THURSDAY, DECEMBER 30th

No word about my leave yet. I shall come by Boulogne. All 3rd Army, except Cols [colonels], and Staff, go by Havre. Another move on next week. E. [East] to our last area I believe.


Footnote

Lieutenant Colonel Blacker proceeded on leave until 9 January 1916.

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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 29th

Not a word said about barns for dining halls. Went over to the 12th with Pratt. O_____ had gone on there from us, and could talk of nothing but our Laundry! They are going to come over and see it by his directions. Leave doesn’t sound hopeful. 10,000 in trenches been out over a year had none yet. O­­­­_____ also thought the prospect of a push very remote; the French against it. Very costly last night, etc. Don’t suppose he knows anything really. They’ve sent out a man, Findlater, Adjutant of 4th Battalion to Command 1st R.I.F. Rode over this a.m. to see Hessey and Ricardo, about 7 miles away. They are going up to the trench line for their 2nd go next week. Both very chirpy. Padre delighted about footballs. When you go on leave you can take no luggage whatever.

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28th

Well, the General (Div.) came and everything was colour de rose. He praised us for the condition and turn out of the Transport, which was very good, the condition of the billets and sanitary arrangements, and was staggered at Fergie’s laundry and bath houses. At the end he said to me “Everything is most satisfactory, and very little eye-wash, I think. I was not so formidable, was I?” showing my words at R­­­­­_____ [Ribeaucourt] had gone home and borne fruit. Of course we are all greatly bucked up, and Fergie and Stronge and the company commanders deserve the greatest credit for the show. Luckily it was a lovely day, and everything looked well in consequence. We have a new recreation room now, a large empty barn, plenty of tables and forms, four acetylene lamps, and warmed with braziers; filled with games and newspapers. The roads even were scraped clean and every place labeled. We have now been ordered to start a canteen. The Lurgan people have sent to each Lurgan man in the Battalion a parcel, labeled with his name and containing 1 shirt, 2 pairs socks, 1 pair drawers, 1 vest, matches, cigarettes, candles, 15 large cases! The men don’t what to do with the things. Don’t send any more things, except handkerchiefs, till I write you. I’m sure it would be wise to get up a fund for any contingency that might arise, viz:—Veg. [vegitables] As time goes on we are bound to find we want something urgently. The men have now ample warm clothing of all sorts. The General is anxious to pool all our fund for widows and orphans. Absolutely wrong; not what the money was given for, and totally inadequate for any such purpose. I shall strenuously oppose it tooth and nail. All it would do would be to provide a salary for the Secretary.

BOXING DAY, DECEMBER 26th

Xmas dinner last night very good. Turkey and plum pudding, and Fergie produced a bottle of port, and proposed the C.O.s health. I think a Vegetable Fund would be great value, if you can start it without too much trouble. The men do not get enough vegetables, and are always clamouring for potatoes, more than the meagre ration. Sir A. Murray will be a loss at home. He will do well where ever he is. I don’t think Robertson is so well liked out here, but of course very capable. Madame the Notary arrived for her Sunday Inspection; rather thin-lipped and complaining, but we soothe her and she has gone away smiling. What infernal rot, putting things about me in ‘News-Letter’. I do hate that sort of thing. Another 15 cases of comforts arrived today. We’re just in to send for them. Owing to a scarcity of fuel we don’t have a fire till dinner time, and the weather is mild, it isn’t a bit cold. Fergie thinks of everything. He sent both the Maire [mayor] and the Curé [parish priest] a plum pudding, and cake from the officers, with best wishes for Xmas and New Year!


Footnote

On two occasions just before Christmas 1915, Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was mentioned in the Belfast Newsletter. The first was an excerpt from a letter that he wrote in November to Major E J Richardson of Poplar Vale in Monaghan, which was published on 20 December:

‘We have just returned from another ‘go’ in the trenches, where we took over a thousand yards of first-line trench as a battalion. The men worked wee and were keen as mustard. The weather was not too bad, but the trenches were suffering from the previous spate and were letting-in in many places. We had two stiff marches on our way up—one of 17 miles in a snowstorm but the men stuck it well.’

The second comment was in the letter home from a sergeant of the Battalion, published on 23 December, who wrote of shellfire on the village where the Battalion was billeted. The piece was titled ‘Colonel Blacker’s Fortunate Escape‘ and recorded that:

‘…another shell burst in our commanding officer’s quarters, but, as good luck had it, the C.O. (Lieutenant Colonel Blacker) was out with his men in the trenches.’

It is noteworthy that in his letters to his wife (see 15 November and 17 November) Lieutenant Colonel Blacker discussed the period in the trenches, the long marches and the weather in some detail but he did not mention the second incident; which may have been the reason for his ire.

XMAS DAY

A wet morning early has turned into a sunny day. Service at 10.15 a.m., and communion service afterwards. Sixteen cases of cakes and cigarettes came from I.W.A. [Irish Women’s Association] last night, just in right time for Xmas. Am just going to sally forth round dinners—2.30 p.m.

Well, the round of dinners completed. Fergie did wonders, and the company commanders worked hard, and had the barns looking very bright. They had beef, besides their two turkeys, one goose and one ham, for each platoon. What delights the men is that no other Battalion had anything! Don’t send any more comforts yet. Every man is well provided. When we move and have to leave stocks behind, we shall want everything you’ve got when we settle into a new area.


Footnote

The Irish Women’s Association, ‘to aid Irish Regiments and Prisoners of War’, was established in the spring of 1915. Women volunteers, led by Lady MacDonnell and largely from the titled and upper classes of Irish society, organised parcels of cigarettes & tobacco, knitted hats, gloves & socks, food and other basic items and small luxuries for men at the front and in prisoner of war camps in Germany.

XMAS EVE

Quite a decent morning has turned into fierce squalls of wind and rain. All busy, preparing for tomorrow’s feast. Tables, etc. being put up, and decorations of holly for the walls. The ‘Xmas dinners came to about £60; last year £97 I find. The turkeys are, many of them small, and average 20 francs. Fuel is very scarce, no coal issued yesterday, little today, and only 36 cwt. altogether this week. Happily the weather is wonderfully mild.

I am not happy about the treatment of the sick here. Not the wounded, they are all right. When men leave the unit, they are passed on from field ambulance to casualty clearing stations, and so on till they have gone many miles, and then perhaps to the Base, with little or no treatment, simply rushed about in motor ambulances. They are discharged from hospital before they are well, and one meets many poor creatures wandering about asking the way to their units, having been dumped down by the roadside, perhaps many miles from their Battalions. They sent out one of my men the other day, only half treated, having cut his arm open. They all implore not to be sent to hospital, but what can Berry do? There is no place here you can possibly keep a sick man. Another trick they have with officers. If he is sent sick to the Base, they hang on to him and the odds are you don’t see him again. Two C.O.s have told me they lost their Transport Officers in this way.