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.
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.
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.
Lieutenant J E Gibson
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.
Second Lieutenant A Seggie
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.
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!
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.
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.