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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Diary Entry - 30th November, 1915

I spent a better night and feel much better, with my temperature back at normal. The doc visits before breakfast and seems satisfied, but he says the day must be spent in doors. I spent most of the morning writing letters. After lunch, the Bosch seek about the La Bassée road, behind us, with pip squeaks – in fact, pip squeaks are becoming a habit, but they are not taken much notice of when cover of any sort is handy. Retire to bed soon after dinner.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Diary Entry - 29th November, 1915

I had a very bad night. I felt as if I had a temperature and spent half the night shivering. The doctor comes round after breakfast and says I have a chill and must remain inside all day, giving me quinine and aspirin pills to eat in quantities. The doc calls again in the afternoon and drives the O.C. and Captain Griffith out of the Mess. He is a very deep-thinking, quiet Irishman, who never utters a word, but sits and gazes at his patients, and my impression is that he tries to hypnotise you. However, after sitting here for about 20 minutes, he takes my temperature et cetera and says I must go to bed soon after tea, and with those commands he bids farewell.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Diary Entry - 28th November, 1915

Sunday morning at 10 am, a bombardment of our position of the trenches began. All guns were included, from 18 prs to 9 inch, in retaliation to German Sap blown up under our first line trench about a week ago. It was a very cold morning with a hard frost and the sun shining. We (our battery) took very little part in the proceedings. It was more the heavy guns, which fired 300 rounds each for the day.

I had another indifferent night and felt the cold very much through the day, as I had the shivers. The Bosch aeroplanes were continually flying over, trying to locate our gun positions, and it seemed to me that they met with very little opposition either from our anti-aircraft guns or our own aeroplanes. It was reported early in the morning that our [illegible ] were dropping their shells very short – in fact only 100 yards or so to the left flank of our O.B. It was due to the frosty weather, which affected the range, so it is said. However, effective shooting was done in the afternoon.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Diary Entry - 27th November, 1915

CO remains indoors. I had a very bad night. I suffered from stomach pains. Several  other men suffer also. It is put down to the water, and orders are given that all water must be boiled in future. A very heavy frost during the night, and I spent a miserable day, going to bed before dinner. I tried the afternoon with the O.B., and met Bee there, but a charcoal fire there knocked me out. A great movement of British aeroplanes, I am told, towards German lines – 40 in all.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Diary Entry and Letter Home - 26th November 1915

Diary Entry:

C.O. stays in bed with slight attack of flu. My day again spent at guns, with ordered lectures from Siggers, who was unable to lecture, owing to him being too busy.


26 November 1915

Dear Father,

You will have to take letters as they arrive now, as ink and paper, and time, are rather valuable articles out here, so this is going to be a semi-letter, written in the Mess, and diary written in the dugout with the guns.

We are right in the thick of it up here, as you will gather from the rest of the letter, if it reaches you. I rather doubt the Censor, if he opens this, will let it through, but he may be a good chap.

I last wrote from the base at Havre, I think. On the Saturday, after lunch, we got orders that we were to embark on the train at 10.30 that night. We went into the town that afternoon and had a good kind of high tea to carry us on our journey and returned to camp at 6 p.m.. At 8.30, we (49 RFA) men bundled into a motor lorry - or rather three lorries - and set off for the train. Our senior sub had to take charge of a draft of 60 men, and there were also a lot of other men on the train. Rouen was reached early in the morning, but we were not allowed to de-train until 7 am.
Everything had to be bundled out and stacked in the goods shed, and, when the men had received their rations, we went up the town for breakfast. We had to return to the station after brekker as had to report to the transfer officer. However, we were informed by him the train did not leave until 8.30 p.m., so we had the whole day to kick our heels in.

Most of the morning was spent in a hot bath at some public baths we found in the city. Well, we seemed to do nothing but eat the rest of the day, (we were going by Mr McKinnon's motto on the way to Wyangerie: "Eat all you can when you get a chance; you never know when the next stop will be").

The train was late leaving the siding at night. We had a tremendous big train on and no one had the foggiest notion where we were bound for. The next morning we were still going. We stopped once or twice, but hunted in vain for coffee etc. At 11.15 or thereabouts, we pulled up at Bethune, where one could hear the guns quite plainly. In fact, you could see the effect of the big shells in passing through the streets.

