Back in March 2013 I got a Facebook Messenger from a second cousin I’d never met called Prue Karsenbarg. It transpired that my great uncle Reginald Hall was her maternal grandfather, husband to Hilda Hall, nee Hart (and later Dewson when she remarried)!
She mentioned that all she had relatively little contact over the years, but had visited her twice in Canada and introduced as her uncle rather than grandfather. She’d always wondered about him more though and was surprised when she found his diary that Debbie and Alex had transcribed for my 40th birthday through Google! She’d read references in it to Hilda her grandma and her “showing” in January 1916, when she was obviously pregnant with her mother.
At the time she asked to get in touch and from memory I think I asked Debbie to respond on my behalf, as I’d just been told that my father had been diagnosed with the stomach cancer, that sadly he was eventually to die of nine months later. Alas we never did get in touch and I’d not used Facebook messenger for some time until recently when up popped a message from Prue again suggesting we get in touch.
We eventually agreed to a call on the 22nd September at 6pm by Messenger where I told her that I would post off to her address in Southsea Hampshire, Reginald’s original diaries, his GPO long service medal which has his name engraved on the curved edge and his East Yorkshire Regiment army cap badge. I’m sure he would have wanted her to have them.
We had a fascinating talk and I’m very pleased to report the above package arrived safely the next day. Prue also plans to visit Yorkshire and visit Auntie Dorothy living in the Old Coach House home in Hessle, who is probably the last surviving relative that remembers Reginald well. She also plans to visit her grandfather’s grave who’s buried with my own grandparents (Charles and Hilda Shores) and his sister Daisy in Western Cemetery in Chanterlands Avenue, Hull.
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.
We set off past Lesboeufs, a mere fragment of a place, nearby was the famed Morval & across the rolling plain we could see Le Transloy in front of which were the lately evacuated German trenches.
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.
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.
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.
Later I learned he did so further on where the 59 transport were marching up. They suffered some casualties. After a quick walk cross country from Rocquigny we arrived Le Transloy.
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.
Wrote home. My parcel not turned up yet, am on till 1am as it is my turn off for the night. Cuba declared war against Germany.
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.
Had a walk round the gardens in the evening and sat under the tree. Am reading Conan Doyle’s book “Rodney Stone”, a very good book.
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.
9am Parade went with classes to service in YMCA. This was in the morning. A decent service. Today I finished reading HG Wells book on God The Invisible King. It leaves me with mixed impressions.
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.
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.
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.
Reginald Dickon Hall was my great uncle, brother to my father’s mother Hilda Hall, her maiden name before she married my grandfather Charles Henry Shores. Reginald was born on the 20th September 1885 and married Hilda Coates Hart (b. 23rd September 1890 d. 29th December 1969) on the 5th June 1912.
Reginald survived the First World War unhurt physically but mentally I suspect he suffered what would be called now posttraumatic stress disorder as can be seen in his writings in the 1918 diary. Sadly Hilda and Reginald divorced and she married a Richard Dawson in 1933.
Reginald was always a Francophile as evidenced by his only daughter Eileen’s middle name was Desiree, she was born while he was in Belgium on the 22nd August 1917. He had a reputation in my grandmother’s side of the family as rather an eccentric lady’s man! According to his niece Dorothy Hall he “abandoned” his wife and daughter to set up life with a French lady in England, but never remarried himself.
His long held smallholding dream was never realised and he returned to work in the GPO as a telegraphist and eventually awarded a long service Empire medal. Upon retirement he lived for a time on a river boat moored near Hull in East Yorkshire, he even went on a canoe camping holiday with some of his contemporaries as an old age pensioner.
He was very fond of me when I was a young boy and I can remember him making me a model garage with forecourt out of wood which he painted for me to play with my toy cars. Like him I’m a Francophile and have lived on a boat for three years although that was on the Thames.
Sadly he died on the 29th December 1969, living his last years in a small downstairs bedroom at his sister Hilda’s house in Anlaby Park, Hull, my paternal grandmother. He left me his three first world war diaries covering 1916-1918 with his tiny, almost indecipherable writing, his thoughts go from inspirational to despair as the war progresses.
He enlisted in the Corps of Royal Engineers 4th East Yorkshire Regiment on the 14th October 1914 as a telegraphist with regimental number 56355.
He was only 5 feet 5 inches tall, weighed 119 lbs, with blue eyes and brown hair. His religious denomination was Church of England but he was also very interested in spiritualism and as can be seen in his writings rather a good poet.
In the 1916 diary he travels around the Western Front visiting Estaires, Hazebroucke, Cassel, Sainte-Marie-Cappel, Herzele, Wormhoudt (where he meets Sir Douglas Haig), Bambeque, Flamertinge, Ypres, Poperinghe, Esquelbecq, Boulogne, Elverdinghe, Courcelles, Couin, Beauval, Mametz Wood, Bernafay Wood, Carnoy, Corbie, Meaulte, Trones Wood, Ville sur Corbie, Treaux, Vignacourt, Belloy sur Somme, Amrens, Belloy, Picquigne, Cavillon, Meaulte.
Monday, January 17th 1916
12.30pm – 5pm. Quiet day. In morning feel unwell so subsist on dates and biscuits. Write to Hilda and to Rider and Sons, latter for books. Hedley smashes lamp after tea. Mitch and I take a walk around and talk about school days and office days.
Tuesday, January 18th 1916
During the night taken diarrhoea very little sleep. Take chloradyne on waking sick, no breakfast. Sick again at work. Slack morning fortunately. Just have Bovril for dinner and then retire to bed and stay there till 8pm. Have supper and go on duty. Very busy. I take first shift let orderly sleep. Read between times. 7.30am-12.30pm. 9pm-8am.
Wednesday, January 19th 1916
Very busy – Gripper comes from Ytres special dispatch.
Thursday, January 20th 1916
Apparently that special dispatch meant something for we are told to pack up and be ready to move 10am Friday. I went this morning to have my photo taken also spoke to a Red Cross man about Mitchell who has the jaundice.
Friday, January 21st 1916
Up at 6.30am. Rush to office where all is bustle, pack up. Carry on office told last minute get kits on and close down office. 10.50am. Set off walking behind DMT. Disconnect a line leaving good old Estaires.
Enjoy the walk but my heel turns sore. Sing as we go along. Mitch loses his hat in the mud and Shally’s nose bleeds, a nice trio. We stop Vieux-Berquin and have chips and a merry time with Mademoiselles then plod on asking our way.
Finally reach DMT and peg down in barn. Got poor tea and roam village for digs which unable to obtain. Paid at 6pm. Go to barn and lie in common bed with cyclist chaps have a jolly sing song till 7pm then sleep till midnight.
Unfortunately I could not go for my photos as we left so suddenly. Five Francs for nothing!
Saturday, January 22nd 1916
Awakened at midnight by Rutherford. Dress at once as car awaits us to take us to YT. Go to the lorries and search for our kits after two hours solid work find them buried deep in the wagons.
Cosily in the car we rush through the countryside and Hazebroucke. Arrive Bleringham 4am sleep till 7.15am. Proceed through undulating scenery to Cassel on cable carts.
Day cold and windy and some rain but not unpleasant. Cassel on high hill with lots of windmills. Like Hessle and about same size.
Fine old chateau, white bricks. Billeted in barn at farm where two German spies were caught dressed as British. Beautiful night, starry, after tea, turn in and write diary. Rumour says we are going to Ypres, French say Nieuport, which are neither correct.
Very tired. I think of Hilda and home. Have had no time to write.
Sunday, January 23rd 1916
Lovely morning. Are warned we cannot get into Cassel, but we try it. Dodge into café and get some English tea. After dodge the MP and get into town. Very clean and old time place.
Old houses and a train which runs to Dunkirk. Some famous shops get pastries etc. A grand view from the town over vast countryside lying below.
After dinner I go into the quiet field and in the brilliant sun and quiet surroundings I write home and Hilda. I feel very much alive in the bracing atmosphere.
The old church chimes in the real ancient country way and gives one the idea of curfew day. Shally and I immediately after tea go for a walk past railway and to La Longue Croix and turn left. Very dark but enjoyable walk. Call at Estaminet returning.
Monday, January 24th 1916
Shally and I on rations work hard till 10am. Free till post time we carry very heavy mails. I get some good letters from Hilda, then DMT in afternoon.
Tea over, Shally I and Charlie set off in another direction and get back very tired, it was a beautiful evening, Jupiter and Venus visible in a perfect sky. Call at chateau and have drinks then return. I read a while I love this old world place and the beautiful surroundings. Many aspects remind me of scenes at home.
Hilda writes me about some discussion she had at home re psychology and she says ‘I as a pupil of yours nearly converted an antagonist’ which pleased me immensely.
Tuesday, January 25th 1916
Told after parade to proceed to 59 Brigade along with Charles and Remington. Cordie and Kelly to go 60 Brigade. I pack and call for others. What bundles we have to carry.
Kelly makes us laugh at his awkwardness and many halts and readjustments. Pretty walk but tiring.
Arrive 59 Brigade.
See old Syd and chat with him. He seems very sick of it and unwell wants to go to England. He retells rumours of Ypres and East Africa. Any truth?
After tea I explore the hill at back of house and go along some paths to the old windmill. I try to ascend steps but dog growls at me so I discreetly descend and return. It was a grand view from hill top across the plains in the evening purple twilight. Return and write diary in Estaminet.
Wednesday, January 26th 1916
Had a very nice sleep on the straw in the evening. Rose and shaved and went on at 7.30am. Read ‘A Tall Ship’ and enjoyed it.
Corporal Davis asked me to walk with him to Hazebroucke in the afternoon we swung along the low roads in fine style chatting about origins of races and other matters.
I notice the old Flemish windmills. We landed in Hazebroucke about a quarter to four and wandered round the square. Had a ripping English tea which I enjoyed mightily a wee French damsel coaxed a penny out of me, a winsome little lass she was.
Set off back in a quick walk under a lovely starry sky. Called at Estaminet where Madame declaimed about some French priests and her confession and the money she would not pay to the Church.
On duty at 9pm we light the fire in office and settle ourselves. From telegram seems likely we will stay here for six days – hope so.
Thursday, January 27th 1916
I sit by the fire and read, occasionally mending the fire in the old wide fireplace. The book is ‘Ghosts’ by Bolton. Pretty much the same as Wallace’s and Crookes report, very unfailingly wonderful, whatever the explanation may be.
Strange also that such significant phenomena exists and is only appreciated by few. What will my own final verdict be?
Wake Davis up at 3.45am and myself lie in the chimney corner, but only for one hour and a half waking up cold and tired. After breakfast I lay down in the Estaminet and snatch some sleep till dinner. Read by stove in afternoon ‘The Human Body’ by Philpot.
Tea and duty 5pm. Off at 9pm I get supper and wait tediously in the rabble and distaste of the Estaminet. Card playing until nearly 11pm. Very selfish some of the men keeping up the old dame and swigging rum and beer.
Friday, January 28th 1916
Parcel received from Hilda. I finish my letter to her and enclose in one of Syd’s.
About 11am have an ante dinner jaunt with Corporal Davis to café in Sainte-Marie-Cappel. Chat with the dark haired damsel and return to the office where I sit and work and write chatting occasionally with Davis.
I can see the valley below stretching away to the distant plain. The white trail of engine smoke threads the trees in the middle distance reminding me of a similar scene which I saw from the Cleveland hills, the vale of York traversed by trains from Thirsk to North Allerton. The occasion was my walking tour with old Halley.
Ah! Those glorious days of happy reminiscence. I long now for the lonely high moor. The freedom and independence of those days.
I get a pass into Cassel and walk by the broad ascending high road into that place. Call at café and get a good tea of beef chips etc. There meet Davis and Miles. Miles makes us laugh with his absurdities. Call at the sweet meat café and have some French pastry.
In bed Rimmington and I have a long confidential chat on literature and ourselves. I enjoyed this chat more than anything for a long time.
Saturday, January 29th 1916
A busy day in the office. I receive another letter from Hilda. Poor little girl she thinks I have forgotten her. I write to Ed Carrick and Frodsham.
In the evening I sit in the café and chat with the Belgian refugees, on resemblances between English and Flemish and other things.
9pm resume duty. Make the fire, write further letters. Davis sleeps and I sit musing and thinking over the fire. I ponder over the old problems, but feel too sleepy and stupid to be very clear.
We get a Zepp message saying Zepp coming Abbeville direction. Hear nothing further.
Prior to sitting John made cocoa and made me cake. John is very generous. I got down at twenty to four am.
Sunday, January 30th 1916
Get up at 7.30am feel a bit seedy. Very misty morning. Set off at 9.30am for Cassel, chatting interesting matter with John Davis.
Walk round marketplace, John looking very much at the girls and making advances to them without much success, although one inclined her head.
Call in at a fine café with stained glass windows. Have tea and a little sing song with little French waitress who plays wonderfully well. Return to billet and after dinner get the much desired pay.
I forgot to mention about the sing song of hymns and other items at breakfast. It was great. Chat during duty with John Davis on subject of Jews.
On at 5pm to 9pm. Very great noise in Estaminet with gambling parties. I protest but it was 12pm before they dispersed.
Monday, January 31st 1916
A beautiful sharp morning JDand I walk across the fields to Sainte-Marie-Cappel pass the Division as they march to the inspection by two army commanders. Call at the Estaminet where Claire and Marie are sat chatting and having much fun with a very buxom dark eyed girl. Walk back and on at 12.30pm.
Letter from Hilda. I send cards. After tea Miles, John Davies and I walk to Cassel and explore for shops selling spirits of salts. Then purchase big views to send to England.
Meet H. Thompson and go to café and get bon tea. Ripping French cakes and ham. Walk home at 8pm and have a great sing song in Estaminet.
Burton sick and expressed a desire to die on the limber wagon. After midnight before sleep. Evidently we soon move on to Ypres Salient.
Tuesday, February 1st 1916
I wake up late going on at 8am. Very cold morning. A very cold fine day Davis and I go behind Estaminet amongst the hills and fields and to where the big windmill is. Go over the very ancient fabric with its wonderful collection of wheels and cogs. The boy tries to get it going but it is broken and although we use much energy pushing the sails it avails nothing.
Saunter across to a cottage and see there a refugee family from Belgium. Chat in French and have an enjoyable quiet afternoon. John tries to make an appointment and does not go with Miles and self who go to Cassel after tea.
Meet some of the boys in the White Café and get another grand tea of French cakes and ham. Music and chatting. Meet Davis and Fortune. Davis had no luck. We return on at 9pm and make fire.
Report in today’s paper on raid of Zepp over Paris, over 50 killed, apparently this is the one which was returning via Rouen and Abbeville.
Wednesday, February 2nd 1916
Keep a very good fire going and make toast and coffee. Nothing much doing during.
I write to home and Hilda which lasts till 3.45am. I return to Estaminet but sleep indifferently.
9am walk into Cassel with Davis, visit the local Cemetery and examine the inscriptions and the rather ugly monuments.
Visit Les Moulins which are in full swing. I have tea in café and return. I lay to sleep in afternoon but though I had a good lie down was not successful. Succeeded in catching a cold from somewhere. Very cold and fine weather.
In the evening two Zepps reported going over. Recently has been very intense attacks on the whole western front, only partially successful at a French point. Another uneasy night’s sleep.
Old Charlie acting the clown amuses everyone including the refugees. (During the night I dreamt of Marion and Hilda strangely mixed).
Thursday, February 3rd 1916
Unable to go for usual walk as were told to stand by. Have a kick at the football in a strong wind and brilliant sun. After hearing that we were not required Davis and I walked to Cassel though I was rather tired.
12.30pm-5pm in the office. After tea Fortunati, Davis and self walk to Cassel and meet boys in the café. Have a good tea of tinned cherries, cakes and tea and listen to Park singing and Mademoiselles playing. Walk home in the dark and under the stars singing songs and discussing.
The fellows clear out early and so we get down early for once in a while, but owing to my cold I slept none too well. Today heard of the Zepps attacks on the Midland Counties. Wonder if they were near Tipton. Hope not as Hilda is there. When are we going to tackle this menace successfully? Before I retired I watch a burning farmstead from the hill.
Friday, February 4th 1916
Up at 6.30am and pack, a hurried breakfast and away. However, we have a long wait in the wind and rain for the Lieutenant who is late. Later after a mile or two march, another mishap in the shape of a wagon in the ditch and a runaway horse detains us for quarter of an hour.
A steady tramp of 2 hours brings us to Herzele a small sleepy village, where us settle in the signal office. Difficulty in getting sleeping room. Explore round village. Get some tea and visit Estaminet with Rimmington where we hear a comic Lancs lad sing and patter.
Returning we talk to the Belgian refugees of our billet. Mother takes us (Rimmington + I) to her house where we arrange to sleep on the floor.
On at 9pm with Lillicrap and Davis. When all is quiet I write diary and sit and think about Hilda and home and of the dream I had concerning Hilda and Marion, which takes me back to the days, the very youthful days of my courting of Marion. What a strange thing is memory and reflection! How sad and how sweet.
Saturday, February 5th 1916
Very poor sleep on cold floor. Relieved at 7.30am and go to billet where I wash, clean shave and have chat with the Flemish people and two Mademoiselles, one of whom calls me “Domerique”.
After dinner walk to Wormhoudt by road. The place is a fine one, big square and houses neat and the usual bandstand. Have a snack and return. Saw Sir Douglas Haig in the square.
Received papers and letter from 83 and card from Anna. At 9pm go to billet and see there several of the Belgians and chat about Zepps and things till 10.30pm. I make a very good bed and sleep well by the stove. Received the cigs by the post from Martins. Give most of them away.
Sunday, February 6th 1916
On at 12.30pm. During morning had a walk to Bambecque across the fields clean village full of French Zouaves. Had a drink at the Estaminet after which return to duty.
Receive letter from Hilda. She says Tipton was bombarded by the Zepps and 36 bombs dropped, one of which fell near the house. It makes one think that we are safer even here than at home.
In the evening I sat with Rachel Andere and her young brother in the house, trying to talk French. I shared a bit of my chocolate with them. Go out and buy Quakers Oats and return to cook them. They turned out a treat and being very hungry I appreciated them.
Monday, February 7th 1916
7.30am-12.30pm. Slack morning. Walk to Wormhoudt with Davis against a strong wind, a really glorious day. Very tiring and glad when arrive at Wormhoudt.
Walk to the café and have a good lunch. The Madame has not got my socks someone having taken them. Meet Shally and Bill Graham in the square. They tell me DIV HQ at old Feudal castle at Esquelbecq.
We return to Herzele in the late of the calm afternoon, the sky purple with the breeze died down and a golden glory suffusing the atmosphere. One of the old Flemish mills whirls merrily as we go by. After tea Rimmington goes out and I stay in and chat, make porridge and go on at 9pm. My first turn down but dreadfully cold and uncomfy.
Tuesday, February 8th 1916
I wake up at 3.30am and sit in the room very cold and sleepy. Towards morning doze. After 7.30 walk to billet in fine early morning have some lovely porridge and bloater. Then get down and sleep till 12pm.
Don’t trouble about dinner but sit, talk with Rimmington, Rachel and two other old dames. Though truth to tell I took a minor part in the French conversation.
Take on again at 5 and receive papers and a letter from Hilda. Read papers in evening. Hear Rumania is in strained relations with Austria and Germany and America too is restive but I think Rumania will come in but not America.
Charles goes in for leave. Seems as if the married men were going at last. Hope so.
Probably we shall move to Poperinghe or Elverdinge on the way to the trenches. I wish they would keep me at the Brigade.
Friday, February 11th 1916
Bid a regretful farewell to Rachel and the others. They gave me their address and a invitation.
Tramp all day in a heavy rain and wind and soon wet through. Arrive Pop 5.20pm wet and cold. After unpacking go out to tea in town. Return and work till 9pm then sleep or rather try to but not much of a success.
Shell holes through roof. Very tired.
Saturday, February 12th 1916
Up at 6am pack kit and set off again over wet slush and uneven road. As we journey see shell holes all along both sides of road. Also hear the shelling as we go towards it. Walk to Vlamertinge which is also wrecked and in a deplorable state. Out of Vlamertinge see the cloth hall ruins.
Skirt the environs of Ypres and suicide corner which they were shelling perilously as we walked. We were warned by MP, shelling taking place all the way up. Cart gets stuck in mud. We get into a decent dugout 4 of us. Shally, Miles Self and David. I take up relief in office which is in state of chaos. Shells falling around all day. Hear Pop was bombed after we left and people panic stricken. Sit in dugout and sing with 43 boys.
Busy night. The Germans supposed 15 attack 60, hear they had 250 casualties. Andy Veutch and another lost between our lines lie in the wet for hours and return exhausted. They were shelled by both German and British.
Sunday, February 13th 1916
Make a roaring fire. Have to stay till 9am. Sleep until 12.30. Wake up refreshed. Relieve Shally dinner.
