Berry returned last night—a horrible journey—‘Viper’ no cabins, a walk of two miles from steamer to train in dark and wet, a 17 hours journey in a 2nd class, with only one chance of a meal. Mess cart met him at a rail head, 7 miles, and got him here at 8:30 p.m., wearied and tired; he is bright as ever today.
When Dr Berry went on leave on 2 January, his duties were undertaken by Captain Samuel Scott, Officer Commanding ‘C’ Company. He was a doctor by profession and a few days after Dr Berry’s return, Scott’s transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps took effect. He joined 108th Field Ambulance, where he spent the rest of the war.
Spender full of rumour about the British taking over French bit between 2nd and 3rd Armies, which up to now they (the French) have always opposed. If we do, we shall go up into that bit of line, but when I don’t know. Failing that, or till that, we shall stay here making huts and such like rot. Lovely day, turned colder to-night, and blowing hard. Brig. has a sort of Field Day to-morrow for officers, no men—a trench attack—ought to be instructive. Staff grouse at their poor quarters. I told then it’s time they did a little roughing it. Got in 1-cwt yesterday. Nugent came round this morning when I was out, Cather took him to the bombing, but he was in a hurry. Griffith came yesterday. Am sending Scott out to ‘A’ Company, as medical adviser. He is still waiting orders. The Havre journey home and out is a nightmare.
We had a long morning at G’s scheme—slow but instructive. Didn’t get back till 2:45 p.m., cold wind, but no rain luckily. Lots of hanging about which was boresome. G is off on leave on Sunday, I hear. Primate holds a service here at 11.00 a.m., Sunday for us, 13th and 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] We had to send 15 miles for wood today. Stronge borrowed a country waggon, put in 6 horses, and brought in 4 tons of wood. We also unexpectedly got about a ton of coal. It takes 4 waggons of coke to last a week. So we are going to try country wagons next week. Pratt tried suppers here but the men won’t look at them, funnily enough. Coffee shop taking 170 francs a day. It’s very hard to get things out of the Ordnance, and they say there is a serious shortage of such things as knives, forks, spoons, badges, clasp knives, and other metal goods, and strict economy must be exercised; the things cannot be got. Leather also, and repairs of boots, I cannot extract out of them, and we are getting behind with the repairs of boots. Can’t get any men on parade. ‘A’ Company away, large numbers of other companies employed on hutting schemes, for which we can’t get any materials—wood, nails, canvas, or tools. Tried to get some hammers and saws in A_____ [Abbeville] yesterday. You never saw such stuff—toy saws, feeble hatchets, and ponderous hammers. The band has had a great furnishing up under the Padre. New instruments, music, and drum painted, and new cords, at an outlay of £25—about. They have improved enormously on their playing.
A busy day, tho’ the Primate never came. He has got hung up at Folkestone, owing to submarines. Fergie says a pal Quartermaster of his, at Dover, told him we had got two Hun subs (taken one and sunk one), and that he saw the taken one at Dover, one of their newest, whose machinery had gone wrong and could neither move nor sink. Our new Corps Commander insists on training being carried out, so we are to begin on Monday with company training, and then two weeks brigade and division training; after that, about the middle of March, we are to go into the line, relieving the VII Corps. Cavan, I believe, is excellent, but it’s quite impossible to build huts and do regular company training at the same time. Our men have been at it for 18 months. We have also to find officers for the New Armies. At present I have 10 officers away on duties, leaving one Captain and one Sub [subaltern] with each company! I am to dine at Div. H.Q. on Friday, to meet the Primate.
The Primate, Sir J. Stronge, and Cavan turned up for Parade Service. P. walked round and talked to each officer; did not preach a good sermon; very disappointing. I thought Padre far better; Sir J. came on to lunch; seemed astounded to see how well all the men looked. Luckily beautifully fine up to 2.00 p.m., when cold fog came on. I asked Cavan after Edgar Lambert [sic]. He said he’d tried France but was too old, and had gone to Egypt, I think. Heard from Going. He came out in July, and in August went to Ypres where he had been till a few weeks ago, when they were sent out of the line to near G.H.Q. to rest. Casualties—10 Officers, 275 men. Primate and J.S. stay till next Saturday, when J. returns home, and P. passes on to Pulteney, 16th Division and 107th Brigade for a week, I believe.
