3.30 p.m.— Am dining tonight with Withycombe, rather a bore. Couldn’t well refuse. Man in ‘C’ Coy just been wounded slightly in ankle, on a working party. No orders yet about the move, but I fancy we shall go tomorrow, and not be so crowded as I thought, as we shall spread over three villages after all. I don’t know how we shall get on without Rivy. We miss him already, and he has only gone two days. He always looked after our welfare and prevented Bns being trampled upon.
10.30 p.m.— This place, Mesnil, has been true to its traditions. About 4.00 p.m. they began to put heavy stuff into the village—fourteen casualties. Young Gibson got a scratch on his forehead. M’Keown, who was killed, was in the last draft. Fulton dying, Lurgan man. Though they put in nearly 20 shells only one did damage. Cruel luck our last day here. We move at 9.30 a.m., well back. Detailed orders only came in at 7.30 p.m., and then we had to get out our orders, and in the middle they sent for Cather to the Bde. office, over some complicated return. Rather harrying evening. As this strafe was on I didn’t, of course, go and dine with Withycombe. Have sent off five wagon loads of kit from here this evening, and much still remains to be moved. Leave is on again, and was only stopped for a few hours.
The casualties were:
14178 Private Hugh Fulton, wounded by shellfire at Mesnil on 31 May 1916 and recorded as having died of wounds on 1 June 1916; Forceville Communal Cemetery and Extension. The mention of him in the letter may indicate that he died late on 31 May.
23917 Private Thomas James McKeown, killed in action by shellfire at Mesnil on 31 May 1916; Mesnil Ridge Cemetery.
2.30 p.m.—Heavy rain all night, but fine today, cloudy and cooler. Have to go now to Bde. H.Q. to try and find out things. Six more men just come in, four of whom were with us before.
10.00 p.m.— As far as I can gather from Bde. Office we go back to Varennes on June 1st. Had a long chat with old Bernard, who goes in to our bit of the line tonight, and gave him various bits of information. He is rather an old dear. Padre went fishing, accompanied by Pratt and Berry, with a May fly—result, one rise! Day turned out fine and warmer. Hope it will be fine again now. Everything very ‘lifty’ but drying.
I am going over to see some operations of the 109th Bde. about seven miles from here, and shall be back late. Pratt returned yesterday with Bob Maxwell. They managed to get a car at Amiens, so got off the worst of the railway journey. P in immense form, full of stories. Lovely summer day, threatens to be very warm. P saw Powell at the ‘Rag’ and had a talk with Frank Hall, who is doing intelligence at the W.O. Spy Department. P brought a ‘Westminster’ of Saturday evening, so we are well up to date. The French seem all right at Verdun.
3.00 p.m.— Got back after an interesting morning. Very hot, looks like thunder. I believe we leave here at 11.00 a.m. We visited Varennes on our way back, and the billets seem comfy and good. The 11th Skins, who are there, say it is most restful. Hessey is home on leave and poor Leitrim home sick. I met Shuter, such a fine fellow, and had a long chat with him. He was kind enough to say he had heard on all sides the 9th were splendid. We hope to play 1st Battalion at football next Saturday. Also arranging for Follies and cinema show to pay us a visit. Shuter told me Willie Strong had been promoted Corps C.R.A. Saw Fergie, a bright bird, quite chirpy over the move, though he hates shifting from his present quarters. We have made about £50 in the canteen which we have run here. Quite good.
9.30 p.m.—Late this p.m. order came cancelling our move back, and we stay on here; I think only a few days. Cannot quite understand why. I suppose some inscrutable decree of the Round Table! Fergie had begun to shift his stores; rather a nuisance, and upsetting, but à la guerre comme à la guerre. Up to this the Huns have left this place alone, thank goodness, during this sojourn here, but the working parties were irksome, and we were all looking forward to peace behind. However, it’s only postponed, I believe. Evening turned out wet after a great heat during the day. Wonder what Lloyd George will be able to do? Exclusion of six counties seems to be the best basis. He is a great persuader, and negotiations may succeed, but I’m not sanguine. A man called Simpson has succeeded Wheatley—a great Artillerist. I haven’t met him. Was an Instructor of Gunnery at home for some years. Keep socks till you have collected 500 pairs—will be best, as you have sent off one lot, which will do grandly to go on with.
