In the 1917 diary Reginald travels around the Western Front visiting Bronfay Farm, Franvillers, Heilly, Bussy Daours, Corbie, Meaulte, Fricourt, Combles, Briqueterie, Carnoy, Guillemont, Morval, Le Transloy, Barastre, Rocquigny, Bertincourt, Ytres, Lechelles, Lechelle, Etricourt, Favreuil, Vaulx, Cambrai, Bernaville, Beaumetz, Domart, Candas, Proven, Poperinghe, Ondank, Cardoen Farm, Elverdinghe, Bapaume, Peronne, Sorel, Hurlu, Aizecourt, Fins, Revillon Farm, Gouzeaucourt, Villers Plouich, Crevecoeur, Cambrai, Treux, Beaurainville, Arques, Blaringham, Wardrecques, St. Omer, Boulogne.
Summary of events after leaving the catacombs. Spent a few days at Bronfay Farm. Were bombed by German aeroplanes, several of which were overhead. Miles & I am OK. Transport man killed. Had to leave our Armstrong hut and go to the big one. Slept by Evans with whom I had some fine talks.
Lorry to Franvillers where we spent a few more days. Had several good walks, one to Division at Heilly with Evans and Backhouse. Walked with Rim, Golding, Backhouse, Brookhouse & Whympie to Bussy Daours. Fine walk in sunny frosty weather.
Interesting chats with Backhouse on birds and animals. Got a good billet in barn and shared bed with Evans. Division Operator have to take a turn at Daours Military Office. 9-3 one day 3-9 next, then a day off. Fine cosy office wish we could do a few months here.
Walked to Corbie by the bank of canal and had tea and went to Very Lights. Fine walk back in the moonlight. The canal frozen. Met Verning and Condie in Corbie. My pal and Evans letters had gone astray to other brigades.
Left Meaulte by myself with full pack. Very muddy road. Outside Meaulte got on Australian transport but only as far as outside Fricourt. Hence I had to walk past Guillemont and near Combles was overtaken by lorry in which were Coates and others. Got a lift nearly to Combles. Walked the rest.
Combles is in a hollow. We found the catacombs and entered. They are hewed out of chalk at a depth of 80 feet and are very extensive branching in all directions. In one of the off-shooting caves we are billeted. I am on duty all night. Very cold indeed.
Letter from Hilda and she wants to take a house in Hull and not go away. On duty all night again. Very cold George Coates falls asleep and sets on fire from a burnt out candle. I save the situation. We make many tapioca puddings before going on duty.
Had a narrow escape after tea. Went to throw my tea away and just as I got on the road two shrapnel came over in quick succession both well within 30 yards the pieces all falling around but not touching me. One went on the cookhouse. I did not stay. Luckily the road was clear but a moment previously a Battalion passed round the corner.
Finished reading “Max”
Reading Locke’s “Gate of Samaria.” Very fine. Think I will read more of his works. Something similar to “Max”
Germans opposite us Saxons. They try to fraternise. An officer of Cornwall’s to be court marshalled for exchanging souvenirs with a German officer.
Send letter to Hilda and to 83, also to Anna and Tipton. Received own letter from Hilda at 11pm. They shelled the catacombs during the evening. At the Test Station a shell killed some men and wounded others. Hilda wants to go into a house of her own.
Letter from Elsie thanking me for card. Fortunati and “blank” wounded by shrapnel at Leuze Wood.
Fritz shells the Catacombs and causes casualties 2 killed 4 wounded. Poor Fortunati died of his wounds today.
Cornwall’s have to make a raid on account of their fraternizing with the Saxons. The raid a success. No casualties. Wrote to Hilda.
Letter to Riders sent.
Note: Diary from here until February 6th is unreadable
Had a last walk with Eric I told him I would visit him after the war if he gave me his address. During the time I have known him I had some interesting & good conversations.
Relieved by Shally & Davidson we walk about 10 miles from Bussy via Daours & Corbie to Heilly. My leg very bad.
On duty in Heilly office. Told to be in readiness to proceed to Guillemont but later this cancelled. Got 2 parcels & letters also did some washing. Rimmington & I go to a Café & talk on various topics.
Left Heilly by motor lorry & arrived Briqueterie. Read the Daily Mail and an article adverse to Spiritism. The hut at the Briqueterie full of our chaps & 29 Division men. Am on duty with Syd at 9pm as Record Keeper. Still very cold and my leg bad.
Go into Syd’s hut and write and converse with him. His dugout very cosy too.
Hear our old HQ at Arrow (Head) Copse shelled & dugouts destroyed. This morning Taubes over. Still rather cold but thawing a little. I took my Xmas pudding & cream into Syd’s dugout & heated it up.
In the evening round the fire RCM & H Venning & others discussed haunted houses and kindred topics. Very few poo poo’d the theme & RCM told us some authentic stories of haunting and hypnotism. Letter from Hilda.
Went to Lumley and had my leg dressed this afternoon.
As Syd is going to Carnoy I am going to take his place in the dugout. Shall be with Master Bentley. Slept in the dugout this night am reading two books on haunted royalties. Don’t know whether to give any of these stories credence or not.
Awakened by Sgt Bentley coming into the dugout & saying “The Germans have bombed our ammunition dump & it is going sky high”. It was so, about 5am Fritz came over & succeeded in getting a bomb on the Corps Dump. I went outside & saw showers of Verey Lights of all colours showering the sky over at the plateau.
Great fiery red bursts of flame were springing up amidst the thick volumes of smoke drifting away, and great explosions sent & shook the air incessantly. It was like an attack, the small munitions rattling like a multitude of maxims. This lasted all day & even at this hour of 10pm not quite burnt out. A triumph for Fritz!
It appears we were warned last night by a Secret Service message that Germans were going to attempt a concerted aerial attack on all our dumps. Truly things appear working to a climax. The 17th Div front line cut off by the intense barrage fire. Sat in during evening and read by the fire.
Got 2 letters & a very welcome parcel with very good things in. Hilda says she is beginning to show. I miss a turn as I am changed to Bentley’s shift. Have a good sleep in the afternoon & go on at 5pm.
Go on at 5 again. Between 7 & 8 we get SOS from 10 RB. Although not generally known the Germans had made a raid & captured an outpost very far advanced. Coming off at 9, I made cocoa & supper.
Tried the experiment with my alter ego. Suggested dreams to it. Turned out absurd as I dreamt of Miss Martin, a girl at school long years ago & of Nellie Stuart coming out of a Public House with a jug of beer. Both extremely unlikely things.
During last night the rats tried to get at my parcel so hung it from the ceiling. This morning found the water dripping through the roof. In the rain and mud I wandered in search of covering for the roof. I also in the evening stopped the chink and nailed a bag on. Finally had to catch the water with my Dixie. Had supper & wrote Hilda & diary. 3 months today ago was a very important day, another 6 months.
Still busy with the leaky dugout. I have some happy times therein nevertheless.
See the report from Germany on our Dump explosion. Could see it as far as Cambrai & St Quentin. Many raids and successful ones.
On all night. And the night of what may be termed a red letter day for about midnight came reports from 5 Army that the Germans had evacuated their trenches & we were out of touch with them. The same report came from the Australians who sent patrols out.
Enemy evidently moving back. A busy day in the office. Everything appears to tend to an advance. Tonight we are to send out patrols though we are as yet in touch with the enemy. Got a letter from Hilda. Janet & Hilda and a parcel. Am expecting a move anytime now. The eve of great things – a great moment of history.
On all night. Things very excitable. At 5.25, the Corps artillery bombarded & at 5.40 the 59 went over. The Corps artillery failed to cut the wire in the front of the German trenches & the lads were hung up & bombed & fired at with rifle grenades. They lost 30 men; half killed & did not gain their objective. The 29 Division went over & took 60 prisoners. More came in later.
Told off to go with the rest of our relief to Carnoy camps to take over till 59 arrive to relieve the 60th Bde. Walk down & stroll around the old trenches which were our front line in July. On at 2pm Mr Mallet very nasty, he said we should have been there from midnight to noon. A Taube came over about 5pm and I was witness to a sad incident of one of our kite balloons set fire and destroyed by the Taube’s bomb.
Still advancing around Serre and Gommecourt. Australians attacked but repulse evening easily. Got a letter from Hilda. She says her Uncle had come to Hull to do business & would take her back to Tipton.
This evening much talk of coming events. Evidently we are going on two shifts. Divisions 17 & 29 are moving away & we and the Guards are extending to take over their fronts. That looks as if the initial push was coming from another direction. Hope I do not have to go from our little dugout tomorrow. After 9pm sat by the fire eating a good supper.
Up about 10am. Fine sunny morning. After partaking of some Malt Bread from Blighty I went outside & rummaged an old dugout for firewood. Returned, made the fire, washed & shaved. As I was doing this almost subconsciously the sun and the faint wind outside brought memories of a certain Sunday on the moors near Hackness. Ah! How I long for the quiet of nature, the sun shining down on the wide expanse of moor. No sound save that of the wind as it gently sweeps the heather & gorse, nature sickness, home sickness siege me as I reflect.
Hilda went to Tipton last Thursday according to her letter.
Nothing to report except the same round of things. Syd Crawley gone to England on a course as Instructor. Only for a week or two though.
Spent a very enjoyable evening in the dugout writing to Hilda & reading. Lay in the darkness watching the glow of dying embers on the blackened roof, thinking of home – wrote for shorthand text book.
Very quiet morning. Lay down in the afternoon. Had tea, went to an old dugout & pick-axed out some logs & brought in for fuel. Then lay down & wrote to Riders for “He can who thinks he can”. Wonder if it will do any good.
Detheridge the Corps man comes into my dugout with me. He is half Spanish but does not look it. We go out to get logs from the old dugouts.
Hear Germans retiring on our front, Guards pressing forward, as they evacuate the Germans blow up dugouts and mines. Many traps and poisoned drinks & food left to inflict damage on the troops. Hear the Australians fell victims this way.
On duty all night, very busy indeed with patrol reports & situation reports. Heard from Hilda. Went to the Verey Lights. Very fine. Had a walking match with Bill Graham. Met Eric Evans. His leg still bad.
Up again at 8am. Very little sleep. Spent morning chopping wood. I laid down till dinner, when the weather was much finer. About 3.30pm the big 12 inch naval gun commenced firing.
On duty we were busy & the concussion made havoc with the hut. This continued until 6pm. A Taube came over trying to spot the gun but was driven away. Near 6 o’clock there occurred a great explosion & going outside I saw a great volume of black smoke sky high.
At first we thought it was a shell aimed for the gun but turned out to be an old German mine. This happened near Carnoy Res Bde. Camp 4 was completely wrecked, feared many casualties. The crater the biggest known. Very busy night. Possibly moving forward tomorrow.
About 9 killed & in all over a hundred casualties in the mine explosion. Saw a fight this afternoon between our plane & a German. German dived to get away & rounded up near one of our Kite balloons. He got away.
Hear we are likely to move to Gommecourt tomorrow. Shall be sorry to lose the little dugout. Made a good fire and read a few pages of The Edge O Beyond. In it was the “Sunset & Evening Star” Hymn. I sang it and memories began to flood in.
Cut some bits from the Church Magazine. Altogether I felt much happier than recently. I need something to feed my imagination. My emotion & a fine phrase can still stir me to deep feelings.
A day of great things – a red letter day. Baupaume has fallen at 7.30am as the Australians entered & found the place deserted. Our own boys going forward. Went for a walk.
On all night. We move today to Guillemont. I stay behind with McKnight & Creedon. Walk over to Guillemont by cross country. Many gruesome sights of Guillemont battlefield. Our new quarter rotten. Not on all night.
Rains heavily, the rain comes in and upsets my bedding. Creedon getting up a great sweepstake.
Many rumours of Turkey but nothing definite. Germans still retreating and burning villages as they go.
Told to pack kit and go to the 61st Bde. Hang about all the morning for the GS Wagon. It can only go as far as Ginchy Corner so I and Tiny walk to the Duckboards where the poles are dumped along with my blanket. A good walk across country brings us to a deep dugout our destination. Hang about till 7pm. Lie down till ten when I go on duty. Very busy.
All night find plenty to do. I go upstairs and find the countryside white with snow. I help make breakfast then have a deep sleep till 3pm. On duty at 4pm.
Very tired and had a good night’s sleep last night. I helped to cook breakfast. During the morning Husley and Coax went up to the German lines so Robson and I agreed to go in the afternoon. It was a sharp, cold but sunny afternoon. Very bracing was the air.
To Le Transloy the duckboards wound a white ribbon way. Many, many graves marked by rifles we saw.
Our line in good condition, but the German’s very poor though they had the usual deep dugouts. Picked up a German Cap with a hole through & blood stains inside. Le Transloy practically razed to the ground we did not go in but retraced our steps. Hear we move tomorrow to the new Brigade HQ at Le Transloy.
On all night last night & in the morning walk across the duckboards to Le Transloy. Latter place much knocked about. It lies on the Baupaume – Peronne Rd. In a broked down chateau we find our quarters. Fritz very filthy from appearances of the courtyard.
Find no accommodation so build a shanty in a room. Moody and Woody share with me. On at 5pm. Sleep very well all night in our shanty. We have a fire.
Waked at 8am. Fine sunny day. Called out to see a great air fight between ours and enemy air patrols. Two of each brought down, one in flames. One of our pilots comes in the signal office. Only by great skill did he get his riddled machine to earth.
Stroll round old Fritz dugout for materials to build our shanty. Get an ammunition box & a bayonet also a brazier. Spend the evening looking around the fields & trenches & gun pits of marvellous strength.
8am – 1pm. Pass the afternoon fitting up the shanty roof. Make a fire then rest till supper. On duty at 9 pm.
Got 2 letters and the overdue parcel. Passed a sleepy night & glad when morning comes.
Finished reading ‘The Harvester’ a very very fine book inculcating a love of nature & real manliness and purity. Makes one wish for such a life’s work.
I had a hot rub down this morning, then laid down till teatime. High tea of crab and English butter then to duty. Hear today that a 5th Army Brigade HQ blown up by clock mine & the canteen at Baupaume. Hope our place is not mined also. Certainly looks suspicious being one of the only places left intact also it was one of Fritz’s signal offices before capture. On at 5pm, a wet sleety day & cold. Tomorrow or next day we move forward to Bns.
Light enough we move forward today. Up at 6.30am & pack up kits. A long wait, so make a fire meantime. Leave about 10am across fields. Pack very heavy carrying 2 blankets & D 3.
Reach Bns, very much knocked about place. Find cellar where is apparently a Fritz booby trap. Avoid this and go to another where Backhouse is cleaning up. Fritz had blown up the roof.
I worked with B till he was told to go to Runner Post. So I worked alone till dark cleaning right up. In with me are Coates, Coakes, Jones. The Kings & Yorks & Cornwalls attack Neuville which is in flames & take it despite wire. Congratulated by Division for good work.
Coates gets a stove going I get in some wood. Very busy all afternoon fitting up dugout. Very comfy now.
The office too is close by where was the church. Walls decorated with Stations of the Cross.
Roads everywhere crater pitted & felled logs laid across. Our water supply shell holes. Sit around the fire during evening & chat with Coates and Coakes. Go on at 9pm. No wood or tea tonight. Rather busy.
