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.
5.00 p.m. Just in after 17½ miles. Heavy snow in early a.m., 2-inches to 3-inches on road. Very bad for horses and heavy for men. Start and first 6 miles very trying. Transport jibbing and falling. Men handling wagons. Snowing at times. We then got on to level road; sun came out and things were all right. Men marched in here at 4.15 p.m. splendidly. We had dinner half-way, cooked in cookers. Padre and Berry splendid, helping transport, driving wagons, handling wheels, and cheering on the men. We brought everyone in, thanks to them, with the Battalion. This is where we billeted before going up to trenches, where Pratt, Adjt. and I were in one room. Much better billets this time. I have a room and bed. We start at 9.00 a.m. tomorrow. French troops here also. Delay in post caused by submarine in Channel I hear.
Major J G Brew
No means of posting, or getting letters, Monday or Tuesday. Heavy march in here, 12 miles in snow, yesterday. Transport took 8 hours. Men and horses cooked. Rum ration. In different billets. Tomorrow we take over trench line as a Battalion—two companies here and two companies [and] H.Q. in trenches. Don’t know for how long. Have had no letters since Sunday. I believe a five-day mail comes in this p.m. All well, save for Brew, internal chill, and Allen. Just seen Willie Strong, who is Brigadier R.A. [Royal Artillery] this Div. Came in here to see me. Looking very well, but snow-white hair. W. Stirling here in command of R.A. and S. Gosling, Major, commanding a Battery. Dined with latter. Have to be off in 15 minutes to look round trenches we take over tomorrow p.m. I don’t know how long we shall be in. All sorts of rumours about. This is a weird billet. Pratt, Adjt. and I in one room. I in the mess room, and the kitchen next door. No tables or chairs. Lovely sunny day. Snow still lying. We take over from Brigadier of 10th Bde., under whom we go, knows both Pratt and Fergie. Rather rushed. Writing on floor, while others are eating! We are going in a very quiet bit of line, and I am living in a dug-out. Much more comfy that this billet, I expect.
No mail in yet. Started at 1.30 and went round trench line. We take over tomorrow. Quite a decent dug-out; two beds and mess for self, Adjt. and Pratt, M.G. officer, and R.A. observing officer; rest back in a village. Company dug-outs quite good, but men’s very bad. Trenches, of course, in a muddy state, and not so good as H_____ [Hébuterne] ones, but paved with brick in parts. As far as I can gather we are not to be in for long, as the latest idea is that the 36th Division moves South to form part of the new XIII Corps, to take over some line further S[outh]. On our way here yesterday we passed the village where the 1st Inniskillings are, and saw Doak. We do not relieve until 5.00 p.m. in the dark—rather a nuisance. They seem an easier lot of trenches to find one’s way about in, and about 250-500 yards from the Huns.
The Battalion took over the right sector opposite Beaumont Hamel previously occupied by 1/7th Battalion, Princess Louise’s (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), a Territorial Force Battalion. Until after the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, the Battalion’s time in the trenches would be spent in various sectors in this general area, between the River Ancre to the south and Beaumont Hamel. ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies took over the first and second line trenches, ‘A’ Company was Battalion Reserve and ‘B’ Company was Brigade Reserve—the latter companies being farther back in Auchonvillers.
Just a line to say I’m all right, and we all are after our first night. Post goes at 10.00 a.m. Poor C. Shillington was wounded and missing from a patrol last night. He is in the 8th R.I.R., attached with his company to Dublin Fusiliers, next to us in the line. Trenches very sticky and dirty; one is covered with mud. No mail yesterday.
6.00 p.m. Been hard at it all day, with few moments to spare. Got up at 5.00 a.m. and went round front line. Dark, misty, but no rain, and not too cold. Very quiet night and day and no casualties. Frank Lyon came to see me today here. He says, and should know, we go out of trenches on 23rd and join XIII Corps, now forming, and take up line S[outh] of this, he thinks. Adjt, and I sleep in this dug-out, and five of us feed in it, and it is an office. Messages come in all day and night, and one mayn’t take one’s clothes off. Men’s dug-outs not nearly so good as before. Want a lot of work on them. Have seen no paper since last Saturday! Don’t want any more potted meat yet. We shall be on the move again next week.
