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.
The Western Front
Wed. 29. At last, at about 2.30a.m., we were moved up on to another platform to entrain. There were first, second and third class carriages, and it was our luck to get a third class. However, we were only six to a compartment, so it was not too bad. Thompson and I turned in together on the floor between the seats. Slept well till about 6.30a.m., and then got up. The train had been moving since about 5a.m. We were passing through some pretty scenery. On the left was a large sheet of water, probably a lake, or perhaps an arm of the sea. It was a delightful change after the sandy wastes of Egypt, everything looked so nice and green. Breakfasted on bully beef and biscuits. Besides Thompson and I, there were in the compartment Tom Campbell, Geordie Crawford, Porter and Sharkey.
After breakfast, being tired I slept for awhile. When I awoke we were passing through some very pretty scenery. The line was passing through the valley of a fine river, which I think was the Rhone. Farmhouses were dotted here and there over the countryside, there were many pretty hedges dividing the fields, the nicest being of cypress trees. In places the railway line was hedged in on either side by cypress or pine trees. Conspicuous in the landscape were those funny little trees that grow to a knob on top of the trunk, and then sprout out in a multitude of little branches. The railway signals along the line were different to ours, being a large disc or square of metal, which would swing around when actuated. The telegraph lines also were arranged on a novel plan. Two posts were put in the ground side by side about three or four feet apart, and iron cross-bars were secured across both posts, insulator cups being attached both above and below the cross-bars. These cups were white, green, blue, and black in different cases. In many places a staying pole was placed from the foot of one post to the top of the other one.
We passed a few snow-capped mountains, which looked very pretty, the snow showing up a great contrast to the dark tree-covered sides of the mountain.
Once when the train stopped for awhile at a station, we got out with our dixies and tea, and got some boiling water from an engine near by. It was very acceptable too, as the morning was quite cool. Later on the train stopped at a pre-arranged place, and tea with rum in it was served out to the men. It was not very nice stuff, and I did not drink much of it. Bought some cakes from a lady who was selling them. Got a button souvenir from an old French soldier on sentry duty. It was a nice button with a fuse on it. The sentry had a very old-fashioned rifle and bayonet.
After getting in the train and moving on again, I was leaning out of the window when I heard Porter say, "I could have got some cakes only for that ----- of a thing there". I had a notion he was referring to me, but was not sure. However, I was a good deal worried over it, as that is the one insult I will not stand, in principle, if only out of respect from dear old Mum and Dad. Anyhow I decided to ask him about it, and if I was right in my supposition, ask him out to fight, and, if he refused to fight, send him along for orders. So when an opportunity came I put it to him straight, but was greatly relieved to find that I had been mistaken. He had been referring to the dixie of tea he was carrying, through which he was unable to get at the barrow of cakes.
The train rolled on along the river valley, which was sprinkled with villages and farms. At the stations, where we frequently stopped, there were many pretty girls, most of whom were robust and healthy, with lovely rosy cheeks, unlike the sallow artificial-looking French girls one meets in Egypt. It was nice to look upon clean people and green fields after the changeless sand and the dirty natives of Egypt.
Towards dusk we came to a large town, which someone said was Paris. Upon looking out and seeing a river spanned by bridge beyond bridge, I thought it looked so much like the pictures I had seen of the river Seine with its seven bridges, that I reckoned it must indeed be Paris. However it turned out to be only Lyons. After crossing the river the train stopped on a high embankment above a thoroughfare. A crowd soon gathered in the street below, and some of the boys began to throw coins down to them. Then there was rare scrambling amongst the children to get at the money, and two boys came to fisticuffs over it. Some of the people in the street bought oranges and threw them up to us. Then as the train moved on again there was such a cheering and shouting. Passing through the town we entered a very long tunnel, by the time we emerged from which it was just about dark. We had a sing-song amongst ourselves till we were tired, and were just settling down quietly, when the train stopped and we had to get out and fall in for tea and rations. It was a regular muck-up the way the stuff was served out, but we managed to get some sort of a share of what was going.
Turned in with Thompson on the floor, and slept well and comfortable.
Thurs. 30. Chilly morning, with heavy frost on the ground. Tried to get some hot water at an engine to make tea, but Major Price was there regulating the traffic, and before I got a chance to get some our train began to move on and we had to hop in.
Later on we stopped at a platform, where a muster parade was held, and tea with rum in it issued to us. It was pretty freezing standing there on the cold stone platform. A goods train came in from somewhere, and the trucks had long icicles hanging down underneath them, where water had frozen while dripping through. Bought a good supply of bread at the station and had a decent breakfast.
The country was now getting flat and level. Got a small P.L.M. button from a railway official at one place. They seem to be dead nuts on bully beef, and are not backward in asking for it. I suppose meat is pretty scarce here.
At dinnertime we were issued with tea and another day's rations. Raked up the coals of my French vocabulary, and asked a chap outside, "Quelqu'un le nombre de kilometres a Paris?" He understood me all right, but I could (not) understand his answer. It was something-cinq, forty-five I think it must have been.
As we rolled along all the folks would us welcome, as usual, and in one place women and girls brought flowers to give us when the train stopped.
At about 5.45p.m. we arrived at a big junction place, and stopped outside the station. Quite a number of aeroplanes were flying about, and some of them came quite low. There were lots of electric trains buzzing about. They were very quiet and easy-running. The current was supplied to them by a raised rail at one side of the line. A contact wheel would run along this rail, which was almost surrounded by wooden trough for an insulator.
Had tea while waiting at the junction, where we were stuck for over an hour and a half. We were now close to Paris, but to our disappointment, when at last we got a move on, it was in another direction on to another line, going north away from Paris.
Once the boys bought some beer at a stopping place, and they wanted me to have some, but no thanks. Turned in with Thompson about 9p.m. Our engine-driver seemed a bit rough on it, bumping the old train about considerably.
Fri. 31. Awakened this morning by our box of biscuits falling on us from the rack above, being knocked down by a sudden jerk of the train. Got up and had a wash in a butt of water when the train stopped. After breakfast we packed up ready to detrain, as it was evident that we must be near our journey’s end. French soldiers were now frequently to be seen on the roads, the stations, and the kilometre-pegs indicated that we were near Calais. Passed a big English camp of tents and huts, mainly the latter, and number of Tommies were out doing physical drill as we went by.
Soon the sea came into view over on the left, and we arrived at a big seaport town. In the harbour the tops of the masts of a sunken ship could be seen sticking up out of the water.
Passed on through more towns and villages and cultivated fields. Trees seem to be very scarce about here. Twice the train brought up with a jerk while I was leaning out of the window, and each time I left a bit of skin on the side of the window-frame. Our driver was abominable.
An airship was spotted ahead, and quickly became the centre of interest. It was a clumsy-looking thing, and reminded me of an elephant. As we got up with it, ropes were let down from the car and a number of men took hold of them and pulled the airship down to the ground. It was only a comparatively small craft.
Our next stop was at a big junction place which a Frenchman told us was Calais. We did not go in to the station, however, but waited for some time outside. Moving on, we had dinner in the train. Saw soldiers in billets, some of them being of the 2nd. battalion, others of the 2nd. division.
Arriving at a little siding, which I afterwards learned was Steenbeque, we eventually detrained, at the end of our long trip from Marseilles. No.1 Platoon was told off to act as an Advance Guard to our camping place. I had to lead the way with six connecting files, and got a rough sketch plan of the route. Rations were issued, and then we marched off. Following the plan Mr. Page gave me, I took the first turn to the left, which afterwards turned out to be the wrong road, the plan I had being up to putty. The main body did not wait for us to right ourselves, but moved on up the right road, so we fell in behind the battalion. Went through the village of Marbeque and away to blazes. Got back to No.1 platoon again. Two companies were put into billets along the road somewhere, and then A and B kept on going all over the kip looking for their roosting place. At last, after taking several wrong roads, we eventually found our billets, at some time approaching midnight. We were put up in large barns, with plenty of nice straw to sleep on. Being tired after our long march, the comfortable straw floor was very acceptable. All the evening we could just hear the distant rumbling of the big guns. We are behind the Ypres-Armentieres front, about fifteen miles from the firing line. Bought some cocoa and bread and butter at the farmhouse before going to bed.
Saturday 1st. April Fool's Day, and the first anniversary of the first "battle of the Wazza". We were allowed to sleep in this morning. Had to fall in for a rifle inspection after breakfast. Was then told off to take charge of the Q.M.S. fatigue. We could hear the big guns going all the morning. Some reckon it was the warships bombarding the Belgian coast.
After dinner Thompson and I went out for a bit of a stroll. The roads here are very narrow, and frequently cobbled with square stones. Many of them are devoid of footpaths. After wandering about a bit we came to a place where a chap was spinning what he said was "floss". He had an old-fashioned spindle worked by a foot treadle.
After tea, several of us went for a brief stroll up to the village, but could not stay long, as we have to be in for roll-call every night at 7p.m. Bought a few notebooks.
Roll-call at 7p.m. There were a good many absent. Studied French phrases from a little booklet belonging to Griffiths.
Sun. 2. Fell in for church parade about 10.15 a.m., but there was no church service.
After dinner the two Duckworths and I walked over to Hazebrouck, which turned out to be a nice little town. There was an open square in the centre of it, with a band rotunda. Lots of children would come and hang on to our arms begging for souvenirs and pennies. In one street the brick wall of a shop was pitted as a result of an explosion from a bomb dropped from an aeroplane.
Bought a little textbook on French for the purpose of studying the language. The three of us went about from place to place trying to cash some Egyptian coins, but nobody would have them. Got a couple of 21/2c stamps at the post office. There were a couple of very pretty girls there, and I spoke a bit of French to one of them.
The Duckworths went back in time for tea, and I strolled about the town for awhile. Bought a pretty postcard with flowers etc. worked in silk fastened to them. Came across a hospital in a side street, and had a yarn to some convalescent Tommies. They spin a great yarn about the liquid fire, but then Tommies are, as a rule, beggars to exaggerate. They reckoned there was some fighting at Ypres yesterday, our chaps taking three lines of trenches and a number of prisoners.
Left Hazebrouck in time to get back by 6.30 p.m. Studied French.
Mon. 3. Parade at 7.30a.m. Ogilvie and I were told off to go to the Bombing School for instruction in bomb throwing. We went by motor transport to the school, which was at a bit of a village about twelve miles away. We were instructed in the construction and action of various bombs, both British and German, and were then put through a bit of throwing practice. Going over to where there were some prepared trenches, we had some practice in trench tactics.
After dinner we had a go at some live bombs of the Mills type, throwing them at a small post from behind a wall of sandbags. The explosion made an awful row. Some officers gave a demonstration of live grenades with the rifle grenade and spring thrower, both of which sent the bombs a long distance, but were not very accurate.
It was about 6p.m. when we got back. After tea, finished letter to Dad, and got it and one to Mum ready to post.
Tues. 4. Went on route march as an advance guard this morning and had rifle exercises and saluting this afternoon. It was very cold, and we were expecting snow. After parade Thompson and I walked over to Hazebrouck. Went to a couple of photo studios but could not get any taken. Posted letters to Mum and Dad.
Got back about 6p.m. and were late for the parade, which we understood to be at 6.30p.m. Went out on a night march.
Wed. 5. Route march this morning. Escort for Williams this afternoon. Had to go on guard tonight, but it was an easy guard, as the sentries relieved themselves. There must have been a bit of a bombardment on tonight, as the flashing of the guns was almost continuous, like lightning.
Thurs. 6. Muster parade this morning, and even the guard had to go out. Didn't go on parade this afternoon. Packed diary and sent it to Mum.
Fri. 7. We went out for a gas trial this morning. Had to walk through a trench full of chlorine gas wearing a gas helmet, and also had to go through the weeping-gas without a helmet. The latter affects the eyes, but does not kill. Sent stories "Under a Curse" & "At the Shrine of Mars" to Literary Agency of London.
Mail in this afternoon. Got the overcoat which Bert bought for me. Mrs. Morgan sent it to her son Percy. It was a bonzer coat, and very light, only a couple of pounds. There was also a couple of light sou' westers of the same material (rubbered silk) in the parcel, and I gave one to Perce Morgan. Got a letter from Mum. She had just got the cables Vern and I sent from Tel el Kebir. Also got a letter from Nurse Kerr. She left Malta when her six months were up and was now in England. Said she broke off her engagement with Oberhumer, as she had found him untrustworthy.
Sat. 8. Bayonet and rifle practice this morning. While doing bayonet exercises Ced Wright got a bit obstinate and refused to do the thing properly, so I put him up for orders. In the afternoon he was brought up, and Captain Edwards spoke very reasonably to him. He got five days second field punishment.
Paid this afternoon. I got fifty francs, about £1-15. Went over to Hazebrouck. Bought French-English and English-French dictionary. Met Murray-Cowper, and we strolled around looking for a place to buy English badges. Bought a "Swan" fountain pen for 17.50 francs to send to Mum. We got a good collection of French military buttons at a couple of places, also a R.A.M.C. badge. Had dinner at a cafe and got back to billet about 8.15p.m. There was a good deal of argument and ill-feeling over my having crimed Ced Wright. A lot of the boys came home drunk, * full and so was Ced Wright. The crowd were talking and arguing for long after "Lights Out". A German aeroplane was brought down near here today, and the aviator captured.
Sun. 9. Wilson clinked for being drunk while on guard, and Nagle crimed for allowing a sentry to get drunk. Church parade in village. We are to leave here tomorrow, probably to go closer up to the firing line.
After dinner Thompson and I went over to Hazebrouck. Left my watch at a jewellers shop to have luminous marks put on it. Met Wells and another chap; they were going around warning everyone to be back by 7p.m. Left my equipment belt at the railway station, and when I went back for it, naturally it was gone. After a lot of trouble, though, I managed to get another at the spare equipment store at the railway station.
We got a hot bath at a place in Rubecque St. for 8d each. When I went to the jeweller's shop for the watch, they had forgotten to do it. Had tea and hurried back to Walton Cappell. Rations were issued for tomorrow's journey, and the non-coms then had to attend a lecture about tomorrow's march, and various other things.
Mon. 10. Reveille at 5a.m. Blankets were packed and sent by transport, so we did not have to carry them. We got a move on at about 8a.m. It was a long tiresome march, and once coming up a bit of a hill, I felt pretty well done up, and was afraid I would have to fall out, but managed to stick out. The pace was kept pretty brisk, and men were dropping out all along the way. We arrived at our new billets soon after midday, when we were just thinking we were about half way. It is nine miles from Walton Cappell, and about twelve from the firing line.
After dinner, arranged the buttons in a bit of a design on my belt. Changed a few buttons with other chaps, to get more variety.
At the O.C.'s orders this afternoon Wilson was remanded for C.O.'s orders, and Nagle was dismissed.
Over towards the firing line a German aeroplane appeared, and our guns let fly at him. Counted over thirty smoke puffs from shrapnel shells. Don't know whether they got him. Had to go on guard tonight.
Tues. 11. Cold, and raining lightly. Off parade this morning on account of being on guard. The others drilled in the barn. Wrote a parody on "Men of Harlech" entitled "Men of the third battalion", and tacked it on the barn door. Wrote to Mum. Went up to the village of Meteren about 11/2 miles away, after tea. Exchanged an "Australia" and small badge for a "Canada" and small Canadian badge. Took the wrong road coming back, and was twenty minutes late in consequence. Will be up for orders tomorrow.
