Still dull, slight frost and light snow. A very heavy bombardment just S. [south] of us near our last place, from 11:15 p.m. to 12:40 a.m., but apparently nothing developed of a serious nature anyway. We were all up and ready. A thick fog and one could walk about on top or ‘on the lid’ and get a better idea of the trenches. Such a maze of unused half complete trenches as there are. Went round the line after breakfast. There met the R.E. Fd. Coy. [Royal Engineers Field Company] Major and Sub. [subaltern] (both capital fellows), and prospected sights for new dug-outs. Then Bull came and I went round with him, then lunch and a rest; then the Padre, and then round ‘on the lid,’ and so home. I hear Ross Smyth’s Battalion lost three killed and about 12 wounded in last night’s strafe, which was wonderfully little considering the amount of heavy stuff the Huns put in. ‘B’ Coy. have worked so well in fearfully miserable conditions, and never a murmur or grumble. Relief tomorrow, I hope by daylight. Even so don’t expect to be back at H_____ [Hédauville] till 8.00 or 9.00 p.m. Drizzle set in this evening so hope the thaw has really come at last. Rather fear the French will have to fall back, not really serious, but will help to hearten the Hun. I see the German Fleet is out, but I expect won’t go far. It may be they are going for a big thing all round. They don’t seem to suffer from lack of ammunition judging from last night, which was just retaliation for Nugent’s strafe of their transport.
Such a glorious spring morning, sunny and warm, but of course everything muddy. A quiet night. We killed a large rat in the dug-out this morning.
The daylight relief was vetoed after all, and I didn’t get in here till 11.00 p.m., and the last Coy. not till midnight. The relief began at 7.00 p.m. and finished at 9:30 p.m. Berry, Cather and I then walked to E_____ [Englebelmer] 1½ miles, got on ponies and rode on here, 2½-3 miles. Such a lovely day, perfect spring day, and so poozy. The men had breakfast at 9.00 a.m. and are basking in the sun and cleaning themselves and resting. Quite comfy here. I really hope now the fine weather has come to stay. It is really heavenly today. The usual old billeting worries. No straw, billets dirty, men crowded, loss of kit, alleged damage of all sorts, lack of firing, fuel etc. But with fine weather and everybody cheerful difficulties melt away. We have arranged for the Div. Folly Troop to give performances for the men Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m convinced it’s essential to rest the men, body and mind while out of the line, to keep them fit and well.
Severe thunderstorm last night from 7:30—8.00 p.m. and torrents of rain. A slight frost and another lovely day. The concert by Div. Follies of eight men was quite good, and the men enjoyed it; it bored me to tears. John Redmond writes to me he has sent a parcel of shamrock for the men of the 17th! So peaceful in the sun; one hardly hears the guns. I hear leave is to open again next week. Just had a bath and feel clean. I had a talk to the N.C.O.s today, the first time I had been able to get them together for ages—their duties and responsibilities as leaders—and a general talk about the war, and how it is progressing everywhere. Am having a short Battalion parade in the morning, and we have to send 600 men for working party to dig trenches, at 6.00 p.m. The shower last night was very partial, and they did not get it on the line, I believe. Poor Stewart has died at Rouen. He was badly mauled about the face, eye, and brain, with shrapnel. If this weather lasts we shall soon have the trenches in grand order. Two bales of socks have come and Fergie is to let me know how many. He and the Transport are three miles away, which is rather a nuisance, but he’s got such a splendid store and place generally, and is so handy to the trench line, that it’s not worth moving him. I couldn’t manage Barossa Day.
The casualty was:
18066 Private Thomas Stewart, wounded by shrapnel on 7 March and died of wounds on 12 March 1916 in hospital at Rouen; St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre.
A dull day, but fine, not so warm, roads drying up well. I see Lloyds are laying 5 to 1 against the war being over in 1916. I hear that troops that have been in Gallipoli are coming here. The 29th Div. is coming to us, I believe. They are forming a new VIII Corps.
Do hope you are having this nice weather. Today another sunny warm one. We had 500 men out digging a new trench last night, from 7.00 p.m. till 1.00 a.m. It was a lovely night, and they left us alone. 29th Div. does not come here. We are 32, 36, and 49 [Divisions]. Sir George Richardson has sent the shamrock to all the Battalions. The roads are drying up splendidly and the trenches also, I’m thankful to say. Padre back again and in grand form.
A concert on St. Patrick’s Day. We all had a late breakfast after our night out; men as well. They love a lie in bed, which they seldom get. Never can see why they should be routed up at dawn, when there’s nothing to be done and they are resting. We’ve just had an interesting lecture on gas and tear shells. The latter in addition to blinding you for ½ an hour, makes you vomit freely! The gas kills five miles, and you can smell it 12 miles behind. Am sending Pratt into the line for the first three days, with young Shill to do Adjt, to train him as understudy to Cather. Shall visit them daily, but sleep at E_____ [Englebelmer]. Another working party tonight of 50 men, under Brew. The Huns have been more active the past week. They gave the 10th Inniskillings a rare bombardment from all sorts of guns, for 1½ hours, and the Battalion behaved extremely well, and were complimented in a special order of the day, by Nugent. The R.A. Brig. Gen. commanding the heavies of X Corps is here. I went to see him today—one Vincent, about two years senior to me, R.G.A. [Royal Garrison Artillery] I didn’t know him. Curly Birch is the Army Artillery adviser, and a Maj. Gen. Tomorrow we play ‘Young Cits’, [14th Royal Irish Rifles] and a concert in the evening. It’s very pleasant hearing all the nice things but they are far too flattering. We had a gas lecture today from a man who had been to Verdun, very interesting. He says casualties he believed about equal both sides, and of course colossal. Redmond’s shamrock not yet materialised.
