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Monday 28 February 2011

Diary Entry - 28th February, 1916

On going to stables in the morning, Siggers and Hoyland find that someone has pinched all their small stores from their guns, having cut the straps with a knife. The suspected ones are the 15th Battery, who probably made a raid during the night but, of course, nothing could be done about it. At two, we get underway, for Bully Gannay, the whole battery being on the march. All the detachments march ahead of the battery, except one man, left for the break of each vehicle. The marching party, owing to 2 weeks pay being drawn two days previously, are for the most part very jubilant - in fact, so much so that three of them are put under arrest. The route we go is Bruay-Hallicourt-Ruit-Barlin-Hersin-Sains en Gobelle-Aix Moulette. At Sains en Gobelle, we were stopped by Kellagher who informed us we were not going into action that night but that we would put horses, guns etc, into a big farm there, which was to be our wagon line. At about seven thirty, we got all the horses watered, fed and groomed, and we then made speed to the billet at Aix Moulette, some 2 miles away. On arriving at the village near the guns, we were greeted with the news that we had lost a bombardier - a French pit had collapsed under shellfire and a piece of timber had pinned him down, catching him on the side of the head. Two other men were in the dugout, but they were suffering from shock and could not speak when they were dug out. We walked up to our mess, rather subdued, wondering what sort of place we had come into. We finally got to bed in a rather dirty room, wondering where we would be sent to the following day.

Sunday 27 February 2011

Diary Entry - 27th February, 1916

Suttie and Kellagher go on to our position, leaving the battery to come up on Monday, 28th. Luckily a big thaw set in during the night and the roads are passable but, of course, the wagon line is a quagmire. Bee comes into the mess in the evening.

Saturday 26 February 2011

Diary Entry - 26th February, 1916

A big day — one continual rush all through. Captain Buxton comes into the mess at nine thirty, looking for the OC, so I take him down to his billet and come back to finish breakfast. Suttie arrives at about 10, telling us that we are to move at twelve and that I am to go to Marles les Mines, there to meet Buxton and take over. At ten thirty, I, Potter and Sergeant Lamb set out over very slippery roads, and the other two are very nervous and will not give the horses their heads. We cut up through Bois des Dames (a wood) expecting it to be easier going but, before going a mile, are stopped by a sentry because of machine-gun practice, so down we go to the level again and work up into the wood again. There was not much choice either way, as the main roads are very slippery and the wood heavy with snow. We finally arrived at the appointed spot at twelve thirty — the last 2 miles being over very slippery hills coated with ice. Buxton was a few minutes in arriving and very brief with orders on arrival. He drew me a sketch of the town, pointing out a small portion of it, and said, 'You have to find billets for the 36th brigade and get the whole brigade into a slimy field, ' which he showed me, 'and the transports into another small field.' Well, to me it looked a hopeless task, but I was lucky in having Sergeant Lamb, who could speak French quite well, and by five we had billets for over 400 men, two officers' Messes and rooms for all officers. Our battery got in first, then two sections of the 15th and one of the 71st. I was very pleased when everyone was settled down.

Friday 25 February 2011

Diary Entry - 25th February, 1916

Hoyland and Mead come back from the firing line with the centre section about nine p.m. They had to be very careful, as it is still freezing and snowing. After dinner, there were great fights with snowballs outside the mess. That night we also had Cox, a K man, with us. He had brought a section up to relieve Hoyland's.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Diary Entry - 24th February, 1916

Another hard frost, and I take an exercise out, glissading on the roads, and walk most of the time. The men are terrified, and it is all one can do to get them to mount their horses on a good road in the Bois de Dames. The wheeler has been busy lengthening the framework for my section, so as to get another tarpaulin on and Nos 1 have been hard at the roof trying to get ice off the sagged canvas. A big break up in the mess in the evening — all servants thrown out because they do not know a good job when they have one and sit down and do darn all.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Diary Entry - 23rd February, 1916

A hard frost during the night and cloudy during the morning. At twelve thirty, we start trekking to new position at Fouquière, a few miles out of Béthune. Just before leaving, the snow starts to come down and a north-easterly wind rises. The Major goes on as soon as we get underway, leaving me to carry on. It was the coldest day I have experienced in France but it fined up after we pulled through Chocques and we arrived at four. Between Lillers and Chocques we passed a battalion of Irish Fusiliers and a lot of motor traffic.

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,

Sunday 20 February 2011

Diary Entry - 20th, 21st and 22nd February, 1916

Ordinary stables and routine carried on. It began to snow on the latter day in the morning and continued off and on throughout the day.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Diary Entry - 19th February, 1916

There was a general inspection at ten thirty and we marched off to a field about 100 yards from the Mess and the whole brigade formed up in a square and awaited the General's arrival. There was a cold wind blowing and Palmer of the 15th, to keep his men warm, doubled them round the field with a subaltern leading the field, much to the amusement of the rest of the brigade. The General (Walker) arrived about an hour late, walked around us, then made a speech, which very few heard, and departed. I was greatly surprised when at lunch Suttie said that I was to take over Kellagher's section.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Letter Home - 17th February 1916

Batts Hotel,
Dover Street

Dear Mother,

Here we are back in the civilised world again, where everything seems cheery and bright. I think I forgot to mention and to thank you for those nice socks you sent me. They are splendid, but, if you are making more, would you make them a little longer, so that they come just below the knee. You know how the best wool will shrink, and the idea is just to get the end of the stocking on to the riding breeches. (I must add some of the conversation going on in the room: 'We had a lively time on Tuesday night: there were 49 bombs dropped within a 4-mile radius of us.') Well, perhaps it will wake old England up - as far as I can see, Australia seems to be sending every possible man they can, which is as it ought to be, but that is not being done in England up to the present time!

