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.
Lovely morning, fresh and bright. Chickens here at 5 francs each. Reading room was crowded last night. Light was bad, but tried to get acetylene gas lamp but failed. How about lanterns or lamps? Hope very much to get the extra veg. and potatoes, 5 days a week, instead of cheese. Saw Elkington today, looking much better after his nine days at home. Cheery as usual.
9:30 p.m. Brigade Major came in just before dinner to say a telephone message had come from Div. H.Q. that we were to start for the trenches again on Sunday, a bother as we have been spending much time and labour in making these billets comfortable for the men. To go in for a fortnight and then come back here is the idea; very upsetting this moving about. If we could only settle down to a regular trench line we could be comfortable. However, here it is and it’s no use grumbling. My kit will be heavy. Shall have to leave something behind, I expect. Raining hard tonight.
We are to go into the 4th Div. lot of trenches, near Mailly [Mailly-Maillet], I think. We are ordered to March 17 miles on Sunday, and 12 Monday. The men can’t do it, and I’ve represented it pretty strongly. I don’t know what the outcome will be. Anyhow, after tomorrow, till we are settled in the trench line, my letters will be scrappy and uncertain. Such a wild wet day. We went to the rendezvous, and then came home. Scrambling to get men fitted with boots. Such a lot have gone altogether. Fergie says we have 3,400 sandbags. They will all be wanted. Much warmer this evening, but windy all day, tho’ it doesn’t seem to be a windy place. Practically had none to bother about since we came out.
Another wet day. I suppose the weather has broken. Just like last year. It was yesterday, last year, we moved from Clandeboye to Belfast. A cheerful prospect for the march tomorrow. To start men off on a 17 mile march is madness! Stating Brigade and Div. make no differences in time of receipt of letters. I fancy the order was issued in case Battalions or Brigades were detached.
Well, our move is postponed, and we don’t move now until Monday at 7.00 a.m. for P_____ [Puchevillers]. Next day two Companies to C_____C [Colincamps], and two Companies to M_____Y [Mailly-Maillet]. Who should turn up this p.m., but Holt. He is Div. Cavalry to 3rd Div., now resting. Got an opportunity of a car and came down to H.Q., and Farnham brought him over to see me. Looking so well, full of buck, and enjoying himself. Been up near Wipers [Ypres] for some time. Hope to be able to get boots for the men whose boots are done (about 80) before we move now. I rather dread the two marches—first 17 miles, and next day 12 miles. Glad we are staying on. We shall get mail, double dose, tomorrow, instead of it pursuing us, and our getting four days at once.
I see the Huns put 80 high explosives into our last trench place yesterday. The ‘Downs’ go there. The 1st R.I.F. are at Mailly, so we may see them. The men like going back to the trench line. This sort of playing at soldiers—Div. Field Days, and digging latrines, etc., is making them discontented, so I’m glad we’re going.
Lovely day. Church in the barn at 10.00 a.m. Padre had mustered an efficient choir, which made much difference to heartiness of service. The broadsheets here. Padre says men like them very much. I fancy they are a little above the head of some men. It’s no use sending out old dailies. Some people are sending Halahan weeks old papers; pure waste. Padre is simply excellent. He moves round the men, runs the reading room, and literature is invaluable. He never intrudes in any way. On a march he is worth a wagon with the stragglers. He and Berry will have their work cut out tomorrow, I fear. Meat lozenges still going well and half-a-box in hand. We had your wet weather on Friday. Hope it will be fine tomorrow. Bull is off on leave, and is trying to get 1st R.I.F. Kentish has been made Commandant, School of Instructions at St. Omer. C. Clarke comes as Staff Captain, I believe. I had to send Reid to Havre as an Instructor of Reinforcements. I was sorry for him: it seems ridiculous to call on front line units to find instructors, when there are plenty at home dying to come out. We all continue fit and well. I’m thankful to say. Two more cases of appendicitis, from eating green apples, Berry says; one of tuberculosis. The waste of war has begun without wound casualties. Letters for the next few days will be irregular. Tomorrow I doubt being able to post a letter, and the next day the same, but by Wednesday we ought to have settled down all right and the post sorted itself. Breakfast 6.15 a.m. tomorrow in the dark. Snow is our Army Corps Commander. He came out in command of 4th Div. Frank Lyon is his G.S.O.1. Hastings Anderson is on either his Staff or 3rd Army staff.