All ranks decorated with Sir G.’s shamrock, in their caps. A dull day, but fine and quite fairly warm. Spring is coming quickly here. We’ve managed a good rest for the men these six days, and the weather has helped enormously. This billet, a small one-storied house of one kitchen, one mess room, and two small bedrooms off it. I have one and one of the owners the other. Two toothless old girls of about 70 live in the kitchen and small room beyond. We cook in a lean-to annexe. There are numerous hens in the yard and manure heaps in front, which make hen noises all day. The change to X Corps is due to a general reshuffling—the best corps staff we had had. So sorry you are not having nice weather.
Another nice day. I move about 2.00 p.m. and visit Bull. See what he’s done and see what we have to do this next week, and return to E_____ [Englebelmer] this evening, leaving P_____ [Major Pratt] in the line. We had a great feed last night, provided by Fergie. I enclose menu, which will amuse you. Fergie very bright bird and immensely pleased with his St. Patrick’s Day arrangements. We beat the ‘Young Cits’ 2 goals to 1. They played a rough game. No more news of another move, but it’s coming I fear. However, I don’t look ahead more than 48 hours. Shall have a church parade tomorrow, for as many men as we can gather, ‘B’ Company, transport, etc., and Padre has arranged a celebration. Over six weeks since we have had a service of any sort.
Another good day. We moved three Coys into the trench line last night [Auchonvillers], and one here [Englebelmer]. Went in about 3.00 p.m. and stayed talking over things with Bull till 7.00 p.m., when I walked back here. The 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] have done a good week’s work and the trenches are beautifully dry. They seem to have got some heavy guns up opposite us now. They have been putting over some 8-inch stuff, but not nearly as much as we gave them. Two more officers joined about 11.00 p.m. last night. Both from the 3rd Battalion, and one in 4th Hussars! The 2nd Battalion are, I believe, on their way back here from the East to this front. A fearful squash in this place. Leave re-opens for us on 22nd. Am sharing Fergie’s bedroom, with his office and mess room next door. Such lovely moonlight nights, as light as day. No trench feet with us. I might get away about 1st week in April. We come out of the line to H_____ [Hedauville] on 24th, and go in again 30-5 [i.e. 30 March to 5 April]. At present I go in for three days and Pratt for three days, but that may alter any time. I can do so much more administrative work here; it’s useful to be here sometimes, i.e. with Fergie, etc. Transport at E_____ [Englebelmer]. Lots of our planes being shelled all day and prevented crossing the line.
The two officers who joined were Lieutenant Edwin Alfred Godson, who had been wounded serving with 4th Queen’s Own) Hussars and had transferred to Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) earlier in the year; and Lieutenant Ernest Trafford Owles, who had been wounded serving with the 2nd Battalion. From now until the end of the war the reinforcements of officers and soldiers would comprise a mix of new men and those recovered from wounds or illness who had served elsewhere. Godson went on to earn the Military Cross twice and Owles earned the Military Cross as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps.
I inspected the Battery (position and guns) that covers us in the line, yesterday p.m. They are coming on well and delight in being up here instead of being messed about behind. Montefiore commands this one. 141 men have been sent out to me from Newtownards, only 59 of these have arrived; the remainder frozen on to at the Base, beside numerous N.C.O.s and men (17) who have been evacuated sick, and when discharged from hospital the Base has collared them. Left here at 9:30 a.m., returned at 7:30 p.m. Examined all parts of work done and doing; arranged for taking over another bit tomorrow, and discussed various projects with Brig [i.e. GOC 108th Brigade]. The Huns put some heavy stuff over about 4.00 p.m., but we had no one touched. Six men had just come out of a small dug-out after tea, when a 5.9 landed on it and demolished it. Now weather is taking up trench boots are not necessary. So heavy wear of the socks is reduced. Yes, take Princess Mary’s Boxes to wives of men killed. The French seem to have collared the Bosches; it must have been a bad blow to them. I’m leaving Cather out of the line to wrestle with office work here, and taking on young Shillington to act as Adjt. in the line. I fear we shall move from this bit of line in about a fortnight—horrid nuisance. Padre came in with me this morning and spent a happy day with the men. He’s simply grand and loves the life. The trenches are indeed different from when we were in last, but a great amount of work still to be done, clearing up approach trenches. With these constant changes there seems to be no continuity, and each lot goes in digs new trenches, so the place is a maze of disused ones. Must be puzzling to the Huns.
Although the gift boxes were originally to be sent to ‘every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front’, the Princess Mary Gift Fund, established by voluntary subscription, allowed wider distribution to all of those in uniform at Christmas 1914 and to the families of casualties suffered in 1914. Distribution was not complete until 1920. For more information see: Princess Mary Gift Fund 1914 Box and Contents.