Smyth, just rung me up to say he’s off tomorrow. He’s got a billet in Q. Office, with the Naval Division, whatever that may mean. I am very sorry we are losing him, but I always felt it had so come, and of course, it means advancement for him. A lovely day, but oppressively hot. There is a guilder rose in full bloom here in the waste of a garden, with a rose coloured peony underneath it. The effect is very pleasant to the eye. They are putting heavy stuff over at the Battery now just behind us. Just off to Church Parade.
3.00 p.m.—They have been firing all day at about five minute intervals; and they got one direct hit on a gun emplacement, but apparently no one was there; the gun seems to be disabled. It’s a lovely day, but sitting out in the garden is impossible, as fragments of shell are coming in at odd times. I am trying to persuade the Padre to go away on leave while we are back. He is not looking well, though he will not acknowledge anything being wrong. He has got thin. I think he is doing too much. The place we go to is quite a nice little village. It’s where Bde. H.Q. was when I came on leave. I wonder who will succeed Smyth—I can’t think Charlie would recommend C.S., but he’s a curious fellow. The Vanston case still hangs on. The papers are now being handed to and fro, to be made in triplicate, to be initialled by V., to know whether recommended for training purposes at home, etc., etc., and so it goes one and will go on, I suppose. Smyth just been over to say good-bye; very broke at going, and I am very, very sorry. Another link with the early war days gone. He has been with us 18 months. Charlie trying to get a man called Evans from the Manchester Regt. I believe Smyth sore at going to Q, but he’s more likely to get promotion, and he won’t be in the firing line, so Mrs. S will be pleased.
I have to go over and see young Dickson, about seven miles from here this p.m. A very wet night has turned into a fine, but cold day. Smyth here this morning. He says we go back about six miles to Varennes, on Tuesday, for a fortnight. The gooseberry tart was excellent, and there was enough left to have cold the next day for lunch. Peacocke, who commanded the raiding party in the 9th Inniskillings has got the D.S.O., and the officers the M.C., and well they’ve deserved it. Our ‘Times’ has taken to coming three days late now, which keeps us backward in news. I hear the Bosche has had a success Verdun way. In the line the nights were hot and one’s breeches irksome to a degree, but since we came out the nights have been very cool. Another small draft of 12 came from the Base yesterday; all but three were men who had been in hospital, and had left a various times, one with appendicitis and three or four with Hun spots. I am getting ventilation holes drilled in this tin hat; there’s no ventilation and one’s head gets fearfully hot. Smyth says he’s going to Paris for 4 days. Gillespie, from Levaghery, came in today’s draft. Holt just turned up.
10.00 p.m.— Went over to the hospital and saw young Dickson. He’s going on well, and is quite wonderful, so cheery, though suffering. They have not located the bullet, and are to move him early next week to a Base hospital. Holt came in just as I was starting, and rode back some way with me—very cheery, he is still with X Corps, but no one’s child. Some of his men are digging some way behind us. I had not heard of M’Farland’s exploit at Havre. Curiously enough he rejoined today, and I will see him tomorrow and congratulate him on his conduct. Of course, nights are disturbed generally in the line, but I always manage to get my share of sleep, sufficient to keep fit. Yes, do ask the Bishop to stay. I can imagine how the agricultural community, always rootedly Conservative, would object to the new time arrangement. The evidence before the Commission is astounding. Birrell’s was a revelation of ineptitude, and Wimborne’s a revelation.
3.30 p.m.—Satisfactory relief, but late. Did not get in here till past midnight. No casualties, so we had only the one the whole week. Fear you will have the wet we had yesterday; it rained all p.m., but cleared up about 9.00 p.m. for the relief. Imagine how I have been employed since lunch? Picking gooseberries, with Berry, for a tart this evening. A poozy late slack morning. No, there was no mining in our bit of the line. Berry turned up today very chirpy and full of Dublin yarns. Fergie came to the line yesterday p.m. to see us. He was also in excellent form. Shuter—D.S.O.—from 1st R. Ir. Fusiliers, gets Hickman’s place; a capital fellow, but I’m sorry it’s not Hessey. Bull is confident that he will get 1st Battalion, but their Adjutant, who was here just now, thinks not. A cloudy day, but nice and warm. Men had a late morning and are bathing; no working parties today or tonight, thank goodness. I believe after the six days of the 12th [Royal Irish Rifles], the Brigade go back behind Hedeuville for a fortnight. I’m rather sorry to let strangers into our bit of line, as they always upset things, and give our little ruses away, not knowing the place. But a change back will be pleasant. Red T. is next door teaching our cook M’Neill, how to make pastry for the gooseberry tart. Old Scott has gone back to his field camp. He has got very large and lethargic, but he’s a good natured old thing.