Wed. 12. Still wet. Got the job of orderly corporal for two days. Route march with full packs. We got somewhat damp and miserable. Paraded to the Divisional baths in the afternoon. Went up for orders afterwards and was admonished.
Nagle and I went up to Meteren. It is a little old French village, and had been occupied by the Germans. There are marks of the fighting in places. and the church tower is minus its clock works, which were removed by the Germans in order to install a machine-gun therein.
Chatted an A.T.C. driver for a badge. He gave me an "E. York" which he had picked up somewhere. We stayed and yarned to him for a while.
Thurs. 13. Had to go with the bombers to battalion headquarters for bombing practice today. It was a fine day for a change, but cold and windy.
This evening all the non-coms were paraded to battalion hdqrs. for a lecture by R.S.M. Rudkin. The C.O. is still very dissatisfied with us. Finished job of orderly corporal tonight.
Fri. 14. Reveille at 4.45a.m. Fell in at 5.30 to go to some place for an inspection by General Walker, who is now Divisional Commander. He was our Brigade Commander when I landed at Gallipoli. It was a very cold and wet morning, and we thought a lot of nasty things about the heads. Major Price insisted on our doing the rifle exercises properly, (slope, present, etc.) in spite of the fact that our fingers were almost numbed with the cold. After getting perfectly dressed in mass formation and waiting in the wet and cold for about half an hour, word came along that the inspection was cancelled. We were marched back, given about an hour to get breakfast, and then fell in again for a route march in full marching order. Went up through Meteren and along some very muddy byroads. As we were plodding along through the slush Thompson suddenly went down and out. Farrell also went out to it, and they were both unconscious for some hours. Farrell was sent to hospital. We got back about 12.30.
At dinnertime it began to snow very lightly, but did not keep up. No parade this afternoon. Nagle and I went up to Meteren and had a yarn with Tim. He gave Frank his A.T.C. badge. Got some Canadian buttons.
Sat. 15. Made corporal of fire piquet today. While we were drilling this morning it came on to snow several times, but did not continue, and in a short time the sun would be shining. The weather is very changeable.
Sun. 16. Went on church parade in full marching order, and were inspected by General Walker after the service. He gave a short address, saying we were leaving on Tuesday to go into billets near the firing line, and that when we were actually at the front, we would have a fortnight at a time in the firing line, and a so-called rest in between.
In the afternoon strolled up to Meteren. Tim was away from his transport car. There were a lot of aeroplanes getting about here and there all over the place. Came back with Ted Gray, who was reduced from corporal to the ranks yesterday, for having been absent two days. He had stiff luck. While coming back we (saw) a lot of shells bursting near some aeroplanes away in the distance. The fire flash of the bursting shells was plainly visible.
Mon. 17. Got a couple of letters from Vera Billingham, one from Bert and one from Viv. Poor Viv was left behind at Giza on account of the battalion being over strength of officers. He would be very disappointed. Bert's letter was written from Abbey Wood. He was expecting to get away at any time.
This afternoon we were issued with steel helmets. They were funny looking things, and provided a deal of merriment. Had a lecture from Major Moore. We are to march all tomorrow and go into billets tomorrow night, start again at 4a.m. next morning for our destination, where we are to act as a reserve to the firing line for the time being.
After tea tonight we were informed that tomorrow's move is off, the 3rd. battalion being quarantined with some infectious disease.
Wrote to Nurse Kerr, England.
Tues. 18. Wet, muddy and sticky, as usual. Had a little drill this morning. Nothing much to do today.
Wed. 19. Went out on a route march this morning, after which we went to the Divisional Baths, to have our clothes and blankets sterilized. While they were going through the sterilizer we had a lovely warm shower bath. Gee! It was bonzer. Got a clean change of underclothing too. No parade this afternoon. We are to leave early tomorrow.
Thurs. 20. Reveille at 4.30a.m. Last night after going to bed, Mick Curran made himself a general nuisance by keeping everybody awake. He had been drinking a bit too much, and the insults and angry words flung at him only made him worse. Various arguments arose, and the climax came when Williams said to Ogilvie, "I ------ your mother". Ogilvie got out of bed and went mad. He roared at Williams to come out and fight, but the coward kept under the blankets till Ogilvie went and dragged him out. Not a soul sided with Williams. There were cries of "Drag him out!" "Kill him!" "Kick his brains out!" etc. The two went out into the mud, and after about three hits Williams went down to it. Ogilvie wanted to give him a thorough punishment, but was held back by the others, who crowded around in their underclothing. He was a great deal cut up, and cried and sobbed like a baby.
The company moved off this morning about 7a.m. I had to stay behind and see that the sanitary work was finished satisfactorily. Then we had to hurry after the mob, and caught them just as they were about to move off after the first halt. It was a tiresome march through the mud, and my feet got very sore. Had a long halt from about 9a.m. till 12 or later, during which time we had dinner. Moved on again and soon arrived at Sailly.* It was a fair-sized township, with plenty of battle marks. The large church tower was devoid of windows and floors, being just an empty shell. We were put in nice comfortable billets in the middle of the township, but had scarcely got settled down when we had to turn out and give the billets up to some other unit. We weren't half in a bad humour either! Marched back the way we had come for about a mile, and were then stowed away in barns. My right foot was blistered and very sore, so took the boot off and had a sleep in the straw.
Afterwards went out for a walk with Thompson, and we found a place where we got a decent feed at a franc a time. Scored an artillery badge, and was promised another, if I met the chap at 6.30p.m. We got back to the billets about 6p.m. just as the company were leaving. They had got sudden orders to proceed at once to the first line reserve billets some distance beyond Sailly. We were only just in time, and of course I could not meet the chap to get the promised badge. Marched up across the river Lys, through the township and towards the firing line. It was well after dark when we arrived at our billet, which had been shelled during the day, twenty-five Australians of the ninth battalion being killed, and a great number wounded. There was a great hole in the wall and a pile of bricks on the ground in front. We were put in a large store-room upstairs, two platoons of us, the other two platoons being in another place across the road. There was very little rifle fire or canonading going on, but bright star shells were being continually sent up keeping the place well illuminated. We are only two or three miles from the firing line here. Dossed alongside of a hole in the wall made by the shell this morning. We got one blanket each, and, as it was a cold night, Wilson and I turned in together.
Fri. 21. No reveille this morning. Slept in till 7a.m. Saw a hat on the ground below, the inside of which was covered with blood and brains. After breakfast, had to take a fatigue party to dig a refuse pit. Tom Campbell and Wilson were among them, and they made a good pair of grumblers. Bought a few badges from Dooley. Aeroplanes were flying about continually and were fired at by the Germans. A few German shells went over our billet towards Sailly. After dinner they began shelling the billets on either side of us, about one hundred yards away. We were ordered to leave the billet and disperse in the fields. Wrote a letter-gram to Mum and Dad, also to Viv. Cool Australians in shelled billets at Tommy Headquarters. Have to move tonight; these billets too dangerous.
More rain. Put badges on belt. Lights out at 8p.m., and then we had to wait in the dark until it was time to move, about 9.30p.m. It was still raining, and was very dark, but the flashes over the firing line lighted the way for us. We tramped along in the rain and mud back along the road by which we had come. Billeted at a barn about half a mile away, with plenty of nice clean straw in it.
Sat. 22. Bought wide belt and a small grenade badge from Dooley. Got a letter from Bert. Wrote postcards to Viola, Ida, Rita, Eric and Gordon, also Kitty Winters and Vera Billingham, and a letter-gram to Bert. It is said we are to go to the trenches tomorrow night.
Sun. 23. Taubes overhead shelled by our guns. Went to C. E. Communion service, and took part in the memorial feast. Started putting badges on belt. Letter from Cotterill and Cromb, saying their terms are 15/- commission.
Put in charge of the guard this evening. Had a couple of prisoners, Curran and J. N. Thompson, but got three more during the evening. Had to arrest Dooley for stealing some pickles and ham from some Tommies. Also put in a crime against him committing nuisance in the barn. Got all the badges on my belt, with the buttons arranged along the top. It looked quite nice, and is already nearly full.
The other platoons went to the trenches on a digging fatigue.
Mon. 24. More enemy planes over this morning. About two hundred white smoke puffs near one of them.
No.1 Platoon went out today. Had to go as witness on Dooley's case at O.C.'s orders this afternoon. He was remanded for C.O.'s orders. Letter from Vera Billingham, and one from Mrs. Morgan. She had enquired about the stories I had sent to the publishers in London, and sent me their replies. (The stories were returned to me while at Serapeum) Also enclosed a postcard photo of Bert, who had a grin like a slice of watermelon. He looked O.K., though. She wants me to send the photo back, as it is the only one she has of Bert. Vera still at Cundle, with her aunt, who has had a child, the seventh.
Off guard at 5.30p.m. Asked the O.C. for permission to go with the party tonight, as I wanted to see the trenches, but he said we would be going again tomorrow night, and would be busy at bayonet practice tomorrow, otherwise he would let me go.
Tues. 25. Nothing to do this morning. Hunted up the books with "The Closing Generation", and looked over it, revising it a bit, and finishing it up short. Just before dinner Mr. Page sent for me, and I went out expecting a fatigue job, but when I got down into the square I spotted a familiar shape alongside of Mr. Page, and at once recognised him. It was Viv. Gee, I was glad to meet him. He looked very well, and had a Charlie Chaplin mow like mine. (Fountain pen run dry) Mr. Page gave me a pass out (on duty) and I went with Viv some distance towards his camp. He is now in the twenty-fourth battalion. He met Vernie before leaving Egypt, but does not know where he is now. Neither does he know where Bert is, but said that all the detail non-coms are being put in new battalions, so Bert is not likely to get back to the ----
Had a good yarn to Viv before going back to the billet. On the way back bought some bread, paste, and writing pad at a shop at the crossroads.
As soon as I got back, had to go on Dooley's case for C.O.'s orders. Saw the anti-aircraft gun which had been firing at the German planes. It was mounted on a motor lorry. Dooley got 21 days second, which was very light.
Physical exercises in the afternoon. While having tea out in the yard we saw clouds of smoke rising up, away over to the left. Probably mines exploded near Ypres.
After tea continued revising story and commenced writing Fair Copy.
Wed. 26. Was told off in charge of a permanent fatigue this morning. We have to dig a series of trenches out in the yard. Big bombardment approaching. Germans will reply and trenches are to get in to escape their shrapnel. A few taubes and fokkers flew over during the morning.
Had more trouble with Tom Campbell, who didn't like me asking him to do some work after he had been loafing for some time. Got a nice cheerful letter from Mum.
All working parties had to continue after tea, so, as I wanted to go out to the trenches, I changed with L/cpl. Flynn and let him take charge of my party. Went with Sjt. Hilton's platoon first to the south east dump, where we waited till dark. Got a move on at last, taking small trucks loaded with timber, rails, bags etc. on a light tramline up to the trenches. After we had gone about a mile or so a few stray bullets began to whizz about some of them striking the ground a few yards away. Flares were going up continuously. When we arrived at our destination, I went on, while the others were unloading, to have a look around the trenches. Was greatly impressed to find that we were right at the firing line, which was a bank of sandbags and no trench at all. Very different to Gallipoli. Flat country, slightly timbered. Had a good look round over the parapet while no flares up, German firing-line only one hundred yards away. Flares dazzling bright and very pretty. Very little doing. We were delayed some time by another party which came after us. It was about midnight when we got back, and, as usual, my feet were dead sore. Sjt. Hilton had a bit of a tiff with a sentry on the way back.
Thurs. 27. Had to turn out early this morning for bath parade. Went to baths about two miles away, arriving there soon after 6.30 a.m., and then had to wait till after 10a.m. before the baths were ready for us. They consisted of small butts half full of warm water, and were O.K. Got a change of underclothing too. Got back pretty tired at about 11.30a.m., and had a belated breakfast. Had to turn out at 1p.m. and go on with the fatigue till dinnertime, 2p.m. Got letter from Viv dated 21st. saying he had arrived in France and was now in the ------ battalion.
Went on with the fatigue after dinner. It was a rotten job getting the water and muck and filth out of the trenches. After tea, worked at it till dark. Continued Fair Copy, until nearly "Lights Out", when someone began throwing things at my candle.
Fri. 28. Had got nicely off to sleep last night when I suddenly awoke to find everything in a state of excitement. Heard something about "gas" and "respirators". Also heard the continuous bellowing of artillery and the clanging of the gas gong downstairs. Grabbed one of my respirators and got it open, but at that moment there came an order that they were not to be put on, but only kept handy. Hopped into my breeches and boots, and, with respirator under my arm, went down to rouse the chaps who were sleeping out. There were about half a dozen of them, and some of them were still asleep when I got there. They did not have their respirators with them either. The sky, in the direction of the firing line, was kept bright with the flashing of the guns, and with flares, and there was a fire burning at one place, possibly Armentieres or Ypres.
We had to stand to at our alarm posts. Only had time to get one puttee on. Got my section together and called the roll. Everything was soon fixed up, and there was very little confusion considering the circumstances. The house dog managed to get trodden upon, and set up a persistent howl. Instead of quietening him, someone gave him a kick and made him howl worse. The end of it was, the poor brute was taken across the road and shot. I was very sorry for the poor brute, for it had not done any harm, and its death was quite unnecessary. After standing to for about half an hour we got the order to stand down, and were allowed to go to bed but not to undress. By that time the bombardment had slackened off considerably.
Heard during the day that there was gas at Levant, i.e. about two kilometres away, three Tommies being killed. It is also said that during the bombardment the ---- battalion took two German trenches.
Shaved my moustache off this afternoon. The Germans sent a few shrapnel shells over, but they fell wide.
Sat. 29. A taube came over this morning and was a good deal peppered at. Once he got one right alongside him, and fell some distance, but got right again and cleared off.
Went on with the same job today. A.T., continued transcribing story. The usual fusillade of boots, etc. was opened, and my candle went out several times. Once a gumboot caught my fountain pen, and crossed the nib, so turned up writing for the night.
Some time during the night an order came to get dressed and sleep in our clothes, as an alarm was expected.
Sun. 30. Had a stand-to this morning. It appears that gas was used somewhere during the night. The O.C. told us that two German prisoners taken during the night gave information to the effect that the Germans were massing for an attack. I suppose the beggars were spinning a yarn.
On same job all day, so could not attend church parade. Continued transcription tonight. Had just got undressed when I was sent for to come and charge a number of bombs with detonators. They had been loaded before, so we only had to look over them to make sure of them.
Had not got the job finished when all the officers and non-coms had to turn out and go to the reserve trenches, so that we would know our position in case of an alarm. Got back about midnight.
Monday, 1st. May Day. Off the fatigue party today, as they did not require so many non-coms. Got through quite a lot of the transcription.
Tues. 2. Went with a fatigue party under Sjt. Hines to the trenches, by way of V.C. Avenue. Murray-Cowper and I went to a sniper's bay and had a few shots each at the enemy's trenches with selesgoye rifle. We then went out in front through a sally port for awhile. The river Lys, a tiny stream, flows through the lines here. Never imagined, when reading about it before enlisting, that it was such an insignificant thing.
