke him and we proceeded, with a lot of wriggling and twisting, to extricate ourselves from the wreckage of our "home". Then we salvaged our equipment and what we could get of our other belongings, and threw a waterproof over them, as it was raining. I got another waterproof which wasn't too muddy and threw it over my head to keep off some of the rain.
Strolled along the trench to see how the boys were faring, and was rather touched by the pathetic misery of them, though I could not help seeing the humourous side of things, which reminded one of Bairnsfather's sketches. The dug-outs were all either flooded out or fallen in. Went away and sat on a petrol can with the waterproof over my head, and waited for the time to pass. Some time later Gus Harvey came along for timber, saying that he and Goldsmith were building another dug-out for the three of us. So I helped them finish it, and then we crawled in out of the wet. Nobody bothered about having tea, as everything was in such a miserable state. Viv came along after dark and said we were going out tomorrow night, being relieved by the West Yorks. Their Vickers Guns and their Brigade and Division Hqrs. have already taken over. He also gave me the welcome news that there would be no listening post sent out tonight. Cpl. Harvey seemed rather inclined to be nervous, and he also complained of feeling unwell, as his clothes were pretty wet, so I relieved the sentries each hour and let them rest. Mr. Noble also seemed rather nervous, especially when there were any shells getting about, and Fritz paid us some attention tonight, putting a number of shells along the front line.
Sunday, 11th. The Hun gunners must have been in a quarrelsome mood during the night, for they plastered our front line with gas shells, most of them, however, falling higher up than our position. The pungent reek of gas floated down our way, but we gave it little heed. Then they gave us some high explosive shells for a change, and some of them came uncomfortably close. Once the sighing whine of a shell in flight ended with a savage hiss and an explosion just behind our dug-out, and I felt the sandbag wall heave in several inches. "That one nearly smashed our dug-out," I remarked, thinking it was a H.E., but the next moment a strong smell of gas rushed in. "Get your respirator on!" I yelled at Gus, making a grab for my own. I held my breath, but the powerful fumes got into my eyes, and the tears poured from them in streams. The tapes of my respirator were twisted up with the mouthpiece somehow, and there was I struggling to get them free. Had to open my eyes several times and endure a fresh flow of tears, and it soon became impossible to hold my breath any longer. However, just as I got a good deep breath of poisonous gas, the mouthpiece came free of the tapes and I got it into my mouth. It was easy enough then to adjust the rest of it. We stood to with respirators on for about half an hour, and when the "all clear" message was sent along, I looked to see where the shell had exploded. It had fallen just at the corner of our dug-out, just two feet from where my head rested against the sandbags! Had it been an explosive shell of even the smallest calibre, this record would never have been written.
High explosives began to fall pretty thick just up to the right of our position, and Gus Harvey left the dug-out to go farther along to the left. Goldsmith and I remained there a while longer, until several shells fell so close that the earth and mud thrown up by them fell in lumps on our roof, and then, after considering the matter, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so we went along to the sentry post and waited there till "stand to". Daylight, when it came, was very welcome.
Cpl. Harvey received orders to leave the line and take a couple of men with him back to the camp we will occupy tonight after being relieved. It is the same camp of sandbag shelters we were in before coming up. Gus was as pleased as punch to get away, and so were the two men he took with him, Burrows and Jago. Poor old Goldsmith seemed very disappointed that he was not chosen.
The weather turned out fine, and I spent most of the morning cleaning my rifle and another one, both of them being choked up with mud and grit. Many aeroplanes were getting about, flying comparatively low, but I determined to stay out and enjoy a bit of the sunshine, Hun planes or no Hun planes.
The ration issue today was very liberal, and included a tommy cooker, so we had hot Mackonochie's rations and cocoa for dinner. Slept a bit in the afternoon, had an early tea of bread and jam, and then packed up ready for departure. Posted the sentries after dusk and retired to the dug-out to await the arrival of the Tommies, whom we expected about nine or ten o'clock, at the earliest. However, they sprang a surprise upon us by turning up at seven, and, needless to say, we were not at all sorry for their punctuality.
