TUESDAY, JUNE 20th

12.30 p.m. Another dry day and not too cold. ‘At.’ brought me your letter. He was very beaming and full of chat. I saw Sgt. Johnston, and thanked him for going to see you. I hear five more officers are coming. We don’t move tomorrow, I hear. Can’t think what the delay means. Anyway I don’t complain. Yes, it was advanced somewhat suddenly. No-one is allowed to take letters home, under penalty of losing their leave. So one couldn’t ask anyone to do so. All leave is stopped.

Second Lieutenant Harold Lyness

Second Lieutenant Harold Lyness

3.00 p.m. Three officers have turned up from 10th Battalion, I think. Seem ordinary. Of course, they are not much use, and we don’t take them with us, as we are limited to 20. Preserved ration began today. A new C.S.M. has come from 10th Battalion, one Livingston, who was a Sergeant in 2nd Battalion; has 12 years’ service, and looks a smart fellow. Am much relieved. The other three officers I saw this a.m. They arrived about 11.00 p.m. Nothing startling either way. One was appointed in T.F. [Territorial Force] Black Watch, Lyness by name. Locke and Craig are the other two. The men had a very long night of it—left at 6.00 p.m., got back 6.00 a.m.—a 10 mile march and some heavy carrying to do, but they worked splendidly. It’s now trying to rain. Morland tells me we brought down two Hun ‘planes yesterday evening, and there was much activity in the air. Rather a quiet night as the men are mostly sleeping and resting. They wanted to send some of them again tonight, but I fought it and got off. The fine weather still continues, and the whole camp dried up, and the roads deep in dust, but it turns very cold in the evenings. Charlie came round to our camp about 6.00 p.m. Didn’t get much news from him. Young Cramsie returned from leave today. It’s not fair that these young bottle washers on Bde. Staffs, should absorb so much of the leave ration to the exclusion of older men who are having the hardships of trench life. To make matters worse Menaul had to do C.’s work whilst he was away, in addition to his (M.’s) own work, and I found Chas. sending him all over the country on his work. However, I told M. not to do anything of that sort without reference to me.

SUNDAY, JUNE 18th

10.00 a.m. Such a day, bitter N.E. wind, and so cold. I was to have gone up in a ‘plane to have a look at the line, and got up early for the purpose. However, the day is so cloudy the flying people would not take me up, as one could see nothing. The Battalion were all very nice about the ‘mention,’ but it’s really due to them as I told them. We have to find a working party of 600, to work all night, which is harrying and fatiguing for the men, but of course it’s unavoidable and a necessity.

4.00 p.m. Quite a large church parade, and heard many stayed for 2nd service. Padre was simply splendid. Day turned out warm and sunny after lunch. Pratt goes in charge of working party, leaves here at 6.00 p.m. and won’t return till 7.00 a.m. at earliest. We don’t go into line till Tuesday. Peake was much fatter, delighted to get away from W.O., was interesting and optimistic. I believe, the Govt. are working the American scare very hard, but I hear it’s quite bogus.

Farnham is back. Been on the rush all day, though I did get up an hour too soon. Operation orders and confabs with Coy. Commanders, and now a demonstration of wire cutting, about two miles away. This delay will enable ‘At.’ to join us here tomorrow night. Young Shill. has been commanding ‘B’ with great success. Rather fear have got a cold. Three new officers joined tonight from 3rd Battalion, I think. I like our new medico—Burrows—very much. Berry came to see us last Sunday; he is hard at office work, with X Corps. I am delighted he will be out of the Push. I take four officers a company; Lutton, Signalling Officer; Ensor, M.G. [Machine Gun] Officer; Flood, Bombing Officer; Pratt and Cather. After a wait of 1½ hours, the demonstration in wire cutting never came off, owing to old S. muddling. Our ‘planes very busy in p.m. At one time a fleet of 12 were over this place. The 1st Bn. are now at Mailly-Maillet, about four miles away. The 15th [Royal Irish Rifles] were in the line when the Bosche raided, and behaved very well. About 100 yards of front line was obliterated literally by Bosche fire. Cather is extraordinarily good as Adjt. The work is constant, night and day; he is methodical and never forgets anything. I leave all details to him with the greatest confidence. I am certainly served with the best subordinates, Stronge, Fergie, Cather and young Ensor, and indeed Lutton and Flood could not be bettered. Saw Hugh O’Neill for a minute today.


