Dully misty day again and very quiet, so far. Went over and had tea with Bob [Maxwell] yesterday. An old Marine called Poe attached to us for four days. A man wounded yesterday evening and another today, both Englishmen. Not serious. Arm broken and flesh wound. Looked very like rain this a.m., but has kept off. Great thing being dull. The Bosche ‘planes don’t come over and observe working parties, and their artillery is quiet. Fergie went off yesterday. Young Shill. doing splendidly. Mayes, the new Chaplain, has gone sick. Not been long out here before getting sick.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27th
Here I am in the line again. We got in safely, by day, thank Goodness, and had a quiet night. 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] had a very quiet tour. Weather dull and inclined to rain. Fergie has got 14 days leave and went off this morning jubilant. Quite a good Bn. H.Q., I think the best we have struck so far. We have put in elephants; there was nothing before to protect one. Had a long trek all round the line this morning—pretty bad in parts, but considering frost and thaw not so bad as I had expected. Bob Maxwell and G.B. looked in yesterday evening. I really have been curiously lucky this winter. Last night was the first night I have spent in the line since Dec. 2nd!
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 26th
Lovely sunny spring day. All kit packed for the line, so writing under difficulties. Capital news from the South.
Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s ‘good news’ was German withdrawal from the Ancre. Unknown at the time was the siting, extent, depth and length of the Hindenburg Line, all of which meant a stronger position than those vacated, and held with fewer troops.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25th
Foggy early, but now sunny and spring-like, the first day approaching spring weather we have had. Haven’t quite picked up the Battalion life after my long absence. Henahan was only wounded slightly in the head, and remained at duty. Allen was also grazed in the head and remained at duty. Ensor returned today from Army School. Good match yesterday; they beat us five goals to four. Padre gave us a splendid sermon on ‘Temptation’ this morning. Who should look in this evening but Charles Hope. Now a Major in 16th Div. Arty. [See 13 November Letter.] Full of chat, says he is paying £700 a year in death duties for eight years. Askwith, who was Brig-Gen., is now Lieut. Col. again, as they abolished his billet with Cavalry Corps; at present home on sick leave. It’s been a peaceful day, but looks like rain. There have been a good many raids and counter raids on this front, with varying success. Ll. G. made a splendid speech.
The speech referred to by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was given by Prime Minister Lloyd George in Parliament on 23 February. It dealt with the shortage of food and other imports vital to the war effort, and the measures required to alleviate the problem. See Hansard.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24th
Dull today, but no fog. The latest craze is planting waste places in vicinity of huts and camps with vegetables. With these constant moves I consider the lack of continuity will militate against success, at an important moment in the life of the potato or cabbage. Units will be changing, and die, I fear. I am going to try half an acre at the Transport, under the care and supervision of Stronge.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 23rd
Foggy and wet like November. General arrived last night; he was hung up at Folkestone; no boats running. It was a Regt. in the 16th Div. that got so mauled last week (young Harden’s) and whose wounded were brought in. We go in on Monday. The 9th have won the General’s Silver Bugle, so everyone is greatly bucked. The 13th were running us close, but were beaten at football yesterday. We are playing R.A. this afternoon, and 8th R.I.R. tomorrow. Our Bde. H.Q. in the line have been greatly strengthened and good elephants put in. Allen and Henahan were both grazed with shell last tour, but never went off duty. Quite slight.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22nd
Came back to the Battalion just before dinner, having cleared up every paper, and left nothing ‘pending’ in Bde. Office. This morning Duke ‘phoned to say the General never returned last night after all, and is not yet back, so I had to go up this morning and spend a long time clearing papers up, etc., again. We have had none of your lovely February days—foggy and wet again today. Am stuck for another Gen. Court Martial tomorrow. Quite a nice billet here, and I have quite a comfy room.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 21st
Shill. returned to 9th today. Pratt and Padre both looked in to tea yesterday. My experience here for the last six weeks proves to me that the 9th are easily the best Battalion in the Brigade, which is satisfactory. They have had fewer changes, and Fergie, of course, is a tower of strength in accuracy and reliability, and young Shill. Is an apt pupil. Herdman, of Downs, is now doing Staff Captain, a very pleasant capable fellow, and hard working. He and Duke are both most delightful fellows to work with. Poor ‘C’ Company have had a hard time lately. In a fortnight they have lost their Coy. commander, killed; next platoon commander, Sleator, hospital with conjunctivitis, and I fear, won’t return; Coy. Sergt-Major gone home for a commission; Coy. Q.M.S. [Quartermaster Sergeant] promoted Regt. Q.M.S.—fearful blows to a Coy. Conditions in the front line are bad. Our Bn. H.Q. is quite good and has been strengthened with an elephant. Brigade have had no letters or papers since last Friday. Another foggy, damp day.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20th
Today steady rain and everything is horrible. Yesterday our stretcher bearers went out in the daylight and brought in a dozen wounded, of the next Div. who were lying in no-man’s-land. Very fine performance. Fortunately the Bosche allowed them to do so, but they didn’t know that when they went out. We received the thanks of the Brigade on our left, and I issued an Order of the Day. An officer of ours who went out first (Dobson) was shot and died last night. The story is the Bosche tried to take him prisoner and he refused to go. If true, most gallant. It’s hard to get reliable information. A quiet night, but two mine explosions during the night further north, shook the place. Today we have a trench mortar strafe on, so I expect there will be some retaliation. They are quite mad on courses of instruction. The latest is one for padres. Went down the line this morning.
In my daily French conversation with the Interpreter I have learnt a lot of French affairs. I generally take a subject each day—politics, religion, education, society, etc. It has been most illuminating and instructive. English people hold strangely wrong views on French life and thought, gathered, of course, from French novels, which do not in the least represent French life.
Second Lieutenant James Robinson Dobson. Died of wounds in 2nd Casualty Clearing Station on 19 February 1917; Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 19th
Another dully, foggy day. The General came over about 10.30 a.m. and had a talk with Battalion commanders and Bde. staff. We all brought up various points, to which he gave a sympathetic hearing. The Regt. S.M. was wounded this morning—M.G. bullet grazed eyelid and bridge of nose, not serious, but he has gone to hospital. Two 9th officers went sick yesterday, and one gone today, which makes four in two days gone. Saunderson has got a job at home to do with tanks.