It did not take us long to hand over and get out. The ground outside was very sloppy and slippery, and one of the men, Winney, who was rather unwell, fell several times and found it difficult to get on his feet again. Dropped back to try and help him on, and the others were too keen on getting out to wait for us. Goldsmith, who is getting on in years and well over military age, also lagged behind. We overtook the platoon at company hqrs., where they had been delayed, and found it better walking over the ridge, where the ground was drier. Once on the duck-board track things were much better, though the boards were badly knocked about in places. A few gas shells whined overhead and exploded softly some distance off, but we were troubled but little by the enemy artillery.
I brought up the rear with Cpl. Sweatnam and Goldsmith, and the latter found it very difficult to keep up with the rest. He fell farther and farther behind and seemed to get weak and done up. At last he gave up the struggle, and flung himself down in the mud beside the track. Dropped back to see if I could help him, and Sweatnam said, "Come on, leave the ----- there, its no use waiting," and with that he hurried on after the others. It was rather heartless, though, to leave the poor beggar there, so I took his equipment and rifle, got him on to his feet again, and walked along very slowly with him till we arrived at the corduroy road, where the platoon were halted.
It was evident that Goldsmith was completely beaten, so I offered to stay and look after him until he could be got to a dressing station, and Scholz volunteered to stay and help me with him. Fortunately, we found an R.A.M.C. dressing station not far away in an old "Pill-box" at Anzac House, and we took him over and left him in the care of the Tommies there.
We stepped it out along Anzac Corduroy Road, as the going was good. A few heavies whined overhead and burst somewhere in the neighbourhood, but nowhere near us. The road was strewn along either side with a wreckage of smashed wagons and limbers, and in places there were strong effluvia from the bodies of dead horses. They all told a tragic tale of death and destruction.
Eventually we overtook the company signallers and stretcher-bearers, headed by Viv, and later on came up with the rest of the company. The corduroy road took us out on to the Menin Road, along which we turned in the direction of Ypres. A rather pretty effect was produced in the sky by nine or ten searchlights all playing upon a bank of clouds in which an enemy aeroplane was hiding. He dropped an incendiary bomb somewhere near Ypres.
Passing Hellfire Corner, we followed the railway along to Pioneer Track, then up Gate Walk to the camp, arriving there about quarter past ten. My feet were very sore and aching a treat. A welcome supper of soup, rissoles, and cocoa was provided, and rum was also issued. The serjeants made rather free with the rum, and got very merry on it.
The night was cold, our clothes were more or less wet, and we had no blankets, so the prospects were not very cheerful. Jones, the Q.M.S. assistant improved things a little for me by giving me a dry pair of sox and lending me a macintosh cape. He even took the dry sox off his own feet to give to one of the others, which was very decent of him.
Monday, 12th. Spent a cold miserable night, and awoke in the morning with a bad headache.
After breakfast we fell in right away and marched off through Dickebusch, Reninghelst, and various other villages on the way to Steenworde. It was a long march, and we were all very tired. My left foot got lame, but Mr. Noble, who was riding Viv's horse, offered to carry my rifle for me, and it was a relief to get rid of it. We lunched by the roadside about 2.30p.m. and then trudged on again, through the village of Abeele to billets between there and Steenworde, not far from where we were before, arriving at our destination about five o'clock, after which I took my blanket and climbed up on top of a straw stack in the end of the barn, and there sought rest in oblivion.
Tuesday, 13th. Had a general clean up this morning, getting rid of as much mud as possible.
The evening's mail brought me a registered packet and two letters from my little girl, and a parcel from Clytie. The packet contained a bonny little Testament, which the dear child sent me because I had once said that the one I had was too big. It was very thoughtful of her. The parcel from Clytie contained two pairs of sox, a tin of sugar, and other things, and a pair of gloves put in by Doris.
Retired to the straw-stack, got comfortable, and wrote to Dorothy.