In our billet they bring a dead Tommy killed in yesterdays fighting. Germans still retreating. Have received the copy of Marden’s book ‘He Can Who Thinks He Can’.
A slow cold night last night was. Fine morning so with Jones & Coakes clean up dugout, fetch water & wood and make cocoa corn flour for dinner.
Have a good sleep in afternoon. Division have pushed forward advanced H.Q. Many messages regarding contact passing. Seems to promise important movements shortly. Nice pleasant evening.
Spend most of morning making a biscuit pudding. Recipe 2 army biscuits ground up & soaked in ¾ Dixie water. 2 teaspoons milk, 2 measures Birds custard, 2 teaspoons cocoa. This with custard was delicious.
Quiet afternoon in Office. See several wounded pass. Spend evening in same way, preparing supper. Yago gets a little cross because cocoa was not ready at 9 p.m. For a breather I went out to the crater on the road and looks toward Ytres where Germans were shelling. A moonlight night and fine.
Retired at 10pm. The last night we sleep in this most comfortable shelter. For tomorrow night I am on all night and the next day we move to Le Transloy as residence.
8am to 1pm. Receive letter from Sgt Crawley & Janet Carrick & a card from Hilda who is still at Tipton.
I read a little of my last year’s diary and am rather pleased with those portions touching nature. I draft out a letter to the Sunk Island Farm Colony asking for information.
Will it all end in futility? After dinner Coax and I go to the runner post in Ytres. This place (RP) is in a culvert under railway embankment. Chat awhile and then return and lie down till 7pm.
Up and make supper. Adv 60 arrive to take over. Go on at 9pm. Write diary. Am reading Marden’s book. Very American & very good if one could only follow its precept.
Last night not at all bad. Everyone stirring 5 am. Packed up and set off by road 8.30am for Le Transloy. As we started down the road a Taube flew overhead only about a 150 ft above the road. He could easily have swept us with his machine gun & I wondered that he did not do so.
Got the old place which the 59 boys had enlarged & put in a fireplace. Jim, Arthur, Moody and Woody were in with me. Woody & I kip together. Waiting for a letter from Hilda at Tipton. Today is the day America is supposed to declare war on Germany.
Was a very windy snowy night but morning broke fine and cold. Woody and I had a big fire and had a hot bath to the waist. Duty at 1pm – 2 Battalions of 61 going up to the line. Perhaps to relieve 2 bns of 59 who may have some work such as the taking of the wood.
Make up the fire & sit by it writing my diary.
After a heavy bombardment the 59 boys went over and took Metz and a fair number of prisoners. Yet we had a lot of casualties. Over 500 I am told. Oh those machine guns. What chance has human flesh against them? Not yet in Havrincourt Wood I fancy.
(Diary smudged and largely unreadable)
It appears that in the Metz action the German Officers cleared off before the fight leaving the NCO’s and men to stand the racket. President Wilson declares for war but awaits the Congress vote. Parcel on the way for me.
Well I’m surprised. Did not know today was Good Friday till I looked at this diary to write. Called early today as we are due in at Division. Packed kit & started by road. Left the column at crossroads joined Division. A beautiful glorious sunny morning.
I walked away into the fields towards Barastre and wrote this diary on an upturned bucket. What brilliant sunshine, what an ecstasy of song the larks are pouring out away up in the blue. The strong breeze sweeping round fills the freshened air with life giving vigour. How good it is to be alive on such a day!
It makes me feel a man to till the soil on such a day, to work in the open field & under God’s heaven must be glorious. Can I attain to it? In the evening caught in a heavy shower of rain. RCM Smith tries to alarm me because a German is buried close to where I sleep.
On at 8am till 1pm. Have a lie down in the afternoon. Not at all a nice day. America has declared for war by an overwhelming majority & will help allies in any way and every way.
A most perfect day & that holiest of days Easter Sunday. How strange! Easter Sunday Resurrection & the man of peace – have strife and conflict waging only a few miles away. Oh blissful nature, oh glorious adorable nature. I revel in thy wealth of sunshine & keen air.
Sweet song of the birds, how happily you greet my ears. I have no words for this untold beauty & the fascination with which it grips me that a tremendous continuous bombardment is going on. It started during the night & still continues.
Above I can hear the sleepy drone of the aircraft. Somewhere sailing thro the blue. This written outside Rocquigny in the fields. Am on at 5pm.
A fine morning on at 1pm. Am told that at Arras the great push has begun, 2000 prisoners taken. How great. After tea Rim, Davie, self, Roger & Jacko walked across to Bertincourt. It was a grand evening, sharp and windy. Experimented with some German bombs but they failed to go off.
Bertincourt has or rather had a magnificent residence of some Baron but of course it is hopelessly wrecked. Returned and made supper. I quite enjoy my homemade suppers. Letters from Hilda, Edward & my people enclosing one of Willie’s with photo. He is at Brishna.
Prisoners now number 8,000, 40 guns. Later learn this number up to 11,000, 100 guns & 160 MG’s. Fritz attacked at Ypres got to our reserve line & was repulsed to original position. Lay down in afternoon weather so cold & squally with sleet and snow.
This afternoon was sent out with a party to find corrugated iron. A great breeze sprang up & made it hard work.
Spent morning washing and cleaning. A short walk before dinner. Stayed in, in the evening it was so wet and miserable. Wrote Hilda & finished Doyle’s book on “Duet with Occasional Chorus”. I shall get that book it is so remarkable & will be a great help to us. Made the usual pudding.
Quiet morning. One army alone has taken 11,000 prisoners & 152 guns and captured villages. Went for a walk to Bus with Shally & Dave & Jacko. Nothing much in canteen. A ripping day. After tea Smith, Golding and I also Jacko had a discussion on “Survival of the fittest” & the killing of degenerates.
I maintained the latter as also did Smith, but his extravagant extension of the idea made for anarchy mine a very limited sense. Took a walk halfway to Barastre to the sunken road. I sat on the bank and wrote. Again nature had repented & was now looking her best.
So calm and still was she, just the twittering of sleepy birds except for the far off rumble of guns. The golden light lay as a glorious mantle over the shell torn fields. Slow clouds drifted across the evening sky still blue and gold in the dying day.
All along the line sky high floated the kite balloons. Watchful sentinels and guardians of our line of liberty. (I do wish some great poetic impulse would swift my soul).
Doing much bricklaying fatigue work lately in the interests of camp improvement. Our new General (Matheson of the Guards) is what one would expect from a late Guards Officer. He is responsible for all this fatigue work being done.
Australians attacked after heavy bombardment. Left holds out but on right Germans got behind some posts. Brave Australians fought to their last man. A counter attack took back lost ground. Germans lost heavily in killed and prisoners.
Walked over to Le Transloy to canteen. On return saw one of our balloons come down in flames over to the right of Bus. Finished reading “My Indian Queen”.
French take 10,000 prisoners in commencement great attack. Got a letter from Hilda who has now returned to SVS. RCM Smith pulls Rogers’ leg very much making out I am a great fighter whom he (Rogers) must be careful not to exasperate.
Round the fire we had a singsong & a happy hour before bed. We sang ragtime, sentimental and hymn tunes & a mock mission with much kidding of Rogers. My idea is that the latter is somewhat in irreverent amusement but nevertheless I played a part in it.
Had a wash all over and a clean change, also disinfected my blanket. After 9pm had a round the fire talk.
Poor old Rogers the usual butt of the Company’s wit. Yet he is shrewd and can hit back. Wrote home.
A good night’s rest. Went round Barastre with Jacko. Country beyond scarcely touched with the exception of house and farm. Read Nash’s on duty. An article on the effect of the “gory” type of fairytale on children was exceptionally good. They were shown to be breeders of fear, timidity and to create desire to hurt and maim. I must remember that so Desiree may have the benefit of experience. 3 German destroyers sunk, none of ours damaged greatly.
(Written on the afternoon of St George’s day outside the woods of Barastre)
Old England’s Day!
Once more I feel the deep surge of nature’s influence through my soul.
Ah! The glory of this spring day which steals back to me sweet memory of past spring tides.
Quivering, pulsing with emotion is my soul, vibrating to beauty all round & on every side.
“Sang not the lark of Yore, as even today he sings”?
Kindling then was vague emotion in savage breast.
As now in my own soul stirs.
Yes, as today, so yesterday, then blue sky & sweeping winds, the rolling hill and sheltered dale even as now.
So am I brought to think of nature’s constancy & my own transiency. Yet sober sense tells me the verdict is all the other way. Have been reading the “Great Thoughts” & took there from cuttings.
Football match in the evening of today with the Artillery. We lost rather an exciting game 3-2.
On duty during morning. Clean Billet up & then proceed on lorry to Ytres. Little wood is where our new HQ camp is. Quite a romantic place too. There are many bivouacs. We attempt to put one up but Thompson and Smith had too much rum.
During the night we had a disturbance & some fun through their antics. I heard tonight from Shally that his young brother had been killed up Ypres way. I am truly very sorry, but how can one express sympathy to a man. I said but little, though I felt much. It appears we nearly lost Ypres in the Great German attack. They got St Jean from us.
Well this is indeed fine. Here I am sitting on a white chalk mound on the hillside above Ytres. I can see the swelling bosoms of the hills as they rise from the canal side. A wreckage in the canal. Today I am not on duty.
A Brigade parade at 5pm to present medals to doers of good work & brave deeds. Sapper Pemberton was one.
Radiance bathes everything and the sun is getting redder, hued as he sinks behind the wood. Finally I arise & make my way satisfied & thoughtful to our home in the woods.
The end of a perfect day. All around us are hills and they have bright green mantles of freshest grass. There are villages tucked away in the vales between, once pretty they are now blackened & roofless. The old time Churches heaps of stones & Cemeteries ploughed by great shell holes.
Black forests crown the hilltops, not yet have they clothed themselves. The birds are singing sweetly, enjoying the gentle breezes & pale blue sky shading to delightful tint of green in the west. The canal glitters coldly & from where I sit looks like a great green serpent trailing over the landscape.
Two masses of twisted iron are all that is left of graceful bridges. A lark is singing above as if his life depended on it. Suddenly he swoops down from a great height like a dropping stone. Near the ground he stops & swoops off to his nest in the rubble.
A big bumble bee flies round to say goodnight looking fine in his coat of blackest velvet barred with deep orange. Cows are lowing in the distance & birds twitter a sleepy note ere they tuck their heads under their wings. A golden radiance.
Church service 9.30 am. A good sermon on “memories”. Post again.
Detailed to go round Brigade but cancelled. After tea with a mind eager for nature or divine revelation I crossed the fields in search of some choice spot whence I could see the wealth of beauty.
I returned to last night’s spot as being much the best. I climbed the hill overlooking the canal. The band in Vallulart Wood was playing a sweet strain as I sat down. From here I simply drank in natures lavish riches.
Oh divine nature, how I adore thee. To be with thee is rest & healing. Pure life giving air, resplendent sun, wide sweep of hillside & to wide flung heaven of tenderest blue. How I revel in you & find my souls desire & rest. How do I belittle the duty by calling thee God also?
No wealth of words is too great for thee! No depth of feeling answers to all thou promptest. Only adoration & reverence have I for thee. In thee I see Divinity & soul answereth to soul. I can never grow too responsive to thee, never shall my capacity to feel outrun this (to commencement).
Suggested by a beautiful starlight evening this day
Night has fallen,
And God has robed in darker hue
His sky so lately bright –
Calm and deepest blue
Shining and gleaming above us
Are they peep holes we can see
For angel eyes to smile –
At you to me?
Kindly they laugh and twinkle
The whole night long
Guarding and watching wee folk –
Till dawn awakes with a song
Then silently westward they steal
To seek for many a mile
Those other wee folk that await –
The starlight’s tender smile
A slack day that I do not much care for. Received letter from Ma. Charlie in the Egyptian fighting. Am sorry for that. Tea finished I walked right past Vallulart Wood to a hill from whence I got a grand view to all points of the compass.
The canal, attractive as ever, flowed between the tall straight trunks of extensive forest. Ringed by trees on the right bank was a fair sized village whilst behind against the sky swept the bold arc of a vast plateau.
Over all the evening sun had its glory and the sweet fresh breeze waved and trembled the grass like strands of silk shimmered the gossamer thread that hung pendant from each tall blade.
Still nothing to do. Seeing that our confreres have made tables and seats outside their hut we of the Jolly Roger thought we would go one better so we made a fine rustic seat & on a board wrote “Sympton Hall” which is a compound name for the three of us Simpkins, Thompson, Hall.
After tea I went out in the glorious sunlight to a little copse of beech saplings and wild cherry tree. Here I sat down and wrote a few lines of poetry. At times I paused to observe the work of a mole just burrowing under the surface near me.
I waited but could not get the smallest glimpse of him. With the sun sinking oer the hill at the back of the canal I returned.
Written in a copse of beech and wild cherry tree near the canal Ytres this day
When thro leafy lanes you wander or by the hedgerow stray
And glimpses catch of rustling trees
Dimpled pond in evening breeze
Will you pause to ponder –
God’s gifts to you?
When you stand by mighty ocean shore
With white gull circling overhead
Rippled by wavelet the golden sand
Tall cliffs rising on every hand
Will you never adore these –
God’s gifts to you?
When in woodland paths you roam
By tall grey trunk of towering beech
Or hazel bloom just out o’ reach
Will you returning home
Your homage give for these –
God’s gifts to you?
When home you reach at eventide
Firelight flickering on the wall
And loving eyes and fairy dancing feet
Eagerly your entrance greet
Will you give thanks for best of all –
God’s gifts to you?
On duty 5 – 9 for Jeffery.
Went to the baths with Condie T & Jacko. Dug a shallow trench in the afternoon. After tea I strolled to the copse near the chalk heaps and sat on the bank writing. Posted to Hilda & the Australian Agent General for Western Australia.
I wrote two fragments as I sat down. It would be about 11pm when the klaxon for alarm went and hurriedly we jumped from bed and dressed for parade. Guards on left Brigade. About 4am we gave Fritz heavy bombardment.
Written in the copse this day
Tis glorious indeed to listen
In the cool of this evening air
To the ecstatic song of the lark
As he soars I know not where
Yet suddenly I espy him tumble
As tho from heaven above
Till close to the earth he reaches
Then swiftly flies to his love
Love and joy are the themes
He outpours in moving song
The spring has come with its glory
Banish the winter long
Tis an evening very fair
O’er all is beauties spell
With reverent thought I contemplate
The scenes I love so well
I see the slender sapling
Like as a comely youth
With well knit frame and strong
As one well bred in truth
I sit on a mossy bank
When hush the dead leaves rustle
Brown earth upturns and tells
How beneath a blind mole bustles
On duty 1 – 5pm. Very hot. I took a walk in the morning to the copse & sat & enjoyed the budding young trees. In the evening I also went to the copse & read the Hull Times. I caught a vermillion coloured wood spider.
Another alarm given at 11pm, this time a test. We all turned out from bed not in the best of humours. Today two or three killed and wounded of the Field Co by one of our anti aircraft shells. It was the evening when Fritz sent a Taube after the balloon in front of our wood. Our field guns put a barrage over it, the shrapnel of which fell into the wood & all around us.
