Am to dine with G. Bruce tomorrow night in ‘B’ Mess. Dull heavy day, but no rain. Go to Div. H.Q. about 4.00 p.m. Owles, who left in May to go to Flying Corps, turned up today for lunch. Rather interesting. He delights in his work. He says one of our flying fellows has brought down 29 Bosche ‘planes. Parcel of bread and jelly come; poozy.
I had a long talk with Singleton’s successor, Leslie. Such a nice fellow. Cavalry, and so boyish, but has 16 years’ service. Fixed up various tocks about promotion, etc. Am dining at ‘B’ Mess tonight. Farnham rolled up last night on his way back from leave; going to N.I. Horse.
Fancy, the average daily consumption of ammunition on the Somme since July 1st has been ten thousand tons! I find I can get Shill. appointed 2nd in Command from August 21, and Ensor Temp. Captain from same date, and Given from July 2nd. Quite a nice day. Gen. very affable. Small party here, only two A.D.C.’s, [Aides-de-Camp] G.S.O. 1 and 2, [General Staff Officers Grades 1 & 2.] and Comyn [Assistant Adjutant & Quartermaster General]. Very comfy large room and good bed, electric light and bathroom. Had a good strafe on yesterday about men’s washing place at Bulford, and have fairly stirred ‘em all up! I read yesterday’s ‘Times’ at 9.30 p.m. last night. Pretty good. The R.E. and Pioneers were heavily strafed over the flood! Why, I can’t think, I suppose they should have control over the elements. Had my hair cut today by Saunderson’s servant, who was a hairdresser at N. [Northern] Counties Hotel, [Portrush] and is in the 16th Pioneers. Did I tell you potatoes are getting very scarce?
Got back at 10.30 a.m., in a car. Battalion Parade at 11.00 a.m., quite good, which was marvellous as it was the first we’d had for six months, I think, and I got about 360 men on parade. Lovely day. Things are fairly humming now with regard to washing place, cookers and tables and forms for the Camp. ‘Q.’, R.E. and medicos all buzzing round. I got back from ‘B’ Mess in time to have a chat with Keane. Charlie Hope’s father left £400,000, besides £20,000 a year! Very pleasant dinner; such a nice lot. I enjoyed my week-end. We played 12th at rugger, Saturday 11th, and beat them. They are very sore. A young officer in the Brigade was killed on patrol two nights ago, and another shot through the lungs.
A dull day. The whole Battalion marches to B_____ [Bailleul] for a beano—cinema and follies. Wander round town, tea, and home about 8.00 p.m. Rather an effort, but the men will like it. Hope it will keep fine. Cramsie has rejoined the 12th. They are fearfully short of old officers, only about three of the original ones left. 13th and 11th much the same. We, I think, are a little better. C [Cramsie] has been Brigade Intelligence Officer for a year. More R.E. [Royal Engineers] buzzing round this morning laying on the water to ablution room and fixing up overhead cover, etc. A fair move on now. Good news about Beaumont Hamel. Can’t say now how things are doing, but I don’t think any great strategical advantage has been gained. It will take long yet, and England will have to strain every nerve to win a real victory. The danger is a stale-mate, and that gets more possible, I fear, as time goes on. We roughly get three leaves a week! and 214 have not been home yet, of those who came out with us. I told Div. H.Q. it was absurd to strafe R.E. and 16th over the flood.
In the attack launched by 5th Army on 13 November, 51st (Highland) Division captured Beaumont Hamel. On its right flank 63rd (Royal Naval) Division attacked over the ground where 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers and 12th Royal Irish Rifles had suffered so many casualties on 1 July; it succeeded in capturing its objectives, which included Beaucourt Station, the final objective of 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers on 1 July.
The day’s outing was quite a success; fine day. Marched direct to theatre, one hour concert, one hour cinema, and then one hour the men did what they liked, and loved strolling round and looking at shops. I took refuge in one of the Corps’ messes with Wilson and Berry, and had tea. We all fell in at 6.00 p.m. and were home by 7.30 p.m. I got you a handkerchief—it’s Bailleul or Valenciennes lace. We’ve had three different Divs. on our right since 109th left. Don’t quite know when they return. Lovely day but a biting wind. Not looking forward much to new H.Q. in Line. Savage said it was desperate work getting round the line and exhausted him. We’ve had Div. Band to play us on the road yesterday, and playing this a.m., and the men are all the better for their six days’ rest.
10.00 p.m. We got in here all right and are now in the new H.Q.—a long barn with a concrete shell, and pillars down middle. A good deal wants doing to it, but I think we can make it all right. It’s rather vault-like and draughty at present. A cold, frosty night; feels like snow. This day last year we had our first heavy snow fall and the long march. It’s a desperate trek round the front line from here. My abode here is actually larger than the Elephant. Of course it’s very easy on relief night.
The new Battalion Headquarters was at La Plus Douve Farm.
Lovely sunny day, after frost. Very comfy night. Getting the place fixed up. Just back from a three hours’ trudge round the lines. Not so bad as I expected. Downs done a good deal of work. I went out after lunch to visit one of the support Coys, ‘B,’ which took 1½ hours. So am pleasantly tired after much pedestrian exercise. It was a lovely day for walking. Frost again tonight. Already the H.Q. is looking more comfy; tables fixed up and tablecloths. Good stove fixed, and another going in, two good lamps. We are getting chairs; canvas for the walls. The concrete is so cold and sweats. Another stove, and blanket curtains. After that I expect it will be quite cosy. The Downs’ had done good work in the line. The Padre and Shill are splendid and planning things for H.Q. Shill. is simply untiring, was round the whole of the front and support line before breakfast, and came round with me in the morning. I believe they’ve given Military Medal to two N.C.O.’s whose names went in in May! One was poor Foster, from Lurgan, who was killed, and the other Sergeant Palmer, the Scout. Apparently their names were in ‘Times’ of 13th November and Div. has asked me to verify their numbers. Why this delay?