Office again at 2pm. About 3pm Germans shell Canal Bank heavily. Shells breaking over one dugout with great force not over comfortable. Sgt Weiner staggers in saying “I’m hit.” Shrapnel caught his arm and sent a piece right through making a nasty hole. A Blighty one for him, our artillery retaliated later.
Many planes up and much shelling. This is a hot hole indeed. Got a good letter from Hilda. Wish I were back, but still though not brave I must stick it.
Monday, February 14th 1916
Things much the same. Sleep for a couple of hours in the morning. No time to shave. Wash about once in two days.
Attend a talk by the Officer in his dugout. Spend evening in hanging up a screen in the bedroom! Very cold all night on duty.
Tuesday, February 15th 1916
Much talk and argument amongst us on kindred subjects to Tariff reform with Lillicrap. A very heavy and continuous shelling in Hooge direction. Later we learn that the Germans take our trenches and we are unable to retake.
I go to the dugout and sleep sounds and return to work at 2pm. Very cold in the office. During the evening a heavy firing takes place seemingly an endeavour to take back the lost trenches. Off at 9pm when I have a cup of cocoa.
I lay listening to the thunder of the guns. Shells dropping behind our dugout. Tremendously windy and raining.
Wednesday, February 16th 1916
7-30-1.40pm. We beautify the dugout in afternoon. Heavy shelling proceeding all day and night. Think we must be trying to take lost trenches.
Hear poor little Hugo was sniped and killed on his return from battle with bullet through head and painless. 2 casualties in a few days. I am impressed by the hardening and callusing effect of war. One man more or less seems not to matter and burial seems a secondary consideration. Am told that only a few hundred yards is a dead soldier in an old dugout.
Thursday, February 17th 1916
Midnight to 8am very slow and sleepy. Have a good sleep till 3pm. On at 5pm. Very busy till 9pm on battalion. After 9pm sit in the dugout till 11pm making cocoa and teas with pickles.
Good night rest. Going on at 5pm had to make a rush for it as shells were dropping dangerously near. A case of retaliation I think. Very busy night on battalion line. Got a good night’s sleep. Letter from Hilda first for 7 days. 2 Zepps came over during night.
Friday, February 18th 1916
During the morning I clean up then write letter Willie and Hilda. Hear the Russians have taken 100,000 prisoners and 460 guns at Erzerum in Mesopotamia. Very great news if true.
Off at 5pm. Great guns pretty busy, their tremendous flashes showing up like vivid lightning. Sit and sing in dugout in evening and later partake of Miles parcel.
Saturday, February 19th 1916
7.20-12.30 letter from Hilda. Very tired not very well so have a sleep in afternoon and fell better for it.
I was much depressed to hear that one of the dear boys who was in my company class at Sailly was killed in taking over the trenches. They actually went straight into the fight after heavy march with all kit on. His name was Mead, age about 19; I remember he gave me a cigar at the end of the class. He was the one interested in astronomy and in the boy scouts.
The Germans infiltrated the dugouts and killed many of the 60th, the same line of dugouts as ours.
Sunday, February 20th 1916
Much business re new sounder line. Have a pleasant night as we make tea and a fire and chat.
After daylight I went into the field, white over with frost, a hazy cold and tinted morning promising a fine and perhaps beautiful day. I thought as I passed the three graves how fond of putting any little religious symbol on them are our Tommies.
Had a very little sleep till after dinner. On at 5pm. Very cold evening.
Hear the Germans attacked the French at Het Sas and another place, crossing and being driven back in one and not across in another. Driven back with great loss. Yesterday Germans got one of our Saps and 30 men of 60th whom they marched across with hands up.
Weather very cold and sharp. Get letter from Hilda. She wants me to invest some of my money in Uncle’s concern and to go there for my holiday part of the time.
Monday, February 21st 1916
Write home to Hilda and mother in morning after cleaning up the dugout.
A fairly quiet day on the front. We all have a good supper in the evening.
Tuesday, February 22nd 1916
7.30 am-12.30, not too cold though it snowed in the morning. But after dinner was so cold that I decided to get to bed for warmth. I did so and only got up for tea.
From 3pm a violent bombardment by our guns took place, the Germans replying only briefly. After tea I got down again for warmth and remained till supper and time for duty. Off at 9pm.
The clerk told me that he had to call every 5 mins during night. At 1.10am the battalion at B14 reported 2 Zepps passing over. I heard the buzzing and later heard they had bombed Pop.
I get a card of wren’s nest from H. Have a decent conversation with Thompson on cycling and walking tours in the north.
Wednesday, February 23rd 1916
A bitterly cold night even with the bit of fire. Make cocoa at 3.30am comes a report from 5 corps that they took a German prisoner who states the Germans are going to attack on the Ypres Salient this morning. (Didn’t mature).
Very little sleep in morning. Davis says he found a new large French dugout. We transfer our things there with a rush, but have to shift twice before the staff captain settles in a fine new French dugout.
Sleep separate. Enemy shell us heavily some of which just over dugout and fragments all around. In the evening very cold, glad when 9pm comes, everyone starved though. I rubbed myself with anti frostbit grease which made my feet warm. Snow.
Thursday, February 24th 1916
Inspection in morning of helmets and rifles and pay, also at 11.15am. On parade Collins was present as prisoner for drunkenness and was given 1 month and fined one pound.
Probably will be another strafing German trenches shortly, their aeroplanes very busy overhead. They look very fine in the strong sunlight. Hear the R B signals smashed by shellfire but afterwards appears not the office hit, but close by.
5-9pm very cold on duty. Rubbed myself with anti frostbit all over and paid the penalty, no sleep for me till after 3am. My body burned and prickles.
Got 2 postcards from Hilda. Heard a rumour of 150,000 Germans captured by French. I doubt it.
Friday, February 25th 1916
7.30-12.30 working sounder and passed rather quickly. Letter from mother. Lizzie has got a little daughter.
Rough weather in England and here very intense cold. Cannot keep warm. Try to sleep but not possible for cold. In the evening make up stove. Snowing hard.
On at 9pm, read a bit of “Hard Times” by Dickens. What a hit at utilitarianism and social class hatred. It shines a light on industrialism in the 19th century.
Saturday, February 26th 1916
Have an enjoyable night which passed rather quickly owing to our preparing tea and later I had a most interesting conversation with McNeil on spiritualism and purgatory. He being a Catholic, I find much of agreement possible to him.
No sleep in the day. I try to fire up the stove but not a success. Very sleepy in evening and have a grand sleep overnight.
Sunday, February 27th 1916
Very busy till 11am cleaning up. Lie down till noon. Rather busy 12.30-5pm, wires working unsatisfactory.
Write letter home in evening, giving a description of our life and dugout. Make cocoa and supper for the boys. When in bed the Germans shelled just short and over the dugout. A fellow took refuge in our hut whilst it was on.
Monday, February 28th 1916
7.30-12.30, quiet morning, afternoon clean up and lie down and stay there till 8pm as Rimmington was there playing. I was vexed that he wanted me to show him across the field with a searchlight.
Shortly after light the Germans shelled in rapid succession the roads; it would be a wonder if there were no casualties. There were two near our dugout the other day from shrapnel.
As I lay in bed I thought, would it not be possible to so shut out the outside world and to so intensify memory and recollection as to make it the reality and manipulate existence to our own desires?
On at 9pm. Rimmington said a dugout today had been smashed in, and a loss of 51 lives just on 61st left.
Tuesday, February 29th 1916
A gas alarm went during the night, but it was a false one. Slept a bit in the morning and had a quiet day generally, though they dropped about 50 one after another in front of our dugout. Many holes in the ground after.
Just heard that down in the hollow near High Command was where the Canadians were gassed so we are on the historic spot. St Jean is near where Wellington stopped before Waterloo.
After 9pm the Germans dropped about 15 one after another on the roads. Hellish it sounded too.
“St. David’s Day” Wednesday, March 1st 1916
Hear the Germans making strenuous efforts near Verdun and they have captured a fort. Things certainly look like having started on this front. God grant it may soon be over and that we may be in our own homes in safety and comfort.
Very busy cleaning up in morning, on in afternoon and in evening again, busy making supper etc. We have a last sing song in bed as it is our last night on canal bank. Well it had been a rough time enough.
Very many planes were up in the evening at twilight. I noticed some birds singing as if spring were here. Thoughts of spring and poetry. Go to top of bank to view 2 white rockets burst and see shrapnel bursting over the enemy trenches.
Thursday, March 2nd 1916
Wakened at 5am by most intense shelling and bombardment by our guns and whole front. Sounds like the never ending rumbling of drums.
On duty hear we took 3 lines of trenches, hundreds of prisoners and attained all our objective. Germans replied and I notice shell holes behind. Later Germans counter attacked and position serious as our reserves could not get up.
We move today and I don’t fancy the walk to Poperinghe as I fear we may be shelled. I am not too brave thought I try to steel myself. I think of the loved ones at home. I realise the certainty of it all, but then why cannot I, a Britisher, be proud and bold.
It is different psychologically to resist the influence of the whistling screeching shell, the vivid flash. Then what cannot images do for a man. I have a vivid me too. Still I think of the proud Roman and what he endured and my own national heritage.
Yes, I could be brave but for the intensity of my own feelings for the homefolk and perhaps the jealousy that I might be forgotten. God! What a creature I am. Had a fine letter from Mother tonight. Tender and thoughtful as ever.
Friday, March 3rd 1916
Surely the best Mother on earth.
I believe in the future life but if I could only realise it. I think a good bit of Marcus Aurelius and try to be a stone.
At 1am we left and blundered about on the mud and darkness lit up by the fitful lights from the trenches as we fringed along the shell putted roads I wondered if we should be lucky to miss enemy attentions. Skirted Ypres and Flamertinge which were being sprinkle with shrapnel and took emergency roads. Shally beaten out and tired. We carried his things, later got a life in a motor Lorry and arrived 3.30am. I slept till 8am then took up duty.
At 1am Poperinghe shelled in rapid succession by armoured train, shells going over us and bursting 500 or more yards away. One in Durham’s billet, one in street. Total of 50 casualties, about 9 killed. Three Red Cross took them away. I saw some cases but Beeton and the others were actually on the spot and were providentially missed.
Have a short rest in afternoon. Visited pictures in evening. Not bad. Go on duty at 9pm Beeton my colleague. Letter from Hilda.
Saturday, March 4th 1916
We had roaring fire going and it was needed for it was a horrible night, dark rainy and windy. I write diary up and intend writing to Hilda later. I hear we are going to Dickebosch, said to be a worse place than this. No sleep during day.
Went to the Division with Shally in afternoon. On at 5pm. At 8.10pm the German armoured train started shelling us again, they dropped 8 all near the station wounding 3. I didn’t like it at all. As I sat I wondered if any were coming out way. Small chance for us if they had.
Saturday, March 5th 1916
1.30am Germans again shelled us but no damage done. A beautiful day so Davis and I stroll round town and have a good dinner at a café. Busy afternoon, I try to write without much success.
Miles and I go to Town Hall in evening to C of E service which though brief was very enjoyable. Some other of the chaps were there Coleman, Hollands and Bob. I think from his remarks the Chaplain must have been acquainted with pragmatism.
In bed I have an interesting chat and argument with the boys on the rights of war and shelling tonight. Perhaps time that the German gun was knocked out. Things generally hopeful.
Monday, March 6th 1916
7.30am Duty. Told that we are to Divion tomorrow for which I am not thankful. Suspect we will get plenty of fatigues there.
I have a lay down with Roger Hordem in afternoon then get tea and go out with Shally, Cordie Brammer to the to the fancies crowded house and very enjoyable.
Return for duty. Make cocoa on duty and have a grand coal fire. Very snowy and cold.
Tuesday, March 7th 1916
Try a short lay down but not successful. Pack up things after a walk round Poperinghe. Roger and I set off for Div heavily laden. Get a lift later on and arrive Div. Find them in a wooden town of huts and apparently comfy.
5-9pm not at all a bad office but many chaps sick of the inoculation and much work. I get on good bed but very cold during night. Situation normal. Verdun fight still continuing. No further prospect of leave.
Wednesday, March 8th 1916
Up at 8am on rations. Much snow but clear day and most beautiful under mantle of whiteness. Walk briskly and work hard lighting.
The wagon goes to Pop and I with it to the ordinance to collect stuff. Bring Roger back, am later on duty 1pm-5pm. Spend very miserable evening as all others playing cards and no room to move. Bentley comes in the hut and tells us we have to move. That is Shally and I. Very poor and little sleep owing to card playing and cold.
Thursday, March 9th 1916
Up at 6.30am. Shave and go on at 8am very cold and snowy. Relieved at 1pm and told to take infantry Sgts in Morse. Very miserable. After tea have to go on lamps till 9pm. Then on duty.
Told I am for inoculation in morning. Late on at 9pm I have a turn down at 12pm but sleep little. Verdun battle still raging and Germans taken a point on the Meuse.
Friday, March 10th 1916
After breakfast proceed to have inoculation. Return and lie down later in the day. Become very heavy and stiff later.
Saturday, March 11th 1916
Passed a very restless and dreamful night, but wake up slightly better and improve as day advances. Get letter from Hilda and papers re raid which has been a very distressful one. Poor Old Cliow School suffered. Very sorry as it is one of the most ancient of Hull relics.
Sunday, March 12th 1916
Another quiet day in, beginning to be alright again. I resume duty at 7.30am as check. On duty at 5pm till 9 write 2 letters. Shally done today at 9.30am Bill Gorman in our hut, gives an amusing exhibition.
Monday, March 13th 1916
How can I get near to God? The only way is by the intensification of realisation. By the knowledge that He listens. He hears, He reacts on my messages to Him. Does it matter that others are speaking to Him at the same time? No! I am capable of so many reactions at one and the same moment.
It increases my sense of His greatness when I realise his instantaneous perception of his myriad creatures and their actions and prayers. Always Thou art there oh God! If I blind myself I do not kill the light, if I open the window I but let in the light already there. Yea though I walk through the shadows of Death Thou art with me I fear no evil (or should not).
Tuesday, March 14th 1916
Worry is acted atheism “How much better is we could always trust God.” If I have a dear friend, I should not know I could rely on him absolutely that he would not betray my trust. Therefore if I do at all believe in God I must trust Him, however difficult it may be from ingrained habit.
But say some experience does not prove that such trust is well placed or that there are reasonable grounds for it. Yet I am reminded of the lives of the Great Saints, of many ordinary everyday folk, of all the classic examples such as St Paul.
I believe that had experience of the value of faith and trust in God, they proved the thesis that faith works therefore faith is true. If I converse in the inner courts of myself with God I shall increase the realisation of its value. I shall never be alone.
With Epictetus I can say “When you have close your doors and made darkness within remember never to say your alone. For you are not alone. God too is present there and your guardian spirit and what need have they of light to see what you are doing?
There is no solitude to Him whose companion is God.” No nor whilst one can appreciate the beauties of nature of communion with it. To me adoration and admiration of nature merged into and cannot be distinguishes from love and admiration of God.
Naturally in communing with nature language slips into homage and humility, of inability to respond to all that nature would lavish, would teach. It raises in me the query whether, if someday here or there I shall be enabled to rise sufficiently in power to return due deed of love and admiration to that Great Artist who draws in the screen of the Universe.
Friday, March 17th 1916
7.30am-noon. For a change they give me a rest in the afternoon. I have a little snooze. Things have grown very monotonous here lately. After tea I go for a short walk with Shally in the dusk prior to supper and going on duty.
Saturday, March 18th
Writing wireless and get down to a restless couple of hours, my arm and shoulder ached for some reason or other. Doing nothing for rest of day till 5pm when on duty.
Venning lent me a book Sire Mortimer about the Spanish main. A very fine book stimulating to the imagination.
Leave has restarted, but it does not move me to think I shall get a very early turn.
Sunday, March 19th
On water cart at 9am. Waiting in the sunshine for our turn, it will be a long wait. A very beautiful morning, fit to evoke the poetic if only this wretched war did crush all such tendencies.
A new rule has come out, no reading or writing on day duty.
What a most glorious sunny morning. Spring seems to saturate the very air and the twittering birds bring memories of past seasons like the present. The sky is pale blue and white and a pleasant breeze makes the day cool and fresh.
The guns are booming from Ypres. Early this morning a Taube was overhead for a considerable time and dropped a bomb near HQ, it fell in a field near us but did not explode.
Monday, March 20th
Hear Debney wounded at canal bank. Shally departs with Syd Crawley to Infantry Instruction class. Left on my own.
After tea went for a walk down side lane to Ypres Rd. See a French soldier walking slowly and feebly along carrying his kit. On my return I stop and speak to him. He was returning from leave and was very broken in spirit. He told me of his wife and children. I walked with him a long way towards Elverdinge talking and sympathising. When I said goodbye, he gripped hands hard saying “Merci Comrade.”
It was a heartfelt and sympathetic grip and I could hear the catch in his voice as he hobbled off on his wounded leg, ah me, we both felt the anguish of war and its separations and I felt him feeling sad and overborne for who know of the uncertainties of life at such a time. I shall always wonder of him and his fate.
Tuesday, March 21st
Have a little row with Les, not much rest in morning. On at 5pm. I hear 2 men were killed outside our dugout at 59th canal bank. Very wet rainy day. Letter from Hilda. Mr. and Mrs. Hird have been to Hill. A very bad night’s sleep. Bill Gorman drunk and acting disorderly until 1am.
Wednesday, March 22nd
Up at 7.30 and go with Durham man to the dump. Very much off colour and unable to life the heavy stuff on rations. They were very heavy too and it rained and was generally nasty. Saw the observation balloon going up. Walked back to camp and helped unload.
Had a bad headache in evening due to lack of sleep. Nervous exhaustion. Fortunately the boys promised quiet and also took the precaution of pinching the playing cards. Bill Gorman came in drunk as usual; he had been fined 14 days pay for cheeking an NCO. We put him to sleep alright and I myself got a decent sleep which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt much better for. Parcel and letter from Hilda.
Thursday, March 23rd
On at 7.30am. Quiet morning in office. Day much finer. I wrote a letter to Hilda, full of hints so she might possibly read between the lines re leave. Am on post in afternoon, which did not turn up till 4pm. I changed over into Sgt Bullocks hut as corps man left a bed there. Promises more comfort than other hut.
On at 9pm I take a tin of ideal milk which makes a grand drink. Heard today of the North Sea incident in which our destroyers chased the Germans to port. Generally things are optimistic. I hope they will turn out so too and quietly. Also that leave might come quickly. Poor Hilda anxious.
Friday, March 24th
Midnight-3am, at 3.30am I go to hut and sleep nicely on new bed till nearly noon. 5pm a nice evening which prompts me to poetic efforts and state of mind. It has a tranquilising effect on me although the results are practically nil. Cator talks with me about his wife and I about mine.
Saturday, March 25th
On post at 8am. A far amount to do. I do it all myself, McKnight staying in bed. Nothing of importance today. A fine afternoon with a beautiful sky which inspires me to poetic effort.
Sunday, March 26th
7.30-12.30. Nothing doing on duty. Fine morning. I spend the time musing and trying to make up a bit of poetry on the beauties of nature. On post in afternoon.
About 2am this morning was awakened by fire alarm. Fire was in a barn occupied by M. Police and burned fiercely. Ammunition exploded and crackled.
I turned in again as on at 7.30am. Quiet evening till 9pm then on duty. My first turn down at 11pm.
Monday, March 27th
Up at 3am after cold lie down and no sleep. Much more comfy in first room where I sit afterwards and chat with Smitham on spiritualism etc. He is a jolly fellow.
Later 2FA report capture of German prisoners tapping into our lines. Hear he had the Iron Cross.
Later I get letter from Hilda and Mother. Thompson going to amb sick. Just had a letter and a paper from home. Paper contains account of Sheffield’s leading agnostics conversion. After 30 years in the agnostic fold, he says the spirit of God never left him.
How intense must be that spirit, how persistent such a home call to survive 30yrs of agnostic training and reading and preaching. What lead him to renounce unbelief. The greater difficulties of unbelief encounters in answering whence and whither, the loss of dignity, the loss of value, the tendency of lowering of life’s standard agnosticisms. He noticed the consistency of many Christian lives and the general nobility of Christian ideals. It seems to me that one proves a belief and its necessity but slowly.
Experience is a slow teacher. I do not agree with F.C.S. Schiller when he says life’s lessons are soon learnt, only by painful repetition do we accept many lessons and it is mostly a tuition extending over many years. This I know by my own experience.
Monday, March 28th
Do some washing in morning as I am not on any fatigues. Washing not a success. Think I shall have to throw it away.
12.30-5 I spend a few of my spare moments in reflection on the afternoon. Have a short walk in the evening towards Elverdinge but is so threatening I return and chop firewood in the hut.
Many of the men come in having had too much drink and others playing crown and anchor. It seems a curious commentary on our boasted evolution of types. R.C.M. Smith blasphemes in his usual drunken way, but even sung as they are by him, these hymns retain their associations and drawing power.