This afternoon Fritz tried again for the balloon but was not successful. This particular balloon is a thorn in Fritz’s side. Went for a walk halfway to Lechelles and rested by a low ridge. The clouds gathered and a distant rumble of thunder caused me to get up hastily & go homewards.
But the threatened storm blew over & meeting Rimmington I went with him to see a footer match. On at 9pm. The 40th Div push over a very heavy bombardment. Think it is a raid. Firing still on at 1am when I go to the hut.
Match at Corps. Our Signals v S.A Signals. We lose as expected by 6 – 1. McKnight came home drunk.
Was disorderly etc. & reported by Cpl Denton. Before the OC he was sentenced to 10 days No-1. I think he quite deserved it as he has numerous cases against him. I did 3.30 – 9 for Jeff. Spent a happy half hour on a bank outside the wood before going on duty.
Went into the copse again sat at the foot of my tree stump & wrote Mother, Hilda, & to the Agri and Horti section of Lyceum club for information. Possibly a reply by the 16th & to the Western Australian letter on the 11th or 12th. Regarding the Partington one I am not optimistic at all, at the earliest not before the 10th or 12th.
Went to the Verey Lights, not so good as usual but doubtless owing to the fact they have not appeared for some time. Heavy downpour all night. Sketch – The General’s Pyjamas or The Strombos Horn.
On from 8 – 1 am. Alter our hut in the afternoon & go to the Verey Lights in the evening.
Excellent programme, full of go. Met Gus who says we may expect news. He says in a private letter from England he got information that at Austria’s request The Pope had called a meeting of Cardinals at Berne in Switzerland.
Today’s news also very good. All counter attacks repulsed heavily & our Hindenburg gains extended. Famine threatened in Germany & best of all in its possibilities the American devices for submarine menace. On all night but Gus lets me go after Midnight.
Went across the Valley and wrote up my few lines of poetry, admired the scenery & returned to duty at 5pm. Hear Shally is for a stripe. S E Thompson got one today on No 2 cable cart. I hope I am to go the school in Shally’s place.
The Germans retook Fresnoy sending two Divisions against it. We brought 8 of their kite balloons down.
I went for a walk over the railway embankment and sat in the sun lazily. I reread the beautiful article on Ruskin. I must really get his books some time. They seem to be exactly what I require. I am intense lover of nature.
Returning I am told to go to the Sig School at Le Chelle, I and Pemberton go there and fix up in a dugout quite comfy. Rains hard at night but we are OK. Hope this class lasts a long time.
Got a letter from Hilda am hoping sometime to hear of my letters re holdings. As I write and as the rain drops ceaselessly outside I can hear my Infantry class singing “I’m longing for my dear old home again”.
Poor lads I wonder how many of them will. They lose so heavily, I have known many a promising lad who has gone under. Yet they seem to keep cheery.
Went to Church as Marker, a quiet day. Went to Div .I went to the copse & wrote Hilda, 83 & Janet. Returned as rain threatened.
Received letter from W.A Agent General. Also one from Hilda & Mother. I think Ma worries over we absent ones & sometimes fears for us all. Pemberton goes to England as his Mother has just died.
The new Corporal, Cpl Passey come into my dugout.
Went to the Verey Lights concert to the Canadians. Extremely good. The Canadians liked it. I wrote to Hilda & a further letter to W.A. General. Lay awake reading till a late hour. I cannot quite reckon up the character of Paragot in Locke’s book “The Beloved Vagabond”.
His attitude to life & art seems to be that anesthetised by Ruskin. The association with Bohemianism & life at its lowest as necessary to inspiration. I may not be entirely fair to Paragot indeed his attitude after Johanna’s husband’s death tells rather against my adverse judgement.
Not a pleasant day, a year ago today we were at Esquelbeq & I was sat on the plough examining a flower.
What will another year bring I wonder? This evening in a rain I walked passed the isolated Four Winds Farm with its deep German dugouts & up a road leading to wilderness.
It was too bad so I returned. Yet I remember the mist shrouded hills densely clothed in green looked the embodiment of mystery, loneliness & wild beauty. Away & away stretched the high land in the receding folds to the dimness of the horizon.
I went for a walk over the RG embankment & sat in the sun lazily. I reread the beautiful article on Ruskin. I must really get his books sometime. They seem to be exactly what I require. I am an intense lover of nature.
Returning I am told to go to the signal school at Lechelle. I and Pemberton go there & fix up in a dugout quite comfy. Rains hard at night but we are ok. Hope this class lasts a long time. Got a letter from Hilda am hoping sometime to hear of my letters re holdings.
As I write and the rain drops ceaselessly outside I can hear my infantry class singing “I want to see the dear old home again” – poor lads I wonder how many of them will. They lose so heavily. I have known many a promising lad who has gone under. Yet they seem to keep cheery.
Go to the Verey Lights in the evening. When I arrived back to the camp was told we move back to the Division tomorrow. I am becoming very tired of the monotony of things. Of course we must stick it. The allied navies are combining now against the submarine menace as I hear Japanese as well as American flotillas are in our waters.
Good luck to them. I heard with regret that Ermyn Hall’s boy was killed. The East Yorks have been in a charge & are very highly spoken of in that connection. I see another cutting in the Hull Times re land settlement for Soldiers in Canada. Truly the air seems full of the back to the land schemes.
Up at 7.30, I am told to look after the stores. This I did helping to load up. Sorry to leave the school at Lechelle as the situation was ideal besides being nicely settled down in the comfy dugout. I walked across the fields to Division with Delaney & got bed space in my old tent.
Hear we are perhaps going into action close by. Possibly Bullecourt – if so well I expect it will be another Guillemont for us & this evening I came out & read the “land” extracts & also wrote this diary.
The sky is overcast, many balloons are up, but the evening is pleasant and cool. Written against the ridge midway between Ytres and Lechelle. It is very little use me ever trying to avoid the consciousness of religion or religious need. I can be immersed in a Soldier’s life, can mix with loose conversation, can hear suggestive song.
Yes and even be moved to laugh at them – yet ever come back the moments when, bare, my soul is pushed forward to meet the Great Spiritual and I realise that aspirations and instincts are unfulfilled. “Oh you should avoid evil conversation, not listen to loose or suggestive singing”. I do not seek it but it is idle to deny that the suggestive is also often the witty.
Also innuendo always has a delight of its own entailing as it sometimes does a play of wit vs. wit. Like Ruskin I would prefer the high, the pure but with a metaphorical and fatalistic shrug, “What would you Monsieur?”
Walked across to the lone tree & sat & wrote & read. Returning I was asked way to YMCA. By a soldier who was one of the 1 East Yorks. He was a Hull boy & was one of the bombing party under Cunningham the V.C.
In the afternoon Shally, Condie & I went to Etricourt to see Hunter. We found he had gone to England to see to his brother’s affairs. This brother was killed recently. Went to Verey Lights in evening but it rained heavily.
On duty at 1pm. Went to one of the last Verey Light performances before we leave. Strolled to lone tree & sat by it looking at the sky & peaceful nature.I could see many of our watchful balloons & same of the Germans too. No reply yet from the Lyceum or Dublin. I shall still do my best in that direction.
Over to the left I can hear the whine of some very heavy shells coming from the German lines. They say Baupaume still gets shelled.
Detailed for advanced party to the Australians at Baupaume. Raining heavily as we trudged off. Rained all day. Baupaume much knocked about but its environs pretty. Met a very interesting Australian whom I chatted to. He gave me his address & an invitation.
On duty at 2pm Fritz bombarded on line heavily and we retaliated.
8 – 2pm. Laid down in afternoon. After tea walked to Favreuil a onetime pretty place. Also came across a chateau and grounds with damaged statues & water ponds. There were well laid out gardens.
I returned had some biscuits from the YMCA & went on at 9pm with Curtis. Had night down from 2am to 6am.
Very hot, a relief went forward today. Hear the school will open soon. Very heavy anti aircraft firing as a Fritz came over. Also towards morning.
On duty at 8am.Very hot, got a letter from Hilda & Janet. Walked across the Chateau grounds & sat & read. My mind still full of the land business. I have talked with many Australians & they seem enthusiastic over this land. The news today good from Naval sources & the Italian front.
Hilda not very well. Hope she will soon be alright. As regards the land business I am determined to make all enquiries. Will write to the Canadian Agent General. Read Russels book and if that promises anything Irish will take that up. I will also keep Australia in mind & best of all if our Govt will only give facilities will take a part of England. But for lack of trying I will not fail.
I received a communication from WA. It promises well enough. I am to be relieved to go to the school. Thank goodness.
Had a talk with an Australian who gave glowing accounts of the places, why shouldn’t I do well there. It would be food for our children if we were successful & we should be in the freest colony of all our colonies.
Fritz came over in his plane & one of our anti aircraft shells came down close by us. Fritz also shelled Baupaume Div. First day at school again. This time it is near the camp. Went to the Verey Lights again and enjoyed them.
Church Parade 9am. Flag drill 10.30am. Went to the Verey Lights in the evening. Then walked to the copse as the sun was setting & wrote home.
Hilda still in bed & likely to be so till August. I am somewhat worried thereby. Went to the Verey Lights.
Paid at 2pm & 300 francs
New Officer at the school very officious. It appears that Oliver Hudson is the new Instructor. I was surprised to see him there. In the evening we went to Baupaume to find Sgt Berry. They had moved their Office on account of air raids. They had one last night by a Taube which was disastrous to some reinforcement from England.
Met a Hull chap from Woodcock St, a billeting Sgt. Got 10 pounds from Sgt Bill Berry to send to England.
Am told to return to Division. Got a more reassuring letter from Hilda.
Returned to Div. Saw something in the C S monitor re holdings in Canada. Take duty at 5pm but just now am writing this diary under a hot sun in a copse. It is perfectly lovely but flies are a nuisance.
Tomorrow I go to Vaulx advance HQ. Sunken Road 8pm after Verey Lights entertainment. Near the camp – “out of the love of nature will lights arise which will reveal to man the true nature of life, the true field for his energies & the true relations between him & his maker” – this Ruskin & I think nothing truer was even written.
What a call to the soil & work under the blues skies of heaven & on the green fields of Earth. Will our Govt help the aspirations of those who feel their true life to be there. I feel a call to joy & happiness & love.
Yet these be far from me because I am far from those I love. I am in spiritual isolation except where love of nature has come to fill the place we left vacant by absent hearts & faces. Let me see them & I shall be happy once more.
Today Thompson, Callon & I and 3 orderlies Jennison, Bean & Liversedge walked to Vaulx. A mile out of the village we were told the road had been shelled & blown up. Coming along we saw a dead horse so turned off and went along by the fields. Some of the wires had been blown down by the shelling also.
I & Thompson took a billet near the sunken road. Here the other day one RA chap had been killed in a dugout part of which was thrown right up and over the road where it hung on a pole. Slept with Bean this night on old French bed not very comfortable. Letter from Hilda. She is a bit better. Fritz shelled a good bit, one of our prematures burst near billet making a big hole. Present at burial of DCLI Sgt killed last night.
On duty morning, rested in afternoon. Very hot indeed. After tea wandered out amongst the ruins and sat under tree writing this diary.
Know then, whatever cheerful & serene supports the mind, supports the body too. Hence the most vital movement mortals feel is hope, the balm & lifeblood of the soul. Very true, hence the value of religion, the fountain & true basis of hope. I know it well enough; I feel the impulse in myself to communicate, to turn inwardly to the source of strength & comfort.
There soothing the irritations & worries of my mind. There drawing the strength & hope which will flood my body with a life giving stream. Shall I go indoors to read & write, no! For the highest sentiment & emotions ring truer with the winds of heaven about my face and the rustling of grass about my feet.
Copied this day Christina Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 1892
None other lamb, none other name
None other hope in Heaven or earth or sea
None other hiding place from guilt and shame
None beside Thee!
My faith burns low, my hope burns low
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe
Cries out to Thee
Lord, Thou art life, though I be dead
Love’s fire Thou art, however cold I be
Nor heaven have I, nor place to lay my head
Nor home, but Thee
When faith is dim and thoughts of Thee
Feebly and in chaos and confusion burn
Thy spirit send to guide and comfort me
Help me to learn
Lay in most of the day, on at 5pm. Letter from Hilda & paper from home.
Spend the morning wandering through the Villages & gardens. What an awful shame the young fruit trees are so ruthlessly cut down by the hateful Huns. Wild roses & cultivated mingle together in beauty & I gaze into them with a profound admiration & love – all today Fritz has been sprinkling the Village with Shells & now at 10pm he is shelling our batteries. We are repaying him with interest.
Wrote a letter to Hilda in bed, also this diary. Yesterday we got the news of the Vanguard of the American Army arriving in England.
This evening I wandered this Village & gardens & gathered red roses for my billet. Shame to me again on me is the sense of sin.
Despite my early scepticism of Jesus as Saviour I still turn to them when the sense of sin is on me. Is he still the Saviour of the World? Why not, when on earth he died, his influence still remained if we at all believe in life after death. This resurrection therefore his aid is still available & to him I can go from me he will take the station exchange I get purification unworthy me of as unfair an exchange!
I hope Oh Jesus my language is not hypocritical, that my sentiment is true. Thou hast left me with a sense of healing & of wrong forgiven “Our blest Redeemer ere He breathed His tender last farewell. A guide, a comforter bequeathed with us to dwell. Yes and in the world remains to purify and endow with life and healing the wayward sons of men. Of which am I.”
In bed most of the day, but took a stroll in the late afternoon to the strawberry patch. 5-9pm on duty.
Our watches are synchronised which indicates operations pending, possibly those which were due last evening. They were postponed because the Germans took two prisoners who may have given information away.
Later I heard that the Somersets & Yorks went over and took a post of 18 men, only however bringing one prisoner back. They set back with 11 but despatched all but one an indication of our men’s state of mind. Mercilessness is the Kaisers order to our troops, who wonders at retaliation such brutes though one’s one heart aches at its horror.
Received “The National Being” from Hilda. In her letter her dad, she tells me, will probably sell his Business and go to another away. Hilda now gets downstairs a little. Hear the King of Greece has abdicated in favour of his Son.
Am reading “The National Being”, it is fine. Fritz tries to find the big gun and puts one away near to our billet. He does no damage however.
Another very hot day. I am on duty at 8am to 1pm. Have a very interesting talk with Jeremy Creedon on Ireland. I do not see why Ireland should not have separation and the opportunity to work out her own salvation. All we should ask is her friendship and the forgetting of old dispute.
It is said Fritz is gone back on this line he has strafed our batteries somewhat, but I think he gets more than he gives.
Somewhat of a red letter day in that I got a reply for the President of the Smallholders Association. It promises very well and may yet be the turning point of my life. I stayed in bed all day but did not rest much. Not at night, my mind was too active and next door they made a big noise.
This morning I wrote to Hilda, enclosing to the Union of Smallholders.
From the bluff at the end of the road I could see the wire in front of the Germans line just left of Cambrai.
