Edward Walford Manifold was born on 28th April 1892 and grew up in the Western District of Victoria. Together with his older brother William Herbert (Bee), he travelled to England to join the Royal Field Artillery when World War I broke out. Day by day, this blog publishes his letters home and the entries he made in his diaries, from 1915 when he was first sent to France until 1918 when his service ends.
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This is New Year's Eve and tomorrow our rest ends. We start on the Wallaby again and have about a three-day trek.
Christmas Day passed off rather quietly, but the men did themselves very well, a little too well in some cases, but the officers want to be a little more blind on these occasions. It is not much of a day, from the officers' point of view, as, after you have visited the whole of the subsection dinner and drunk all the usual healths, you begin to find a little goes a long way. The Sergeants' Mess was most amusing. The Wheeler, whose trade is a wheelwright - commonly known to the Tommies as Spoky - was really on his best form. It was rather a sad day in our billet. The old lady who owned it died - of heart failure, I think. She was about 60 odd and used to work night and day and had asthma. We had a communion service here on Sunday and I thought of you all at home. On the same morning, we took a lot of battery horses and NCOs out for a run over the point-to-point course, to try them, but found the going so heavy it was practically impossible. On Tuesday, we ran a lot of our brigade events off. We drew the same battery in everything - Walford's lot - and they beat us at everything that morning. In the afternoon, we played them at football. Soccer is the game they play. The feeling between the two batteries was very high. These two teams had played each other before and tied, after playing another hour. Well, this day we won, and the excitement was intense. There is still another match to play. Our time is pretty well taken up. In the evening, we had a lecture on horse management by a veterinary major. He was very careful and did not commit himself. Wednesday, we had our brigade sports. It was simply a perfect day. Walford had bad luck as he was sent off on a course beforehand. The officers' jumping was our chief excitement, which I am glad to say I managed to win. In fact our battery did rather well, as at the time there were only three officers here and we all got a place. Our men's team won the section jumping hands down . The star turn was the best turned out gun team and drivers. It was a wonderful show of what can be done. I never thought they could make such a splendid show under the conditions. After a very severe test the 48th turnout won. It was a very good show and we came an easy second and don't think we did so badly as a battery.
Thursday, the RA sports were on. There was such a heavy frost last night that most of the events had to be postponed. The most amusing turn was the mules race, bareback. They all started away like racehorses, but 30 yards was all most of the mules intended going. Six of them stopped dead and turned round, which, naturally, stopped all argument. The first two did the course without a hitch and galloped like horses all the way. There were lots of events like tug-of-war, wrestling on horseback, boat race, consisting of eight men walking a bar straddle leg and walking backwards, VC race, relay and foot races. The divisional ammunition however came off best in most of these events. Tonight I heard from our brigade major that it was impossible to get Jack into this division.
Friday, the Corps and divisional general came round and inspected us. Saturday, we were beaten in the final football match by the 48th. They beat us rather badly. Today, Sunday, we had the rest of the events of the RA sports. The ground was very heavy. There were 12 starters, with very good horses, and there were 13 fences. My horse got away from himself after the first three fences and knocked himself out. Anyway, at the sixth fence, horse and I came to grief. Up till then we were running fourth. When I got mounted again, they were all three fences ahead of me. At the finish, I came in fourth so, on the whole, I had a good ride. There was an ex-jockey riding who came in second.
Bee: I have been going hard all day with the new box respirator. It takes a long time as you first of all have to explain how to put it on, then fit each one and finally finish up by putting them through a lacrimatory room of tear shell. Got through over half the Battery, which was not bad, as also had to take [illegible] of each one. This morning the rest of the events of the Brigade sports were run off. I was very late and nearly missed the bus. The scurry was first event and, instead of being 4 furlongs, it was nearer a mile and the going was very heavy. I rode a pony and he was outclassed, but we finished up fifth. The Point to Point was next. There were twelve of us who started a 2-mile run of 12 jumps and very heavy going over stubble. I had a good mount but he wanted more training. The pace was very hot to start with and my mount got away at the first and was running fourth when he hit and fell at the seventh fence. When we picked ourselves up, they had got well away. But in the end we finished up fourth - but must add only jumped two fences on the home run. Scott, the Trench Mortar Captain, won; a DAC man, Wystan, ex-jockey, came second. I would have had a good chance, if I had not had a fall.
Bee: Sat up until twelve last night, to fix canteen accounts, and delivered them by hand this morning. But, even with all my care, got very few receipts back. This afternoon, we played the final football match, Brigade against the 45th. There was a very strong wind blowing. They had a great tussle but the 45th won, outran our fellows - their back line was very strong. The feeling ran very high, but we had no fights. [Illegible] lectured this evening on Scientific Gunnery and gave us a very interesting hour. I forgot - the Colonel presented me with a very nice silver cigarette case for winning the Brigade jumping, which was very decent of him.
Bee: A wet day, everybody on heat as the Corps General, Jacobs, and our new Division General, Brara, came round to inspect us. As it was wet, he did not take us out but just went into our billets and horse lines. He asked all of us Subts a few prepared questions as to length of service and where we came from. Colonel Goschen came back tonight. I immediately pounced on him about settling up canteen accounts.
Bee: Had a very heavy frost last night, the ground was white. Today was the day for the RA sports, the Point to Point was to be held but had to be put off owing to the state of the ground - also the scurry. The mules' race was most amusing - all bareback. The nine starters all went well for the first 20 yards, then three got rid of their riders - just stopped dead and turned sharply. There were only three who completed the course. The winner never swerved and galloped well. The DAC ran away with most events. [Illegible] this the whistling on horseback, VC and tug of war. We won the relay race and foot race. I rode along the Point to Point course and it is very stiff - have two roads to cross and 12 jumps, with going very heavy. This afternoon, I borrowed a despatch rider's motorcycle and went to Aix-le-Chateau for a bath. I heard from Major Carrington tonight that it was impossible to get Jack transferred to this division.
Bee: It has been a most wonderful day - perfect, in fact, although it rained hard last night. We had our Brigade sports, which were a great success. The officers' jumping was the first event. There were seven of us in for it. The jumps were four bush jumps, a 5-foot and a timber jump to finish up with. I managed to win. D36 had two good horses in, but they weren't too cunning. Walrond and Claudie fought for second and in the run off Claudie won, so the 15th did not do badly. In the secion jumping, we won hands down. There were also: a boat race; VC; hundred yards; tug of war; and wrestling on horseback. The star turn was the best turned out gun and team. Really this was a wonderful exhibition, the harness was wonderfully got up. Major Carrington judged and did it most thoroughly. The 48th came first and we second. The winner really had a wonderful show with the gun - they even varnished their paintwork and burnished up every bit of metalwork. I must say, I never expected to see such a show on active service. The feeling in the different batteries is running very high, but I must say we as a battery have done wonderfully well today.
Bee: It was quite a decent morning - fine nearly - and rained in the afternoon. I went to Aix-le-Chateau, to try to get a bath, but had no luck - the same old cry, no fuel. This morning we competed against the 48th at 100 yards, wrestling on horseback and tug of war - and were beaten in everything. This afternoon, we played off with them in football. They tied last time, after playing an hour overtime, but today we had the upper hand and won 6 to nothing. The score makes it look very uneven, but it was not. This evening we had a lecture on horse management by Major Swanston, Veterinary Officer. But he did not commit himself and did not tell us very much.
Walford: On the Tuesday, as Suttie was going down to Boulogne in place of the Colonel, who had not returned from leave, to see some camouflage factory, I went with him, my course being on his way. We ran down to the port in an open Sunbeam, and on along the coast towards Calais, to a small village where, after following several other staff cars, we eventually found the place. I waited outside until the Corps commander had finished his tour of inspection then, as Suttie was supposed to lunch with the Corps commander, I retired gracefully to the Louvre hotel, where I was joined a few minutes later by Suttie, who had lost the General. Boulogne was very empty as leave had stopped, owing to a boat having sunk in the mouth of the harbour - the port was closed. After lunch, we visited the fish market, but there was nothing left, so set out for Cressey. It was soon raining and we had to raise the hood. I was dropped at Cressey at about five p.m. I found several other men hunting for billets in the pouring rain. The show was damned badly run – no billets were arranged for and we had to fight for our own. I got a filthy place on top of the Army Post Office. The course was a farce from beginning to end. The lecturers were bad and and we learned little or nothing at all. There were only lectures in the morning so, when we could, in the afternoon we used to try to get into Abbeville by lorry. On Monday at midday my horses arrived and I rode back in the rain, arriving at the battery to find Suttie on leave, Bailey back again and the battery moving on the following morning. There were also awaiting me many letters of congratulations from home.
Walford: Christmas, Suttie and I attended Holy Communion on morning stables - nine thirty to ten forty-five. After seeing men's lunch, Hoyland and I lunched and walked to Aix le Chateau. We also visited D36, finding them in a very exhausted condition as a result of lunch. Sanger beat to the wide, playing footer on a heavy lunch.
Bee: I went to Communion this morning. We first of all went out and tried some horses over the RA point to point hurdle race course. There were ten altogether. The going was very heavy. I rode Thorlburn's, which went very well but is not in much condition for that sort of work, although was much ahead of anything else that was there. Thank goodness Christmas only comes once a year, it is most upsetting. Two estaminets were opened today, of course the men made the most of it. We went round most of the subsection dinners, the sergeants' Mess was the funniest. The Wheeler Sergeant Hall and Viller being absolutely blotto. It is too much of a strain drinking their healths at every dinner.