Footnote

Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was mentioned in despatches on 15 June 1916—it was the first of three mentions he earned during the First World War.

SATURDAY, JUNE 17th

1.00 p.m. We had a satisfactory morning practising attack by ourselves; no one to waste our time. We had an aeroplane to practise signalling to, and everything was successful. Too late to send food tocks now. I may get in meat lozenges. The Bishop will be with you the day of the Push. I haven’t gathered the opinion re exclusion [i.e. of the northern six counties], but in the Battalion it is, from what I hear, strongly against, as we have Cavan and Monaghan men. Yes, I think G.S.O.1. is good. Fine sunny and drying day. Cold N.E. wind.

FRIDAY, JUNE 16th

2.00 p.m. Have to be at Bde office at 2.30 p.m. for a conference. Morland very sound. 110th Bde is in 37th Div. Fine drying day; sun and N.E. wind. More instructions keep pouring in. We’ve done a useful day’s work in the dry. Joseph Johnston, who is a linguist, goes to the Corps to interrogate prisoners. Padre is coming with us, I’m glad to say, he will be splendid. A very cold night.

5.00 p.m. Have been sitting in conference for 2½ hours, and really nothing of importance settled. Hours wasted over unimportant details, and serious matters either laughed at or met by “will find out”. Am muddled to a degree. Hope everything will be cleared up in time. Fergie has got the accessories of the camp so comfortable, and the whole place has dried up grandly. Rather a dear old woman owns this house. She is mending Tiger’s woolly for me. Am wearing again it is so cold.

THURSDAY, JUNE 15th

After a threatening morn early it has turned out fine and drying. Am doing a useful day’s work in camp; musketry, gas helmets, bayonet work, etc. Floods of orders and instructions keep coming in; hard to take them all in. Only 20 officers are to be taken, and much grief and heartburning on those left behind. ‘At.’ will have his work cut out to get to us, but he’ll succeed, I expect. I had a talk with new B.M., very short talk, but I was favourably impressed—quiet and capable. We began our new daylight saving day today, 6.00 a.m. Was not like 7.00 a.m. Capital letters in ‘Times’ on training of officers. Holt came over today with a petition that he might give his men a bath. He could find no one to do it. Fergie, of course, complied. He’s a wonderful man, for he not only gathers all sorts of stores and things, but is quite willing to share them, which is quite unusual in Qr.-Mrs. [Quartermasters] The French are being pressed, I fear, at Verdun. The Russkys still doing good work. The men are really keen for a go at the Bosche. I know they will do well, and I have always delegated and left so much to Coy. Commanders (perhaps too much) that I’m confident they’ll handle their men, well. Wonder did you see ‘At.’.

5.00 p.m. Our kit, reduced to Regt’l. weights, has to be packed on to baggage wagons before we move, and left with Fergie and Stronge. Surplus stuff will have to be stored somewhere; one can take very little into the line, and that will very probably be lost, except what one can carry; not much.


Footnote

The letters in the ‘Times’ referred to by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker were a series of articles by an anonymous correspondent—C.N.—who wrote five pieces titled ‘The Making of an Officer’. They espoused traditional aspects of the life and expected behavior of junior officers. The articles appeared on 8, 9, 12, 13 , and 14 June 1916. ‘C.N.’ was, in fact, Herman Cyril McNeile, an officer of the Royal Engineers, who also wrote under the nom-de-plume ‘Sapper’. He achieved fame after the war as the creator of Bulldog Drummond.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14th

4.15 p.m. Poor Vennard badly wounded in head, fear is bad. Don’t know what hospital. One never knows when they leave this where they are. The Bde H.Q. lived in Martinzart with a French family. I made a point of never going there for a meal, so never saw the females. It was, in my opinion, absolutely wrong—things were talked about at meals which should not have been discussed before strangers. Quite possible they were spied. Charlie got ‘ratty’ if he heard the word ‘spy.’ Said there weren’t such things! We begin summer time at 12.00 midnight tonight; all clocks go on one hour. Everything has suddenly been advanced. We go into the line Monday, for some days. You will get no letters, I shall receive none; but don’t be uneasy. I’m sure the Battalion will do well. I pray it may not suffer. With a little luck we ought to be all right. We stay here till Monday; others leave tomorrow and the day after, so we score. Rain again last night and showers early, but it has now cleared up and is drying fast, but such a mess everything is in. I managed to get a rum ration last night; the men were chilled to the bone, and their clothes were soaked. Owing to this advance of everything C.M.J. isn’t going to take his leave. They have reduced our leave ration to one now. The elephant is now occupied, you’ll be glad to know. New B.M. [Brigade Major] appeared this a.m. on parade. He seems very youthful.