I sit in bed and enter my poems, if such I can call these efforts of silly expression.
Wednesday, March 29th
Say what one will, there is a lamentable blackness and irreligion abroad. I am conscious of my own shortcomings in this respect, whilst quite conscious of the desirability and the attractiveness of the Christian virtues. Christianity as an ideal.
I have an intense love of life, love of home, wife and parents, I hate the thought of possible death in the forms it wears out here, but the predominant feature is that I love ardently my wife, my home and these I wish to return to.
The thought that I might never see my wife again, never enjoy on earth her love and care is anguish to me. I am jealous too that any other should ever take that from me. Some would say it is wrong and selfish to wish one’s wife to remain a widow. Yet I think if we hold the highest view of marriage and if it is a true marriage, no other logical view is possible.
Face the future I must whatever comes, so here I write that my wife may know, I love her, always love her, I love life and all these dreams of our common future I cherish. If ever I should go here, I would that she should at time remember the one who first loved her. I would not write so except that to any of us here life is an uncertain thing and I would not have my thoughts entirely a closed book. – I am up till 3.30am.
Had a walk towards Elverdinge after tea. Met a Frenchman and bought a cartridge souvenir from him. A lovely evening stopped from going right to E by sentries. Wrote to Hilda.
Thursday, March 30th
Cleaning out the hut during the morning. Sleep for an hour in afternoon. Hear leave is to be increased, is it coming any nearer?
Does my faith in the next life affect my fear of death, or does my faith in goodness and virtue affect my conduct alas! Only too feebly I think.
I have desired to read Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, or the Iliad. I have seen some splendid bits in the little paper the Healer lent me by Smitham, a quotation by Harold Begbie “We are at all times and all places surrounded by spirits”.
The nature and extent of their power and the method of its exercise, we do not know. But it is certain that from the beginning of history down to the present day, usually as unique moments of their lives men have had glimpses of these spiritual companions. That is so, they are not always beneficent ones either as spiritualism proves.
If our optical range were not so limited, probably we should see these organisms surrounding us. The admittance of this thesis is fundamental in importance as it serves as a bedrock from which perhaps more than one philosophy can be built but all more or less friendly to mans personality.”
Friday, March 31st
I am on cooks mate in the morning, a most glorious day, full of sunshine and warmth. I sat on a box peeling potatoes and talking to Bennett of leave, of his girl and home matters generally.
In the evening I just wandered around the fields, enjoying the sunset and evening shadows and the white radiance of Venus high in the west. Low down the horizon, the clouds were deep purple and against them, traced in intricate beauty were the trees, their laced branches, merged into the purple as the orange of the suns last rays and higher yet was the blue creeping from the fainter to the deepest shade where hung the lamps of the night, the everlasting stars.
Deep was my admiration sincere my worship, poor was my feeling and ability to appreciate. I went away happy to receive, to have the receptive gift. Yet sad at my poor estate in the poetic arts, in my power to tell my state of soul. Still I know that one grows in this matter as in all others. Later on I sat in bed, I read some of the excellent words in the book Smitham lent me.
“The Healer” and I reflected upon them. Some of the reflection I have set down here. I certainly think I have learnt something, moreover I cannot believe it to be choice which sends these things along my path.
Today Thompson goes on leave vice Cator who is much upset. When will my turn come?
Saturday, April 1st 1916
7.30am-12.30pm and 9pm-7.30am. Parade at 12.30pm medical inspection, iron ration inspection. Had a little sleep in afternoon, not much. Disinfected my blankets and afterwards had a short walk returning and going on duty after supper.
I get my turn down last, writing my letters home meantime. Wrote a special long one to Hilda, I wonder what she will think of it. A very violent bombardment on both sides all night some shells falling on road outside near the windmill where we draw water.
Had a very good sleep from 3.30am and awoke to find a brilliant morning. We had much fun with Hamlett who was laid outside covered by his blanket. Someone put up a wooden cross with RIP on it. Several of the boys standing about mockly serious. A French man passing actually saluted the supposed body!
Sunday, April 2nd 1916
Year ago today, we were at Winchester, Good Friday, we actually got a hot cross bun. Cleared hut out, then went out on the grass, but too swelteringly hot so that I went in again.
5-9pm I finished my letter to Hilda and sent her £5, my balance. In orders many punishments and orders that no gambling allowed in any form again. Very hot day but very beautiful.
Tuesday, April 4th 1916
In the evening of today I went for a walk across the fields and among the hop poles. It was a beautiful night with Venus high up. I leaned against a telegraph pole and reflected on nature, on home, and other sacred things as the faint sound from the Inns floated to my ears.
Several large shell holes in the ground where shells dropped when Germans tried for the kite balloon.
Wednesday, April 5th 1916
7.30-12.30pm. As D. lay in the hut Sgt Abbott came in and told Creedon and I to go to Capt hut and help with papers. We did so and had some brisk work for an hour or so. During it Captain said “I suppose you know you proceed to Infantry class on the morrow for a fortnight. I think you will be ready for leave on your return I have you on my early list.”
Of course I wasn’t half pleased. Hope he sticks to his word and nothing unforeseen happens.
Shally returned today. He will go on leave shortly, meantime he goes to canal bank.
Thursday, April 6th 1916
Midnight to 3.30am working. Wrote letter to Hilda telling her of probable leave. 3.30am Bentley would not allow me to go to hut so lay on floor. No sleep.
Up at 6.30, breakfasted and packed up. Caught the ration wagon and went as far as the dump. Then had a tiring walk as far as the J camp. It is well situated in open country.
Saw Syd at door of tent, appears comfy and plenty of grub. I have a little rest but in the evening go for a sharp stroll around the countryside.
Very cold night, Syd goes off somewhere. Suppose it is the farm Shally told me of. Syd gave me a list of fatigues to make out for the men.
Still no letter from Hilda. I feel a little worried.
Friday, April 7th
A letter at last!
A rather successful day with the boys. I think we shall have a very happy time at the school. I walk to Poperinghe in the evening for letter and shopping. A pleasant walk which I enjoyed and a nice evening.
At the 59th they told me Division had been shelled, the Officers Mess smashed up, the pump and a farm, but no one injured. Consider I am lucky to be out of it.
Walk back and meet many French going on permission. I received another letter from Hilda and a good photo of her. She says Ma is not very well. A victory in Mesopotamia.
The boys in our tent say I am very clumsy tumbling over everything.
Saturday, April 8th 1916
Nothing much to report. Was told that rumours of Holland declaring war on Germans were abroad at canal bank. I scarcely think it true, but it would make a deal of difference.
Cold sharp fine day, class improving. He Sgt tells us many curious tales of foreign parts. Syd and I go for a grand walk along new made roads through the flat country and by dark woods.
The ruddy flash of shrapnel in the air forwards canal bank. Syd in a very facetious mood as he marks exam papers. In the evenings he floats off in a mysterious way to some secret place and pretends he had been for a run. I fancy he visits some “Lady” myself.
Sunday, April 9th; Monday, April 10th; Tuesday, April 11th 1916
Class as usual.
Wednesday, April 12th 1916
Class as usual. Hear they were shelling Poperinghe. This was the evening we went to the Barbers. Also the Germans tried to take the Yorks trenches. They were defeated being repulsed with a loss of 70 or more.
Thursday, April 13th 1916
Class as usual, boys doing fairly well. Very nice boys too. They are jolly decent lads good natured and jovial. One of them is a Yorkie.
Higgins and another from Doncaster, Ford and Ryan another Yorkie Mainie is a comedian in civil life. I have met some nice boys in these classes.
Friday, April 14th 1916
Eve of our removal to goodness knows where. Hear that the Germans attacked on our front two nights ago. They lost many and were repulsed and unfortunately our Cornwalls lost best part of 200.
Sweeny stood on parapet directing artillery fire. They say we captured a German Officer with plans of great attack on this line, and also in consequence leave cancelled and men recalled. What awful luck if true, after I have written, poor Hilda. It makes me feel miserable.
Journey in motor Lorry with the class to Esquelbecq. Much singing and laughter. Syd and I clear up the hut allotted to us and make shelters etc.
Saturday, April 15th 1916
Still no letter from Hilda nor a parcel. I feel pretty pessimistic altogether. I do not like the attitude of Syd. He is the Overlord, the know all who wants to do all the interesting work and who I fancy thinks I cannot train my own boys. Now he is putting them into one class.
After 7.30 or close on 8pm I went by myself for a walk down the narrow road. It was a calm night and as I went I noticed the shadows of the bushes on the white road and the tall trees on my left lifting their heads to the clear sky. A dark pool reflected the star studded heavens, chief of which was brilliant, beautiful Venus.
I stayed, drank in the beauty and listened. Across the fields in the quietness came a solitary hoot from some wakeful owl and presently the baying of dogs to the moon. I thought of home and mother and returned thoughtfully hut-wards. There I found Larry Lamb in the hut part of the advance guard.
Sunday, April 16th 1916
Feeling rather ill but carry on. After tea I took out my Emerson and went the same walk as previously, although it was a cold night, it was fine and sunny. I journeyed part way with a young Frenchman and chatted with him.
Turning to a side road I read the Essays for a while and walked slowly back, not having much energy for this. A very sleepless night.
Monday, April 17th 1916
Too ill to rise. I stay in bed all day, aching in every limb and chest. I grow a little better as the day advances. Later this is apparently a case of French fever according to Dr. Savage. His son had contracted the same. Mine must have come from the boys in the Infantry class.
Wednesday, April 19th 1916
Take the class in sending practise. Weather still cold, windy and raining. Every prospect of a big fight on this front soon. That is evidently the reason leave is stopped.
Thursday, April 20th 1916
I take the class in sending practise. First time for fortnight get 2 green envelopes. Wrote home to Hilda.
Walk to DIV HQ with letters, go through Esquelbecq and turn down side rd. Pause by a pond which was reflecting the fold from the flaming west and absorbed the evenings glories. Presently I came out on the old familiar narrow road.
I stood there with the western wind fanning my face, and looked across the fields of freshly springing corn to where a long line of tall trees swept down with but one break of some few hundred yards. Across the break, the dark woods reassured and below them clustered and nestled the red tiled dwellings of the village.
Looking to the distance the break I saw rearing to the Heavens, the hill on which is Cassel, the main buildings of which I could faintly see silhouetted against the sky. And as I looked there came stealing to me across the fields, the vesper of the bells of Esquelbecq in some sweet religious intonation, perhaps of French Catholicism. It was from the church which I now saw, just hidden behind the trees, to the left of the break. Enough, my ecstasy was complete.
“Good” Friday, April 21st 1916
Nothing doing. Hear leave starting shortly.
Saturday, April 22nd 1916
9am Exam begins, a very good result. Raining hard all day, so much so that I decide to stay at the hut and parade next morning. I do so and stay indoors whilst Syd goes to look for digs. Read the Walking Gentleman.
Sunday, April 23rd 1916
Go on Parade 9am. No duty so I am clear for the day. I get some new toggery from the QMS. After tea I go out and sit on a gate reading Emerson and afterwards wander back full of wonder if I shall get home, half wishing I shall and half not so wishing.
“Easter” Monday, April 24th 1916
On Parade in the morning am afterwards told I take on the register at 5pm. I stroll in the afternoon round by the lanes until tea time. Have a fairly busy night. I am not on the leave part for tomorrow. I hope it may be next week.
Tuesday, April 25th 1916
This morning I walked out from Esquelbecq a mile to an unfrequented road. Here I sat on a low grassy bank full in the enveloping glories or a profuse sunshine.
To my left I had as a neighbour, a tree, a silent friend whose branches were occasionally the home of the song of birds. The pale blue sky, serene as a God and flicked by bare of white cloud seemed to say, I am still, I am alone in my quiet and my dignity, admire and worship from afar and humbly.
Oh the song, the sweet song of the birds. From everywhere, from nowhere it comes, a withdrawing of the curtains of heaven. I can see the as yet leafless tree dark against the sky, the rooks nest black nucleus amongst the lacework of branch.
Some of the trees are just clothing themselves in their first garment of green or suggestion of brown. Rarer still but even more beautiful are the trees of white and pink blossom. Veritable brides of the field are they. Sublime beauteous morn of spring; foretaste of heaven on earth here and now.
Evening sat in the same place, I view the great orb of sun almost sunk behind the woods. Farewell welcome guest! Then goest yet thine influence as that of a gracious guest remains.
Wednesday, April 26th 1916
I can hear the strains of Georgia come across the fields from Wormhoudt where one of our bands is playing it. I am full of memories of old camps and my old regiment as the further strains of old folks at home follow I feel pensively sad and think of Old England and home.
Go for a long walk around and coming back through Esquelbecq meet Sgt Bullock who tells me I am in orders for leave. I am excited and can scarcely sleep for thinking of it.
Thursday, April 27th 1916
Make my preparations and at 5pm go to office with the boys and boards GS wagon to Hazebroucke. Stay in Rest camp all night till morning. Catch 6am to Boulogne. Very tedious journey arrive at noon and marched to Rest camp at top of hill. Told no boat till next day.
Friday, April 28th 1916
Hazebroucke Rest camp 6.30 to Boulogne in tent with boys. Sleep better.
Saturday, April 29th 1916
Up at 6am breakfast and all marched down to ship. Cross very happy and arrive at Folkestone. Entrain and arrive at London just too late to get 1.40 to Hull. Meet two sailors also Bayes and Gray of Vico battery.
Have dinner and get shave, wash etc. Catch 5.45pm after sending telegram. Food, on journey singing all the way. Hilda, Elsie and Will meet me. Hilda and I take taxi with Elsie and arrive about 10.30pm and greet Dad and Ma.
Sunday, April 30th 1916
In during the morning. In the sunny afternoon walked across the fields to Hull. Hilda pointing out to me where the bombs dropped in the raid. Called at 83 and afterwards at Wills for an hour or so. Afterwards we took tram across and walked old Sutton Lane home.
Monday, May 1st 1916
Sat in during morning but trained it to Hornsea in the afternoon and strolled by the sea and the cliffs when we saw the N.F. digging trenches and the guns mounted on the cliff. Walked to Mrs. Spirett and had tea then for another short walk and thence to Mr. Coates and had another tea and chat.
Trained it home at 7.40pm having spent an enjoyable day. Mr. and Mrs. Pocock called and chatted on reincarnation and kindred subjects.
Tuesday, May 2nd 1916
Call at 83 in the afternoon and have tea, and after tea Willie calls and we go to Lizzies for an hour or so till unfortunately the buzzers go and we are in a quandary. I put the street lamp out by climbing. Finally Hilda and I decide to walk to the station. We do so but no trains running. So we set off in a drenching rain and walk to Sutton. It was quite enjoyable and we chatted all the way. I helping Hilda along.
Found Mrs. Bradley sitting with Ma. Zepps been as far as Hedon but driven off but visited York and did damage. During evening at 83 Mrs. Birce and Mrs. Horn were there.
Wednesday, May 3rd 1916
Rather late up after our last night’s wet walk. After dinner Dr. Savage called and talked about him son in France. Dad goes with him to Hull and Ma and I and Hilda walked in across the fields, and later Hilda and I to Whitby for tea where Dad joins us all.
Go to the soldiers club on the Bev Rd baths and enjoy the concert. Go home by train.
Thursday, May 4th 1916
Go to Constable St with Hilda, calling at Mrs. Shalgoskey’s on the way along. Spend afternoon chatting with the family Charlie and Hilda at home. I bid them a sorrowful farewell at 6pm and proceed with Hilda to the station and home.
Go to Carnoks to see the family and then the Miss Barkers for a bath. Return home, last night with my dear wife.
Friday, May 5th 1916
Quiet morning. In afternoon Hilda and I lie down we hope for good luck. It gives me some grounds for it. Afterwards Rev Coleman calls to see me and chats.
Go into Hull by 7 train and call at Whitby. There we have a sing song and a good supper. Vic and Elsie go to station with us we catch the 11.25 train to London. Wait at Selby hour and half in the waiting room. At Selby see Fitson and his girl in the carriage which we enter.
Saturday, May 6th 1916
The four of us travel in darkened carriage to King’s Cross. Get breakfast there. Poor Hilda scarcely eats anything. They come to see us off and Hilda breaks down before she departs. I feel it sorely.
Arrived at Folkestone we go to YMCA till boat time. A good crossing, marched from Quay to another rest place till 7.30pm when we go to train. Fit and I talk and eventually sleep till train arrives at Hazebroucke.
Sunday, May 7th 1916
Arrive Hazebroucke 2.30am sleep till 7am. Breakfast in café, catch train and arrive 11.30am. Get parcel and letter. In a beautiful calm evening I walk out and write my diary leaning against a tree.
I think of home and Hilda and recollect how the poor dear little girl melted into tears when I left her. Her soul seemed full of scarcely suppressed emotion. What love must have been behind it all. It makes me sad, ah my dearest I love you who are so far away now. May God grant a speedy peace if honourable and a safe return to home and she. The quietness of the country is almost painful in its suggestiveness as I write.
Monday, May 8th 1916
On parade 9am taken to the range to shoot. 25 of us shoot. Bill Poynter shoots on my target and so I get one of my shots disallowed making me tie with 2 others 24 out of 25. We three, Denton Smith and I shoot off. I get 2 bulls and three inners to 1 bull of Smith and none of Denton’s so winning the 3 francs and championship.
Afternoon do the post with Denton and at 5-9 do Smith’s duty as he is ill. Very busy indeed.
I read Mark Twain’s “Tramp Abroad”. I always enjoyed this book. Also finish Lodge’s “The War and After” which I think very fine, his philosophical remarks being very apt and sound. It was always my opinion from the first that this war was due in the large respect to the teaching or misunderstanding of Metoche’s works. One remark of Lodge’s strikes me forcibly and is true to my experience viz. That early spring in its beauty is almost painful in its pleasure.
Tuesday, May 9th 1916
Shally and I take a class at the hut with Bullock not a too successful one. Finish early and have a snooze. After tea I go for a walk though slight rain is falling. Sit on a plough under a tree, the whole country is 1 vivid green and beautiful and restful.
I read Armstrong on Martineau’s “Study of Religion” and find it stimulating. The flight of an insect set me thinking of what its value and its immortality if any. I remembered Shiller’s remark that immortality would depend on the strength of memory and deduced from it many comforting reflections based on the affections of family life and their permanence in memory.
I watch the dark rain clouds drift across the evening sky and listen to the rustling of the leaves above blown by the wind. The air is cool and soothing.
Wednesday, May 10th 1916
Anyone who lives and basks in the sunshine of a noble life and song cannot fail to reflect somewhat of its glory. Similarly a person living in and realising the sunshine of God’s irreverence cannot fail to be a mirror of the Divine attributes. Experience teaches and confirms this.
The above was written as I sat under the same beautiful green branches as previously, the evening being a perfect one. I only did cooks mate today. As I walk along a beautiful lane I ponder upon “Authority of the Saints” and I see that the more a great man and pious is true to his light and to the results of his meditation with God, the more is his authority on spiritual subjects to be accepted.
I see no use in decrying authority of this kind and in so far as the church has been true, so far shall I accept its authority and dictum.
Thursday, May 11th 1916
Parade in helmets in morning. No duty. Walk to the single tree and sit and read Brierley’s book. The chapter on the “Divine Indifference” in which he points out that the laws of nature to be of utility and beneficence must be constant and unvarying and hence at times involve the destruction of men good as well as bad, suggests to me a thought.
It is this, if God suspended these laws in the case of danger to a good man so that water would not drown nor fire burn, then we should get the spectacle of men being “good” for what they could get out of it and religion even more than a present would be but an instrument of self interest. So we see the hardships and rigours of life safeguard a true manly faith and help us to “a fighting strenuous spirit” and yet made possible a faith based not on self interest but genuine love of God.
Poperinghe shelled. GDs Sig Office hit also ten GDs killed forty wounded.
Friday, May 12th 1916
Try on new respirators at 9am parade. Very good one, but they would not prevent the bleaching of the hair. On at 12.30 as check.
Domville goes on leave. How my thoughts go with him to England walk to the gates in the country and read JB and afterwards part of the New Testament. All this makes me more and more aware of the greatness, the suggestiveness of the soul and its life.
How am I developing. Is there any difference am I merely sentimental and a withdrawer from men and the world. If I am, I have good reasons for this. I prayed for help and guidance by a tree, for I am spiritually in need of help.
I have thought intensely of Hilda of home and England and pray that I might return to create love greater than I have heretofore shown. Nor do I forget my covenant re “Desiree” should we be so blessed.
Saturday, May 13th 1916
On at 7.30am rained hard in the afternoon. Have show at Zeggert Chapelle. Team of males got first prize. In the evening went a walk on the lane and along the railway part way. Returned and went on duty.
They say the machine gunners have gone to the Anzacs and the DMT are taken away and also that we are to follow the guards to south possibly to Armentières or Arras. Possibly we shall only be here a fortnight that is on this front.