Made a few inquiries thinking Bill Jackson might be here, but could not find him.
Our scouts and machine gunners took over from the ------ battalion during the morning. Observed the enemy's trenches with the scout's field glasses, but could not see anybody. Things seem very dead here compared to Gallipoli. Very little firing goes on at all. The "trenches" are breastworks built up above the ground with sandbags. The living accommodation is far ahead of the peninsula, and the neat little "dug-outs" could even be called comfortable. Had to leave our job and go back at 12.30p.m. as our artillery were to start bombarding soon.
After dinner we had to stand to on account of the expected bombardment, which turned out to be a frost.
A.T., continued transcription, and brought the usual bombardment of books, socks, underclothing etc. at my candle. Things are beginning to be a bit too willing in this way.
Was told off to go with a fatigue party to a place near battalion headquarters to load a couple of limbers.
Wed. 3. Put in most of the day writing. We were warned again today for yesterday's business, and again it was a frost. Got things packed, and all the place cleaned up. In the afternoon the non-coms got a lecture concerning various matters to do with the trenches.
Fell in at 6.30p.m. Was told off with a section of six men to mount guard in a bay. We moved up, in sections of seven in single file, Perve Avenue. Once a machine gun started sweeping from side to side, and when the bullets crossed our line they cracked just above our heads only about a foot away. Arriving in the trenches I took over a bay from the occupants. Was on first relief. Things are very quiet here, German trenches four hundred yards away. Turned in about 11p.m. in a nice little dug-out, being built up of sandbags.
Thurs. 4. Had to stand to very early on account of early dawn. Fired a few shots at the German trenches. After "carryon" slept till breakfast time. After breakfast, was put on duty as company patrol corporal till 1p.m. Had to patrol the company's line and see that the day posts were working properly. Did a bit of observing and sniping occasionally.
Got a letter and a tin of cakes and sweets from Nurse Kerr. It came as a very pleasant surprise.
After dinner, had a shave and continued transcribing story. After tea, went on with story till stand to. After carry on we got to work building up the parapet and making it irregular. There were lots of rows over it, Wilson being especially nasty because he had to do a bit of work.
Got a little sleep before 12 midnight, when I went on duty.
Fri. 5. After carry on, slept till breakfast time. Continued transcription during morning. Letter from Mrs. Tanner. Stories "Under a Curse" and "At the Shrine of Mars", returned. They were not suitable at present, but it was suggested that I should try them after the war, which I take to mean that the stories are up to print level, but that there is small demand at present.
Finished transcribing story, "The Closing Generation", this afternoon. Archer goes on eight days leave today.
Slept till tea time. Bit of a bombardment tonight over Armentieres way. The flashing of the bursting shells looked rather pretty, and the noise was like a continual thundering. It was not till after 9 that we got stand down. Off duty tonight. There was a favourable wind for gas, and were half expecting some. Got carry on at about 11.30p.m., and turned in.
Sat. 6. After carry on this morning we had to go on at once digging a trench to lower the duck-boards at the back of the line. It seemed an altogether unnecessary precaution, and we were all in a bad humour at having to do it at all.
During the breakfast hour, went with Newland to the Tommies on our right to see if I could score a badge. Went on with the job of lowering the duck-boards till midday. Fired a few shots at the German loopholes. They must have spotted where I was firing from, for they sent a few back, one bullet ripping through a sandbag a few feet away.
Slept most of the afternoon. Woke up once or twice and heard shells exploding somewhere near at hand, but was too tired to be bothered turning out to see where they were. The force of the explosions sometimes made my little dug-out shiver and sway, although it was very solidly constructed. When I did get up I found that a couple of the shells had landed only a few yards away, one of them breaking down a dug-out two bays along. They were still shelling, and one explosion threw up a great quantity of mud, which fell in big hunks all around us.
After tea, Newland and I went up to the Tommies, and I managed to get a Welsh badge in exchange for an Australian.
Got a few hours sleep, and had to go on at 11.30p.m.
Sun. 7. Several times during the night a German machine gun would sweep our parapet, and the bullets cracked over our heads. At the next post they ripped through the sandbags. Thwaite reckoned he located the gun by the flashing.
Got a day shift today, and as my services were not required, I slept nearly all day. Got up and did a bit of observing once, using Pierce's telescope. Located soft earth where Thwaite had located machine gun. Drew a sketch indicating position of same.
Volunteered to go out on patrol tonight, but no patrol was sent out. Wrote to Mum and Dad.
Off duty tonight, but might as well have been on, as we were turned out twice to stand to in case of air attack, and it was not till after 1a.m. that I got any sleep. It was awfully cold too, standing there shivering in the bay.
Mon. 8. Went on with the duck-boards fatigue from breakfast time till midday. The boards have now to be raised to the level of the ground. It would get on a fellow's nerves the way they fool us about here, doing, and then undoing, unnecessary work, when we might be having much-needed sleep.
After dinner, slept till stand to. On first shift tonight. Green lights, meaning gas, were sent up both to the right and left of us, some distance away. Later on there was what appeared to be a bomb raid followed by artillery fire, about two or three miles to our right. The exploding bombs and shells looked very pretty. For a wonder they didn't give us a stand to here.
Off at 11.30p.m. Turned in but lay awake till after 1a.m. It was very cold, and couldn't sleep well.
Tues. 9. Slept from carry on till dinnertime, as I'll probably have to go out on patrol tonight. Dowling, one of our scouts, was shot dead this morning, the bullet going clean through the steel helmet, through his head, and out through the helmet again. It was an exceptionally good shot for Fritz, or, more probably, merely a fluke. That is our first man killed in France. Who'll be the next, I wonder?
Not having a water bottle, I went and got Dowling's, and washed the blood off it.
Packed stories, "The Closing Generation", "Under a Curse", and "At the Shrine of Mars" to be sent away. Fritz put a few shells into B Co's. lines this afternoon, but nobody was hurt. Will be on second shift tonight.
Well, today I have been a year in the forces. Twelve months this afternoon since I went into camp.
Wed. 10. On at 11.30p.m. last night. B Co's. working party had two casualties, one being seriously wounded, the other getting it in the leg. Our party reckon they were fired at.
Slept from carry on till about 11a.m., when I had to turn out to attend a lecture on the use of the gas helmets. Dispatched the three stories this afternoon, one to Curtis Brown, and the other two to Cotterill and Cromb. Also sent Bert's photo to Mrs. Morgan.
The Germans sent over quite a lot of shells this afternoon, some of them coming rather close. One landed from five to ten yards from my dug-out, but did not explode. It went down into the ground and then turned and came out again. It is still lying there, nobody caring to touch it, as Fritz has lately been (sending) over a few of those dummies which explode when one attempts to unscrew the nose cap.
Gleeson, a machine gunner in the next bay on the left was caught by one of the shells, and taken away on a stretcher. Don't know if he is badly hurt.
Wrote a letter to Clytie.
I have to take out the wiring party tonight. It will be more interesting work, and is not particularly dangerous.
A rumour has been getting about today to the effect that the Germans turned it in at Verdun, 130 thousand of them surrendering. It is also said that Germany has asked America to intervene for peace and America refused to have anything to do with it, and that England has demanded an unconditional surrender, or she will fight it out to a finish. However, these are rather wild yarns, and must be taken with the usual grain of salt.
After carry on tonight we went out thro B Co's. post, taking several coils of French wire and several of barbed. Jim Voss came with us to show me how it was to be done. First we completed a row of French wire which they had commenced last night, and then we started laying barbed wire over it. Every now and then a flare would go up, and we would have to duck down into the grass and keep still till it went out. It was a bit exciting in a way. Being a bright moonlight night we could see fairly well what we were doing, but it also made us more visible to the enemy patrols which might be getting about. We had been out about an hour when the Germans' machine guns began spitting. We lay flat on the ground for some time, while the guns swept up and down our lines, making a succession of shrill sharp cracking reports as the bullets flew over us. They were not firing at us, as the bullets were going several feet above us, probably directed at the top of the parapet.
We had just resumed work again when Captain Edwards came out and told us to go in till moonset, as it was too dangerous. Went back to our lines and went to bed.
Thurs. 11. Turned out again about 1a.m. The moon was just about to set, and it was fairly dark. Got a move on with the barbed wire, but could not do much as there was not too much time. Returned at 2.15a.m., as it was beginning to get daylight. Slept till stand to, which was about 3a.m. Carry on about 4a.m. Slept till 11 a.m., when I had to get out and make some notice boards for the platoon.
Started to write a letter to Nurse Kerr this afternoon, but, not being in a humour for it, turned in and had a sleep.
Jack Bubb came round for volunteers to fill a vacancy in the scouts, and Tom Campbell took it. It will be a relief for me to have him out of the section, as he always causes so much trouble.
Went out tonight at about 8.45p.m., taking ten coils of French wire and two of barbed. We put down the French wire in three rows, and used the two coils of barbed wire, besides two coils that were out there and a number of stakes. Once when a flare went out and we all ducked, Thwaite declared that he saw someone duck not far away. I thought he must have imagined it, and so took no notice, but the next moment saw someone coming towards us. However, it was only Captain Edwards. At another time the German machine guns began to play up and down our lines and we had to lie low for some time.
Returned about 11.45p.m., and were supplied with hot tea.
Fri. 12. Slept till dinnertime. This afternoon we were shown a new method of making wire entanglements, and had to practice it with plain wire.
Went out about the same time tonight, taking eight coils of barbed wire and a number of long iron corkscrew pegs. Tiny Basset was working on our left with a party form B. Co. One of his men picked up a German rifle, which was probably dropped by one of the party which approached B. Co's. listening post on Tuesday night. Bringing the rifle to where we were, the finder opened the bolt, and we found that the magazine was full. Then there was such a scramble for bullets as souvenirs. Our troubles about German machine guns when there were souvenirs to be got! While we were still gathered around it a flare went up, and we were down in an instant, lying like so many logs in the grass. I managed to get one of the bullets from the magazine.
The machine guns didn't trouble us much tonight, but there was much more rifle fire than usual, some of the bullets coming pretty close to us. There were not so many flares as usual, either.
We got through a fair bit of work altogether, using the eight coils of wire, twenty-four long pegs, and six short ones. Had a rotten headache most of the time, too. We came in about 11.45p.m., and got a drop of hot tea, as usual.
Sat. 13. Slept till dinnertime. Raining today. Miserable weather, and very muddy. Got eleven coils of barbed wire ready this afternoon. Went out at the usual time, and posted the covering party nearly half-way over to the German lines, as per instructions.
We had not long started work when Bassett came over and told me that their covering party had seen some Germans out in front, and that the whole party had gone in. I told him to report the matter and then come out and let me know what was to be done, and in the meantime I would lie low.
Warned the other chaps, and we lay on the wet ground for some time, waiting for Bassett to return. But he seemed a long time, and there was no fun in lying in the wet grass, so we decided to carry on and risk the consequences. A fellow might as well be shot as die of pneumonia. Later on a party from B Co. came over and said they had been out looking for the Germans, but could find nothing. Got through a decent bit of work tonight, using eleven coils of barbed wire and thirty iron stakes. It was after midnight when we came in.
Sun. 14. Slept till dinnertime. Couldn't be bothered getting up for breakfast, so went without. After dinner, got wire and stakes ready for tonight, and then slept till tea-time.
While out with his wiring party last night, Corporal Lane got a bullet through the wrist. He went away to hospital today.
Tommy Gill goes on leave to England today, so gave him a letter to Mum and a sovereign to get a money order to send with the letter, for a present for the expected newcomer.
Finished our wiring job tonight, making it almost impregnable with loose wire. Only used seven coils and eight iron stakes, so got through it early and came in at about 11p.m. Had an enjoyable feed of bully beef and biscuits before turning in.
Mon. 15. Not allowed to stay in bed this morning, as there is to be an inspection by some general.
Later: General Birdwood came round and inspected our lines.
Finished writing letter to Nurse Kerr this afternoon.
Tom Campbell has returned to our section, as they would not have him in the scouts, worse luck. We packed up this afternoon and went out to B post, giving place to No.3 Platoon. Hosford and I are to be permanently in charge of the guards while we are at B post, which will be three or four days.
Tues. 16. The Germans sent a few shells over here today, some of them coming very close.
Studied French. Commenced a story, the scene being laid in the Pacific islands.
Wed. 17. Archer back from England this morning. After having been away for six years, he had walked unannounced and unexpected into his home in England. Naturally it was a bit of a shock to his mother.
Had to take Wilson up for orders this afternoon for smoking during stand to on Monday morning. He was remanded for C.O's. orders.
There was a gas alarm tonight, but it turned out to be a frost. The chaps looked awfully funny in their gas helmets, and it tickled my fancy immensely.
Poor old Geordie Crawford has been sent to hospital with insanity.
Some of the boys reckon that it was in the paper that Germany asked for eight days armistice to discuss peace terms, and that Kitchener replied saying the only terms he would consider are that Germany lay down her arms, otherwise it will be a fight to the finish.
Thurs. 18. Studied French most of the day. We should be relieved today, but have to stay in till tomorrow.
Fri. 19. A few shells landed in the firing line today, and one of them killed Jack Hilton's brother, Joe. Rotten hard luck for Jack. Packed up ready to leave tonight. After tea I was sent up to the Rouge de bout to guide the relieving platoon in to Bee post. There was about half-a-dozen of us non-coms together, and the others, contrary to regulations, walked along abreast of the road instead of in single file at one side, in spite of the fact that we were within view of the German observation balloon. When we got to the Rouge de bout there were a lot of soldiers there drinking, and they persisted in standing about in groups in the road near the entrance, although the officers ordered them away a number of times. I had been studying French, and was just standing against the wall when the inevitable came. We knew by the sound of the "swish" that they were coming at us, and instinctively crouched against the wall. A couple came together, landing just alongside the building and throwing up a great quantity of dirt, which fell in great clods all around us. Some of the chaps left the building and took to the fields. Soon the next two shells came over, this time going over the house and falling in the paddock just across the road. A colonel gave the order to go to the bomb-proof shelter, and the crowd bolted there. In spite of the circumstances I couldn't help laughing at the way they ran full tear across the green to the shelter. I thought of going too, but decided it would be safer to wait in the shelter of the wall and risk falling bricks, until the next salvo had come, as they might catch one while getting across the open. The next two came, one landing in the field over to the left, and the other at the rear of the Rouge de bout. Then the few of us remaining there made for the bomb-proof shelter. The cry went up for stretcher bearers, and word soon came that a Captain and a Lieutenant had been killed, besides others. The Medical Officer could not be found, and there was a shortage of bandages, so the stretcher-bearers took our field dressings for the wounded men. More shells came over, and it was not till after dark that we reckoned it safe to leave our place of shelter.