Have got a good Divn orderly from the Devons who acts as a side set man. This night discharged gas to Fritz. Sorry to hear Capt. Betteley Intelligence Officer of 61 Bde killed by sniper whilst in no man’s land searching German officer for papers. A very jolly chap was the Intel Officer.
Had a snooze from 4-6am close on 7am Fritz started shelling and kept it up all over the village. Shrapnel sprinkled the billet and fell all around, one piece hit my dugout. I went into the Signal Office for a time.
Slept in afternoon, rather busy in the office. Hear we are to move back tomorrow. Very busy with signals this evening.
This evening I sat under the tree by the incinerator and read “Marden’s” essays many thoughts arose. Later read an article on Laburnams in Patterson’s dugout. “The classical way of cultivation is to plant 3 lilac to one laburnam“
In bed till 1pm then up & packed. It was 5pm when I set off in lorry to Division arriving there at 6.
Stayed the night with Hudson in the hut.
Set off in lorry and had a good ride to Bernaville a very straggling village which does not seem unpleasant. Chips in a temper and will not let us out. Callon & I have to stay in. At 9pm however I went out with Debney to an Estaminet and had supper.
Returned and got down to it. Had a discussion with Rimmington but he & I couldn’t agree. I thought he did not understand me. A pleasant day till it commenced to rain very heavily.
Went in the village and walked round a while, then returned. Billets don’t seem very great. Slept on floor near Thurman. This night earlier in the evening called at Daily Mail House and had eggs and coffee and spent a jolly time with Denise. A Scotty told us she was a girl of easy virtue but didn’t believe it. She looked quite a bonny girl too.
Had a quiet day but it rained heavily enough. Had a walk round with Claude in the morning. During the evening Calton & I went to Denise and met Thurman and Harrison also joined us. All of us had a jolly time. Calton & I had the offer of a billet for sleeping but on account of move could not book it. Slept on the floor again. A fair night.
Packed up and set off but am told that I stay behind a little while. So go down to the Office where we are all to sleep in one of the Nissen Huts. Went on at 1pm. After tea called round to the coffee house for supper which I got after difficulty. Denise was quite swanky. In the hut the boys kept awake card playing till 12.30am.
On at 8am this morning. Spent it in answering Hilda’s letter criticising mine on the Holding. Hers was a very scathing sort of letter, sounds as if someone had influenced her a bit. I answered her as well as I could.
Later I got a further letter & answered that too making a big budget. What will she say I don’t know but I am not over optimistic now. She is not well & I am somewhat worried. Had a pleasant walk down one of the lanes & into a cornfield.
Returned & called at another Estaminet and had supper. Met Bean & Liversedge & treated them. We had fun with Mademoiselle who told us Daily Mail “no bon” & Denise if visited would result in hospital. So it looks as if the Scotsman was right.
I think it was the evening of this day that I first met Mademoiselle Emilie Mahelin as she was talking outside the Grand Maison. She asked us if we would care to go & learn French I said certainly. So an appointment was made for 2pm next day.
First French lesson, very interesting, mademoiselle is a tall and rather learned looking lady, with most charming manners & dresses well. I love the way she speaks the English. The first lesson reveals that the other chap has no aptitude for the French but Bill Graham is coming in to take his place. Mademoiselle’s sister is a lady doctor at Rome just taken her MD with Honours. This lady has a tame fox & possesses 300 or more English books.
Went with Sharp to the class this afternoon he not greatly interested, so I have it much my own way. Reading through a book of famous paintings & translating. Today the Scotsman of the KOSB who rides about the village visiting the public houses and Estaminets has been arrested for desertion. This is his 4th time so I doubt not he will be shot. He was arrested in an Estaminet with a stolen watch in his possession.
This afternoon I went to the class alone and it consisted for the most part of conversation of books and the disposition of our respective countries. She thinks we of England are more constant and not so subject to alternate moves whereas countrymen are to the contrary, herself included. I tell her I do not altogether agree.
On at 1 to 5. At 6pm go to Mademoiselle Emilie and have the French class. She gives me a task and we talk of England and France. I tell her the story of the Hartlepool fishermen of 1800 – who thought French men were monkeys. At 9pm am told to go on for Hughes who has a little too much beer.
A very heavy storm, thunder and rain. I get down at midnight. Up at 5 but I slept badly. On duty I sat and wrote a line or two that came in to my head the subject Mademoiselle Mahelin who I think a lot of. I am reading a book of Balzac’s “Eugenie Grandit” oh a great book, but a tragic one.
I love the figure of Eugenie & I would have written a better fate in store for her but as Mademoiselle Mahelin says it would not have been true to life in many cases. I told her that it was not a good book for a Soldier who requires something to uplift the spirits.
This morning prior to going on duty at 1pm I went to the Chateau & spent another happy morning. I fear when I leave here I shall not be entirely heart whole, at least for some time, and always in the future it will be a great memory for me & an influence that will last so long as recollection can sway the emotions.
I shall remember your quaint English, the dainty little gestures, the sad serious yet sweet views you held on life. I shall remember your great talents & shall in my mind typify you as my ideal of the best Frenchwomen.
On at 8am. Go to Mademoiselle Mahelin at 6pm & have the lesson. We chat alone on books & she lends me one of Paul D Koch. Tonight I translated part of one of Victor Hugo.
Oh Mademoiselle Emilie you are very intellectual and your delightful mannerisms captivate me. You are a pianist, a violinist, a cookery teacher, a nurse, doctor, a philanthropist & a very, very charming Lady. One of high ideals & with evidently a gracious affectionate heart. I would wish a happy destiny for you. To one who has not seen a woman of any sort for 6 months, let alone so great a type as you, you are a very gift of the Gods.
This evening I went into the fields and afterwards walked to Beaumetz. There I saw Bolton talking to 2 girls in a house. I went over & had a good conversation in French with mademoiselle Theresa Bellinger who was a schoolteacher & could also speak English well. Walked back to the office.
Had a little sleep in afternoon & at 6pm went to Emilie Mahelin’s where I had a little tea, or rather milk & bread of a special sort. After this came Tartarin the most wonderful of fellows. I also had a bit of a chat with the other ladies one of whom came from Flixecourt – Tomorrow there is a visual scheme lasting 24 hours.
Our troops in Belgium received a check. We are going up there near our old place & I anticipate a big attack. The Russians are doing well.
At 10am I went to Mademoiselle’s and read some of Tartarin, most delightfully witty and funny. We also chat about the south character viz the boastful Gascon & Provincial. After the lesson mademoiselle shows me round the drawing room where there are very valuable articles including a Louis 14th table inlaid with enamel.
The Monarch in centre and around the ladies of the court. One other such at Versailles but it has a map of France for teaching geography to the Dauphin. There are in the Drawing Room picture of a Moors Head, Spanish ladies and a landscape and also French Soldiers of Napoleon’s time. Mademoiselle’s cousin of Napoleon’s Day was a Soldier of Bonaparte & gathered together pictures of his battles in which he fought.
At the morning French lesson as usual. On at 1pm to 5pm. In the evening RCM Smith was making much fun with a telephone set calling it Dr Macaura’s Electrical Vitaliser. He gave Sharp who was unsuspecting a shock and tried it on me but I got into a corner & defied them.
I wrote to the smallholder’s association again. Also heard from Hilda & wrote her. Hear we are likely to go near Bollezele & perhaps Esquelbeq.
On at 8am – 1pm. Had a sleep in afternoon. At 6pm went to the chateau & there read Tartarin. So very funny and we interspersed the French lesson with conversation. I told her several England sayings such as “Ships that pass in the night”, “I am tied in a knot”, “A red letter day.” Mademoiselle wrote them down.
I meant to have written that for me it was a red letter day for I had supper & partook of “snacks with sauce, beans with cream, meat, redcurrant jam & tea. It was 9.30pm when I left I said I would call my cat Tartarin. Certainly I shall never forget Tartarin.
Today was our sports. The 158 ASC had casualties in Poperinghe.
Went to the French Class and enjoyed it though little did I know it was to be the last. I wanted to look at the end of Tartarin but Mademoiselle wouldn’t let me.
Whilst on duty in morning are told quite suddenly that we are to pack up and go to Domart. A hurried pack up and then Bill and I go next door for final farewell. They receive us and gave us a cup of coffee. Mademoiselle said it is a sad day, I am very sad, all my friends are going away. Truth to tell I was as full of grief as I could be and felt utterly miserable and yet I could not say a word as to it.
We marched away and looking behind I saw Mademoiselle and Madame and Petite walking behind. I looked back several times but finally they turned back and my heart was heavy. In the evening I saw Madame and Le Petite in Domart and said goodbye.
Bean and I in & Jim Liversedge & Blenkinsopp stayed in the guard room till midnight.
At midnight we were up and marched to Candas carrying full pack. It was very tiring. Arrived at the station got breakfast and then entrained. Left about 8.30 am. 2 years ago today I believe we landed in France. Quarter to 6 we arrived at Provin. The district is typically different from France.
The balloons are very close together, the divisions crowded, aircraft active and every indication of a great struggle pending. A Taube wandered over our train as we disembarked and I was expecting trouble but none ensued. After tea Jennison and I went into the crowded village but soon returned. Put down my bed and I was soon comfortably asleep.
Told there was a 9.30 parade but could not go, as told we were exempt. Now however I shall get into trouble as they took names of absentees. (I did not because I was on at 5pm,now we are excused parades altogether if on Office duty).
Last night and early this morning we heard Squadron of German planes overhead and in the neighbourhood, they dropped one or two bombs, there were many of our searchlights showing up across the sky.
Went for a walk this evening with Jennison across the fields, we talked on literature he said he thought Chapman’s translation of Illiad and Odyssey was the best. I wrote a letter to Mademoiselle and posted.
On 8am – 1pm, very hot day reading Nyria, not bad. Wrote to Hilda and 83 in afternoon. I do not like all I hear of this place on part of the line. It is rather a dangerous part with the gas shells and heavy bombardments. Many gassed cases.
Hear we are to go on the canal bank left of where we were last time. Hilda says she expects Vic home anytime on his cadet leave.
It rained very heavily until dinnertime when it faired up again. Very little doing except that there is a heavy bombardment on almost continuously.
Received a letter from Hilda today. Think there will be two but hopes not. Well so do I, rather too much for one person to manage. I finished reading Nyria, not a bad book but rather too sad for my liking.
Very much off colour today and & the military situation bad. Russia gone all to pieces owing to German intrigue. She is returning on a large front. However, the Rumanians are not doing so badly and we ourselves are making our presence felt on this front.
Fritz reported to be returning. His front line occupied by us in places. I stayed in the tent most of today but decided to go on duty at 9pm.
Did not sleep very well my head was too bad. Slept late in the day and gradually improved.
A very heavy shower of rain spoiled the Church service this morning. I wrote one or two letters to 83 and Hilda. In the evening I went to the church army tent to a Service held by Rev Barry DSO.
He is a fine earnest young fellow and the service was just as in England, responses and everything sung in proper manner even including a Vesper. The first service I have heard for a very long time feeling much better now.
Nothing outstanding today on from 1-5pm. I went to the Church Army hut, read a little and then went into an adjoining field and wrote as follows:
“Tonight I have an elation of feeling which has been absent from me lately. I feel as if I could respond to all that is noblest and highest in life and literature. I feel as if I could glory in the noble deed and great effort for my Country. I feel the need for great literature and great poetry, the need for the stimulus of life’s best offerings”.
This I wrote on a recumbent trunk of a tree near by a green carpeted pond. The music from the Church army tent reached me and immersed in happy musings I watched the whirling sails of the old Flemish Mill. Later I visited this quaint erection which bore many dates as old as 1780.
The bombardment started early this morning and first reports of this greatest of battles are coming in very satisfactorily objectives being gained. During the day the advance continued till we got to a depth of about two miles & had captured 500 men and some guns.
Today it commenced to rain & continued making a veritable mess of the camp and upsetting offensive which seemed to promise so well. In bed after lights out we had a conversation on ghosts & apparitions, Miles of the Sutton Surrey office was the chief discusser with me. It is interesting but not certain that these discussions deepen such knowledge.
Still raining all day long. Nothing of interest to enter except that we all feel disappointed that the offensive has been arrested by the weather. Had a little discussion with Jennison on how to read literature. Whether it is best to take a course on to read as fancy directs.
He, with me, thinks the latter the best method. Nevertheless I am certain my own reading needs broadening to include the classics of both ancient and modern times.
Unceasing rain, a busy night. After night duty spend an enforced day in the tent. On at 5pm.I find I had left this book in the office. It had been picked up and written in. I feel very vexed at my carelessness and more vexed that an obviously private book should be read or mutilated. I have no doubt that some time or other, the incident will be used to ridicule me. However if I fear that, I should not write.
After lights out had a conversation with Jennison. This time on languages and strange marriage customs of various lands.
Still a never ending rain. I notice however that the wind has changed a little & that it has become warmer too. So there is a chance of finer weather at last. Yet one can have no faith in the weather, it plays such tricks. Tricks too that are likely to be adverse to our fortunes. If we lose this bout of arms with Fritz it is like to be on account of such weather as this. Have had several letters from Hilda.
I am not detailed to go forward but to remain behind with Shally’s party. I am in charge of the second shift & have a rather busy time. I do a little washing which is very much needed. I received a letter from Emilie Mahelin of Bernaville, a witty letter and interesting. I feel I would like to continue writing her at intervals as she is of a type of mentality I could profit from. Yet I must observe strict propriety. I notice she remembers the idioms I taught her.
Last night slept in the Nissen hut. Was up at an early hour. Cleaned up the cookhouse & then went to the Church Army hut. Had dinner in the town then proceeded on the lorry to Dragon camp, this is situated prettily amongst the trees.
Had a little sleep in the afternoon but was told to be on duty at 4.30pm. We had a very rough time as things were in a chaotic state. Fritz started shelling too, the shells dropping about 500 yards away across the road.
Intended writing to Hilda and home today but got a note asking me to go & meet Happy Holmes at International Corner. I saw him there & brought him along to the boys who like myself were glad to see him. He did not look too well, he has gone grey somewhat, also like others of us.
Not quite so busy at 1pm, but still quite bad enough. Late on there was a considerable bombardment & I found out that Fritz had tried counter attacking the Somerset’s but with little success. Indeed the barrage we put up was awful – am reading St Beuve’s essay on Madame Recamier who was evidently a wonderful woman.
Hear from Hilda who is much better and is expecting any day.
A very busy morning, had a little sleep in the afternoon. Again in the evening it commenced to rain heavily and to thunder. I read a little more concerning that remarkable French lady Madame Recamier. How fine to enjoy such charm, such beauty, such intellect in the warmth of a noble friendship & unsullied by the fires of passion. She was capable of transforming the passions of ardent love into an abiding & steadfast friendship. That is surely a great thing when one considers the potent sway of sex.
On at 9pm, I had a very rough and harassing evening. Later it turned out a calm moonlight night, a full flood of radiance bathing the trees & bushes. Occasionally, once an hour or so a heavy shell screamed overhead to a road or dump.
Did very little this day as I laid down most of the time. A few shells came over during the day & some visits were made by enemy aircraft. Had rather a slack evening in the office. This was very acceptable as latterly we had been very busy indeed.
