Lovely sunny frosty day, no more snow, not so cold last night. Life is very busy just now. The 9th are so strong it’s hard to fit them into the line. They are now more than 200 stronger than the others. Leave opens again, but we only get eight places every five days, instead of 11. Big strafe on between 4.00 and 5.00 a.m. on our right—next Division. Bosche tried to get in, but failed. Was round the line this morning and now have a long afternoon in the office.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2nd
Colder than ever, but sunny. Very hard to keep warm. Bosche ‘planes come over daily now, result our guns positions are spotted and heavily shelled. Young Allen, in 12th R.I.R., has now been taken on by ‘G’ side [operations staff branch] Div. H.Q. Have managed to find room for 9th, but one Coy. will have a cushy time in a good barn, with plenty of straw.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3rd
Another sunny, frosty day; very cold night. Went round the line and saw all the 9th. They seemed quite happy and comfortable. Very quiet morning as regards shelling. The mornings are very full—a brief visit to the office, then down to the line; after lunch office for a couple of hours, round to see Battalion here, early to bed.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 4th
Same weather, but colder if possible. 22 degs. frost at 9.00 a.m. An accident at the Bde. Bombing School yesterday; killed an officer and a corporal; both such good fellows. We shot two of the Bosche patrol last night; they are lying about 50 yards from our wire. Shall try and get them in tonight. They are both dead. Bosche has been very quiet for the past 48 hours, I’m thankful to say. A good many of his ‘planes come over daily, but today is too misty for them.
Those killed in the accident at the bombing school were an N.C.O. of the battalion and the instructor in charge:
17406 Corporal Charles Graham; Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
Second Lieutenant Alfred Ernest Nicholl, 13th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down); Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 5th
We had no thaw like you. Still an iron frost. Foggy early, but sun came out and it was nice, but cold. Tried to get the dead Bosches in last night but failed, as the Huns put a M.G. barrage on the body. Yes, I think the Army School does them a lot of good. Always a little skeptical about the Bosche having got to bedrock, but they are in a bad way, no doubt, or would not have gone in for this latest ‘frightfulness.’ Old man Wilson must be in a quandary, but America will never go to war, I’m sure. We have just started a heavy strafe, just S. [South] I have instituted a new scheme of work, making Battalions responsible for areas, and not ordering working parties from Bde; at present it’s working well, and everyone is delighted with it, and playing up well. The old way caused much friction, and much useless discomfort to the men.
The ‘frightfulness’ referred to by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was the return to unrestricted submarine warfare by Germany, announced in the German Reichstag on 31 January 1917 and begun the next day. Contrary to Blacker’s prediction, the United States did enter the war—the actions by German U-Boats against United States merchant ships being one of the factors that influenced that decision.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6th
Sunny and frosty still, colder than ever. Young Shill. went out about 5.00 a.m. and got all papers and things from the dead Bosche—very fine performance as the snow and full moon made it almost as light as day. Had an easy day. Strafed M.G. Coy. officer. Young Shill, in my opinion, did a very gallant deed. The Corps are clamouring for these papers, etc.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7th
I don’t think America will fight; in fact, I rather hope not, but breaking off relations is a tremendous slap in the face for the Huns. I don’t think she is going to give way on ‘the whole world against me’ tack. She is not ready to agree to the Allied terms, but we shall have to beat her land forces before she goes down. Another bright frosty day, not quite so cold last night. Attended Bde. boxing contest and gave away the medals. Personally I dislike watching two men slogging away at one another; it’s an excellent school for self control, but the looking on is too much like watching gladiatorial shows, and I hate it. Boys and light weights are all right, but heavy and welter weight contests are rather slogging contests. 9th did quite well; they should win silver bugle for best Bn. now. Glad you are not having it as hard as we are—anything from 20 degs to 27 degs. of frost every night. Went round the line; the 9th had a man badly hit this a.m., Hickey, was sniped looking over the parapet. They have had a quiet time, thank goodness.
20018 Private William Hickey was shot while looking over the parapet in the line west of Messines on 7 February 1917 and died of wounds later that day, aged 18; Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8th
Similar day, hard frost and sunny. It’s really very healthy and bracing. The sun is delightful, and getting powerful, but it freezes all day. Rode round back units this a.m. Going up this p.m. to see how matters go at the change. I think things could be improved—blocks prevented, etc., by a little care. Did I tell you Saunderson has gone home? G.H.Q. come here this time. I feel there is much waste out here, especially in Higher Command messes. I’m glad to say they’ve taken my hint about liqueurs.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9th
Still the same glorious sunny days and cold nights. Was down the line today. I like going into the Coy. dug-outs and having a chat with the Coy. officers, and getting to know them. Am planning out a different way of reliefs. I went down yesterday and watched the relief being carried out and noted various points for amendment. Being six weeks in command of Bde. has given me the chance to really command it, and not mere cipher or locum tenens. It has been most interesting, and very enjoyable. Our various Battalion H.Q. in this sector are quite good and comfortable.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10th
Another lovely day, not quite so cold. Going to B_____ [Bailleul] this p.m. to get my hair cut. Bosche very busy for two hours this a.m. with heavy stuff, trying to find our guns, but failed; though he put in over 100 shells he did no damage. Have fixed up my new system of reliefs, which, I hope, will work well. At last met Shirley—new G.S.O.2, 54th Sikhs. He’s been a Bde. Major on the Somme for six months; rather interesting.