Strolled around to see what damage had been done. In one place a shell had landed a couple of yards from the wall of a building, and the wall had been blown in, leaving a pile of bricks and debris in the kitchen inside. Lying in the road near the stairway of the Rouge de bout was a dead man with a tunic over his head. Went over to him and lifted up the tunic in order to get used to the sight of dead men. A Captain standing by seemed very agitated, and kept telling me to leave him alone. I was going to take the dead man's jack-knife, which would come in handy to some of the men in my section, but the captain would not let me. Heard that there were altogether about fifty casualties, fifteen being killed. Waited for some time till at last the relieving platoon came along, and took them down to Bee post, where we handed over to them. Had to wait some time for the rest of the company, and it was after 11p.m. when we got away. We went pretty slowly, with frequent rests by the way, and we were all pretty tired.
Sat. 20. Passed through the township of Sailly, over the Lys, to our billets, between Steenwircke and Sailly. Had tea issued, and got to bed at daylight, about 3.30a.m., in our loft. Wooden floor, no straw.
Were turned out for breakfast at about 8a.m., but had nothing to do all day. Were paid this afternoon. Got 18 francs. Studied French.
Sun. 21. Church parade this morning. Dry uninteresting sermon by the battalion chaplain. Afterwards the orders were read out and contained some promotions. Jack Bubb, Simpson, and Fisher were made temporary serjeants, and Nagle and a few others were made lance-corporals.
Bert Newland and I took a walk over to the town Estaires, thinking we were allowed to go out. The countryside looked very pretty, being so fresh and green in its summer garb. In places the fields were yellow with buttercups, and the tall trees looked so different, with their abundance of foliage, to when we first arrived in France, when they were bleak and leafless. At the outskirts of the town we came to a nice cemetery planted with trimmed cypress trees. There were some pretty headstones, but most of them were rather showy. Parts of the cemetery were taken up with soldiers' graves, and in places there were long graves containing quite a number of bodies, and having a head-board bearing the names of all the soldiers buried there.
Leaving the burial-place we went on up the street. Tried to score some badges, R.E. and A.S.C., but there was nothing doing. Found the main street, and strolled around having a look at the place, which was not a bad little town. We found a photo studio, and I had a couple taken. Newland and I were also taken together with our gas helmets on.
Bought a few necessaries. Managed to speak French well enough to make myself understood, but had some difficulty in understanding the French people when they spoke in French.
Left early in order to get back before roll call. Met Wright and Morton, and they told us there had been a muster parade, and our names had gone in for being absent. When we got back to billet we found that Elliott had left orders for me to be put under close-arrest, but Jack Bubb let us go under open arrest.
While we were away, Sjt-mjr. Morris went very crook about it, and offered my stripe to Walsh, who would not take it, while Mr. Lemon declared that I was a ..... fool, as my name had gone in for promotion to corporal.
Well, I'll be up for orders tomorrow. May be let off with a warning, and may be reduced to the ranks. Didn't know about the order not to leave billets, but, of course, ignorance of orders is not accepted as an excuse in the military. Its just my luck.
Mon. 22. Reveille at 5.45a.m. Physical exercises from 6.15 till 6.45. After breakfast, had a couple of hours at Musketry instruction, and Guards and Sentries, etc.
Had to go before Elliott for O.C's. orders. Remanded for C.O's orders this afternoon.
After dinner, went before Major Moore for C.O's. orders. He made it pretty warm on all those who went up, and when Newland got seven days' second, with a clean sheet, I guessed I would not get much of a chance. Was last to go in, and stated the case just as it was, explaining how it was that we knew nothing about the orders not to leave billets. But Major Moore would neither argue nor listen to reason, and merely repeated, "There's no excuse". Even then he might perhaps have let me off with a warning, but Elliott reminded him that it was me that Newland was out with. Was reduced to the ranks. It might have been worse, I suppose. Missed the afternoon parade.
Got a letter from Mum, one from Winnie Keats, and one from Cotterill and Cromb, saying that the M.S.S. had not come to hand. Wilkinson told me he saw them torn up in Mr. Lemon's dug-out in the trenches. Hoptroff also told me he saw them there torn in two and lying with other rubbish, and that they were subsequently thrown out on the rubbish dump. I suppose Mr. Lemon, who was drunk a good deal of the time, could not be bothered reading them.
Mum says the cottage is coming on all right regarding furniture, etc. It ought to be a more comfortable home by the time we get back from the war. Viola has been having some trouble with her teeth.
Wrote a letter to Mum. Perce Morgan came to collect the postage on one of the packets I had sent, and he said he had handed two in to be censored, and only one was returned. Also that he had given Lemon a lot of letters to censor, and got very few back.
Tues. 23. Physical exercises before breakfast. Spoke to Mr. Lemon about the M.S.S., and he said he remembered reading and passing "At the Shrine of Mars", but had no knowledge of them being torn up. Said he was very sorry they had been destroyed, but he had meant them to go through all right. I suppose he was drunk and got them torn or soiled, and then thought he might as well destroy them.
Archer has been given charge of No. 1 section. Had some of the new bayonet practice this morning, also practice with gas helmets. Told off for guard this afternoon. Bob Campbell, Birch, and I, under Sjt. Perkins were sent to guard a position on the river Lys, near Sailly. It was a very easy job, as we had practically nothing to do. We got some eggs, fruit and other stuff in the township, and lived well. Found some old hessian, and roped up some supports on the punt, and constructed a fair little home.
Wed. 24. Slept most of the morning. Got some more tucker for dinner. Studied French this afternoon. It came on to rain later on, and by the time we were relieved, at 5p.m., things were getting pretty wet. It will be rather uncomfortable for the newcomers.
Got a letter from Bert tonight. It was written on April 8th. from Zietown. He had had a rough trip over from England. Was unable to get in either the 3rd. or the 55th., and had no knowledge as to the whereabouts of Viv, Vern, or me. Also got a letter from Vera Billingham. Put in application for leave to go to Estaires tomorrow to get the photos I had taken.
Thurs. 25. We were sent on a fatigue job today digging trenches which are supposed to be a replica of a section of the German trenches, and are to be used for practising raiding. Got back about half-past two. No answer to my application for leave had come over, so I got Mr. Cooper to write out a leave pass and went over to Estaires. Got the photos, half-a-dozen of each. The one with hat on was the best. Bought a few other things, and had tea at a cafe before returning. Letter from Mum, and one from Lorrie Maloney. Wrote to Lorrie.
Fri. 26. Letter from Vera Keats, and one from Vera Billingham. Was told off with a raiding party, to practise trench raiding, as the battalion has to make a raid when we go in again. Practised crawling, or rather wriggling along the ground.
Sent three photos home, one of each, besides two spare ones. Also sent one to Vera Billingham, Mrs. Tanner, Lorrie Maloney, and Mr. Harward. Wrote letter to Mr. Harward. Mail closes indefinitely on Sunday. It is said we are soon going into the trenches again, and that General Birdwood said he has found a place in the line for the 1st Division, "where they will win honour and glory". Must be something big impending.
Heard tonight that, commencing on June 1st., there is to be an eight days' armistice to discuss terms of peace.
Sat. 27. With the raiding party this afternoon, practising crawling and bomb-throwing.
Sun. 28. More rumours about the armistice. Had to turn out early this morning and go for raiding practice. Church parade afterwards. On Sailly piquet this afternoon, and we had to patrol up and down a certain street. Started a story concerning the war in France, to be called, "Sentenced to Death".
Mon. 29. Went on dental parade to get my teeth fixed up. We were marched away about four or five miles to the township of Doulieu. It was the same little old French township that one meets anywhere, but the church, battered and gutted by German shellfire, was very interesting.
Tues. 30. Told off for fatigue tonight. Fell in at 5.30p.m. and marched away to blazes through Bac St. Mour, and through various other places. After waiting in a damp corner till after dark, we at last got to work cable-laying. Had to dig a trench, put the cable in, and then fill it up again.
Wed. 31. Finished the job about 1a.m. Some of us went on ahead of the main party, who were kept waiting behind for a few who had not finished working. We managed to take a wrong turning somewhere, and eventually got to Sailly, from where we found the way to our billets. Slept till dinnertime. Parade at 2p.m. Warned for fatigue again tonight. Slept all afternoon.
During tea-time Viv came along, but could not stay long. He had heard from Bert, who was at Tel-el-Kebir, and Vern, who was on the canal. He told me that Clytie's child was still-born, two months before time. It was rather hard luck for Viv, but will be rougher on Clytie.
Asked Viv if he would put in an application for me to be transferred to his battalion. Its not much use staying in the 3rd., now that I'm back in the ranks.
Continued the same fatigue job tonight, but got finished before midnight.
Thursday, 1st. We were turned out of our beds at reveille this morning, to get ready for an inspection by Billy Hughes and Andy Fisher. If those two politicians could have heard half the things we said about them, it would have made their ears tingle.
Fell in after breakfast and were marched around to the place of inspection, where we were kept waiting hour after hour for the arrival of Billy and Andy, who eventually turned up at about half past twelve, and had a bit of a look around, after which Billy made a short speech, the gist of which was that Australia was proud of us, and all the rest of that infernal rot that some people are always skiting about. Why they wanted to cheat us out of our sleep for Billy Hughes to tell us Australia was proud of us I'm hanged if I know. It was nearly 2p.m. when we got back.
The rumoured armistice to begin today must have been all humbug, as there were some aeroplanes being fired at while we were waiting for the inspection.
We were disappointed to find that we had to go out on fatigue again tonight, after having forfeited our morning's sleep. Went this time through Sailly, past our old billet and the Rouge de Bout to Winter's Night Post, where we waited about an hour and then got into a barn and had a sleep. Whoever wanted the fatigue party evidently didn't turn up. At somewhere in the region of midnight we hooked it and made for home. As we were going out the Germans were firing at one of our observation balloons, and cut it adrift, the balloon drifting away to billy-oh.
Fri. 2. The raiding party were turned out for practice this morning, but I got a little sleep this afternoon. "The Closing Generation" was returned, as the agency regretted that they could not satisfactorily handle it at the present time, but would be glad to hear from me later. Was rather disappointed, as I had been rather confident of its success.
Had to go on fatigue again tonight, although most of the others who had been three nights running were allowed off. Was pretty dead beat, and had toothache and headache, so Newland and I decided to malinger. Accordingly. while passing through Bac St. Maur, we fell out and hopped it. The Y.M.C.A. was closed, so we just strolled slowly back home, arriving there at nearly midnight.
Sat. 3. Slept till dinnertime, not waking for breakfast. Had a couple of hours parade in the afternoon, after which drew pay, 20 francs. Jim Voss has gone away with venereal disease. Poor beggar, he has had bad luck; his English leave hasn't done him much good.
After tea we were given leave to Sailly to go to a concert there. Arrived there too late to get a seat, so didn't go in. Knocked about the town with Newland. Had a rotten headache, but got a couple of fenacitine tablets at the A.M.C. hut on the way home.
Sun. 4. Physical jerks first thing. Rumours of a great naval reverse in the North Sea began to come to hand, and these soon crystallised into the news that the German fleet had sneaked out and dealt us a stunning blow, and then got back to safety, their losses being about half a dozen ships, and ours seventeen. All sorts of arguments raged for an hour or two amongst the boys, but nobody seemed to have been particularly disheartened by the bad news. It may turn out that the German losses are greater than they pretend.
After church parade, wrote a brief letter to Clytie, with an attempt to console her in her bereavement in being deprived of the joy of motherhood. Poor girl, it must be hard on her. Also sent birthday card to May Curtain.
Got a leave pass this afternoon and went over to Estaires. Bought a Pearson's Magazine and went to the Y.W.C.A. and read for awhile, but, being tired, fell asleep. Bought a spoon and a mug before coming back.
Mon. 5. Reveille at 2.30a.m. Tea was supplied, and we had to fall in full marching order at 3.15 for a route march. (More of Price's absurd rot, I suppose. Can't let the men have a decent night's sleep when they have got a chance.) Tramped it in the rain through Doulieu and round by a circuitous route, passing close to Merris, near where we used to be billeted. Heard some rumours about a big British victory in the North Sea. We got back about 10a.m. and had breakfast (!) Engraved name on spoon.
Got hold of yesterday's paper, and saw the truth about last Wednesday's battle in the North Sea, which was the greatest sea-fight since Trafalgar. It appears the losses were pretty much about equal, but as the German fleet turned and fled to the refuge of the Kiel Canal, it certainly had no victory to its credit. The Admiralty still denies that the Warspite, or any other battleship, was lost, while it is known that two, and probably three, German battleships were lost.
The battle at Verdun is growing even more intense, and it appears the Germans have advanced a little. Something in the paper about the King's birthday reminded me that I had quite forgotten Gordon's, on 3rd.inst.
Parade this afternoon for a lecture on bayonet fighting by an English instructor. It was a splendid lecture, well illustrated with practical demonstrations, and illuminated with humour, and interesting stories.
Got a violent attack of toothache, & discovered a hollow tooth, which was causing the trouble. Managed to stuff it up with wadding, which relieved it considerably.
Tues. 6. Paraded sick to see the dentist, and was told to come tomorrow, as only a limited number can go in one day. Saw a paper with the latest account of the North Sea fight. It now transpires that it was a victory to us, the Germans losing 18 vessels to our 14. It was also recorded that the Canadians retook the trenches they recently lost in the vicinity of Ypres.
As it was raining we had a parade in the loft, and put in the time talking and arguing the point. Were marched off to the baths, and had a glorious wash in hot water.
Went to Sailly on water fatigue this afternoon. Got a R.E. badge in exchange for my last sunrise, and a R.E. lettering for an Australia. Also got a French chasseur button buchsheesh from a Frenchman.
Letter from Vera Billingham. She had just received the letter I wrote from Tel-el-Kebir, the first since November. Some of my letters must have gone astray. Beattie Bostock is formally engaged to Beard. Jack Elliott has got a girl, whose name is Miss Stace. Omi McPherson has left the shop and given the Taree gossips something to wag their tongues about, having taken the wrong turning. Poor Omi, I can't help feeling sorry for her, she was such a pretty girl. Am not a great deal surprised to hear about it however, from what I knew of her.
Heard that the Royal Welsh Fusiliers who were immediately on our right when we were in the trenches last captured and are still holding four lines of trenches. (Suddenly remembered that I had entirely forgotten Dad's, Viola's and Viv's birthdays)
Wed. 7. Was dreaming about Vera Billingham and that I was back in Australia, when I awoke and was horribly disappointed to find that I was still in France.
On dental parade this morning to Doulieu. Got a dressing put in the tooth to kill the nerve, and will have to come on Saturday to get it filled. Bought three birthday postcards in the township, and then another chap and I went over to Estaires for dinner. Couldn't get it at L'Adjudication, as it was after 1p.m., but we got some eggs and chips at the place where Newland and I went at our first visit to Estaires. Had heard along the road that Kitchener was drowned, but took it with a grain of salt. Borrowed a French paper at the Estaminet, and there it was, in black and white. Kitchener and his staff lost with the "Hampshire", which was mined or torpedoed off the Orkney Islands on its way to Russia. Kitchener gone! That is a blow to us, and will give Germany something to gloat about. The paper contained some good news in the form of a big victory in Galicia by the Russians, who captured 25,000 prisoners.
We went in to a book shop and I got a "French Self-taught" and "La Vie Parisienne". Strolled down to the church, as there was something unusual doing there. A Bishop or Cardinal or someone came along amidst a procession of attendants, & blessed all the children as he passed, and allowed the women to kiss his hand.