Walford: A bright sunny day and we had a good stables managing to get most of the surface mud off the horses. The centre section played the fifteenth centre and our right played the fifteenth right at football in the afternoon. The result was a win and a very exciting draw, an extra half hour having been played but giving no score.
Bee: I was feeling very rotten this morning and did not get up until twelve midday. The old lady in my house - who was about 60, fell over the door step two days ago and has been very ill ever since - died. It is rather sad - the poor old girl had very bad asthma.
Walford: During the morning Suttie went into Abbeville in the RA car, but before he left, being OC brigade, in Goschen's absence, he had mounted a picket in the town and put all estaminets out of bounds, to stop an occurrence of the previous days' drunken orgy. The picket bagged about 5 drunks. It rained in the afternoon and Cruikshank and I took a ride over the open country for exercise. The horse lines were like a bog as a result of the rain.
Bee: Blew a hurricane all day. I took the exercise this morning. The Tommies in the Brigade have been kicking over the traces, so Major Grant Suttie, who is acting Colonel, has put on a town picket and closed all estaminets, which has brought both them and the Mayor to their senses. The cinema was knocked over last night and damaged, which my section are blamed for, and so it has been stopped. We had our Christmas dinner party last night. Major, Carrington, Grant Suttie, Walrond, Captain Buxton, Todd, Thorlburn, Walford, Claudie and self. It went off very well but nothing like last year. I being Mess secretary did not have much time to fit things up. Having no flowers on the table rather spoilt things. It was very orderly, owing to restrictions on the men. We hear we leave here on the 1st and go into action at Courcerlay, a joyful spot - they say the Hun snipes the dial sights with a rifle and all ammunition has to be carried by hand.
First I must excuse myself for not writing for so long. I see I have not written since the 26th of last month. Well, I must try to tell you what has happened since then. I might tell you I have not done any battery work for over three weeks, although it is only 300 yards away. To tell you the reason, in a few words, I was detailed by the OC to run a brigade canteen and had to start from behind scratch. We started out to rest on the second inst, and were short of officers, our Major and several officers on leave. Our Captain had only just joined us and knew very little about the workings of the battery. The only other officer has not been with us long, so I had quite a lot to do. The captain is a very nice man and let me carry on. It is just like any other walk of life. One battery does certain things that another battery would not think of. Just merely a matter of opinion. These little things all help to make things run smoothly. I forgot, we also have two officers in hospital. We marched as a division. The first day was very cold with a hard frost. It froze all day which was a great benefit in some ways, as there was no mud. We had a very good march and were inspected by our
General and Colonel en route. Got to our destination at three p.m. that night and stayed the night in a small village. I might add we were leading battery in the division the first day.
The next day our orders were changed, as so often happens, and we heard when we were on the road that we would reach our final destination. Our previous order said that we would go nearly double the distance back so of course when we heard this it aroused suspicion as we were not far enough behind the lines and knew at a pinch they could rush us in in a day. Anyway, to date they have left us in peace.
This village we are in had very few British troops in before but I thought it would not last as I know what Tommy is like and how I would feel if I had a lot of French troops billeted on me, but it is only human nature. At the present, then the Mayor is very much against us. In the first place, the village is so small it will hardly hold us. The heads who sent us here merely looked at the map and said, 'Here is a village, let us put these fellows in there and let them look after themselves.' Billets for the men were hard enough to find, let alone officers. We are settled right now. One of the batteries found an unoccupied chateau about a mile away and got permission to go into it. They are most awfully comfortable and have all the horses undercover, which is a great thing. The officers have a big room each to sleep in. I was out there one day and one of our fast aeroplanes came down in the grounds, owing to engine trouble. I had a look at it; what wonderfully compact machines they are. I'm convinced that we shall use them in the near future, especially in the back country. To people like the McKinnon's they would be of great use, also to stock agents. The cost is small, but the keeping of the engines would be a big problem.
Three days after we got here the Colonel had a meeting of OCs to draw up a programme of amusements for the men. The whole problem was there was no room or hall or barn where you could put more than 30 men at a time. The office bearers were selected for football, boxing, amusement and canteen. I was chosen to run a canteen and recreation room. It does not sound much, but it entailed more work even than I anticipated. There are over 800 men in the brigade and hungry ones at that. Stores were very hard to get and long distances to go for them, to find what you wanted. The whole thing started from behind scratch. The money first of all had to be borrowed from the officers – a matter of 2500 francs. Then I had to run about the country on horseback looking for supplies. For instance, I would go to one place with an order for 1000 francs worth and I would be lucky if I got 400 francs worth. Even that would take us a day to get back to my canteen so I agitated until I got a motor lorry. I must say Colonel Goschen was very good and gave me all the assistance he could but the job was really too much for one man. After worrying the division for the loan of 2000 francs, they finally decided to start a canteen themselves. By the time they decided this I was just about filled up and then of course they would not take over the which I had on hand. Anyway I'm glad to say I have got it all off my shoulders and the division canteen is installed and I hope I never have to do grocer to the brigade again. Of course, one has not much of a say, if you are ordered to do these things. Anyway, the Colonel has seen for himself that it is a pretty big problem. I must say the men appreciated my efforts. Funnily, the head man in the divisional canteen is a Tasmanian and comes from Launceston. It is rather bad luck I was picked on for the job as I have not been near the battery and it is the only chance an officer has of getting to know the men in his section.
Well, everybody is talking about the divisional sports, which take place at the end of the month. There is a point-to-point hurdle race, which I have a mount in – not a bad little horse either, but I'm afraid if the weather does not fine up a bit the going will be very heavy, though my mount ought to do better under these conditions than others as he is very heavily built and his usual rider weighs 13 stone. We know when we are going into the line again and are afraid we will find it very wet and cold after billets as know there are very few dugouts even. But we can't complain after having a rest.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day. We had our dinner party last night, which went off very well, although not quite as good as last year. I did hope to hear from Jack while out here, as did hope to be able to run over and see him, but of course he has not written since he shifted. Dad, your samples of wool have aroused great interest in people. So few of them have ever seen natural wool. Our Colonel is very much interested in stock, although he has not much to do with them. I believe he's very well off. Tell Sister Murphy that I got the Sentimental Bloke and love it. I used to read it on my way shopping but I have not had time to write to her yet. Mother, your photo arrived last week. I like it very much.
You will see by the divisional Christmas card I sent you that this division has done a bit of fighting in the war. Those are only official battles.
I'm very much pleased to hear you are so much better but do go on slow speed.
Walford: Bailly is taken away in an ambulance after breakfast, with piles or something similar to that. Hoyland returned from the gas course in the afternoon. It had rained all morning but in the afternoon my section were beaten by the 15th Battery. The audience were very merry as I think the majority had drunk too much vin rouge in the estaminets.
Bee: I tried to get a motor bicycle out of Gillingham who is the aide de camp to the General, but had no luck. But in the evening saw Major Carrington, Brigade Major, who paid me up.
Walford: During the afternoon, our centre section won a good match against the 15th Battery, with a strong wind blowing. The band played an odd tune or two during the game. After dinner, we invited all the other battery officers to come round for cofee and we had the divisional band playing in a barn opposite the Mess in the main street.
Bee: Owing to the lorry trouble, the Colonel has been trying to borrow 2000 francs from the Division as before we came out to rest they were rather advertising the fact that they had more money than they knew what to do with in their funds. But, when it came to the point, they made out they had none. Anyway, after a lot of correspondence between the Colonel and HQ, the latter finally decided they would equip a canteen and send it along and rake in the profits themselves. I only heard this this morning. It is rather bad luck as I have only just stocked up, after a lot of trouble. I rang up HQ during the afternoon and asked if their canteen would take over my stock and they said no. So I had to arrange about placing it.
Walford: Section gun drill from nine thirty a.m for an hour, a very frosty morning. One of my horses died of colic during the night - he was a bad windsucker.
Bee: Walrond and Claudie went to Abbeville. The lorry went to Goschen-le-Gal [?]to pick up our piano, which we left there before we went to the Somme. I jumped my horses today and found they are both quite handy.
Walford: Hoyland was pushed off on a gas course as he was the only officer present who had not been on one. I got back in time to take my section at gun drill - rather, I did a little director work with the NCOs.
Bee: This transport for canteen is getting to to the limit. One minute you are told you can have the lorry, then you are told it is cancelled, which is an awful humbug. Went to Holy Communion this morning.
Walford: Siggers at six a.m started off with the General in his box car for Boulogne. The Colonel also went. About four p.m. Hoyland arrived at the Mess, having returned off leave. I went over to a small village in the evening to dine and stop with Kellagher for the night and had a very pleasant evening.
Bee: Motor lorry still not allowed to run. Other transport is very hard to get. Got the Colonle to detail someone else to take the canteen on after Christmas day, which is a great thing.
Walford: After a heavy lunch, Suttie, Bailley, Siggers and I took a long walk in the fog, making across country and trying to lose ourselves. This we nearly did do and never got back until five thirty p.m.