TUESDAY, JUNE 13th

A wet night and threatening a.m., which turned to heavy rain about 11.00 a.m. Consequently we all got drenched and the camp is a sea of mud again; so cold! I believe when we go up we shall go direct into the line, and lie there during the preliminary bombardment of some days, during which time nothing can come up. I have soup, but if you can manage to send meat lozenges they would be useful, specially in the Push; but they must come quickly. The trenches must be in awful state with the wet and the hammering they get; and very hard to repair in the wet, and the Bosche guns playing on them at night to prevent work being done. I’m glad we’re out of the line, bad and uncomfortable though the camp is; after all we have no shells or bullets. If this wet goes on we shall have a lot of sickness. It hasn’t come yet, but is bound to come. We are bothered by scabies. It began at Bordon where we took over infected barracks and we’ve never been really clear since; aggravated by life in the trenches, and latterly lack of baths, owing to move; we are full of it—about 100 cases, mostly quite mild, and only away about two days, but recurring every day. Practising the attacks through crops waist height, and saturated with wet, is very trying on men, as they have no chance and no means of drying their clothes. It was drenching doing it today.


Footnote

The Battalion was based at Martinique Barracks, Bordon in while it completed rifle shooting at the end of its training and just before sailing for France. This postcard, showing a photograph of Martinique Barracks, was sent home by 14561 Private George McCarroll.

Martinique Barracks, Bordon

Martinique Barracks, Bordon

MONDAY, JUNE 12th

I was spared the journey to see about wire, but had a useful p.m. The Russkys are pushing ahead well, but the ice creamers [Italians] seem to be taking a knock. It was a lovely day and things have dried up wonderfully, but it looks like rain again tonight. ‘At.’ went off this a.m. He will be home Tuesday to Friday. I expect you will see him. After a threatening morning it has settled down to steady rain again. With regard to Ireland a compromise is the only chance of peace, and civil war would be hell. It’s the lines I foreshadowed—sad, but each side must give way. Remember the Nationalists are giving up Belfast, and their majority in M_____, [Munster] C_____, [Connaught] and D_____, [Dublin] is large, and should have a say in the matter.

WHIT-SUNDAY, JUNE 11th

After a night of rain it is a sunny day and the place is drying, but it’s such a mess. Have been with Charlie all morning, then back for a talk with the officers about the attack. Now I want to ride over our ground, and have to go up about six miles to see an R.A. Group Commander about wire cutting. A bathe this morning. No B.M. [Brigade Major] yet.

9.30 p.m. Had a long afternoon over our practice ground, then on to see 1st Battalion, and then called on Peake on my way back and had tea there. He told me he’d tried to get me back to R.A., but hadn’t succeeded. A lecture, about 2½ miles from here, on the Jutland fight, by a man who was there. Brew went, most interesting. The man was a Major in the next Div. home on leave, got a permit to visit the Fleet, arrived 6.00 a.m. on morning, was put on a battleship as a guest, sailed at 9.00 a.m. and took part in the fight. Saw it all in the fighting top. Jellicoe’s Fleet consisted of 24 Dreadnoughts. They didn’t see much of Beatty’s action, but saw ‘Defence’ blown up, and ‘Marlborough’ hit. She heeled over and then righted herself and went on firing. Says his ship sank ‘Lutzow.’ Admiralty claim to have sunk 30 ships, he says. Mine layers were sent round to lay a mine field between German Fleet and Wilhelmshaven, which they did successfully, and were the means of sinking some German ships. There was a Bosche raid into our bit of the line last night. Our casualties six killed and 14 wounded. We accounted for one Bosche officer, killed, and six dead in our trench, besides others wounded outside.


Footnote

The raid mentioned was against 15th Royal Irish Rifles, one of the battalions of 107th Brigade, holding the line while 108th and 109th Brigades prepared for the forthcoming attack. Nine men of the Battalion were killed.