The Military Medal was awarded to 14175 Sergeant Frederick Foster, who was killed in action by shellfire at Hamel in the early hours of 1 July 1916, and 14601 Sergeant William Herbert (Herbie) Palmer, the Battalion Scout Sergeant (later Captain W H Palmer MM, The Royal Irish Regiment). These were the first recommendations for the Military medal submitted by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker. The awards were published in the London Gazette on 14 December 1916. Fosters award was: ‘For gallantry in carrying in wounded under shellfire while himself wounded.’ and Palmer’s citation stated: ‘For coolness and good leading when in charge of a patrol in the Hamel Sector in May 1916. He encountered an Enemy Patrol, killing four and wounding two without sustaining any loss to his own party. And for continuous good work, as Scout Sergeant of the Battalion, on numerous patrols from January to July, 1916.’ See, for example, the letter of Tuesday 23 May.
Sharp white frost, and sunny morning. Quiet night with us. Shelves going up in my room, and tables. Things getting ship-shape. Bundle 308 pairs socks came. Another cloudless day, but bitter E. wind. I am the senior C.O. in the Division now. ‘19th Century’, ‘Contemporary’, ‘Fortnightly’ came today, and Burroughs’ book, ‘The Fight for the Future’, in which the Padre is now absorbed.
9.30 p.m. Weather changing, and I expect rain before morning. Did similar trek today. Front line from 10.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m., and support from 3.00—4.30 p.m. I am making Jimmy Shepherd Sergeant Cook and am sending him on a cooking course. We want a reliable man supervising the cooks, to see the most is made of the rations. Our late Sergt. Cook, a treasure, has gone to England sick. M’Kane, R.S.M., also gone, and Turner, Pratt’s friend from Remounts, got his place.
A little snow in the night, and frost again. More snow coming, very cold. Quiet night. Two men slightly wounded yesterday by shrapnel in arm and shoulder. It turned to cold rain about 11.00 a.m., and has continued all day. A miserable day and E. wind—bitter. The ground with a bone in it, and greasy on top. With the thaw of course, trenches falling in, and work carried on under the worst conditions. Yes, I take it they have Beaucourt Station, chateau, and village. Don’t know about [Schwaben] Redoubt. The guns seem to have done well. Really the flood was not so bad as it sounds, it might have been much worse; pouring rain, and heavy shelling. No sign of general leave yet. No, we shall not return to the Elephant. The risk of a flood is imminent. Lloyd has got Y.C.V.’s. [14th Royal Irish Rifles] I read the article in the ‘Times’ of November 11th, and loved it. Have recommended Mat Espie and Campbell both to go to Cadet School for six weeks before being commissioned.
It is difficult to suggest which article in the ‘Times’ Blacker was referring to but it was probably that by D. Thomas Curtin. It was part of his series ‘Ten Months in Germany’ and this installment was titled ‘War Children / Incubated Hate / No Games’; it sought to explain how ‘militarism, the worship of the State, the House of Hohenzollern, and hatred of the rest of the world are inculcated and fostered in the infant mind’.
Rain most of the night and still. River rising. Glad we’re back here. Pratt’s raid on a large scale (200). Great success. Got in, took prisoners, much equipment, maps, papers, etc., and killed many. Wind S.W., warmer.
4.00 p.m. Went all round Front and Support line this a.m., and having an easy time this afternoon. River very high, but if no more rain comes should be going down before morning. It’s still rising, and some of the bridges are flooded, and trenches full of water. The Temporary appointments [promotions] carry the pay with them. There is already a 5th Army, and maybe a 6th. Div. H.Q. were not optimistic about an early end of the war, another year certain, and two possibly. The strafe about men’s washing places effective. When we left the camp pipes were being laid down, a building was being erected, and I hope when we get back all will be well. Yesterday one of our Sergts. shot a carrier pigeon that had settled on our parapet, about 20 yards from him (wonderful good shot). A German cipher message found in a small metal case on its leg, and German marks on its wing. Sent it on to the Corps. I doubt if they will decipher the code, but it proves the existence of a carrier pigeon service. It has not rained today since morning, so I trust the river will be down before the morning. It was very high about 6.00 p.m. Rea, my Assistant Adjt. has got a go of bronchitis, and Ozzard has also pushed off to hospital.
Fine night, but red sky this morning, and watery look. More rain coming. River down to nearly normal level.
4.30 p.m. No rain today after all, and though everything is messy we have got the trenches square. I find Ovilux no good for this sort of warfare, heavy and a bother. The little Vickery’s one is splendid. Yes, it’s splendid getting Beaucourt. They may find some traces of our men. We don’t get real gales out here, but wind is not bothersome. Pratt’s come in for lunch and gave me much useful information. It was a really good show, 170 in the raid, and only one killed and 13 wounded, and remained in the Bosche lines for an hour. Saxons have replaced Wurtemburghers—from the Somme, and rather weak.