Had a fair sleep and in the morning (14th) climbed to the top of the tower of the chateau and view the country. Had a nice letter from Hilda.
Sunday, May 14th 1916
After night duty cleaned myself and went through the lane to the plough, where I read “War and Culture” in the English Review. Reflections amongst others which resulted in this article Rawlinson says “culture of the mind is the result of the observations of nature”.
I can well believe it; I am intensely captivated by nature and its beauties and methinks surely some inner change must be wrought by a constant observation of and pleasure in nature. I long to pursue this course through my life to acquire through observation this poetry and intensity of soul and love of nature resulting in high faith and belief in a noble destiny.
Also I long to be able to teach, and direct a young life in similar channels and in a way experience has suggested. Will this avail before the counsel of the Deity? I cannot entirely think so for what of so noble a soul is Rupert Brooke and others who have gone under in this war.
Monday, May 15th 1916
After parade I laid down for awhile then rose and went out for a walk and sat on the plough reading the Baptist Times. I examined the structure of some flowers and regarded nature around me with pleasure. I wondered sitting there “how far the aesthetic and the love of the beautiful entered into my desire for God and a spiritual interpretation of nature.”
I reflected that when I used to go to the Unitarian Church, it was the quietness of the interior, the beauty of the hymns such as “I know not where the islands lift. Their fronded palms in air. I only know I cannot drift beyond his love and care.” Here imagination would picture islands of beauty, of palm and surf coupled with the beauty of the shore, the affections exemplified in the last line.
Yes, I should say beauty is surely one of these steps. Is there not also a “beauty of holiness?” (this written on the gate).
Tuesday, May 16th 1916
Not on at 7.30 as I am to proceed with Shally and S.E. Thompson to 60th Bde. Heard with sorrow that the new dispatch rider was killed last night through a collision and behind thrown under a thrown on Wormhoudt road. The wagon takes us to the 60 at Wormhoudt. Situate in a large building with considerable grounds get a card from Hilda.
I go for a walk in the afternoon towards Esquelbecq and lie down by the hedge, returning at tea time. In the evening go for a walk with Shally and Thompson to Wormhoudt. On at 9pm, a rather busy night. I come across some remarks by a “De Casseres” on Shakespeare his religion. From them I judge him to be a follower of Metoche. I disagree profoundly. I must get hold of a criticism of Metoche’s “Philosophy and Ethics.”
Wednesday, May 17th 1916
I get down at 3.30pm upstairs. Rise at 8.30am and go out into the meadow by the stream. Intensely hot, I lay down in the high grass and am quite hidden.
Wrote to Hilda and as I’m doing so Burdom comes up so I chat with him on various subjects including a story we both had read by A and C. Askew.
Lie down in afternoon and on at 5pm. Busy enough, a concert by “The Pyjamas” was held in the grounds but I listened over the phone to the band in the chateau grounds in Esquelbecq. Re-read the article on “War and Culture” which is simply immense.
Thursday, May 18th 1916
I wandered down to another meadow and sat down by the stream, undressed and washed and bathed and afterwards lay down in the sun. It did me a world of good. On at 12.30pm, I got a letter from home, someone has been telling her the war will last years yet!
Goodness! If it does, how am I going to make it? It is an exaggeration I should say. After tea walk to Wormhoudt and buy supper.
Tomorrow at 2am we set off for the line staying first night at Poperinghe. I heard we were starting a month’s bombardment today. Well I hope we shall be safely through strolled to the stream and sat on its banks reading JB.
A quotation it would do me good to carry out if I had more backbone “The supreme human achievement is to make resolutions and keep them.” “If a man cannot resolve for a lifetime, let him resolve for one day on the morrow his willpower will be all the stronger for the effort.”
Friday, May 19th 1916
Unable to sleep through sounder going below. Up at 2am breakfast and march with brigade to Poperinghe from Wormhoudt. Misty and cool early on but intensely hot later and the roads hard to the feet. The hops very green and growing finely. The Belgians everywhere putting up houses of mud and earths. The soldiers arrive Pop 11am and immediately go on duty. Our billet is not a bad one.
The grounds are lovely lawns and flowerbeds avenues of trees, ponds fringed by trees and bushes and here and there hidden by the foliage are statues or pedestals. Thompson goes back to Div as all are now to work two shifts.
Saturday, May 20th 1916
Spend much time in the garden lying on the grass and sleeping or dozing. The two shifts makes it hard work and tiring. I manage to get a sleep from 2am till 6am. On from 4pm till midnight.
Sunday, May 21st 1916
Wrote home and to Hilda no letters since hers of Monday. Had a good sleep from midnight till 8am but afterwards a rough day. I was on 9am continuously Shally went with the advanced party at 2am whilst I remained with the rear.
Had a stroll at tea time and then waited till the 59th came to relieve us which they did after 9pm. Our party sets off at 10.50pm feeling tired. The moon rises as we progress but everything quiet. Pass through Vlamertinghe and on to Ypres.
At the Asylum we are met by guides who take us to the ramparts. We go through the maze of broken streets and houses and never shall I forget the utter desolation and wreck which surrounded me. We stumbled rather than walked and eventually arrived 2am.
They had hot tea for us which we gratefully appreciated. Shally remained on duty. I kipped down.
Monday, May 22nd 1916
Slept brokenly, on duty till 4.30pm. I soon got on the bed but the boys made such a noise sleep was impossible till 10pm I got two hours and felt all the better for it.
There was heavy shelling in the afternoon. The square and Cloth Hall being the objects of attention, though many heavies smashed over the church just outside. Not much damage done.
Tuesday, May 23rd 1916
On at midnight, got very hungry and thirsty and nothing to satisfy them. Also I was very sleepy all night and could scarcely keep awake, dozing and awaking almost continuously. Not had I much luck off duty, for a bombing class came into the dugout and made a noise.
However I stayed until duty time at 4.30pm my letter arrives at 11pm, I was pleased to get it but Hilda gave me no information. I am very pessimistic. Read Russell’s book “Golden Hope” which I liked greatly.
Retired at midnight and had a fair night. I wrote Hilda but they refused my card of Ypres.
Wednesday, May 24th 1916
Relieve Shally at 9am. During morning I got a letter from Hilda and a paper from 83. The letter a good one but still not very optimistic. We can only wait and hope.
Another quiet day. The usual trouble with the piano so that I got no rest in the evening. Felt pretty washed out. Bob Darlington and I went to the moat for water. I went on at midnight feeling better than I really expected to.
Thursday, May 25th 1916
We set to and made a lamp burning candle grease to boil water on and made some ripping tea. This further bucked me up, so that I sat and wrote a long nice letter to Hilda. I hope to get a good one in reply and favourable too.
Afterwards write diary. I had some of the parcel which had arrived damaged. Spent day in bed. Till tea time. On at 4pm till midnight, a cheerful night with the boys “Milligan” I call one of them which is not his name.
Early this morning, a beautiful fresh sunny morning. Syd, Graham and I went outside and walked amongst the ruins of the church, but found no souvenirs.
Friday, May 26th
Letter from Hilda. Mother had a successful operation on Sunday.
Reflections on certain tendencies and defeats in myself. “Cannot I obtain a stronger mastery over myself! Cannot I marshal my forces though they are but scattered and feeble! Cannot I hold to a definite policy in the running of my organisation cannot I cultivate the habit of holding my nose to the grindstone?”
Whatever hope I have of salvation lies in this direction. If I weaken my forces by doubting myself, by questioning my ability to stick to a “moral determination,” can I not reinforce myself by determining to resolve on any desirable course” for only one day?
That successfully done I can meet the morrow with a sense of duty discharged and an intensified will. This is possible but to do it I need increasing vigilance so that when the enemy arises and makes an attack in “mass formation” I must summon up my resolution “to fight for a day.” If I win it is “one to me” and ready for the next.
Saturday, May 27th 1916
On at midnight, while away the time by making tea. Very slow and sleepy night. Sleep till dinner and get a couple of hours in after 5 to midnight. Very tired.
War and Prov RJC says “what is now happening is the inevitable outcome of the ideals by which we have been living”. Holding as we do that the more of this worlds goods we could heap up to better and that physical wellbeing was the first of all considerations no wonder we fight to get and keep.
Germany has outdistanced us in this view of life and its meaning. And by the law of the good God all this has recoiled on itself and is destroying itself as it always must in the end. The possession of a spiritual nature implies religion and religion we must have not only as the sanction of all that we feel to be great good and beautiful in our total experience but as the very soul thereof.
It is often maintained that the artistic temperament can exist with religion just as morals can and do, but the answer to that is that neither of them ever really does. The artistic can wallow in sensuality but it is bound to feel the thrill of transcendental mysteries or it would not be itself.
Beauty is the external thrusting through into the temporal and always elusive. He who sees beauty sees God, though in a glass darkly.
Sunday, May 28th 1916
Before going on duty I laid in bed and listened to Judge playing some hymns and enjoyed them.
Monday, May 29th 1916
Germans shell us heavily and also Poperinghe. They dropped about 130 shells there. They also sprinkled all the roads in the neighbourhood.
Tuesday, May 30th 1916
This morning received a disappointing letter no luck again. I am determined to be satisfied yet. Poor Hilda she is very upset herself. I have got a cold coming on.
These two shifts are too much for anyone and the blackness of the billet is very depressing. Very heavy bombardment this morning, some few casualties. They shelled Pop too.
On at midnight make tea and when dawn comes I go outside to the church and get some marble for a bible, if ever, I get it made. Feel very off colour indeed. Get no sleep. After tea I sat in the wireless hut and talked with one of the boys who is from Hull, living in Beresford Ave. But now we have hope and strong, thank God. I pray that no harm now befalls till the consummation arrives.
Wednesday, May 31st 1916
Restless with cold in head, and the heavy bombardment outside. On at 4pm. Terribly slow night but I got a better sleep after. The bombers went over on a raid at 11pm but with what result I don’t yet know.
Thursday, June 1st 1916
Feel a bit better after a sleep. Aeroplane flew over Pop and dropped bombs. Talbot house suffered and some horses and a groom killed. On all night.
Friday, June 2nd 1916
About 9am enemy commenced heavy shelling of Ypres, not safe to go out. Many great shells burst with awful crash just outside our dugout. Brennan wounded going to latrines. I was going at the same time but desisted owing to heavy shelling, consequently I missed the burst of shrapnel.
Shelling continued through the day not allowed in the streets. Germans attack Canadians and Shropshire’s.
Rumoured they captured Canadian trenches. Also rumour of naval battle.
Great excitement, am feeling tired and not very brave. Think things are impending many wounded coming in from the fight. I think of Hilda and home. She will think of me I know when she hears of events.
Saturday, June 3rd 1916
Hear of the great naval battle for the first time. It first savours of a disastrous fight from our point of view. Very busy on lines all round. Things rather quieter but still exciting enough.
Sunday, June 4th
On midnight. Things generally quieter. Canadians won back lost positions and confident. Intermittent bombardment. Very tired out during night.
Reading Huck Finn, it is fine. Off at 9am and sleep uneasily till dinner time and tea time.
Wireless press gives Churchill words on naval fight off Jutland. Bad for us but worse for Germany, is the summary. Down at midnight.
Monday, June 5th 1916
Anniversary of our wedding day. Four years of married life. It has been happy in spite of ups and downs and separations. I hope the future will compensate for present disappointments. Early this morning was a rather heavy bombardment posted to “Sunday Chron.”
Tuesday, June 6th 1916
Some shelling during night keep things expectant. Shally gets message proceed on leave, lucky chap. Kilcorn comes up in morning. Shelling grows greater.
Germans attack our line but driven out by Shrops. Some anxiety about Canadians. Latest naval news gives German loss of 20 vessels. Hear Russians offensive started against Austrians taking 14 thousand and guns. Wounded German brought it late at night.
Things very quiet which suggests a rough time in the future. Cannot help thinking some serious movement by Germans hereabouts. Close on midnight German prisoner brought in wounded. Says they have in some of last reserves and much gas in trenches.
Things quiet, but an ominous quiet. Hooge gives German advantages, expect fighting today or soon to regain. No further confirmation of the K of K rumour. Good news from Russia 25 thousand men and officers and 27 guns taken in Galicia.
Evening still quiet. Had a decent supper. Received a letter from Hilda. She agrees to The Special Time idea. May try it on Sunday night. Sat on bed and discussed the war the Kaiser and Revelations with Farr and Judge.
Thursday, June 8th 1916
6am. After quiet night Germans shelled considerably, falling just outside causing great concussion and fall of debris. 5 men hurt front of ramparts, damage to gun position apparently aeroplanes.
Very busy. Likely enough today will have to pay for yesterday’s quiet. Still no confirmation of K of K report, maybe German lies. Mr Balfour definitely give North Sea as a victory for us. Sleep till 4pm then on. Gas still hanging round, eyes very sore and throat irritated so that cough is aggravated.
Russians taken 41 thousand prisoners. K of K report unfortunately confirmed. This morning we had to rush or rather grope our way with tear blinded eyes to the funk hole for a time till the severity of the bombardment had waned.
The last pinnacle of the church brought down by enemy fire. 200 shells outside our dugout. Farr very funky.
Friday, June 9th 1916
4pm-midnight find “Freckles” and read it. It is great. Get a fair sleep again. Hear we are to move tomorrow but what time do not know. Things fairly quiet. Hear Brennan now in England and going on well. Wonder how Shally is enjoying himself. Russians still going strong, averaging 12 thousand prisoners a day.
Saturday, June 10th 1916
Spend the evening of today packing up. Dodge about till 12.30am and then march through desolate Ypres. Fortunately no shelling. We lose our way to the train and try to stop transport.
At Flam we got with a good natured driver who takes us right to Pop. Get down for a few hours. Wakened by Venning at 7.30 and go on duty.
Sunday, June 11th 1916
8am-3pm shift. Go out for much needed shave and shampoo. Have a little walk in the evening but very tired. Return and go on duty at 9pm an awfully sleepy night. Scarcely can keep awake, not allowed to sleep which is absurd back here. Get a little sleep in the morning. Russians now taken 72 thousand prisoners and naval victory greater than ever.
Monday, June 12th 1916
Had a ripping night’s sleep and wake up all the better for it. On at 8am but too lazy to write. Russians still doing grandly now, 106 thousand prisoners and nearing Lemberg.
I work at my souvenir a bit. Wonder if it will be good for anything. After tea go with Keohane and Burrows to pictures, quite enjoyed them. The other Burrows been drunk two days and creates disturbances in the billet. Today I finished reading Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter a most enchanting book.
Tuesday, June 13th 1916
Received two zero message re 1.30. Evidently an attack. Later 2.40 hear Canadians achieved their objective whatever it is. Took prisoners. Later I hear that our boys took part in this fight and a great part.
On the left they sent over gas and attacked successfully. In orders our division was complimented by the GOC Canadians for their valuable help. In this evening I went to the pictures with Burrows and Keohane very decent. On at 9pm.
Thursday, June 15th 1916
Was informed that I am being relieved at 60th by Rimmington. Impossible to sleep so go to baths, first time in 5 weeks. I decide to go with Shally to the new camp. Travel there along with the boys in the lorry. The camp situated off the road in a sweet little wood mainly of oak trees and oak bushes. The green huts look very picturesque nestled against the trees but I notice a few suspicious shell holes near our hut.
Hear we are again returning to Pop as this camp is within the zone of enemies 5.9’s. I am sorry as this is such a sylvan spot and would have constituted a holiday.
Friday, June 16th 1916
Woke this morning at 11am after the first night’s sleep for a long time. Shally and I slept together. Go on duty at 2pm I have both brigades on my line and have a rough time.
Shally writing many letters. When off at 9pm we go to the hut but not to sleep as we fondly imagined. Soon after 10pm the Germans sent gas over to the Canadians and also shelled. Evidently they thought we were bringing up reinforcements.
We set up an awful and effective bombardment lasting all night. Lizzie just behind us shook us to the foundations making sleep impossible. On at 7am we are informed by orderly.
Saturday, June 17th 1916
Very busy day in the office until 2pm. Pack up and go by lorry. McKnight had a fright a shell dropping near our hut. They shelled the wood this morning evidently trying to find Lizzie.
I am told that I go on night duty at 9 tonight. Captain said this morning if “things got too warm there was a nice ditch outside.” Cheerful!
Sunday, June 18th 1916
I got down from 3am upstairs along with Sykes. Had a very good sleep till 7.30am. After breakfast I lay down for a while but couldn’t sleep so spent a time with my brass work. Had a walk with Shally to the wagon lines, whilst there I collected an 18 pounder case for the base of the candlestick.
Had some cream for tea with the fruit Hilda sent me. At 9pm told to sleep upstairs again “because the Skipper won’t have all his eggs in one basket.” In other words if one lot of operators gets killed another lot will be available.
Monday, June 19th 1916
Good sleep which I really needed. Touch up my shell case a bit before going on a 12.30pm. Russians still going ahead. They have now got Czernovitch. Trouble seems to be brewing in Greece now.
There is some talk of developments taking place on our front soon. Hear Lt Reynolds wounded in the hand and Guy in the chest. The latter rather seriously. Millership also wounded. No doubt that the ramparts is a decidedly hot corner.
Got letter from Hilda. Poor girl! Seems to feel the monotony a bit. We must hope for some compensation after the war. Went to Canadian cinema with Shally and Venning.
Tuesday, June 20th 1916
On at 7.30am. Had a good night’s rest. Quiet morning Welsford on artillery. I give him some practice. In the afternoon I took my shell case to Mahoney to get it cut. In exploding cartridge cap for me Fitson hurt his finger.
After tea Shally I and Venning went to the pictures near the station. The Div band played and all together a good show. Send Hilda a card and at 10pm carry out the plan. Shally and I got down at 10pm but sleep slow in coming.
Wednesday, June 21st
Shally and I went for a nice walk out parallel to Elverdinge. Road through the hop fields and wandered round some quiet spots, one a tall avenue of trees running between dykes. Lie down for a while and then return and have a rest in the afternoon.
Friday, June 23rd 1916
7.30am-12.30pm and 9pm-7.30am Shally and I get a sleep in the afternoon and go to the pictures in the evening. On at 9pm. Our turn down at 3am. Make tea.
Saturday, June 24th 1916
In copying the orders regarding pay, I put Saturday instead of Sunday and consequently at YTR and wagon lines they parade wrong day. Captain says I must walk to these places and explain and thinks that will be enough punishment. Bet I don’t go all the same.
Go to the baths in the morning and have a snooze in the afternoon in the town hall. Do not sleep there on the termination of duty though I think it is a quieter place than the ordinary billet.
Sunday, June 25th 1916
On rations in morning, fine day and enjoy the walk to the dump. Whilst there see HRH Prince of Wales who is visiting the dump. He is on the staff of the guards. Seems very quiet and pleasant but not very robust looking.
12.30pm-5pm. Get paid and have hair inspection. Some of the boys with long hair have to wash the room out as a penalty. Shally and I go for a walk in evening. Pop seems a bigger place than I thought. Wander into the suburbs and lie in a field. The day beautiful and still hot at 6pm.
Hear something doing tonight. Later can hear an intense bombardment apparently preparatory to a raid.
Monday, June 26th
This morning hear 59th raided enemy trench at C29 successfully taking 6 prisoners and quantity of papers and loot. Corps commander congratulates 59th for “brilliant carrying out of carefully laid plan.”
Sorry to hear Coleman of 59th who was a hard worker was killed by machine gun fire and Hollands wounded.
Tuesday, June 27th 1916
7.30-12.30pm walk around to the wagon lines in the afternoon for my new smoke helmet and for my parcel.
Wednesday, June 28th 1916
Syd Crawley gave us a gas lecture in the morning which was interesting. He amused us by saying “above all don’t get the wind up, keep cool” advice like that from Syd is laughable. On at 12.30-5pm.
Call and buy some views for home then go to the Canadian pictures. In today’s report it says we are demolishing St Jacques Church Ypres which is near the Brigade at the ramparts. About time too. I shall always have recollections of that place. It was a danger spot.
Thursday, June 29th 1916
7.30am-12.30pm. Both have an hour’s sleep and feel better for it. Go to the station cinema where there were some excellent films. Return and go on duty.
Told we must not go down as there is a strafe on and the biys are going over on a raid. So we all stay up at midnight till 2am. Zero was at midnight.
Friday, June 30th 1916
No raid took place last night, but the Germans were very nervous sending over many shells. Have a sleep for an hour.
Sunday, July 2nd 1916
7.30-12.30pm. Reports to hand of British advance on front of 18 miles. 4th army and French army take part. Successful Sir Douglas Haig sends congratulatory telegrams.
Lie down in afternoon and do a bit of exercise too. Go for an evening’s entertainment at the station cinema. Many Belgian ladies there. We have to go on duty instead of take class tomorrow. Rather glad. Shally and I get down 10pm.
Monday, July 3rd 1916
Doing two shifts so nothing exceptional to report.
