I had a very nice journey. In the carriage there was a Lt. Colonel R.A.M.C., a delightful chap: we had a long talk together. He said he thought I was very well off to get such a fine good-bye. During our conversation he asked me if I meant to stay on in the R.A.M.C. I told him so. Of course not, he said, with that fine bevy of young ladies waiting for you! He was a really sporting old chap.
At 12:30 I had lunch – very fine (2/6) Shortly after we arrived in Preston. The Lt. Col. who was smoking next door came through to say good-bye to me, and asked my name.
A curious fact happened – when I went to the end of the train for lunch I walked into a contemporary of mine going to Aldershot to his first appointment. A very nice chap – he seemed in some trepidation at joining the army.
Arrived here I made for the Hospital where I found Sgt. Gibbons waiting. I telegraphed asking him to. As my papers had not come the Major had telegraphed to say there was no hurry for my return – but I would have come just the same as I ought to be ready for anything after all the warning I have had and if anything happened there would be no excuse.
I trust my papers will come tomorrow (Sunday) but they may not come till Monday.
Sheldon tells me Dixon went over on an ordinary passenger boat so I dare say I will be doing the same.
Having settled a few odd things at the Hospital I was going home when I suddenly bethought me that it was a very fine afternoon. I consequently got the loan of Major Savage’s horse, or rather took it, and had an hour or so.
The Allsups are very astonished to see me back, but not at all upset.
I have been labouring at my packing and am horrified – absolutely horrified at the amount of stuff I have got to go with me. There is not the slightest chance of its all going into the suitcase. A jacket, waterproof, flannels and the like will just have to go into the valise [bedroll]. My suitcase is very filled with things I would wear, or might wear – e.g. water bottle, haversack, revolver case and the like but my shoes take the cake – they fill about quarter of the case. I want them above everything though.
I have had reluctantly to exclude some things. The fleece lining cannot possibly go nor the leather vest. These are my warmest things but they would hamper me later so they are the best things to leave. With thick flannels and my cardigan I ought to be warm enough.
…Then back to the D.D.M.S. [Deputy Director, Medical Services] I said that Mair and I would like to go together if possible and the others had paired off too. Luckily they just wanted two men at three of the various hospitals. We are appointed to No 8 Stationary Hospital.
We took a taxi there. The hospitals are all tents of course and cover over an acre of ground I believe. As it was dark when we arrived we could not see.
There is a huge camp in all.
How delighted we were to be appointed to a hospital and together. We were more than pleased.
We interviewed our Major, who said that a tent would be put up for us at once. We suggested however as it was pretty late, and dark that we spend the night in town and report tomorrow morning. So here we are in this hotel [Grand Hôtel D’Angleterre, Rouen].
At No 8 we received the wildly exciting news that No 8 is to move shortly probably to Boulognne (?) This they said may be tomorrow and may not be for a month. They have been under orders since Xmas and recently received word to be ready for instant departure. I think this is just fine. Really I feel as if no-one could have been more fortunate than I have been so far. Everything has turned out just as I would have wished.
I looked into one of our Hospital tents: there were some 50 men, mostly in bed. But I did not wait or examine anything.
Our Major is a delightful old chap. He was delighted to see us and gave us a very hearty welcome.
I think I have done well in bringing a suitcase. It was no trouble whatever and I shall have no trouble getting it taken wherever we go. Poor Mair has no camp bed – he will have to buy one at once. They are going to supply us with blankets.
All through we have had a remarkably cheerful time. Mair is a most cheerful man and keeps me in fits of laughter all the time. I have not for one moment thought of being down in the mouth. It is rather extraordinary the feeling of abandon one acquires. Instead of wondering all the time what was going to become of us we just seemed not to care at all – a sort of ready for anything feeling.
I am in the very best of spirits, and awfully glad to be appointed to a hospital instead of to troops. We will have a decent R.A.M.C. Mess instead of a lot of swaggering subs.
As yet I know nothing of what work we will have to do or anything else. I understand there are four other M.Os. besides us, and the Major – I mean the Lt. Col.
