We got in here at 7.00 a.m. after an all night journey in train, with a six mile march at end, and go on 12 miles tomorrow to a place, Tilques, where I hope we stay for a little to refit. Young Holmes, in Indian Cav., a cousin of ‘At.’s caught us on the march yesterday, after a long search, to inquire for news, but alas, we could give him no hope. Till we settle and I can get hold of Rank and File list I can help very little. We have all implored the men to write at once to their friends, but then there are the wounded, who may be unable to write. I am trying a regular reshuffle. I am taking on Fergie as Adjt. He will do it splendidly, promoting Regtl. Q.M.S. [Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant] to Qr. Mr., [Quartermaster] and anyway he will be here to help him. This I propose, but, of course, difficulties may be put in my way. Fergie has slaved for two years with no prospect of any advance, he is dying to get on, and is bound to do so, given a chance. If the war lasts he will command the Battalion. The men are quite pleased as they’ve found lots of orange lilies and are wearing them in their caps. The reshuffle will promote J. Shepherd Coy Q.M.S. [Company Quartermaster Sergeant]
Sgt. Foster, from Lurgan, was killed as we went into the line on Friday night, instantaneous, by shell. I had recommended him previously for Military Medal for gallantry. Can’t think why they have only mentioned some of the casualties. They are publishing them in penny numbers as it were. It’s wonderful the people thinking of me in their sorrow. Here of course London is as near as Paris. Leave may open again soon, but I couldn’t leave them yet; such a lot to be done. I feel dazed still. The Sgt Majors, the Qr. Mr. Sgts. [Quartermaster Sergeants] and one senior officer per Coy. were kept behind. Only 20 officers allowed over the parapet, and I only sent 16. Flood, Allen, Lutt. [Lutton] were all in the line, also young Ensor, doing some job, but didn’t go over. Given was at Army School. Shill. is doing grand work. He came out just at the right moment, and is an enormous help. Pratt has gone over to see his brother, who is on the Staff at G.H.Q. [General Headquarters] school for officers near here.
The Military Medal for Sergeant Foster—’for gallantry in carrying in wounded under shellfire while himself wounded’—was one of the first earned by the Battalion. It was published in the London Gazette on 14 December 1916.
Such a wonderful letter from Mrs. C.J. So good of her to write in all her trouble. Will you tell her how much I appreciate it? Poor Mrs. Atkinson, how much I feel for her.
[Eperlecques—The Battalion would remain here until 20 July.]
5.00 p.m. Got in after a 15 mile march—fine. Such a nice peaceful place. I have asked everyone to prevent my letters getting into the press. You might keep it in mind. I have a horror of it. A draft of 53 came in this evening, which brings us up to 356. We had parties out every night searching, and the last one when we were six miles back. It was dangerous work, and one officer was killed, and one wounded at the job. Everyone volunteered for it, and till we moved back 12 miles, parties went up every night. No trace of ‘At.’ could be found, but the area to search was about 450 x 500 yards, and under fire all the time. I still think it possible he may still be a prisoner. Ask Sloan to find out where Sgt. Caulfield, of Lurgan, is in hospital, as he stated he saw ‘At.’ dead, or apparently dead. If the men’s story about his being in the 3rd Line trench is true, he may be wounded, and a prisoner, but I doubt the story. No posthumous honours are allowed or given, except the V.C., and though I know they all earned it, there is no evidence. Old Bernard was killed in Thiepval wood, bringing up his Battalion, in support—shrapnel, I think. Ross Smyth sprained his ankle, I’m told, going up that night, and wasn’t wounded. Sgt. Johnston wounded, and not bad, I believe. Sgt. Foster killed. Sgt. Barbour all right. Will find out about Brownlee and Addis. I wish I could feel I deserved the men’s devotion, and the kindly thought for me on the part of the bereaved ones touches me to the heart. Old Q.M.S. [Quartermaster Sergeant] Russell is all right. He has been on a soft Div. job for months. This seems a charming spot. People are much more friendly here and helpful, Billets good, and so peaceful, and such a pretty country, so civilized. Two posts out in the day! I return your letters. How kind people have been, writing about me.