Bee: The canteen job is never ending and takes up all one's time. I had a rather bad day. To start with, someone pinched my bicycle. Then heard, 10 minutes before the actual time, that the Colonel was coming round to see us take our sections at gun drill. It was a bit nerve wracking as I had no time to open a book I floundered away, my No. 1s helping me all they could. But my knowledge of sequence of orders was very crude. He dealt very leniently with me and said he advised me to look at the book. We were the first to be inspected and he was in good temper but believe he let go on some of the others. One sub in the 48th carried out a series with the muzzle cover on, which did improve things.
Walford: There was nothing doing on Friday. On Saturday afternoon, Siggers and I rode to a national church mission held at a village some 10 miles away. There was a good gathering, including Saunders, Walker and several other generals and the meeting lasted about two and a half hours. When we rode home, it was very dark. In the morning, the Colonel had taken us at section gun drill. Siggers was first and in a fit of nervousness tried to bring the guns into action before preparing for action and then Sergeant Higgins let him down by leaving his muzzle cover on, Siggers going on with a series did not notice it. I was needless to say very nervous and muddled through pretty badly, but the Colonel did not grouse.
Walford: A fine sunny day, so we moved the lines onto new ground. Siggers carried on with his gun drill each morning for the rest of the week. Left section beat the brigade in the afternoon. Kellagher came round for a few minutes in the evening and Walrond arrived back off leave.
Bee: The men always told me that they would buy me out once they got paid and they kept their word. The only failure is the beer - they can get it in the town. I went out to D 36's new quarters. They have got a big chateau about a mile out of this village and live like fighting cocks. All the horses are under cover, each officer has a room to himself. There was a brand-new aeroplane in the garden, which came down owing to engine trouble. It was on its way to Ypres, a Sopwith - a fast machine and I never knew what a compact thing they are.
Walford: In the morning Bailey went to do some Christmas shopping – mostly food for the canteen and men's Christmas dinners. It was showery in the morning but in the afternoon the left section played the brigade but three minutes before time the ball burst, luckily for them, as we had five goals to their one
Bee: The whole brigade paid their men today and they fairly knocked me kite high. The only thing that stopped them buying me out was that I could not get any small change. I begged and borrowed 50 francs of small change, which only lasted half an hour. Of course, to complete the thing, the lorry was stopped from running, owing to the state of the roads.
Walford: When I arose it was snowing and continued throughout the day. The lines were a mass of liquid mud.
Bee: The 41st brigade had the lorry but I made arrangements with them that I would go with it. It was snowing hard when we left here and very cold. We first of all called at Frevent and found a huge canteen with the best stock we have found yet but even they did not have all we wanted so we left our orders and proceeded on to St Poll, 35 kilometres from here. We passed the 23rd division on the march, poor things – they looked half frozen. The poor old lorry broke down once or twice but got it going again. Another tiring day. Got back at nine p.m. but it was a more satisfactory day. I have a rather good stock in now, considering.
Walford: The usual run of duty went on, with a few odd parades thrown in. Siggers took his section at gun drill for an hour before stables. During stables, the major had all the horses out in a field and reteamed them.
Bee: The divisional band turned up today, without any warning. The trouble is we have no big room or barn where we can put them to play, and it is raining hard. Of course, Todd, the man running the concert, made no arrangement for them to play. I happened to be in the brigade office at seven p.m. and heard them talking and said I would fix them up if only they would give me some kerosene to light my lamp. Inside 20 minutes they were playing – otherwise they would have gone without playing a note. The men had to stand in the rain, but nevertheless they enjoyed the music.
Walford: After three days hard travelling via Southampton and Havre, reached Amiens with Murdoch about two a.m. and tried to get a bed in a hotel, but no one would have us. So we had to spend the time in a YMCA hut full of officers and caught a five a.m. train for Abbeville, where we found a very nice officers' club, after dragging our kit half round the town. It was Sunday and inclined to rain so, after enquiring about the trains to St Riquier and finding no convenient ones, we accosted several motor drivers and found a lorry going our way. At St Riquier, as luck had it, we just hit a leave lorry passing through the town, so jumped up, otherwise we should have had to camp at a dirty little estaminet. At seven, having ridden standing up on the tailboard all the way, we were glad to hear we were at our destination, Maizicourt, a small village, and we were dropped at the gates of RAHQ. Brigade HQ were just on the other side of the road and there we found the Colonel, Todd, Suttie, Thorburn, McKinna (Vet. Off.) and, after having some tea, Suttie showed me the way to the Mess. It had rained steadily all the afternoon.
Bee: I opened the canteen and sold nearly everything I had. Coffee seems to be the chief thing they want, but cannot get a copper or fuel. I got some beer after a struggle, but when I had got it they would not drink it. Today our divisional mail, which had been lost for over six weeks, turned up. I have no spare time these days and find I have not written home for ages. I am still borrowing money for the canteen and now have over 2,000 francs on loan.
Bee: A little more hope today - heard late last night that RA had a lorry at their service. We started off at eight a.m. for Rancheval, 20 kilometres from here, through Doullens. It is a huge canteen, but the same cry - very little stock on hand, owing to railway. Arrived at canteen at eleven a.m. but could not get served until two p.m., owing to the crowd and even then we only got 800 francs worth. Arrived back here at nine p.m., very tired and weary.
Bee: Spent most of the day begging for the canteen - first money and then conveyances to bring stuff here, without much success. I find it a far bigger problem than even I had thought it would be. I have no time for Battery work at all. We finished up today by buying stores from a canteen in Aux-le-Chateau [?] but it is on the same game as we are and can't make any profit out of what we buy.
Bee: I saw the Colonel and he told me that our men were moving out of half of their billet, which would make a recreation room and our OMS stores were to be the canteen. I started to work to get things going. All I had to start with was a Bombardier and gunner and two rooms. I went around borrowing money from the various batteries and at eleven a.m. riding to St Riquier with my first order. It is about 10 miles. I placed a 1,000 franc order on the counter and all they could give me was 400-worth. A bit of a blow after riding all that way, but I soon saw how hard it was going to be to get the stuff - from Doullens to the sea, every town is full of soldiers out of the line and the demand is greater than the supply. The stuff I did get, I had to fight for, as I had no conveyance to take it away and even while I was there they could have sold it three times over. I got back about four p.m and told the Colonel how hard it was to get stuff and he had great hopes of getting a lorry
Bee: We did not move into our new Mess until after lunch. The woman who owned the one we were leaving was very sorry we were going. D 36 Sergeants go into it. Our new Mess is a very spacious place and the old priest made himself very agreeable, but looks a silly old creature. We have two bedrooms and a sitting room and full use of the kitchen, which has a stove or range. It is frightfully hard to get coal here. The inhabitants' coal comes from Bruay and is portioned out to them and, of course, they won't sell any.
Bee: The Colonel was round this afternoon and told us we were to move into the Curais[?] House, intsead of Mills. This place is right at the opposite end of the town but is much larger and will take us easily. The Colonel had a meeting of OC to arrange about pastimes for the men while at rest. Our fellows have been kicking over the traces a bit and I have to do all the dirty work and had them all up this morning and dressed them down, telling them they would not have much fun if they did not pull themselves together. This meeting decided to have a concert, boxing, football and Canton Comte [?] I nearly fell over when Bromley came back and told me I was chosen to run the Canton [?] and recreation. I went and tried to protest against the Colonel, but he said it was no use, I would have to find time. Very easily said, but there is only Kershaw and Bromley in the Battery at present.
Bee: Quite a decent day - saw the sun for a few hours. Hard frost last night. We had a sort of feeling that we were not going to stay here, as everyone is so cramped. The Colonel was in this afternoon and said as far as he knew we would be here until 1st January, but of course subject to alterations. The watering of horses and men will be a big question.
Bee: We were the last battery in the Division to move today and started at nine a.m. It was a good day but very cold, freezing all the time, but the roads were in good condition. We marched very slowly, came by Doullens, Frohen-le-Grand, Bealcourt, and finished up at Maiseon [?]. We expected to go back as far as Atheuille[?], but our Colonel told us while on the march that we would reach our final destination today. The billeting was done very badly. The party left at eight a.m. and came straight across bu,t as they had not fixed up the Coops [?], evidently put us into this village on second thoughts. Evidently looked on the map and said, 'Oh, there's a village, put them in there', regardless of whether there were enough billets or house lines. As it turns out, there are not enough billets. And, of course, no horse lines or water. We got in here about three p.m., all feeling more or less hungry. We came off best with the horse lines, as have got roofed shelters for about 30 horse, but we are going to use them for harness rooms and blacksmiths. The 64 division passed through here before us, and we found things in a disgraceful condition. In our lines we had one dead horse unburied and no end of garbage left about. The Brigade HQ found one dead horse and two lame in their billet. And trust we never leave our billets in the same condition. We had hard work to find a Mess, but the woman in the house we finished up in is a most obliging woman; she can't do enough for us. Her husband has been a prisoner of war for over a year, and she has four children to look after. It is only a small house and she has to give up two rooms solely for our use and also let's the servants have the use of another room and fire, which she uses herself. These people, of course, have not had many troops billetted on them so haven't learnt the trial of the British Tommie.
