Brigadier General W M Withycombe (right), 107th Brigade, 36th (Ulster) Division, outside the former German town mayor’s house in Metz-en-Couture, 17 October 1917. IWM Q 7244.
Today has arrived an issue of one pair woolen gloves per man, and 50 extra for emergencies. Send along all mitts you have, they will come in useful for emergencies. Concentrate on socks, of which they never have enough. Cakes or bread, if at all feasible, they would love. Am trying to rig up some sort of place as a reading room, but it is so hard to get a place.
Bertie McCalmont has gone to take command of 1st Irish Guards. Withicombe, [sic] K.O.L.I., [sic] has got 107th Brigade.
The place is liquid mud ankle deep, and the country over your ankles. We shall do much damage to crops to-morrow, I fear, with our Field Day.
Lieutenant Colonel G Bull
Bull, who has come to command 12th R.I.R. [The Royal Irish Rifles] (in McC’s place), is a 1st R.I.F. [Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers)] man. We started at 7.15 a.m. this morn and returned at 2.00 p.m., and it never ceased pouring the whole time. It’s still raining, harder than ever. Roads running water. Had a bath to-night. Washing just back; very well done.
Fine, after three days’ rain. I am trying to start a sort of canteen to supply note paper, soap, and little things, but until we are settled it is difficult.
Our report from G.O.C., 48th Div. (Gen. Fanshawe, I think), to whom we are attached while in the trenches, etc., has just come in; rather satisfactory. Among other pleasant things he says—”The 9th R. Ir. Fus. is the best Battalion of the New Army I have seen.” Of course, he may not have seen many, but still it’s pleasant, and will buck up all ranks. 11th and 12th got good reports too. Halahan’s sing song to-morrow night is in a somewhat battered barn, which he calls the Cathedral, as we have Service there.
Socks, and indeed, all articles, are very hard to get out of Ordnance. The battalion wants everything, and cannot get from Ordnance—boots, clothing of all sorts, and necessaries. Socks are always wanted. One can replenish nominally at any time, but as I say, things are hard to get. The evenings are drawing in fast, and getting cold. Feeling very fit and well.
Glad socks for men are on their way. Would like potted meat and cake. Frost and colder. Fine sunny day. Am trying a scheme of sending to Field Force Canteen for things for men. The difficulty is the lack of all change under 5 franc notes.
The Expeditionary Force Canteens were created for service overseas, run by uniformed members of the Army Service Corps, in early 1915 in response to complaints that no official canteen service was available to the men of the BEF.
Parcel came today with 36 pairs of mitts. All the company commanders delighted with them. 168 pairs socks also arrived. Splendid. They are indeed a boon. Lovely cloudless day, with N wind and strong sun; a perfect late autumnal day. Did some revolver practice with Adjt. in p.m., alternate right and left hand.
Padre had a severe day, five Services this a.m. and two in p.m.
Colonel W G Fitzgerald
Cakes and potted meat, etc., are very welcome whilst we are sitting tight. Am trying to rig up recreation room for the men, but it’s very hard to get a place at all. Weather fine for last week but has broken again, and is raining now. I asked Halahan to write to you re sending out games—draughts, dominoes, etc., for the men. Mitts will, of course, soon wear out, and they and socks will be always welcome. Shirts are easy to obtain so don’t send them. French bread is good, but we only get the brownish variety, not the white. The ration bread is not enough for these men, who still buy much bread. Bales of papers will be excellent. I am starting recreation rooms in each of the villages with the Padre’s help. ‘Times’ broadsheets are excellent. Yes, send some. The King asked for McCalmont, so he could hardly refuse. I heard this morning that we are getting Gen. Powell’s cup for the best shooting Battalion, and it is to go to FitzGerald at Lurgan, very sensibly. I asked him to have an order published about it. I find men had an issue of gloves about four months ago, and they are now all worn out! Fergie says more can be got from Ordnance. He thinks notepaper and indelible pencils are badly wanted.
The 10th (Reserve) Battalion, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers) had been formed at Brownlow House in Lurgan in the summer of 1915 and formally established in September 1915. It was charged with providing trained reinforcements to the 9th (Service) Battalion in France and Flanders. In January 1916 it moved to Newtownards as part of 15th Reserve Brigade, and then to Armagh in August 1917. In April it and the 4th (Extra Reserve) Brigade were absorbed by the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion at Rugely in Staffordshire. It was commanded from its formation until it was absorbed by the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion by Lieutenant Colonel W C FitzGerald, for which he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Col. Bull, who has come to command the 12th R.I.R., started in Leinsters and went into Irish Fus. You ask about food—Well, breakfast: tinned salmon kedgeree, or ditto fish, cakes, eggs and bacon, Cooper’s marmalade, tea, fresh milk and butter. Lunch—1.00 p.m.: mince or stewed beef, stewed apples, cream and sugar. Dinner—7.00 p.m.: soup, beef or Maconachy [sic] ration, stewed prunes or apples, and coffee. Quite good, but little variety. Called at 7.00; breakfast, 8.00; parade, 9.00 to 1.00; bed, 9.30 to 10.00.
There is a fearful amount of rum in the village. I think the houses have it. Their lives, doing Field Punishment, are not pleasant. I have got a new Provost [Regimental Police] Sergeant who hots ‘em well. Betsy Jane had got so wooly that she was clipped today and looks very smart. She is under cover, in a barn (in fact, Stronge has all the transport animals under a roof), and has a good warm blanket. The mail doesn’t leave till about 2.00 p.m. Had a bath this evening. Plum pudding and caviar for dinner. I have Cather training as an understudy to Adjt. Raining steadily to-night. I have asked the Padre to write a short weekly note to ‘Armagh Guardian’, as to our doings. Tiger’s woolly is invaluable.
Nice bright morning after the rain. I wrote in yesterday strongly recommending the cheese ration—3 oz a day per man be reduced to the same amount twice a week, as the men do not care about it, and in lieu that more vegetables and potatoes be allowed, to be purchased locally. One cheese ration for the Batt. Hugh O’Neill has been taken on at Div. H.Q. Staff as Claims Officer. No chickens, no omelettes! Yes, Fanshawe is the G.O.C. 48th Div., and he said “The 9th R.I.F. appear to be well disciplined, well trained, and well commanded. They are the best Battalion in the New Armies I have seen.” Yes, there is some rheumatism, a good deal of toothache, some diarrhoea and the usual sprains, sore feet, &c. Few cases of flu. About 40 in hospital, of whom about 6 will go to England. The men are in barns mostly, and outhouses; very dirty some of them, but now cleaned up, and plenty of clean straw. We have nearly 2,000 sandbags now. Turned very wet.