Went to Y.M.C.A. and read for awhile, and then studied French. Called at L'Adjudication for a cup of coffee, and strolled around with a couple of young Englishmen. Cut the time pretty fine, and had to hurry home. Met Elaine and Marie Louise on the way, and there was a very nice pretty young girl with them, whose name they told me was Georgette. Had a yarn to her. She had lovely golden hair, pink cheeks, and blue eyes. Met Juliet a little further on.
Got back a little after 7.30p.m. A message to the troops was read, saying Kitchener, Lloyd-George, and Robertson were drowned. Some of the boys seem to be a bit downhearted over it, but its no use worrying. "It will come right in time".
Thurs. 8. We were to have turned out on a route march this morning, similar to Monday's, but it didn't come off, and, instead, we had to clean up the billet and yard preparatory to leaving tomorrow for billets nearer to the firing line. Bought a French paper. More news concerning the death of Kitchener. It must have been a mistake about Lloyd-George being drowned, as there was no mention of his name.
"Gaspirator" practice this morning. Warned for Sailly piquet.
After dinner, put in the time studying French. Got a parcel, the first from Australia, from Jean McPhee, containing three khaki handkerchiefs, two bonzer pair of sox, the very things I've been wanting, and some sweets.
On piquet at 5p.m. till after 8. Easy time of it.
Fri. 9. On dental parade this morning. Bought a French paper. (The French papers are a day ahead of the English, and are only 1d.) The figures for the Russian victory in Galicia now stand at 40,000 prisoners, including 900 officers, 77 big guns, 134 machine-guns, and a number of lance-bombs, whatever they are. The Russians have taken a Turkish position on the way to Baghdad. Things are beginning to look up.
Couldn't get tooth done today, the nerve not being dead yet.
Muster parade of the battalion this afternoon, and the C.O. inspected iron rations, boots, hair, etc., after which some of C. Co gave a bit of a gymnastic display. Leaving tonight for our new quarters.
Georgette came to our billet selling chocolates, etc. She is such an awfully pretty girl, and wise as well, not like those other bold youngsters, Marie Louise and Elaine. Had a talk to her for awhile with the aid of what French I knew. She is about the prettiest girl I've ever seen, I think. Told us she had a brother fighting at Verdun. She and her aged father are refugees from Armentieres and are living at Estaires.
Left our old billets at about 7 p.m. and marched away through Bac St. Maur to Fleur-baix. A portion of the town had suffered from bombardment at some time or another, most of the roofs being shattered, and the walls full of great gaping holes, the whole presenting a scene of desolation.
We were billeted in the upper part of a large building which had once been a schoolhouse.
Sat. 10. Nothing to do all day, so studied French. Got five letters, two from Mum, one from Viola, and Elsie and Vera Billingham. They have the piano at home now, and Viola and Ida are taking lessons from Edie Newcombe. Clytie's child was a daughter. The doctor said it was a case of either her or the baby. Viola thinks Mum looks very nice and stylish in her new dress, and hat, and much younger than she used to. Vera Billingham had seen an ad in the paper, "Lieut. Smythe, (on active service) and wife: a daughter" and enquired if I had the honour of being called "uncle". Elsie reckons I'm too late for Beattie now, she and Beard being engaged.
Sun. 11. Wrote birthday postcards to Dad, Viola, and Gordon. Wrote letters to Mum and May Webb. Brief church service in one of the rooms downstairs.
In the afternoon went out on a fatigue party. Borrowed a French paper to see the latest news. The number of prisoners taken by Russia in Galicia has risen to 60,000, the total Austrian losses being 200,000. The Russians had advanced 60 kilometres, (37 miles) up-to-date. Roumania had held a big manifestation in favour of the Allies, and the latter were contemplating restricting Greece's imports.
Mon. 12. Missed the dental parade. Went on fatigue to Dead Dog Avenue. While there, strolled up to the firing line, which was situated just beyond what was once a convent wall, but now nothing but gaps and holes. All that was left of the convent itself was a narrow portion of the wall at one corner.
Returned from the fatigue soon after lunch, on account of rain. Wrote to Jean McPhee.
Tues 13. Went on dental parade this morning through Bac St. Maur almost to Sailly. Studied French while waiting my turn. Had dinner at an estaminet, where I borrowed a French paper to get the latest news. Strolled up to the Y.M.C.A. Soldiers Club for awhile. The number of prisoners taken by the Russians in Galicia has now risen to 107,000.
Got tooth filled. Told off for fatigue tonight. After tea we had to shift from our quarters in the loft, as it is thought dangerous for upper rooms to be habited on account of shells. But as space was scarce in the new billet, the adjacent building, we had to go in the loft there for the time being. Part of this place had been wrecked by shells, and it was very draughty and uncomfortable.
We started out on the fatigue job, but had not gone far when we were recalled on account of the rain. Being a cold night, I put on all of my singlets, three of them, besides cardigan and underpants, and managed to sleep pretty warm.
Wed. 14. Towards morning I was awakened by the rain running in through a hole in the tiles just above me, and had to shift bunk.
Volunteers were called this morning to receive instruction in the Lewis Machine Gun, in order to act as supernumeraries, and I at once volunteered. Have to go to the school, a short distance away, for five hours daily.
According to today's press the number of Austrian prisoners taken in Galicia has now reached 114,700. Rumours are prevalent to the effect that the whole of the 1st Division is soon to be withdrawn to St. Omer for a divisional rest. If this is true, they must contemplate some big move for us after the rest. St. Omer is beyond Wallon Cappel.
Thur. 15. Another thousand Austrian prisoners added to the list today. Lewis gun school. Posted the letters home, which I had forgotten to post yesterday, and which have consequently missed the mail. After tea, Newland and I went for a look around the old churchyard, which presented a rather pathetic spectacle. Rose bushes in full bloom and various other kinds of flowers still thrived, but the whole churchyard was choked up with tall rank weeds. The wall was gapped and broken, and many of the headstones were chipped and broken, or lying in complete ruins. In one place a vault had been blown to pieces, and we could see the wooden corner of a decayed coffin protruding from amongst the debris.
The church itself was considerably battered, the roof being shattered and most of the windows in splinters. The spire, however, remained unscathed. Inside, the church was a mass of ruins and debris.
We strolled around a few streets looking at some of the battle wrecked houses. Picked up a photo which had been blown from the wall of a small place and had a hole through it from a piece of a shell. Kept it for a souvenir.
Fri. 16. "Daylight Saving" commences tonight, clocks to be put forward an hour. Austrian prisoners taken in Galicia now total 122,000, according to the latest English press. Lewis Gun School. Mr. McKenzie, chaplain, delivered some letters from Australia addressed at random to "lonely soldiers", and I got one. It was from one Amy Bywaters, of Brighton, Melbourne, and was rather a nice letter.
Studied French. There was a pay this afternoon, but I did not bother drawing any. Started letter to Amy Bywaters. Went to bed about 11p.m. or a little earlier, and was lying there trying to go to sleep when the silence of the night suddenly gave place to the almost continuous rumbling roar of a distant bombardment over to the left. About fifteen minutes later Jack Bubb came in and roused us for "stand to". He had been drinking, and was just about full. We turned out and fell in at the next billet, where we were kept standing to for about an hour, during which the bombardment slackened down considerably and eventually stopped altogether. We were allowed to dismiss, but were ordered to sleep with boots on, to be ready in case of another alarm. It was after midnight when we got "carry on".
Sat. 17. We turned in to bed again, but disregarded the order about leaving boots on, and took them off. The big guns started going again, and soon the bombardment was as violent as before, and we were debating whether we would have to stand to again, but nobody came along to disturb us and we were more assured of being left in peace.
We were just settling down to sleep again, when I heard a faint tinkling like a sleighbell in the distance. I sat up and remarked, "Gas!" and then we began scrambling for gas helmets. Had to stand to again for awhile, until it was deemed safe to turn in. Then the fatigue parties began to come in a few at a time, and were still coming when I went off to sleep. I was again awakened by some commotion, and heard again the tinkling and the hooting, while goggle-faced ogres moved about in the moonlight and the shadows. Donned the stuffy evil-smelling respirator again, and lay in bed awaiting the word to come that all was well. By this time all the fatigue parties were in, and as soon as "carry on" came and helmets were removed, they all began jabbering about what had happened to them, putting sleep out of the question for the time being. Then began no end of arguments, insults, and mudslinging, one lot wanting quietness in order to sleep, and the others persisting in keeping up a loud and lively discussion. They had got a bit excited over the gas and one thing and another, one of the pioneers had been shot through the heart while standing on the parapet, and the rum issue on their return did not tend to make them any quieter. Eventually, however, they settled down one by one, and the lights were blown out, at somewhere about 3a.m. The bombardment was still going on lightly when I went off to sleep.
At something after 6a.m., we were awakened and told to fall in for physical exercises! That was about the dizzy limit. However, we took our time getting out and dressed, and by the time we were out it was too late for the physical jerks.
After breakfast, bought a paper. 30,000 more Austrian prisoners, making a total of 152,000. During the two weeks of fighting of the Russian offensive in Galicia, Austria has lost over 300,000 men, which is more than half the army she had there, and is more than the total of our losses during the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign.
Lewis M.G. school. "The Closing Generation" returned, unsuitable, being too unconventional. Will have to remould it a bit, and try again. Was rather disappointed at its failure.
Went to sleep twice at school this afternoon. Heard that there was gas at Bac St. Maur last night, and that there were folks there coughing and wondering at the dense fog, not realizing that it was gas. Didn't hear if there were any casualties. There was also some yarn about our chaps raiding the German trenches where the bombardment was, and blowing up the gas cylinders, thus causing the gas to come over.
Fine summer day today, and the aeroplanes got busy again for the first time for over a week. The observation balloons of both sides were also up again yesterday and today. They say there was a fight between several German aeroplanes and ours, two of the former being brought down, and one of them falling in No Man's Land between the trenches, where it still lies. Continued story, "Sentenced to Death".
Sun. 18. The list of Austrian prisoners has risen to 166,000. Studied French this morning. Church parade. Put in for leave for Newland and I, and to our surprise it was granted. We had some lunch, and set off for Armentieres. A few shells were bursting some distance ahead of us, and after we had got away from this town we could hear them exploding behind us. Farther on we came to where the Germans had been shelling the road, about half an hour previous. One shell had dug a big hole in the road, and, in a field nearby, a horse lay dead with one knee shattered and a hole in its shoulder. There were other shell-holes in the fields along the road.
Arriving at the Armentieres railway station, we met some ........battalion chaps, and I made enquiries as to Viv's whereabouts. Eventually found him in an officers' mess. He told me the particulars about the bombardment on Friday night. It appears the New Zealanders made a raid on the enemy's trench, but were greatly hampered by the moonlight. When they got there they found the trenches empty, except for two German corpses. They were then cut off by a barrage of artillery fire, through which they had to pass in returning, and lost pretty heavily. The gas alarm was a frost, a bugle having been sounded in the German trenches, and the alarm taken up and passed on by our sentries.
The 24th battalion, and the other units in the vicinity of Armentieres did not stand to for the bombardment, only the gas alarm.
Viv told me he is in charge of the raiding party of his battalion.
Newland and I went up into the town of Armentieres. It is a fairly large place, with a long main street. I had expected to find it a mess of ruins and almost deserted, judging by the number of times I had read about it being bombarded before I left Australia, but, although most of the buildings bore shell-marks, the town was in pretty good condition, all debris having been cleared away and shell-holes in the walls, and broken windows having been boarded up, and presenting a less dilapidated appearance, not like the ruined desolate look of Fleurbaix. It was also well inhabited.
There were a lot of New Zealanders getting about the streets. They are billeted here, lucky beggars.
The Town Hall is a very old building, dated 1724, and is built up around an old church steeple, which must be much older. We had a look through the church, which was rather nice, though plain. It had a single shell-hole through the brick ceiling. Went to the Y.M.C.A. which was situated in a part of what had been a large technical school. Newland got into conversation with a chaplain, and became obsessed. Waited for some time, but the two of them kept gossiping for all they were worth, and I couldn't get a word in edgeways to give them the hint. Strolled around a bit, and out to the front gate, thinking Newland might notice my absence. But when I went back they were still going it hammer and tongs. I whistled and called to him, but he was oblivious to everything but the conversation, while the other chaps in the room began to enjoy the joke. Getting desperate I walked up and planted myself right in front of them, but Newland never took his eyes off the chaplain's face, and the jabbering flowed unceasingly. The chaplain recognised me with a smile without interrupting the flow of language, and I didn't get a chance to say a word. I decided to leave them to it, and called back from the doorway, "I'll meet you here at 6 o'clock". Then the chaplain took the hint, and turned it in.
We had a bit of a look round the town. Looked in at the old church, which was built on the same model as the new, but was not so long. During the afternoon we could hear a lot of shelling back towards Fleurbaix. Had a talk to a Flemish woman, and she was in a great way about the bombardments. She had gone up to the cemetery, and there were three bodies there, two with their heads blown off, and one with all his side blown away. The sight had evidently got on her nerves, and she was always in dread lest it might be her turn next.
Left Armentieres at about 6.30p.m. There were more shell-holes along the road where the others were this morning. A gate and a small tree had been blown up near where the dead horse was, and part of the roof had been blown off one of the farmhouses. A woman told us that two cows had been killed. Someone said that a lot of shells had fallen on Fleurbaix, and a house was seen to be on fire.
Upon arriving at out billets we found that it was B Co. that had been burnt out. One man had had his head blown off, but there were no other casualties.
Muster parade for fatigue parties. Lewis Gunners exempt. Did not go to bed till late. The "Daylight Saving" scheme is a drawback here inasmuch that it is broad daylight at bedtime, and one does not feel inclined to turn in.
Scored a New Zealand "Excelsior" badge and a black button at Armentieres during the afternoon.
Mon. 19. Two gas alarms this morning, but no gas came this way. It was no joke turning out of our beds to stand to with gas helmets on. I already had a bit of a cold, and tucking the cold wet skirt of the helmet in around the neck has given me a fresh cold. Had some instruction in signalling, etc., at the Lewis Gun Class this morning.
This afternoon I got a letter from Perce Morgan, it was written by Bert to Mrs. Morgan, and she had sent it on to Perce. Bert is again in England, lucky beggar. He is in the 1st. training battalion, which supplies details and reinforcements to this brigade, so he might land over here at any time. He narrowly missed joining up the 55th battalion, which was at Ismailia at the time.
Muster parade this evening to hear Bartels' sentence read out. He was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, but it was reduced to six months' imprisonment. He got little sympathy from the boys, who have no time for him. His crime was saying that all officers and non-commissioned officers are............
Started making out a list of French words for a system of memorizing, according to Pelman.
Tues. 20. Another gas alarm during the night, but no gas came over.
According to this morning's paper the Russians have taken Czernovitz. Not feeling too well today. It seems like influenza, or perhaps pneumonia, coming on.
At the side of the road near the Lewis House there was a board stuck in the ground bearing the notice, "Live Shell". An unexploded shell had been buried there. This morning there was rigged up in front two little copper wire supports, holding up a rifle cartridge. The jolly thing looked so comical that everyone who saw it had to laugh.
