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Thursday 28 April 2011

Diary Entry - 28th, 29th and 30th April, 1916

I was at the guns on the 28th. That night, the wind being in the east, the gas alert was on. I rose at four thirty and, on going to the Mess at five for breakfast, tried to stop a man on a horse galloping down the road. He simply shouted, 'Gas', waved a helmet in my face and tore on. Well, I could not smell gas, so went on with breakfast, but saw two more men on horses pass. They had their helmets on. At about five twenty, the OP party, consisting of two grooms, two signallers and myself, set out. It was a beautiful, still, warm morning, with a haze hanging about. Just as we got to the centre of Noulette and were coming up to the wood, we smelled a peculiar sweet sort of smell but never took much notice of it, as thought it was the usual French village odour. On reaching the OP, I had a slight pain and also noticed all the buttons of my signaller's tunic and my own, which were polished when I left, were now black and realised that we had had a whiff of gas. The 15th got a fair amount of it and it made a number of them ill. No rounds were fired all day. On Sunday, I went to Béthune to have a haircut but, as most of the shops were shut, returned early in the afternoon.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Diary Entry - 27th April, 1916

Another good summer's day at OP. Ther was no shelling on our front all day but there was a reported gas attack by the enemy at Hulluch at about 4 a.m. and the shelling continued until nine thirty. In the afternoon, we shot by aeroplane and the whole show was an absolute farce, a pure waste of ammunition. We laid on the target by map and were pretty well on it and each target the aeroplane chap made us drop back to about 500 yards short, but whether he thought he had the target I don't know.

Monday 25 April 2011

Diary Entry - 25th and 26th April, 1916

Summer weather. We have at last given up the forward slope of Lorette and come back to an OP which can be approached by day. It is on the Lorette ridge, but about level with Bois Six. On going up in the morning, Gunner Hand and I went too far forward and got into some bad trenches, which we had to creep along to keep under cover and there were plenty of deads laying about too. However, after an hour and a half's hunt, we found our right trench and a comfortable little OP - more so than the other place, and quite a good view of the front. Nothing much happened all day - the Bosch pip squeaked the whole of our front line and supports very systematically, covering all our zone but, of course, we could not retaliate. In the afternon, Kellagher came up and we did some lamp work with the battery. Then I had 10 rounds to register a trench with and just got in on the last round. The 26th I spent at the guns and, except for a strafe up north, all was quiet and we never fired a round.

Sunday 24 April 2011

'A Very Good Horseman'

Letter Home - 24th April, 1916

24th April, 1916

Dear Mother,

Many thanks for both your letters this mail. It was good of you to send us a mail each, as we never knew when we would see one another to pass letters on. As it is now, Bee is with the BAC, about four miles back and I don't suppose I shall see him for perhaps a fortnight.

Dad, we have both plenty of money. I have not drawn anything out of our joint account since we left England, and I don't expect Bee has. The only things to use your money on out here are clothes, (necessaries), and eatables, and there is not much variety to be obtained of either. We will let you know, Dad, when it is getting low, but, unless the rest of the family draw on it, we ought to be all right for some little time yet.

Yes, Mum, I suppose we have settled down to life out here, but there is no other way about it. You have to take what comes. I often wish some of our shearers could see what has to be put up with here. It would do them the world of good, and they would not be able to go out on strike for shorter hours, better food and higher wages. I think of a dose of Field Punishment No. 1 would get them up.

I must go back to where we were on rest, as wrote last from there, I think. Sunday was a splendid day, and we had a section football match between the men, and, as Suttie had returned from England the night before and brought a lot of colours with him, it looked quite like the proper game. The men were very keen and put up a very good game, the colours gave them more of a chance than their military dress, as they could distinguish their teams and play together.

It rained on Sunday night and Monday morning, but fortunately stopped for the afternoon so that we could hold the sports. The ground was on the crest of a hill and, as it was blowing fairly hard, we got the full benefit of it. It was not a nice day, but it was a popular meeting and things went off very well. Captain Palmer of the 15th was running the show and, of course, had all his men as keen as razors. They had had a good deal of practice and I think expected to wipe the floor. The first event was 100 yards, in which my servant came second and the BAC won.

