We have really been lucky in the weather this tour—no rain and only one sunny day, which means shelling, and aerial activity. ‘Percy’ told me this part of France was renowned for its piety. I gather the feeling generally of the French towards religion was much the same as it was in England before the war. The war has made people think more of a future state. Sunny day after a white frost, so everything is messy and greasy. We go outside this p.m. No ‘planes over today; one tried about 10.00 a.m., but was driven back by our Archies [anti-aircraft artillery]. Our snipers have done good work this time. We have silenced the Bosche sniper not a shot from him this time, and outed a lot of Bosches in the front line. Our heavies are booming away preparatory to a bombardment this p.m. Bosche not replying. He has been paying much more attention to our guns and back areas lately than the front line. We’ve done a good deal of work this tour, but not much to show for it. On one place (elephant for men) we have put 9,000 sand bags, and there are another 20,000 to go on to complete. Have completed a Coy. H.Q. in front line.
Frost last night and thick mist this morning. Quiet night. Bosche blow up a mine somewhere N. of us at 5.45 a.m., which shook everything. Monday is Barossa Day so shall have a whole holiday. Parade in a.m. for Gen. Griffith to present Bugle; football match in afternoon. Cannot manage concert, no room available.
The mine blown by the Germans was at Spanbroekmolen, south east of Wijtschate. In 1916 a British gallery had been dug under the German position there and the mine blown by the Germans was an attempt to disrupt British mining activity. It successfully destroyed the main gallery and cut the initiation cable leading to the explosives under the German position. A new tunnel was dug to bypass the damaged area and to reconnect the cable. The British mine was exploded successfully in the opening moments of the Battle of Messines in June 1917.
Dull morning, inclined to rain now. A burst of fire from 7.00 to 7.30 p.m. last night. We had one man hit. Intermittent fire all night. A certain amount of activity on the part of the enemy all yesterday p.m. T.M.’s [trench mortars] in front line and big strafe on our guns and back areas. Padre heard of Wingfield a short time ago. He was going to R.F.C. as his leg would prevent his marching.
Another dull day, but no rain. A heavy strafe for an hour last night, well to the north, from 9.45 to 10.30 p.m. Quiet night with us. The Bde. has a conference here at 10.30 a.m. this morn, about work, etc.
The Artillery officer now stays with us for six days instead of changing every 24 hours—much better. We send officers to the Battery for 48 hours when we are out of the line. The entente between infantry and artillery is wonderfully good.
1.00 p.m. Such a lovely spring day. Delighted to see they are re-arresting and deporting the Sinn Feiners. Sergt. Wolfe is back with the Battalion. He is a splendid fellow—now Scout Sergt, which he delights in. Henahan has got ‘C’ [Company]—he is a fine fellow and a man. Our men have been wonderfully free from Tommy’s vices—venereal, drink and bad language. I’m sorry to note on returning that these English drafts have been taught the last; at least there is a good deal more of it than there was.
Dully misty day again and very quiet, so far. Went over and had tea with Bob [Maxwell] yesterday. An old Marine called Poe attached to us for four days. A man wounded yesterday evening and another today, both Englishmen. Not serious. Arm broken and flesh wound. Looked very like rain this a.m., but has kept off. Great thing being dull. The Bosche ‘planes don’t come over and observe working parties, and their artillery is quiet. Fergie went off yesterday. Young Shill. doing splendidly. Mayes, the new Chaplain, has gone sick. Not been long out here before getting sick.
Here I am in the line again. We got in safely, by day, thank Goodness, and had a quiet night. 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] had a very quiet tour. Weather dull and inclined to rain. Fergie has got 14 days leave and went off this morning jubilant. Quite a good Bn. H.Q., I think the best we have struck so far. We have put in elephants; there was nothing before to protect one. Had a long trek all round the line this morning—pretty bad in parts, but considering frost and thaw not so bad as I had expected. Bob Maxwell and G.B. looked in yesterday evening. I really have been curiously lucky this winter. Last night was the first night I have spent in the line since Dec. 2nd!
Lovely sunny spring day. All kit packed for the line, so writing under difficulties. Capital news from the South.
Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s ‘good news’ was German withdrawal from the Ancre. Unknown at the time was the siting, extent, depth and length of the Hindenburg Line, all of which meant a stronger position than those vacated, and held with fewer troops.
Foggy early, but now sunny and spring-like, the first day approaching spring weather we have had. Haven’t quite picked up the Battalion life after my long absence. Henahan was only wounded slightly in the head, and remained at duty. Allen was also grazed in the head and remained at duty. Ensor returned today from Army School. Good match yesterday; they beat us five goals to four. Padre gave us a splendid sermon on ‘Temptation’ this morning. Who should look in this evening but Charles Hope. Now a Major in 16th Div. Arty. [See 13 November Letter.] Full of chat, says he is paying £700 a year in death duties for eight years. Askwith, who was Brig-Gen., is now Lieut. Col. again, as they abolished his billet with Cavalry Corps; at present home on sick leave. It’s been a peaceful day, but looks like rain. There have been a good many raids and counter raids on this front, with varying success. Ll. G. made a splendid speech.
The speech referred to by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was given by Prime Minister Lloyd George in Parliament on 23 February. It dealt with the shortage of food and other imports vital to the war effort, and the measures required to alleviate the problem. See Hansard.
Dull today, but no fog. The latest craze is planting waste places in vicinity of huts and camps with vegetables. With these constant moves I consider the lack of continuity will militate against success, at an important moment in the life of the potato or cabbage. Units will be changing, and die, I fear. I am going to try half an acre at the Transport, under the care and supervision of Stronge.
Foggy and wet like November. General arrived last night; he was hung up at Folkestone; no boats running. It was a Regt. in the 16th Div. that got so mauled last week (young Harden’s) and whose wounded were brought in. We go in on Monday. The 9th have won the General’s Silver Bugle, so everyone is greatly bucked. The 13th were running us close, but were beaten at football yesterday. We are playing R.A. this afternoon, and 8th R.I.R. tomorrow. Our Bde. H.Q. in the line have been greatly strengthened and good elephants put in. Allen and Henahan were both grazed with shell last tour, but never went off duty. Quite slight.