WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8th

Lieutenant W J Menaul, later in the war

Lieutenant W J Menaul, later in the war

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.

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THURSDAY, MARCH 9th

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.

FRIDAY, MARCH 10th

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.

SATURDAY, MARCH 11th

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.

MONDAY, MARCH 13th

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.

TUESDAY, MARCH 14th

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.


Footnote

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.