Wed. 21. No gas alarm last night. Feeling ill, and couldn't take much interest in the instruction at the Lewis Gun class. Tommy Ricketts has been hit on the head by a dummy bomb while out practising with the raiders. He has gone to hospital.
Thurs. 22. Still unwell. We were put through the Lewis Gun examination this morning, Mr. Tyson being the examining officer. Kerr and I, besides several others, scored 1st. class passes. A good deal of shelling was kept up during the morning, but none came near us. This afternoon the shelling continued, growing more intense.
Bad news! Kitty Macaulay, dear mischievous little Kitty, and sweet lovely Elsie Hopper, with whom I had had many a romp and lots of fun - both gone. It seems awful, incredible. To think that I shall never see their happy laughing faces again in this world. Those two will not be there to welcome me home after the war is over, if I am privileged to get through all right. Thank God they were both Christians. They will be happy now, at rest with Jesus, beyond the cares and worries of this life, but oh, what of the aching hearts that are left behind. The brightest and liveliest element has gone from the Hopper family, for Elsie was the life of that home. So also with the Macaulays. Kitty was the only girl, and they had gone to such trouble giving her an education and a good start in life. And then to lose her. It seems hard, awfully hard, that it is God's will, and He knows what is best for us, though we cannot fathom the motives that underlie His actions.
It was while we were having tea this afternoon that the mail came, and I got three letters, one from Elsie Cunynghame, one from Vera Hicks, and one from Mum. Was quite pleased to get them, but when I opened Mum's letter and read the sad news, it was an unpleasant shock. Mum said Kitty and Elsie were drowned while surfing somewhere near Taree. They were carried out by the undertow. Two chaps, McCabe and Clinch pulled them out, but could not bring them to. Mr. and Mrs. Hopper were in Sydney at the time, down for the Easter show, I suppose. Kitty must have been home on her Easter holidays. I wonder if she got the letter I wrote to her from Serapaum. I hope it was not too late. It would have arrived there just about that time, as Mum's letter was in answer to a couple I wrote about the same time.
Well, such is life. A fellow grows callous to all this death and suffering over here, but when one's friends back home in Australia die, it seems to strike right home to the only soft patch left in our hearts. I do not grieve for those two happy girls. They are far happier and better off than we mortals who are left behind. It is their bereaved relatives who have my sympathy. They have suffered irreparable loss, but it is some consolation to know that they are Christians, and that they can look up to God and say in their sorrow and distress, "Thy will be done".
After all, life is but a short span, and the time will soon come when we shall all be reunited in Christ's glorious kingdom. Thank God for the consolation of religion. Thank God for the sacrifice of His Son Jesus upon the cross that we might have eternal life.
Can't help feeling rather blue and down-hearted over it. There seems to be something missing from the scheme of things. Even the dull booming of the bursting shells seemed to take a more mournful tone, as though they were trying to play a requiem for my two departed friends, "not lost, but gone before".
I suppose I will get fuller details of the tragedy from Vera Billingham later on.
Wrote a letter of consolation to Mr. and Mrs. Hopper, and started one to Mr. and Mrs. Macaulay. Had to go with the fatigue party tonight to the support trenches filling sand-bags. Didn't feel at all well, and had toothache and headache. Had a gas alarm soon after we started work, but no gas came over.
Fri. 23. Left the trenches about 2a.m., just before dawn, and arrived back about 3a.m. Went on dental parade this morning, but the dentist didn't think it advisable to have the tooth out. Had a bath at the Divisional Baths while at Bac St. Maur. According to today's paper the Arabs have arisen against Turkey and declared their independence. They have taken Mecca and two other towns, with their garrisons. Got back about teatime.
Heavy thunderstorm came up, and the rumbling of the thunder provided a pleasing change from the monotonous sameness of bursting shells.
Packed up ready for our departure to the trenches tonight. Heard that Northrop got a wound from a piece of a shell, in the hip. The raiding party has been disbanded. Probably Fritz is getting a bit too fly to these raids, and they are no longer as successful as they used to be.
Moved off to the trenches at something after 9 p.m. Rain made it a miserable night. Our platoon was told off to be the platoon in reserve, at Millroad Post. I was put in charge of a gas alarm post behind the old convent wall, with the two Campbells, Newland, and Chapman. We have a very decent little dug-out to live in.
Sat. 24. Sent letters to Mr. Hopper and Mr. Macaulay, Taree. Slept most of the morning. The rain cleared up this afternoon, letting the mud get a bit dry. A good deal of shelling has been going on, mostly over towards where our platoon are. Wrote to Bert. Started a letter to Mum. Heard that our platoon had to leave their positions and clear out.
This evening the younger of the two Duckworths went by here with a broken right arm caused by a trench mortar bomb. The bomb caught about ten of our chaps in the firing line, including Corporal Flynn, who was badly wounded. A couple of them were killed. Had a gas alarm tonight, but there was no gas.
Sun. 25. Heard that Stannard was wounded yesterday, but not seriously. One of the scouts, while out on a patrol, was shot in the feet by Mick Curran, who could not have been warned that the patrol was out. Slept most of the morning.
Corporal Dick, of the scout platoon, was shot through the head this morning, while looking over the parapet with a pair of glasses. I was joking with him only this morning. He was a chum of Vern's, and used to come to his dug-out on the peninsula. Finished letter to Mum. Dave Hall and Corporal Green have both been badly wounded.
There was a lot of shelling going on this afternoon, over sixty landing along the old convent wall. No-one was hurt here however. It has been a glorious summer day, and, when there was no bombarding going on, everything seemed so nice and peaceful.
Wise, of the band, has been killed. He was a nice little chap, and was one of my reinforcements. They say Green is dead. Anyway, little hope was entertained for him.
Our platoon are suffering with their nerves. Nagle has been sent away crazy. One of the stretcher-bearers also went off his head. They say that Edwards has been drinking heavily, and ordered the men to stand to during the bombardment, packing the boys and causing more casualties.
Some of our platoon came past here on fatigue during the morning, and they all seem to be more or less upset. Shells had been landing all around their dug-outs, which are not very strongly built. A couple landed within a few yards of one dug-out, but fortunately did not explode. There were quite a lot of dummies amongst them.
Heard that there was going to be a bombardment tonight, so we were ready for it. It started about 11.30p.m., and a lot of scouts and others came and took shelter in our dug-out, which is very strongly built. There was a plethora of machine-made thunder and lightning while it lasted, for over half an hour.
Mon. 26. The visitors left about 12.30a.m. Slept all morning. Heard that Hindenburg's army has been cut off by the Russians, Hindenburg himself being with them.
Tyson was wounded in the arm with a piece of bomb during the bombardment last night. The usual afternoon bombardment started about half an hour ago, and is still going strong. A number of scouts are taking refuge in our dug-out. Our platoon has been scattered again. It is slackening off a bit now.
Heard that Tyson's life was saved by his steel helmet, the front rim of which was bulged in by a piece of a bomb.
Took a stroll up along the old wall this evening. Near Mr. Lamrock's dugout a shell had struck a tree during the bombardment this afternoon, felling it, and a smaller one a few yards away, to the ground. In each tree was a sparrows nest, that in the smaller tree having half a dozen newly hatched sparrowlets in it. The other nest had also had young ones in it, but they were killed by the fall of the tree. A singlet that had been hung out to dry on the smaller tree was riddled with shell holes.
Several of the enemy's observation balloons were brought down this afternoon by our `planes which dropped fire shells on them and set fire to them. Nothing extra in the way of bombarding tonight, so got to bed a bit earlier than usual.
Tues. 27. Lee and Harris were both saved yesterday by their steel helmets, which were dinted by pieces of bombs. Several other persons, also, would have been killed but for them.
Heard that there is to be four days bombardment, starting tonight at 9p.m. It is reported that Cpls. Green and Flynn are both doing well. Evidently it was untrue about Green being dead. Jack Bubb warned us to wear gas helmets at the "alert" during the four days 'bombardment.
Newland changed off this guard to allow Murray-Cowper, who is suffering with shell-shock, to come in and have the benefit of the easy job.
W. L. Smith has been wounded by a shell this afternoon. Lieuts. Watson and Lamrock, and several others, were wounded in the firing line. While we were having tea Smith was brought along on a stretcher on the way to the dressing-station. He was conscious, and spoke to us. His head was bandaged up, and his clothes were covered in blood. Salmon was with him when he got knocked, and got a few scratches and a severe shaking himself. Smith got a number of pieces of steel all over the body, including several in the stomach. They don't think it is serious.
Heard that Captain Kemp also was wounded this afternoon.
Our aeroplanes seem to have the German observation balloons completely bluffed, as they are not game to go up now.
Well, this seems to be the lull before the storm. Everything has been perfectly quiet for the last hour or more. It is now ten minutes to nine, and, save for the occasional splutter of a machine-gun or an odd rifle shot, all is still. When the bombardment starts, if it does, I suppose we will have plenty of visitors in this dugout. If its true about the four days' bombardment, its quite likely that we may have to hop over the parapet at the end of it
Wed. 28. The promised bombardment did not come off last night. A rotten sell. Wet again today, and beastly muddy. Went on with story, "Sentenced to Death". Heard that Mr. Watson died from his wounds, and that Lamrock had a broken leg and arm.
A number of shells came over this afternoon, landing mostly down to the left. An order has been issued that we are to wear the reserve gas helmet on one shoulder, the other still being worn pinned to the chest. Edwards came along just before stand-to and told us there was to be a strafe tonight.
Turned in at carry on, but was not allowed to sleep long. The strafe started about 11.30p.m., and soon our dugout was full of "refugees". The air shook with the thundering and roaring of artillery, the reports from our own guns and the exploding of shells coming over. Twice we heard the tearing of bricks, as the old convent wall was struck near-by. Often our dugout would tremble and shake with the force of the explosions. It seemed like a terrific thunderstorm while it lasted, for about an hour. At last it calmed down, the visitors departed, and we were allowed to sleep in peace.
Thurs. 29. Saw a big new gap in the wall alongside the scout serjeant's dugout, and a pile of bricks in front of the doorway. Another shell had landed on the earth partition a couple of yards from our dugout, chipping a piece out of the butt of Berry's rifle, putting a hole through Stevens' rifle sling, and perforating our dripping tin, in which we kept the fat for frying purposes.
Heard that the strafe last night was a raid by the1st Battalion, and that they took several German prisoners and killed a good number. They had one serjeant killed as they were coming back. Some of the prisoners played up on the way back, and were promptly bayoneted.
Bob Butterworth has been sent away with a complete nervous breakdown. Continued story this morning. Proceeded with list of French words this afternoon.
We were supplied with a nice big triangle gong today to replace the little shell-case which has so far been doing duty as a gong.
Had a gas alarm tonight, although the wind was not very favourable for gas. It appears they used some down on the right.
Fri. 30. Heavy bombardment on the right during the night. They ripped it in very solid for some time, and kept it up to a lesser extent till morning. Was very restless last night, and when I did manage to score a little sleep it was disturbed by horrible dreams.
Heard that the row on the right last night was the Welsh Fusiliers, who were immediately on our right when we were in the trenches the last time, retaking a trench or trenches they lost some time ago. The scouts say there is to be a five hours' bombardment here tonight.
Tried to sleep this morning, and was again troubled with bad dreams. Thought I was watching a lot of men drowning, and sharks eating the poor beggars.
R.S.M. Rudkin came along at dinnertime and instructed us to hand over the gas alarm post to Sjt. Hatton, of the scouts, as per C.O.'s orders, I suppose. Price thinks we are having too good a time, and that the scouts can easily provide their own guard. Accordingly we packed up after dinner and handed over to the scouts, and then went back to the platoon at Millroad Post. We were sorry to lose our job, as no doubt it was the sweetest thing we've had in some time. As we did our own cooking we could do the tucker up much nicer than we get it ordinarily, and, all things considered, we were having a good time. We were practically safe from shells there too, as the dugout was so strong.
There are no spare dugouts at Millroad Post, so we will have to sleep out in the open tonight.
Was sent away to blazes to battalion headquarters this evening for rifle oil, and when I got there, there was none. Heard that Tyson's wound was serious, and that he will probably lose his arm. They say poor old Bill Smith died from the injuries he received last Tuesday.
On ration fatigue tonight. Captain Edwards warned the guard here that there was to be a heavy bombardment here commencing at midnight, and that we would have to stand to.
Saturday, 1st. Waited up till nearly half past twelve for the promised bombardment, but it did not come off, so went down to our late dugout behind the old wall, got accommodation there for the night.
Got four letters this morning, two from Mum, one from Clytie, and one from Vera Billingham. Vera was in Sydney, where she had taken a position, but only stayed there five days as she did not like the place.
I had been waiting for this letter and hoping against hope that there might have been some mistake about Kitty and Elsie, that perhaps even one of them might have been saved. But of course I was doomed to disappointment. Vera gave me fuller particulars of the tragedy. It appears that they had only been in ten minutes when the undertow carried them out. It is thought that Kitty's life was sacrificed trying to save Elsie, as Kitty was an excellent swimmer. She was home on Easter holidays, & had brought Eddie Morris with her. It was at the Old Bar that it happened. Vera says it was Eddie Morris who brought them to shore, and he only a boy of fourteen. Elsie had enough strength left to grasp his hand when he got to them, but Kitty was unconscious. His strength must have given way, for when almost in he let Kitty go and the waves washed her ashore.
They were both buried in the one grave and both had white coffins. Poor little Kitty was black and swollen and beyond recognition, but to use Vera's words, "Elsie looked just like her dear self".
Mr. and Mrs. Hopper were in Sydney to see Arthur off to the war. I wonder if he knew before he sailed. It would be a heavy burden on one's heart to leave Australia with.
Clytie's letter was cheerful, and she told me of her recent trouble. Poor girl, we all have our crosses to bear.
Mum's letters were written on the 6th and 12th May respectively. She wonders if I am where they "parlyvoo".
Viola had just been playing "Mothers of Salem" and Dad singing to it, and it brought back to Mum's memory the old times when we boys were babies and Dad used to sing us to sleep on the good old hymn. The mention of it brings the same old days back to me. It was one of Dad's favourites, and I can remember him singing it as a lullaby song for Viola, Ida, Rita, Eric and Gordon, all in their turn as they filled the position of the baby of the house.
Mum had just sent me two parcels of socks, soap, etc. They told her at the office that I would get them some time for certain. H'm. They evidently don't know of the shocking lack of morals that exists in our light-fingered cold-footed brigade, who have stowed themselves away in staff jobs safe from the danger of the firing line, where they have the handling of our mails, and incidentally help themselves to all the good things they want. H'm again.
Wall Frazer sailed early in May, and of course Viola was a wee bit blue. Well, I hope he comes through it all right without suffering any physical or moral losses.
Alf Chapman is home and making an ass of himself by his skiting. A lot of Jerilderie boys are writing home "putting his pot on", to use the vernacular.
Uncle Arthur is anxious to get away to the war. It might arouse his interest and ambition a bit if he did. He is only wasting his life stuck there on that old farm.
Read London Magazine most of the morning. Continued story. On fatigue this afternoon improving the duck-boards, etc. A taube flew over and we had to cease work. Later on Fritz started pouring in shells, and we got very little work done at all during the afternoon.
