The New Year arrived with Lieutenant Colonel Blacker still in Ireland. The Battalion was at Bulford Camp and New Year’s Day began with a church service and, at 1.00 p.m., a delayed Christmas lunch. The fare was superb with turkey, goose, boiled ham, roast beef, vegetables, plum pudding, and fruit and nuts. As was tradition, the platoon officers carved. The warrant officers and sergeants dined at 7.00 p.m.
The Distinguished Service Order
Also on 1 January it was formally announced that Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s performance in command throughout 1916 had been rewarded with the Distinguished Service Order. Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Pratt also received the D.S.O. for his service as Second-in-Command. On 4 January in the London Gazette the Battalion received five mentions in despatches: Lieutenant Colonel Blacker and Lieutenant Colonel Pratt (both a pre-requisite for the award of the D.S.O); the Padre, Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class F J Halahan; the younger of the Ensors and Officer Commanding ‘B’ Company, Captain E N Ensor; 13994 Sergeant J Barbour; and 17796 Sergeant J Murphy—the latter for his gallantry serving with 108th Trench Mortar Battery.
All of January would be spent out of the line at Buford Camp and later in billets at Meteren, mostly engaged in training but some work parties were also provided.
[English Farm. Brigade Headquarters]
On arrival this side we found Gen. Nugent’s own car awaiting us, and so did the journey most comfortably, and got here at 6.00 p.m. after a lunch at Calais—we disembarked there for reasons I cannot explain. Came straight to Bde. H.Q. Nugent went home for 14 days today, and Griffith is commanding Div. Lucky I postponed my journey, as there was no car available yesterday. A lovely crossing and no crowd. Fergie came down after dinner. Shill. in a rest camp, but is much better. Bde. H.Q. move to B_____ [Bailleul] on Sunday to be more central, as two Bns. are near there. G. doesn’t go till 20th, so I suppose I shall command Bde. till Feb 20th. Quite comfy here, two rooms in a hut and a fire. Billets in B_____ [Bailleul].
Bulford Camp and English Farm
Bulford Camp and English Farm (centre left and centre right of the map, respectively) were located midway between Bailleul and Ploegsteert Wood, south of Neuve Eglise (Nieuwkerke).
Went over to see Bn. this a.m., stayed to lunch. They have had a bad time. Fergie, of course, has been splendid. Hugh O’Neill has gone as Court Martial Officer to 1st Army, which is commanded by the Gunner we thought (Horne). Have got a car for the move tomorrow; Holt has been away at Army School for a week. He lunches with us at Club – B_____ [Bailleul] tomorrow. The Xmas dinner came to £73. Fergie written quite a good account to local press. He has had a hard time. The Bn. moves over to near B_____ [Bailleul] this day week. Billets in B_____ [Bailleul] will be a change of life, but I am sorry to leave this, which is most comfortable.
[9 Rue de Poissons, Bailleul, Brigade Headquarters]
Got a car and went round 16th [Royal Irish Rifles] and 13th [Royal Irish Rifles], Div. H.Q. and Shill. Found latter much better, hope he will be back with Bn. by end of week. Am writing from our new H.Q. at B_____ [Bailleul]. Lunched at officers’ club, quite good. My room here above office, quite nice. Think we shall be quite comfortable. The area occupied by the two Bns. here is quite good. Comfortable billets and nice air. 9th [Royal Irish Fusiliers] comes here on 13th (Saturday.)
A wet night, fair morning, has turned into a wet p.m. Wind makes a fire in my bedroom somewhat a smoky affair, so I’ve returned to the mess, which is a room behind a grocer’s shop; really not bad, and warm and lighted with incandescent [lamps]. Duke and I rode over and saw 9th [Royal Irish Fusiliers] and 12th [Royal Irish Rifles], and various Bde. tocks. Fergy very chirpy. Khaki pony slipped and fell on Reid’s leg, bruising his ankle; not bad. Very comfy bed. We dined at club; good food, but noisy and heated atmosphere. Was glad to get away. Kerr-Smiley, who is now A.D.C. to Hamilton-Gordon, runs the club. Milne’s name has gone in for a commission. I hear Humphreys is G.O.C., R.A., but is at present away on leave. Duke and I attended a lecture on Artillery, given by one Pringle, a Lt.-Col. R.A. Didn’t know him. We were thinking of going to 2nd Army School for a lecture tonight, and dining at H.Q., but we couldn’t get a car; rather glad as it turned so wet. Shall go out in the morn and see 11th and 13th [Royal Irish Rifles]. The Bde. is taking Godson as Bde. Intelligence Officer; rather a loss, but I can’t stand in the way. Two new officers joined last night; I didn’t see them.