22nd November, 1915
Arrived at Béthune, and reported at headquarters about 11.45 and were sent from there by the staff captain to the ammunition column on the bank of a small canal. We lunched there and from there proceeded to 36th Brigade headquarters on horses, after the meal.

This was a very foggy day, and after passing through Béthune again we made along the main La Bassée road, which runs due east, working gradually nearer to the guns' reports. It took us two hours walking on the hard part to reach the small Cambrin village, and it was some little time before we found the headquarters, as they had just moved into a new house in the morning and things were rather unsettled.

We found a subaltern in charge, as both the adjutant and colonel were out in the trenches, having a look at the new ground they had taken over from another battery. However, they eventually came in and were very nice, giving us a good meal and making us feel quite at home.

After tea, they packed us off to our allotted batteries – Bee to the 15th battery and I to the 45th battery, which is quite close to headquarters. On arriving at our Mess, I found the the O.C., who is a young captain, in bed with a cold, but the subaltern fixed me, and we paid a visit to the O.C., Grant Suttie, who said he would fix me up in the morning.

One man took me along to the battery, which is a six-gun battery, and we gave the Huns what they call a strafing, which consisted of four rounds of gunfire into a a town. Well, as I'd never heard a gun fired before, you can imagine my head used to go back with a click each time, and I think I jumped a bit too, but it is amazing how quickly one gets used to it.

23rd November

It was foggy again on getting up at eight am next morning, and the captain sent me along to the battery dugout with a man named (I can't remember) He is the senior subaltern, and he, after letting a few off, said, “You take charge. I will be back in a minute.” The minute passed into a day. I spent all of it in the dugout, trying to keep warm. Occasionally, the man at the O.B. would telephone us and tell us to fire, but we did very little shooting on account of the fog, which hung over the country all day. My day ended at 5 pm, and I was very glad to return to the Mess for tea.

I should have slept with a battery in the D.O. for the night and proceeded at 6 am to the observing front, but that is a pleasure to come. Needless to say, I slept all that night and never awoke to hear the guns being fired. It is rather amusing to think that the O.C. sits here at dinner sometimes and calls up the battery and orders, for instance, four rounds of gunfire, and you sit here not knowing what you have hit. That is the only thing I do not like about it: you can't tell whether you have killed any Germans or not. It would give satisfaction if you knew you had.

24th November

Today was a clear bright day with sun at intervals, and a lot of firing went on. Even the Bosches, who are usually very quiet, let off a few rounds. I was up in the O.B. during the morning, with another man. This spot consists of a ruined house, strengthened with beams and sandbags, and this particular one is at the end of the village and gives a clear view to the trenches. Our lookout was at the top, in a small room, with just enough tiles knocked off the roof to allow two men to observe. It was very interesting to me to see the whole landscape in front, with shells bursting all over the place, shrapnel and high explosives.  One would wonder how the men could live in the trenches but believe they are perfectly safe. However, before very long, shell called “whizz bangs” began to burst somewhat adjacent to our house (within 50 yards). It was a nasty sensation hearing the shells approaching and passing over and then waiting for them to explode. Well, there was no damage done to us, but I have to be broken in to that sort of work. I came back at midday from the O.B., as another man out for experience had to take my place.

In the afternoon, I went to the battery and spent my time with the junior sub. I mean the one next myself, whose name is Siggers. We had a quiet time, as the O.C. was in the trenches making a register for two guns in our new position, which is just in front of our mess. At about 3.30 the Bosch began dropping some 5 inch shells in a wood on our right and they made some noise, but I think they did very little damage. Our 60 pounders to our rear got on the job then and made a thundering noise. I always think of Mr Gray’s last words, “Drop us a line when the big guns start dropping shells near you” – well, you can tell him from me that I always feel I would sooner be driving the engine at home or doing something like that when they start flying around. Tell him too, that on the day of the big show at Loos on 25 October, our battery 48th consisting of six 18-pounders fired 5000 rounds in four days – otherwise, 52 tons weight of ammunition. Goodness knows what the other battery did.