Bee: On our way to rest. A very frosty night and just as hard as ever. We had an early start, breakfast at six thirty am. Which was very rushed as, instead of the servants calling us at five fifty, they did not do so until six twenty. This always happens, and always will ,I suppose. Of course, they could not get any water, as all taps and pipes were frozen, but as it was we got away on time, although we did not have Dickson, the cook, or Byard. I rode Walrond's horses and set sail from the Mess at 8 am. The mare I was riding is a very hot-headed thing and she shied and we hit a gunner broadside who was on a heavy draught, which frightened the life out of him, but he managed to stick on. We marched as a division and set sail, we leading our Brigade, at ten a.m. The genereal and our colonel - who, by the way, was changed while I was on leave, and we now have Col Groschen, who seems a very good fellow - well, they had a look at us as we passed. The general did not pass any opinion but the colonel had one or two small worries, such as packing kits tidily on the wagons and such things. We came along without a hitch. The roads were in fine condition as were frozen enough to keep the mud solid. We came via Louvencourt, Sarton, and finished up at Authieule at two pm. Watering was about half a mile from the lines, in buckets, and took some time, as the horses were very thirsty, not having had water since four p.m. the day before. The men have billets, just roofs, but the ground is dry. We have a billet but not a very cheery room, as it has no fire place and the night has every prospect of being damn cold.
Bee: Still another frost, which was just as hard. Heard for certain that we are going to move tomorrow with empty ammunition wagons, which is a great godsend as had not to worry about shifting it. An officer just waliked into the Battery and gave me a receipt for what we had and that ended it. On my way down, I went to the cemetery and saw Bomb. Woods' and Ellis' graves. They lie side by side. The men went down to the wagon line this afternoon. Orders came in late this afternoon and we shall have to start pretty early.
Bee: Hard frost last night and kept on freezing all day. Up at the guns. After having orders and cancelling them once or twice, we finally heard that we are to start on our way to rest tomorrow. Let's trust it is true. Our rest officially starts tomorrow, whether we go, or whether we don't.
Bee: Was relieved on time by Kershaw and got back to Mailley Maillet quite early. Hard frost last night and very cold this morming. The Hun paid a lot of attention to Mailley today. He was shelling it just before I got down and also had straffs later in the day - and put some unhealthily close to our Mess. Two direct hits in the next door house to us. The street was full of infantry and GS wagons, but he did no damage. I spent most of my day tidying up papers and writing. It was horribly foggy all day. It gets dark now at four p.m. Walrond was very excited as he and Thorlburn go on leave tonight. They expected to go by car with Carrington, the Brigade Major, but the Corps are so tired that they have gone out to rest and left our RA staff in sole charge, which stops Carrington from going on leave. The Mess is very small in numbers. Bromley and I were the only two for dinner. Had a letter from Mim. Rumour says we are to now be kept in here until after Christmas, which is rather hard.
Bee: Another very cold night, hard frost. I must get an eiderdown, I think. Came up to the guns with Bromley, a very thick fog. He went to the OP but came back soon after lunch as could not even see our support line. We are not responsible for any front these days, the 37th Division are holding and we merely fire in barrages. But, out of six guns, only have two in action. We put up a barrage this morning, on Munich Trench, merely a fake, what they call drilling the Hun, making him go to his dug outs. Then, when the time does come, we hope he will do the same thing. Has been a very quiet day on the whole. This evening about five p.m., the Hun has a small organised show on our trenches, but he got just as much back. Wilman went to hospital today.
Bee: It was a quite decent day, hard frost last night. I spent most of my time tidying up the stationery box and sorting papers. Also discarded a few things out of my kit. After lunch, I rode over to Acheux and visited the Field Cashier and drew money for all officers in the battery. The roads were in a frightful mess. They are just a sea of mud and full of holes. The main street in Acheux was being completely redone. There were 1,000 men and five steamrollers working on half a mile of road. I went across country and round about the ammunition dumps the mud was simply frightful. I came back in time for tea as it was starting to rain. Wilman does not look very well this evening. It is touch and go whether he goes to hospital or not. If he does go he will probably never get back to the division as we are out of area at present. Orders came tonight that all previous orders re going out to rest are cancelled.
Well, I am back with my Battery again, after a rather rotten trip but not nearly as bad as going over. MIldred made me up a parcel of food, which came in very handy. The leave is going better now than when I went over. They have made more preparation and are making it more of a business and are giving ten days instead of eight, which is rather unlucky from my point of view. I must say I enjoyed my leave very much and mapped my doings out according to my time. I spent the best part of one day at the Base, at the Officers' Club, and met Ronald Cumming, who had just come out. In fact, the division he is with had not arrived. He is on the staff and had only come over to make preparations. I also met Jack Russell who looks very well but has had a bad time. He has had an abscess in his mouth. The poor boy had been sitting there four days, waiting for his boat to sail.
What great rains you have had. The spring must have been wonderful. We are still having a lot of rain and, in recent shows, men have been taken prisoners through merely getting bogged in the mud. It reminds me very much of a fly-paper. You get bogged at night and the Hun comes out and bags you. Of course, we get prisoners the same way.
I missed the last show. It took place while I was on leave. There is no doubt it gave the Hun a great surprise and caught him unawares. Our people got no end of loot out of his dugouts. He was evidently convinced that nobody could possibly move during such weather. We find the Hun telephones wonderful things and are proud to say we are the possessors of one or two taken at Beaumont Hamel. We have great hopes of going out to rest shortly, which I hope happens. A rest and leave for the men will work wonders.
Walford got away for his 3rd leave the night before last. I heard from Jack last night. He, poor soul, has been sent to another school. He must be getting sick of schools as he has been to so many. He also tells me he has no chance of getting leave for six months. There is a new order out that no-one can go on leave until they have been in the country for six months.
We have been very unlucky in our mails lately. Have only had one in the last month but, when they do come, they ought to come in large numbers.
Bee: It rained very hard all last night and everybody was flooded but Walrond came up fairly early and I got away after lunch. Bromley and Kershaw went to the front line to witness a practice of a barrage as the infantry said we had been shooting short, which proved incorrect. They said everybody was walking about on top as the trenches were up to your waist in water. In places there were only about 100 yards between our fellows and the Huns.
Bee: I went up to the guns this morning. It rained hard most of the day. Had a very quiet time on the whole. Major Suttie was up there most of the day, but went down in the evening. The Mess was rather uncomfortable as it leaked in a good many places. The gun pits were about two feet in water and most of the dugouts were full of water. We had a great rag with the Brigade as they always ring up the batteries when they have a dinner. So we had an organised straff on our own. Each battery rang up in turn and asked them some absurd question. The fellow asked if they would take the batteries' time and said the enemy were shelling our trucks heavily with varey lights.
Walford ends his first war diary on 23rd November and does not start a new one until 10th December.
Bee: I was not relieved until seven thirty p.m.owing to some mistake on the Brigade's part, which was rather rotten as it was so cold and had had no breakfast. Came down to the Maillet Mess and went and had tea with the 48th. Walford goes on leave tonight.
Walford: Siggers and I walked up to the guns together, he going up to remain the day and myself to see Br Beach about a Bosch telephone, for which I paid him 80 francs. It was a good sunny day, and I wandered back to the Mess for lunch.
Bee: Went to the OP this morning. It is rumoured that we are going out to rest for six weeks at Abbeville, which sounds all right. There was quite good light today, for this time of year. We had quite a lot of fun sniping, but the climax came when I hit a man. I felt very sorry but, of course, the same would have been done to me if I had been going overland. I hardly knew the country, it had changed so much from the shelling. There was a very hearty barrage put up by our people this evening. They were trying to relieve 100 men who are isolated and have been fighting for their existence for three days. Two of their party came in the night before and explained the situation.
Walford: Siggers and I walked to the wagon line, it being a beautiful morning, after the sun had broken through the fog. We had gone down as the Colonel was having a walk round the wagon lines to look at the horses. He arrived soon after we got there and walked round the horses and seemed fairly satisfied, although he did not like the kind of lumps rising on them, which take a lot of work to get off. Suttie joined us soon after he had gone and told us they were trying to get him off to England to be an instructor at Brigadier Kerwin's school, but I am glad to say he refused to go. We walked back to Maillet together across the fields. In the afternoon, Suttie went to the guns and we stayed at the Mess. Murdoch came round in the afternoon, to arrange about going on leave together. We have to fight our way to Havre. He stopped to tea. It is exactly a year since I joined the battery and, looking back on it, it seems at least three or four years since Bee and I arrived in France.
Bee: A very foggy morning. I came up to the guns and relieved Kershaw. Everything is much the same but still plenty of mud about. One of my Corporals has been badly wounded. Corporal Cundall has gone Sergeant.
Walford: a damp, foggy day. In the morning, I rode over to Acheux, to draw 500 francs for the men going on leave. Called in at the wagon line on the way back and found the sergeant major in bed with a bad neck, his blood being out of order. In the afternoon, Walrond brought Bee round to the Mess and they stopped for tea. Bee had just returned from leave and related to us what a rough journey he had received in trying to get home. There seemed to be no proper leave train running.
Bee: We were in the train all yesterday and finally got out at Acheux at eleven a.m. I made my way up into the town and found a place where I got a cup of coffee and an omelette. Then I waited about until I got a lorry, which was going towards Maillet. The roads were simply blocked with traffic and very cut up. The second man in the lorry had to walk in front of his lorry going through the town. We passed the RHA coming out of action. I saw Palmer walking in front of his battery, which only went a few yards and then stopped. I got back to the Mess about one p.m. and found them in the same place, Claudet having started on leave the night before, Kershaw at the guns, Willman in bed with boils, Bromley and Walrond at lunch. The latter has a crown up and all captains in command of six-gun batteries have become majors. They all wanted to know why I came back so soon and seemed to be in great spirits. I had to tell them all about my doings and I in turn heard all about the show. The Hun must have got a great surprise at losing Beaumont-Hamel, as they seem to have found it as if he intended to be there for the winter. Kershaw got three Bosch telephones and a mortar dial sight. The telephones are wonderful things and are in use. I went round and saw Walford.