I read the ‘Times’ of yesterday, in the evening, about 9.00 p.m. Pretty good. Rode out with Duke at 9.30 a.m. and didn’t get back till 1.15, then out again at 3.00 p.m. till 5.00 p.m.; hodding round units and seeing their billets, and what they are at. Very healthy and nice. Saw Geo. Bruce this p.m. Shall probably ride out to see 9th tomorrow, after visiting the Bombing School. They are anxious to take Lutton in the signal section, for which he is eminently suited, but he can only go as a Lieut., so don’t know if he’ll agree. Godson comes as [108th] Bde. Intelligence Officer. Very sorry to lose him. There is a good deal more artillery activity on the Bosche side now, a constant strafe going on. The Div. on our left was raided Sunday morning, after a heavy bombardment, which overflowed into our left, and damaged the line a bit.
Heavy rain most nights since I returned, but the days have not been bad, only showers. It was not gas in young Crymble’s case, only a medical way of expressing a kind of gangrene. Went over to the 9th today. Met Fergie en route. Lutton is going to the signal section with a view to becoming Bde. Signal Officer, at his own request. He feels that it is his job and he is right. I am sorry we shall lose him from the Battalion. It gives us a vacancy for Captain, so it will promote Fergie.
During Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s absence on leave, Second Lieutenant John Gordon Crymble was wounded by a shrapnel bullet in the right leg on 22 December. He subsequently developed ‘gas gangrene’ and died of wounds in 2nd Casualty Clearing Station on 28 December 1916. He had joined the Battalion only on 7 October 1916 and was 19 years old. He was buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension.
Gas gangrene (clostridial myonecrosis) is an infection caused by the Clostridium perfringens bacteria that produces gas in gangrenous tissues. Gas gangrene cases had a high mortality rate.
Such an active day, sleety and showery. Rode out with Duke at 9.30 a.m. Saw 11th [Royal Irish Rifles] and M.G. Coy., and T.M. Bty. [Trench Mortar Battery], then on to Div. H.Q. Saw Place, who was very nice, then to Q. Branch, and saw about some tocks with Green; back by 1.30 p.m., office till 3.00 p.m., then off to Mont Noir and had a chat with Shillington. Fergie rolled up at 5.00 p.m. and we have been talking and settling tocks ever since. Am thoroughly enjoying all this riding about, but shall miss Duke greatly, he’s such a nice fellow. He goes on his 30 days on Sunday.
Went up in a car this morning to see some men of ours, and the 13th, and met Peacock and Shuter. P. had been down to see Ricardo and found him very optimistic. Had seen his Corps Commander, who had been with Haig previous day. Internal conditions of Germany very grave, actual starvation in some country parts very near. All out here seem sanguine the war will end this year. Such a poisonous day; skelping showers and very cold. Comyn came with us, so we had a covered car, which was pleasant. Looked in on 9th, saw Fergie and young Shill, both blooming. Do hope it may be fine for the shift tomorrow. Allen is anxious to go to instruct at Cadet School. Names have been called for. Shall probably let him go. Church Army are putting up a hut at R.L. [Red Lodge], which will be a boon. Peacock, who took over our Bn. H.Q. in the line, said a Bosche shell got our cookhouse and smashed it up, and their Xmas turkey was blown to smithereens. No one hurt.
Such a downpour. Wretched for the four Battalions who are changing areas. I went out about a couple of miles and saw all four pass. I thought the 9th looked far the best. Yes, Repington’s article on the work of the Q.M.G.’s Dept. will be illuminating to the ordinary public, I’m sure. He is, of course, an extremely able fellow. Saw Padre today, on the march. Such a treasure, stumping along with the men in the rain. Ricardo has taken Shuter’s place as Brig’r. to 109th; simply splendid. I’m so glad. It has now turned to heavy snow!