I will try and give you an idea of the guns here for the front. I can see there are guns at intervals of 20 yards for 2 miles – 18 pounders! There are other batteries with same size guns in front of these, and behind there are five howitzers – 60 pounders and 9.2 inch, and six miles back 15-inch guns, so that may give you a slight idea of what it is like, or what it would be like when they start to work. All our guns are moved to their new position tonight, and, if it is a fine day tomorrow, the O.C. will register all our targets, which are numerous, from our new emplacement. There were a lot of British machines up this afternoon, but none of the Bosch was having any. I wanted to see a scrap.

It was rather funny this morning: a man stopped me on the way to the O.B. and said "How are you?" and I could not recognise him. He turned out to be a Jesus man called Granny Stafford. He said he had just met a man of my year called Gould, a good chap. I hope I run across him. My commanding officer is a young captain - about 28 or 30 years old. I am rather frightened of him. He looks to have a bad temper. I would sooner have an older man in charge. It will be very difficult for the first month, but it will be easier when I get the run of the ropes - but there is a lot to pick up.

26 November 1915

I will be thinking of you at Purrumbete for Christmas. It is hard to realise that it is summer there now. It's fairly cold today, with rain, sleet and about an inch of thawing snow, and the roads have been more soupy than ever.

Our colonel has just been tonight, and he tells us we're going to do a bit of strafing on Sunday and Monday. He pointed out the portion of the trench to plough up. All the guns behind us will be in it to – 60 pounders, 5.9 and 8 inch howitzers, 9.2 and 6 inch guns – so there will be a screeching noise overhead. Well, I find life out here very interesting at present, but I think the novelty should wear off very soon.

You should see the Bosch letting off at the aeroplanes. They fire away merrily, where they think the machine will go. Sometimes you see shrapnel bursting about a mile away from the machine. They seem to waste no end of ammunition on them, but do very little shooting with their other guns, and I should think we give them five rounds for every one.
Goodbye – a Happy New Year to you all,


Thursday, 25 November 2010

Diary Entry - 25th November, 1915

Another day spent with the guns. The C.O. had another day in the trenches, registering his guns in the new position. I forgot to add that the remaining two guns were moved to their new position in the early morning by Siggers, who was on duty at the O.B.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Diary Entry - 24th November, 1915

The morning was spent up at the O.B. with the C.O. – at least he took me up there and left me with Kellagher, while he went to the trenches with Captain Griffiths of the wagon line and also a terrier officer. The two hours I spent there were quite thrilling for one not used to the O.B., as the Bosches dropped about four wibangs (77 mm gun) uncomfortably close to the house and one blew some earth onto our roof. The front, which our guns cover, was pointed out to me, and I tried to memorise all the prominent positions of the enemy. After returning to the mess for lunch, I went along to the battery and spent the afternoon with Siggers, who was on duty. That evening two guns were moved into their new position near the mess.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Diary Entry - 23rd November, 1915

I accompanied Lieutenant Kellagher to the battery and, as he had something to do, he put me in charge. He said he would return in a few minutes, but I never saw him for the rest of the day so had to get along as best I could. Luckily, it was a foggy day and there was very little firing. In the afternoon, the Bosches started dropping some big 5.11 hows into a wood on our left. They kept it up for an hour, making a huge noise but doing very little damage. The day in the dugout ended at 4.45, and I returned to the mess for tea and a warm fire.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Diary Entry - 22nd November, 1915

In the morning we discovered we were on a branch line but could not discover where we were making for. The train stopped two or three times but, though we hunted for café au lait and eatables, they were not to be found.

At 11.30, we pulled into a siding, which we found out to be Béthune, and we were standing about on the siding listening to the guns, which by this time were quite audible, when an officer told us we were to haul our luggage off the train and go at once to headquarters near the market square. We all toddled off and, on arrival, were rushed into a staff captain's office. He posted us to brigades straightaway, and from then on our nice little party of 10 was broken up.

