Last night very little frost and thawing cloudy sky, up to about noon today, and mud. Cleared now, and I think will freeze again. I don’t know what’s happening to our ‘planes about here, but they are letting the Bosche ‘planes come over freely. The 9th played 2nd R.I.R [Royal Irish Rifles] in a neighboring Div. at footer yesterday and beat them. Fergie very pleased. He marched the Battalion over with the Band to view the match, and the men loved it. He’s simply splendid. Duke comes back on Thursday, I’m glad to say. Good deal of shell fire going on all day. B. Oliphant gone to Senior Officers’ Course, at Army School today. They wanted to send him in a lorry, but I protested and got him a car.
A partial thaw. Froze early, but has been thawing slowly all morning. Things getting greasy. Had a long trek round the line today. Everything very quiet as it is misty. Have begun an hour’s daily conversation with Percy ‘le’ interpreter, 6.00—7.00 p.m. Quite a Sahib. He’s a Sergeant in the French Cavalry, and was wounded. Rain now set in.
Thaw still continues mildly, but mud is prevalent and going very greasy. Went round one of the Batteries this a.m. with Cowan, who is acting in command of the group. Everything very apple pie; men well turned out and in the most comfy dug-outs, all with beds, dining hall, bath room, Sergts’ mess, and a piano. Cowan was Sub. [subaltern] in 43rd Batt’y; came out with 1st Div. Pleasant dinner with 9th last night. Seven of the old lot there—Pratt, Stronge, Fergie, young Shill., Brew, Padre and self. Very good repast, soup, fish, chicken, apple tart and savoury. 9th played 10th Inniskillings yesterday and beat them 9—0. Fergie in excellent form. Sun coming out, much milder.
Frost again and bright sun today. The thaw seems to have stopped. Thank goodness there is plenty of work; there are various shows on which we keep busy. I haven’t met Mayes yet; he is with some Field Ambulance. Don’t send socks till you hear. One of the leave boats rammed and sunk a submarine lately—rather a good performance. Heavy bombardment on our front between 1.00 a.m. and 2.00 a.m. Duke returns today or tomorrow.
The incident to which Lieutenant Colonel Blacker refers was the ramming of UC-46, a coastal minelaying submarine, by the escort destroyer HMS Liberty on 8 February off Goodwin Sands. UC-46 was lost with all hands.
Another gloriously sunny day after a sharp frost. Witheycombe has done very well and should get a Division. Campbell was in 8th R.I.R., [Royal Irish Rifles] was a Sergt. in 18th Royal Irish [18th (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (London Irish Rifles)], is bottle washer to Staff Captain. Great bombardment from our guns between 6.00 p.m. and 7.00 p.m. last evening. Bosche retaliated a bit, causing a few casualties in Downs. [13th Royal Irish Rifles] They lost an officer, Dewar, the night before. Another of their officers, Apperson, did splendidly the night before. He met five Bosche in the trench, when he was alone. He shot three with his revolver, and the others ran, after knocking him senseless. However, he came to in a few minutes, and is none the worse. Didn’t go down the line this morning, but visited one of the reserve Coys, ‘D,’ under Given, who are in a farm and quite comfy. My French is improving with the daily talks.
Frosty night, sunny morning, now turned cloudy, and looks like a thaw. Duke returned yesterday very weary after an awful 12 hour railway, with no food, and very cold. Great excitement yesterday about tea time. A Hun ‘plane, evidently winged, came over here quite low (150 ft.), went towards our front line, was heavily fired at, swerved and ultimately came down about a mile south of this in our lines—‘plane and aviator captured. Went round the line this a.m. Met G. Bruce and others. Gen. Nugent has a heavy cold and is in bed. Had a chat with Padre and several Coy. Commanders. Took Percy ‘le’ interpreter with me and chatted French to him between whiles; he is such a nice little fellow, and such a little gentleman. Found Bob Maxwell in; he’s got a cough and cold. Food will be very scarce even after the war. Have plenty of potatoes put in.
Had a long hod round the line with Duke this a.m. He’s such a nice fellow. I strafed them last night about the slackness of Brigade staff, etc., etc. He absolutely agreed. I’m putting in for three weeks’ special leave for Fergie. He has had a hard time and deserves it. The next Div. South of us had a strafe this morning, in which our guns took part, from 11.00 a.m. to noon, and the Bosche retaliated a bit on our line. Haven’t heard of any casualties. Thaw still continues gradually, but ground very greasy and walking is fatiguing exercise after have been so long on the top of the ground. The Boss Army Chaplain is still trying to get Padre away from us to the Div.
Poor Joseph Johnston was killed by a sniper about 7.00 a.m. today; shot through the head and killed instantaneously. He is being buried this afternoon, and I am going down. He is a fearful loss to the Battalion. Always cheerful, with a thorough knowledge of his duties, keen and splendid at handling men. I am very low at the thought I shall not see his cheery face again, and at the serious loss the Battalion has sustained. Would you go over and see Mrs. Johnston. I will write to her.
There are a good lot of schemes on hand, which worry me rather. The raid yesterday of a neighboring Div. was quite successful I hear. A good deal of damage done and many Bosche killed.
6.30 p.m. We laid Joseph to rest this afternoon, and accustomed as one is to death out here, there were not many dry eyes amongst those of us who stood by his grave. His loss takes me back to the July days. He was a man one could absolutely rely on; when he was in the front line I was quite happy.
Captain Joseph Allen Johnston, Officer Commanding ‘C’ Company. Killed in action 18 February 1917; St. Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery.
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.
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.