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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Letter Home - 23rd February, 1916

Dear Mother,
I am afraid I missed the last mail, owing to things being fairly busy when I got back to the battery. The leave was very nice, but of course one could do with another week. However, we must be thankful for what we get.

I saw a good deal of the Talindert party and spent nearly all Sunday with them. The recruits had just joined the OTC as Tommies and had had one day at St John's Wood. Chettie was very amused with the church parade, as Nevitt was in charge of the party. They all look very well in their uniforms and I think by the time they have done six weeks as a Tommy they will be as hard as iron, as it is no light work. I think I would sooner have gone through it from the beginning like that, but still, one learns something every day out here. Tell John he will have to go through it from the beginning now, as they are making everybody do it who joins.

I met a lot of Australians at the Carlysle club, amongst them Johnny Bell, Reg Brown, Phil Maplestone of Green Vale. They all look well, although some of them were invalided back from Gallipoli with enteric. Reggie and I had a great time at Bric Brac, a review at the Palace Theatre. He does not seem to have altered much. He is out at St John's Wood,  a 2nd  Lieutenant in the RFA, but is trying to get a transfer into the ASC, as his gout gives him a lot of trouble. Johnnie Bell has a transfer into the Royal Flying Corps, and I also hear that Harry Shaw has his wings, and I think he should be a good aviator.

Well, all good things must come to an end and, on 17th  February at nine fifteen, I left Victoria for France. The weather had been very rough that week, blowing guns, and I expected a bad crossing, but luckily it caught us on the starboard and we only rolled. I don't mind that much, but pitching soon knocks me out, until I am used to it. Some of the faces on that boat were yellow, others orangey-green, and others ashen grey. I have never seen such a collection. We got across well, but had to wait outside Boulogne for 40 minutes. I think a lot of hopes of getting over without being seasick were blighted. When we got alongside they kept us for another 40 minutes, because some responsible person was too lazy to put a gangway on board, I think – at least that was my conclusion. We had to stay there the night as the train did not leave for the front until the following day. I should have got the journey over if there had been a train, but there are none for our army the day the boat gets in.

I spent most of the time at Boulogne in the movies and also had a look round the town, at least our part of it. Well, we set sail in the express the next day. It usually makes a 10 mile an hour average but many times less. At seven, when we were somewhere near our journey's end, at stopping at a station, I heard my name being loudly called, or rather shouted, on the platform, and so had to bundle out into the wet night. I forgot to add that it had been raining all day.

My groom was there with the horses, and he told me we had to go about 7 kilometres, which is about five and three-quarter miles. The rain kindly stopped when we started, but there was a jolly cold wind blowing. We found the battery about eight p.m. and it was nice to get dinner, after lunching on chocolate, having had rolls and tea for breakfast. I was greeted with the news that there was a general inspection of the 36th brigade at ten thirty a.m. the following morning and that I had to take a section. Well, I did not think much more about it that night, as after dinner I found I had a very comfortable billet, in a chateau some few yards along the road from the Mess.

At ten thirty on Saturday morning we marched onto the parade ground and formed up like a square cornered C. The general was late, as usual, and we were jolly cold, as there was a very strong west wind blowing. While waiting, Bertie's major doubled his men around the field, with a subaltern leading them.. They caused quite a lot of amusement. Well, General Walker stepped into the arena, shook all the officers by the hand, looked at the men and then made a speech, which was wafted away by the wind — at least as far as the majority were concerned. Only the people close to him heard anything.

Suttie that same day made over the senior subaltern section to me. It will give me something to keep me going and it will also be very interesting for me. I suppose you will not know what a section consists of — well, it means this: I have two guns each, with their two wagon horses, and men attached to look after. There are roughly 60 horses and 35 men. I was lucky to get two of the four new guns we have now. They have neither of them fired 1000 rounds. My section is the left, the centre belongs to Hoyland — they are two old guns — and Siggers has the right section.

It has been very cold since I came back, freezing every night, and today it has snowed on and off the whole time, but it is thawing and everything is an awful mess.

We are on what is called rest now, but, as there are only Suttie, an attached subaltern, and myself here at present, it is harder work than being in action. Hoyland went off into action yesterday with his section. They are attached to the 71st battery for some time.

There is one thing about this life — there is always the glorious uncertainty of not knowing when you move or where you will move to. Today, between the snowstorms, I have been testing site range drums et cetera. We move again tomorrow, back towards the old town, in whose vicinity we have been ever since we came out. We are not going into action — only moving about 14 miles nearer the front.

I hope it does not freeze tonight, for, if it does, the roads will be impossible. I tried to see Bee, but he evidently is away from his battery, helping some other people to take over their old position. I tried the tabloid[?] one day — it is not half bad — but have not tried the beef cubes yet.

I wonder if you would mind, (I mean the family), one: writing to Bee; and one: to me as well; as all the letters go to Bee, and it is usually some time till I get them, and now and again they are lost in the post, as they have to go right to the base, even though we might be a mile away.

Your loving son,

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