Bee and I found two men (Tommies) with an ammunition wagon and saddle horses ready to take us off to the 36th Brigade ammunition supply depot, and we mounted our horses and got underway. We were very much struck by the damage in the town. You could see some very heavy shells had been planted about – they proved to be 15 inch and had absolutely demolished some of the houses.

We passed over a canal and headed due east along a small canal, reaching our destination, which was 3 miles out, at about 1.15. There were three officers there, who were not expecting us, but they got some lunch and made us feel comfortable. I'm afraid we never left much on the table - we were very ravenous as had not had any breakfast.

Lunch over, we departed for 36th Brigade headquarters, which we were told were in a small village called Cambrun, about 8 miles away. The same two men acted as our guides, and we had to go back through the town to get over the canal. A fog came over at 3.00, and it was very thick and damp.

We eventually got to Cambrin at 4.15 but took some time to find brigade headquarters as they had just moved into a new house and no one seemed to be able to place them. The adjutant and colonel did us very well when we did find them and gave us a nice tea.

As soon as that was over, we were packed off to our allotted batteries. Bee to 15th, myself to the 48th, which was only about two minutes walk from the brigade headquarters. On stumping into our mess, I found three subalterns at tea, the OC being in bed with a cold. However, as soon as tea was over, I was taken in to Captain Grant Suttie and told him what work I had not done, but he said that I would soon pick it up. My kit was put in a wee room adjoining the OC's, but I could not possibly unpack my kit, as it was full of other people's things, so I have to sleep on it till a better day. I forgot to add that two other men were also attached to our battery for instruction. They come from a Terrier regiment.

That evening a junior subaltern called Siggers took me round to the battery's position and gave me a shock by ordering a gun to fire for my benefit. And after dinner we went out and had four rounds of gunfire into Auché, which just about broke me in.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Diary Entry - 21st November, 1915

Arrived Rouen early in the morning but did not disembark till 7.00. It was very cold but, after rummaging about the goods sheds, we found some good women issuing tea to officers in a small room and also to Tommies in a larger one. We hung about the station some time, as we were waiting for Shipley, who was in charge of a draft of men. The morning was filled in at a public bath establishment and the rest of the day we passed away as best we could, but it was hard to realise it was Sunday with shops and cafes open. We left Rouen with a tremendous train at 10 by the clock.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Diary Entry 19th and 20th November, 1915

These two days were spent in precisely the same manner. There was only an hour's lecture to attend each morning and the afternoon was spent in Havre, to pass the time of day. But on the 20th, at 12 o'clock, we received our marching orders and were informed 49 of us were to embark on the train that evening at Havre.
I forgot to mention that batches of from 20 to 40 RFA men had arrived each night, and so the mess was absolutely crowded out with men, and there were more than two sittings to a meal.

At 8.30 p.m. on the 20th (Saturday) three motor wagons conveyed us to the goods platform of the Havre station and, after bundling all our goods on board, we finally left the station at 10 o'clock.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Diary Entry and Letter Home - 18 November

Diary Entry

There was a hard frost in the night, which found its way into my bed during the "wee sma' hours" and when we opened the door of our wee house we found a very cold fog awaiting us. The thermometer could not register - it was frozen I think. After breakfast, the 20 new men paraded at the colonel's office and met the gentleman, who seemed, along with his adjutant, to be a very nice man. From the office we collected a staff subaltern, who took us up onto a plateau at the back of the Mess and showed us guns and instructional trenches. This was what our morning's work consisted of. Oh! I forgot to add that there was an hour's lecture before we went up the hill. In the afternoon, we obtained leave from the adjutant to go down and collect some goods from the ordnance stores. Bee, having a slight cold, stopped in the Mess. We had a very pleasant evening at Havre, as we found a nice little restaurant for dinner, and we returned to camp by taxi at 9.30.


Dear Father,
I hope you will be able to decipher this letter, as it is written under very adverse conditions. I will just give you an idea where we are to begin with. We are at Havre No. 2 Base Headquarters, which is a camp about seven miles out of the town, and consists of artillery men. As it is the first base I have seen, it has opened my eyes to what a tremendous business it is to supply an army - and only an arm of it at that.