A charming letter from Mrs. Horner. I only let the Coy. officers go over the parapet; M.G. Signaller, Bomber, remained to organize the supplies of ammunition, etc., to be sent up. They were very angry, but I’m thankful I did. The Push, as far as the big gains go, has ended. It succeeded where there was surprise. Now the Germans are reinforcing there. However, it’s been a great buck up, and will continue, I expect, but I fear they won’t get through, though they may. Weather lovely today, warm, but cloudy. We had strawberries today for the first time.
Of course, we have begun the usual training fads again, programme of work, etc. As we have no men it’s rather a farce. I hope we may get filled up shortly. The 11th have got in some 90 Derby recruits. Quite good, I hear. The present idea is we shall stay here for a few weeks, but nothing is certain. The Push seems going on all right. There were rumours yesterday that the Cavalry had got through, but I fear not. We are here due W. [West] of Ypres, but some way off at Éperlecques. We may go back to 4th Army, or may stay here with the 2nd, probably latter, I should say. If we took over a bit of the line the Bde. would take over a battalion front, each battalion acting as a company. That’s what the 29th Div. did. We are in a new Corps, but I don’t quite know which—IX I believe. A heavenly day. We missed the bad weather this time. Have lost my beloved Onoto, and am lost without it. Fergie very pleased at being made Adjt.
The Derby scheme—officially the ‘Group Scheme’—was introduced in October 1915 as an interim method of recruitment before the introduction of conscription. See: The Derby Scheme
We got back about 10 of our slightly wounded cases today, Sergeant Johnston among them, I’m glad to say. He last saw ‘At.’ waving the men on. He (J.) was hit about 30 yards from the German line, but he didn’t see ‘At.’ then. Smith, a Lance Corporal in ‘A’ [Company] also back; crawled in from near German wire on Monday and says he saw Montgomery and Hollywood; were lying dead close to him. So I fear there is no hope for them. Very few of the bodies were able to be brought in; all energies devoted to getting in any that were alive. Of course, it’s dreadful, but it was impracticable, except at the cost of leaving wounded men out. My orders were “concentrate all energies on getting in the wounded.” The area was under fire and I could not risk loss of life to bring in the dead; our time was limited. Of course, a few near our line were brought in, but those far out had to be left. The Border Regt. have been so good, and have buried a number.
The present idea is we stay here till the end of the month, and then go into the line somewhere near, but it changes from day to day because no one knows for certain—nothing is certain. Personally I have not the least hope of any of the missing being alive, but there is a bare possibility in ‘At.’s case, but Sgt. Johnston does not think so. About recommendations. You must have evidence of some specific act, and this is impossible to obtain, though I know all were splendid. Ah! the pity of it. No leave, I hear. Gen. asked and was refused is the story. After all, it’s right. Good news again today. We are still going forward—but they are far from beaten. We have had 80 men back since coming here, most from Ireland.
I’m so grieved for Willie Hughes. He was one of the best in the Battalion. He had written to the S. Maj. [Regimental Sergeant Major] he was all right. Cheery to the end, a gallant fellow. Dull heavy weather, very close, occasional heat drops. There are heaps of small streams about here, and water is plentiful for the first time. Such a pretty country; wooded and with hedges, and undulating. Very good billets, comfy, have straw. Few people can realize the horror of war who haven’t seen it on this large scale, and what it entails; the dead lying unburied; the awful state of everything really in the fighting zone. Mercifully they can’t. We seem to be doing well, if only we could get Thiepval. Captures of guns and Hows., excellent news. I cannot understand why Mrs. Charlie hasn’t had a notification from W.O. [War Office] I must try and verify my report at Bde. office. Am trying to find out about Harry Frazer. A letter from old Gosford today, urged to write by his wife, I’m sure. I’ve just answered it. I got your letters the 3rd day, much quicker. There’s a lot of new staff work going on. I’m so saddened I cannot even strafe them. Padre writes to relations day and night. Young Burnett has lost his leg, but writes cheerfully. They are wonderful fellows. Pratt’s just come in to take me out to see a range. The Gen. (N.) has softened since just before the Push. I asked Gosford to set inquiries on foot re prisoners. Please tell me any discrepancies that come to your notice, and they can be put right. It’s so hard to avoid errors in dealing with large numbers.