Walford: Monday, as Siggers and Hoyland had to go and see Carrington and report to him about things up in frontline while they were F O Os, the former did not reach the guns till midday. So I lunched at the position and came on down to the Mess about two. Suttie who, by the way, has been promoted to Major, was presiding at a court martial. It was a cold, windy day and I found Cruikshank and Hoyland in the Mess having their everyday sparring match.
Bee: In the train all day. Finally got out at Acheux.
Leave has now come to an end, and I am on my way back to the battery after having had a very good time.
The weather was very cold, and it snowed yesterday. I saw a lot of Australians at the Carlisle Club. It is a regular meeting place. I saw Alan Bell and Adrian Ritchie. They are looking splendid and I expect will be going out again shortly. Bill Hunter is in hospital. He had a small operation but looks well. I spent a little time every day with the dentist and was fixed up by a man called Morris in Park Street, a New Zealander whose patients seemed to be mostly Australians. I needed a lot of things and thought I would get them all under the same roof and save time, so I went to Harrods. It took me three hours. I told one man it was harder to find your way about than in the trenches. His reply was, “I hope we treat you better than they do there”. My goodness, they are slow. I had lunch with Mr Brett one day in the city – he, poor man, has just had his house robbed. The burglars took everything that was silver and most things had been given him before he left Australia. I saw Claudia Brown, whoever she might be now I don't know, and she told me about Reggie who as usual has fallen on his feet again and has a staff job in Salonika I think. Alec Mackintosh has at last got over on leave, after 18 months. He looks well but did not have much time as Ella had a few days off and I hear the fat is in the fire as they are not allowed to get married. Poor Mim Knox, I saw her the day Bill had departed for the front, and she was rather sad. Had lunch with Barbara, who came up from the Streeters. She looks splendid. She was quite excited when I told her where Jack was. I did not see John Streeter but hear he is a great boy. Oh, I have had my photo taken and have asked Mim to fix them up for me. I saw a lot of her and she's working hard in a canteen. I went down and saw it – a splendid place, most wonderfully comfortable, and the colonial troops are awfully lucky to have such a place.
Well mum and dad I intended to send you something but could not think of anything that might be of use, but nevertheless I thought of you. I sent Aplin a pipe, Mr Gray some cigars, addressed to dad, which I hope he will clear through the Customs.
Walford: Sunday. Relieved Cruikshank at the guns, receiving a lift up to the Sucrerie in an ambulance. We fired on a brigade barrage line during the day. Otherwise everything was quiet. Major Carrington looked us up towards evening and told us all sorts of rumours about going out to rest. From about six thirty p.m. at three intervals of a half hour Bosch searched the tra way on the left of the Mess with his 5.9-inch gun, simply showering our dugout with mud and, although he had several within 10 yards of us, he did not drive us into the cellar. Later on, towards evening, he put about 12 over in front of the battery, three of them being only a few yards short, beautiful big holes they make too, almost as big as an 8-inch.
Bee: We went alongside the pier about eight a.m. and fought our way to the R T O's office where I found our train did not sail until ten p.m. So I then set off for the Officers' Club, which is a long walk from the wharf but a very homely comfortable little place. Had breakfast and a clean up and hung about inside all day. The place was crowded with officers as no leave boat had gone out for five days. I met Ronald Cumming, who had just come over with the staff of the Australian 3rd division. He looks very flourishing. I also saw Jack Russell who has been waiting five days to get across. We had a good dinner and got down to the railway station in good time, to find the RTO did not want to see us until eleven thirty p.m. It was frightfully cold hanging about there and we finally stayed there until two a.m. And some others were then taken back to the middle of the town by motor lorry as our train was starting from there. We got back there, to find there were only a few third class carriages and the rest trucks. I and another man managed to find a third carriage, with some cushions which we shook the worst of the dust off and made fairly respectable. I had a blanket with me, which I found very useful, as it was so cold. We paddled along at about 12 miles an hour, stopping for hours at a time in some places. Finally finished up at Acheux at eleven a.m. I was very glad of Mildred's parcel of food, which she supplied me with before starting, but I could not get a drink for love or money, which was rather depressing.
Walford: At six there was a strafe on Munich Trench and we were trying to take it. I had to sit up at the window and look for green flares, which would mean we had gained our objectives. It was too misty to see anything but showers of red lights and golden rockets from the Bosch, the former calling for artillery support, the latter a signal for their gunners to increase the range, probably owing to their shooting short. The attack was a failure, which was not to be wondered at when we heard Hoyland's report, on his returning from doing F O O with the infantry. The snow gradually turned into rain and a fast thaw set it.
Bee: It was snowing in London today and very cold. The train was reported to leave Waterloo at four p.m. Had lunch with RSG and left the Carlyle Club about three p.m. Arrived at Waterloo to find that the train had not even come into the platform and crowds were waiting to get onto the platform. The train now is not due to start until four thirty p.m., although they say four p.m. I met an Australian officer in the carriage – a South Australian machine gunner. We got straight off the tram onto the boat, which was a paddle steamer. The boat was simply packed, not a spare inch of space. But it was bigger than the one we came over on. And they did give us a meal, which was very acceptable. We sailed about eight p.m. By tipping the steward, I managed to get a shakedown and got a little sleep, but the atmosphere was very thick. There was a tremendous bump about four a.m. but I never discovered what we hit.
Walford: Friday. It is a cold frosty morning and I start out for the O.P. with Siggers and Suttie who were both going to the guns. There was a bitter east wind blowing straight in the loop hole and observing was one of the worst games to be at. However, about lunch time, a few Bosche strolled about in the open and I sniped at them with HE, the result proving successful as there were no more seen after we gad fired 30 rounds. At night the signallers and I got a good fire going in the dug out and managed to keep ourselves from freezing. There was a little snow during the night, beginning at about midnight.
Walford: A glorious sunny morning as a result of the frosty night, so Siggers and I walked to the wagon line. When we crossed the railway at Beausart we found a Nieuport Scout in the field. It had evidently had to land through engine trouble and crashed on the rough ground through landing. It was a neat little thing, just like a miniature plane, with a very powerful engine in it and only room for one. We lunched with the 34th Brigade WL officers, then rode back on my horses across country' we stretched the horses' legs a little. The Bosche lost an aeroplane over Couin, he being brought down by ten of our,s who surrounded him. In the evening our spirits were well in the air owing to the fact that leave had opened and Bailey had his name sent in.
Walford: Wednesday, Hoyland relieved me about ten and was very envious when I got down to the Mess and saw all Siggers' loot - 4 good Bosch telephones, complete, 1 Minnen Werfer dial sight, 1 Mauser pistol, about .33 calibre. Siggers related his experiences which were all very thrilling and as for Gr. Beach, a signaller, who had a bullet glance off his eyelid and go through his tin helmet, it seems miracles will never cease to happen. Bosche pitched his nasty 6-inch gun shells about the town during the day and one fell about 15 yards in front of the brigade, which rather put the wind up them. Siggers had an exciting time coming back as some Bosche had come up out of their dug outs, which had been missed in the advance, and held part of their old front line and were sniping our people who had gone forward. He naturally had to make a detour to get back home.
Walford: There was another attack, just to clear up the line, at six a.m., but how it came off I never heard. Bosche took a dislike to the O.P for about 20 minutes and put a few 4.2 hows very close. Captain Bromley was with me at the time and we took refuge in the dug out. About ten, the battery told me I could come in, so I went straight down to the battery and found that Cruikshank had gone, so I had to stay at the guns. We fired a lot of different barrages and continued through the night. Bromley, Walrond, Suttie and self had quite an amusing evening, all crowded round the fire. I was pulled out by the orderly sergeant before midnight to tell the No. 2 gun what I had already told them once, and my blood was a little bit heated. A Bosche aeroplane flew very low over the position about midday - you could see the pilots quite plainly, and a lot of people in other positions were loosing off rifles at it, but it looked about for nearly half an hour.
Walford: Monday, at six fifteen a.m. we attacked in a dense mist. It was rather a pity that the tanks were recalled, but they could not possibly have got through no-man's land as believe it was as much as the infantry could do to get across it, it was so boggy. Cruikshank and I were at the Mess, Siggers had gone over the top as liaison officer fith Flinn of the 50th, Hoyland and Suttie and Bailey were at the guns, the captain being in the trenches trying to observe. At ten, prisoners came rolling in, all looking very pleased with themselves, some smoking cigars and looking quite at home. About 1,500 to 2,000 must have come through during the day. Of course, there was very little information but things seemed to be going fairly successfully, except for the 3rd Division on our left who had failed to get into the Bosche frontline, owing, they said, to the mud. At midday we were shelled by 4.2 experimental shells and, as they were aiming at the crossroads near our Mess, we retreated to the Brigade chateau cellar and were nicely bracked but they eventually swept back to the crossroads again. Late in the afternoon, I was told that I had to be at the OP not later than six p.m. so went up to find Cannover of the brigade awaiting me. I had three signallers there, one to look out for SOS rockets, and we were to be there till morning.