I think in my last letter I said that we might be sent off at a moment's notice. Well, we came out of lunch at 1.30 on the 15th and saw a notice on the board saying we were to move on the 16th. Very few of us had a full kit so we went to the colonel in a body, and asked him if we could go straightaway and complete our kit. He was very good about it and let us go, so we shot up to town about 4.15 that afternoon, having no idea where we would be sent to when we proceeded to Southampton the next day.

We spent a very rapid morning on the 15th, as we had a lot of stuff to collect in a very short time, but we managed it all right. The train left Waterloo at 1.15, with nine of our brigade on board. I forgot to mention that we were all together, but for old uncle, who by some bad luck was left out on arrival at Southampton.

We reported to the embarkation officer who told us we had to embark not later than 12 pm, so we had five to six hours to kick our heels in. We considered ourselves lucky in having berths going across. There were four of us in the cabin, but we slept very well for all that. The boat sailed about 7.00, and we had an uneventful run to Havre, arriving in the harbour about 1.30 pm. As soon as we landed, we proceeded to general headquarters, who sent us out here to await further orders. So here we are, praying to be sent up to the firing line.

Another lot of 10 RFA men came across in the same boat as we did. They are in exactly the same game as we are. None of us knows if we are out for keeps, as they say, or on a cock's tour. We are probably on the latter, but one never knows. This spot gives one a vague idea of what the poor devils in the trenches must suffer during the winter.

Bee and I are in a hut together. It is made of canvas with a wooden frame, and it is about 12' x 4'. It would suit you, dad, because if you stand in the middle of it you can practically reach anything in the room. I know you like small houses. The first night was a snorting frost, but we kept fairly warm and did not have to get up until 7.30, which is a very comfortable hour.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Diary Entry - 17th November

We spent a pleasant night and woke up in the morning to find that we were well on our way down channel, with a slight haze hanging over the water. The sea was very calm, with a slight groundswell, and we sighted Havre at about one o'clock. The boat got alongside about 2.15 and, on landing, we found that we were to proceed direct to headquarters at the Hotel de Ville, to receive orders. Our man Shipley fought his way into the office and received orders that we were to proceed to Harfleur, to No. 11, at 4.30, the time being 3.15 when we left headquarters. We filled in the time with a cup of tea and met at a prearranged spot where we embarked in taxis for Harfleur.
Harfleur is about seven miles out, and the trams run all the way out. After a lot of name signing, we were eventually posted to No. 2 Base Camp and reported there to the camp adjutant, who sent us off with a corporal to find a bunk. We were put into a small hut – three of us – Sam, Bee and self – and when all the kits were inside, there was very little moving space. On hunting about in the dark, we found the mess, which consisted of a small anteroom, crammed full of people, and a dining room, the whole place built of tin and very airy. After dinner, as there was very little standing room in the anteroom, let alone sitting accommodation, we made for our bunks. I forgot to mention that 10 other men from Weedon training camp arrived the same night as we did.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Diary Entry - 16th November

This was a long, tedious day, and we had a very busy morning before us at Moss's as there was a lot of stuff to collect. We breakfasted at 8.30 and went to Moss's at 9.30, where we had arranged to meet a man who was to collect all our kit, and we started rummaging about the shop. An hour and a half later, we emerged from the shop in a bedraggled condition, taxied back to Batts and started packing kits.
Twelve was arranged as the time for lunch. RSG, Sam and Pat were to lunch with us, and our luggage or kit from Moss's was supposed to be delivered at 11.45. Well, after lunching by ourselves, the enemy showed at 12.20 and no kit or lunchers. However, the kit arrived 5 minutes later, and it was rushed into the bags. A lot of weight was needed to close the kits, but eventually they were bundled downstairs at 12.35 and were being placed on the taxi when the three others arrived in a breathless state.

There were hurried farewells on the doorstep and then we were off to the station, trying to remember what we had left and wondering whether our kit would turn the scales at Southampton. An agreed meeting place had been arranged, and we met our senior officer, Shipley, who was in charge, at the Refreshment Bar. After some little time, we collected our party and grabbed two carriages. Bee and I were very surprised to see Mr Brett on the station, and we were very pleased to see a face we knew. It was more homely to have someone seeing us off.

