Another dull day, but no rain. A heavy strafe for an hour last night, well to the north, from 9.45 to 10.30 p.m. Quiet night with us. The Bde. has a conference here at 10.30 a.m. this morn, about work, etc.
The Artillery officer now stays with us for six days instead of changing every 24 hours—much better. We send officers to the Battery for 48 hours when we are out of the line. The entente between infantry and artillery is wonderfully good.
1.00 p.m. Such a lovely spring day. Delighted to see they are re-arresting and deporting the Sinn Feiners. Sergt. Wolfe is back with the Battalion. He is a splendid fellow—now Scout Sergt, which he delights in. Henahan has got ‘C’ [Company]—he is a fine fellow and a man. Our men have been wonderfully free from Tommy’s vices—venereal, drink and bad language. I’m sorry to note on returning that these English drafts have been taught the last; at least there is a good deal more of it than there was.
Dull morning, inclined to rain now. A burst of fire from 7.00 to 7.30 p.m. last night. We had one man hit. Intermittent fire all night. A certain amount of activity on the part of the enemy all yesterday p.m. T.M.’s [trench mortars] in front line and big strafe on our guns and back areas. Padre heard of Wingfield a short time ago. He was going to R.F.C. as his leg would prevent his marching.
Frost last night and thick mist this morning. Quiet night. Bosche blow up a mine somewhere N. of us at 5.45 a.m., which shook everything. Monday is Barossa Day so shall have a whole holiday. Parade in a.m. for Gen. Griffith to present Bugle; football match in afternoon. Cannot manage concert, no room available.
The mine blown by the Germans was at Spanbroekmolen, south east of Wijtschate. In 1916 a British gallery had been dug under the German position there and the mine blown by the Germans was an attempt to disrupt British mining activity. It successfully destroyed the main gallery and cut the initiation cable leading to the explosives under the German position. A new tunnel was dug to bypass the damaged area and to reconnect the cable. The British mine was exploded successfully in the opening moments of the Battle of Messines in June 1917.
We have really been lucky in the weather this tour—no rain and only one sunny day, which means shelling, and aerial activity. ‘Percy’ told me this part of France was renowned for its piety. I gather the feeling generally of the French towards religion was much the same as it was in England before the war. The war has made people think more of a future state. Sunny day after a white frost, so everything is messy and greasy. We go outside this p.m. No ‘planes over today; one tried about 10.00 a.m., but was driven back by our Archies [anti-aircraft artillery]. Our snipers have done good work this time. We have silenced the Bosche sniper not a shot from him this time, and outed a lot of Bosches in the front line. Our heavies are booming away preparatory to a bombardment this p.m. Bosche not replying. He has been paying much more attention to our guns and back areas lately than the front line. We’ve done a good deal of work this tour, but not much to show for it. On one place (elephant for men) we have put 9,000 sand bags, and there are another 20,000 to go on to complete. Have completed a Coy. H.Q. in front line.
The 500 pairs socks have arrived safe, so we are splendidly off. Still 80 men not been on leave who came out with us. No one goes a second time till all have gone. All our arrangements for today—presentation of Bugle, etc.—have had to be abandoned owing to snow, which set in early this morning, and still continues. We got out yesterday at 5.30 p.m. all right. Poozy to get one’s clothes off and have a bath. Gibson and Barcroft turned up last night. Have to go to an anti-gas lecture this p.m. Next night we only go four days in. Roads fearful again.
‘Barossa Day’, commemorates the capture of the Imperial Eagle of the French 8th Regiment by the 87th Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Barossa on 5 March 1811; it was the first such capture during the Peninsular wars. For comments about the similarly unsuccessful Barossa Day in 1916 see the letters of 28 February, 8 March, and 14 March 1916.