This evening I had a walk with Rimmington into Poperinghe which is just the same as ever. I noticed the old signal office in the Town Hall had been hit by a shell. During the night some of the boys were warned to be up at 3am to get the aeroplane sheets ready.
Evidently some event on our front is coming off. I was awakened about 2am by the sound of German aeroplanes overhead and the dropping of numerous bombs. Heard later that 50 had been dropped into and around Poperinghe.
Slept very little & poorly through this event. The 59 Bde went over and took objective. The night Division were held up again later and heard the Germans had retaken the farm.
Spent most of the day in bed after night duty. This afternoon Fritz was a very active coming over several times in a very audacious manner. I heard that one of our planes was brought down & also one of his.
The news today is that the Labour Party have decided to send delegates to Stockholm but not to discuss peace, only to state our terms. For myself I rather doubt it will stay at that. I rather think that statement is to appease what there might be of popular indignation at a peace conference on the Russian German basis.
Once at the Conference it seems to me it will be difficult to prevent conversation drifting into a discussion of terms. Fritz active during the night with machine guns. Eric Evans slept with us returning from leave.
Spent a morning in cleaning up. After which I read a chapter concerning Madame De Genlis. If what St Beuve said is correct she was much of a teacher, much of an encyclopedist, much of an actress in her composite nature.
I should not consider myself much attracted to her writings having more of a preference for Joubert or Madame Recamier. Madame De Genlis own tremendous activity caused her to an over intensive system of education for her royal pupil.
Such was indeed the fault of her system; no doubt it had its merits which should cause us to think kindly of it. For myself I feel it to be desirable that I should write down a resume of my position to education, no system should allow cramming.
There should be diversity, earlier years should include kindergarten & much of open air life. The young life should be lead to creativeness & imagination by the reading of the antique literature of Greece and Rome.
Spent the morning writing the diary & letters. Went on duty in the afternoon and during the evening I strolled around the wood finally sat on an old box and read the essays. Was however spoken to by a Cornwall Signaller & chatted with him a while.
Finally I returned to the tent. After lights out we had a fight for Fritz started shelling and his shots gradually got nearer, one breaking quite close the shrapnel falling through the branches and leaves. However he lengthened his range & shelled all night at intervals of an hour.
It was very uncomfortable and I got a bad nights rest. At 4 the boys went over and took their objectives in place though fighting still goes on.
Fritz still shelling considerably unfortunately one shell dropped in the mess and the 126 Mg Coy & killed several Officers. This was only a few hundred yards from us. Having a very busy time in the office which I do not like on two shifts.
After a heavy bombardment the boys of ours and many other Divisions went over and in nearly every case took all objectives. Langemark fell & we took a lot of prisoners. Heard later that the Canadians did well near Lens. The rumour that it had fallen does not seem true. Had a very busy day in the office, on all night.
Got a letter from Hilda in which she says she has started her labour. And will have got through by the time I receive this letter.
Fritz came over in his plane. It was a beautiful night to see him caught in the rays of the searchlight but he was not brought down. He dropped bombs killing soldiers.
Quite truly enough we are to move today. The morning in the office was not so bad though I had to stay there till 3pm. The 38 Division then took over and we moved back to Provin by lorry after unloading we got a tent in which Gripper, Shally and I stopped the night.
We were told to take over the office at 8am next morning. The weather now turned out quite hot & fine.
It was our division that took Langemark as also a year ago we took Guillemont.
Shally & I go on duty at 9am
Are on in the office until relieved at 2pm. In the evening we go to (that is I and Miles from Sutton,Surrey) the supper shop but I wouldn’t eat my pork.
On duty at 9pm. Fritz comes over again in his planes & drops bombs on our lines. Further down the Corps line, again very fine day but did not know it was Sunday or would have gone to the Church army Hut.
Today after night duty I have a day off. Major Brace congratulates and compliments the company on its good work the last days of the push. After tea I wander past the Church Hut & down a narrow lane.
The tall hop ranks enclose me till I come out by the golden stalks of corn and the mangel fields. The evening is intensely beautiful full of the old power of charming and captivating my soul. Full of the power to inspire & make surge within me the desire for a country life.
How calm, how natural to spend ones life amidst such surroundings. Surely it is possible. Ah what glory steals to me. Oh marvellous cloud decked sky on whose serene bosom rests those mighty shapes. With what emotion. Oh nature thou sweepest me. I am at home with Thee. In Thee my spirit finds peace and beauty of mind and soul.
This morning at 10.30 am Eileen Desiree was born.
I wish her a happy life & good & it shall be my aim to further that end.
During the split duty met Happy Teddy Mayne, Charlie Pridon & all of us had tea & then went for walk & afterwards a supper. Shally recognised an old face & asked the person if he was a Hull man. So he and his friend turned out to be Hull boys. We invited them to supper. Had a very jolly evening all together near the RFA
After night duty a quiet morning in bed. Bill Berry came into the tent with a telegram from Hilda that Desiree was born on 22nd at 10.30am. In the afternoon I proceeded with Thompson to the school I do not wish to go but am under orders.
They have given me Artillery class. A backward one. One of my old pupils I hear was killed in the recent battle. His name was Williams.
Drilling a very backward class. This is the RA so therefore understandable why they should not wish to do well. If they do well they go forward to observation posts. On the contrary the Infantry try to do well because they get a safer place in a dugout, as an efficient Signaller. Went to the Verey Lights in the evening with Harry Thompson.
Nonetheless he thinks he is making a great step taking the stand he is. For at one time he was very agnostic. Yet even so I do not think his beliefs are satisfactorily to all religious needs. I know that he would say that we having needs his religion system will not satisfy proves egotistical.
His ideas leave nothing to be desired as regards the high plane of relationship between his finite God and man, but where he fails is in assuming that the death of the individual can be called a true salvation.
Went to YMCA in evening to Service.
Rained all day, very miserable spent most of training hours under cover. Stayed in during the evening and talked to H.T about old historic places, Saxon and Danish and chatted also on our Ancestry. This was a very interesting evening from a conversational point of view.
Made a custard for supper with Pat-a-cake biscuits, milk etc. Read some fine articles in the Great Thoughts.
This day I hear Col Newell (of Hull) our CRE gave out certificates for good work. He said we were the smartest, finest Signal Coy in France and belonged to the finest Division. Great praise if deserved. Certainly our Division have done consistently well & deserves mention.
Capt Reynolds spoilt things by saying “Three cheers for Col Newell” upon which the Col turned round and said “I did not come here for three cheers from the men.” That was a straight left and hit Capt Reynolds hard. The latter is still as officious as ever with that old “splendid fellow” way that one cannot trust.
These evenings at 6pm I used to call at the farm to get milk. The interior of this farmhouse with its cream and milk separators its charms always give me the longing for that kind of life.
Is it not possible for me even at this late year of my life I think it must be a call of the blood for me. I love the country, I love the old farms and the animals from them.- The late winds have done immense damage.
Fields and fields of hops 20 feet high are levelled with the ground by the great gales which have raged. Hop picking has now commenced.
Today has been an improvement as far as the weather is concerned. I received a letter from Hilda describing the charms of Desiree. I also got a card from Mademoiselle Mahelin of Bernaville. She thinks evidently, that I have broken a promise in not writing to her. Well! Ought I? I do not mind as a friend but I hope that is all she wishes to correspond as.
Thompson and I went to the Verey Lights. In the midst of the performance Fritz came over and dropped bombs. Lights were extinguished but we continued to sing songs and later carried on the performance – at 11.30 pm as we had just comfortably settled – Fritz came right overhead and remained a long time. He dropped bombs in the village.
Feeling rather seedy in the evening I had a walk across the fields as far as the ambulance, hence to the crossroads. After this I returned. The wind was strong in and the west the sun a great golden sphere sank slowly in a golden haze. Straight from the eye of the sun masses of cloud swept the sky.
I wondered if Fritz would come over in his planes.I doubt it for the wind is very strong. Yesterday he dropped his bomb quite close. One fell in the Force Canteen. We are very close to the flying sheds and not in a very comfortable quarter for Fritz visits.
Hudson came to the school this evening.
Here am I on this Sabbath morning sat on an immense bark stripped tree. Around me in this corner of a pleasant field are the big brown cows sleepy and contented. It is a cool day and the strong wind seems to bring with it memories of many events of my past life, as it rushes through the foliage of the trees.
The surface of the beck close by is disturbed and rippled by the winds. I seek the shelter of the hedge and from there that skirt the field thickly clustered with red berries and seem to herald the coming of Autumn.
This morning I was present at Church Army Hut Service. What big friendly stupid sleepy things these cattle round me are.
I was either today or yesterday I wrote to Hilda enclosing the Smallholder. I got a pamphlet and a rather decent letter from them. I am still hoping that I shall enrol myself with them. I hope Hilda is agreeable.
Went round Provin and met Jim Jones and some of his pals. Had a chat and a walk. They tell me that the 16 months men are now going on leave so if they continue on the present allotment of ten a week it will not be many months before I get mine. Perhaps 2 or 3 months. Perhaps about Xmas time. I shall be quite ready for whenever it comes.
After day’s work went out in the evening with Hudson shopping. A brilliant evening. It is to be expected the German planes will come over (they did almost unceasingly all night). They dropped bombs near one of the aerodromes, but did no damage. It was sufficient that they upset my night’s sleep as well as the others.
Evening – a beautiful radiant evening, the heat of the day has not yet departed. In the west still prodigal of his power the Sun climbs slowly down. Tall beech and diminutive willow & a green covered stream between myself on the bank above.
Away in the distance the night mist commences to rise hiding the mass of tree & foliage & bringing into the air a suggestion of approaching chill. Autumn days and Autumn evenings, thou hast a different soul to any of the other seasons.
Each season has its soul even as each human & to these differing souls I react with differing mode. I shall have need to be a great & skilful surgeon of psyche if I am to correctly probe & dissect my emotions when amongst nature.
Should I benefit? I doubt it – far better to feel the power of the vague emotion than to dissect & lose the charm.
I am very remiss in writing this diary, so much so that today is Sunday & only now am I entering anything in Thursdays notes. Commenced to rain heavily after we had gone out. Very wet by the time we returned.
Obtained some oatmeal from Frank & made it with the custard. Following written in a log by the pool.
After reading a little on the Scheme for Settlement of ex Soldiers on the land – What is my motive for desiring one of these holdings? Is it distaste for Post Office life and conditions.
Yes certainly but above that but in addition & more importantly I desire to work out my ideal of cooperation in a community. This where I can help build the society & where my environment is mystic beautiful inspiring nature.
Most of these mornings are spent on flags & flappers. The boys do fairly well but some of them are too full of spirits & cause disturbances. Especially the know-alls.
The Russians doing badly. Riga evacuated. It seems to me that Russia will be able to do very little this year if even she is not swamped. All we can do is I think to hold on till next year the Americans come with a large army to redress the balance.
Capt Reynolds gave a lecture on the importance of signals today and showed how much our recent success at Langemark was due to the efficiency of the signal service. It appears that after the village was taken, the Germans concentrated a Division at Poelcappelle for the purpose of counter attacking.
This was observed and although lines were mostly down a mge was hurried through on one available line that by a miracle had stood. “Poelcappelle then was a mass of red brick dust” for our artillery caught the German Divisions & we were saved a severe counter attack. The signal Service has contributed greatly.
The usual Church Parade, a very good Service. “Underneath are the everlasting Arms”. This is a phrase very much in the mind of our Chaplain. It occurs in every Service. Certainly a great & very helping conception.
I hear that the school is to move again somewhere near to Elverdinge. It is a great nuisance this moving, strike me as so much futility. Tuesday the probable day.
Did little during the day but sit in and read and write a short letter. I have not had a letter from Hilda for a week & wish to get one before I write to her.
Today is a very lovely day, sunny breezy warm, a perfect day. How lovely nature seems. I always desire to reach the soul of nature. Verily I am much of a Pagan, am I an atheist?
Parades as usual in the morning. The camp full of Welshmen. We march away at 2.30pm to the Div HQ when we are put in the Gussie’s tent for the night. I go on duty at 5pm till 9pm.Do not sleep very well.
There was a beautiful sight when a raiding Fritz came over and got caught in a dozen rays of searchlight. He received such a reception that he turned tail all the whilst held by the light.
Parades in the morning when do little. After dinner which was at 11.30 we marched to Provin station & entrained. Detrained at Ondank dump and had a hot march to new school at Cardoen farm. This is not far from our old friend Stinje Mill across the fields.
Oliver, myself and Tommy are put in the orderly Room for a billet with the unsociable Fraser. One thing it is shrapnel proof more than one can say of a tent. During the night German planes hover about and some locally shelling about 3am. On the whole a quiet night.
Spent the day with buzzer mostly. The unruly Artillery members spoil the class.
Fritz shelling the roads, about 1.15pm after dinner I heard loud explosions quite near. Rushing to the door I saw figures running in the next field & clouds of smoke.I knew at once they were bombs. Some 6 were dropped by 4 planes which had come over under cover of the clouds.
Seeing the tents of the Jamaica unit they dropped their bombs & then made off amidst a fusillade at anti aircraft. 56 casualties were caused,15 killed outright and numerous mules and horses. These bombs were about 300 yds from our Camp.
During the day he (Fritz) shelled the roads.
The usual quiet day with school matters. Not much scope in the new camp.
Little to report, I am still awaiting a letter from Hilda & from the “Smallholders”. Really the latter seem my only hope & yet I sometimes despair of them.
I cannot fancy myself still in the P.O. I hate the thought so very much that it borders on tragic. For myself it would not matter but I am now a married man & a pater-familias.
The usual training, y class was quieter and better for the noisy Artillery men were taken away for the afternoon. In the evening as the sun was setting & leaving behind a gorgeous sunset we watched a football match between & English & French team. Our team won 2 to nil. The Frenchmen did not do badly. Our men would have let them score from a sense of sportsmanship but the Frenchmen insisted on “playing the game”.
We journeyed on to the YMCA Hut and there listened to a singsong. “Until” was sung as was also “The end of a perfect day” & other fine songs. Coming back we listened to a Guard’s Drum and Fife band & also some martial’s bagpipe playing by Scots Guards.
The day ended with a wide star strewn heaven above & a cool evening breeze below.
Parade 11.10am, service in the large hut. Made a chocolate blancmange for dinner. After dinner Tommy I and Oliver went to the haystack and lay there. It was a serene bright afternoon.
I lay on my back under the shadow of the great stack looking at the blue sky and the white clouds slowly majestically sailing along. I could not help reflecting on the impression of quietness, of remoteness from our noisy world they gave. What calmness of mind, what reverence they instil and how do they not bring to our souls a source of peace and harmony.
Amidst all this beauty came flying very high about 16 enemy planes their wings shining white and distinct. They dropped one or two bombs and I should not be surprised if night brought some results of their observations.
I have to write it. That is to say to confess to being possessed of a pessimistically and cynical spirit. It was yesterday and it is so today. Yesterday it was induced by the sense of starved feelings and emotions.
Lack of home influence and lack even of those substitutes that might of in some little way take its place. Nothing of food for the intellect or for the feeding of poetic or religious emotions. Not has this need been met sufficiently by those at home who might have gone far to help.