We go to the firing line tonight, taking the place of Sjt. Hines' platoon, who are coming to this post. I volunteered to go in the wiring party. Newland, and Bluey Stevens are also in it, under Nagle.
Was told that Harrington, of the Lewis Machine Gun Section, was one of the killed a few days ago.
Moved up after tea. Eight of our aeroplanes flew out over the German lines and circled about calmly, heedless of all the shells bursting around them. It was a grand sight, and did a fellow's heart good.
While standing to Mr. Edwards came along and told us that an advance had been made at the junction of the British and French forces. Heard later that they took three lines of trenches.
After carry on we got our barbed and French wire ready. Jack Bubb had a patrol party going out, and as we were all standing about the sally port in the gathering gloom, they reminded me of pictures I had seen of parties of old crusaders. They all looked so odd with heads swathed in cap comforters and balaclavas, which are worn instead of the steel helmets on these excursions, the helmets being too easily detected. The bayonets wrapped up in strips of bagging made them look even more queer.
Most of the patrol had gone out through the sally port when the tinkling of the gas gongs suddenly put barbed wire and patrols out of mind for the time being. There was no gas here, as the wind was blowing towards the enemy's trenches, and after some delay we at last got a move on with our job. There was a strafe going on some distance away to the right when we went out, and later on another strafe developed on the left, but not so far away. We could see the shells and bombs bursting and it all looked so pretty, with the flares continually going up. The light from them shone on clouds of white smoke blowing from our trenches to the Germans, and we guessed that our chaps were using gas, and learned afterwards that it was so. Its good to see Fritz getting hoist on his own petard.
We were not troubled by machine guns at all. Nagle was a bit fidgety, his nerves being still rather unsteady. The trenches were much closer here than where we were before, near Sailly, being less than three hundred yards apart. Some of the Germans' flares came over very close to us, and it was not always possible to duck, as one would at times be standing in the midst of a tangle of barbed wire.
Sun. 2. Came in at sometime after 1a.m. Someone had got down on the tea at the cook-house, for it was all gone. Managed to squeeze out a few drops however. Had turned in and was just dozing off when another strafe started some-where not far away, but it didn't keep me awake long.
At stand to our dugout was missed, and we were not awakened till they had been standing to for the best part of an hour. Was not sorry either.
This standing to is a bore. After carry on, slept till breakfast time.
Got a letter from Nurse Kerr. She is now in a big hospital at Le Tréport, which is very beautiful scenery. I think it must be down Marseilles way. Read Windsor Magazine for a time. Continued story. Slept most of the afternoon.
After tea we got our wire ready. Can't do much tonight, as a bombardment starts soon after midnight, and we have to be in by 12. There is to be a raid from the 52nd Battalion's lines. They are immediately on our right, and it will be pretty lively here. All the parties have received orders to be in by midnight.
We went out about 11p.m. There was a little bit of strafing going on away to the right, and also up to the left. While we were working there I saw a strange sight, which was most fascinating. Away to the left could be seen an occasional shell bursting, sometimes in the air and sometimes on the ground, but unlike the usual lightning-like flash of an exploding shell, they seemed to burst gently, like a star shell, and pour forth a great volume of blazing sparks, which appeared like the great clouds of spray tossed up by a surging surf dashing against the rocks, only that it was the bright blazing orange colour of fire. I thought perhaps that our fellows might be using fire-shells similar to those with which our aeroplanes destroyed so many of the German observation balloons. Whatever they were, they were used by our chaps, for those that exploded in the air burst forward towards the enemy lines. They looked so weird and yet so beautiful, together with the continuous stream of moving lights, floating gracefully up and down again, that I was loth to leave the spectacle and go back to the trench when the parties moved in at about a quarter to twelve. It looked like a far-extending and beautiful fireworks display.
We decided that it wasn't worth while turning in before the bombardment
Mon. 3. Nagle went away to find a stronger and safer dugout soon after twelve, but I reckoned this one would do me. Lit the candle and lay down to wait the strafe and started dreaming about one thing and another, and soon forgot about the strafe and everything else.
A big gun boomed out in the distance, and was instantly followed by several more. Then I remembered the bombardment. In a couple of seconds the air was rent with the tearing and hissing, the shrieking and wailing of shells flying in all directions. The dull awful roar of high explosives and the grating rending screech of bursting shrapnel mingled incessantly with the shrill biting report of the discharge of the big guns. It must have been Hell to any who might have let fear get hold of them. The ground shook at times like an earthquake, and my dug-out rocked and trembled considerably. There was little to fear, however, for a shell would have to come pretty close to get a fellow. In case I might have been buried, which was quite a likelihood, I put Nagle's pack near at hand in such a position that I would fall forward and have a certain amount of breathing space. Shells and bombs were landing all around, but there was much more shrapnel than anything else. The air became heavy with smoke, and the thick reek of phosphorous drifted in and polluted the atmosphere, till I began to wonder if we were being gassed. Went to the door a few times and looked out, but deemed it extremely unwise to venture out into that raging inferno without undue cause. Once a bomb burst on the top of a dugout a couple of yards from mine and threw some small dirt in on to my face, but otherwise nothing came near me. The storm slackened off towards half-past one, and soon became quiet, save for the cracking of a few rifle shots, and the occasional rattle of a machine gun.
Went out to see the extent of the damage done, and met Dick Rosser and Jack Bubb going to all the dugouts to see that all were O.K. It was soon found that Charlie Birch was missing, and various enquiries as to his whereabouts brought no results, till at last someone said he was wounded and at the dressing station. Went there with Jack Bubb to see how he was. He was lying quiet and still at the far side of the room, his clothes in places soaking with blood, but the stretcher-bearer spoke as if he was not seriously hurt. Mr. Lacey, our platoon officer, was lying on his face on the floor, a number of nasty gashes in his back. He was speaking lightly, though, and did not seem to be badly wounded, but complained about the pain he was suffering. Were only there a few seconds when Captain Edwards came and hunted us out.
It appears that a shell caught the dugout with Mr. Lacey and Mr. Bayley inside, and wounded both of them. Bayley got it in the arm and hand, and went away to the larger dressing station back in the next lines. Lacey's wounds are reckoned to be rather serious. Birch was on duty at a night post with Smith R. and Bob Matthews when a big shell landed just out in front. Birch jumped off the fire-step and ran out of the bay crying out that he was hit, and that was the last they saw of him. The bay was badly bulged in along its whole length.
A little farther on a dugout had a portion of its roof blown away, yet the shell or bomb did not break through to the inside. One of the latrines was blown in. The whole place was wrapped in a dense cloud of smoke like a heavy fog. The bombardment had lasted from 12.35 till 1.30, nearly an hour.
The results of the raid soon came to hand. The party did not have a single casualty, as they did not find a single German, alive or dead, in the enemy's trenches, which were considerably shattered by our shell fire.
At last everybody's curiosity was more or less satisfied, and they began to go back to their dugouts. Turned in about 2 o'clock to try and snatch a little sleep before stand to. Some time later I heard someone say something about another chap hit, and Nagle went out to see who it was. It was stand to before I got a chance to get any sleep. Heard then that it was Corporal Perkins who was knocked. Poor Perky, he got it through the head while out in the listening post, where he had been sent with his party after the bombardment was all over. Though unconscious, he lived for a couple of hours. One of his men, Fitzgerald, was wounded in the shoulder, and his life was saved by the steel helmet, which was struck twice, one bullet making a large dent in the front of it and half-stunning him, the other penetrating the side and being deflected upwards, breaking out again through the top of the helmet.
Another piece of interesting news came to hand. While a patrol party of scouts were out, Nugget Burns came across a German sniper. He had often said if he ever got hold of a German he would not kill him, but would belt the life out of him. Well, when the time came he was as good as his word, and started punching the sniper for all he was worth, until the victim's cries of "Camerade! Camerade!" induced him to desist. The sniper gave him a dagger he carried in his belt, and wanted to give him his watch, but Nugget would not take it. The rifle he was sniping with was a beauty, having an elaborate sighting system with luminous telescope sights, and a magazine which held thirty-five rounds. When they brought him in and searched him they found in his pocket a leave pass to go to Berlin the next day! If ever anybody had stiff luck, he had. All our chaps sympathised with him, not for being captured, but for having his leave done in at the last moment.
Heard that B Co's wiring party and patrol were not warned about the bombardment, and consequently were out in front all the time, suffering many casualties. It was a terrible blunder on somebody's part, and those men were simply murdered through carelessness.
One of the 52nd Battalion's Stokes trench mortar crews had bad luck. A shell landed amongst them, exploding the Stokes bomb they had in the mortar and a number of others stacked near by ready to use. Didn't hear what happened to the mortar, but the crew of six men, or at least what could be found of their remains was carried away in a couple of sandbags.
After carry on, slept till breakfast time. Finished story in the rough. Fred Archer got into trouble at dinner time. He was in charge of a day post, and Captain Edwards came along and found him and all his men save Bob Campbell and Perry with their equipment off, and put them up for orders.
We are to go out of the trenches tomorrow night, being relieved by the 45th Battalion, whose advance party arrived here today.
This afternoon Newland and I were sent to Battalion Headquarters with a "catapult", a large bomb-throwing apparatus made on the same principle as the familiar sparrow-killing weapon from which it takes its name. At Headquarters we met a couple of chaps who had come to see the last of their brothers, whom they had heard were killed during the strafe last night. One of them said his name was Greenhalgh, and I found that his dead brother was no other than Greenhalgh of the 7th Reinforcements. Was very sorry to hear of his death, as he was such a nice fellow. The other man's name was Ireland, and his brother was one of the victims of B Co's. unfortunate blunder. He was only a young chap, and looked as if he had been crying a good deal. That is one of the saddest things about war. It is not all the death that one troubles about, it is the grief that is caused to the loved ones left behind.
After delivering the catapult to the armourer serjeant, we were talking to a chap who was cleaning a revolver, which he had loaded, and was holding pointed right at me. Merely in jest I remarked casually, "Mind you don't fire that thing off while you've got it pointing at me", whereupon he proceeded to show me how it was impossible to pull the trigger, without first operating the safety catch. Then he began to do a stage-hero act, jumping this way and that as though on the lookout for an unseen foe, and while so doing, hanged if he didn't fire the blessed thing. Fortunately he had it pointing at a wall of sandbags at the time. He looked very scared and at a loss what to do, when suddenly Major Moore walked round the corner. We left him to make his own explanations.
Coming back we learned more particulars of B Co's. terrible blunder. Poor old Tiny Bassett was one of the victims. He and Ireland, who were in the wiring party, were blown up by the one shell. They were both killed instantly. A young fellow named Green who was out got tangled in the barbed wire, and while struggling there was fairly riddled with bullets. Frost was also out, and got three machinegun bullets in the hip. Roach told me he was to have gone out, but being ill, was exempted.
Got a letter from Miss Prigg from Honiton, in answer to the postcard I sent her from Serapeum. Word came along tonight that Charlie Birch is dead.
Newland and I were told off for the listening post tonight, along with Dooley, Harris, and the two Pryors, under Jack Bubb. Harris funked it, and managed to get out of it somehow, Bluey Stevens taking his place.
Saw one of our aeroplanes brought down over the German lines during the evening. It fell from a great height, wobbling about on its downward course like a spoon sinking in water. The aviator had probably been killed, as the machine appeared to be out of control.
After carry on Jack Simpson went out with a patrol party, somewhat before 11p.m., and we followed them out to the listening post, taking a bomb each in addition to our rifles. After lying there for some time, Jack Pryor and I got on with the hole that was being dug for the listening post. Jack was very frightened, this was his first experience of actual warfare, and the fact of Perky being killed and Fitzgerald wounded on the same job last night did not tend to ease his mind. The bullets were not coming near us, however, and I could not help being amused at the way the poor beggar would lie cuddled up at the bottom of the hole and hold the sandbag up while I filled it. When a bullet cracked about thirty yards away or one of our own chaps fired from the parapet, he would fairly tremble with fear. Once a bullet whizzed by overhead, and in scared tones he asked, "That was pretty close, wasn't it?" "No," I told him, "it was about ten or fifteen feet overhead". Later on several whizzed within a few feet of us, and when he saw that I simply ignored them, it gave him a little courage, and he would sit up and dig awhile, or shovel dirt into the sandbag for me to take and empty into a shell hole some distance away.
After a time the patrol party came in, thinking they had heard the whistle which was the signal to come back. They were mistaken, however, and had to go out again, at somewhere about midnight.
Tues. 4. It was pleasant work digging compared to lying there on the damp ground, and we were getting along finely when the patrol came in again. Fritz had spotted them, and they beat a hasty retreat, crawling and wriggling through the grass as fast as they could go, bullets following them all the way. When they reached our position the bullets came whizzing around us, and we had to lie low. The patrol seemed to be rather scared. After they got away in, Fritz still kept firing in our vicinity, probably having located the sally port. As they were not coming too close I was content to go on working, but Jack Bubb was a bit nervous, and sent us back one by one to take shelter behind the bank of a ditch a short distance to our rear. To get there we had to go along a narrow passage through the barbed wire. Newland, Dooley, Stevens and I got there all right, but when Jack Pryor started to come he got frightened, lost his head, and ran towards us. Missing the opening in the barbed wire, he tripped over it and went sprawling, his rifle flying one way and helmet another. Scrambling to his feet he tore himself free from the tangle of wire and floundered towards us, again tripping and falling to the ground in front of me. I grabbed him by the wrist and roared at him to lie still, but he kept crying "I've lost my rifle and helmet! I've lost my helmet!" his mind evidently clinging to the meagre protection of the steel helmet as a drowning man clutches at a straw. Maddened with terror he broke away and blundered about trying to find the helmet, and the next instant the inevitable came, and a hail of machinegun bullets whizzed and pinged around us. We flattened ourselves against the ground, yelling at Pryor to lie still. Abandoning the helmet he turned and floundered towards the ditch, and managed to get himself well tangled up in some loose barbed wire at the side of the duckboard which served for a bridge over the ditch. He was all right there, for he was unable to shift. Fortunately Fritz did not keep the fire up for long, and nobody was hit, though it seemed a marvel that we should have escaped. After waiting some time I went out and got the rifle and helmet, while Pryor managed to extricate himself from the wire trap. We got him safely down behind the bank of the ditch, where we managed to keep him quiet. Then it came on to rain lightly, and Jack Bubb decided that there was no need for us all to stay out and get wet, so after a while he sent four of us in, he and Newland coming in a little later. Captain Edwards sent them out again, however, as it was necessary to have someone in the listening post during the hours of darkness. It was about 1.30 when we came in.
Young Kerr got a bullet through both legs while out on the wiring party. It was only a flesh wound, however.
Slept pretty well all day. Wet and miserable weather, and the ground is very muddy. Packed up my things ready for departure tonight. Perce Morgan has been put in charge of No.1 section. He told me he had a letter from his mother in which she told him Bert was a serjeant instructor. We are to go out on the listening post again tonight until relieved by the incoming party.
