[The introduction below comprises the summary written by the magazine’s editor in July 1924 and the Foreword written by Stewart Blacker, which preceded the first letters.]
The long series of Letters which have been appearing from month to month in our columns since June, 1921, came to an end last month with the letter dated March 13th, 1917. These Letters, written almost daily from the Front, were sent by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker to Mrs. Blacker. We are greatly indebted to Colonel Blacker for so kindly allowing us to publish them. They form a unique record of the part played by our Ninth Battalion during the most stirring events which have ever occurred in the history of the world. They possess the additional advantage of having been penned by the Colonel of the Battalion, and they present us with a day-to-day picture of the life of our Battalion at the Front. Still further interest is imparted to them from a Parochial point of view because of the fact that they have been written by a member of a family who for at least 250 years, if not for a much longer period, has been associated very closely with Seagoe Parish. Continue reading
Battalion moved out with no prisoners, no absentees, and no one drunk.
36th (Ulster) Division conducted its initial training in Ireland, at Ballykinler and Clandeboye in County Down (107th and 108th Brigades, respectively), and Finner Camp in Donegal and later Randalstown in County Antrim (109th Brigade) before moving to Seaford on the Sussex coast in July 1915. The Division’s final period of training took place in Hampshire and it was from Bordon that the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers departed for France. Having travelled by train to Southampton, the Battalion spent the rest of the day there before embarking at 8.30pm onto a ship that was considered too small for the thirty-seven officers and 1,340 men (some of the Ulster Division’s artillery was also embarked). Fortunately the sea was calm and the passage to Le Havre uneventful.
Believe we have about 20 hours in train tomorrow. All fit and well. We disembarked at 7.00 am, having spent Sunday in Southampton Dock. Came to rest camp, about two miles from dock—Havre, I believe. We left Southampton at 8.30 pm; small boat; such a pack; barely standing room, 37 officers and 1,340 men. Some of the Royal Artillery came over in our ship. No regulars, except a brigade-major. We were lucky in the weather, sea like glass, no one ill. Fine today, men seem perky. We passed through miles of dock, packed with stores of all sorts. Slept from 9.00 pm to 5.00 am on the sofa. One of the Saunderson’s was Embarking Officer at Southampton. 31 Officers slept in saloon on lower deck, with all ports closed. About 3,000 in this camp, and 100 officers.
We are in the region we desired; 20 miles in rear; a wearisome night journey, detraining at 3.00 am, in dark; 8 mile march and into billets. Not very wonderful for the men. Somewhat dirty barns. We are in Curé’s house, quite all right; men a bit tired after three disturbed nights, ‘Downs’ here, others about 3 miles away. Robin FitzRoy came to see me where we disembarked at Rest Camp. In charge of an anti-aircraft gun. Everything very tumbled down and dilapidated here owing to men all away for the last 13 months. Germans once came within a mile of the place.
Mrs Sidney Pitt
The Curé has a Panhard car, iron tyres, going well, which he has had since 1891! He’s rather a nice old thing, most obliging and kind. Weather warm and nice. I went with Fergie to settle about billets, etc. No interpreter at present, and no one else who could speak the language. Fergie hard at work. At port of disembarkation he picked up a machine gun, and heaps of odds and ends. All well and fit, including myself. A Mrs. and Miss Sydney Pitt provided tea at the station for the men and officers, at 2d a head; both rather amusing and pleasant. All came in one long train of 46 coaches.
Major General O S W Nugent DSO
Men quite recovered today. Took them for 5 mile march to stretch their legs. General Nugent came round this morning—programme to stay here for a week, then go for instruction into trenches, and then after a week of that do divisional training. Met Clive—liaison officer between Joffre and French. Most interesting. German losses in Champagne alone, 40,000 killed.
We all slept very well and are quite comfortable. Clive quite sanguine as to how things are going—in a sane way. Our Army Commander, ‘Munro’, inspects us tomorrow. (3rd Army.)
Sanitary arrangements chez M. le Curé, hopeless.
Our ship was a small paddle boat. Route marched this morning. Went round all billets a.m. Very bad—dirty outhouses, overcrowded, and roofs full of holes; but the best procurable. Men take it as a joke. Was able to get three very bad ones improved by being stern with the inhabitants. Interpreter came this evening. An N.C.O.; no pretensions to being a sahib. Officers and men clamouring for money, and no means of getting it so far.
We’ve had nothing but bully beef rations so far. Good thing we had F & M’s [Fortnum & Mason’s] box. Carbolic soap a failure. Sticky and greasy. We get the ‘Times’ the next day generally. It took me half-an-hour to stamp men’s letters with press censor stamp. The Company Commanders read and signed the envelopes. Weather still fine, but foggy and raw today. We get a ration of condensed milk daily; one tin to 16 men, which is ample. Bread is the urgent need. None, or very little can be got.
Germans attacked all along the line yesterday, but were repulsed everywhere except at one place. They all seem pleased with progress of events. Am feeling very fit. Inspection quite a success. Munro said we were a fine and steady body of men. Nugent (Div. Gen.) said “the steadiest brigade.” Fergie got great kudos for capturing a machine gun at H [Le Havre]. Got 6,000 francs for pay, and tobacco and cigs for men, and Fergie brought fresh mutton for us.
Adjutant had heavy cold, but rather better now. ‘Downs’ and we had church parade, under Halahan (was Rector of Drumcree, and a delightful man). We paid men 5 francs each, and issued cigs and tobacco. Great fun about alleged shortness of supplies. The General very excited about it, and the Staff generally disturbed. We have not suffered in any way, but some units did. Today we got our first fresh meat ration, and bread.
Major W S S Berry RAMC
Route marches daily, and one hour’s battalion drill, and musketry daily, besides bombing, sniping, shooting and M.G. [machine gun] firing. Dr. Berry operated on a girl by request of the Curé, and the grateful mother sent us a chicken as a thank-offering. Such a heavenly day.
Heavy firing all this p.m., but it is very faint here. Aeroplanes come over every evening, some very high.
The men write 1,000 letters a day! Brigade Field Day today. Gas demonstration tomorrow.
This p.m. we had gas demonstration. A schoolhouse was filled with gas, and the whole Battalion put on gas helmets, and walked through it, to prove the efficiency of the helmet. No casualty, but the buttons of the jackets were all discoloured. The ‘Downs’ have moved to another village, which has relieved the congestion here.
A conference at the Division’s headquarters about the recruiting problem. The General is sure that Ireland will be left out of any National Service Scheme. General Hickman came over today, and said we were only just in time, K told Sir C. Hunter at the King’s Review we should probably not move after all. We have escaped the Balkans and the Dardanelles by the skin of our teeth, I believe.
They send us a general statement of communiqués from each Front, every evening, with orders. Berry doctors the whole village. 8 miles is their nearest doctor.