Was round the Trenches this a.m., and now the Adjt. is out, and I am attending to messages. 3 Generals visited me yesterday, and one (W. Strong) today. He is most cheery and well. Our routine here is—Breakfast: 8.30. Then a walk round trenches, see men, see work being done, and what is wanted. It is a big job, as trenches are falling in, and some over ankles in liquid mud. Lunch: 1.00, then sit in the dug-out, receiving and answering messages. Stand to at 4.30 p.m. when I go round 1 Coy. Dinner: 7.30 p.m. Start on evening round 10.00 p.m., which lasts till midnight. Then morning stand to at 5.30 a.m. till 7.00 a.m., which one of us attends. In addition a ‘situation’ report has to be sent in at 4.00 a.m. Of course, numerous returns through the day, at stated hours. We are shelling them a good deal. They only answer with whizz-bangs, M.G. and rifle, and not very much of that. No casualties, so far, I’m thankful to say. A very comfy night. As I turned in (in clothes) at 12 midnight, after evening rounds, I didn’t attend morning ‘Stand To’ so lagged till 7.30 a.m.
Lieutenant J G E FitzGerald
The Regt. we succeeded here seem to be somewhat careless in sanitary matters. Weather fine, thank goodness! Men all keen and rather love it, and work well. Parties out last night, examining wire. Found it bad in many places, and go out tonight to mend. Have had to give up ‘Behr’ stockings. Effort of walking without corking too much. My snow shoes are doing well. You cannot imagine the mud and one comes in plastered and coated with mud, and no means of getting rid of it. Some men’s dugouts poor. The men have got into the life and work very quickly, and the officers also. 91 slabs of milk choc. came today, addressed to 10th R.I.F., 111th Brig., 37th Div.!! from Ulster Choc. League, Ballinahinch, which I distributed to the 2 Coys. in the Trenches. Lendrum is in charge of the M.G., as FitzGerald was left behind with 2 guns for training! One would think training in the trenches would be best! Quiet 24 hours, tho’ our guns strafed a bit today, and our M.G. were hard at work this p.m., and answered by the Huns, who also put about a dozen Whizz-Bangs (small Fd. [Field] Guns) over us this a.m.
Such crowded hovels A and B Coys.’ officers and men are in, it’s hard to use anything. Weather still fine, I’m glad to say, but this p.m. is dark and looks like snow. The trenches are depressing, badly made in the first instance, and this snow and rain has brought a lot of the parapet down, and made it bulge everywhere. The whole parapet has to be demolished and built up again. In addition the floor of all the Trenches has to be scraped and cleaned every day. Tho’ men are working day and night, nothing seems to be done. We have about 1,000 yards of front; a 2nd line, which is badly fallen in, and two long communication trenches to keep up. Three men’s dug-outs, each holding a platoon, at each end of the line. I mean that there are six of these dug-outs altogether, and each group of three holds a platoon. These are very good, the others very bad: small, dilapidated, leaky and wretched. We are all covered with mud, but I insist on the men shaving, and they do.
Our guns strafed the Huns severely this a.m. No reply. and our M.G. harried the village and their transport, and made it shift, and the drivers shout and curse, last night. They fire a few whizz-bangs over bits of our line every day. No damage so far. I don’t think they are a very enterprising lot opposite here. There are various places they might harry us. Don’t send any more mitts, either to me or for men till I let you know. No, they’ve decided on reducing the cheese ration.
I do not think much of the discipline of the regulars in these parts. Many drunk in the town nightly, and their sanitary discipline nil. The 1st R.I.F. [Royal Irish Fusiliers] are now in the line next to us, with 18th R. Irish on the other side. Lambton, the 4th Div. Gen. has not been near us so far. Hull, the Brig. [Brigadier General] of the 10th Brig. [Brigade] to whom we were attached till they were relieved from the trenches yesterday, was very nice. We’re all right for food, and doing well here in the way of food. Our store is in the dug-out. Will not change today. It is rather chilly.