During stand to a Vickers machine gun crew brought their weapon, a brand new one, into our bay, and the serjeant, who seemed a conceited self-opinionated vain-glorious sort of a beggar, started to put the gun into position in broad daylight, in spite of the advice of the rest of the crew and our protestations. It was a very foolish thing to do, for a black object like that could easily be seen by the Germans with the strong glasses they have, and we were half expecting to hear a mortar bomb coming at any time. When he did get the thing fixed he was not satisfied, but decided to shift it to a different position at the other end of the bay. Then one by one the chaps left the bay to find a safer place, till only Stevens, Boniface and I were left, besides the gun crew. We got out in one of the entrances, ready to make a hasty exodus should we hear anything coming.
At carry on we went out on the listening post again, the same party as last night. We did not do any digging this time, and time dragged very monotonously. Fritz must have grown suspicious of that locality, for on two occasions he favoured us with a brief spasm of rifle fire, the bullets whistling harmlessly through the air around us.
Wed. 5. After what seemed a long dreary wait the sjt-major brought out the relieving party, who took over from us. We were just starting to go in when a few big guns boomed forth some distance up to the right. They were quickly followed by more, and soon a strafe was in full swing. The Germans opposite us, probably fearing an attack here, kept the place lit up with flares, making it more difficult for us to get back to the trench without being seen. We managed to get in all right, however.
The strafe on the right developed into a heavy bombardment, which looked extremely beautiful and grand. Great volumes of white smoke rolled towards the German lines. It may have been the Tommies using gas, or it may have been merely the smoke from the guns and the shells. At any rate, the clear bright light of the flares shining on it, and the quick red flashes of the exploding shells and bombs, gave it a weird and beautiful appearance.
Then we started to move off out of the firing line, going by Devon Avenue communication trench, and slipping and sliding about in the mud and wet. Fortunately Fritz kept the flares going pretty constant, thus lighting the way for us. He also kept up a deal of rifle fire, and many strays came over our way. Whoever was leading us made the pace pretty hot, and we had to almost run to keep up with them. After getting out of the communication trench and some distance along the road, Broome stopped a stray bullet in the back. It did not seem to be a deep wound, however, the bullet probably being half spent. I took Hicks' rifle to leave him free to carry some of Broome's equipment, and, it seemed as if it was going to be the last straw on the unfortunate camel's back. Got in with No.4 platoon and dragged myself along the road mile after mile with sore shoulders, and aching limbs. Stragglers dropped behind from different units, some falling out by the roadside, unable to go on without a rest. Officers moved about trying to cheer us on and get us out of range of the enemy's artillery, lest he might open up on us. Mr. Cooper happened along, and, seeing me with two rifles, offered to carry one, and it was a genuine relief to get rid of it.
It seemed a long way, an awfully long way, until at last, utterly weary and fagged out, we arrived at Sailly, and went to the billets we were turned out of on our first arrival here. The cooks had some tea ready for us, and after disposing of that and some of my emergency ration biscuits, which it is forbidden to eat without a special order from an officer, I went upstairs and turned in. It was a relief to sleep without boots on after wearing them so long.
Had to turn out for breakfast at 9a.m., and was then told off for guard with Erp and Perry. The British papers are full of the "great advance", as they call it. It appears they penetrated the German lines to a maximum depth of three miles, the British taking 3,000 prisoners, and the French taking 6,000. They would give a man the pip the way they rave about the "wonderful victory", the "undying glory", the "marvellous achievement" and so on. If some of those cold-footed vain-glorious braggarts were fighting for their country they would do more good. This bit of a victory pales into insignificance beside Russia's recent achievement in Galicia.
Went on bath parade this afternoon to the baths at Bac St. Maur.
Had to go on duty at midnight, so did not bother going to bed. Stayed up writing. Just before midnight the gas alarm sounded, but it turned out to be a frost.
Thurs. 6. On duty soon after midnight. When the alarm was sounded a short time previous, young Pearce jumped out of the window upstairs and fell on to the hard stone pavement. They think he is seriously injured. The doctor was sent for, and later on a motor ambulance wagon came and took him away. He must have been dopey with sleep, and probably thought he was on the ground floor.
Slept all the morning. We should have been relieved at 11a.m., but S.M. Morris decided to keep us on till 5p.m. rather than change guard in the middle of the day. Got a paper containing more particulars of the "victory" down south. It is certainly gratifying to know that our soldiers and the French achieved so much, but there is little to boast about, as far as I can see. And there are phases of the battle which make me fairly angry to think of them. Well said Napoleon that with British soldiers and French officers he could conquer the world. This has been well exemplified by the failure at Gommecourt, which illustrates the fortitude, courage, and determination of the British troops, whose lives were simply thrown away by those in command. The damned fools marched their men in regular formations through three curtains of barrage to the German parapet, where they died! And then, in utter defiance of all reason, the English papers brag and boast of this act, which is a disgrace to the name of England. Surely such brave men, who fought so nobly for their country, were deserving of a better fate than that! And the higher authorities are satisfied because, although they failed to gain their objective, they have shown the world how English soldiers can die game. Bah! Is dying game in thousands going to win us the war! If these fools want "glory" let them go themselves and get it, and pay the cost, instead of sending thousands of good useful troops to be slaughtered unnecessarily.
The papers contained a photo of a wounded Australian officer from the Somme, so some Australians must have taken part in the battle. The papers are speculating on the chances of open warfare, saying there were only three more German defence systems to break through. It is to be hoped we can sweep them back from the trenches and have a decent battle in the open, where British superiority ought surely to assert itself.
Guard relieved soon after five. Got a leave pass and went to the pictures, which were not up to much.
Fri. 7. Route march this morning almost to Steenwercke.
Met some of the 23rd battalion and they said the next battalion (Viv's) were farther along the same road. It rained as we were coming back, and we got pretty wet.
In the afternoon we had a brief inspection parade, and then I got a leave pass to Steenwercke to go and see Viv. He was not at Steenwercke however, and I had to go almost to Bailleul to where he was billeted. They were just out from the trenches and had made one of the biggest raids yet carried out, two hundred men taking part. It was successful, but they had a number of casualties.
Gave him my last diary to send home. Viv thinks there will soon be a big advance along this front.
Left about 6p.m., arriving back about 8, to learn that Ernie Graham had been over to see me while I was away. He is to come again, however, at half past six tomorrow evening.
Letter from Elsie Billingham, telling me about Kitty and Elsie. Also about Jack Elliott's girl, whom Elsie does not fancy too much.
Sat. 8. Short route march this morning. We leave here tomorrow for a place about twelve miles away. Bath parade and kit inspection this afternoon. Warned to report to the Lewis Machine Gun Section for duty. Took my things up to the M.G. quarters after tea. Ernie and Alfie Graham came along a little later, and we strolled round the town. Ernie is a lance-corporal in the 52nd. Battalion's transport, and has been promised promotion. Alfie is also in the same transport. He is much smaller and thinner than I had expected to find him.
Sun. 9. Packed up this morning. Giles, Winder, and others have also come into the L.M.G section. A lot of us packed our overcoats in with the blankets, to go in the limbers. Left Sailly a little before nine, and arrived at our destination between Merris and Meteren, near where we were billeted about three months ago, at something after 1p.m. The usual tiresome march, and the usual dead beat-ness at the end of it.
Slept all the afternoon. Mr. Tyson is back with the section, so his wound could not have been very bad. Heard that Vern's brigade is taking our place in the billets about Sailly.
It appears that our dodge of putting overcoats in the blankets was indulged in by the companies to a greater extent, some putting boots, under-clothing, etc. in, and the result was that an extra wagon was required to carry the blankets. Thus it was that the deception was discovered, and all the bundles of blankets were opened and the overcoats and other things sent to the Q.M. store, where they are at present.
Revised story, "Sentenced to Death". Climbed up on the hay loft and slept there, burying myself in the straw.
Mon. 10. Kit inspection by Major Moore this morning. We are leaving here tonight for an unknown destination. Packed up this afternoon. Continued revising story. We went to Q.M. store this afternoon, and got overcoats, but not our own. It was approaching midnight when we fell in and moved off.
Tues. 11. We marched through Bailleul to the railway siding, where we entrained in horse trucks, forty men to a truck, beastly cramped and uncomfortable, and none too clean. Managed to get a little sleep lying boxed up like a folded collapsible perambulator.
Detrained at a siding near the village of Fienvillers at about 10.30a.m., and marched through the village and rested awhile in a small lucerne patch by the roadside. Moved on again for a couple of miles and then had lunch.
Continued march at 1.30p.m., passing through several villages and some pretty scenery. We are now in the county of Somme, so it is evident we are going to get a bit of more active fighting than heretofore. It will be better than trench fighting, the proportion of wounded to killed being much greater.
We passed through Domart and a couple of villages, to St. Omer, where we were billetted for the night. Arrived there about 4.30p.m. after a very trying march.
Went down the village and bought some steak and eggs, which I got cooked at an estaminet. Novel way of getting a feed. These French people are behind the times altogether.
Later in the evening I went to the house across the road for a cup of coffee. There were a couple of delightful young flappers there, Fernande and Louise, and I had quite an interesting and jolly talk with them in French. It is much easier to understand French spoken by a girl than by a man, as they seem to speak more distinctly.
Wed. 12. Packed up and got away about 8a.m. It was rather rough to start with, as we had a couple of long fairly steep hills up which to perform the camel act. Arrived at Vignacourt after 11a.m., about five miles, and went into billets there. Studied French from "Hugo's" during the afternoon. Went out and had a look round the village, passing the boundary piquet with the aid of a pass consisting of a part of an old envelope with the address on it. Bought a wristlet watch for 16fr. but it doesn't seem to be much good.
Went into the church. There was a fine picture on one wall representing, I think, Mary in the garden with Christ after the Resurrection. The distance effect of the background was very good, also the red and brown robe of Mary. There were also a couple of beautiful stained glass windows, one on either side, comprising four scenes in the life of Christ. Three of them I could make out as "Simeon with the Christ-child in his arms", "Christ questioning the wise men in the temple at Bethlehem", and "The Last Supper". The fourth appeared to be Christ, as a boy, kneeling before some patriarch priest with various other persons gathered about, probably a legendary episode. They were fine windows, and the effect of the light coming through the coloured glass gave them a wonderful effect.
Got a couple of parcels from home tonight. There were a pair of sox from Dot Witte, Viola, and Ida, a scarf, some soap, pinkettes, etc. from Mum, a pair of sox and some face cloths from Elsie Lane. Got two Bulletins and two Sunday Times from Jean McPhee. There was also a parcel for Bert. Was doubtful about him getting it if I sent it on, so opened it, but, on reading the messages sent with the sox etc., I decided to send them on and chance him ever getting them.
We may have to hump packs and leave here at any time tonight.
Thurs. 13. Mess orderly today. Studied French during morning. We left about midday, passing through Flesselles, Bertangles, Coisy, and Cardonnette to Alonville, a distance of about ten miles altogether. Were billeted in a large brick-walled enclosure.
Being only about four or five miles from Amiens, I decided to go over and risk the consequences. Fortune favoured the brave, and I got a lift in a flying corps officer's motor after walking about a mile. I had expected to find a fair town, but was surprised to discover that it was a big city, comparing well with Sydney in size. Of course it was comparatively quiet, but a few trams were buzzing about. The streets and the pavements were narrow.
Amiens, France. An entrance to Amiens
Cathedral protected by sandbags. AWM
Had a look round the Cathedral, which is the most magnificent building I have ever seen. Words cannot describe the superb beauty of the external architecture. At the front, the lower portion, where all the sculpture was, was protected from possible bombardment by a wall of sandbags. Portions of the interior were also sandbagged and barricaded, the sanctuary, a wonderful piece of work, being fenced off. The window opposite the side entrance that I went in by was simply magnificent, a wealth of glorious colour.
Did not have time to have a proper look round inside, as I had only been in a few minutes when they closed up.
Bought some postcard views of the cathedral, and had a bit of a look around the city. There was not time to see much, as it was about 7.30 p.m. when I got there, and the motor was to return at 9p.m. Most of the shops closed at 8 p.m. and then the town became quite quiet. Bought some fruit, which was fairly cheap.
Met a couple of chaps belonging to Viv's battalion. They, and, in fact the whole of that division, are accompanying us to our new scene of operations. Strolled round to have another look at the cathedral. The Palais de Justice is also a fine building of the Elizabethan style.
Made back to the small park in the centre of the city about 9p.m. The car was there but the two officers did not turn up till about 10. Back to billet about 10.30.
Fri. 14. Was not marked absent last night, so it is all right. Cleaning Lewis guns this morning, and had lecture on points learned by experience.
Put in for a pass to Amiens this afternoon, but could not get it, as the battalion has been warned to be ready to move off at an hour's notice.
Instruction in stoppages this afternoon. Paid tonight, 20 francs. Started writing letter to Mum.
Sat. 15. We had some practice with the Lewis gun this morning. I didn't do much good at it, as the gun kept stopping. I think it needed a good clean out.
In the afternoon we had fire order practice, and a bit of a lecture from Tyson, which did not interest me half so much as the beautiful fields resplendent with a wealth of glorious colour, fire-red poppies blazing up from the rich green of lucerne or bordering the crops of wheat or rye, numberless cornflowers adding their beautiful blue to the colour scheme, and various other flowers of heliotrope, yellow, or white, gracing the countryside with their presence. But the poppies were most beautiful of all. Their silky petals looked like so many flakes of fire. It is such a beautiful country, and the weather has been so delightful, and everything so calm and peaceful that one can scarcely realize that a death struggle between the nations is going on only a few miles away.
After parade I pinched off to Amiens again. The sentry at the gate raised no objections, but one down in the village would not let me past. However, I found a place where some Tommies were billeted, and got through that way into another street. Met some other chaps going in, and we managed to get past the French sentry at the outskirts of the city. Took a tram into the town, crossing over the Somme River on the way, and passing through fine avenues with double rows of trees on either side.
Bought a tussore silk shirt and a pair of underpants. Took a walk down to the canal. Bought a few postcards. Strolled back to the Railway Station, which is a fine building. Was pulled up by a Tommy M.P., who wanted to see the pass I didn't have and advised me to get away out of the town at once if I wished to avoid the guard tent. Of course, I was likely to take his advice after walking four miles to see the place.
Went to a restaurant and had a dinner of veal cutlets, chips, peas, and salad, with dessert of strawberries, which were very nice. It was the first decent meal I've had for a long time, and only cost 3 francs.
There was a French soldier there with his girl, and I got into conversation with them. He was an artillery man, and had been fighting on the Somme. The girl had a brother who was a captain at Verdun. She had learnt to speak a bit of English at a school, and it was amusing to listen to her. It quite tickled my fancy when she asked if we were well "eated" in the Australian army. She knew about as much English as I knew of French, and between us we managed to carry on the conversation all right.
Took a stroll down to the canal bridge. Bought some postcards, also some apricots and strawberries, and then started off back to billet. The trams had stopped running at 9, so had to walk all the way, and was beastly tired when I got back, about 11p.m. or a bit later.
Some of our aeroplanes were going up when I got in, and later on the sound of explosions could be heard. Don't know whether they were bombs dropped by German machines or shells fired by our anti-aircraft guns, but on three occasions we could hear the faint swishing noise of a falling object growing louder and faster till it plumped into the earth with a thud, two of them falling in the village only a few hundred yards away. They were thought to be unexploded shells from our guns. A number of searchlights were sweeping the sky in search of the nocturnal visitor, and made a weird effect playing upon the clouds.