You will have gathered where I am by this time I expect. There is an enormous Camp here, Infantry, Cavalry, Hospitals, etc. etc. But I must not tell you too much about it though. There are about six hospitals I think, each with accommodation for about 150 patients. To each of these are appointed six Lieuts of the R.A.M.C. each man having so many patients in a large tent. The hospitals are never full, hence the fact follows that we are never fully occupied, in fact very much the reverse – there are shoals of young medicals doing nothing at all or nearly so. This is not quite so absurd as it appears as we have to be ready for emergencies and at any moment we might have huge numbers of wounded sent here…
The cases in hospital are all sorts of minor ailments, rheumatism, flu’, and the like, also a fair smattering of wounded, frost-bite etc. There are no serious wounds as they are sent home if they can’t be cured in a short time.
…A Field Ambulance gives the first hospital treatment to the wounded, but not their first treatment. This is done by the M.O. of the Regiment. He is in a farm or something, in the rear of the trenches to which he seldom goes, and there the wounded are sent. Then at 7:30 p.m. one of our M.Os. goes out with the motor and horse ambulances to these places and collects them. I went yesterday with the Orderly Officer.
After dinner at 7.o’clock we left together in the first motor – the horse ambulance having been sent on before. We turned into a long straight road off the end of which I could not remove my eyes. It extended for miles in a straight line and somewhere, not so very far down, were the German lines. As I was gazing down this the M.O. pointed out a row of guns on our right. A little further down we came to a sort of irregular heap in the darkness – it was the remains of a house. Later on some walls where some houses had been, and so on. At last we came to the cross-roads where two of our Ambulances left us to go to the right while we went to the left. We now travelled parallel with the trenches well within range of rifle bullets so that there were no lights nor cigarettes. We passed two “pits” where a shell had gashed the ground, but the holes in the road made in a like manner had been repaired. After a while we reached the crossroads where we left the motor and walked towards the trenches some to one of the dressing stations. We could now hear rifles cracking near at hand and occasionally hear a bullet sing past. In front of us an occasional bright light appeared, being thrown into the air to illuminate the trench area.
At last we reached the dressing station, a farm. Here in an inner-room, snugly laid on straw and covered with blankets were five forms. There was a fire and the room was warm and comfortable. The regimental M.O. then came in and told us what was wrong with each and whether they could sit up. Our orderlies then carried off the first two on stretchers and returned for the other. The rest were able to walk up. We got back to our motor and went to the next Station. Here again we got more wounded and loaded them on our ambulance cars. Then back to our rendezvous at the cross-roads where the other two cars had already returned with their loads. We then sped back up the long straight road and I was thankful to think that at the end was the British Headquarters. We heard no guns, though as a rule they pot away during the night: I was glad there were none firing as I had quite enough without. Guns have been firing away all day today, but we take no notice of them whatever and I am already getting quite used to them, i.e. mark you to their distant roar – I believe no-one could ever get accustomed to them near at hand. We are within shell-range here and a few have dropped around but very few, and they never do any harm.
When we got back with the ambulances we found the medical staff ready for work. The patients were brought in one after another and dressed. Three of them were obviously hopeless but everything possible was done for them. They all died during the night. The rest were slight cases.
A 4 a.m. the Orderly Officer again went to the Cross Roads and waited till 5 o’clock – the arranged hour. If any of our Dressing Stations have patients and orderly is sent up and the M.O. and ambulance go for him.
These are the only visits the M.O. from the Field Ambulance makes. But the M.O. at the Dressing Station can send up anytime night or day for an ambulance which is immediately sent off and the staff are ready to deal with the patient at once. Most cases however are kept till the evening when the M.O. can tell us anything there is to know about the patients, although every patient has a label attached to him with name etc. etc. and what treatment he has received at the dressing station.
No patients are kept more than three days in a Field Ambulance Hospital: if we cannot cure them in that time they are sent back to the Clearing Hospital. Even there they are scarcely kept at all but are sent further back to the Stationary or General Hospitals or else home.
My quarters are most palatial. We live in a sort of college. I share a room! with another M.O. and had a splendid sleep in a bed! After my two nights in the train it was a most welcome change.
There is little work as the hospital contains some twenty patients at present. On one day some time ago seven hundred patients were brought in, five hundred of which were kept. I went round one of the wards and saw a few morning sick.
At lunch time an order came that I was to take a regimental M.Os job, as he is going home on leave – to Dundee. He left here at 2.30 and reached London tomorrow morning about 9am He has been out since the very beginning and this is his first leave.