Flinn wounded seriously and it is thought that he will not recover.
Major Goschen took over the brigade from Major Bridges, who went to the 33rd Division.
Bee: Spent the morning at Harrods. Bought most things I wanted there. Had my photograph taken and then went to lunch with Coo and had a great old talk. Afternoon tea with Aunt Lill and then to the dentist. Expected to go to the theatre with Gilliard but he evidently had to go away for the day so went on my own to Theadore and [illegible], a splendid thing. I fairly cried with laughter. Frank Finney is wonderful and I liked Madge Saunders. There was a frightful fog and it took a lot of finding your way about as very few taxis were running. People were walking in front of taxis with hand lamps and then they kept bumping into the curbstone. I met Moorman coming out of the show and we came back together.
Walford: Y day. I relived Cruikshank at the guns and on going up saw tank tracks all over the place and three tanks behind the Sucrerie, eight in front of the battery behind a hedge. Suttie and Bailey went up and registered the battery for the barrages of the attack and we shot well into the afternoon. Hoyland relieved me at five and on going back I heard the tanks were all retiring home as the ground was too heavy for them. I saw one down near Maillet just moving off. It had two 6-pounder guns, one each side, and was lit by electricity, even having headlights.
Bertie: Spent the day with Mim, Aunt Lil and Coo. Mrs Norman Armytage heard I was over and so got me to go to dinner in the evening and answer all questions. I was fairly stormed, Mrs and Edna talking at the top of their voices. There was a colonel there who seemed very amused I excused myself directly after the meal.
Well, I am on leave, which is the chief thing, and I am very lucky to have it as it has been stopped for some time. Only specials given. My O.C. and Brigade have been trying to get me leave for months, but the heads would not give it. I think they must have got tired of having my name sent in every few days and let me go for their own peace. I am in great form and very fit. The weather has taken up a bit too, which is good.
Had an Australian mail yesterday. From all accounts the rain must have done a lot of damage, but the after effects will be good. I last wrote two days before I left France. We have been waiting for fine weather the last five or six weeks to pull off the biggest show yet known, but the weather has been so bad they have been putting it off from day to day, which was rather trying as you never knew when the heads would start. There was great excitement just before I left. The show was off. One battery will go out for a week's rest, per brigade. We won the toss in our brigade and duly got under way, all feeling very happy. Of course, we knew we could not get away from the mud, but the noise and duty would not worry us. We got nearly to our appointed rest camp (merely an open field) about 10 miles from the battery position when a motor-bike orderly caught us and gave us a chit saying, 'You will be in action tonight about six p.m. Poor men, when they heard the news their faces did drop. It was very hard luck as it meant no rations, wet clothes and we would not get the guns in till late. But there it was. By this same orderly my leave warrant arrived. I was never so surprised in all my life. The O.C. made me buzz off right away, in case they tried to stop me, which was rather decent.
I had a rotten trip over, but you can put up with a lot with leave in front of you. It took three days travelling. Of course, you have to take your chance with trains as therer is no special leave train. Meals were the hardest things to get. All my meals consisted of omelettes comprised of six eggs, but I will know better going back and take a supply of food with me. These old goods trains go a bit faster than you can run and are continually held up. The channel did for me. It was rather rough and the boat we came on was rather small. No sleeping accommodation. We came by Havre and Southampton. We used our life-belts as mattresses, which took a little of the hardness out of the deck. We were put onboard at six p.m., expecting to sail at any minute, but did not get away until six a.m. next morning. I was very so-so next morning, a rough sea and an empty stomach did not help very much and I lay on the deck not caring much whether submarines or mines hit us. I made up for lost meals on arrival here. I have seen Mim, Aunt Lu and Coo and I am going to them for the day, then on to Mrs Norman Armytage to tell her how Charlie is. Mim is looking better than when I last saw her but seems to be working hard. There is great excitement about Walford and his Military Cross out here.
I saw Mrs Philip Russell and she told me she is going out to Australia so she will be able to tell you how we are.
I am going to try to give you a scheme so as to be able to tell you in which part of the line we are, without getting into trouble from the censor, We are now in what is known as the Serrie front. In my letter, I will put a capital on the first page and a dot over letters in other words which make it up. For example, if I write, 'S, Tell Estelle I got a letter from her this week and was very pleased' and put a dot over E, r, r, i and e, you will be able to read, 'Serrie'. I hope you will be able to follow the scheme. It will always be the name of some town or village.
Walford: I forgot to mention that yesterday was W day, the day before XY and Z, the two days of bombarment and eventual Z, the day of attack. So, Saturday, X day, a thick misty morning, looking as if it had not made up its mind whether to rain or not. Hoyland and I took it easy and in the evening I had a bath at baths for infantry, just over the road from our Mess.
Bee: Started out early, tried all sorts of ways to find oalnley [?] but failed but in the afternoon Gilliard traced him through the hospital to his house. Went to the dentist. In the afternoon, went to Hampstead and saw Bill Hunter who is in hospital. He was [illegible] at St John's Wood and has had rather a nasty time. In the evening, Mim, Nan, Gyp and I went to Drury Lane. It was a wonderfully staged show but absolute rot. And, to cap things, we could not get a taxi after the show.
Walford: Friday, I went to the WL with Bailey who was on his way to Doullens. We took a cut across the fields and had quite a good gallop in the warm sun, which had dried the surface up wonderfully in two days. The horses were not at their best after the work and bad weather they have been through and one horse in my section had pneumonia so the vet destroyed it as it was suffering so. After lunching with the 34th Brigade officers, I returned about four, having taken a circuit towards Acheux, with Murdoch. When I got back, I found that someone had to go up with the ammunition on the train and, as Siggers had gone out for some exercise, I strolled over to Collincam's siding to report to the station master, who I found in a dug out. The train was before time, and the engine unhooked as soon as she arrived and the petrol engine, which was in the middle of the train, started up. I climbed up inside the armoured cab and away we went, making what seemed to me inside a deuce of a row. After leaving the points from the siding, there is a small grade downhill and we fairly accelerated down there. I was beginning to wonder whether anyone had inspected the line to see if any shells had fallen on it. As soon as we stopped, I got out as imagined that by this time all the Bosche guns were concentrated on us. It was a lovely moon light night and very pleasant to be out in. We got all ammunition unloaded without a mishap.
Bee: Went out early, rushing round to Moss's and then to the Carlyle. Met Sam and Gilliard and yarned away. Found Uncle and Ritchie were doing light duty out of town. Ritchie came up in the evening and looks much better than I expected him to be. Heard Unc was taking a draught to Havre tomorrow. Went to the dentist and saw Mrs Philip Russell. Alec and Joan were out. The Russell family are going out to Australia. In the evening we went to the Hippodrome - With Flying Colours!' - and had a good laugh. Little Titch was most amusing and there was one of Bayn's father's sketches, which was very amusing. The characters were true to life.
Walford: Thursday, I came down from the guns with Hoyland who had been up at the OP as liaison officer. It was a beautiful summer day and Siggers came up to the guns. In the afternoon I found my revolver was rather rusty so had a few rounds at bottles against the garden wall of the chateau with some success but did not get the pit mark out of the barrel.
Walford: Wednesday. Went to the guns relieved Cruikshank. As I passed behind the Sucrerie they were dropping 8-inch into it. The weather was showery with a cold wind blowing. Most of the morning I spent bailing out the Mess, lacking corrugated iron on the roof to catch the water. As a result of the deluge, the deep trench we had dug at the back of the guns had fallen in.
Walford: Tuesday. Went to the RE dump at Beausart and also saw the Staff Captain of the 99th Brigade about baths for our men. It rained continually through the day, increasing to a deluge towards the evening and going on all through the night.
Bee: I borrowed Armytage's horse, as mine was knocked out, and started off at seven p.m., after having had a meal. It was a glorious night, bright moonlight. On my way, I met a fellow called Cane, Australian who was at Ipswich and is in the 11th Division, Tank Mortar, attached to us. Got to Louvincourt about nine p.m and found the railway station after a great hunt and found that it was only a narrow guage line train, not sailing until five forty-five a.m. After inquiries, we found an RE shanty who sheltered us for the night. Thank goodness I brought a blanket. We managed to get a little sleep and got out of the wind. We were the only two there up until eleven p.m., but men kept coming in all night and, by the time the train started, there were 20 there. The train duly arrived and it was horribly cold, not a seat to be had, so stood on the footboard for an hour and a half. Stopped at some place and got into another bigger guage. Went in this to some other place, arriving at eleven thirty a.m. Pushed out of this and were told would not go on until one thirty. Found an estaminet and had an omelette and coffee and then came back to the station and were pushed in trucks on a goods train and arrived at Abbefield at five p.m. It has rained hard all day. Here the RTO said that we could not get another train until eight p.m. Went up the town - quite a decent sized place. Had an omelette and coffee and shave, then got back to the RTO, who was not quite certain what time the train would start. He stopped us going by Boulogne. The train started at nine thirty p.m. We had a carriage to ourselves and got some sleep. Went along at a crawl and arrived at Le Havre at five p.m. without getting a thing to eat, which made us feel rather miserable. On reporting at Havre were told the boat would leave at six p.m. and were put into a motor lorry and were taken to the wharf. Here we found a lot more officers and men. The RTO did not condescend to see our passes until six p.m. but kept us standing in the wind and rain. After an awful pushing and shoving, we finally got onboard, where we learnt that the boat would not sail until six a.m. There were no bunks or food; you camped wherever you could find a space on the deck. Very hard. We did manage to scramble a little food - cold ham and dishwater. It was blowing a hurricane. She started to move at daylight and fairly bumped about. No breakfast, which, of course, did me in. People were sick all over the place, and I was as close as I could get to being sick, curled up on a very small position of the deck. I did not care what happened, shivering with the cold. We arrived at Southampton at four p.m. after loitering about and got to London at six p.m after a very miserable trip and losing a day of our leave. Went and got into mufti straight away, as was filthy and had not shaved for two days and only had GS boots on. Had dinner at Batts and then went and saw Mim.