Wednesday, 14th. Orderly Corporal today. Finished 12-page letter to Dorothy. Wrote to Mum and Dad this evening.
Thursday, 15th. Two letters from Dorothy today. The colonel at Perham Downs wants the N.A.C.B. girls to get up an amateur theatrical company to entertain the boys, and Dorothy asks if I have any objection to her taking part in it. Evidently she is a bit keen on it, and I should hate to restrain her from anything that would bring a little more pleasure into her life, and yet, on the other hand, I've always been very prejudiced against such things. Couldn't help being a bit troubled over it. The other letter included one written to her from George Pike. He seemed rather upset at the turn events had taken, but was not angry, and even seemed to entertain some hope that Dorothy would turn to him again. He vowed that he would never love any other girl.
Wrote to Dorothy and explained my views in regard to the amateur theatricals, but advised her to follow her own counsel in the matter. Also wrote to Miss Smith. When I took the letters in to Viv to frank, Mr. Foster asked me to stay and have a cup of coffee with them. Spent a pleasant hour or so there, and several times had to act as interpreter between them and the French people who kept the farm. While talking to Viv he gave me a hint that there might soon be something doing re an O.T.C. school for me in England.
Friday, 16th. Paid today, 70 francs. Paid Viv 55 francs, equalling £2, in liquidation of the remainder of my debt to him.
As is usual on pay-day, most of the boys came in drunk tonight, and there was no end of a noise in consequence, with some rare attempts at singing, reciting, and arguing the point over nothing.
Saturday, 17th. Had an equipment-fitting parade this morning. We are to leave this locality tomorrow. Nice long letter from Dorothy this afternoon, also one from Mary. My little girl has had her photo taken and will be sending me one, so that's something nice to look forward to. Mary evidently had not received the letter I wrote her some time ago. She says I am horrid to go and get engaged and not tell her a word about it. Also got a letter from Mrs. Tanner, with a Xmas card. Les got the letter I wrote him from England.
Orders came out tonight that our packs and blankets are to be carried for us in the transports tomorrow, so that is something to be grateful for. Wrote to Dorothy, and also to Vern.
Sunday 18th. Fell in after breakfast and waited about most of the morning. We left about eleven and marched off through Abeele in the direction of Bailleul. Had lunch on the way, and arrived at our destination, a comfortable hut encampment at the village of Locre, about half past three. This is the most comfortable camp I have yet seen in France. We are in good bow huts provided with brick fireplaces, and the camp is fitted with all conveniences.
After tea, went down to the Officers' quarters to get Viv to frank the two letters I wrote last night, and while there he told me I was to hold myself in readiness to leave at any time for England for the O.T.C. I could hardly credit such good fortune. After all the persistent bad luck that has followed me during the last few years, it really seems as if Dame Fortune has taken me into her favour again, since the time that I first met Dorothy. It seems almost too good to be true; fourteen days' leave, then four months' school at Cambridge or Oxford with leave every weekend, and then another fourteen days' leave to finish up with. Then no more of these tiresome long route marches in full marching order, better food and clothing and living conditions generally, and an increase in wages which ought soon to enable me to save enough to buy that dear little bungalow cottage that Dorothy and I have often dreamed about. Of course, I have Viv to thank for getting it through for me. He has very often helped me in days gone by, and this makes one more item in my debt of gratitude to him. To think that I shall be able to see my little girl again so soon! That seemed beyond even my wildest hopes and dreams. How eagerly now I shall look forward to that glorious day when I shall get away on leave down to Andover! Of course, there is always a certain element of unreliability about anything concerned with the military, but still it looks pretty certain this time. Might have to go in a week or ten days' time, perhaps less.
Went up to the village and bought a small electric lamp and some candles.
Monday 19th. All the N.C.O's. of the company formed into a separate platoon today for special training during our three weeks' stay here. Three corporals, however, were kept out to act as platoon serjeants to the three platoons, and I was lucky enough to be included in these, being given No.2 Platoon to look after.