Tuesday, July 4th 1916
12.30 to 5pm – go to the fancies picture hall in the evening and before bed have a sing song. Sykes, Shally and I. Over progress is good on our front. Got letter from 83, they are now at Bridlington. Bernard cooks Division is in the push.
Wednesday, July 5th 1916
7.30-12.30pm. We get a pass for Brandhoek and in the afternoon which is pleasant we took the Ypres road and journeyed nearly as far as Flam turning then to the left but could not find the Hull Heavy Bty. Still it was a pleasant walk. After tea went to the Canadians and saw the Willard-Johnson fight.
On duty at 9pm. Gussy and Fat Brammer amuse us. Get a new man who has been at Gallipoli.
Thursday, July 6th 1916
Down at 3am until 8.30. Shally and I go for a walk around Abele Rd and across country to Proven Rd. Have a bit of excitement crossing a ford. Then we had a four course dinner and enjoyed it very much.
Have again got those hateful insects and tried to exterminate them. Think they came in the washing. On at 5pm. Our army and French making progress. Latter near Peronne (2m). Germans throwing men away.
Friday, July 7th 1916
Marking exam papers for Syd. Raining heavily in the morning. On at 12.30pm.
We go for a walk in evening round by the switch road and enjoy it. A really beautiful evening.
Sit in the grounds of Talbot house garden and also read a magazine in the ease of a hammock under the trees. The Yorkshire trio sing until sleep time.
Saturday, July 8th 1916
7.30-12.30. Corps say good news coming of German retirement on whole Russian front as a result of 3 German defeats. So far no official information or intimation. Our losses in the first push seem to have been heavy through MG fire. Walk to QM stores in the hot afternoon.
Return to tea and afterwards go to station cinema for last time this stay as Shally and I are to go to YTR (advanced headquarters) tomorrow. On at 9pm get first turn down. Letter and parcel from Hilda.
Sunday, July 9th 1916
Sleep well till 3am. Make tea which the boys enjoyed. Later Bentley says we must walk to wagon lines and then take transport for our kit which we leave at wagon lines. Shally and I walk to YTR.
He goes on at 12.30. I have a snooze in afternoon having had little nights sleep. YTR situated at a farm amidst typical Flanders scenery. Feeding and sleeping good. Office work rather worrying.
Have an enjoyable walk up to hospital farm with George Lee, sit under trees. Chat with him. On at 12.30pm, rather busy afternoon. Shally and I have another wander round in the evening which was glorious being bathed in sunshine, the sky blue and white with fleecy clouds. We watched an air dual, many aircraft being about.
Returned through the fields of corn splashed with blood red poppy and blue cornflower. During the night our contemplated attack was a failure owing to a premature smoke bomb. Enemy est trenches and shelled us heavy. Our losses large and attack unfortunately a failure. RCM bolted to the unfinished dugout during the bombardment of Pop.
Tuesday, July 11th 1916
7.30-1pm write home and to Hilda. Very busy indeed. Have a sleep in afternoon and a good walk through fields. On at 9pm. Germans been shelling Poperinghe heavily, send over a hundred in many duds. Still doing heavy damage. Our wires suffer as a shell knocked the corner off the signal offices along with the wires attached.
Wednesday, July 12th 1916
Have a sleep in morning and in the afternoon Lee and I go for a walk round the fields and watch one of our heavies replying to “Percy” the German gun in the tunnel which shells Pop. Here they damaged Pop and killed 2 Captains and 3 other Officers – still 17 out of twenty shells were dud – that is didn’t explode.
5-9pm RCM Smith dives for the dugout, his nerves are awful. Actually they had a band playing in the square in Pop whilst shelling. What brains! Or care for troops.
Thursday, July 13th 1916
Have a fine walk with George Lee round the fields of corn gay with poppy and cornflower. Back by road. Everything quiet. 12.30-5pm very busy. Comes on to rain heavily so stay in, with the 6th Div boys. Joe makes us laugh with his endless talk and arguments.
I go across the fields to the farm and get supper and chat with R G Arnan who says he will find out about the 146th Heavy Battery for me. He is most optimistic about our artillery and its superiority. Germans shell Pop again. Heard we caught a spy behind our new 9 inch guns arranging haycock as signals.
Friday, July 14th 1916
Hear 60th left us for destination unknown. Early on Percy started on Pop and later on enemy. Shelled Vlamertinghe unmercifully and until evening every half minute all transport held up. Our planes went up at tea time and one in particular crossed the enemy’s line under heavy fire. He returned and our 12 in started registering.
Away went the plane to see results and returned when our gun fired again. This happened five times and no reply from Percy. Nor has Percy been heard since. Later a Taube came over our lines. On at 9pm busy. Syd, Sergeant gone to HQ to move office to new camp. Too hot in Pop. Had supper at the “dugout”.
Saturday, July 15th 1916
Too busy to get sleep, owing to removing of wires at HQ. Taube came over at 4.30am and though heavily shelled bombed Poperinghe with what damage I do not yet know. Later, the damage of the bombs was nil. They fell outside the town. Very little sleep in the day.
Sunday, July 16th 1916
Up at 4am pack and cycle slowly to wagon lines. Very beautiful morning, promising a hot day. Hear Percy was put out by our 12th gun, certainly he has not fired since.
I am told to take cycle party to Esquelbecq. Rough and hard journey, my bike very stiff so that I am done up at the end. Stayed at Waton on Belgian border for something to eat.
Many fine girls going to church. Sykes runs into a dyke and I walk a good way. On duty at 5-9pm. New office. Happen to get a bed for the night. Our troops are doing well cavalry getting on the go.
Monday, July 17th 1916
Told we have the day off so I went into the meadow and along with Graham and Mitchell had a bathe. In the afternoon we laid on the grass in the sun. I wrote letters home. Am told that I take duty at 9pm all night we have a very busy time. I am on with Syd Crawley. He is Supt and I am register keeper. Kept going till 2am when I get to sleep.
Tuesday, July 18th 1916
After duty nothing doing except that in the afternoon I found a cosy place and the shelter of the hedge and there had a sleep till 4pm. Night fairly quiet strong rumours of our moving to the Armentieres front someday this week. Already one brigade is there and I hear another is going tomorrow.
Not much rest this time. It seems as if the big push was extending to us. In bed had a long chat with Yorkie of Pontefract.
Wednesday, July 19th 1916
Am doing 12.30-5pm. Went to Gibson to get shell case done but no tools. After tea went for a walk as Shally was 5-9pm. I walked to the old place by the tall tree and read the Hull Times. After this I got up and walked still further up by the lane almost to Wormhoudt.
Then I returned and sat myself against the tree. Tonight is perhaps the last time I shall see dear old Esquelbecq with its old castle and precious memories. Was it not from here I went on leave and wrote so many of my reflections? Tonight is calm cool and beautiful.
All around nature is most bountiful. Great fields of dense corn above whose tops I see a lighter fringe of tree tops backed by a dark green mass of immense trees and behind which is Esquelbecq. Farewell sweet Esquelbecq of sweet memories! Tomorrow perhaps I go to another place but none which can have better associations.
I took out dear Hilda’s photo and looked earnestly at it tonight. I thought of the old courting days when she looked her love at me through tear dimmed eyes and I too gave her of my love. I hope to arouse on her such great emotions in the future.
Saturday, July 22nd 1916
Slept from 4am till 7.30am. After breakfast went into field and lay down near the hedge. There is a grand view across to the hills, the country being very fine in various greens. Had a walk around the town after dinner with Shally.
We have now discarded all superfluous kit and are ready to travel light. Is it marching? Get a card from Hilda. I wish I was back to Blighty with her.
Sorry to hear Captain Whitby was killed on the 10th. I always had that fear, for infantry stand so little a chance. I wrote Hilda and a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Whitby.
Sunday, July 23rd 1916
After tea I was going to the cinema but found it closed so I went into the YMCA and there a recital was to be held at 7pm. So I sat down, the recital was given by a Mr Alexander an elderly man. He was fine giving selections by Barry Gould – The Building of St. Sophia – Dickens Flight of Smily – David Copperfield.
Ocean Waif from Clark Russell. The Garden (or title similar) by Rudyard Kipling – It was great and I enjoyed it immensely and could have wished it longer. Foulke and I walked round the town to get something to eat but all places were closed. Met Buxton and O’Neill and wandered round and finally persuaded Madame of Pastry Shop to make us some coffee. Then we went home to kip.
Monday, July 24th 1916
Pack up and go and get a decent dinner with the boys and return. At 2.30pm we set off, I being in the marching party. We put our kits on the wagons at the end of the first mile otherwise we could not keep up with the columns. After that we marched well, singing and joking.
It was after 7 when we arrived at Hondeghem, we put in around a farmstead and had a good tea of Bully pickles and much tea. I bagged some backed beans for tomorrow. After we kipped down the glee party, i.e. Cooper, Shally, Self, Condie and Davidson, sang and kept things lively thereby arousing the ire of the Boy Sgt who threatened us with fatigues next morning. He did this but we didn’t do the fatigues not half!
Tuesday, July 25th 1916
Slept in the barn well enough. Up at 6am. Packed and marched to Cassel station where we loaded the wagons and embarked. Travelled rather quick through fine country in the usual cattle trucks. I sat or laid near the door and enjoyed it. Arrived Douelens a place situate in a valley about 7pm.
Evidently a brewing centre, but a fine little place, very much more French than the northern places we have seen. Also evidently more prosperous. We walked around and got some tea. Slept in a rest billet with a 104 wire beds in we’re about 20 miles from the firing line here but we move tomorrow again.
Wednesday, July 26th 1916
Parade at 9am. Clean the wagon lines then walk round town and get dinner. At 2pm pack up and travel on wagons taking turns at walking with Thom behind. We go a good 10 or 12 miles through country very much like Salisbury plain and dist.
At 7.30pm we arrive at Louvencourt and put up in the grounds of the great chateau. The grounds are like a park. Search for a place to sleep as billet unpleasant. Find a place under some bushes where were plenty of leaves and shelter. Great cannonading like that of September 25th was going on. We are now in the region of the great push being nearest to Gommecourt.
Thursday, July 27th 1916
Late on duty as we slept well under the bushes, although it rained we were quite dry and comfortable. Got a nice letter from Hilda during the morning. The day being hot we went out into the park and slept till 5 o’clock. Should have been on duty all night but Bentley told us to go to the 61
Brigade who are in the village of Bus, as a matter of fact only quarter of a mile away. Look around for a place to sleep outside again, the billet provided was too dark and smelly. Find a convenient tree where S and I make our kip. In the dim nightlight I look through the leaves and branches at the sky and listen to the guns. Did not sleep over well.
Friday, July 28th 1916
Up at 7.30am and went on duty for a few minutes. I packed up my things and fell in with those marching. We set off, the day was terrifically hot and we walked through slightly undulating country, very open and with no shade from the intense heat. However the journey was not more than one of 3 miles.
We reached it about 10am, a very interesting though deserted village our billet was in a priest’s house. There was a fine library and a magnificent garden at least twenty times larger than ours at home. I also wandered through several other houses, all bearing marks of ill usage and depletion.
Our dugout was a cellar under the priest’s house, the beds were taken from the houses and in some cases the boys had got very good articles of furniture. They also got white shirts, counterpanes and ladies underwear.
Saturday, July 29th 1916
On duty 9pm. Our batteries and 12 in gun having been active the enemy retaliated in the early morning with heavy and shrapnel. They sent about 20 rounds over, searching all the village and confines. Some splinters fell quite close. A little later we heard 2 officers who had slept out against orders were killed and six men wounded.
I did not get any sleep, being busy writing letters home. Our line man told me of Billy Poynter’s death at the base hospital. I had not expected it, thinking he was getting better. I felt very sorry as Billy was in our room 56 at Woking.
Slept a little in the dugout and wandered around a little in the afternoon. On duty at 4.30pm little doing. I finished my letters. Had a very comfortable bed.
Sunday, July 30th 1916
Wandered about during a brilliant morning. Spent most of the evening discussing the distribution of medicos in the poorer and richer districts, with Cpl Smitham. I spoke for State Service. He dissented, saying the valuable bedside manner would be lost, also urging the unfairness of coercing the medical faculty. I suggested what about the unfairness the poor have to suffer now.
After the debate I climbed to the attic to watch the trenches in the distance. The Germans sent up very lights scores at a time. George Coates asked if I would share his bed. I did so, but wished I had not. He was very restless and I did not get much sleep. Had a cold bath this afternoon.
Monday, July 31st 1916
On at 8am. Spent the morning discussing with the boys. Having much fun with Matom and Coates. I also read “Daddy Longlegs” by Jean Webster. I cannot say how much I am charmed by this book it has possessed me.
During the afternoon Smitham and I rigged up the broken hammock with a large fishing net. Completed it after tea and spent the evening reclining in it. He in one end and I at the other carried on our medical discussion and further discussed the desirability of personal inquiry in spiritualism. I took the affirmative he the negative.
It was very enjoyable in the cool of the evening smoking cigarettes eating sweets and discussing. But Fritz started shelling so we descended. About 10.30pm Curtis and Smitham saw a signalling light from a barn across the road. A rapidly disappearing figure retreated and they pursued but he was too quick and Curtis fell into a shell hole. It was reported and all units informed.
Tuesday, August 1st 1916
Germans shelled us for 20 minutes. The Brigade Major and signalling officer and others came into the cellar. It seems a sequel to the spy’s signalling. George tells us of his sweet hearting adventures. From 2.30am I had off and on sleep till 6.30am after breakfast I went over to the barn and inspected the spy’s haunt. A broken down barn with an upper floor, a ladder leading to the tiled roof was what I saw. A broken tile gave a view over to the enemy’s line, a dixie blanket and fragments of food were also evident. I tried sleeping in the hammock but they commenced shelling so I went in the cellar and stayed there till 2pm. During the evening I finished reading “Daddy Longlegs.”
Wednesday, August 2nd 1916
Started reading “They and I” by Jerome. Find it very interesting.
Thursday, August 3rd 1916
On at 8am. Just as I got on duty the Germans started shelling and dropped one near and one right through the mess spoiling the staff’s breakfast.
Spent some of the afternoon in the hammock. After tea went with Shally to the canteen. Going on duty at 9pm I saw the last traces of a glorious sunset as I passed up the path and through the Orchard. The sky was a pale green until close to the horizon where it shaded into the deepest purple. The green was slashed with bars of crimson. The whole effect was a very delicate one. I thought how Hilda would glory in it and in the wealth of blossom and foliage abounding here.
Friday, August 4th 1916
Had a fair sleep in the morning another hot day. Very busy during evening as evidently something is to materialise later. The church was surrounded a spy being suspected there as the clock had been altered. It turned out to be the work of Officers. Still this was the church where spies had communicated by means of the clock.
As I came off at 9pm our guns had started severe bombardment and the Bosh was replying on our trenches. I went to the attic and watched the intensely absorbing scene, but it must have been hellish there. Scores and hundreds of lights red green white and yellow lit up the country. Great biting flashes betokened the belching of the guns whilst the busting shells were like some fiery will-o-the-wisp on wings of electricity darting here and there. Out of nothingness they seemed to come and as suddenly return. The earth shook with the intensity of the shocks.
Saturday, August 5th 1916
On at 1pm. I finished what I thought a very funny letter to Hilda. Finish reading Jacobs’ “Odd Craft”.
Sunday, August 6th 1916
8am on duty, spent my time when not working in drawing sketches. In the afternoon I went into Renards house and sat by the window drawing the countryside. Tried to get a little sleep before tea.
Went for a walk with Shally to the canteen at 7pm. Shortly after 9pm heard that 3 Sgts of the MGC had been killed playing with a dud anti-aircraft shell, another was injured.
Much fun was caused in the office through Division asking particulars about the German dog which came over to our lines. He was small, black had no tail and was well fed. Fond of dugouts and answered to Fritz. Has he been sent over as a spy or is he inoculated with some disease? Several such dogs have come over lately. I never knew until today the Yorkshires’ Airedale had gone over to the German lines.
Monday, August 7th 1916
Off at 8am I got no sleep as all was bustle getting ready to move. Early dinner over I lay in the garden writing up an idea of mine. I glanced round a charming garden and surrounding which we were leaving looking with regret at them for the last time. Somehow or other they seem tinged with romance to me.
It was 6pm before we left marching almost individually. We passed through rolling country like Salisbury plain and through Courcelles finally entering a more hilly track entering a valley whose hillsides gradually steepened. Up a steep side lane we went on coming to Corgnent and at the top found our encampment amidst the trees and bushes. I really got quite lost finding our tent. The thunder of the artillery was absolutely intense and continued so all night.
Tuesday, August 8th 1916
Spent a rather restless night in the tent. It was cold. After cleaning and breakfast I walked down into the tiny village for purchases. Returning, I strolled out to the hillside and there sat and wrote this diary.
It is a hilly country like our Yorkshire Wolds with valleys and dales well wooded. The encampment where we are is amidst the bushes and trees. The bushes are a veritable maze being anything from a few inches to 7 feet in height. Amongst these are dotted our tents. It is a sunny warm day, the never-ending roar of the artillery being the only un-peaceful sound. Pale blue and hazy is the sky with scarce a cloud, only the faintest white being visible.
Wednesday, August 9th 1916
7.30-1pm in the office. Still very hot day. At 9pm I went on and started writing my long letter to Hilda and home. I told her the egg story I had made up and several other interesting things. I had got a very nice loving letter from her.
I went outside and saw a string of white lights ascending to the sky, this occurred 3 times. I do not know what it meant. Artillery busy. The moon was well on the way to setting behind the trees in a flood of silvery light which showed up the widely extended skyline where plain and heavens met. It was lovely and cool. I only got two hours sleep.
Thursday, August 10th 1916
There was no sleep for me as they made a deal of noise playing cards. I laid about till afternoon duty arrived, it was so hot. An eventful day.
There was another grand sunset. The sky was mottled with white and gold clouds, very small, this was in the higher reaches. Nearer the horizon the clouds were feather shaped one huge cloud being like the feather of a quill pen. Purple on the upper and gold on the under edge. Still the same old gambling until 1am. It has thrice accursed.
Friday, August 11th 1916
No sleep in morning although I tried to make up for last night. Hear we are being relieved. Limber comes for us and we proceed to Couin which lies about 2 miles away on the hilltop. The small picturesque church is at the top. I get a share of a tent in the fields with Skelton of SC.
I go into the dell where is a running stream and have a swim and bathe after tea. Then sat on the hillside and sketch and admired the hilly wooded countryside.
Skelton and I had a chat about Scarborough when we got laid down. Had a parcel from Hilda. They have again had raids at Hull with damage.
Saturday, August 12th 1916
On 8.30 parade. Very hot sunny day. We cross the stream and climb over to the opposite hillside and set up a heliograph and flapper apparatus. We do some interesting and good work, across the valley. It puts me in mind of Scarborough racecourse and the view across to the Yorkshire Wolds.
Bathe after dinner. We went out to a different direction and signalled across. The boys went for another bath and after tea I with them. Then went to the canteen for biscuits and made some jelly. After lights out I had a long chat with Skelton on Scarborough festival. He tells me interesting things about the dances.
Sunday, August 13th 1916
Church parade at 9.45am. Rev. Bulstrode hits out about attendances at holy communion. He wonders what it is that keeps men away. I wonder too, what mixed motives act and in what proportionate strength. It seems an interesting psychological phenomena to analyse. I am aware in my own case of mixed motives actuating in this matter of religion. Ought one to go to a service of which the rarity he is not certain? Yet I have felt a benefit and nearness, a spiritual comfort from the service. Then the knowledge that repentance for the past cannot be constantly maintained. I know I cannot live the ideals implied when again in a worldly environment.
After tea went out through on wood and perched myself overlooking fields and country and wrote Hilda. As I returned the sun burned dully an orange orb amidst a ruddy murky glow as of a furnace fire seen through smoke. Purple patches of cloud were detached by a strong light breeze and sent scurrying across the sky.
Monday, August 14th 1916
About 3am it rained and I had perforce to take my hip pillow and put it across the entrance to keep out wet. During the day we did flapper signalling. The evening being wet I wrote Hilda a little and tried to sketch. The rain ceasing I went to the wood and wrote dearly (it is very much finer now as I write). Had a splendid conversation with Skelton on chemistry and kindred matters.
Tuesday, August 15th 1916
On parade at 7.30. Go across to chateau grounds and put down 1 x signs for aeroplane signals. At 9.30am aeroplanes came over and signalled a.k.a. with Klaxon horn and immediately dropped a red yellow and black streamer with attached pocket containing note and messages. I caught one of these.
In afternoon it rained torrents so I wrote home. After tea I went to St Leger with Skelton. Coming back we saw some comic boxing arranged by “Smithy.”
Wednesday, August 16th 1916
Packing up QMS stores all morning. Finished letter home and posted. Nothing on in the afternoon so Skelton and I have a pleasant walk to Pas 5 kilos away. Pas is in another dale and nice quiet village.