Walford: Monday, Hoyland relieved me at ten a.m. and Cruikshank and I came down to Maillet, to the Mess. I did not get much sleep as Kershaw was to unload 1,600 rounds from the train and only had 12 men to do the job with - consequently he was up till day break. The 15th were all off for Thievre for a week's rest and left 5 men at the position to look after things and we were to ration them. It had rained most of Sunday night but was quite a good day now.
All the men except four left the guns last night and took two guns with them, for the purpose of training layers. It was a brute of a night. Of course, we got our full allotment of ammunition - four hundred boxes and we only had 12 men to shift them. They had a very thin time as it took from eight p.m. until five a.m. to do the job. We were all packed up by eight a.m. and moved off to wagon line by eight thirty. Picked them up at eleven thirty and got underway for [illegible]. Took everything from the wagon line in the way of shelters, as there is nothing at our new place. Walrond and Claudet and Bailey rode on to the new lines and I brought the battery along. We were well over halfway there when they came back and told us that all was cancelled and we had to be in action tonight. It was very disheartening, as all the rations had gone on, which meant that the men would not get a meal until late tonight. As we got the news and were discussing the situation on the side of the road, my leave warrant came so I did not mind so much and went back with Walrond to RA to find out the cause of the quick return. All we found out was that the army had made up their mind to push on 9th, unless an exceptional amount of rain fell. But I would still go on leave. Had lunch at RA and then went back to Maillet. My warrant said Boulougne, and I wanted to know what chances I had, as it is supposed to be closed, but I got very little information. The train leaves from Louvrincourt.
Walford: I relieved Siggers at the guns, a very heavy wind blew all day. Bailley came up and cut wire for two hours before lunch. We only fired about 270 rounds with the only two guns that remained, the others being all away at the IOM. Cruikshank came up in the evening on his way to D36 to do Liaison Officer.
Bee: Had a peaceful night last night. It rained very heavily and has been blowing hard all day. Heard this afternoon that we - 15th Battery - are going out to rest for a week, which is rather exciting but sounds too good to be true.
We have not had a mail for over a week now and think that there must have been something doing in the Channel. Leaves are all at a standstill. My Brigade put in for special leave for me but had no luck. It got as far as the GOC of the army, and he returned it with a polite note at the bottom. It is the men I feel sorry for as they really do want leave now.
The weather is shocking. Tommy only has one set of clothing and boots and is out in the wet all day and night. I feel awfully sorry for them, but it can't be helped, the work has to be done and there's an end of it. But we, of course, can generally get a change somehow.
We have been expecting to take part in a show here for the last few weeks and fancy the weather has put it off. It takes you all your time to walk in an ordinary way so there's not much chance of an infantry attack. When I was in the observing station last doing duty I saw a good example of what it must be like on the Hun's side. It was just after daylight and they were walking over the top very nearly to the front line, taking for granted that all the British gunners were still asleep, which is generally the case, taking them on the whole. The trenches must be very bad when a man does this, as a machine gun is a very nasty thing to run up against. These fellows had sticks to help them along and even then they made very slow progress. I had some rather good fun, from my point of view and most of them when shot at dropped their load and got back into the trench very hurriedly. He has made things very nasty for us at the Battery position this week, hit our Mess twice and knocked in two gunpits. We had one poor fellow killed. The wall of the pit was knocked in two days ago but no-one was hurt, then he had the bad luck to be hit just over the heart by the splinter, like the finder of a nail from a shell that burst 30 yards away, which killed him. We also lost a very good chap, a signaller, two days ago. It always seems to be the best men who are killed, but a signaller is always more or less under shell fire and runs far more risks than the ordinary gunner. I had a letter from Jack the other day. He tells me he is OC of a section in the DAC. We are in hopes of being taken out and sent down somewhere about where he is. Our gunners are about worn out and due to have a spell on the line where it is quiet.
Same old cry, no news. With very best love to you all.
Walford: Saturday I again drew RE material on the way to Achieux for pay. This time I found quite a queue waiting and it was some time before I got inside. Reached the wagon line - what is left of it, as 110 horses have moved to Thievres owing to shortage of water - about twelve and paid out about twelve thirty p.m.A good sprint across country brought me back to the Mess about one forty-five. In the evening Hoyland and I dined with Kellagher where we had a good dinner and felt as if we had had a tonic when leaving as K is always so wonderfully cheerful. It was raining before we left.
Bee: We have not had any mail this week - the subs must have been very busy in the Channel. Kept fairly fine today but did not dry up much. They got another direct hit on our Mess at the guns but did not do much damage except chuck the sand bags about. Up at the guns today. We fired 1,000 rounds on front line wire and had to pull the gun out of the pits. There was Hun plane flying very low in front, which made a great nuisance of itself. The anti-aircraft were evidently having a game of football as they only fired 10 rounds at it. The Heavies had half an hour's bombardment this afternoon, and the 18-pounds chimed in during the last five minutes and the old Bosch fairly shooting SOS rockets.
Walford: Friday. In the afternoon I went to the Field Cashier to draw pay but when I got there found he was closed owing to the heavy demand for money and had to go away to collect more from the bank. In the morning I drew some RE material from Beausart.
Bee: A little finer today. Suttie and Bailey from the 48th were round to dinner last night. This afternoon Claudet and I went out to look for Palmer and eventually found his battery, after an hour's walking - and an eventually found that his right hand gun was alongside the battery where we first asked if they knew where they were. He has a most uncomfortable place to live, mud all around, no billets and no corrugated iron to live under. Their job in the attack is an hour after zero they are to limber up and go into action in the second line no matter what happens. Siggers went up in a plane today to have a look at the country. He is to be liaison officer and goes with the [illegible].
Walford: Returned from guns, it rained most of the day, nothing else worthy of note.
Bee: Heard at twelve last night that the infantry had picked up an RFA Bomb., killed, and had brought him to Battalion HQ. This proved to be poor Woods. He with four others had been killed by one shell and an officer had his leg broken. Our luck is out all right, and it seems to be always the best men who are killed. The gun position is in a filthy condition, hard to walk.
Walford: Wednesday went to the guns in the morning at last a fine day Bosch threw a lot of shells, from 8-inch downwards, about, but not much damage was done. The 15th lost a signaller during the day up the trenches in Legend Trench. He was found dead with an officer wounded and another signaler - evidently a 5.9 had hit him.
Bee: Guns today. Was stopped going along the Succerie road. The heads at last have declared it dangerous as you can be seen from Grandcourt, so no-one is allowed along it until dark. Fairly fine today, but rained in the evening. The Hun is beginning to throw a lot of stuff about Euston dump now and kills people in Southern trench every day. He has got it registered to a tee. I wish they would put this damn show off; the casualties in the trenches must be very heavy. The train was not much of a success tonight. About four p.m. the Hun gave the line and avenue blazes and broke the line in three places. Bomb. Woods has been missing since twelve today, he was along the F.O.O line, I am afraid he must have been killed but trust not.
Walford: Tuesday. I had been at D36 O.P since the previous evening, doing Liaison officer. The trenches were in a frightful condition owing to the heavy rain. From eight to nine in the morning Bosche shelled the O.P with 5.9s and we all retired to the dug out. It was rather a nuisance as I had just spotted a battery firing and was trying to place it on the map. Coming back from the trenches, I came down New Gate and the water almost came over the tops of my field boots in places. On reaching the Mess, (guns), found it in a shocking state, water having poured into it. The occupants had dug two large holes to take the water.
Bee: The afternoon turned out quite decent - bright, warm sun. Bromley, Claudet and I went for a walk, first to the second divisional battle station in front of D 56. They have some very fine dug outs there, with plenty of cement on top. We met Major Carrington who took us to some O.Ps where you get a good view of the country the show is to come off over. There was one place we got a magnificent view from and that was the 5 bores' O.P. It has been a machine gun emplacement and is very safe and very comfortable. You can see from Serre [?] on the left, right round to Stuff Redoubt, also Posuire [?] Beaumont-Hamel is right below you and it looks a regular fortification and, to my mind, will be worse than Knipval to take. We went back by D36 and had tea with them. Tonight is to be the first time of bringing ammunition to the guns by train. The line stops 400 yards behind our position and we have small trolley lines laid on from there. It ought to be a great saving in horse flesh, if the Hun will only leave the line alone, but I have my doubts. The mine for the last part of the journey is a 3-coupled motor, armour clad. The line of course is just laid over the surface and can't go very fast.
