Don’t believe yarn of our leaving France, but of course everything is possible. I hear H.P. has got a Res Bde. 12th tell me their Tinned Milk Fund has been converted into getting extra vegetables for the men. They are most needed. Am keeping and feeling very fit, and sleeping splendidly. Five messages came in last night from 9.00 p.m. to 2.30 a.m. saying Zep. [Zeppelin] had been sighted near Ypres, then Armentieres, annoying, as we could do nothing here anyway. Had to meet Brigadier at 12 this morning. New scheme of building a hut to hold 1,500 men for the cinema, and a central recreation room for the 12th and ourselves. Old Craig, R.E., has to build it and we have to supply the men. Tommy rot! The Maire has struck as to letting us have any more barns, and reported to G.H.Q., who sent down a French Officer. I shall do nothing except with a written order. They are capable of making you get them and then turning on you for improperly taking barns! I’m delighted the Maire has struck. More long rigmaroles in about at once preparing a mobilization scheme in case of a sudden move being ordered. I don’t think any move in contemplation, but of course it may come any way. At present, notwithstanding worried from above, we are very comfortable here. The beds here have all (word illegible) mattresses, great luxury! And then the men are more comfortable than they have been yet.
Bright sunny day, with cold wind, healthy. Arranging for places for Xmas dinners is a difficulty, so hard to find any place that will hold more than 50 men. In our last village the old Maire sent in a bill for damages, for 3,000 francs. It required a bit of not to blame, and the damage is hopelessly over estimated. Many of the French are on the make. Here they are grasping and greedy. I dare say at home they would be just the same. But it makes things more difficult.
Fergie says men want handkerchiefs. Very few here, and not an issue; any colour except white. They are more necessary than anything; plenty of mitts now, and mufflers, socks, but don’t send any more yet. Imagine, I have been watching a football match between us and Lancs. Fus. We won 5—1. I had a two-hour Battalion Parade this morning, which I found they wanted badly. Dull, foggy, damp day.
The Battalion football team was a source of great pride, particularly given its extraordinary success. You can read about the Battalion’s sporting prowess here.
A damp morning, but we could carry on with everything outside, only a mist, but it has turned into a soaking p.m. Barker, the H.Q. Chaplain, came to see Padre. How lucky we are not to be in the trenches this weather. We are very near the turn of the year, and every day without a move is a day gained. These long nights in the trench line are very trying.
My kit has grown to such enormous dimensions that it will have to be cut down to approximate 100 lbs. for a long move.
A fine day after a wet night, and not nearly so raw. Good work done, as we were again undisturbed. The coffee shop run by the Belgians seem to be going all right. Of course, they charge a bit too much, and I am cutting them down. The café proprietors in the village are angry at custom being removed from them, and the Maire [mayor] came about it, but I said they had the chance of supplying the goods, and didn’t take it. Of course, they haven’t got the things, and are only intent on selling alcohol, and many men would never go inside a café, and they wouldn’t start a food or coffee bar away from the café.
Such a bitter cold day, glass falling, and beginning now to rain. However, we’ve had three fine days running. Today managed to get three companies at useful training—musketry—one company firing with gas helmets on—somewhat dangerous to the inhabitants. One company building sandbag parapets. One company bombing. The whole of ‘C’ [Company] ordered away to a wood, about 5 miles off, to cut wood. I shall be awfully sorry to lose Shillington. He has done good work in ‘D’ [Company] (but I dare not face the responsibility of keeping him out here any longer). The Reserve Battalion are 520 strong now; they move to Newtownards today, and one officer and 50 men to Armagh. Colonel FitzGerald says the 1st Battalion speak highly of us. Yes, the people are quite friendly and nice here, and the Maire [mayor] most helpful. Haven’t seen Madame Notary since, but she is coming on Sunday.
‘Do’ Shillington (the father of Second Lieutenant Tom Shillington) had been Officer Commanding ‘D’ Company since its formation. Although not particularly old at 42, the conditions in France began to tell on his health. He was sent to hospital sick on 18 December and was evacuated to England two weeks later. He returned to the Battalion in the latter part of 1916 but fell ill again and finally returned to Ireland in February 1917.
We did a practice march, packing up everything, taking what we can and storing remainder, and move out, everyone, bag and baggage, for a route march. The idea is to see how much we have not got transport for. Stores of all sorts have accumulated here, skin coats, extra blankets, clothing, etc. I had all preparations made, and at 12.00 noon came a wire to say ‘postponed till Thursday, at 5.00 p.m’. Another letter from Repington in the ‘Times’. His 2nd was more hopeful for us, but they are a long way off being beaten yet, or starved, or even unduly short. Result of practice march was seven waggon loads let behind!! Brigadier came and inspected us en route, also state of billets; both satisfactory. Lovely, fine, frosty, healthy day.
Bright, and cold wind, today. Strict orders sent out about no naked lights, smoking, etc., in places where hay is stored, but the men cannot sit in darkness without smoking, from 5.00 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Must try and get lanterns, but cannot carry them about. The men are really so splendid and keen to learn. I feel more and more the responsibility of their lives; and such myriads of instructions come in every day, hard to assimilate and get the best benefit out of them for the men.
Am just starting off on afternoon’s inspection of ablution places, etc., instead of looking after the men’s training. And we are at war!
I shall send Shillington. We are living very well. I don’t think we ought to get more luxuries from F. and M. [Fortnum & Mason] We really don’t want them. G.O.C. [General Officer Commanding] told me the Battalion had a good report from the trenches, but I fancy nothing is coming round. Don’t want books, barely time for papers. A youth, Seggie, by name from 3rd Battalion, at Buncrana, arrived today to join. Was in Public School Battalion with Cather. Sent here by D.A.G. Base; curious. He says 7th and 8th Battalions did not come out with 16th Division. Their Brigade was kept back, not being sufficiently trained. Fine today and colder. We had service outside. Padre gave us a splendid sermon. He always does. They ask today for a Sub. [subaltern] to train as a Staff Captain. I have suggested Brew, not having a Sub.
49th Brigade, which included 7th and 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers arrived in France to join the rest of 16th (Irish) Division in February 1916.
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.