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..
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.
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.
Get into trench area Tuesday, and return here about 28th. Start at 12.30 pm. Short march.
Am writing about 7.00 a.m., just before starting. In billet. 12 miles today and 10 tomorrow.
We came here yesterday, 11 miles, and got into the trenches this evening, half company for 24 hours, then the other half. The half company takes over a half company front for 24 hours, and then each company takes over a company front, and then we return to our old billets for three weeks, I believe. Weather glorious, lucky, as we are not in billets here. Men came well yesterday. We are all very fit and well. The men get on very well with the inhabitants. The interpreter says the people like them. We don’t actually move from here until 4.00 pm I believe. Battalion headquarters in a house in the village. German trenches 700 yards away at this part of the line. This is a Territorial Division here; very good. I believe out since March. I think we come out of trenches Monday.
It was now common practice for New Army units to undergo training with more experienced formations, in this case units of 36th (Ulster) Division were attached to 4th and 48th (South Midland) Divisions. 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers was attached to 144th Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division—a Territorial Force formation comprising 1/4th and 1/6th Battalions, The Gloucestershire Regiment and 1/7th and 1/8th Battalions, The Worcestershire Regiment. To these battalions were attached A to D Companies respectively, with battalion headquarters attached to 1/4th Gloucesters.
Here we are, in the firing line, billeted in a very dilapidated village, about 500 yards from the Huns. We got in a good bit after dark, and it was difficult to find the way about, and settle down into the various tumbledown houses allotted to us. Every company split up, half in trenches, and half in reserve, in a village. Adjutant and I in kitchen on ground floor. No food procurable last night, so I had a F. & M. [Fortnum and Mason] consommé—delicious. Walked round one company’s trench. It took two hours. Back at midnight to sleep fitfully. This a.m. went round with Brigadier Nicholson. Was in Hampshires. A three hours’ walk at top speed through a maze of trenches.
Halahan is splendid, and is now living with us, Munro goes to Dardenelles. I think we just escaped Balkans. They put 200 large shells into this village the day before we came in; no casualties to speak of. None yesterday or today. They hammered on part of this trench line two days ago; 400 high explosive shells; only three casualties, owing ot the line being held lightly in front. Some of the 107th Brigade (Belfast regiments) got shelled whilst bathing, and had 15 wounded. Firing (somewhat desultory) rifle—goes on always. If place is bombarded we retire to cellars. We are all very fit and cheery. McClintock (late Berks) commands one of these Brigades; he is now in reserve, resting. We have captured a table and three chairs. Last night coming in we had to move 150 yards between platoons, and a like distance between vehicles. A guide met each company and took it off. This place is a ruin, the church battered to pieces, and shell holes in most houses. Not an inhabitant in the place. I met Munro attached to ‘I’ Battery, after Staff College, in 1890. Yesterday before leaving I addressed a few words to the men, and Halahan held a 10 minute service. Very nicely done.
Major A C Pratt
The trenches here are most comfortable, brick floors and officer’s dug-outs, with shelves, mirrors and beds; far more comfortable than billets. We have made our billet much better today. It is a one-storied house, with four rooms. Padre, Fergie, and Pratt in one room, Adjt. and I in another, which we use an ante-room, and a mess room and kitchen. We have rigged up a door and window and got the fireplace in order, so tonight are very cosy. A great outbreak of rifle and machine gun fire lasted from 4.30 to 6.00 p.m. and has now died away. A good cellar to this house. Plenty of derelict houses from which to take wood, doors, etc. but not a pane of glass in the place.
We leave here 26th, and return to our original billets. Been all round another Battalion trenches this morning. Good walk; foggy morning. Am dining with another CO, and going round his trenches tonight. Wonderfully quiet last night, and we all slept like tops, and were most comfortable. Stronge and transport are about 1½ miles away and he comes in for each meal. Fanshawe is Divisional General of this Division, brother of the gunner. Very nice fellow. The mail bags I use as a zareba round my bed to keep off the wind. The first night we were here a working party composed of a few Glo’sters and some of our men, had two shells into them. Two Glo’sters were killed, and two of our men knocked down by the blast, but not touched and quite unhurt. I expect they will write home a useful account!
Second Lieutenant Tom Shillington
I visited the soldiers’ cemetery. About 30 graves, nicely kept, all with wooden crosses, about four feet in height. While here three of our aeroplanes came over and the Huns opened fire on them. No result, but very pretty to watch the bursting shell very high up. Our howitzers then shelled the Huns over our heads. Pratt and I dine out with Micklem, CO of 1/6th Gloucesters. Was a subaltern in 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade. Knew Freddy. Wounded in November. Took over Adjutancy of Territorial Battalion and has now got command. After six years’ service!!
7.00 pm. In the middle the Huns fired two shells into the village. One burst in our yard, and one in the next. Pratt, Adjt and I retired to the cellar, but we’re up again now. A joint patrol of our men and the others, with young ‘Shill.’ and another officer, went out last night and met a similar patrol of Huns—result a scrap, in which we bagged one Hun, brought in and heard groans from three others. Our casualties nil, which was very good. Young ‘Shill.’ I hear, was excellent.
I arrived just as they were bringing the German into the trenches; shot through the lung. Fairly quiet night, lovely day. No more shelling. 2nd Division gone from here to Salonika and we to take their place in trench line, and not to return to our billets.
Still lovely weather. A fairly quiet day and night, and all well. Today we are going to strafe them with MGs and guns of all sorts. We are not to return to our old billets but go somewhere else near here, I fancy, and take over a bit of the line from some Division gone away. At least that is the rumour. Dined last night with Nicholson. Capital fellow. He told me ours were the best lot he’d had under instruction, which was satisfactory. Had our first casualty last night—Pte. Wilson, ‘C’ Company, flesh wound in arm, rifle bullet.
Col. Balfour commands Royal Artillery. Just had tea with him. He left 18 years ago, and years ago took up Terriers RFA. Lives at Tetbury. Says Dickie is up north in Flanders. Great gunner. Hotham with him. Great strafe on our part, for half an hour, from 3.30 pm. All our guns—howitzers and 6-inch heavies poured in high-explosive shell on the Hun trenches. I watched it with the General from a capital place. Very pretty and accurate shooting. So far no reply at all. We leave here on Monday, I believe, and go behind the line again into safety for some time. Our movements are uncertain, but we move back on Monday. Carson made a fine speech on resignation, one of the best he has ever made. All very fit and well, and now quite into the changed conditions of living.
Sir Edward Carson resigned from the coalition cabinet on on 19 October 1915 over the Government’s policy on military operations in the Balkans. See Hansard.