Then there was section jumping, won by the 15th; wrestling on horseback; led horses jumping, 48th; subalterns jumping, first 15th, 48th second and third; led horses trotting, 48th; boot and jacket race, 48th; relay race, BC column; VC race, 15th; open jumping, Staff Captain. That should give you an idea of the show. We got our share of the winnings, although we only had one practice when picking the teams. I jumped my wee Ginger in both Subalterns' and the open jumping. The jumps were well up to the wee chap's chin, but he flew them very well and brought us in second to a very good horse in the Subalterns' and in the first 4 of the open, which satisfied me

I had only had him over three jumps before and did not know him, so I think he went jolly well. Bee, I believe, had a good horse to jump, but unfortunately the BAC went away on Sunday – at least part of it did, and he went in charge. Some of the events were most amusing, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, especially gunners and drivers. Charlie Armytage was there, trying to jump a horse, but I think he went through most of them. The horse could not get much spring with about 14 stone up. I have a most amusing report from Major Crozier on the course and must tell dad that he wrote in it the phrase “a very good horseman" – it ought to tickle him. The others were so bad, I expect, that he put down me as the best of a bad lot. On Tuesday morning it rained, and Wednesday morning, but it fined by midday, when we had to march up to action.

On the Tuesday, Hoyland and I rode up to see the people we're taking over from. They are a 4-gun battery, and we also had to see another lot as we were taking over two guns from them too – to make up our six. It was a very wet trip there and we had to wait about four hours for the Major. On arrival, he was away and the fool of a subaltern in the Mess would not help us out of the difficulty by telling us when he would be back. So we had to sit there in the Mess and await lunch, which this man had brought in at two. We were glad to get away at four thirty, as soon as we had gained all the information we wanted, as we had about 12 miles to cover.

We left our lines at two on Wednesday and were inspected by the Colonel as we marched out of the town but, as there was no room to square up in wagon line and gun wagons were dotted all through the column in any order, I don't think we made a very pretty picture. We had one or two minor accidents on the road, such as broken pole bars, but there was nothing serious. Before we had gone two miles, the rain started and carried on until about Saturday night - and some of it was rain that would drench you in about five minutes. We have not done a march since I have been out when it has not rained or snowed. Well, we got into our wagon lines about seven, and I went straight up to the guns and took over.

Since coming in there has not been a moment to spare, and I will tell you why. On coming up to a place where 6-gun batteries are taking over from 4-gun – or, in fact, whenever you take over - you leave your guns at a certain place and take over the guns left in the pits, so as to save pulling the bits down. Well, as I say they are all 4-gun batteries we took over from and so two of our guns were with another battery which, with two of somebody else's, are forming what is called a composite battery. The section officer had to go with these guns, so it left two of us – Siggers and I – to do the work until the detached man, Meade, arrives. He is at present on a course. So it has worked out to our doing OP alternately.

Up to now, we have been using Dead Man's Hill. I told you about it before but, as one can't get there or leave there except in darkness, it means a long day. It works out that we arrive at two thirty a.m. and leave the OP at seven thirty p.m. and the days get longer as they draw out. The guns is also an all-day job but not so strenuous, so you can see there is not much time to look about just now.

I met two more Jesus men on Wednesday – at least, I got a glimpse of them as we came along: Straker, A C and a man named Williams. The former asked me to dinner but there is no time for dining, even with the 15th Hussars. There is not much more to tell you, I think.

Yes, Mum, I think I thanked you for all the socks, belly bands etc, but the latter are not in my line, Mum – once wear them, always wear them – so I gave them to my servant to distribute. I hope you won't be offended! I think Gilliard sent you out some prizes in a box, but whether they will arrive is another matter. However, let me know, if they do. They might interest people out there. It is my turn for leave soon, so, if they start again, I ought to get away in about a month and I will send you a photo in my war paint but would rather be able to send you one as we do it out here – I mean a snapshot – but, unfortunately, cameras are not allowed out here. You were asking how medals are given: well, French medals are allotted so many to a divisional Army and they distribute them from there to Brigades. Our Colonel might have one to give out and he allots who is to get it.