I could feel myself stunted and old mentally & what wonder therefore that my body should begin to show what is evidenced in my spirit. Today I have no letter either from Hilda or from the S.H.A. Therefore I am cynical & have proposed retaliation measures, in other words I will not write back till I receive letters.
”Let come what will & I shall be indifferent” so says my mood today.
A dull rainy day with fair periods. Shally and Happy Holmes come over to tea when we had sausage choc blancmange and pineapple. Just as I returned from bringing water Fraser told me that we were to report this night at Divn Hqrs for a temporary period.
This will mean during the next few days & the coming push. I hear great rumours of tremendous preparation all along the line. I hope they materialise into something great and successful. Tonight after we had arrived at Divn a bombardment started, so violent as to light up the heavens. There were also many bursts of enemy shrapnel in vigorous reply.
Harry Thompson went to Blighty today on leave. I slept alongside Hudson this night.
I got up in good time and cleaned myself. The dull early hours gave way to a warm sunny morning. The atmosphere was rendered cooler than it otherwise would have been by a strong breeze that rustled the grass & blew the great fleece clouds along the broad blue bosom of heaven.
Amongst the azure lanes between the clouds ventured the German planes with their menacing sting hidden within the beauty of whiter wings.
I received a parcel, letter and paper. I must say my mood is still an unlovely one & I recognize it is such. I am writing this where the wind is whirling mourning and swaying the young willows by the dyke side. It is very beautiful & alluring to ones so sad soul but I feel I am too unresponsive at present to express the real depth of beauty there must be in my surroundings. Still no letter from Small Holders Association – shall I write?
My birthday though I didn’t remember at first. Our attack opened at 5.40am after a night’s rain. On most fronts we gained our objective early and with comparative ease.
On our own front we were held up by Eagle Trench & a system of blockhouses at 6.30 h our boys 60-59 went over and took the blue line & 80 prisoners. Then it was found out that in the early morning attack we had after all taken some of Eagle Trench that it was held jointly KRR’s and Gordon’s.
The result of the days work on all armies engaged was an advance of over a 1000 yds and in some cases a mile and 2000 prisoners. The Army Commander congratulated the Corps Commander on our work and said it pleased him more than all that the others had done, i.e the taking of greater part of Eagle Trench.
Today at 5pm 14 of an enemy squadron aircraft came over the Chateau & wheeled away after a short survey. This I considered it the time a bad portent. At 8.30 hr & we heard him right over our hut & shortly after when all lights were out he dropped bombs. They fell near the Dac acmn during the night he came over & dropped several bombs.
By the way however our air raids are of a much more extensive nature than his. I got a good nights sleep after all, a thing I did not repeat.
This morning Fritz came over under cover of the clouds & bombarded the Somerset’s causing 30 casualties. He passed over us but he does not appear to be aware of our camp. We are very thankful for these raids do not tend to compose one’s nerves.
After a short rest and tea I came into the fields and at sun down sit on a little bank and wrote my diary. It is an exhilarating evening, cool and pleasant & with the feel of autumn in the air. There is quietness except for the hum of aircraft and the neighing of horses, the sun sets in a golden haze.
Things appear much more calm-full to my somewhat jaded nerves. I wish I could be filled with the poetic spirit that uplifts and helps to make life worth living.
Went off at 4.30am. Later heard that the 59-60 had taken the remainder of Eagle trench. The tanks which should have assisted got stuck. We took 86 prisoners.
Gen Gough army command sent congratulations as also did General the Earl of Cavan commanding the Corps. “Well done, well done 59th & 60th” splendid words for a splendid Light Division. Truly we are a great division for seldom have the boys failed in their attacks and never have they lost a trench.
The portion of line hereabouts is of great importance and difficulty. During the afternoon Fritz came over and bombed not far away killing some artillery and about 30 horses. They also shelled the army marching near us, shells fell quite close and gave us some anxiety.
In the hit later we had a great sing song. Hear the school is to be broken up so students and I shall not go there.
I forgot to mention that Hewitt was reported to have been killed while on a listening station. We have now lost quite a number from the Office. Fritz still comes over and very close too.
Today I got a letter from Hilda and one from the Smallholders. The latter got my 5/- safely and wrote me a hopeful letter. Their scheme is evidently not yet far advanced. When the fund starts they will take capital if I desire to become a member of the Union. I am still of the same mind & granted the success of the scheme think I can make a success in the new walk of life.
Was on in the morning. Our Army and the Right Army went over and took most of their objectives.
Hear we are going back to the Somme. This time to Peronne so says the rumour.
Am busy reading Ruskin’s “Wild Olive”. I find it very stimulating to thought & see in it a further incentive to my prospects for the future re the Smallholders. I have decided that when my next leave comes I shall make a personal journey & seek an interview.
After tea this evening I boiled my underclothing & I think they needed it badly. The weather is still fine, warm in the day time and cool of nights. The heavy bombardment continues and if the weather holds I doubt not there will be heavy fighting.
This morning I journeyed across the fields till I came to some piled up nails. Here I sat and read “Ruskin” & the pamphlet on country colonisation. The morning was warm & sunny the sky heavy with white clouds.
Two streams of thought mingle in my mind from my reading & tho from the diverse sources just mentioned have a quite definite relationship to each other. I quote Ruskin “with brave people work is first, fee second. This is no small distinction; it is between life & death in a man”.
I agree & consider that the higher work stands above fee in his estimation correct; corresponding higher will be his degree of contentment & happiness. This has a distinct bearing on myself for I have concluded that on a communistic settlement I can approach nearest the above ideal. It is a fatal mistake to despise agricultural life. The Egyptians found it so & also were we on the road to this discovery when this war broke out.
Even at such an early date as 1865 Ruskin could quote from an influential English paper “more than any agency it is the cheapness & abundance of coal which has made us what we are”. It is the fair seeming of a rosy apple at the core. Rather I would have to again quote Mr Ruskin “the pure breath of Heaven again as a soul in England’s body instead of nothing to a carcass blown up in the belly with carbonic acid…All the greatness she ever had she won whilst her fields were green & her faces ruddy… that greatness is still possible for Englishmen” – yes & God willing it shall be my path too.
This morning we all packed up & set off for Elverdinghe Station where we entrained for Proven. Hudson & I went for a bath & then had dinner.
During the evening I spent an hour in the Church Army hut where there was singing a music. Whenever I hear music it always seems to me that I step off this & enter into another world. This world to me appears of a spiritual order for certainly it gives great calm & soothing to my soul.
I met Jim Jones who said they had a very rough time up the line. As we came away Fritz overhead the wing of his planes shining like silver in the moon’s rays. We were firing heavy stuff at him.
On duty I wrote to Hilda & posted to Mr Hird & to the Smallholders. Fritz came over & got caught in a heavy mist. He dropped bombs on Poperinghe doing much damage. We inflicted a terrific bombardment on the German lines in the early hours.
Once again I am sat on the log by the green pond close by the Church Army hut. It is Sunday evening the last I shall spend in Belgium before we depart to France once more. In a few moments I shall go to the Church Service. Why do I go?
To be candid not because I have lived a consistent Christian life, nor is it because in the future I expect I shall live religious life. I even admit that my envisions are too strong for me to claim a Christian’s name. It still remains that the service has for me an attraction.
Is it the music & the old familiar refrains of childhood days which bring back many a tender memory? Partly. Is it that there are moral chords in me that still answer to the greater Christian Challenge? It my be.
Is it the company of men whose own souls need quite evidently has drawn them to worship? This also it may be.
But above all I am quite sure the real reason is that I enter into the great Mystic Presence & atmosphere that reaches to the uttermost deeps of my being. A way of communion is opened up & however wayward I may have been or may still be yet am I then in his everlasting arms.
Moved to the wagon lines 11am. Sat in the sunshine awaiting the move at 1.30pm. A brilliant summer day & hot day. I lay down looking at the cloudless blue & listening to the wind in the trees. Near me was a leafy lime tree, its leaves rustling & shimmering in the sun’s rays as if in a riot of joyous delight. Taller but gaunt & destitute of leaves stood by an old elm.
Silent & dead not a rustle or a murmur could the playing breeze evoke. I likened the two as alive & dead. The leafy lime tree young & full of conscious life, the elm but a skeleton, from which life had fled. Yet there was a suggestion of majesty & calmness above all trouble in the branches & trunk that stood clean cut against the brilliant sky.
Marches to Proven & waited till midnight from 6pm.
Departed from Proven. Oliver & I made rabbit soup & cocoa then slept till 4am. Spent the day watching the Arras battlefield from the top of a truck. Arrived Bapaume 1pm & then marched to Haplincourt. This front prefers naturally quiet after the tempestuous Ypres line.
Again on the move this time by lorry to Peronne where we are to stay till the 40 Division move away from Sorel. Are billeted in a 16th century house much battered about. The town is an interesting one though smashed beyond imagination by the brutal German soldiers. It is said that even the German soldiers revolted at their work and were shot for disobedience.
Our billet smoky, draughty and lets in the rain. Had a sausage supper after days of bully and biscuit.
Went out again this morning and viewed the broken town. Finely situated one wondered at it being evacuated. Were on duty at 1pm. Heard of the latest victory in the north where we took 3000 prisoners.
Hunter is at 3 Corps.
Hunter comes over to see us in the evening. He is not much altered and looks well. Says we are soon to move to Sorel. Go for a walk with him.
This afternoon after duty lay down. Got a letter from mother. She asks if I’ve given up the farming idea & suggests that I can get the capital I want. I fancy she would lend it me but I would not accept their much needed money. Hilda gets very scared with the Zeppelin raids.
After tea we went to the cinema Exton & we three. Supper & on duty. It appears that Fritz has a list of “Hate Divisions” & on that list comes the 20th and fourth from the top if you please. What a testimony to our effectiveness & work.
Shally moved today to Advance HQ so we could not go to Hunter together. A very wet windy day so stayed indoors. In the afternoon as it had fined up we went for a walk around the town. On duty at 5pm.
Tomorrow we are to move forward to Sorel by the Decauville railway.
A final walk round the town. We went to the cathedral noted how the unexplained shells were embedded like pebbles in chalk. Though out of bounds I went inside the church & got pieces of the altar marble to keep as souvenirs.
At 1pm we took our kit in a cart & pushed it to the Decauville (railway) about 1 ½ miles out of the town. We missed the train but got it held up whilst we chased after it along the track. It was very full of troops, very awkward and uncomfortable travelling. Most of the light railway work was done by the American troops.
Had to walk to Sorel in a drenching rain with all the kit. Staying in a large trench hut until the 40th Div leaves. Hear this is a very quiet front, so quiet that no one is molested even at company HQ, what a contrast to Belgium.
This morning Oliver & I walked to the YMCA at Fins. I am on duty tomorrow.
I only do morning duty then taken off because we are due to go to school soon. Very probably we shall be here all the winter. I devoutly hope so. My hopes were dashed to the ground today when I learned there are 82 to go on leave before me.
At 5 a week that means mid February, at 10 a week just after Christmas. What small hopes have I. Well!
It’s a long lane that hasn’t a turning.
Told to see the OC who tells us to pack up & go to the school at Hurlus. We walked across the valley & over a small hill which took us to the high road & so on to the school. We are in large French huts. Get to build a hut inside this. Not very water tight.
Many fatigues this morning making a solid pathway of bricks etc. In the afternoon I took a Morse class with the new boys. We built our hut but were told to take it down and erect at the other end.
Lt. Wenham is worrying about our stripes a great deal. That is because he wishes us to take orderly corporal’s duties.
Had a rather successful day teaching. The boys seem very willing. Amongst them are some Yorkshire boys. We did much flag drill. It was a beautiful afternoon so that I took the class to the top of the hill where there was nothing to shut out the uttermost range of vision except the vast circles of the instant horizon. The breeze was keen & cold & full of life giving vigour. Wrote out some map signs for the week’s lectures.
Received a parcel from Hilda. So far no answer from the Smallholders.
Hear the German fleet mutinied & that marines refused to fire on the mutineers. That the Kaiser ordered 1 man in 7 to be shot. Herr Michaelis said he could not do it. So the Kaiser shot 3 ringleaders. All of which spells trouble and rings the death knell of German hopes.
No parade till 11.30. Helped set the room for Divine service. Made a stove after service. 2.30pm I walked out behind the school & up the hill till I came to the old disused gun pits of the Germans. Here was silence save the cry of a hidden bird to his answering mate.
Occasionally a distant rumble of far off artillery fire broke the silence but whatever the sound there was only threw into relief the quietness that rested over all nature. I am in a good position & in the dimness of the horizon I can see a red flash when the guns fire which is not very often.
At this moment up the little valley in which I sit comes a small company of soldiers singing. They look like reinforcements. How different is this front to the Flanders and what a relief to be away from the latter.
The sky today is thick with heavy clouds, some dark and sullen looking, some like heaped up masses of cream that reflect the sun from their billowed curves. Oh marvellous, marvellous is the beauty of this cloudland.
League upon leagues seems to betwixt us and it is to me as if I were upon the mountain top gazing away into some far off unexplored fairyland which subtly radiates above the distance to me the glamour of its mystery & charm.
Sunlit rays fall athwart my path lighting up the grass & the golden brown of the stubble. As ever my being, my heart was called today by these wide stretches of rolling uplands & the breezes that sweep across, by the autumn skys & the massed clouds. Called irresistibly so that I could naught but answer & take my wandering feet where beauty & solitudes call was most insistent.
Oh what a deep, a gripping joy it is to sweep the eye across these far spaces, to be immersed in the quietness of things, to see the multi coloured garment of earth, in its freshness of green or fringe of brown & distant purple of heath. Miles away amidst the dark gathering rain clouds the woods are silhouetted one giant tree outstanding the next.
Monday evening. On the highest ground behind the village this evening I come to a straw stack. What a panorama of beauty I saw as a I climbed to its top. It was darkening yet in the east the heaped clouds still showed white against a sapphire sky. Down in the west above a line of trees the orange sky was fringed by a range of jet black clouds broken into jagged peaks.
The orange faded almost imperceptibly to lemon, merging through palest to the richest & deepest blue. Brilliant & steady Venus glistened above in the ribbon of blue whilst above me grew plainer to view silver stars glittering as they lay embedded in the vault of heaven. As a celestial casket of gems they shone.
I have come out to thy breast o’nature. I live in the amour of thy presence. Thou art something more than I feel alive, thou art in a way I know not & with thy consciousness dimly I commune & mysteriously.
After tea I started out of camp to the old gun pits. I sat myself on the crest of the ridge & watched the dying day. Instinctively my eyes turned upwards to the ever wondrous sky. There on the screen of heaven I saw the crescent moon & Venus as they followed slowly in the wake of the departed sun.
Silence in heaven and silence on earth, no sound to disturb the calmness above or beneath. Every stick and stone, every clump of grass & expanse of field seemed rooted in the stillness that brooded overall. From the valley come a wraith like mist clutching & holding in a stealthy uncanny manner the bosom of earth.
Had a conversation with one of the Somerset’s who is a smallholder. He advised against smallholding if undertaken singly but was pleased with the cooperative idea. The weak spots in the scheme he considers the amount which would have to be paid in purchase of land & the rental. Myself I do not think these insuperable.