Saw about 200 German prisoners under escort. Queer shaped heads they had, some were not bad in physique but others only moderate. Got a nice tea of tomatoes grapes biscuits bread butter and coffee.
Walked slowly back, talking most enjoyably the while. I went out to the ridge on return and wrote this diary. Shall be sorry to leave here. The hillsides are dotted with haystacks which look like ladies in crinolines from a distance.
Thursday, August 17th 1916
Up at 4.30am pack up tent get breakfast and go with the ration wagon for the rations. 8.30 the column started off. I got on a cable cart for a good part of the journey. We went through the same hilly picturesque country and the villages of Sarton, Tharienx, Terramesmil to Beauval our destination.
I wonder if Beauval is a contraction of Beautiful Valley. It should be for it is a beautiful valley. Went round the village which has a glorious church. I got several letters from home and Hilda. After all we are not to move tomorrow. Where are we going?
Friday, August 18th 1916
Parade 9am. Told to unload lorry. Afternoon do nothing. Pay at 6pm I climbed the hill out of Beauval and turned to the right by a road circling the town on the hilltop. Met a French boy and chatted with him. Walked back to his farm, had supper nearby and again took the road till I came to a prominent mound and from this I would see the church tower and spire rising about the hilltop and trees, also the mausoleum of Charles Saint, a grand domed building in white marble.
More than anything did the scene remind me of Salisbury and especially of that night when Hilda and I walked to the hill overlooking SA. What a grand and glorious aspect can I now see. In the gathering mist I can just discern the wide plains for many many miles around. Oh it is glorious. It is superbly fine. There is that kind of a silence one can almost hear. I do not wonder a Frenchman loves France.
Saturday, August 19th 1916
I did not sleep much, there being the usually rowdiness after pay. Last night after coming into the town I saw a huge crowd of soldiers on the church steps and noticed they were watching an AJC Cinema. I stayed till 10pm. This morning it rained hard, I was detailed for the lorry.
Had a row with Rimmington over rations. The lorry proceeded through the usual fine country for about 30 miles to Treaux where we set up an office in a beautiful park. The river Ancre flowing through. Shally and I fix a bivouac. After tea we all went for a stroll to Ribemont to the canteen. 9.30pm we returned to our hut which unfortunately I set fire to so we had to go into Bearn’s hut for the night. It was very cold there.
Sunday, August 20th 1916
During this morning which I did not know was Sunday I fitted up a new bivouac, with double bed and wooden floor. The main body arrived at noon. I went in the office at 1pm till 5pm. Heard we are going to Fricourt and that Divisions hereabout have been much cut.
Last news being that we lost 3 divisions taking Thiepval Ridge, an immensely strong position however. After tea I found a woodland bath. Through cornfields and by the side of the Ancre to Ribemont. Coming back I sat by the riverside and wrote this diary. A possibility of us moving tomorrow. Hope not, we get plenty of it and not much stay in one place.
Monday, August 21st 1916
On duty in office until dinnertime. When move with party in lorry to the next place. We go through Albert, a place which has been shelled. The figure on the church tower has been struck and made to hang sideways over the thoroughfare. We stay at forked tree I am on duty all night on registers.
Tuesday, August 22nd 1916
We have a rough night on duty. I get two or three hours down. Find 2 Francs on the floor.
Wednesday, August 23rd 1916
Shally gets a fine bivouac on the hilltop for we two for the 24 Div opr. I am on duty as register keeper taking over from the 24th. Everything in a state of chaos. Cannot make any headway. In afternoon we go to the hut and put things there.
During the evening I bath myself and change. Make supper and go on at 9pm. A glorious view over to the lines. Can see Mametz Wood. The trees standing up like sticks devoid of leaves devastated by fire of artillery.
Thursday, August 24th 1916
Rotten night last night on register. Off at 8am. I go to the hut. Shally has to go to the crater with Sgt Abbott. Bearn comes in the hut with me.
A wounded Bantam of HLI. Slight in hand. We take him in let him wash and give him a kip and supper.
Saturday, August 26th 1916
This diary entered late (31st) so I forgot any items. Late at night I have diarrhoea but take chloradyne which does me good.
Sunday, August 27th 1916
On at 8am. An awfully busy morning. Not feeling well at all. I went to the hut and laid down. I asked Bearn to report me sick. Later 10pm Bentley said I had to go to the MO at once so I had an awful job wandering across the trenches and muddy ground. He tells me I am run down which I really do feel.
The guns firing heavily all night.
Monday, August 28th 1916
Go to the M.O. again he takes my pulse and gives me the day off. I go and lie down. Very many cases of diarrhoea and dysentery, some cases going to England. Bearn tells me of the sights in Trones Wood which are awful. I went wandering round the trenches looking for candle grease to burn.
Tuesday, August 29th 1916
Go to MO gives me medicine and duty. I go and lie down until dinner. Eat the tongue. Bentley comes to tell me to go on at 2pm. Hear Taverner killed by shell and Peart wounded. Nothing to be found of Taverner. Peart lost a foot.
Germans send a weak bombing party over but they quickly retire on our opening fire. Several shells come over during night. We lose one or two balloons. Rumania declares war against Germany, also on Austria.
Wednesday, August 30th 1916
On at 8am. Promises very dull. Just before going off at 2pm it rained torrents. Syd let me share his cape up the hill but still I was wet. Made tea and got down but after an hour went to tea. After tea made a paraffin fire till 9pm.
On at 9pm it fined up somewhat but still very muddy and damp. Operations are off owing to it all. Chatting till some of the boys get down.
Hear Lt. Maltby died from wounds, Darlington Smith wounded. Henderson blown from limber by shell but unhurt. His mules ran away.
Bearn goes to take place of Peart of 59th. Ha Shally shelled out of his funk hole.
Thursday, August 31st 1916
Sorry to hear poor old Peart died of his wounds yesterday.
Saturday, September 2nd 1916
Off at 8am. Sleep till 2.30 then brought on duty.
Relieved at 4pm. Pack up and go to 60 Brigade at Breck Alley Carnoy. Find a dugout but couldn’t sleep till 2am. 61 come in from line, but have to go out to the line at 8am to Bernafay Wood.
Sunday, September 3rd 1916
Golding goes on duty at 11am and carries on. Bombardment commences and later the 59 and 5 Div go over and gain most of objectives. Hear we are at Guillemont and Ginchy but later lose latter place. At 5pm we are told to proceed to Bernafay Wood to reinforce at once.
One battalion wiped out, Munsters and Leinsters reinforce. Many wounded and prisoners straggle back down roads. A wild stormy night as we pass. Enemy barraging road to left. Many dead stenching mules and horses in road.
Reach Bernafay at 8.30pm and go into deep German trench. Arrive at the dugout, a very deep one, 30 feet, but small. No accommodation for sleeping.
Monday, September 4th 1916
The whole of Guillemont taken and then held by our boys. Heavy firing all day. Enemy counter attack drove us out of Ginchy but in the evening after a tremendous bombardment we took Ginchy. Enemy used all kinds of shells. One of the orderlies killed taking messages to front line. No sleep possible.
When off duty the only thing to do was to sit on the stairs steps and in that position try to sleep. In this whole period we got no more than 6 hours sleep. Poor Carter of Division was killed by accident, being killed by one of our own guns of which he got in front of.
Tuesday, September 5th 1916
Very little sleep again. I got 2 hours in the damp floor of the dugout without any covering whatever. All the others too were lying about similarly. Last night with three others we tried to sleep in the shelter on the wood side but Fritz shelled heavily killing 2 mules and several drivers not 10 yards away. I was for leaving the dugout and diving to the office but the others thought the attendant dangers greater than the remaining. But a shell hit a tree just behind us and exploded, covering the ground around with phosphorescence and lighting our dugout and faces with a greenish light. That decided us so we cleared.
Next morning I looked and saw the tree had literally saved us. I did not think we were coming unscathed out of that night.
Wednesday, September 6th 1916
Up at 6am and pack. Turning out a finer morning and hot. Breakfast, but cannot get away to time as Fritz starts bombarding heavily. Watch the great bursts over the batteries and finally go below, as things get rather warm. A shell hit a bomb store and made a great explosion, but no damage done.
At 11am we start off heavily laden and stumble along. We get away quite safely however and land at Carnoy at tea time. Am wanted to go to Fork Tree to Division but get off it as am quite fagged out with exertion and want of sleep.
Thursday, September 7th 1916
Quiet day here until 2.30pm when we leave Carnoy for a good 3 hours march. It is awfully hard work marching with full kit and we are fit to drop on arrival at Luton Town, a rural spot in the dales where are many cavalry. Get quite a decent kip in a wooden hut for the night. Sleep well after recent experiences.
Friday, September 8th 1916
Set out from Luton Town with our full packs again. Very hot and tired, we have several rests but are quite done up in arrival at Corbie. We arrive just as the band is playing. It seems a nice little town, full of troops. There is a very fine large Church here. Inside there is a piece of “Vern Croix.”
Saturday, September 9th 1916
A fine hot morning so Owen and I went down to the riverside and washed and talked and then returned to the digs. After tea we stroll around and stop to talk to some ladies in a house and to whom we give some grapes.
Sunday, September 10th 1916
Walk down to the Church Service. Brigade there, all that was left of them that is for they suffered heavily in the recent fighting. After service the General congratulated the troops on their devoted work. They gained glory he said in the capture of Guillemont a task not done by several Divisions who previously tried. Today, he said it will be a red letter day. Turning to the Signals he said “You have done extraordinarily well and have worked hard.”
Rested in the afternoon, but in the evening went to R.C. Church with Burns.
Monday, September 11th 1916
Up at 6am and after breakfast the section marches away in a hot sun, along the road where the German Prisoners are working. I talk to Burns on many matter war, religion and physical culture etc. We have several halts, but after a round halt we are made to walk quicker, which tires us.
We arrive at Meaulte about 2.30pm, fagged out. After tea go for a walk around. Rimmington joins me here. In bed I have a long talk with D.B. on Roman Catholicism and devotion. Very intensive. He is not very bigoted either – has some very sensible remarks on penance and confession.
Get a letter from Hilda and Mother, Mother again ill and has to undergo operation on Wednesday.
Tuesday, September 12th 1916
This morning had a chat with Owen Burns on physical culture. He quite sets me off with the intention of taking it up on return to the civil life again. After dinner go on duty. Walk around the village in the evening chatting on the usual topics with Burns.
Go into the Church and look round. Back to billet and bed where I chat with Owen B on spiritualism and Religion and other interesting subjects. The Irish lad from Jarrow is very interesting and intelligent and kindly and affectionate.
Wednesday, September 13th 1916
Still at Meaulte though it cannot be long before they move us up to the front. Nothing to write of except duty and a little pleasure spent in the usual way.
Thursday, September 14th 1916
Hear we are to move tomorrow along with the 61st Brigade, the latter at first into the line. Big things evidently coming off. They seem to require the 20 Division. They give us little rest, what with marching and duty.
We are all looking forward eagerly to a period of rest after this affair. It is badly needed by our boys and indeed all of us. Sleep is a precious and rare thing. Got a parcel and two letters from Hilda. Dear old girl.
Friday, September 15th 1916
Look round Meaulte finally in the morning. After dinner we again set off heavily laden in the hot sun to our first objective. Reach there quite done up. Pass great concentration of troops on the way.
Saturday, September 16th 1916
We left the Citadel after dinner and carried our full pack which nearly made me collapse. Really it is most inhuman work on little sleep and food. Pass through Minder Post and German prisoners and go right through Carnoy finally stopping by the hillside where 61st Brigade were. They go up to Trones Wood in reserve.
I am sat by a telegraph pole, working an instrument till 5pm. After a good tea Burn and I look around and find a comfy dugout and make a fire. Later it starts raining so we retire, though we expect being sent up any moment. Poor Burn has to go out during the night. 61st have been quickly into the fight. The armoured cars did great damage I hear.
Sunday, September 17th 1916
61, badly cut up in attack. Sunday and I didn’t even know it! We were awakened about 3.30am and told to get out, kit on. It was raining fitfully as we slipped and stumbled along the hillside through Bricketerie and past Bernafay Wood and through Trones Wood. The litter of battle was almost indescribable.
Finally we settles near a reserve trench, cold and hungry. Set about looking for somewhere to sleep and erected a structure with Burns help. The whole wide area is churned up soil of crater and hillock.
Some very gruesome sights of dead men fearfully injured and half buried. We are ordered to move up to the line in support of 61st at Guillemont. More gruesome sights en route. Of Guillemont there is no trace. It is only a name, one with the desolation around. On duty.
Monday, September 18th 1916
Midnight-8am I sleep. Very tired indeed. On again t 8am. Rather busy day. Very wet and fearfully muddy. Everything a mass of desolation and a sea of mud for miles around. Trenches feet in water.
The boys fighting hard everywhere and pushing the Germans back with terrific fighting and artillery work.
Our losses are heavy. Many German prisoners coming in. They show a great disposition to surrender.
Off at 4pm. The mud is hatefully sticky – the dugout very wet and muddy. Chat with Burns and a Stockton boy. Interesting chat on girls and other interesting subjects.
Tuesday, September 19th 1916
Midnight-8am. Passed rather quickly and well. Recovering from my fatigue alright. Spend the day in bed and actually have a good needed shave and wash. Felt much better for it. On again at 4pm.
I’ve been reading “Many Cargoes” by Jacobs and enjoyed it. Just before I went off Fritz started shelling around and dropped one above us. I was going out of the trench I splashed about to the dugout which I couldn’t find. Slept very well.
Wednesday, September 20th 1916
My birthday. Fritz celebrated it for me by shelling all around and making us feel uncomfortable. I took out newspaper cuttings by Miss Stead and Sir O Lodge. Hear we are moving today. Shall be truly thankful. I suppose today at home they will be thinking of me, much as I am of them. Off at 4pm.
Spend evening in dugout, talking and waiting for relief. Damp, cold and hungry. Fall asleep a little while. Later wakened at 3am. Fine but a wilderness of mud around. The air thick with gas from shells which make our eyes stream. All the slow laborious struggle in the dark and mud and shell holes to Trones and Bernafay was a test of endurance and we were fit to drop.
As we got to the corner of Bernafay Montauban Fritz shelled the road. Unshaven damp cold hungry we crawled to Citadel and arrived there 8am.
Thursday, September 21st 1916
Told on arrival we must give a relief at Citadel Exchange. Rimmington and I object with result we are excused. Spend morning in bed, in the afternoon clean ourselves and at night we all crowd, 15 or 16 in the tent. Sleep awfully cold.
In letter from home hear Willie is full Lieutenant in the India Marines. Six pounds per week and all found also ration money. He is in the RE’s and will go to Mesopotamia both on land and sea service.
Friday, September 22nd 1916
This morning very fine. I got a letter and two birthday cards from Hilda, very nice ones too. She is sending a parcel, mother has undergone another operation which was successful but she is weak.
Pack up and at 11.30am set off for Ville sur Corbie. A weary fagging walk. As usual Brace loses us and takes us a long way round. We nearly done up arriving at 3pm. Hunter and I go out for coffee and get into a row with Brace.
Not on duty today. Sleep with old Burn and chat with him. Take it easy in morning and lie down in afternoon.
Saturday, September 23rd 1916
In the evening of today I went out with Keohane and Burns. We called at the RC Church and spent half an hour in devotion inside. The quiet holy atmosphere was soothing to me and I worshipped thankfully and in gratitude for a safe return, not forgetting the home folk – on return find Rimmington and I are relieved. Rimmington had gone but I meant to stay the night and return in morning. Sleep with Bobby and chat with him sorry I had to leave him he is such a good sort.
Sunday, September 24th 1916
Up early, dress shave and breakfast. Get my kit on and walk the two kilos to Treux. Meet Shally, go draw stores and am detained loading QM stores. Dinner 11.30 then we walk to Div baths under a hot sun.
On duty at 5pm. Sleeping with Shally again. Today had a letter from Hilda also papers.
Monday, September 25th 1916
First I am told to stay rear party with Shally, then although I should have remained I am told to go forward. Pack up again and travel with the Company in column to the Citadel. Feeling very tired and fed up with marching.
Put in hut. Get down to sleep early but very cold. A party sent off by lorry to Briqueterie. Hear we got Combles and many prisoners.
Tuesday, September 26th 1916
Early this morning an Irish Brigade marched through playing pipes and shouting their war cry. Up early and march with the column to Bronfay Farm. Just get a decent place there, am told off for fatigues and again told to pack up for the Briqueterie as a relief. Get there by lorry and have to unload and so on duty. On the Corps wire with any amount of work and working badly. Ten pm when relieved, very tired.
Wednesday, September 27th 1916
No sleep as the heavies behind us are firing hard all night keeping us awake. Go in to the office till 10am when we close down and pack up, more heavy carrying to do. A party sets off to walk to Bronfay Farm.
Fine morning, Fritz shelling Bernafay and the corner. See two great columns of light smoke rising, hear they are two ammunition dumps of Fritz we exploded.
Arrived at Bronfay but no lorry to take us back. Farleigh and I get a bike but mine had no brake, Farleigh and I nearly knocked over by French car. So we walked to Forked Tree getting there near sunset, fed up and tired out. Get some needed tea. Had no hot meal for three days.
Thursday, September 28th 1916
Last night we made a tent of wagons and covered and secured a place for Shally and self. Slept well but up at 6am and pack up. Raining hard I get two letters from Hilda just before we set off. The lorry went a roundabout way and it was afternoon before we got to Div HQ in Bernafay Wood.
Get a decent corrugated iron dugout and in a deserted dugout got a trestle bed. Have to help unload. On duty all night I am told but arriving there at 9pm no wire for me so I get a night’s broken sleep the guns were shelling.
Note as we came round Bernafay X roads Fritz put a shell or two over only just after we got round. Rather fortunately.
Friday, September 29th 1916
Walk round the wood a bit of way before duty at 2pm. On at 2pm and very busy. I constructed a candle stove from a German smoke helmet and used some Birthday chocolate as cocoa. Another rather restless night owing to shelling.
Enemy aeroplane came over and bombed Carnoy, killing many horses. As I lay in bed I thought of home and Hilda and many serious and happy things.
Saturday, September 30th 1916
My night on all night. I got first turn down but it was awfully cold and I did not sleep well at all. Up at 3am whilst the boys get down I finish writing my letters home.
Sunday, October 1st 1916
This afternoon I and 3 others, Condie, Benning and Domville stroll through the woods, but saw no souvenirs to speak of. The wood has been cleared of the traces of the fight. Overhead there was an aeroplane fight whilst around us all our guns were booming.
Monday, October 2nd 1916
Hear today we brought down another Zepp on London. Better than ever!
Our artillery this afternoon commenced a heavy bombardment. Could see a lot of Fritz shell bursting at the side of the salient. Very busy night up till 9am.
Tuesday, October 3rd 1916
On at 8am. Same routine. Car goes into Mericourt to fetch us isolated beings stores. Sit writing and talking to the new Doncaster boy who has been having a hard day laying lines near Flers.
Fritz shelling the crossroads hard. Hear he has caused some casualties. So long as he doesn’t send any here we may remain calm. Yesterday our artillery flattened over Le Sars and Le Transloy absolutely apparently we’re about to try for Bapaume-Peronne road.
Wednesday, October 4th 1916
The Doncaster boy departs for an advanced station as linesman, but as Brammer is coming from YT I have no doubt the place will soon be taken up. Quiet evening before going on, sewed buttons on and rested. Busy till 1.30am my turn down at 5am. So I go to hut and sleep very well on the floor till 7am.
Thursday, October 5th 1916
Up at 7 for breakfast but get down again 9-12pm. Everything still normal and quiet though anytime we are expecting to have a try for Fritz before we go back. Rumour says we go to another front. I should like to believe this for this is awful trying work and conditions.
Friday, October 6th 1916
Busy morning as usual with artillery work etc. Brammer came from YT and is now digging in with Carlton Self and Sykes. Nothing much to report anyway. Received a few provisions from Maricourt by car.
Brammer chatted with me about his girl and Sheffield and also the girl at Hull who he knew (lived at Marfleet). I soon dropped off to sleep as did he being tired. Yet I slept rather restlessly.
Saturday, October 7th 1916
Our boys were congratulated by Div, Commander took three hundred prisoners. On at 8am. Not quite so busy. Heavily bombarding Fritz prior to going over. Our boys go (20th) over and take all objectives. The other Divisions do not do so well. Ox and Bucks lost heavily as also did the Yorks especially in officers.
Sykes was on observation post work with Captain Gilbey and another Officer. The other Officer went out and found his cousin had been killed in the advance. I have to stay on till 4pm at this end of the post.
In the evening Fritz shelled us though he was evidently trying for the Montauban-Carnoy road which he traversed end to end. One landed by our cookhouse and Condie’s dugout where the German bombs are.