Serjeant Patrick Masterson, 87th Foot
Sunny day after a white frost. A strafe of our heavies all the morning. Went to Bde. office and spent half an hour with Gen. settling things. My recommendations had not gone on, but have now. Two for Military Medal for stretcher bearers, who did good work in bringing in wounded from a neighboring Div. I hear the Canadians did a big raid the other night. A whole Brigade went over and did a lot of damage. I wrote to Padre’s father today (he is 94), telling him what we all thought of his son, and sent him the copy of the recommendations I had sent in for the M.C. for him for the third time.
The Military Medal was subsequently awarded to 14282 Private John Hamilton and 40085 Lance Corporal James Smallwood (one of the Yorkshireman who had joined the Battalion in December 1916) both of ‘C’ Company: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in securing and rescuing wounded men for a neighbouring division from ‘No Man’s Land’ on the morning of February 19th, 1917.’
Frosty again and a bitter N.E. wind today. Another strafe this a.m. by our guns; all sorts. Our snipers got to work last tour and fairly silenced the Bosche ones. Up to that we lost a man a day from them, and last tour they never even fired. We had four pairs of ours at work, one with telescope observing (only 80 yards off) and one with telescopic rifle. Result was we outed quite a lot of Bosche. Young Shill. is extraordinarily accurate and reliable. Wonderful good head on such young shoulders. A howling bitter N.E. blast that cuts one in two. The 12th had a few casualties from T.M.’s [trench mortars] today. This hard weather seems prevalent everywhere. I still don’t see how the war will last beyond this year. Stronge is busy ploughing and is well forward. We found two old derelict ploughs and a barrow. Bde. mess was only 6 fcs. a day last month. My strictures on liqueurs had some effect.
Snow early and continuing at intervals all a.m. Sun out now and melting it fast, but wind still N.E. and bitter. I had a reply from Nugent about Padre. “Thanks for your recommendation for Halahan. I quite agree. You may be sure he will not be overlooked.” So that’s satisfactory. Yes, so far Griffith has kept to my alterations. Of course, crabbed them [complained], but found all C.O.’s supporting me, so left it. They are all very nice about me, far more than, of course, I deserve.
I have no idea about big things in the future. This retirement of the Germans alters things somewhat. We are short-handed again. We had to send 50 men and an officer away for a fortnight’s duty in back areas, and have had 40 cases of scabies, who will be away for a similar period, reducing us by 100, just when men are wanted for work.
10.00 p.m. The p.m. turned out better, though cloudy. No snow fell and the glass is rising. The Bosche put up a heavy strafe on 12th front between 3.00 and 4.00 p.m. Caused some casualties. He also threw some shells about back areas, promiscuous like, but did no damage. We only go in for four days this time, and then out to another place further back, where the Battalion will be together again. To promote entente between Infantry and Heavy Artillery I am to be attached, on 14th and 15th, to a heavy group, about three miles off. As they can’t put me up I have to ride over each day from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.—rather ridiculous.
Reverend Halahan was duly awarded the Military Cross in the Birthday Honours of June 1917. This was the fist of two such awards; he was also twice mentioned in despatches.
Fine morning, now threatening snow again. March seems a snorter out here. Sorry to say there’s a move on, only a side step N., I believe, but it will entail more Transport lines and stores, and being rather crowded. However, we can’t complain—we’ve been eight months without a move. Another strafe about 4.00 a.m., and the 12th had a few casualties. They have had a bad time this tour. The trenches were knocked about rather.
Foggy day, frost gone, mild, and spring-like. Fear the line is in a bad way, and will want a lot of work. Pleasant dinner last night with the gunners. Thomson, who commands this group, a very nice fellow. Wonderful the entente between us. All of his officers practically know all the officers of the two Battns., and are extremely pally with one another. Everyone at Bde. H.Q. impressed by pessimism of Friday’s London papers. I hope people at last are beginning to realise the seriousness of the outlook. The new Government are doing well, and judging from the proceedings of D. Comm. it was about time the old lot went. Such happy-go-lucky methods. Plumer told Nugent that this Div. was the best in the 2nd Army.