Well, I don't think there is any more news,

Ever your loving son,


PS Fritz has shelled a French battery behind my billet all morning with 4.2 howitzers, but I don't think he bothers the Froggies much. They have good deep dugouts and between times dash out, and let him have a few back. They wounded three though, but they have been sent to hospital in the ambulance cars.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Diary Entry - 23rd and 24th April, 1916

On Lorette - arrived comfortably at 4 am. A very nice day, but rather a sharp wind blowing, which died down towards evening. It was so light that we could not leave until after a quarter to eight. At the guns on Monday nothing much doing, except the French 105 mms being shelled heavily during the morning but, except for three children being wounded in the Corrons by shrapnel, I don't think much damage was done. A nasty accident occurred with the composite battery where a section of ours and the 50th make up the four guns. Two men were playing catchies with an old bomb, which they thought was unloaded, when someone dropped it on a steel girder and it exploded, wounding two of the 50th. Hoyland has the section at the composite battery, Wallace of the 50th is there and Bailey of the 50th is in charge.

Friday 22 April 2011

Diary Entry - 22nd April, 1916

Another very wet day at the guns. It poured the whole day and, with a driving north wind, made life very unpleasant.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Diary Entry - 21st April, 1916

At Lorette, my signallers kept me waiting half an hour, for which I cursed them heartily, but it was not much good as it was daylight before we got to Noulette. Consequently, we had to walk up in daylight. The trenches were very wet. They had been spoiled by the 23rd, as were made deeper, but the fools never made allowances for a drain, which the French had at the side before, so I was wet before I got to Lorette. The trenches at Lorette were very bad, and we had to walk up them in full view but, as no bullets or shells chased us, presume they did not see us. It started raining again at four and set in properly.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Diary Entry - 20th April, 1916

It rained hard all day. The dugout leaked and you could not move about the position for five minutes without being soaked round the legs.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Diary Entry - 19th April, 1916

At two we moved off and were inspected by the Colonel at the Divion corner, as we turned down the hill towards Bruay. Well, as our wagon line was very cramped and we could not get our wagons in any sort of order, I don't think the show was a great success. Coming into Bruay, F's firing battery wagon bust a pole bar and we had to slip in a new one. On leaving Bruay, the rain began, and it got heavier as the journey continued, until it was simply coming down in sheets at Hersin. There was another little episode on the way - a nut came off  A sub's staple, which keeps the pole bar from sliding down the pole, but luckily the fitter picked it up complete. We got in to Hersin about five and marched the detachments on from there, the battery making a small detour around the slag heap. On getting into Sins Goelle, the wagon line, we found Kellagher, who ordered all the riding horses up, mounted the detachments and sent them on to the guns. We rode on to Bully, leaving Kellagher to cope with the wagons. At the Mess, we found everybody ready to move off and were told that Suttie was at the guns, so we commenced to wade up there and met him halfway up. He informed us one was to stay with the guns till dinner so, on Hoyland winning the toss, I stopped. Everything was quiet and at eight fifteen I retired for dinner. At ten forty-five, having put on gumboots and prepared for the swim, (it was simply pouring), I and Bates set out for the battery, but I had to stop at detached section to have a wire run out to the main battery and, by the time it was connected up, it was eleven thirty and I was glad to tumble into bed and remain undisturbed till four a.m.

Monday 18 April 2011

Diary Entry - 18th April, 1916

Another wet day. After looking at a field near Houdain on which horses had been grazing, Hoyland and self left Suttie and rode on up to Bully to see about taking over from Brigade 104. All we had to do was to see that there were no changes from when we moved out and the wagon line was the only place where we had lost any covering or billets. We also had to look up another battery whose position was lower down the slope from ours. We are to take a section of theirs over. The OC of this battery was an old sergeant major and was most amusing, but we did not get much information from him, as he had too much to say. We could not get a word in edgeways

Sunday 17 April 2011

Diary Entry - 17th April, 1916

Another very wet night - and there was a misty rain until about twelve. However, it stopped for the afternoon and, at one forty-five there was quite a big collection on the hill, with the band playing, (2nd Division). The first race was run at about two. The section jumping was the first interesting event, won by the 15th, who put up a very good performance. One of our sections was going well when Sergeant Nott's horse came down and ruined our chance. The leading horse jumping was very good, but I can't think who won it – Wrate, one of my men, was well up. The subalterns' jumping was good fun, and I was in with the last three and took second, Thorborn of the 15th winning with a nice horse. In the wrestling on horseback, we had no opposition. The open jumping was good fun too and my Ginger ran into the first five there and jumped very well. The whole show was excellent and went off very well, thanks to the way Captain Palmer ran it. The 48th had more than their share of the spoils, which I think surprised the 15th, who had practised hard.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Diary Entry - 16th April, 1916

One of the few nice summer days we have had at the present time. In the morning, as orderly officer, I take the grazing party out, while Siggers takes church parade. In the afternoon, there is a subsection football match, which proves to be a very keen contest. Suttie, coming back from the investiture, (a four-day leave), brought back footer clothes for two teams. The Reds - A sub-section - won from B subsection)3 – 0, but there was some good football played and it was well worth watching.