This afternoon's parade consisted of marching off to watch a football match between A and C companies. The play was fast and rough, and got very exciting towards the end, when A Co., who was a point behind, scored a behind and then a goal just before the whistle blew for "time up".
Got three letters this morning, one from Aunt Lydia, enclosing a letter from Flora, one from little cousin Eileen, enclosing a Christmas card she sent me twelve months ago and which had been returned, "unable to trace". That was about the time I transferred from the 3rd. into this battalion. The other was from George Pike in reply to the letter I wrote him recently. It was a very nice, though sad, letter, and I could not but feel sorry for the pain I have unwittingly caused him. He wishes to know how long Dorothy and I have been keeping company. Aunt Lydia's was a nice letter, and referred mostly to our temporary loss of dear old Bert.
Letter from Dorothy tonight. She has seen the proofs of the photos and is pleased with them, and will send one of each when they are completed. Wrote to Dorothy tonight, also to Clytie, and commenced a letter to Doris.
Tuesday, 20th. A big mail of papers from Australia arrived today and was distributed amongst the huts. Got a couple of "Graphics", in which were some photos of beautifully furnished interiors. Cut them out and put them by, as they may be useful some day, quand ma petite et moi, nous aurons le heureux devoir de faire la maison. [when my girl and me, we will have the happy task of home-making.]
After tea this evening we were marched away to a picture show, and, after waiting there an hour, we had to come out and march back to camp again without any pictures having been shown, something having gone wrong with the engine.
Finished letter to Doris, and commenced one to Viola.
Wednesday, 21st. Finished letter to Viola, and wrote to Ida (in French), to Rita, and to Mum and Dad. Also wrote to Dorothy, and enclosed a little sprig of Cootamundra wattle grown at our home at Kogarah, and a little photo of a nicely furnished drawing room that I got from the "Graphic" yesterday.
Thursday, 22nd. Wrote to George Pike, to Mary, Miss Prigg, Mrs. Tanner, and commenced a letter to Kitty Winters.
Friday, 23rd. Major Smith told us this morning that the British have made a successful attack near Cambrai, and have so far taken 8,000 prisoners and 27 guns. Finished letter to Kitty Winters.
Viv came into the hut at dinnertime and told me to hand in my equipment etc. tonight and be ready to leave for England at eight tomorrow morning. At last I shall get across and be able to see Dorothy again! It seems almost too good to be true. Only six weeks since I last saw her, and now I'm going back again already. What a pleasant surprise will be in store for her when she finds out!
Wrote to Mrs. Morgan. S-mjr. Morcom has not had a word or smile for me since it became known that I'm going to the O.T.C. Sjt. Westmeat remarked once, with a touch of sarcasm, "You've spent most of your service in England, haven't you, corporal?" He seemed very disappointed, and I felt very sorry for him. No doubt he considered himself wronged, and the fact that I was recommended for a commission over a year ago would scarcely appeal to his reason.
Got a packet of readdressed Australian mail this afternoon, and a registered packet from Dorothy containing a neat little pocket wallet with her photo and a very nice long letter enclosed. It was a rather nice photo, and the dear child looked very sweet, but it was not a particularly good likeness and did not quite do her justice. There was very little expression in it, and the expression is everything in Dorothy's sweet little face. She had just received the letter I wrote her after coming out from the line, but did not get the short letter and postcard I sent her from the trenches. The ration fatigue man must have forgotten to post it.
The other letters were; two from Mum, two from Vera Billingham, one of them containing a photo of herself, a postcard from Clytie, who was having a holiday at Katoomba, a Christmas card from Elsie Billingham, and a nice letter from Rita. Mum says Eric is doing well at school in English. He will not be able to go for a bursary. Our place escaped damage from the great storm that swept across Australia and New Zealand, but the garden suffered somewhat. Many houses in the vicinity were unroofed by the wind. Rita's letter was written on Mum's birthday. Dad had given her a nice pendant with Bert's and his photos for a birthday present.
