The relief was earlier than I expected. I got in here at 12:30 a.m.—in a sand bagged dug-out in P_____ [Ploegsteert] wood, in a log hut. Place dirty and not very comfortable, but I’m all right. Div. H.Q. about three miles N. of Bailleul. Bde. H.Q. in B_____ [Bailleul] The Gen. was round this morning and was most pleasant. He has quite changed, and it’s now quite a pleasure to meet him. Relief to be eight days in and out, I believe. Yes, still in V Corps and 2nd Army. XIV Corps gone south. We only just missed the salient. 29th Div. gone in. Cole Hamilton goes to command 8th R.I.R. [Royal Irish Rifles] Fergie is doing excellent work; the quick relief last night being mainly due to him. Have put in for Shill. to be Major, and Lutt. [Lutton] and Given Captains. Such a warm night. Very sorry we lose Cole Hamilton.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 2nd
Shuter, Brig’r 109th, came round to see me this evening, and sat in my dug-out, and had a long chat. He is such a nice fellow. His H.Q. are close here and I dine with him tomorrow night. He was in 1st R.I.F. [Royal Irish Fusiliers] I expect Pratt is next on the roster for a Battalion. Hope he won’t go yet. Just off to see Transport.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 3rd
Only got back at 7.00 p.m. and then went on to dine with Shuter—very pleasant. Duke, new Bde. Maj., a nice fellow. A grand strafe on! Gen.’s visit resulted in Q Branch coming round to inquire what they could do. The Gen. came back, strafed them, and said we didn’t know Q Branch by sight! I said “Well, for two years you’ve been strafing us, now you are getting your own back!” R.E. [Royal Engineers] officers came this morning to ask what we wanted to make the officers comfortable—huts, chairs, tables, etc., to be put in hand at once. It’s delicious and a grand strafe; men fairly roused; the whole Staff boiling; and I will be horribly disliked, but it’s the order. Each Battalion is to send one officer and two other ranks home for a fortnight on a recruiting tour. I fear they won’t do much good. Shall send a representative from Lurgan, Portadown, and Monaghan, giving preference to those who went over the parapet and who have not yet been on leave. Same story, the fighting officers and men living in squalor, no one behind caring a damn as long as they are comfortable themselves. Am writing outside where we have all our meals. Have got a Whitlow [infection] on my left hand, first finger, why I can’t think. Am staying in this p.m. as am waiting on paper from the Bde. They are eight miles away. They’ve muddled the recommendations; it should have been five per Battalion instead of five per Bde., and I am trying to extract them so as to settle whom I should send in. They sent in yesterday to cadge a mess Sergt. and cook. I said “Haven’t got either—let them live at the safe.” Stuffy.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 4th
C.R.E. [Divisional Commander Royal Engineers] and G.B. came round this p.m. It’s really most amusing—all asking if we wanted anything. Ensor goes with recruiting party. He was splendid all the 1st and afterwards, and wants a change. He is the youngest and such a splendid type of young fellow. I’m glad of the chance of getting him home. A change, and we don’t go back to the same bit of line; we side step to the right, the bit I first looked at. Not so comfy. It has turned much colder, and looks like rain. As life here is carried on entirely out of doors, we have only a dirty tumble-down hut, and have all of our meals alfresco; the prospect is not pleasing. Owing to a re-arrangement of the line we shall not actually go into the line again till about the 9th, and then into another portion, which is a nuisance. Rode over to see Transport and Stronge after tea. Heard today 40 of our men were with 2nd R.I.R. [Royal Irish Rifles] I shall not rest till I get them back! Another Div. from our left going S., and a shattered one taking its place, hence re-arrangement.
P.S.—Of course, if Austria made peace Germany could not hold out long by herself. Yes, water here at three feet. Suppose Bosche is the same, but they’re above us.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 5th
Weather cold, but still fine. Going with Pratt to Armentieres. Glad to see they’ve hanged Casement all right. We’ve had to send one Coy. into the line tonight. ‘A’ to help the Downs, [13th Royal Irish Rifles] who are so weak. We now take over from them. Sorry to part with 12th [Royal Irish Rifles]. We and 12th will now be out together. New Capt., Radbourne, hit on knee, night of relief. Had to go to hospital with synovitis.
Captain Percy Charles Radbourne did not return to the Battalion. Unfit for duty with infantry he transferred to the Labour Corps. He also served with the Chinese Labour Corps and was wounded in an air raid. After the war he returned to South Africa. During the Second World War he served with the South Africa Internment Corps and died in service on 9 April 1944; he is commemorated on the Cremation Memorial in Stellawood Cemetery, Durban. His son, Sapper Charles Edwin Nutley Radbourne, South African Engineer Corps, died of wounds on 19 November 1941 and is commemorated on the Alamein memorial.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 6th
A pleasant dinner and chat with Ricardo. He is in the line, yet his H.Q. are only 300 yards away from this, and quite good. So you may imagine our rest billets are not very far back. The difficulty in this area is that all the towns and villages are so heavily shelled that there is great difficulty in finding accommodation for battalions out of the line. A_____ [Armentieres] is a large place, but nearly every house shows signs of shelling. A few shops open, and I found a hair cutter and had a cut and shampoo. We wandered round the town. One church has been battered to pieces, and another hasn’t been touched. A lot of New Zealanders here—very smart and fine-looking fellows. Still nice sunny weather, but cooler and more pleasant. Ricardo suffered even more heavily than I did, 575 [casualties]. Our guns here are very noisy, and go on continuously. I hear Hubert Gough commands the Push now, and pushing well. Of course, he is a [word deleted] and has youth on his side, and the others are too old and [word deleted]. I hope we shall soon hear Thiepval is taken, but the Huns are putting up a stiff fight, and seem to be obstinately resisting the ‘Russkies’. Beaucourt Station was not long in our hands. Our people who got there were cut off, and died fighting, and no one who penetrated the German line ever came back, as far as I can find out. (N.B.—Lt. Barcroft did.)