Another in the road no damage luckily by the former. The latter killed mules and drivers so I hear. Brammer and I have lobster supper and cocoa and rum before going on at 9pm. Letter from Hilda.
Sunday, October 8th 1916
I get down at midnight but do not sleep. Up at 4am, we are heavily bombarding enemy, who through the night had retaken part of his lost trenches. I could not sleep any better late in the day either and went on at 2pm fagged out. From then till 9pm the room was packed out with 6 Div me 56th and ours which made our constant work harder still.
I had a good little parcel from Hilda so had the choc cake, cream and cocoa for supper, Brammer and Sykes partaking. In bed have a smoke.
Monday, October 9th 1916
Awakened at 6am and told to go with party at 7am, but what with breakfast and packing up, this was a tall order. Therefore we did not get off but helped to pack the dynamo till Sgt Bentley was ready, then we went across country and down Carnoy valley through much mud to Minder Post.
Arrived then found no transport, so decided to walk to Treaux. However we met a lorry and got taken as far as Fricourt and then boarded another. With us was a Derby man fagged out, he only being in France three weeks and had been over the top.
He was optimistic about our chance, said German only had a shallow trench. At Meaulte we got off and walked to Treaux. On duty on register at 9pm.
Tuesday, October 10th 1916
With chaps, I get down at midnight but very cold indeed. Up at 4am and at 8am relieved. No sleep in morning so I got up at noon and had an afternoon stroll along the river Ancre bank to the canteen at Ribemont and sauntered back. Had prawns for tea, then Shally and I walked down Buire to the little cinema on the hillside.
Enjoyed a grand little affair all the boys being very jolly. It was a beautiful moonlight night and was very captivating. Arriving back found a lot of the boys “merry” especially Farleigh. In order that two yr. men can wear long service stripe.
Wednesday, October 11th 1916
Took a walk down the riverbank and sat against a tree and wrote to Hilda. I had received a nice letter from her two days ago. Very loving as usual. How happy we should be if I were at home. She also sent me a nice parcel.
Pay at 2pm. I got another letter from Hilda this afternoon. She says Willie has gone to India and has signed on for 5 years. I am sure he is not happy at home.
Hear we are to be addressed by Corps Command this week (Earl of Cavan) for our great deeds and on our leaving his Corps. What honour!
Rumour has it that we are leaving this Somme front and are going to Bethune. I don’t half hope so. Am longing for decent opportunities and rest. Shally gone to Brigade. On at 5pm tonight.
Thursday, October 12th 1916
I slept very well and in the morning went to the Div baths at Ville, came back and did a bit of washing (of a sort). Also wrote this diary.
Heard this morning that tomorrow 72 ours bombardment of Bapaume and Peronne by British and French respectively takes place. Hope we have luck but at the same time so long as we remain at Treaux we are liable to be sent up there again.
Friday, October 13th 1916
Quiet morning in the office off at 1pm. (Went to the canteen). I went for a walk in the country along by the Ancre bank and had a little snooze. Returning after tea I went to Buire to the cinema and returning laid down till near 9pm.
I got down with Darkie and slept till 4am, then up and made cocoa for self and the boys. After breakfast I went along the bank again but it was cold and windy and overcast. Laid by a tree behind a lot of hay. In the afternoon we had to clean the billet out. Went again to the cinema after tea and then return and to bed.
Saturday, October 14th 1916
Off all this day till 5pm. I forget what I did do this day as I am writing this diary nearly a week after in the cemetery at Vignacourt. However it was the eve of our move to Corbie which took place next day Sunday.
Sunday, October 15th 1916
Left Treaux with the column and in company with Sykes who sat on the same cable cart as I did. Very cold windy morning. We passed a lot of prisoners on the way along arriving about 2pm. Sykes and I got places next one another in the long low ceilinged billet. We drew blankets today, a much needed luxury. After tea walk round the town and listen to the band a while.
Monday, October 16th 1916
Walked round the town in the morning and went into the old Church, admiring the stained windows and other items. The heraldic devices on the windows gave me the idea to adopt one for myself and to incorporate it in my proposed room.
I felt impelled to be a little devout though it seems a vague sort of a want, without direction. On duty at 1pm, had an easy afternoon. Sgt Bullock leaves us for England another one of many changes in this ever changing company of ours.
Had a short walk round but was soon in and in bed reading the “White Company” and chatting to Sykes. I intended writing as I had received a nice letter from Hilda, but Sykes did not want to write and he was going to enclose in mine.
Tuesday, October 17th 1916
I do not do the morning shift as Gussy wanted to, in order to get out of medical inspection so I took a stroll along the waters of the Corbie canal and noted the great tall trees and many pools bordering its waters.
After dinner I laid down a while and after tea Sykes and I went into the square to hear the band and also we walked the canal bank and discussed marriage and ideal love as affected by second marriage is.
I was on at 9pm and from the start had a very rough time which continued through the night.
Wednesday, October 18th 1916
Had an awfully worrying night and practically no rest. Operation orders came in at 1am. I lay in bed most of the day but at tea got up and cleaned and went to near the band with Sykes. We afterwards walked down by the silent canal in the dark and talked about our girls and Blighty.
I advised him on matters “de la coeur.” I think he intends writing his girl to be engaged, a thing which she apparently wants. I also invited them both to Hull “après le guerre.” Home and to bed.
Thursday, October 19th 1916
On very early, raining very hard, travel with the cable carts from Corbie round Amnem through Allouville and to Vignacourt arriving there 6pm having had little to eat and nothing to drink. Wander round the town with the Captain and Town Major finding billet for us.
Also we had a struggle finding the cookhouse. Finally got tea and kipped down with Thompson, my kit not having arrived. All night it was intensely cold so that it was little sleep we got. Thompson had the toothache too.
Friday, October 20th 1916
After a very restless cold night got up and shaved and breakfasted. I took out “The White Company” by Conan Doyle and walked past to the village outskirts. Seeing the cemetery and thinking it promised as much quietness as anywhere, I walked around it noticing the very fancy names of French words.
What a loving sunny and glorious morning and my heart was full of musing of the dead and tokens of love around me. I seated myself on a tomb and read my book and as I read I could hear the heavy bombardment miles away. These words at the end of the book seem strangely prophetic appropriate to the present.
“The sky may darken the clouds may gather and again the day may come when Britain may have sore need of her children on whatever shore the sea may be found. Shall they not muster at her call.” That time has come and the place again France and the boys, the good of boys and England have not been found wasting.
Saturday, October 21st 1916
A most beautiful morning, cold calm and sunny. The column moved away, I marching blithely as I looked around at the smiling countryside. The road took us down an avenue of trees and was strewn with the golden brown of the fallen leaves. To the right the fields gently sloped till they met the plantation, that clothed the ridges.
About 11.30am we arrived at Belloy sur Somme and after a little difficulty got settled. Strolled around in the afternoon and sat on a grassy bank in the sun. I like the prospects very much. After tea Sykes and I walk to the next village and back. I was on duty at 9pm and had a rough night.
Sunday, October 22nd 1916
I got down at 2am but was up at 6am. As it was Sunday, Sykes and I decided to go to Church, we did so and heard a good address and some hymns which we ourselves chose. After this Sykes and I returned to our conversations and walk. I remember we talked of Ted Carrick and his love affair. I put my bed down with Grimsey this night and slept very well indeed. Had letters from Hilda and wrote her one but only posted on following Wednesday.
Monday, October 23rd 1916
Not being on until 5pm I went for a stroll to a near field and nestled myself into a haystack and there wrote Hilda and mother. I had it in my mind to find the Somme river so after dinner I strolled across the village and found a road to the banks.
The river is fairly wide and fringed by deep pools prolific of reeds and rushes. On either bank lies the low hills with frequent villages visible mostly by the Church towers. I looked around and then sat by the pool and read my home paper which I always enjoy. Returned at tea time and went on duty at 5pm.
Tuesday, October 24th 1916
A very wet morning indeed dark and damp misty conditions promising rain. Still thinking it better to be out I went to the woods I explored yesterday and finally found an empty shed where I sat and read Marcus Aurelius I had borrowed this from Rim. Now I sit and write my diary up.
What do I think of MA’s writings and philosophy? I scarce know as yet. I must weight it up. His fiery outburst of man and universe is materialistic yet both are intelligent. All is flux therefore, all in time is resolved to the original fiery ether.
I may be able to agree that everything is in the last resort fine ether materialistic if you will, as Hyslop seems to think, and get that portion of it we call ourselves may be or may attain stability, hence we could be immortal with the stoics would not admit.
I fancy some tendencies of modern philosophy may be capable of harmony with stoicism viz. The panpsychism of James and the philosophy of Lechver.
Wednesday, October 25th 1916
Slept in the morning and in the afternoon walked by the Somme. Sykes and I had a very short walk after tea but were too fagged out to go far so we returned and lay down. I wrote a letter to Miss Stead re her article in the weekly dispatch.
I read a little of Marcus Aurelius. There seems to me to be much that would commend itself to one’s reason in his writing. Yet I cannot but think the lesser ideals of Christianity would have made his belief more logical. I like his definition of true prayer, to pray that one may have a condition of soul that would make petitions almost unnecessary.
Also one should not expect gratitude for good actions rendered that being in the nature of an usury. The story’s philosophy is a lofty and high one and if one could keep his principles to hand and ready for occasion one might be much better always. Yet there is one golden rule that would affect this with the carrying of many precepts and it is the Christian golden rule. I myself fail pitily here however.
Thursday, October 26th 1916
I had a very rough morning in the office and was glad to get away from it. Despite the wet I took a walk to the woods and enjoyed the greenery the strong sunshine which at times broke through into the vale and illuminated a brilliant rainbow. I and two other boys collected some apples. After tea Sykes and I went to Yzeux, on nice little walk of about 2 kilos.
There was some disturbance with McKnight and that other curse of money gambling. I read my good old Hull Times. There was some good things in the Church column, one being on religion as a passion, a fusion of intellect morality and aestheticism.
That is quite true also there was an item on socialism and religious teaching. If socialism does really truly stand for those things of negation then I shall think Dr Martineau was more than right in his opinion of regeneration, being affected from within rather than on the lines of socialites Sunday Schools.
Marcus Aurelius had more true knowledge on this subject than some of our moderns.
Friday, October 27th 1916
This morning windy, dull and intermittent rain. I lay down a while and read the Hull times, then arose and walk to Yzeux to the Church. Here at this moment I am writing my diary in its saintly quietness and charm, above and in front of me is a ceiling of blue and gold. Like my room is to be.
As I came along the winding road, strewn with the fallen and falling leaves of autumn I look to my left. The ground fell away gently through field and meadow till in the distance it reached the low marshy ground of the river. Steely blue shimmered the pools studded with the dark green islands of rush and on the farther side the noble stately little hills gradually rose to complete a picture of arresting beauty.
No wonder one’s mind is religiously biased if natural beauty is aesthetic, a quality common to religion, as has been said. I lay down in the after and went on in the evening. I had to stay two hours after time as Gussy and party were drunk. Sorry to hear Wellsford has been killed.
Saturday, October 28th 1916
This morning I sat in and wrote what appears at the end of the diary under this date. I intend writing it to mother. Self expression though difficult is a good thing for the mind I find a deep pleasure in it that contrasts with the distaste of the experience when I have to perform some of the “practical” things of this life.
Went out and down to the woods again and revelled in the self expression of the Divine around me. I turned aside to a path climbing gently upwards, slowly I walked the narrow beaten track running through the myriad spots of green and brown leaf covering the ground.
On either side of me were the slender and tall trunks still dressed in vivid green, their upper branches interlaced in a verdant canopy. Little patches of moss clung to the mounds on base of trees and in many a place groups of fungi, dark brown or lemon and orange lifted their tiny domes and running along the ground and aspiring to heaven ever the tendrils and leaf of Ivy.
The sunlight danced in many a glittering patch along the way or illuminated the sea of foliage on either side this side of nature.
Sunday, October 29th 1916
Wrote home and Hilda in morning. Had a little rest in the afternoon. Bill and I went to the C of E service and after a walk. On duty at 9pm my orderly rather troublesome, especially Crawford, I cannot really like him with his low moralities and his nasty temper.
Yet should my philosophy make me to be practically indifferent and not provoked? Had a little sleep from 1am-6am. Had a letter from Hilda who seems a little depressed having received no letter.
Monday, October 30th 1916
After night duty, went to Amiens with Bill. Seems a grand place, typically continental. Rain commenced and spoilt things to a large extent. Went round the glorious Cathedral. As far as I have seen them in England our Cathedrals scarce seem to come up to Amiens. The stained glass impressed me. The rich carving, were sand bagged round for the Hun often visit Amiens, with us planes.
Walked round the shops and tasted the French pastry. Some of the French girls are very pretty in a different manner to English girls. Pale cheeks, dark hair black or brown eyes where our girls are mostly fair. We came home by 6.18pm. Platforms crowded with French soldiers going on wiring on leave.
Some few English. I bought a picture of Amiens Cathedral and sent it home. During the morning saw the ruins at Picquigny Germans advanced as far in 1870.
Tuesday, October 31st 1916
“Through art one’s souls will soar amongst the stars. Through one’s passions will descend to the nethermost hell.”
Nor is it any good to say that the admiration and love for the glorious figure and the dark or fair flowing locks, the blooming cheeks or flashing eye is also a love for art. It is true, but it is more and it is the more that requires to be guarded against. Never has the love of pure art melted down a man’s soul, or failed to give him a feeling of nobility and high dignity. The feeling of serenity and peace. But with the love of woman as art, there is also the overwhelming sense of sex and here lies the temptation and danger.
What can save a man?
Wednesday, November 1st 1916
Today we travelled from Belloy via La Chausee and Picquigny to Cavillon about 6 or 8 kilometres. It was quite a nice journey, the morning was sunny and the view back to Belloy and the roll of the hills beyond the Somme was inspiring. What struck me most was the effect of the white houses with their red capped roofs.
These looked charming from a distance. It is quite difficult for me to express my feeling, as I viewed the hedges and woods as we passed. I was quite happy and sang, some of these were hymn tunes of Moody and Sankey.
Arrived Cavillon a tiny village. The billet not bad but being all together I fear rowdiness and drunken scenes which I hate. I am told I am on night duty. I see no signs of shops anywhere.
Thursday, November 2nd 1916
Lay down till after dinner. Wishing to in the fresh air and amongst the delights of natural beauty I walked forth from the village to spot I had already earmarked as we came along yesterday. I entered the woods and sauntered here and there finally following where the sunshine was strongest.
I came to a part of ground strewn with sticks and found a log. Placing this against a tree I sat leaning back in the direct path of the sun’s rays. After a heavy downfall of rain it was now glorious. All around the trees were riot of browns and greens with one great tree to my left a mass of golden brown.
The sunlight played on its leaves, its branches and trunk a black tracery against its golden glory of foliage. Overhead the sky was now a clear calm blue. Into the sunny brown of the tree came two huge billowy and snow white clouds.
Everything was very peaceful now all was quiet save the distant caw of the rooks. To me the cawing of the rooks spells delight. Somehow I am reminded of Rolston Hall, Hornsea and the time Fred K and I were there. Just now I looked above the branches bore leaves of bright green whose outer edges were crisply tanned. Beyond ink blue.
Friday, November 3rd 1916
Played a little footer in the morning but as I am writing this on the first Monday, I have quite forgotten any other incidents. However, as I write now I am sat upon a pile of faggots in a half cleared place, silver beeches are all around me and the ground at my feet is all moss covered and there are also many tiny strawberry plants. The wind is quite fresh in the woods though I am sheltered a little here. The sun is putting up a great attempt to keep shining in spite of scurrying white clouds across a very deep blue sky.
Saturday, November 4th 1916
I had another walk round about and enjoyed the sun and the breeze and the wealth of trees around. I was on duty at 1pm and had a busy time until 5pm. After tea Bill and I walked to Oissy down the hill, where the village is situated on the banks of a tributary of the Somme.
We talked of his girl and a girl he had at Poperinghe. The latter he seemed much infatuated with. Also present he seems put out with his own girl and psychologically speaking he seems rather unstable at present. As he is young the fact is explained. Had a letter from Hilda who is at Tipton.
Sunday, November 5th 1916
Wrote H and home. A clear day for me. I walked out to the woods again and found new baths and clearings. Sat against the tree on some dried leaves and read the Hull Times. I noticed an article on the Holderness Farm Colony at Sunk Island for ex-soldiers.
This fired my imagination in conjunction with what I had read in “Land and Water” by T.W. Rolleston. The latter article dealt with the peopling of the land in a scientific manner. As regards myself I have always had a longing for the land.
Farmer appeals to me, office life certainly does not. There are drawbacks no doubt but what satisfaction there must be to live in nature, to work with her and to see the results of your labours. At the same time gaining health and strength.
Walked in the afternoon but stay in during the evening. A rough windy day. Boring at night. Added on later at end of diary for this day. As I walked through the narrow forest path I was struck by its beauty and the fact that so shortly I should have to leave it.
“No more the wind in the treetops or the soft pattering earthward of the falling leaf. No more the mossy bed showing up through a sea of yellow and brown leaf on the forest floor”.
Shortly after I came to a whitewashed house all covered in signatures in French and English. An example of French sentimentalism written on the wall. “Un coeur a vendre ou a louer s’adresser (heart for sale or rent contact) – Briquelors France and underneath some unknown had answered – Ma cher bien aimes je t’attend (my dear love I wait for you).
Monday, November 6th 1916
This morning some of the boys indulged in a little gymnastics just before I went out. I hear we have had some more gains on our front. The whole situation which I do not often refer to is summed up in “constant” pressure which is sometimes held a little by bad weather, but almost always results in gains of ground and prisoners to us:
The Rumanians situation is and has been gravest though. I think that is ameliorating now. Half a mile outside Cavillon Northwest and East, all these points of the compass I can see to the farthest skyline. The clouds are beginning to accumulate in the Northeast and are coming hurriedly to the brilliant sunlight of the West.
The smiling, mysterious landscape below me is frequently marked by the swift cloud shadows that traverse it. Oh the beauty of it all. Just where the darkening clouds are thickest is the arc of a rainbow reaching up till it meets the white cloud which borders the deep blue of immensity. Everywhere I look its beauty, subtle, powerful kindling to the emotions. Can I ever, ever tire of the panorama of nature’s bountifulness and never-ending spectacle of the sublime?
Hill and dale, in succession rise and fall till the limit of sight is reached and the brown and green mantle of earth is plotted out in tiny squares and small geometrical shapes representing in reality by forest and plantation. Now of darkest green untouched by a farmer’s influence for now the melody of brown and green bronze and yellow of beech and oak and many another species.
All these present the uttermost of their glory bathed in the powerful rays of the sun. A white ribbon of road runs the hill some distance away and climbs the ridge to disappear I know not where. Isolated trees raise slender and tall trunks with a bountiful spread of leaf and branch above.
The hayricks and straw stacks are miniature triangles and mounds the sheep and cattle grazing are but dots on the landscape.
Far in the northern shadows the white walls of some village stand revealed and immediately in front but yet a long way off is the spire of Crouy church rising slightly above a fir wood of deepest green. From the valley ascends a faint blue of curling smoke in exquisite contrast to its background of green.
Now the rainbow has grown more vivid, stay there are two, shading from orange to lemon thro green and blue to purple. The rain begins to fall but I think it is not much. A large flock of crows rise from the field with a mighty swirl and whir of wing and are doing bird wheels just overhead, cawing in anger, or curiosity at the strange being writing below.
What is it that is needed to complete this poor endeavour to describe the indescribable? Ah, what but the sighing winds of heaven, of which I am always conscious. Whence comest thou with the cool and bracing touch that fans my brow?
Now thy music rises now falls but never ending is thy voice with its message of mystery speaking to my soul. Oh nature! Every moment reveals some fresh beauty, from the bird of deepest black and purest white swaying with the branch in the breeze to the coloured grasses growing by my side.
The clouds are gathering quickly and threaten, the sheep are converging to a common centre which also presages a storm, now will the sheepdog have some respect from his un-wearying task of the last few hours. I rose from my reclining seat and walked homeward.
Willingly would I have stayed on to drink in the wonder of the scene, but if I stayed certainly I should be overtaken by the storm rapidly coming up. A few hundred yards and the storm burst. Hurriedly I ran for the wood and a spot I knew of. Dashing into the trees I ran down a leafy path till at its side I came to a small chalk pit hewed under a tree root.
Into this I safely ensconced myself and watched the storm. It is only a small pit about 15 feet circular with a rough chalky floor partly piled with leaves. There is a narrow chamber 5 feet high and 6 feet long dug into the pit and here complete shelter is obtainable. I can look up at the circular mouth of the pit and see the wood outside and the blue sky beyond, the rain and hail having now blown over.
Snarled and twisted roots cling round the rim of the pit covered with moss and creeping plants. The walls of the pit are white chalk but the rain soaking through the moss has produced a pretty and dainty effect. The lower half of chalk is stained and tinted with green of a delicate hue whilst the remainder is pure white a pleasing contrast.