2.00 p.m.— A very noisy night with M.G. fire, and a certain amount of artillery on both sides of the morning. Warm, heavy a.m., has now turned to rain; expect it will clear before relief. Atkinson got his coat torn with a small splinter of a shell that burst near him this morning. They find the Bosche can read our messages in line with a sensitive instrument, so everything has to be sent by hand, or in cipher, which is laborious. Have just been notified Havre port closed, leave stopped until further orders. Raining quite heavily now.
Slight rain yesterday 5.00-7.00 p.m. Fine again, and warm today. Menaul had a scrap with a Bosche patrol last night; he was lying in wait and eight passed below him at the foot of a bank, and he gave them 16 grenades. Unfortunately he couldn’t lift the bodies as the bank was 20 feet high. He got back without a scratch to his patrol. Just been all round the line. Atkinson and I watched a M.G. place about 400 yards away, and saw a German officer observing their Artillery fire. As each shell burst he popped up his head for a second. It was a quieter night, though a certain amount of M.G. fire. We’ve never had such a good tour in the line; never impeded by the weather, and done such a lot of good work. I’m quite sorry to leave; it has been very interesting, and one is getting to know a lot about this bit.
2.00 p.m.—The Gen. (Griffiths) came in about 1.00 p.m. Passing through he told us to convey his appreciation to Menaul and his Scouts, for the good work they had done. We have been very lucky—two scraps this tour, and a good deal of shelling and M.G. fire, and no casualties, except young Dickson, who is still going on well.
10.00 p.m.—Both Mahaffy’s letter and Elliot’s I thought excellent. I visited the Marsh Posts, that are accessible by daylight, after tea. It was lovely down by the river (Ancre). This certainly is a pretty spot. I have thoroughly enjoyed this tour, and I think everyone has. Inspected the cemetery. Padre has taken it in hand and got it very nice. Had a look at the cows, who are looking well, come on a lot since they got on the grass. We go out tomorrow night. Am quite sorry to leave. We have deepened and improved the trenches enormously.
1. For their gallantry conducting these scouting missions, the Intelligence Office—Captain William Menaul—was awarded the Military Cross and the Scout Sergeant—14601 Sergeant William Herbert (Herbie) Palmer—was awarded the Military Medal. Palmer was later commissioned into The Royal Irish Regiment
2. The letters referred to are: Mahaffy, J P (16 May 1916). ‘Mr Dillon and Sinn Fein’. (Letter to the Editor). The Times, p 9. and Elliot, A (17 May 1916). ‘Lessons of the Rebellion’. (Letter to the Editor). The Times, p 10.
Another lovely day, with a shade more breeze. Dickson is going on well, but they haven’t located the bullet, and will send him, when fit to move, to a base for X-rays. My day at present is:—a little office work after breakfast, and then out round the line; back to lunch. Coy. Commanders’ conference at 2.30 p.m., which lasts till 4.00 p.m.; then post in (post leaves at 3.00 p.m.), and then tea and round the line again till dinner, after which heavy correspondence in and has to be attended to. Then I wander again and see what work is being done and needed, and sometimes an early trek round after daylight.
A quiet night except for M.G. fire. Menaul had an escape on patrol last night; bumped into a small covering party of Bosches, who fired at about five yards, but missed and Menaul was able to get away, pursued by rifle and grenade fire. He was out on a special reconnoitring job and had only one man with him. He was so close to the German line he had to skip as fast as he could.
2.00 p.m.— Had a very hot walk round the whole line from 9.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. Everything peaceful, except occasional sniping, and a few H.E. shells on the front line. We’ve had grand weather this time, and a lot of good work has been done.
10.00 a.m.— Another gorgeous day. Am just going to have a bath. Went round last night all the outlying posts and a good bit of the line. It was a heavenly night. Fairly quiet except for M.G. fire. J.J. had a narrow escape from the oil can (trench mortar). It landed close to where he was in the trench, and he had just time to skip before it exploded, and only got covered with mud. I saw him about an hour afterwards. He was quite imperturbable—great fellow. Menaul did some useful work last night, and got within a few yards of a Bosche working party. Padre is going over to see Dickson today. He is running a mess. We’re getting a grand lot of work done, and all in the cool after stand down in the morning, about 3.30 a.m. to 7.30 a.m., and again 5.30 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. leaving the hot part of the day for resting. We downed a Bosche ‘plane this afternoon with our ‘planes. I didn’t see it.