Letters will appear here from 1 March 2016.
[The Battalion in the line at Hamel—’Quiet day. Situation normal. …Casualty one man wounded.’—and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
We went to A_____ [Abbeville] and spent most of the day looking round for the big Base Camp. Very interesting. Just in time for a 7:30 p.m. dinner and then the Ulster Div. Follies, under Singleton, gave a show which is only just over. We are taking over all that middle bit from the French, so I believe we actually stay where we are instead of moving as we thought. I’m glad on the whole as I hate taking over a new bit, and we are getting to know this bit. We had tea in a patisserie place, and three of us, after some waiting, got seats. The place was crammed with French and English. A French lady came in and stood for some time, so we felt obliged to offer her a seat, and squashed up. She chattered away to us quite naturally, and at the end, when we got up to go, and saluted her, she said: “Milles remerciements, messieurs,” [“Many thanks, gentlemen.”] and then held out her hand, really a wonderful exhibition of good French manners, perfectly at her ease. She was not good looking, but well and quietly turned out, and very chic. It was only a trivial thing, but typical of French manners, and struck us all greatly, especially the way she put out her hand. We went in a regular bus, inside and outside seats. About 20 kilometres. Kentish gave us a lecture in the morning on his experiences of the very bit of line we (the 9th) are in now. Very interesting. I feel the course, and the talking over various problems with other C.O.s is very useful, and that I am deriving great benefit.
[The Battalion in the line at Hamel—‘About 6.00 p.m. we fired into enemy sap…with a Lewis gun and rifle grenades…Relieved tonight by the 12th Bn. R. Ir. Rifles.’—and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
We had an easy day; two lectures in a.m., one in p.m., and a most interesting demonstration of sniping, and some bombing and rifle grenade work. Tomorrow we go to Amiens to see flying and the French camouflage, where they make all sorts of dummy things like trees, tops of hills, woods, etc. The course has been most excellent in every way, and I’m enjoying it greatly. Most of the star lecturers have failed owing, I suppose, to so many movements being on. Higgins was to talk to us on ‘Flying’, Hussey on ‘Artillery’, and Vaughan on ‘Cavalry’, and they have all failed. Tonight we had a most interesting lecture by a Sapper Capt. on the ‘Battle of Loos’ from the R.E. [Royal Engineers] point of view. We’ve been very lucky in the weather. Since the snow went it has been quite nice. It rained a bit this evening. One young C.O. commanding a Territorial lot told me he was given the Battalion after Loos, where they lost every officer, and had only 190 men left. He had a fearful time re-organising, and after a fortnight had to go into the line. The French acknowledge very heavy casualties in the Verdun show, but the Germans have lost enormously. Not a word have I heard of the battle. I do trust they have not had a very bad time of it.
[The Battalion in reserve at Mesnil and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
We had a very interesting day. First went to the flying. Then on to Amiens, a sumptuous lunch, which was very pleasant, then on to camouflage, which was really wonderful. They have some of the very best French sculptors at work there, and the results are, of course, life-like. Trees, graves, and canvas covers for hiding half made trenches. Then hair cut and home by 6.oo p.m., and a lecture. Very cold, N.E. wind, and sleety snow. Simply bitter in the char- à-banc. Riddell in R.B., [The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own)] 2nd in Command of this school, goes about with us. A very nice fellow. Was an instructor at Sandhurst and goes on Sunday to command 8th R.B. He was in Germany doing an eye cure on July 29th, 1914, and managed to get out. The man he was with wouldn’t come with him, and is still there, in prison. He gave us an account of his escape. Verdun seems all right, though they are making another attack. No sign of lack of men or munitions. Amiens is quite a good town, good shops, heaps of French Generals. It seems ages since I came here, but has been very pleasant.
[The Battalion in reserve at Mesnil—‘Sudden orders to take over line of trenches…one mile north of MESNIL…over the knees in snow and slush…’A’ and ‘D’ Companies remained at MESNIL.’—and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
We go back tomorrow. Heard from Fergie today. Two minor casualties only, but fearful delays in supplies, and discomfort in consequences. They’ve got to dump 1½ miles from trenches at 2.00 a.m., and then had to be carried. Will let you know about candles. Hope some have arrived, but any amount will be wanted. Keep sending them and buy socks, always socks. Send all you have and make more. The 1,000 you now are sending only make a pair a man. The Battalion is at its best now. We shall never replace it with finer men. It will break my heart, if I survive, to have it annihilated in a push. Such a day, snow and sleet all day, and N.E. wind. Yes, I felt greatly refreshed by my week here. Kentish is very brainy.
Got back here to Englebelmer at 5.00 p.m. Found everything changed. ‘B’ and ‘C’ had gone into a new line on left instead of right of Downs. ‘A’ and ‘D’ were moving here and came in about 7.00 p.m. Pratt goes in this evening, and I relieve him Thursday. I go over this a.m. to see the line, which is knee deep in water. Snow again last night and today. Fearful upset of everything. People here, there and everywhere. No mess or Orderly Room here. However, I believe when things are sorted out we shall do six days in and six days out at Medauville, but we shan’t go out till next week, as 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] don’t come out till tomorrow, and will want six days rest. Meantime we stay here as the other place is full of troops. We are now in the new X Corps and 4th Army, commanded by Rawlinson. Cramsie has gone into Brigade Office vice Ken., who has gone as bottle washer to Singleton. Padre has had to go to Field Ambulance as Manning is sick. Not room in line for more than two of Bn. H.Q. at a time—rather a nuisance. I think it is an easier bit of the line, and will be all right when the weather takes up.