Tuesday, November 7th 1916
Almost all this day I spent in bed resting. I did nothing in the evening but read and sort out my quotations. So I have very little to write about here.
Part of Nov 9th.
Written on the hillside, much as I would I cannot pen my feelings and emotions as I look around I feel as must a master musician operating upon an inadequate and faulty instrument. Nature is too great for me, here influences surge inwards and besiege my interpreting faculties. I know nature is immense, is beautiful divine, all that is perfect in form and in colouring, yet words as these fail totally to describe the complex subtle indefinable effect they have upon one. I am conscious that could I interpret these I should be a poet.
Never can I forget that the essence of this influence is religious and speaks the voice of eternity, the voice of other things than this world “beauty is the thrusting through of the eternal.”
Wednesday, November 8th 1916
An unsatisfactory day in as much as I did not get to Picquigny for my much needed bath and change, also the shopping I intend to do. I had got halfway there in a swinging walk when Sykes came after me on his bike.
After this I was hanging about all the day till nearly tea time when Charles Golding and I went in the ration wagon to Molliens-Vidame through some typical Picardy country. This village is a fairly large one and has a few shops. The billet is not bad at all. I meet some old faces too. I went on duty at 5pm till 9, the others are taking a class, I saw some of the boys who had been to Amiens, Venning was one.
He was somewhat intoxicated and had also been to a greenhouse. Backhouse too, the latter showed me some photos and I was tempted but for memories and faith.
Thursday, November 9th 1916
Up at 8am, shaved and washed then going through the village I came across the Church and finding the door open went inside. The interior was very fine and the atmosphere very restful and suggestive of spiritual healings. I knelt and prayed for I felt I was in need. Weak in morality, I prayed for strength and it came. Near to a fall, I was raised by the help of God’s presence. I sang some hymns, Church and Moody and Sankey of poignant and precious memories. My voice echoed musically and softly through the stillness of the aisles and arches. I was much benefited.
Out into the light and air I journeyed, through the town and by a hillside till just below a far tree plantation I sat down, read and then wrote these few notes. The sun shining brilliantly lights up the crooked wet road into a pathway of glistening silver and a group of refuse heaps far off assume the beauty of flashing gems as they reflect and throw back the shafts of piercing light. I could see the road we came in by yesterday with the twin towered tombs at the forked road.
The faint haze rising from the village. The idle windmill in the meadow. The stillness persuading all is only distant to the slightest degree by the faint whisperings of the breeze, most mysterious most divine. There is peace gentleness and soothing in its voice.
Friday, November 10th 1916
Part of November 9th about 7pm written in the moonlight sitting on a grassy hedge of a shallow precipice. What a fantasy! I walked a short way out of Molliens-Vidame by a rising road running midway between the gently slopes of a typical valley of Picardy.
About a mile out on the right hand side of the road was a square acre also of land cut out. This was under cultivated. The back portion was bounded by the excavated cliff.
Leaving the road I traversed the edge and finally sat on the brink. Here I fell to contemplation of the scene around me. Above, the queen of the night was sailing in a sea of her own illumination, broken only here and there by a few of the larger stars and a few cloud fragments.
All around the clear cut boundary of sky and earth were as the uneven ruin of a gigantic bowl. A series of ruddy flashes in the distant heaven bespoke the Kaiser. Birds of death being shelled at their evil work. Yet no sound reached me.
I was seated alone on the great wide spaces of God’s earth, the moon sending down her serene light. The soft cool breeze playing noiselessly and caressingly amongst the grasses waving in sympathy to her attention. Excepting the peerless Jupiter over foremost of all the heavenly lights as higher and higher he climbed to the zenith.
Cassiopeia’s Aquila and the Dyne with Vegas steely blue rays as her cornerstone also graced the celestine harmony. Quietness, absolute reigned yet anon the freshening breeze rose to articulation and broke in upon my ear. Once more I ask in subtle reverence induced of her voice. What meanest though? What message has though for my soul?
Surely my soul is meeting in communion with that beauty that thrustiest though the beauty that is the communication of the external spirit. Afterwards I returned along the white and winding road, every way side pool and water filled rut shining and glimmering in the moon’s rays.
Tuesday, November 14th 1916
On duty am told by Captain that Dad is seriously ill and that he is giving me a warrant to England. I walk in the afternoon and find Archie Condie had also got a warrant as his mother has died. We sleep together in the little room.
Shally comes and tells us his adventures at Picquigny and Amiens.
Wednesday, November 15th 1916
Up at 7am and we proceed to Hangest get a lift to the station. No train till 6pm we hang about all that time. I met some Hull boys in the East Yorks of the 17 Division. Very slow journey on the train to Longpre. Another long wait till we get a train to Abancourt where we arrive.
Thursday, November 16th 1916
In the early hours. Very hungry so we walk out to a near village but cannot get a thing to eat. Return and catch a train about 9.30am all day travelling but hung up by traffic in the afternoon. We take a walk to the engine and persuade the Tommies in the guards van to take us in with them.
We all, including driver and guard walk to a café and got rum and coffee. Archie and I got down and slept until we got to Havre about 1am.
Friday, November 17th 1916
Walked to the RTO and sent to rest camp. Called at bakeries and got a bite and supper there. Reached the dormitories and lay down in a shed with one blanket each. Very cold. No boats sailing today. Lived on YMCA and BECY canteens.
Saturday, November 18th 1916
Still no boat. Sent wires home.
Sunday, November 19th 1916
Ship did not sail until 9pm as we were delayed again. Had a very rough trip across. We three laid on the aft deck under two blankets but eventually the rain and seas wet our blankets through and we went below. Had much fun with Frank over the “sea dogs” but after parting both were sick.
Monday, November 20th 1916
Go to Southampton about 4am. The train left about 9am I arrived London a little after 11. Dined a la sausage and caught train at 1.30pm. Travelled with Frankie to Doncaster arrived Hull at 10 to 6.
Hilda met me and we took a Taxi to 83. Found Dad weak. Across to Sutton and tea. Very tired. To bed early. How lovely to be between clean white soft sheets and with one’s wife.
Tuesday, November 21st 1916
Called to see Dad and also the Dentist. About 2am a memorable morning for the reasons Hilda and I know.
Wednesday, November 22nd 1916
Sunday, November 26th 1916
Stayed in during the morning had a snooze with Dad in the room after dinner. Called at Carrick’s where with some jolly NF boys had a jolly time singing hymns. Ted, Hilda, Annis and I went to Chapel to hear the Rev. again.
Went to Carrick’s and had supper and later sent Annis Lamworth Hall. I lifted her to the path clear of the mound. She’s a jolly little girl.
Monday, November 27th 1916
Called at 83 in the afternoon and stayed tea. Hilda came and later we went to Mr and Mrs Pocock’s where they were entertaining us when the buzzers went and at once there was confusion. They left for the Town Hall and we happily caught a car to the terminus. The road was thronged with people.
Near Sutton we saw the two Zepps making for Hull caught in the rays of the searchlights. The Sutton gun fired and the Zepps turned around and disappeared. I stayed up with Ma and Hilda and listened to the dropping bomb at Cowden. Heard later two Zepps brought down, one in the sea off Durham, other ditto off Norfolk. Frank saw the former.
Tuesday, November 28th 1916
Stayed in in the morning. Went to 83 to say goodbye in afternoon. Found Dad and all family well. Mr Black called.
Hilda and I left and took the cars and walked to Sutton. Stayed in during the evening and later had a bath.
Wednesday, November 29th 1916
The last night’s sleep with my dear wife. I packed up and made a sad farewell to her dear weeping self. Very regretfully I went and with a sore heart Dad went with me to Hull. Elsie met me.
Travelled down with some other Hull boys returning to the front. Got to Southampton about 6pm.Here Frankie and I met Archie again.
Thursday, November 30th 1916
Berthed in the early hours and about 8am marched to the Rest Camp. Spent all day there with Frankie, Tommie and Archie in and about the YMCA. Blankets taken and we kipped down at 9pm.
Friday, December 1st 1916
Up at 3.30am and marched to station, we had a long cold wait until 9am for a train. Travelling all day talking, reading and occasionally snoozing.
Saturday, December 2nd 1916
Arrived here (Corbie) at 5.30am and proceeded to billets in the old place. Got down till 9am then shaved washed and went round with Shally. Slept in afternoon.
Sunday, December 3rd 1916
Church parade also to Church in the Evening. Stayed Communion.
Monday, December 4th 1916
Went to the Verey Lights at night.
Tuesday, December 5th 1916
Some old round of office and duty. Rather monotonous if safe. Longing for England home and my beauty. All the war news is bad or discouraging Rumania still retreating though her army practically intact.
Wednesday, December 6th 1916
Lloyd George crisis. Country tired of muddling through asks for firm hand to deal with Greek crisis and policy of “laissez-faire” generally. Heartily sick of it myself. If this continues what hopes can we have of the future of humanity.
400,000 lives gone in the Somme offensive to date. I am no pessimist of the unpatriotic type but the hardship is appalling.
Saturday, December 9th 1916
Nothing exciting. Went to the “Swordfishes” in the evening.
Sunday, December 10th 1916
Left Corbie for Treaux at noon. Sat on cable cart with Dick Crowther. Had a letter from Hilda today so far she is cheerful though she says nothing, not caring to busy me much. How I do hope we are not disappointed. Happy would not be a sufficient word to describe my state of mind should the news be good.
Got to Treaux at tea time no billets for us finally we were pushed into a drafty old barn. Slept uncomfortably all night, not feeling very well either.
Monday, December 11th 1916
After a morning of preparation we moved off the Briqueterie with the column. I got a seat on a cable cart but all the same it was a cold cheerless journey through miles of transport and multitudinous mud. Went through Ville “(Bond last night)” Meaulte and all the old places, the roads had been improved about 5 kilometres arrived, the mud was shocking almost to the knees and the scene around was desolation supreme.
Told off to the rear party but go in the morning. Sent to a fatigue party shifting the dynamo. Had supper and bed.
Tuesday, December 12th 1916
Up at 7am. A wild snow morning. Get a hurried breakfast harried by the presence of 3 officers. We were plumped into ankle deep mud, wet through and anything but cheerful. Altogether we were rushed about uncomfortably till we got to the rear HQ I was not on till 2pm so I tried making a bed. Here I met one of the O’Wommel’s who joined at Chatham the same date as ourselves.
They were shelling Minder Post last night and the Plateau. How the boys in the front line manage I cannot tell. It must be hellish.
Wednesday, December 13th 1916
Good news from Hilda. She is almost sure. How pleased I am. Fritz shelled again this afternoon and awful quagmire of a place.
Thursday, December 14th 1916
Still bad weather. Every afternoon Fritz shells but only the first shot near at all. Others lengthen the range.
Monday, December 18th 1916
Received 2 parcels one from Hilda, 1 from Mr and Mrs Smith. This afternoon Fritz sent one or two over very close to us but they were merely duds.
No letter from Hilda today. I am on tenterhooks waiting for further news from her. I’m in two minds what to think for there are indications that point either way.
Hear this evening that the French have now taken 12 thousand prisoners and 100 odd guns etc. Peace proposals of Germany turned down so far.
Tuesday, December 19th 1916
A great bombardment for hours by us. Fritz sends only one or two over. Unfortunately the weather is changing and our operations hampered. Hoping for good news from Hilda.
Wednesday, December 20th 1916
Had a ripping letter from Hilda, she is pleased and so am I. She seems absolutely sure now. I told her to go to Tipton and I think she will.
Thursday, December 21st 1916
On at 8am, which means 8.45. Very cold morning, no coal. Weather turns from frost to rain.
Boys moving in evening. On duty I discover that the 12 KRR orderly is a Hull boy. Goodrick by name, he is a big friend of Dickenson’s and possibly of Uncle Charles.
Saturday, December 23rd 1916
On at 9am. Had a fair sleep till 6.30am. Packed up.
Sunday, December 24th 1916
Walked to the Fricourt crossroads where the advance and rear met and went on the lorry to Corbie.
Monday, December 25th 1916
On parade with rifles this morning. Unable to book for the Very Lights this evening so we had a quiet night. I walked round the town and then return to the billet and bed.
Tuesday, December 26th 1916
Went to the Very Lights. Very good. An awful rowdy night in billet. The orderly officer had to be called to maintain order. No passes allowed to Amiens in consequence.
Wednesday, December 27th 1916
Quiet day. Went to the Tivoli in the evening. Very enjoyable after 8pm a rowdy night in the billet. Cator wanted to fight with Tommy Thompson. Poor Larry Lamb had a tough time trying to keep things quiet.
Thursday, December 28th 1916
Went for a grand walk with Shally, Simpkim, Thompson, McKnight and Davidson along the canal. It was a lovely fresh frosty morning. The Xmas dinner was great, beef pork ham Xmas pudding nuts apples oranges figs etc.
After this we washed up and then I wrote letters and diary. Germany will not treat with America. What does this mean? I expect this will ultimately mean war with America.
Friday, December 29th 1916
In all day except I went for my washing. In the evening whist drive was a great success. I scored 115 not very far from a winning score. I was a Gentleman. Shally took the prize though not rightly so.
After the drive there was a sing song, with the usual good things. Today the 9th Dec parcel arrived. The chicken and sausage were not good. Very much disturbance in the billet the drivers arguing about the capture of Sullemont.
Sunday, December 31st 1916
In orders for the 61 Brigade with Rimmington. We go for a lorry to Meaulte and I take on duty. As I was calling in the canteen in the afternoon I saw Albert Towers so decided to walk as far to see Capt Whitby’s grave.
I found one broken up cemetery and marched all around but could not find the grave. Spoke to the caretaker who took me to the keeper of the other cemetery but he had no record so I walked back.
Stayed in during the evening on at 9pm.
New Year’s Eve. There is a rumour of Austria asking for separate peace.
This was completed on Saturday, October 28th 1916 and recorded in the diary’s Memoranda section after the last entry (to be sent to Reginald’s mother)
Following very appropriate for Cleveland district of happy memories.
Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander – Thirst that will not let me be
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh!
The call of the sky!
I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh!
The call of a bird!
Yonder the long horizon lies,
And there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.
The Open Road
Tis the open road for me
Where I wonder fancy free
Away to the purple hills
Or down to the dancing sea
Or down to the dancing sea
Far over the moor it bends
Down the smiling vale descends
And all who I pass I greet
For every face is a friend
For every face is a friend
Fresh and glad is the morn at prime
And my heart is a lilt with rhyme
The song wells up as I go
And my feet to the tune keep time
My feet to the tune keep time
Come along with me I pray
Come and banish care away
For this is the open road
And this is God’s new made day
And this is God’s new made day
Some people say that darkies can’t sing
Way down yonder in the corn fields,
Down by the stream, where melons grow
Back to my home I dare not go
For if I do my rent I owe.
Memories of holiday Skipsea (sands) September 1915.
Golden sands and dancing sea
Clear blue sky and waving tree,
Fresh keen air and salt sea spray
Call to me and bid me stay.
Suggested by a view of the sky March 25 (1916) seen from 20 Division Office
Lake of blue, white cloud surrounded
Set in the sky, thy depths unsounded
Swift to thy seas, fleets the barque of my thoughts
Freighted with fancy, in ecstasy caught
Serene profound, is thy star strewn space
Gifted with beauty, clothed with grace
Wide flung thy realm, thy jewels worlds
Of emerald and sapphire, Topaz and pearls
Beauteous islets afloat in the west
Tinted with gold, surely isles of the blest
Within them, romance with her fairy rod
Weaves holes fit for heroes, for God
A few thoughts suggested by a cutting from the Hull Times relative to the Nation Mission and the revival of Spiritual life of our nation.
The extract quotes the endeavours and writings of some Socialists who wish to teach children by means of secular Sunday schools.
Not only this but they are in direct antagonism to religious teaching.
A few quotations will show this.
For example -: religion degrades children by teaching them to look above instead of ahead.
It perpetuates all manner of spurious moralities and conventions which are only fit to be poured down the sink of oblivion like so much foul water.
“Furthers the idea of God is the keynote of a perverted civilisation it must be destroyed”.
Lastly when God is expelled from human hearts then what is called “divine grace” will be banished too.
What a precious trio of opinions these are.
Really I am tempted to ask, if this writer has had any experience of the particular degradation which befall religiously nourished children.
Does it degrade a child to be taught to love its early parents, on the contrary, love ennobles and is parent to the virtues.
Similarly if parental love does not degrade, but to the contrary, but does not love to the Divine degrade but to the contrary, it enriches.
Turning once more to the extracts, I am amazed at the ignorance exhibited at what true religion is and does.
Religion degrades children by teaching them to look above instead of ahead.
As far as I understand religion it teaches us to look to the Devine for help, inspiration and power.
In this sense certainly religion does teach us to look to a Power who without question we admit gladly and in faith, is above us.
Yet how does this prevent us looking ahead, or how is it contrary to a cautious regard to the future.
One thing religion does teach and a thing of absolute importance which however he does not know to exist.
Moreover it is a point which if anything is fatal to the system of secular teaching, some would even say to Socialism itself.
Whilst I would not urge this latter entirely, I would say this, that if we are to have socialism at all it will not be by his secularism but only as the fruit of Christianity.
The point to which I refer and to which religion gives an important place is in the looking inward, the turning of vision to that Sanctuary within which is the meeting place of the human and divine.
Upon this point and contrasting the method of the securest and the believer I will quote Dr. Martineau.
“Two methods exist at aiming at human improvement – by adjusting circumstances without and by addressing the affections within.
The one is institutional and systematic, the other is personal and moral, the influence of soul on soul, life creating life.
And in comparing these, it is not difficult to show the superior triumphs of the latter, which was the method Christ and Christianity”.
There you have a complete and triumphant reply to the cheap uninformed sneers against religion.
Truth is that less than any of us do they know religion.
I will only touch upon the last of the secularist’s remarks, namely that the idea of God is the keyhole of a degraded civilisation.
It seems almost enough for me to deny the fact in toto.
The idea of God, the experience of God has apparently never entered into his psychology.
If he had had any experience of God, he could not have made any such statement.
Those who experience the sacredness, the ecstasy of communion with the divine have more than a sufficient answer to the secularist’s assertion.
Religion is a fusion of the moral, intellectual and aesthetic and as such is the highest passion we can rise to.
If civilisation is perverted it is not because Christianity has perverted it, but as had been truly said, because Christianity has not yet seriously been put into practice.
He knew more of psychology and the facts of life than the modernist above quoted when he wrote “be you always furnished with rules and principles to let you into the knowledge of things human and divine, remembering even in your slightest action the connection needs to have with each other. For without a regard for things divine, you will fail in your behaviour towards men”.
Enlisted 14th October 1915 Qualification Telegraphist
Height 5 feet 5 inches Weight 119 lbs Chest fully expanded 31 inches Range of expansion 3 ½ inches
Complexion Dark Eyes blue Hair Brown
Religious denomination Church of England
Here follows his diary entries for the 1st week of July 1916 and we remember the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago.
Sunday, July 2nd 1916
7.30-12.30pm. Reports to hand of British advance on front of 18 miles. 4th army and French army take part. Successful Sir Douglas Haig sends congratulatory telegrams.
Lie down in afternoon and do a bit of exercise too. Go for an evening’s entertainment at the station cinema. Many Belgian ladies there. We have to go on duty instead of take class tomorrow. Rather glad. Shally and I get down 10pm.
Monday, July 3rd 1916
Doing two shifts so nothing exceptional to report.
Tuesday, July 4th 1916
12.30 to 5pm – go to the fancies picture hall in the evening and before bed have a sing song. Sykes, Shally and I. Over progress is good on our front. Got letter from 83, they are now at Bridlington. Bernard cooks Division is in the push.
Wednesday, July 5th 1916
7.30-12.30pm. We get a pass for Brandhoek and in the afternoon which is pleasant we took the Ypres road and journeyed nearly as far as Flam turning then to the left but could not find the Hull Heavy Bty. Still it was a pleasant walk. After tea went to the Canadians and saw the Willard-Johnson fight.
On duty at 9pm. Gussy and Fat Brammer amuse us. Get a new man who has been at Gallipoli.
Thursday, July 6th 1916
Down at 3am until 8.30. Shally and I go for a walk around Abele Rd and across country to Proven Rd. Have a bit of excitement crossing a ford. Then we had a four course dinner and enjoyed it very much.
Have again got those hateful insects and tried to exterminate them. Think they came in the washing. On at 5pm. Our army and French making progress. Latter near Peronne (2m). Germans throwing men away.
Friday, July 7th 1916
Marking exam papers for Syd. Raining heavily in the morning. On at 12.30pm.
We go for a walk in evening round by the switch road and enjoy it. A really beautiful evening.
Sit in the grounds of Talbot house garden and also read a magazine in the ease of a hammock under the trees. The Yorkshire trio sing until sleep time.