Your letter of Friday came today, quite quick! Had a tiring day—Umpire at stupid Field Day. Left here at 8.45 a.m. Got back very wet at 2:30 p.m. and had to go to the pow-wow at 3:30 p.m., which lasted till 5.00 p.m. What was the reason for the Field Day I cannot imagine, as we all had to begin company training today. Blackwood is excellent. ‘Carry on’ life like. Think we shall stay here for a bit. I’m afraid it’s doubtful if we get the Guards. Cavan said yesterday he feared he’s lost them. On the other hand, Smyth says he came over with some G.H.Q. fellow who said they are coming to the XIV Corps. Primate comes to see us in the morning. Another officer, a Captain in A.S.C., [Army Service Corps] posted last night from G.H.Q. They all join about end of month.
There doesn’t appear to be coal available in the country. No one has it. Primate came this a.m. Fine and sunny. Stayed 2½ hours, walking round and seeing men. Fergie presented him with a gas helmet as a souvenir. About 12:45 p.m. scheme for tomorrow’s Field Day came in—in which I am opposed to Bull, he having a convoy, and I to attack it. I had at once to ride out and see the ground, and have my orders in Brigade office by 4.00 p.m. Rather a rush. Berry’s name has been sent in for D.A.D.M.S. so if sanctioned we shall lose him. Last night sanction came for general leave. Pratt and Stronge and two privates go tomorrow, then no one to February 16, when 20 all ranks go, and then none again till March 11. It will take some time to get through the Battalion at the rate of 40 a month. These Field Days every other day, amid other distractions, are an awful nuisance. They don’t teach us anything that will be useful to us in the warfare we shall be doing. Seal pattern old Aldershot Field Days they are. What we want to learn is the attack of trenches, and all the details to be attended to. Repington’s article the other day I thought was excellent. He said he firmly believed the war would be decided on the West [sic] Front, and that it would be trench warfare to the end, and the massing of cavalry to dash through the gaps was rot.
I managed to capture Bull’s convoy by rather a fluke. Didn’t attempt to strafe me, though he was in an evil mood, and refused to let the men go home, but kept them out for an hour while he laid down the law to officers on tactics. Still any amount of comforts, as we managed to bring everything here. Sand bags we shan’t want till we go up into the line. ‘At’ handled the Battalion capitally. I was in command of the side. I believe these blessed days are coming off thrice weekly!
Smyth came in for a ‘Bukh’ this evening. He says there is quite a chance of the Division, 109th and 108th Brigade going into the line next week, to relieve 4th Division. It was to be decided last night. The Ordnance Officer thinks it probable. On the other hand they have let Griffiths go away on ten days’ leave today. Savage goes on Sunday. Bob Maxwell is back. I believe these Field Days are the General’s way of testing C.O.s. When every commanding officer has been out in command of a side they will cease. I shall do Umpire and let ‘At.’ command the eight companies. Rivy full of pessimistic views from G.H.Q. if we don’t beat them this autumn the war will go on for years. France cannot last beyond the summer. Our casualties at Loos four times the Huns. We are using a second room here as ante room and find it very cosy. Berry is acting Mess President, and ordered toast with great glee!
Waiting at the Field Day I had a long chat with Cavan. We leave XIV Corps and join another, I don’t know number (XVII) with 46th Division and 56th, I think. Cavan and Guards and two other Divisions (6th and 20th) form XIV Corps and go north of Ypres.
Anderson (T.W.’s brother) to command our Corps. Nice fellow. We do go into the line in about 10 days, February 7th they say, from here, relieving the 4th Division who come out for a rest. The actual Field Day was dull. The Primate and J.S. there. A story of a shrapnel somewhere near the P_____ [Primate] expect they’ll make the most of it. I dine there tonight—a nuisance. G.S.O.3 is the bottlewasher and doer of odd jobs, junior of Div. Staff. From Sunday I command the Brigade, and during the move S wants me to come and live with him at H.Q. I don’t particularly want to, but may find I can’t do it from here. Remember when we are in the line all posts become upset. I hear no more Field Days, thank goodness! We are only taking over one Brigade Front. One Brigade will be resting always, so we shall get a good deal more resting as usually its one in, one out.