Well, to go on with my news, I left the front at Béthune by train at two thirty am, for Boulogne, and it took us six hours to do the 60 miles. The boat was to leave at twelve fifteen, and so another man and I got a bath and brush up and two meals in. The boat was crowded - in fact two of them were. We went on board at twelve and sat there shivering until three thirty am, when they at last let go the painter and made for the sea. A destroyer picked us up outside and escorted us across, but we had to go to Calais across to Dover and down to Folkestone, as the Bosch have a nasty habit of placing mines indiscriminately in the Channel at night, sneaking about in their U boats.

Well, I got to London after having a great fight to get a seat at once and I went straight up to the Carlisle Club, to meet RS Gilliard, who seemed very pleased to see me, and so was I to see him. Although we talked there until 12 pm, there is still plenty of news I have to learn from him.

It is a rotten day here, raining hard, but I have plenty to do, with dentists, seeing relations and shopping.

Ever your loving son

Thursday 10 February 2011

Diary Entry - 10th to 18th February, 1916

I leave Béthune at two thirty am and get to Boulogne at nine thirty am. As the boat is posted for twelve fifteen, there is some time allowed us to get clean, so Dixon of the 71s and self hunt the town for a coiffeur and finally find one, with only one chair in it. After a shave, we rush the Folkestone Hotel and have a bath and then a good lunch and take the ferry for the boat. It was three forty-five before we let go the painter, but we ran across well and were not delayed on the English side. On arriving at Victoria at eight forty-five pm, I made through the crowd for a taxi and then on to the Carlisle Club, where I found RSG. We talked till twelve, and then I went to Batts, but it was some time till I got used to white sheets. I spent all my time n London, as I had a lot of things to buy, some for the Battery. The JCs were at Rubens Hotel and I saw a good lot of them. Mrs F.J. (the Fyfe-Jamiesons were relatives) was also there. My, it was grand to be back in London once more, and I made the most of it. There was always a crowd of Anzacs to be found at the Carlisle Room, and I met Reg Brown there and we had a good night together at a Bric Brac. All good times must end and on 17th at nine fifteen am I had to return, catching the train at Victoria, and was glad there was no-one to see me off, as there is to see most men. We had a good journey to France, being lucky to have a moderate sea on our stern, a little to the starboard. It was a good hour before we got off, after tieing up at Boulogne, and we were glad to get our lunch at three pm in the Folkestone. The train left for the front at one, but my journey was cut very short, as at Lillers at six thirty pm I was roused by shouts of 'Mr Manifold' and found Bates and Potter both there tryng to find me so that I would not go on to Béthune. It was a wet cold night and I did not relish the ride of seven kilometres to the camp much. However, the rain luckily kept off.

(Next entry - letter home on 17th February)

Sunday 6 February 2011

Diary Entry - 6th to 9th February, 1916

Spent with the battery. Had one day observing at Artillery House, one of the very few remaining houses in Givenchy. It would be a splendid place, if one could use one's opera glasses, but the port holes are just too small and it is a hopeless place to use a telescope. However, as it is only 300 yards to the Bosch trench, one would not need glasses there. Windy House is the place the OO [Observing Officer?] sleeps in before going to the OB and it has been well named as one wall has been knocked out of it and the bed consists of wire netting stretched across a framework. Boschie gives the OO quite a nasty fright at times, as he drops a shell on it now and again, just to show he has the range, but the brick tower is very strong and it would have to be a good shot to score a direct hit on the top of it, where it is only two bricks thick.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Diary Entry - 5th February, 1916

I ride up to the battery for breakfast. Kellagher goes to the wagon line. In the evening, I go up to the OB with Siggers. It is called Artillery House.

Friday 4 February 2011

Another Map

Dne1 has kindly alerted me to this WWI trench map of the area my grandfather's writing about at the moment.

Diary Entry - 4th February 1916

A very cold, wet morning. The class went out to choose positions near Verghin and we met the Colonel at eleven thirty outside a chateau gate. He heard our schemes, then said that, as he had to go into action and take Colonel Ward's place, as regards the class, as the French say, 'il va plus'. Colonel Ward has been promoted to Brigadier. After tea, the Colonel, Sims [or Dims?], Reeves and self went to the 2nd divisional show, which was excellent. There was quite a party in to dine - all Infantry people. General, Twiss [?], Knox-Gore, Bombs and Sims [or Dims?].

Thursday 3 February 2011

Diary Entry - 3rd February, 1916

Main feature of the day seems to be news in the papers of a raid on England by  four Zeps. The morning is spent choosing battery positions and shooting spires with the compass. In the afternoon, Wilson, orderly officer of 41st, and self, go to battery, calling in at wagon line on the way. Nothing doing there, but the OB reported two direct hits during the afternoon.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Diary Entry - 2nd February, 1916

An infernally cold day for reading a map on tops of hills and we leave our horses outside Béthune and walk along the roads. The main feature of the morning is picking battery positions. After class is over, I walk in two miles with the Colonel.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Diary Entry - 1st February, 1916

The battery goes back to the guns, but I remain in Béthune on a course of map reading under Colonel Martin Powell. My billet is changed to that of Marsdorf's, near the wagon line, and I stay on Messing with the 41st Brigade. Our first lecture is held in RA headquarters and finishes about twelve. The whole afternoon is free.