Friday 15 April 2011

Diary Entry - 15th April, 1916

Tthe sports were to have been held in the morning but it rained very hard through the night and was very showery in the morning so they were postponed till Monday. In the afternoon, it cleared and Bee, Siggers and I went to the baths down at the mine. The coal mine is a huge concern, and they have some good baths there for government inspectors or directors, as do most other mines.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Letter Home - 14th April, 1916

14th April, 1916

Dear Father,

I am glad to hear that there are some of my letters worth reading but it always seems to me a fairly hopeless business trying to write letters when you cannot say where you are or state facts about your part of the line. I hope none of my letters excited Mum too much. She made me laugh when she said, 'How calm he seems about it all' – I must say one is not what you would call comfortable under shellfire, but you have to make out that you are.

We are still resting but go into action again on Thursday 20th and I think we shall be covering the same front as we were when we came out last month.

Since I got back to the troop, we have put in a fair amount of work going out on drill orders and skeleton order every day. Of course, the work done was all with a view to our future – the great advance - taking up positions in the open, varied with open sight work. Everybody got well strafed by Suttie, the CEO, but we took it as part of the day's work. Yesterday was rather a long day, as we had to set out at six thirty on a four-mile walk, to be ready for the Colonel's Drill Order Parade at eight thirty a.m. However, we were there first on the parade ground and had a 15-minute wait. The Colonel had a scheme practising open warfare. Also, of course, we, (the batteries) were all under his control, just as we would be on the advance, and were all connected to his headquarters by telephone. This toy warfare went on till after twelve. Then we marched home, not getting back till two.

Last Sunday, the Dragoon Troop played the 15th soccer on the football ground just below our stables. We were beaten three goals to nil, but it was rather an amusing contest. Our CO did not turn up, so we were a man short and Palmer, the 15th CO, was very good – almost the best on the ground, I think.

Bee and I were minding each other and, as neither of us knew anything about the game, we wandered about like lost sheep. The Sergeant Fitter of the 15th was a great card and amused the Tommies looking on greatly. Bee and I see quite a lot of each other at this place. Our Messes are only a few yards apart. He is with the Ammunition Column now for a time and I am sorry to say the people in his Mess are not what could be desired. However, I suppose he will only be there for a month or so.

The weather has turned dog on us again this week. It has been cold and windy and very showery. We were to have had some brigade sports this afternoon, in which I was jumping my chestnut horse, but the weather is so bad that it has been put off until Monday. There is no more news.

Ever your loving son,


PS I sent Estelle some postcards, one with an X on it is where we go to on Thursday, one of the towns is the place we train to from the base, and there are two hills we observe from.

Diary Entry - 14th April, 1916

Friday, we breakfasted at five forty-five, paraded at six fifteen and moved off at six thirty for Marest, where the Colonel was to have the brigade parade at eight thirty. We got there in good time – about 15 minutes before his arrival – and formed up at close interval. The 15th and 71's were only a few minutes behind us. Before moving off, the Colonel told us what he wanted us to do, and we started off on his scheme at about ten to nine. The whole business was the brigade going into action as it would on the advance, with the Colonel directing affairs from his HQ by telephone communication. We only took up one position, but the left section, under Siggers, went on as a detached section to take up a position in advance. At twelve thirty, after the Colonel commented on what had been done, we set out for home and got in about two.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Diary Entry - 9th June 1916

I was at the guns all day - went to the OP in the evening, relieving Claudie.

Diary Entry - 10th to 13th April, 1916

These days were all spent on drill orders and skeleton drill orders alternately, on which there was plenty of strafing for me and in fact for most of the battery. The afternoons were also filled in with either lectures, gun drill or inspections. The parades usually took place on the hills round about Bruay and some days we got as far as Bois des Dames and the Sand Pit. On the Monday, Hoyland and I rode into Béthune when parade ended at the Sand Pit and we had a very rushed afternoon as never got in until one thirty. The mess cart was also late so we never got back to five forty-five. Things were rather heated, as we were to be back for a small stores parade at five. The weather was wet and windy from Tuesday onwards.