…I have a nice cottage to live in: the people live at the back and I have the front room. I have an excellent bed on the floor: a mattress of straw and my valise on top. I feed with three other officers who are in cottages just down the road. I had a much better dinner than we get in the 26th [Field Ambulance] but that too is good. The great difficulty is drink – I’m not such a fool as to drink water – nobody does: and since I don’t allow myself to sterilise it with whisky I have to go without. It is quite bad enough drinking milk in tea. I just gasp until lunch and dinner are over and then I get coffee. Fortunately it is made weak so that I can take a good lot – not for pleasure of course as it is far from excellent but to satisfy thirst. I shave and brush my teeth with boiled water, of course, everybody does.
As I said I am temporarily appointed to the 26th. I wish it were permanent. I make no bones about the fact that I would far rather be there than an M.O. to troops. But really even his job cannot be called dangerous. Three days out of six he is well within rifle range but then he does not stroll about over-much naturally. The chance of a shall is very small. Only one M.O. has been killed here since the war began – he was having a walk in the evening when a stray bullet got him in the stomach poor chap.
…I have just been censoring a huge pile of letters. The men write bad letters home I am sorry to say. I mean they give their people no idea at all of what their life is like or what they do. There is no whining at all though a few say they are feeling the cold a good deal. And yet many of these men have actually for three days been standing in water some of them up to the waist. The mud on them is something awful to behold. How they live through it I really can’t understand. They are good fellows.
I sent you a postcard from my trench a day or two ago in order that you might know I was alive when you read of the battle that has been raging here. That I am alive is due to God’s grace. How I have lived through the dangers I can’t understand.
On Wednesday of last week the battle commenced. Of course we knew it long before-hand. It was because of it that we moved our hospital. Two other Field Ambulances came in to help to cope with the wounded. Men, guns, doctors, stores, ammunition, horses, etc. etc. etc. have been pouring in. Every civilian that could be, was, turned out of their houses and sent away so as to let the men have a place to be crammed into. Such preparations of course could have but one meaning.
By Wednesday morning nearly all our M.Os. were turned out of the hospital to Aid Posts etc near the firing-line. I was left in hospital. At 10a.m. the first ambulances came in. I went down and worked as rapidly as possible, one case after another as hard as I could go. At 11 o’clock I was feeling I would like a snack so I looked at my watch to see the exact time and found it was 2.30! I went for lunch in relay with the other two M.Os. who were working. We went right on all night till 2 a.m. on Thursday when the Colonel came down to tell me to go to our Church near at hand where we had ambulances arriving but only one M.O. I went along and finished off for him while he got some food. By then it was 3.30 so I went back to the hospital and received orders to proceed to the firing line with stretcher bearers at 5 a.m. I got a few things together and at 3.50 got into my valise with clothes on. I was too exhausted to sleep however, but I was only too thankful to be able to lie still for a short time.
At 4.20 or 4.30 I was called and got some porridge and bread. And at 5 a.m. I left with Lt. Hinks in a motor ambulance.
When we left, our ambulances were still pouring in full of wounded and our waiting room was crammed with poor fellows patiently awaiting their turn while the utterly exhausted orderlies prepared tea to try and cheer them up.
We proceeded again down that long, straight road, which I described to you my very first journey. This time however I went about twice as far down.
After various preliminaries. There were three of us: Capt Maybury, Lt. Hinks, Lt. Mais. The latter took over a splendid trench we found ready built and Maybury took charge of the house where the wounded are taken to, to await removal in Ambulances.
Our trench had a high parapet – about six feet, and was also sunk a foot. It was a plain [illustration of trench] thing open at both ends.
Well before very long shelling commenced. Shrapnel. One hears a long whiz – rapidly approaching, then there is a burst of flame, ahorrible bang and a cloud of smoke. Immediately following the earth and stones are blown everywhere by the shrapnel bullets and a huge hole in the ground where the most concentrated fire is. [Illustration of gun firing shrapnel.]
I sat and watched this for a while. I don’t think I am to blame for being absolutely paralysed with fright. I can give you no idea of how absolutely appalling it was. These shells came in dozens, one after another – no sooner was one bursting than we heard the hurtling swish of the next and you wondered if it would break into your trench or not. This went on for about an hour. To give you any idea of it is impossible. I sat with Watson – a medical who qualified with me.
I have been relieved for a night and have had a topping sleep in my billet. By jove! It was fine.