There was a football match today between the school and the rest. Very good match much promising talent
Ineffable feelings of joy, I am uplifted filled with thine influence drawn at the front of thy bounty. What is it thou givest me? I scarcely know but this I do know O’ nature. Thou art the larger self. In thee I live & draw from thee my power the secret bread that man must have or die.
Church service in morning. A very fine day. Afternoon on the grass above the gun pit & read Great Thoughts. Tiring of reading I turn to which my deepest desire can feed without satiation.
For always do the swelling plains appeal to me. In the stubble & bracken the green of the grass the copse & isolated trees I glory. I look to where the trees are but a dark pencilled line drawn on a background of yellows & purples, greens & browns.
The sky above me – ah how can I express its effect on me. How its deeps are suggestive of eternity. Almost from horizon to horizon a white dappled band of cloud cuts across the sky, its shores are bathed & lapped by the sea of blue fading to the earth’s sun almost lost in the dim distance. Thou givest to me O’ nature.
My boys are doing well. A rather damp & chilly morning & unpromising day. Nothing much to write about. I heard there had been a raid on England & fear it is on our own town. The French brought 4 Zepps down of the 8 which apparently tried to raid France.
Also hear Holland, Denmark & Spain have sent ultimatum to America, myself I scarcely credit the rumour though I know things are unsettled with these countries.
A heavy downpour all day until evening when it clears up. I write my diary but little to write about.
Very sorry to hear Willy Carr my old school chum from earliest days was killed at Broodseinde whilst with the Australians. Poor old Jock, I have many happy memories of you. School days & truant, Hornsea & holidays, cricket, football oh how these memories crowd & now Jock is gone.
Well done dear Billy, you would be a good soldier I know. You were ever brave & daring a leader, bonny looking & clever. My heart is very sore & wrung & with those that mourn you I am not counted the least sincere.
Some of the old artillery class came back today – at Ypres they lost heavily. Allen who was one of the mischievous ones at the Cardoen class was killed. I felt very sorry indeed.
This afternoon was very wet so on getting to the trench I borrowed a buzzer & did some buzzing with my class. The rain came down unceasingly so that our dugout leaked & the sides fell in.
At about 4.15pm Lt Moore came round and asked about the wires which should have been laid. Spent some time fitting up a line along the trench. Very dirty muddy work.
Oliver is told to report to Divn 2 HQ at 2pm. It is a mystery why he has to go. He is a very queer customer but still I am sorry to lose him. I fancy he has been too lax with his class of Officers; Jerry Delaney has come in his place.
The weather fine but dullish. Today we finished at 3pm. There was a bit of football practice as the team are to meet one with an unbeaten record tomorrow.
The news lately is anything but cheery. Russia & Italy are the scene of disaster. Italy has been driven back to her frontiers it is said with thousands of prisoners gone & hundreds of guns. It is plainly to be seen that Russia is the primary though indirect cause.
How will it react on our front, America I think your strong arm will soon be needed. Ourselves we must be brave and enduring. Germany with all your victories you shall not be victorious.
Feeling the need for fresh air & desiring to be away from the monotony of the billet I went out at dusk and walked up the silent lane to the old German gun pits. There in the semi darkness I peered around the wide landscape where the bodies of men had fought & their souls had fled. The very atmosphere & environment still seemed to retain lingering traces of the one-time battlefield.
I sensed it & felt, thou how faintly, the hint of hidden things. I was aware that I was but an imperfect instrument that nature’s great powers were around but that they were unperceived except at the faintest degrees. In that fact I see great promise for our future development. Someday our powers to understand & respond be more perfect.
6.30pm on the road past the gun pits. A radiant moon filling the earth with light. Mother earth didst thou leave in the dim ages long ago. Now in the oceans of God’s being thou art the rarest of jewels whitely brilliant sat on high. Thou callst to our lips our praise and from the deep well of our hearts. Gratitude & adoration untold.
Knewest thou O earth what nights of delight thou went preparing for us when to the moon you gavest birth. And on her long pilgrimage did send how? I am one with thee O nature mine. All thou hast is dear to me. The air I breathe keen & cold. The wide wide realm above. With the worlds that dwell therein. The hillside path that bears me on as the breast of a friend.
All these are dear to me and Thou. O moon art as a sister to me. Why should I desire to get any nearer to God than this? This is his world, his the sky and these his stars and wind.
Much trouble today. The boys would not double. Lt. Moore punishes them with 5.30pm battle order. The boys complain of doubling without gun fire. Tea before 7.30pm parade.
Feeling the need for fresh air I took a sharp walk to the gun pit on the hill and stood there in the silence letting all the healing of nature work her beneficent way. As an aching irritating sore is healed and soothed by the arts of medicine so was my soul healed and soothed by the great calm soil of nature with her silences and immense space and distances.
I returned and wrote my diary. The depths of the fathomless heaven are his. I am living with these around me. I am in them and to me they speak. This is sufficient for me.
Hereabouts I received the Bibbys annual and having read some of the contents offer a few thoughts and ideas on the articles.
In a clear concise manner I desire to express what seems to me the very path of my convictions in regard to the next life – I know that matter exists in grades and that one grade permeates another. I know certain grades I can see, smell and touch. I further know that still other grades exist that I cannot see (except psychically).
The beauties of nature, the splendid sunset of rose or dawn of pearly grey, the exquisite harmony of sound which hold captive my ears and raise my soul to adoration the delicate tints and perfumes of flowers. These I know come to me as vibrations – the degree of receptiveness differs in persons presumably owing to the difference between one mans body as instrument and another’s.
Some sounds I may hear which another would not and where to him all would be silence – subtly these vibrations reach me and excite my consciousness. Yet whatever difference there may be between one man and another there is a limit to each so that outside these limits we cannot perceive.
But I will also know that there are still more refined radiations existing in the great ocean of being around me. This can only mean that there are sounds that fall on deaf ears, colours that fall on unseeing eyes and scents and perfumes on responding nostrils.
Give me a finer instrument a less coarse body, a more responding being and these other worlds will at once be apparent to me. I shall live in them and no longer shall I be able to deny their existence.
Other colours I shall see, other sounds shall I hear, more glorious bodies shall I behold, each and every one of these as real as the world I am now in. In a word my highest imagination cannot picture the possibilities of the other world.
Is it possible that even now there are amongst us men and women whose bodies because untainted by coarse feeding and sinful living are able to perceive the subtle worlds around us?
By hypotheses I should expect this and it is even so. There are also others who through not particularly refined or of holy living can see and hear the other worlds. I refer to the Spiritualistic mediums.
For myself I do not know what has given them their power to thus perceive. It may be as Lombroso says that their nervous organism are morbid and hysterical and highly strung. Naturally of the above types of other world perceives the former is preferable.
The one is sane healthy uplifting conducive to splendour of body and soul. The latter the negative of this. Yet each may give testimony to the next phase of existence, in its own way correctly. Only where the perceiving body is morbid or above normal the vision will correspond and though not an attractive vision nevertheless adds its testimony and the clean saintly and pure body of the passion retained man will give us undeniably testimony to a better world.
This much of reasonable hypothesis seems to be borne out by the observed facts which come under the heading of Psychical Research. For instance telepathy, doubles, haunting, spirit writings, materialisation and many another phenomena. Vibrations may account for telepathy, tho the latter seems contradictory to the ears of physics.
But should it be vibrations then the analogy of the tuning forks may apply. The double may be comprises of a subtle matter which functions in the ether. Matter as we know it is a difficult medium for expression. We may take it as proved that the more refined and rarer materials which is the home of the greater activity and the sphere of causes would give us a more efficient body.
Yet matter as we know it can receive and hold the impress of beauty and thus influence us. We are exalted to the highest pitch of ecstasy and are lifted almost to the threshold of the next world. In these moments we seem to live as much in the other world as in this we realise a union with our higher self.
Hence the feeling of mobility and freedom from littleness which accompanies the exaltations. We go away having “seen the vision”.
Received a letter from Hilda, she seems to have stiffened against the Smallholder scheme if I read correctly between the lines. I suspect someone has been influencing her. Well I must try to use my influence too.
I certainly think it is possible to cut away from the P.O. life safely and happily. It will require a foresight and determination, but I have the vision which will give me these.
I also received a letter from Miss Violet of the Vanguard Farm, Maidstone. She is very sympathetic and enthusiastic over her scheme which so far has proved a success. She will give me information and advice when I need it.
It must be nearly a year ago since I was roaming around Molliens-Vidame thinking of home and wondering when I should be going little knowing how soon. So today it can only be a matter of weeks before I go again. Today has proved a glorious sunny day. My mind was clouded over by several things which troubled me. Chief of these was Hilda’s attitude to the Smallholdings.
Secondly the news that greater chaos reigns in Russia with their country revolution Kerensky being overthrown by Lenin. This with its sinister probabilities and forebodings weigh on my spirits heavily.
Also the Italians defeat adds to this. Yet I must be true to the British tradition and rise in fighting spirit against these. What if I let these affects of German intrigue dismay me? Then should I indeed be playing into their hands and give them the results they desire.
After dinner I decided to go across to the woods which I could see standing on the hills towards Aizecourt. Several times during the week I had noticed these and the pretty districts surrounding Aizecourt. Today I went by the road up the hill and then cut across the fields and climbed to the woods outside.
They had been hastily entrenched and an attempt made to put up entanglements. Our advance must have been too rapid for the Germans here. Wandering round I entered the woods and sat down where the saplings surrounded me and the sun shone slantingly through the bare trunks and branches onto the fallen leaves.
Memories of Cavillon and its woods came back to reminding me of just one year ago. Happy hours I spent there day after day where the opportunities were greater than here. This afternoon the air is sharp and the sun has the aspect of autumn and the sky also.
Yet I love this time of the year, autumn thou art delightful as ever, with an influence that never wearies and never palls. The leaves are very scarce on the branches but thick on the forest floor. Occasionally I catch the flutter and rustle of those hardier ones that still remain in the boughs and those that come to the earth’s carpet of browns and yellows splashed here and there with reds and greens.
There is above me a tall tree whose dead and dry leaves catch the sun and glow reddish brown as they rattle together in the passing breeze. Leaving the woods I come out to the hilltop where I could see a vast expanse of hill and dale of chalky roads climbing to the brow of the hill disappearing to reappear again in the distance a ribbon of white. To my right in a fold of the hill was Aizecourt just seen through a fringe of the forest on a hill spur.
I was in the shadow of the evening sun as it set but beyond the countryside was shining and every tint of copse and bracken was glowing under the sunlight. Unwittingly I retraced my footsteps to the school and utmost discipline and left with regret the splendours and the haunting presence of this autumn day.
In the evening I chatted with Osborne and Hill in their hut on Cornwall and old customs and superstitions.
He is a very loveable boy is Osborne, pretty as a girl and as winsome bright and agreeable.
Doing much as we please in the junior classes, a thing I like to order my own class work. These lads in my class are quiet, intelligent and industrious so that I have little trouble. Good comradeship and good feeling exist and I shall be greatly sorry to lose them when the time comes.
Boys of Britain whatever comes to you there will remain in my memory one corner for you. In the years to come I shall look back with a greater respect and friendship to these days and regret that I cannot renew acquaintanceship.
Examinations continued. The influx of artillery and ammunition continues. This quiet front looks like being transformed into a miniature Flanders. We had four German planes overhead which looks as if they suspected our intentions.
Denby came to me with a complaint that the censor had endorsed his letters. “God’s gift a good wife”. So I took him to Mr Wenham and got an apology.
The senior classes have not done so badly in the test. Tomorrow they go back so they will be in the attack poor lads.
This morning I took my boys for a walk to the outskirts of Aizecourt le-bas instead of drilling and they appreciated it. The senior classes are breaking up. There is also a rumour that the school is to break up and that we are all to rejoin our units.
There is to be a big affair on Saturday. The Division HQ move to YTR. It is even rumoured that a push all along is to take place. Possibly this maybe a feint and the real attack take place in Belgium where we now hold the ridges.
I wonder if it is to counter the German drive in Italy. Lens and Cambrai are reputed to be the objectives. Guns and ammunition have been pouring in here recently. I hope sincerely we may be successful. Perhaps John Bull may know something of pending events which inspire his optimism.
Today we are moved back to Division all the three of us. Mr Wenham thanked us for our work and said we should probably be back in a week. I do not think so.
Had some fun crossing the valley to Division HQ. Stalked a hare but it escaped. When at Division later in the day we got a decent bed each. Evening very quiet. I pegged down at 10pm. Am warned for duty at 8am.
The whole school is breaking up on Saturday for a while. Last night I bade farewell to my lads expressing the hope that I should soon see them again and that they would not be called to the trenches.
It is more than probable looking from this side of events that I shall be the one for the trenches and over after the infantry. Such is the unexpected.
In the office Tommy Denton says we can toss for odd man going off. I was it and strolled out across the field to Fins intending to visit the Verey Lights. Find them breaking up. Met Sykes and had an old time chat.
Walk back by fields was met by McReadie who told me to me to proceed to 59 Bde to relieve Golding for leave. I am to proceed by foot via Revillon Farm. Pack up and pad it to the Farm where I wait for Gibbett with the ration wagon.
It was getting dark and I lost my way. Going straight through and out of Gouzeaucourt being stopped by the police for my tin hat and box respectively and also for direction of road. Nearly every house held a tank or a huge gun.
Turned right to the quarry where I landed just as dark, tired and footsore. Arranged to go on duty next morning. I was told that we were to move up to just behind the front line when the jump came and that two hours later we followed up. So that this time I shall be “in media res”
This is to you Dearest – I am at Gouzeaucourt Quarries with the Bde awaiting the time when the section will move up to the Battalion HQ and the mysterious push begin. I am told we are to follow the Infantry over the top 2 hours later.
I do not know the extent of our offensive or the extent of Fritz counter preparations. I know that our preparations are immense and most carefully conducted apparently leaving us loophole for mischance.
This has the appearance of being intended as a surprise attack and should go far if it is really our success.
Anything might happen. Dearest wife for that reason I write this desiring to anticipate any eventuality. Should anything untoward happen me remember dearest it is for our beloved country sake whatever comes I hope to meet in a manly spirit and not to disgrace the name of Englishman and our great traditions.
Dear one I remember thee and in these hours of many possibilities think of these. I think of our home and little one and dwell in loving reverie on memories sacred and dear. Many happy hours have I spend with thee sweetheart. Hours that linger in memory like the fragrance of a summer’s eve.
Should fate decree that I shall pass, memory is all that is left for you. Cherish dear those sweet recollections of happy days gone by. Listen at eventide to the birds finished song as starlight slowly falls.
Leaving peaceful and silent the heavens above. Look to the west to the evening star looking remember dear the twilight is but the eve of another day. So too shall we this twilight past greet the coming dawn and with that dear meet you.
Today we move up to old KRR Coy HQ in a sunken road between Gouzeaucourt and Villers Plouich. Everywhere were camouflaged guns cunningly hidden biding tomorrow’s work. Just over the ridge is our front line and then comes Fritz’s famous Hindenberg Line with its tremendous depth of barbed wire.