Walford: Monday, still raining. Siggers relieved Hoyland at the guns. The OC was president of a court martial, which he attended in the morning at the DAC. In the morning I started the servants and four gunners on flooring the officers' Mess - it is a place built of cupolas behind a big wall in the brigade chateau grounds. Cruikshank went over to the RE's to get the timber. In the morning, the battery was shelled by 5.9s, as also was the 15th, but we got the worst time, although we had no casualties. The 15th lost a bombardier with a splinter through the heart. No. 3 gun pit was hit and the cupola completely knocked in and the position was full of shell holes - even the Mess had a direct hit with Siggers inside but only one prop was bent as the shell fell on the side of the pit.
Bee: I went up to the OP last night and had a very peaceful walk up. The Hun evidently made things fly during the afternoon, with an organised straff. Between seven and eight p.m., I had a great time shooting. The light was bad but shot off 40 rounds at Huns walking over the top. Their trenches must be in a horrible state as they were going overland to the second line and, between the showers, we could see them quite plainly, some carrying trench mortar bombs. There were two fellows carrying a basket, which they dropped very hurriedly. Just after I had left the battery position and was coming home, they shelled it and the 48th very hard for an hour. They knocked in two of the 48th's pits and got two direct hits on our Mess. We had one poor fellow killed, Bomb. Linch of the right section. He was standing in his gun pit behind his gun when a splinter from a 4.2 burst 30 yards in front, which hit him on the heart and killed him instantaneously. It was frightfully bad luck as the same thing might happen dozens of times without a bit coming into the pit. It has been a most horrible day - could not be worse. It poured this afternoon and the road and everything else were covered with water. I went to the wagon line to get a pair of GS boots as have nothing that will keep me dry. Got sopping wet going down. The road was crowded with infantry relieving, poor things.
Walford: Sunday, and yet again it rained all day. At ten am Siggers and I set out for Couin to buy some stuff at the EFC. Going through the town we saw Crozier in a car and he stopped, ran along the road and had a few words with us, telling me that John was in his division. In the afternoon, about three, while we were playing the gramophone, a pipsqueak came through the top of the house, but no-one was hurt.
Bee: Another blinking wet day, poured all the morning. The ground is something awful now. I came down from the guns about eleven a.m. and go to the O.P. tonight.
Walford: Saturday, relieved by Cruikshank again. It rains all the afternoon. No. 3 gun goes out of action as a result of the heavy shooting that has been done.
Bee: At guns today, very cold and wet. I think the show ought to be put off now all right, but all we get is 'postponed for another 48 hours.' Bromley and Claudet fired 500 rounds on the wire this afternoon. There wree dozens of our aeroplanes up today. The Hun did some very good shooting at Euston dump, but did not bag anybody, although there were over 100 there at the time. Had a straff at 11 last night, the Hun was very much on heat, his machine guns were shooting like fun and bullets were fairly whizzing round our position. Hughes went to D36 today, so we have only two subs for duty, myself and Welman. Kershaw is away at [illegible] with the horses.
Walford: I relieved Siggers at the guns. It was raining and there was a very strong wind blowing . Suttie shot 213 rounds. The padre came up in the afternoon to arrange a church service and decided to have it in our Mess at nine am. He expected to get thirty men in but how he would do it I don't know. We were on duty through the night and fired our alotted number of rounds.
Bee: Another rotten day, cold and wet. I was [legible] very late today and had a rotten headache as did not get breakfast until 10.30 a.m. Did nothing all day.
Walford: It was raining when I got up and continued throughout the day. Hoyland and I rode over to Beausart to collect RE Material, a GS wagon being already there from the wagon line. Did nothing else the rest of the day.
Bee: Still wretched weather. Stayed at the billet most of the day. After lunch, Hughes and I went around and had a look at the 15-inch How. It is a whopping great thing. The shell is about 3 foot 6 inches long from base to point and it weighs nearly a ton. A motor lorry can only carry three at a time. Went up to the OP for the night. The Hun must have shelled Euston camp and the Sugar Factory hard all day by the looks of the shell marks. He also got a direct hit on No. 1 gun pit but, as luck had it, the gun was at ordnance [?] and no men were there at the time. Hun brought down four more of our observing planes today in front of the Battery. I believe one Hun came over our position very low down - you could see the man in the plane. Very cold at the OP. There was a heavy straff from our guns about nine p.m. and the Hun put up some very fine rocket display, evidently his SOS rocket. I don't think there can be anyone on our particular part of the front, as very few Very lights went up.
Walford: Wednesday, being relieved at nine, I proceed to the battery and breakfast with Hoyland. The Mess there has been much improved and has a fireplace in it now. Cruikshank came up and Hoyland and I made for Maillet at ten. On our way, we crossed a railway which has been extended from Courcelles and reaches right to Euston. It seemed to have been built in the night. It rained again from eleven a.m onwards, making everything in a worse state, if possible. I dined with the 15th in the evening, while our Mess had Bailey's brother in to dinner - he is with the 3rd Division. A few shells came over during dinner, but they weren't very close. I was very surprised to hear on reaching our Mess that one had blown our cook house at the back of the house away and that a man had been killed next door. Everyone had gone into the cellar of the shattered kitchen and received a severe shaking from the shell's explosion.
Bee: Still raining, awful weather, show put off another 48 hours. Went up with Walrond to wire cut, but word came through that the ammunition allotment per battery was 150 rounds so did not shoot but kept this for keeping gaps open. Saw three Hun machines take to one of our old buses and set it on fire and it fell well behind their lines. I am afraid the fellows in it did not have much chance. Someone said they saw one man throw himself out. It was an unpleasant morning. The Hun got six direct hits into Southern Avenue with 4.2 How. It is one of the main communications trenches. He caught a party of infantry coming out - killed two officers and six men and wounded about ten others. The sight of badly wounded men so early in the morning is not very pleasant. Came back early and wrote a few letters after a most depressing day.
Walford: Hoyland relieved Cruikshank at the guns. Flynn of the 50th came round to see Siggers about going up in an aeroplane during the morning: as they were to go over with the infantry, they wanted to see the coutnry first. He stayed to lunch and talked everyone under the table. Suttie and Bailey went up to the trenches after lunch and it rained all the afternoon. At four, after some tea, I set out for D 36 OP to do liaison officer. I got there soon after five, after having almost throttled myself with wires in Taupin Trench. I had to go down to Bow Street Battalion HQ to see the colonel and it was a rotten trip as the infantry were being relieved, the trenches filthy and you could not see your hand in front of your face. On the way back, the Taupin wires drove me to desperation. I got hung up in them about three times. It was not what one would call a comfortable spot and the rats were very thick.
Colonel Newcombe went home to England to a gunnery school. He is to be an instructer under Brigadier Kerwin who is OC school.
Bee: Slept at the guns last night. Shooting all night. The tanks were supported to come up. But it started raining about eight p.m. and they must have had to stop where they were. Colonel Newcombe left us today. He has been taken home to start a new school of instruction for OC during the winter. He and our late Colonel General Kerwin, the two best and most thorough men I have met out here. They are both awfully nice men personally as well. A brute of a day. It rained all night and all of today. Show has been put off 48 hours now this jolly wet has started, of course. I have not a pair of boots to my name that are watertight. Have been waiting until I go on leave but have been caught on the hop all right.
Walford: Relieved by Cruikshank at ten a.m and hear that Siggers has been appointed intelligence officer for the brigade and has to go over with the infantry. Good luck to him. In the afternoon, Siggers and I had a tour of the big uns, first of all visiting 15-inch howitzer - she is called granny and was firing when we arrived. She is not a big piece, but the shells are huge and stand about 3.6 height, weighing 11 cwt. What sort of a splash it makes on landing, I shudder to think. The 12-inch howitzer was our next stop. It is a nice looking piece and a much solider looking weapon. The shell it fires is large too, it weighs 7 cwt. We passed numerous 9.2 and 6-inch hows between the two large ones. The former having an enormous dump of ammunition at their guns. We also had a squint at the 6-inch Mark VII, which was firing as we passed. The officers of the 12-inch were very hospitable, showed us all over the gun then gave us a drink at the Mess, which was on the side of a railway embankment.
In the evening the captain on returning from brigade informed me I had been awarded the Military Cross.
Bee: Went up to the guns this morning, a very foggy morning but much warmer and the fog lifted for an hour about two p.m. But got very little shooting done. The Hun aeroplanes were fairly active during this time. The show was put off again. I don't think it will ever take place. And am certain that we always let the Hun know long beforehand that we intend to make a push by the artillery all shooting like fun a week beforehand.
Walford: Sunday. More frost and another cold east wind blowing. I relieved Cruikshank at the guns. Bailley, who had come up from the wagon line for breakfast walked up with Suttie and myself. We shot the whole day, loosing off 1089 rounds at the Bosche. Nothing thrilling happened.
Bee: Another fearfully raw day. Wrote most of the morning. After lunch went on to D 26 to hear what news I could get out of Sanger, as he has just returned from leave. Heard about Uncle and Spud Ritchie, who were wounded on the Somme. I went up into the hedge in front of their battery to see if I could see Stuff Redoubt, but it was too misty. It was the first time I had watched a 4.5 fire and I was surprised to see how far you could follow the shell in the air. After afternoon tea we came back and visited Kellagher, who is moving up into his new position 1,000 yards from the front line. A very unhealthy spot, I think.