Sunday Evening. P.S. It’s no good buoying oneself up with false hopes of an early termination; it only leads to disappointment. One must just harden one’s heart.
It turned a bit warmer this p.m., but is cooler again now. I went down to see ‘A’ Coy, and our new bit of the line, with Shill. Bn. H.Q. at Stinking Farm—a well named place. The smell which pervades the whole place is possibly rotting flax, but it might be anything rotten. I shall try and move elsewhere. St. F. [Stinking Farm] has all the disadvantages of buildings, shelled every night, and none of the advantages as it is uninhabitable. Bosche ‘planes were very busy today. They started by dropping, luckily a dud, near our transport, and kept coming over all the evening, and being heavily bombarded by our Archies [anti-aircraft artillery] just overhead, and the fragments kept dropping about here. Finally, at dinner, a dud Archie shell fell about 50 yards from us. We have eight officers on courses, leaving only nine officers for the four Coys. to go into the line—far too few to share watches. Our guns have just opened on Bosche dumps and roads, and are making a hideous noise.
1. The report that men of the Battalion made it as far as Beaucourt Station is not substantiated by any other sources. It is not known if Barcroft’s name was an addendum to the original letter or added to the letter when it was published in the Seagoe Parish magazine.
2. Stinking Farm was named in late 1914/early 1915; the stench was caused by rotting vegetables in a cellar (sources vary as to these being potatoes or turnips).
MONDAY, AUGUST 7th
Another nice day. Hear we may go in Wednesday. Finger much better.
9.45 p.m. Have just been out exploring with Pratt—a short way into the line, as you cannot use the way by daylight (as it’s in full view). It adds to the difficulties; one has to select a half light. Had a talk to Place GSO1 this evening. A nice capable fellow. He says next, or possibly early winter 17-18, may see the end, and I’m afraid he looks like being right. The Bosche is full of fight yet; very far from being beaten, and they’ll never allow Austria to be so licked that they’d have to make peace, for Germany knows if that happened all is over. The Push still goes on, and will continue.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 8th
As I thought, we go into the trenches tomorrow; go down again this p.m. to settle matters. The Division have climbed down now about quintuplicate, and say they will do it [copies of medal recommendations]. A man in Royal Scots—Mudie—has succeeded Spender, friend of Pratt’s. Haven’t seen him yet. Thank heaven they’ve left us absolutely alone this rest tour.
They haven’t got their plans out for the working parties, so we scored. Next time we will be hard at work digging. A draft of 90 arriving today. Hear they are Notts and Derby men. It’s warm again today, mist early, but no rain. I fear very, little rain will turn these trenches and this place into a sea of mud. Padre has taken over the mess, and already an improvement. Finger all right again; due I think to lack of veg. and tinned things perpetually.
10.45 p.m. Went round our new line this evening, three hours solid walking from here. Rather weary, and so hot. Saw Holt. He will act as 2nd in Command of Downs till Bob Maxwell returns. The draft came in this evening, and I inspect them in the morn. Fergie says a fine looking lot.
The draft, in fact, comprised 88 men from 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) at Sunderland. Some were newly trained men and others were recovered wounded or sick who had served previously in France, or with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. It was the first of a series of drafts of English reinforcements that joined the Battalion and reflected the difficulty in keeping the Division up to strength using men from the reserve battalions in Ireland alone. You can read more about the Englishmen who joined the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers here.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9th
Another roasting day. I think six days in the line will be enough here. Cole-Hamilton succeeds Pelly in 8th R.I.R. [Royal Irish Rifles] We go in tonight, leaving here at 9.30 p.m. Hope it won’t be a late relief. These 18 pdrs. of ours have begun their afternoon’s strafe, and collected thought is impossible.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 10th
Relief finished by midnight. Downs had a man killed by M.G. fire while going out, and 12th a man wounded coming in. We relieved 13th, and 12th relieved 11th [Royal Irish Rifles] The Division is full of Majors waiting for commands. Well here we are in Stinking Farm, quite the worst we’ve struck, small, smelly and unhealthy. Today is muggy and damp, and we are all feeling slack and cross. Four beds in three places which I think were pig-styes when the farm was a going concern. I wandered round the trenches at 4.00 a.m. and again at 11.00, and am weary, and hot, and slack. The flies are very bad here. There is such heaps to be done, both from the defensive and the comfort (sanitary) point of view, one doesn’t know where to begin. I find that moving one from one bit of line to another, like we have done from last tour to this, is apt to knock the go and keenness out of one, certainly at my age. Then the flood of memos fired at one, all wanting an immediate answer. They trench mortar the front line every 4.00 p.m. They haven’t begun today, have taken precaution of moving nearly every one back from trenches they usually strafe. A gunner [has] come to discuss some defence scheme.