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Friday, 23 December 2011

Letter Home (Bee) - 23rd December, 1916

15th Battery, RFA

23rd December 1916

Dear Mother and Father

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.

With very much love to all,
from your loving son,

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