Handed in my rifle and equipment tonight and packed up what things I would need to take tomorrow. Viv and Mr. Foster got me to take some of their souvenirs, rifle grenades, shell-cases, a German bayonet, etc. Wrote postcard to Dorothy telling her I would be coming on leave soon. Will not post it until I get to England, as it will go quicker that way.
Asked the guard to awaken me at 4a.m. tomorrow, as I'll have to leave here about six, in order to catch the 8.10a.m. train from Bailleul to Boulogne.
Saturday, 24th. Up at 4a.m. and had a light breakfast of bread and margarine. Packed the rest of my things and departed, about six o'clock, just as the first faint glow of dawn began to appear in the sky. Got a lift in a transport car most of the way to Bailleul, and thus had plenty of time to spare before my train came in. Had to change at Hazebrouck, whence our next train was due to leave at 10.30a.m., so strolled up the town to fill in time. A few of the buildings here had suffered badly from aeroplane bombs since I was here last, getting on for two years ago.
Had only 12½d in my pocket, so laid it out in a small tin of anchovies, and 2½d worth of bread, to do me for the day's rations.
The ten-thirty train did not leave until about eleven-thirty, and then it crawled laboriously away at a miserable pace towards Wallon Cappell. Getting tired of it, I got out and walked alongside in order to keep warm. Soon overtook the engine, where one of the drivers was walking along with a shovel, putting gravel on the rail to make the wheels grip. I've heard of some slow trains, but I think this just about caps the lot.
As we got nearer Wallon Cappell and on to a down gradient, the train began at last to gather a little speed, and we got aboard again. Saw once again the old barn which was my first billet when we came to France for the first time last March twelve-months. It was occupied by Tommies now.
The day turned out very cold and windy, and the carriages we occupied were cattle-trucks, the upper portion of the walls of which were open, and admitted enough fresh air to ventilate a dozen coal mines. It was a dreary trip altogether, punctuated with frequent long stops on the way. Found a tin of bully beef in the truck, and that substantially swelled my meagre rations. We arrived at a station just out of Calais about 4p.m., and then darkness set in. It was about seven when at last, cold and weary, we arrived at Boulogne.
We were marched away through the town to a big billet, which looked as if it had been a motor garage, and was ample enough to accommodate about a thousand men. It contained a canteen, and bed-boards and blankets were supplied to the troops billeted there, about seven or eight hundred of us, mostly Tommies. An Australian invited me to have supper with him, and got some bread and a tin of salmon at the canteen, also a couple of dixies of tea. The meal was very welcome after our cold journey.
Sunday 25th. Got a breakfast of salmon sandwiches at the canteen with sixpence that I had got by selling half a dozen stamps. The morning was cold, so kept walking up and down to keep warm. Somebody came in and announced that no boats would be sailing today. I suppose the sea is too rough. That means another long day in Boulogne, and the worst of it is that we are not allowed out into the town, but are kept penned up like roosters in a hen-coop.
At eleven o'clock we fell in and were marched off in companies through the city to a rest camp a few miles away. It was a stiff uphill climb nearly all the way. The rest camp consisted of bell tents, and there were supposed to be ten men to a tent, but sixteen of us were crowded into one tent. Got busy at a bit of tailoring with my breeches, which were much too long and wide, and soon licked them into a more respectable size and shape.
Early in the afternoon the sky became very black and the wind rose to a gale, and it looked as if the tents would not stand the strain. However, after a few drops of rain and a few flakes of snow the sky cleared again, and the wind decreased considerably.
Managed to get some lunch of bread and bully beef and tea. Bully beef biscuits and jam were also supplied for tea in a large dining hall.
In the evening, I went to a service in the Salvation Army hut. It was packed full, even all the standing room being occupied. The service was very bright and pleasant, the brass band contributing much towards its success. These Salvation Army meetings are invariably bright and cheery when they are not marred by their common habit of begging for money. The S.A. captain announced that most, if not all, of the men in camp would be leaving early in the morning, reveille being at 2.30a.m.