General Nugent turned up here today, very smiling, “There is more discipline in the little finger of any man in the Ulster Division than in a Company of Regulars,” is what he said, and I think he is right. He said the Brigade had got a very good report again from the trenches. Young Stronge in Royal Scots came to lunch. In charge of details at Abbeville. Visited other Coys billets this a.m. Quite satisfactory. Reading room going well: have bought four good cheap oil lamps in Abbeville. Fergie has found tables, forms, chairs, and heaps of newspapers keep coming in. Today three large bales arrived containing 378 pair socks, 300 writing pads and pencils, 11 mufflers. Simply splendid, and they have now been distributed. Padre is writing a letter to four local papers, of thanks, etc., and I put a notice in Battalion Orders—‘Parcels, containing etc., have been received from County Armagh Committee for providing comforts to 9th, and have been distributed to Coys.’ Heavy rain again last night. The country is fearfully holding. Rode out with Pratt and Adjt. to look for suitable drill grounds and rifle range. A very comfy bed here and I sleep well.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 2nd
Heavy rain all night. We got the rain and thaw on Monday, same as you. Splendid collecting all those things. Socks are a Godsend, they can’t have to many while we are stationary. The road into some of their billets is 12 inches deep in liquid mud. No bottom to road, only mud, and a hollow impossible to drain. We are digging a deep pit, 12 feet deep, to see if we can get to chalk to drain away the water.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 3rd
Such a constant and violent wet day, never ceased, and now a wind has got up. Village nearly under water, mud a foot deep in parts. I fear Adjt. will be off tomorrow. Am rather sorry at his departure. Peal’s boots are simply splendid. I paddled about in seas of liquid mud a foot deep, and sticky slush, and rode 8 mile in driving rain. My breeches and socks were dry as a bone when I changed at 6:30 p.m., and my feet as warm as toast all day. McKane is now R.S.M. I think everyone has been depressed by the weather, but it is what we must expect now for the next three months. We should be thankful we’re not in the trenches or on the march.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 4th
Rained all night. This life in billets in winter is wretchedly uncomfortable for the men, and so little means of improving their lot. They get wet day after day, and no means of drying their clothes. Up to their ankles in mud if they stir out; food not to good, I mean not enough potatoes and vegetables, and constant short ration of bread, and very indifferent at that; always a proportion of bully beef, 25 p.c. [%] generally, and of biscuit, which they loathe. Dark at 4.00 p.m. and nothing to do. Reading room so small and no other to be had, and they absolutely loath this playing at soldiers. Field days, digging, etc. Today was finer, rain most of a.m. and fine p.m.: water everywhere.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 5th
The General (Hacket Pain) has gone. Came to say ‘good bye’, was very broke at going and I felt very much for him. I am sorry for the Brigade; he knew us all and had been with us from the start. Adjutant goes tomorrow. It has turned into a wet p.m., and reams more have come in about arrangements for baths, etc., I think eatables are most acceptable for Xmas. Fergie is getting turkeys and geese. Bread is still a difficulty—sodden and short in supply. They’d spend all their money on bread.
MONDAY, DECEMBER 6th
Adjutant went off this morning at 9:30 a.m. He was very broke at leaving and I was quite lumpy myself. He has been such a companion. I shall miss him fearfully. I trust the good work he had done in the Battalion will live on. I gave him a chit to the Indian Office, and have published a farewell Order. A G.C.M. [General Court Martial] this a.m.
We are very busy starting Battalion baths, washing places, and drying rooms and mending rooms, regular laundry. Everything having to be improvised. Fergie hard at it. We have got a Belgian couple to come out and run a coffee bar for the men three times a week to start with, and if a success every day. In all these shows Fergie is simply invaluable.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7th
Fine a.m.; wild wet p.m. Griffith, the new Brigadier (was in the Bedfordshires) came to see us. Interior economy for same are to take the place of all training, is the latest order! Our arrangement for men’s baths caused an amusing episode—two men had to dig a large hole for pit for bath water, in the kitchen garden. Marguerite, the caretaker, came in tears after lunch, at the idea of the soldiers bathing in this hole and running wild and naked through Madame’s vegetables! We calmed her and gave her 5 francs. She spoke so fast it was hard to make out at what she was alarmed at first. I thought she meant the hole was damaging her garden; finally I gathered what she was driving at, but not before the flock of us—Pratt, Padre, Fergie, Berry, Stronge, Cather and self had adjourned to the kitchen garden.