Tonight I am on duty all night. Tanks hurried to get over the canal bridges. Cavalry went forward but for some unknown reason did not rush through the open road to Cambrai. I met many wounded.
Cyster of the school and the Yorkshire sergeant who I met in Guildford later in the (?).
An expectant time. In the early hours Fritz trench mortared the front line but we made no reply. Deliberately deceiving him. Troops were moving up incessantly and for hours the show of the gathering tanks was heard.
At 6.20am it all started. Hindenberg line was to meet its appointed doom. I went upstairs to see the scene and never shall I forget it. It was an inferno Red and White sheeted tongues of flame forth on every hand, the war was deafening and over the ridge towards the German line the sky was copper lined with the bursting shells.
In the half dawn I could see scores of tanks crawl to the ridge and disappear over the skyline. Following them were column after column of infantry moving to the attack. The tanks flattened over the German line, infantry met little opposition and took many prisoners and moved on. The barrage lifted and forward went the Battalions.
In the wake of the day I heard we were held at the bridges though we had captured Masnieres and Marcoing. Crevecoeur just behind the canal held us. We were across one of the bridges. He held Revelon Chateau.
Altogether we were in a salient but on the high ground. On the left flank Fritz was being driven. We succeeded in preventing the Germans blowing up the bridge.
Still no letters from home the post is held up. Leave is also suspended.
A forward party is now established not only in Fritz support line but even beyond so we have three Brigade stations. I am at the rear I should have liked to go into his line. We still are held up in front of Crevecoeur, said to be a nest of machine guns in the cemetery.
Many tales of gallantry are told both of infantry and tanks but the rumours are dark about the cavalry. Did they miss a golden opportunity of getting through to Cambrai? However we affected a total surprise on Fritz and smashed his boasted Hindenburg defences. Everyone is greatly delighted.
Heard today that good progress is being made on the left, that Crevecoeur is evacuated and Fritz leaving villages even further back withdrawing machine guns. Many prisoners continue to come in and also many civilians from the villages. We captured Staff Officers and men all unawares. Some had even got tickets for the cinema at Cambrai.
Boasting that Italy was done and Britain starving. When our attack began the besought the civilians to shelter them in the cellars saying “the English are coming we wish to be taken prisoners”. They were to the tune of thousands.
This morning I heard from Hilda and the smallholders. The latter are going to send me some pamphlets and a book.
The brigade returned today from the line. I had to leave my billet and find another. So much bustle that I did not get any rest. At 9pm I went on duty and spent a weary cold night fighting against sleep.
After dinner I went to the canteen at Villers Plouich and thence walked to the Hindenburg line. It was marvellous to see the way the tanks had rooted up the barbed wire laid down yards deep.
On the crest of the ridge I could view the towers and steeples of Cambrai looking quite near and Haverincourt Wood to the left.
We explode one of Fritz deep dugouts. No infantry would have penetrated his line without the aid of the adventurous tanks and their gallant crews.
Note on Mr Wells God and on his (Mr Wells) idea of immortality. I understand Mr Wells to say that God had a beginning in time. That he is a compounded consciousness whose several parts are human consciousnesses.
Logically I think this means that God is evolved and took his rise in the first beginnings of life on earth gradually becoming a more powerful person as mankind itself arose. Surely this is a putting of the cart before the horse a creating, an unconscious creating of a divinity by an inferior order of being. It is also pertinent to ask if God’s consciousness be composed of lesser consciousnesses and can become a more permanent being.
Why cannot our own individual and compound consciousnesses have attained similar permanency? In other words why is it any less probable that we should have evolved a stable consciousness and one that is destined for immortality?
This morning the guards retook Fontaine Les Croisilles which had been captured by the Germans. A not very exhilarating day, rainy and muggy. But we went for a much needed bath to Gouzeaucourt. I saw some great guns here used for harassing the retreating enemy.
Tomorrow the 59 Division are to go through the guards I hope they are successful. On duty all night.
I cook some sausage and make cocoa and enjoy the same. This brigade is going into action again on the 29th the HQ being Revillon Chateau a point near to the German lines and recently held by them.
This night I was on duty all the night. Somewhere about 11pm shells began to come over and fall on the railway. Others fell dead on top of our dugout, shaking us up and tumbling the dust about. Soon our dugout was filled with shelter seekers from the falling shrapnel. At 1.30am I went to bed and slept till reveille at 6am.
At reveille everyone was up and commenced to get ready for the move forward. Highs the other Division operator was to go forward with the advanced party which was to relieve the 60 Brigade in the Hindenburg support. At about 7.30 am I was out after breakfast on the ridge.
Everywhere on the ridge between La Vacquerie & Gonnelieu I could see the smoke of an intense fire the Germans were putting up. I went on duty relieving Highs who set off with the advance party. Outside the firing grew greater.
Going upstairs and looking left I saw Gouzeaucourt being terrifically shelled with very heavy stuff. A little later Jones came in and said the Germans had come over and were in Gonnelieu and still advancing. Then came in an artillery man confirming this he having left his guns.
These reports were received with disbelief and ridicule. How could it be we were supremely confident in our ability to deal with the Germans. Outside on the duckboards the QMS of the 60 Brigade was wounded by a shell which fell dead onto the duckboards. He was brought below and bandaged and later put onto a passing train en route to Gouzeaucourt.
The Staff Captain came and spoke to the General the result of the conference being that the office was to be closed down and we move to Farm Ravine. All this because the news of the German advance was confirmed. They being in Gonnelieu, the Quarries and even Gouzeaucourt itself.
Thus our position at RS was precarious we being less than a thousand yards from the German left threat.
I stayed last in the office and disconnected the telephone, put on my kit and taking the telephone with me set off for the Farm Revine. We followed the railroad under shelter of the ridge, the ridge above and beyond was being continuously shelled pieces falling around every minute or less.
Also from somewhere came machine gun fire in all probability from Gouzeaucourt and the ridge at Gonnelieu. We proceeded at a great rate but I was nearly overcome by fatigue of carrying the telephone and kit. I did not think to reach the Ravine the fire was so hot. In front of me the Brigade Major’s servant was killed by shell fire and exertment alone kept me up. We got to the Ravine which was filled with troops awaiting to go forward to La Vacquerie.
I went straight on duty and there heard that the advance party had been turned back, the 60 Brigade HQ being in the hand of the Germans. The party were put back in the trenches and held there all day finally coming into Farm Ravine. The same thing happened to the 60 Brigade but the 61 Brigade lost ten men captured or killed Cpl Whympie being amongst these.
At Ravine the situation was critical but well handled by the Staff. Our front was still intact though numbers of men had left the line. La Vacquerie was still held by us and part of Gonnelieu, the guards having driven the Germans from Gouzeaucourt and the Quentin Ridge.
It was at this time Buxton was sent out to repair a wire. He remarked that it was certain death to go on the ridge. A few minutes later news came he was hit in the thigh by MG fire. He was taken away by the stretcher bearers. I slept the night under the table and then took duty Dec 1st at 8am.
The situation was still critical the Germans having pushed into Foster Avenue and being this not far from our Brigade HQ. It was decided to shift back to Villers Plouich which place the Division had already evacuated. Again we had the telephone carrying and shell fire.
We reached Villers all right the whole place was being heavily shelled. At this HQ were remnants of Division artillery, 12th Div, 60 Bde, 59 Bde and even 61 Bde. However we were safe below ground.
This place was now a veritable death trap, all roads and approaches being shelled and strewn with dead mules and drivers. Our food was biscuit only and in all these four days we had had one cup of tea.
I got a bed to sleep on but it was strewn with bombs and not very comfortable.
All this day I stayed in bed venturing upstairs only on absolutely necessary occasions. I was told to go on duty all night this night. I was very tired, more from lack of good food than anything. Our rations did not come up, the mules having been killed so was again a biscuit and tea.
Halfway through the night I got permission to lie down and slept well to 8am. It was a lovely bright morning and quiet but later Fritz shelled. Thompson was wounded; he did some very good work.
Today things are again critical the Germans attacking once more and our Staff were constantly in consultation. We heard that we were to be relieved by the 61 Division a fact that made me realise the meaning of heartfelt thankfulness. It would be about 11am when the report came through the Germans were heavily attacking and were in possession of La Vacquerie.
We were told to stand to and every man was issued with 150 rounds of ammunition. After two hours evidently the situation calmed for we were told to stand down. Personally I was ready for the worst having sent my Diary and ring by Sergeant Taylor to Shally. So the day passed, full of tense moments and expectancy.
The whole of the afternoon Villers was shelled with gas shells and we had to put on our masks for we were violently sneezing. After tea came the welcome order to put on kits and away. We obeyed with alacrity. The night was fine and cold and quiet. Any moment he might search the road so we pushed on feverishly with our telephone burdens.
All the roads bore evidences of the severe artillery fire. Dead mules and broken in dugouts abounded. Passing through the village we were sniped at. I suspect from the post that commanded the watering point.
Through Beaucamp we travelled to Metz then got a lorry to Fins whence we walked to Sorel where were the Div. We were royally treated by the CSM who was “merry” and given a sleeping place. But early in the morning we were routed out to go back to 59 HQ. Finally I got down with the orderlies.
Today we marched to the buses and boarded them. These took us to Ytres station. Here we awaited round the fires till long after dark. We entrained and travelled to Meaulte walking from there to Treux.
Treux still looks the same quiet old spot. It appears that the great German thrust was made with 20 Divisions against our 6 tired Divisions. The intention of the drive was to cut off the 3rd Army by a thrust at the left and right flanks.
On the left he was held up by our massed artillery. On our right where we were and where little artillery support could be had he swamped the 12 Division and got behind us and through Gonnelieu to Gouzeaucourt. His objective was Fins which place however he did not get.
At Gouzeaucourt he killed the drivers of the cars of wounded lying there. On his way to Gouzeaucourt he had passed through our old HQ at the Quarries. Here the advanced HQ of the 29 Div. they having relieved us before moving up.
Everyone in the signals and HQ including Staff were bayoneted, the only exception one person secreted under a bed. I also heard today the train with the wounded QM had been stopped before entering Gouzeaucourt by MG and shell fire the driver and men leaving the train. What became of the QM I don’t know but suspect he would be killed my MG fire.
Walked to Albert & en-trained. Detrained at Beaurainville at 6pm. Marched a long weary 12 kilometres to Torcy situate in hilly fine country where many streams abounded – 5th till move on 11th – spent time visiting the church with the Hebrards memories and walking round.
About now read the book from the smallholders.
This morning there was an early reveille for we were to en-bus for our final destination. We reached this latter just after dinner and were placed in billets close to a factory in a row of cottages. I went on duty in an office of works. From 5pm to 9pm and enjoyed it as it was warm and comfortable.
Today Highs and I walked into Arques looked round, had tea and walked back. I arranged to kip in with young Adams tonight. Nothing much to write about except that I feel a good deal fed up with this Brigade. Billets are rotten and cold and there is little priority. Expect we shall soon be called in and when the call comes I shall not be sorry.
Came off night duty cleaned up and went with Highs to Div who were at Blaringhem. Here I again got my diary. Several men are proceeding on leave I hope to so myself soon.
Very sorry to hear that poor old Buxton is dead. He was taken to the dressing station and there awaiting his turn a shell came and killed he and his bearers. Another of the old lads gone. It is all these that seem to go.
Walked back to Wardrecques. We got into trouble for leaving the office and put on two shifts. Highs goes on duty and I relieve him at 5pm. Hear the Germans are massing for attack and are showing great activity in every way. God grant we may be able to meet them. It will need all our strength and pluck in face of our recent misfortunes with Russia and Italy.
On duty till 2pm went for a walk in the afternoon visited the church at Wardrecque a very finely decorated and oak panelled place. Returned early and had tea. Received instructions that Highs and self are to return to Div tomorrow. Am not sorry. Will it be leave for me?
Relieved about 11am by Whitbread and Highs and self walk to the Div situate at Blaringhem. I got a decent place in the room above the Estaminet. Hudson very pleased to see me and I too very pleased to see the boys again.
On duty in the office tomorrow I was down from 1 till 5 today but was not in to time. Spent an hour or two in the evening in the café downstairs.
On duty at 8am. Little doing. Had a rest in the afternoon as I was rather tired. Went into the café at 6pm and had been there for about an hour when Gus came in and said I was to the office and report for leave.
This I did and waited for warrant at 9pm. Meanwhile spending fruitless efforts to obtain a bath and some underclothing from Sergeant Bentley.
The three of us, Darky, self and machine gunner set off on this snowy morning for where the bus was to take us to St. Omer. Arrived St. Omer about 11.30am had dinner and proceeded to the station. Train left about 1.30pm a very cold journey in door-less carriages.
Reached Boulogne just after dark and walked to the rest camp where they provided us with soup and rice with tea. Drew bed boards and 2 blankets and had a good night’s rest.
Very early start packing up and handing in stuff. It was not till 10am that we got away to the quay. The boat left late and we had a rough crossing enough. En-trained at 2pm and arrived London in time to hurry across and catch 5.30 Kings Cross to Hull.
Travelled with a navy man and three military men all for Hull. Also an interesting lady with triplets and twins. Dad, Daisy and Hilda met me. Taxied to Sutton and met them all.
Saw Desiree for the first time. She has very lovely dark blue eyes.
Vic came home today. I went over to 83 this morning and stayed until after dinner. I took them some fish at 1/8d a pound. What strikes me most is the seeming prosperity of everyone and the large amount of shopping being done. The queues of people waiting for tea etc. outside the shops are enormous.
Baby very excited all night. Vic and I had a long chat about things in general.
83 in the morning, arranged to meet Hilda and forget the rendezvous till I phoned to mother at SVS. Met Vic and Elsie and went to the café. At tea I went to the vegetarian café and had an interesting chat with a gentleman on faring in general and after the war prospects. Spent an hour or two at the Majestic and walked home.
Today visited Spencer’s mother and sister and then went to 83 until 2pm. Called for my pants at Willoughby’s and then met Hilda at Sutton line end. Stayed in and wrote diary and to smallholders association and Audrey.
Went to Portobello in the evening and met old friends who were pleased to see me. Called at Mr Hird’s for a few moments after service.
Xmas day. In afternoon visited 83 an enjoyable time in the evening. Mr Cobb Archie Mrs Birch present.
Gramophone & recitations. I had to walk from Sutton to Hull as trams had stopped running. Saw George Canham this morning and chatted with him.
Stayed at home today. Till afternoon then visited Whitby’s and also called at Oliver’s people.
Quiet day at home. Time seems to slip by so quickly.
Spent a happy afternoon and evening talking with Mr Hird over books. He lent me a fine book on mysticism and one on prayer also. The book on mysticism I would like to have there are things in it good to know. Vitalism, definition of intellect and its functions and the mystic communion with God as an established fact of experience.
Called to 83 for the last time. Bade farewell to all until next time. Spent evening at home quietly reading.
To Portobello in morning reading in afternoon wrote to Frankie and smallholders & also to the British Homesteads for information.
Last day of the year and the day I return to France. God grant a safe and speedy return with all our ideals attained and an unbroken peace ahead in the years to come. Busy getting things together in the morning.
Dad and Mr Hird to meet me at the station. I would rather not have Hilda go – these partings are none too pleasant.