The train ran in at Southampton at about 4.00, and we piled all our luggage onto ford taxis on arrival and proceeded to the embarkation offices in the docks. It was about five minutes run to the docks, and we received our orders, which said we were to embark for France not later than 12.00, but that the boat would not leave till 1.30 the next morning. We all dined at the South Western Hotel, which accommodated officers only. There we kicked our heels till 10 o'clock, which was the earliest we were allowed to embark. On getting down to the boat we were greatly surprised to find that we could get a four-berth cabin – in fact any berths at all.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Diary Entry - 15th November, 1915

On Tuesday midday, after coming out of lunch, I met the adjutant coming out of his office, and he started chalking up a lot of names on the slate. On viewing the slate after the former gentleman's departure, I was much surprised to see "Move on 16th" in big letters and ten names underneath, among them Sam's, Pat's, Bee's and my own.

The whole ten of us went to the Colonel in a bunch and asked for leave to complete our kit. The old man was very decent and read us the dispatch received by the man Henry from the War Office, and we found that the inevitable Henry was arranging a program that we should "leave by the 10.15 on the 16th inst and not to give us any orders till then". The War Office note said that we would catch the 1.15 pm train for Southampton from Waterloo and be ready to embark.

The time that we received leave was two o'clock, and we Australians packed up and were on our way to London by the 4.15 train – not bad, considering business in Ipswich etc. That evening was spent at the Carlyle Club, with RS Gilliard trying to get AC Bell along with us and take a man's (Kingston) place who was to be married, but our efforts were futile. Bee and self had a great struggle with our luggage at Batts that night, as had a lot of sorting to do, but eventually got to bed fairly early.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Letter Home - 6 November, 1915 & 11 th November. 1915, Bertie, Diary Entry

RA mess

6 November 1915

Dear Father,
Mail day seems to come around very quickly, but the ones we receive do not seem to come at all regularly. There is very little to write about this week, as nothing new in the way of work has turned up.

On Tuesday evening we went to the Ridleys for dinner. Their son Bob was at Jesus with us and coxed the Varsity crew two years. We had a very pleasant evening, and we met a staff captain there who was very interesting to talk with. We did not get home till midnight, so were not too keen on turning out in the morning.

We had a map reading exam on Friday, and I managed to pass out, but I am afraid Bee has to have another shot at it, and I would not mind having to go through it again, as I am a bit hazy about some of it. Two men went to the front this week, and four more went on a course to Lark Hill. We also have about four men waiting for marching orders. E.S. Kidd (the Captain of Varsity cricket eleven) has just come back from Lark Hill, where he did most awfully well. He has been recommended for a captaincy, and I shall be very pleased if he gets it. He is very clever and not at all uppish.

We had about eight wet days over the weekend, and one day I got a proper ducking out of the battery, my coat was useless so am getting a new one out of the people.

On Tuesday last, the 4th Battery officers paraded in the riding school, as it was raining. We did some jumping, at least I didn't, as my horse would not look at it. One man who has gone out to France took two priceless tosses. I thought the second one had laid him out. He parted with his horse at the top of the jump and did a volplane through space until he collided with Mother earth.

The instructor gave me a go over on his horse before we broke off. It was a beautiful jumper and simply flew it. I was quite surprised with myself being able to stick on without stirrups as had never tried jumping without them before.


11th November

It was a very busy morning, rushing around after kit, which took a bit of collecting, as you are never quite certain what you want. We left much of the moving warfare touch [?]. But I packed in a bit too much, and the Colonel asked me a small problem on the No. 3 dissector [?] It was the first time I had seen one so of course I was floored pretty badly and had to admit it. The signaller's job in this affair is merely to get his communications in order at short notice. The Brigade staff have a telephone [?] cart, which carries their wires on and they have four horses and can lay their wire very quickly. Their job is to link up batteries with Brigade HQ. The Colonel did not seem to mind the running over crops or cultivation. But now there is no ground about that is not cultivated in some way or other. The morning passed off without much comment but I fancy the Colonel is a man who thinks a lot but does not say much. I went down to the Mine [?] with Hyland of the 48th and had a bath, which was very refreshing