The interpreter only remained a week. Much happier without one.
Only just back from Gen. C.M. [General Court Martial] 6:45, and have to go again tomorrow. Evelyn Woods’ son, who was on the stage, appeared as the prisoner’s friend. He is now a Gunner Captain. Saw Ricardo and Hessey.
The Colonial Dr. was acquitted. Five brothers serving, and had paid his own passage back from Jo’burg, where he was living since the S.A. [South African] war. An Australian. At the end he said “I was always told a Military Court Martial was absolutely fair. Now I know it.” So we may have done a good day’s work Imperially. Rumours of a move and possibly into another army.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9th
Been on C.M. [Court Martial] all a.m. and just back. Temporarily I am beginning a new service for officers’ letters. Wet, pouring again. Still rumours of a move soon. Fergie in bed today. Had neuralgia and looking seedy. Am disturbed about him. No report yet from General about trench work. Don’t send out any more things yet; if we move we leave tons behind as it is. We are really very comfy here indeed as regards billets, etc. Don’t want any more food.
It never ceased raining all day. Such a deluge. The new long trench boots and trench coat kept me quite dry, riding four miles to six miles. Am trying a route march again tomorrow, if the weather is only fine. Various small things seem to point to a big move being on the tapis. Fergie better this evening. They’ve suddenly sent us an interpreter today. Seems like a quiet sort of bloke, but strangely ugly. We have done very well for six weeks without one. ‘Strafe’ is the great word out here, also ‘stunt’ for any sort of show—American, I believe. The regulars are only Militia with men of about six months service. All their N.C.O.’s and Officers gone, that’s why their discipline is bad. Yes, ours is quite good now. The N.C.O.’s are our weak point. No chance of getting a Regular Adjutant. Cather is doing quite well. We are the first Division to go into the Line, if they move any out for a rest, as already they have the 7th, in we go and I fancy we shall go soon.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10th
Curiously similar our weather seems to be. Wednesday was a fine sunny day. Today turned out quite fine, after threatening a.m. Warm, muggy, slack weather. Such marvelous reams of orders and instructions as to providing dining halls with stages, etc., etc., roll in every evening. Beautiful in theory, but quite impossible to carry out for two reasons—1. All barns not already occupied by troops are full of unthreshed wheat, and the people quite naturally refuse to clear them out, 2. No materials supplied to build ablution shelters, stages, etc. If one asks for planks one is directed to a wood to cut down small trees! And told it has to be done.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11th
The new Brigadier sent for C.O.’s today and had a long talk on training, interior economy, etc. Pouring wet a.m., drenching showers, fine now. Feel sure we shall move soon.
Such torrential rain this a.m., that there was a foot of water in the village street! Yes, I think the discipline of the Battalion is improved and is improving out here. The spirit of ‘sticking it’ is becoming more prevalent, greatly fostered by the Padre. For instance it is the boast of ‘D’ Company that one of their platoons, all Monaghan countrymen, have never had a man fall out on the march since we came to France. Gibson commands the platoon, and Sgt. Hughes is platoon Sgt. He is excellent. The N.C.O’s have been changed from their own company localities, whenever possible, and it has always answered, tho’ met with much opposition, and even tears in some cases. An excellent letter from Jimmy Shepherd to George Calvert.
We have plenty of games and books for recreation room now. Fuel is getting a difficulty, there’s a scarcity of coal, and it has been reduced. At the same time these baths and laundry operations entail a much increased consumption. Drying the washed clothes is a great difficulty. The Battalion would do splendidly with a young energetic regular who know this warfare and could train the men to it.
The Division are buying a cinema apparatus to travel round the battalions. The General asked me if I had a good business man, knowledgeable about electricity, to go to Paris to buy dynamos, etc., I suggested Lutton. An officer is also to go on a short tour to various H.Q.’s Base, Parks, etc., to see how the Army is worked, and to impart the knowledge on return.