I have been ordered to send in the names of three officers and three N.C.O.s for reward, in Birthday Gazette! I protested we had done nothing so far to deserve honours, but was told to obey orders! I have sent in the following names—H., F., and C. J. I went into the line this p.m. Rode to Auchonvillers and then walked down trench, over knee deep in icy slush, in parts. I found Atkinson and the two Coys cheery as ever, and working away hand pumping and baling. They had improved things immensely by their hard work. The nights must be bad, standing in this icy slush. I think it is a fairly easy bit of the line, and very straight-forward, and no nasty places. A poor H.Q., only holds two, and detached kitchen, and small stove. I expect cooking is sketchy. Pratt has gone in tonight and I shall go in on Thursday. Do you see they have made Going a Brigadier? Wounded were all only slight, I’m thankful to say, so far. Two last time in. They seem to have got on all right, but had rather a bad time. Send all socks and keep making more. I’m quite warm and have never felt cold in day time. Reason why they relieve every 48 hours at Ypres is the trenches are so awful. Berry returned today all right again.
On this occasion, none of the nominations succeeded in gaining reward for those put forward. Both the Padre and the Quartermaster would be well rewarded for their later gallantry.
Such a sharp frost, the sharpest we have had yet. Hard to keep warm in bed. Yes, Byng got the XVII Corps. We are now in X Corps, commanded by Morland. Had a long trek round the trenches with Fergie this p.m. In places they are bad and will be worse when the thaw comes. A man in ‘C’ was badly wounded near us by a whizz-bang, four shrapnel wounds in his head. Fear he will not recover. Stewart is his name.
I had a long talk with our new Battery Commander, Sebag-Montefiore, (our own gunners have taken over the line) a most capable fellow. He says the men are coming on fast and have done a lot of shooting. We still have our old Heavies, only new Field Gunners. We relieve the two Coys in the line by the other two tonight. I relieve Pratt Thursday. We come out Sunday now, but another Coy goes in Thursday, as we take over more of the line. This bit of the line is more convenient both as to relief and the shorter distance to carry supplies. Better dug-outs, a good deal, and with fine weather will soon be all right. I believe we go out to rest at Hedauville about two miles back from this. Wheatley is Lt. Col. of the R.A. Bde. [Royal Artillery Brigade] I knew him in India and ’Oky—a fine fellow. He was commanding XVII Brigade in 29th Div. at Gallipoli, so has seen a bit.
Keep sending socks and candles. Socks urgent. Nice gum boots, wear them out, very soon. Have got the paper about forwarding comforts. It’s hard to make head or tail of it, but as socks and candles have not materialised yet I have written him saying we want them urgently. A letter from Duchess of Abercorn about prisoners’ comforts. Must now wrestle with Battalion accounts. Sharp frost again. They threaten to take Pratt for Divisional School.
Lovely warm day, but still frosty. Had great inspection of Transport; horses and men looking very well. Corps Commander Morland came today and sent for C.O.s to make their acquaintance. Very pleasant, recalled Aldershot days, when he was attached to ‘I’ Battery. Very sound soldier—knows Nugent, as he was in 60th. We had a poor Barossa celebration, everyone being on the move and upset. General (Div.) ordered a heavy strafe by our artillery on Hun transport at 6:30 p.m. No use, as they retaliate on ours and make things unpleasant for the fighting troops, and increases discomforts in front line. Atkinson has to take over a very bad bit tomorrow night. No dug-outs for officers. Very limited for men. Trenches knee deep in slush; its rather hard. The men have done splendid work on the trenches. Thanks goodness this is only for three days. Pratt’s name has not gone in for Div. School, so I hope I shall not lose him, though I know it’s only a matter of time. Menaul has gone map making in the neighbourhood, and is doing Intelligence Officer for the Battalion, and training scouts. Still lives with us, but is struck off trench duty. The amount of paper that is launched at one every day is remarkable, and most of it contradictory of some former order, so you don’t know where you stand. Though the frost and snow is hateful the fine sunny days are delightful.
Another frost, hard and black, and cold. Here I am in the line again and quite comfy. Quite a decent dug-out, long and narrow, with a partition off for my part, containing bed and small table, and much easier, of course, than usual. I came in with Berry about 3:30 p.m. Rode to within a mile and only had about 1,000 yards of communication trench. Hooper and kit were here before me. Had tea and wandered off round the line. The bit we have been in since Saturday is wonderfully clean; they must have all worked hard. Where it was over knee deep in water and slush, quite clean—that is main artery and fire trench. Of course, side trenches and accessories still bad. But the new bit ‘B’ Coy, has taken over today is awful—18ins. deep everywhere, except where it is three feet deep! Few and bad dug-outs, but they are quite cheery.
Very quiet so far. Another snow fall in the night, and frost. Had quite a good night. Very quiet. Dearth of water this morning. Just off to wander round. A quiet day and trenches improving by hard work. Poor ‘B’ Coy. had a wretched night. Two platoons in fire trench all night, and snowing and freezing. Thawing all day, and still doing it. Have now got the old trench dirt ground into me. Hands, face and clothes grimy and muddy. A new youth, Ozzard, joined today. He seems a good sort. Only saw him for a few minutes on his way to ‘A’ Coy. Ensor laid up with erysipelas in London. All leave still stopped. Accommodation here is very limited. Padre returns tomorrow, but doubt if he can stay in the line this tour anyway. We’ve rigged up quite a good stove in this dug-out in place of the coke brazier, which is a great improvement. We are just on the right of where we were in November. Bavarians opposite us I think.