[Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on leave.]
New Year 1916 was heralded by the band, led by the Chaplain, playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘Le Marseillaise’, ‘Barossa’ (one of the regimental songs) and ‘God Save The King’. The companies were employed on fatigues, although ‘A’ Company managed a turn in the bath house and the football team played 13th Royal Irish Rifles, which resulted in a 1-1 draw.
After a battalion route march on Monday 3 January, the rest of the week was spent training by companies, and in the officers’ mess the officers attended lectures by those who had undertaken classes and demonstrations. By Saturday 8 January the Battalion was ready to move and, with the rest of 108th Brigade, it marched to new billets in Prouville. Lieutenant Colonel Blacker joined the Battalion there the next day.
We are now some 15 kil. [kilometres] of our way. Mending a puncture. Far better than train in Gregg’s car, which would have taken 12 hours. A lovely crossing. Sunny, bright, and not too cold. Folkestone 11.15 a.m., left there at 12.40 p.m., B_____ [Boulogne] 2.10 p.m. Tea at hotel. G. says we join XIV Corps, which is to be formed of ourselves, Guards Division, and a Welsh Territorial. Either Cavan or Harry Wilson to command. Such crowds on the boat. Sat next a nice man in Oxfordshires—Hussars—thinks ‘Winny’ will get a Regt.
Went all round billets this a.m. Long straggling village. Men’s billets quite good, officers’ poor. Our mess only one room and small right at the end of village. My room and Cather’s, the only other rooms available, both entered through the kitchen and scullery, but quite nice rooms, and comfy beds. Today drizzly. Muddy streets. Douglas Haig was to have come to have seen us tomorrow, but isn’t. Got in here last night at 8.15 p.m. after a very good run from Boulogne, about 110 kilos [kilometres] good road, but dark. They have cut down the hay ration from 12 lbs to 6 lbs, which is of course starvation. I suppose it is an iron necessity, but it will mean loss in horse flesh.
Great dearth of coal and wood, don’t know what we shall do for fuel for cookers. A wonderful hutment scheme has come in by which existing accommodation is to be doubled by repairing and building, to be done by troops.
Lunched with Brigadier, and sat talking to him till 4.00 p.m. G.H.Q. was bombed last night! Haig is away. Hutment scheme is to take precedence of everything. 100 men under Ensor go out about 7.00 p.m. from here to build huts, and the men here improve and repair existing billets, to accommodate 400 more men, under R.E. [Royal Engineers] supervision. ‘G’ says no won’t move, also says his opinion neither we nor the Huns could possibly get through. The French will begin to decline in numbers about June. Germans have begun (just). We and Russkys will increase for certainly a year. The Downs are close to us, villages almost touching, but I have not seen any of them yet.
Coffee shop apparently doing quite well; takes about 100 francs a day. A good deal less volume of matter is coming out of Division office now.
I had to send in a junior officer’s name for attachment to 3rd Army for probable appointment to Staff. I asked ‘G’ if he would go and he said he would sooner stay with the Batt. I was rather pleased. I believe they have had great games the last night of the old year. Band out playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and Fergie in his element!
Lovely sunny day. Busy inspecting billets all day, and gave a lecture on ‘Battle of Loos’—a copy of one given by a man who was there on X Corps Staff.
We had service with the Downs this a.m. It then came on to drizzle, but cleared up after lunch, when Pratt, Padre, and I walked to R_____, [Ribeaucourt] about 2 miles, and went to see our former landladies, who were delighted to see us. Came round by Brigade office, and saw the Gen. for a short time. He had been out to a village where Ensor is trying to erect huts, without wood.
Rode out today to see if I could get any coal—can’t get any from A.S.C. [Army Service Corps] A problematic 9 cwt a week for 1,000 men! I bought 1,200 lbs. this p.m. for 42 francs, not too dear, but double what they charged a week ago. They have posted two officers from G.H.Q. School for Officers to join on 30th. I wonder what they will be like. Pratt very keen about his coffee shop. A fine a.m. turned to rain all p.m. Laundry and baths going strong. The rest of ‘A’ Company go off to-morrow, about 10 miles from here, to build huts, etc. Got four waggon loads of coke today for 120 francs. It only lasts a week in the laundry. It takes 7 braziers going night and day in the drying room to dry the clothes.
Captain G J Bruce
This a.m. I rode over to the village Ensor is improving, about 7½ miles away. Found him rather forlorn. The rest of his company went to him today, and I luckily struck the C.R.E. [Commander Royal Engineers] there and squared things for him, so I hope now he will be all right. Griffiths came here in my absence and wandered round laundry, recreation rooms, etc. I believe he was quite pleased with everything. A constant drizzle all day. Don’t notice much lengthening of days yet at either end. George Bruce has been made G.S.O. in Richardson’s place. I’m very glad, as I’m convinced he’s a Staff brain. The Brigade were foolish to miss him. I tried hard to get Griffith to forward application to promote Fergie Captain, but he wouldn’t. He said he had already tried one case and been refused by the Div. Fear it’s no good. They say it would be very hard on Regular Qr. Masters, many of whom have been out since beginning of war, and have a good deal of commissioned service—I quite see the point.