I forgot to add that we were on the hill on Thursday morning, running off heats for the sports and got most things run off and some of the events were most amusing. Although it rained hard, we got all the horses over the jumps, with only one fall – my groom coming down with my black horse

Saturday 9 April 2011

Diary Entry - 9th April, 1916

Sunday, there was stables in the morning and in the afternoon the 48th Battery officers and sergeants played the 15th officers and sergeants and the latter won. It was a good game, though, and we were playing a man short as Suttie did not turn up. The sergeant fitter of the 16th was very amusing and kept the Tommies very amused.

Letter Home - 8th April, 1916

8th April, 1916

Dear Mother,

I came back from the gunnery course today. We came back by bus some 12 or 15 miles. On arrival at the Mess, I found a big pile of letters waiting for me and was glad to get all the home news. I see, Mum, you are asking who some of the people I mention in my letters are. Well, Captain Grant Suttie is in command of our battery. Kellagher, who was a lieutenant, has been promoted to acting Captain. Hoyland and Siggers are the same as myself – 2nd Lieutenants. The Colonel who commands the brigade is Colonel Keriviin: he has only been with us for about seven weeks. Pat Sanger I thought you would know – he travelled over in the boat with us and was at GGS [Geelong Grammar School] with us.

The course of 17 days is over and I was sorry it did not last a little longer as, although I learnt a lot, there was a lot of work I did not take in. We are supposed to be on rest now but, from what I can see of it, it is going to be harder work than one does in action, as we are to be at something each day. We are about 12 miles - or 14 - back from the front line, in a coal-mining town, but we are lucky in having a good Mess, although the billet is not quite so good.

I tried to get a postcard of the old French chateau we messed in at the school, but they had run out of them. It was a huge place, like a fort, with a moat and two huge towers connected by a two-storey building. It was dated 1704 and, as it had not been inhabited for some 15 years, you can imagine what it was like. I lived in the chateau all the time, in a small room, which was quite comfortable, except for the draught, which used almost to blow you through the door.

We had some good mornings in the riding school, going over the jumps, and, of course, we did a lot of tactical work and lectures. It was quite a sunny morning when we left at nine thirty a.m. and the ride on the top of the bus was quite interesting.

Well, Mum, I'm afraid there is no more news and there is not much in this letter.

Your affectionate son,


PS how nice it would be to be a boundary rider again!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Diary Entry - 10th May, 1916

The morning was chilly, with a brisk wind blowing from the south-west and, as I had only three blankets and had tried newspaper to keep the cold out without success, I did not feel very much inclined to get out of bed. However, I emerged soon after five and, having had a hurried and scratchy brekka, made tracks for Lorette. We have built a new OP in a trench running down along the crest, away from the madding crowd, and it commands a splendid view of the trenches. The large telescope was sent up during the morning, and it made life very interesting, as you could distinguish movement a long way back with it. I could have sworn the Bosch were playing tennis behind the veiled crossroads in Lievin. In the evening, I spotted a battery behind the Bois d'Hirondelle.

Saturday 2 April 2011

Letter Home - 2nd April, 1916

2nd April, 1916

Dear Mother,

I am still at the gunnery school, but we break up on Saturday and go back to our batteries. I am just beginning to like this place and, although we get plenty of hard work, one learns a lot here and Major Crozier is the man to teach you.

I am glad to say the weather has taken up again and yesterday and again today have been perfect sunny days. It snowed on Sunday night and we also had some on Monday but I really think we have seen the last of winter now.

Everything is just beginning to shoot, and it won't be long before all the trees are in leaf.

I am feeling rather nervous tonight, as I see I am up for B.C tomorrow and will have to drill a battery in front of the Major, which will be rather an ordeal. Yesterday was rather a good morning as the Major took us in the riding school and we had a few rounds over the jumps. Some of the people are really awful. I don't profess to be much of a rider, but most of the men here consider thy can ride and I never saw such exhibitions as they give jumping - and some of them say they hunt too.

I and about four other men walked for miles today, Sunday, for lunch and tea, just returning at about six fifteen. There are quite a lot of our men about the district, and they do look jolly fit, and strong, but not nearly as smart as the average British Tommy.

I thought I might see someone I knew but never ran across anyone. There is no more news. I hope to see a bunch of letters waiting for me when I get back to the 'Dragoon Troop'.

Your affectionate son