Get into trench area Tuesday, and return here about 28th. Start at 12.30 pm. Short march.
Met Elkington today. (He now commands our Artillery.) He came to tea. Only arrived from Ypres four days ago, where he had been for four months, shelled day and night. Has been out 14 months; home twice for 5 days. Never touched and never a day sick. Right through the Retreat from Mons, Marne, Aisne, etc. Looking very well, but tired. Very cheery, and just the same as ever. Says War Office & General Headquarters and the French very optimistic. They all think we have the Huns, and at least they are at the end of their men.
Constant calls for returns and reports. The people here are very friendly and easy to get on with. Men very energetic; good thing. Had a bath this evening, second since arrival. Water very scarce. Field Day tomorrow: rather a nuisance the day before we move.
‘Returns and reports’. Almost everything in a unit was enumerated or recorded—its strength, casualties, sick, stores expended, daily activities etc. Most of this work was compiled by the Adjutant and Quartermaster.
The field exercises conducted in mid-October were the last training events before 36th (Ulster) Division began the routine of life in and out of the trenches. Although the format of the exercises was not representative of the activities that would be conducted by the units of the Division over the next three years, they did allow Major General Nugent to get a feel for the level of training and discipline of the Division’s infantry. He was not wholly impressed, which resulted in the removal of a number of officers in the autumn of 1915.
There’s a squadron of N. I. Horse about 4 miles from here. We move on Sunday, two days march into the trenches, for a week’s instruction, then back here for a bit. Caught a spy last night signalling. We have to leave 5 officers behind here, learning bombing; a nuisance. We need every one of them.
1. For an excellent history of the North Irish Horse see: Tardif, P. (2015). The North Irish Horse in the Great War. Barnsley: Pen & Sword..
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.
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.
The men write 1,000 letters a day! Brigade Field Day today. Gas demonstration tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
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.