M’Calmont came over to see me yesterday in the P. of Wales’ car! He has put on flesh, but is looking well. The Prince specially offered the car to him to come and see the Div. They are in the salient and have been in since March. Not a salubrious spot. I went to the Bde. office yesterday and found out that my amended report about C.M.J. had not reached them, so got them to wire it at once.
Plumer is our Army Commander. He came round to make our acquaintance today. Grown very white, but very pleasant. He looked hard at me and I mentioned you and Hale, and he said “of course, I knew your face and couldn’t place you”. Don’t know what Corps we are in, but believe V. Don’t know who commands it. Wilson, Reg. Q.M.S., [Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant] comes from Poyntzpass, and was clerk in Gavin Low’s house in Dublin. A charming letter from the Primate. Did you see an account of the rebellion in Wexford, written by a lady living on the river below N.T. Barry? Quite good. We sent a Sgt. and Pte. from each Battalion in Div. to Paris for 14th. They have just returned. They had a great time, and the Sgt. (Campbell) said “We were just adored!” Today I was ordered to send in one of the names already submitted, for immediate reward.
The account of the rebellion in Wexford was written by Moira O’Neill—the nom-de-plume of Agnes Shakespeare ‘Nesta’ Higginson (Mrs Walter Skrine), who lived at Ballyrankin, County Wexford. She is known for her book of poetry ‘Songs of the Glens of Antrim’. Her account of the rebellion may be found online in various formats:
O’Neill, Moira. (June 1916). During the Rising in Wexford. Blackwood’s Magazine. Volume CXCIX, No. MCCVIII, pp 819-827.
Orders just come for a move, and we have all out on a route march. We move at 3.00 p.m., about nine miles up toward the line in the direction of P_____ [Poperinghe]—an awful rush.
1.30 p.m. Such a hurry and turmoil, collecting everything, and of course a whole lot of clothing and boots came in at the last moment, and nowhere to carry them. Am leaving some men behind to look after the things, and bring ‘em on when they can. Very sorry to leave this peaceful spot. We are scattered here, which makes things more difficult.
We go on to a camp near P_____ [Poperinghe] by train. Transport by road, leave at 7.00 a.m. Hilda Booth’s boy joined 12th. Came and talked to me yesterday. Such a nice fellow, strong and well built. March severe yesterday, hot duty. Very clean place here—B_____ [Bolizelle]. Don’t think much kit has been lost so far. We have managed to bring it all along. Before going into the line last time we dumped all surplus kit, and each man’s pack, which contained clean change. Poor Burnett was very plucky; he was by the German broken wire with a broken leg, but managed to crawl a bit after dark.
9.00 p.m. We came here by light railway. Transport by road 18 miles. We were met on arrival by P. of Wales, who escorted us to our camp and was most kind. He is D.A.Q.M.G. [Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General] XIV Corps, and I told him I had never received such kindly treatment from any Corps staff before, at which he smiled. Such a nice boy and quite simple, and unaffected. A nice, well-appointed camp, about two miles from Pop. Having just settled in we are told we are to move early tomorrow into another Corps further south. The P. was furious at this apparent muddling and cursed Generals freely. The Div. H.Q. is miles away, Bde. H.Q. five miles away, so we shall not get orders till small hours, and then to move at once, I suppose. Quite a decent journey today. We left at 9.30 a.m. and got in at 11.30 a.m. and only a few minutes’ march at each end. There some huts, but I am in a tent. These constant moves are irksome and seemingly unnecessary. The rail runs along the road. We passed our transport and caused much alarm among the horses. Result—three wagons were smashed.
Orders to move at 10.15 a.m. Came at 9.05 a.m. Again hurry packing. We go today to Locre, about nine miles I think. Don’t know what it means. We go now to V Corps. I saw John Hotham on the road and had a short talk. He says they are off South. We go into the line tomorrow night. Not too bad a part, I believe. Came on this morning with Coy. Commanders and Fergie, and am just going up now with them to have a look. Two battalions (ourselves and 12th) take over one battalion front. Of course, this means a squash for headquarters, two battalions having to share. Cloudy, looks like rain, but very hot. We are just south of M_____ [Messines].