…It is wonderful here how the weather is drying up the roads: some of them that were veritable seas of mud are now dry and even dusty. We will have terrible dust when once the roads are really dry as the large numbers of motors will quickly cut off all the surface. The roads fortunately are all extraordinarily well made, it is simply amazing how the roads have stood the awful trafic [sic] they have had. Can you imagines hundreds of huge lorries filled with heavy boxes of beef say, rushing over the roads and cutting into the surface. I once saw a string of say twenty go along a fairly soft road and then I rode after them – well there was a track cut into the road in many places a foot deep!! You see each one had gone exactly in the track of the previous one, and they were heavily loaded. The back wheels are all double, so that the ruts were about a foot broad.
We get newspapers regularly – the Telegraph is the only decent one: we get them about midday of the following day which is quite good. We get the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail and various other trash. Thus it is I am so glad to have the W. Times. I enjoy the leaders especially of course; but there are all sorts of interesting things in addition. I like the B.W. too, though I seldom have the time to read it quite as I did at home.
…2). There is now a far-away chance of me getting the Train as a permanency. The old Dr was here today looking very well and they say they can’t send him home as leave is cancelled at present. He has been advised to obtain sick-leave which apparently they can give him. His broken metacarpal will absolutely preclude riding for, I should think three weeks at least. I appears he also broke a rib, though it does not seem to trouble him at all. Now the interesting thing is that if he goes home sick he leaves this division for ever, and that is why the poor chap does not want to go as he knows he will give up for good the finest job he can ever hope to get. I of course advised him to go sick. I can’t see that there is anything else for it as he would be no good here, and I certainly should not want to spend three weeks in Meuville Clearing Hospital when I might be at home. Then if he goes it does not follow atall that I would get his job, and for this reason … We are likely to have some attacks here in the future – now the Ambulances have to send men in rear of advancing men. Now it so chanced that our crowd were absolutely hopeless. A Capt. Maybury was sent and was in such a funk the whole time that he could do nothing. Please don’t imagine for a moment that I am scoffing at him – far from it, nobody who went through the Neuve Chapelle ordeal could ever do that. He had to be sent home. Then a Capt Henry was tired and he was no use. The rest being Cols. or Majors could keep out of it, and quite right too. It follows that Hinks and I were the stand-bys of the Ambulance. Then one night after about a week or so, at Suicide Corner Hinks and some others were in an ambulance when a Jack Johnston is said to have entered. I don’t think it was that, but anyway a shell did enter. The man next door actually to Hinks was blown to little bits which had to be collected from all over the place. The ambulance was reduced to matchwood and poor Hinks was knocked down. Naturally he got a terrible shake and was not so keen to go down to the trench after that. I advised him to go home but he would not give in. The least I could do all was to do all the trench work, and so relieve him.
Thus you will see that No 26 is not too anxious to let me go, since they can shove all their dangerous jobs on to me. But as soon as I know what has happened to my predecessor I will make a written application for this job. I do hope I may get it.
…Later:- I find Dr Reid has gone to Boulogne so his post will be filled probably. It is extraordinary how the human mind turns about: as soon as I saw some little chance of getting this post I began to wonder whether I really wanted it!! Isn’t it extraordinary! If he has really gone for good probably his post has been filled long ago and either I have been appointed or I have not – I will see what happens tomorrow.
Two cases of Typhoid have occurred in the Train. I have had the greatest business disinfecting, inspecting water-supply etc. The blighters all refuse to be inoculated so what can one expect. I do trust that an epidemic does not start here. It will be a serious business if it does.
…I went along to the A.D.M.S. [Assistant Director, Medical Services] and asked him if he would appoint me and he was awfully decent. He said that after the way I had worked at Neuve Chapelle he would be delighted to anything he could for me and that if I wanted it he would appoint me to the Train at once. He seems to have quite a regard for me, asked me to sit down and we had quite a confidential chat! He asked if I would be willing to work for them in the case of another attack and I said I would be more than delighted, indeed that I would regard it rather as a priviledge [sic]. This was indeed one point that I had specially meant to ask for, that I might work for the Ambulance as before in the case of an attack.
Thus you see I have the acme of perfection all round. While there is nothing doing I am a free man, my own master, and yet as soon as there is real experience to be gained, instead of losing it all I am to get it just as if I were in the ambulance.
…Yes your guess is quite right – we are at Sailly. I don’t see why you should not know that. But as to your other questions I think I had better not answer them. As to what our men would do if they broke through the German line seems to me obvious, but I think I’d better not even make hints about it as I ought not to. There are hundreds of little things of great interest I would greatly like to let you know, such as e.g. why we moved here from La Gorgne, etc, but its not the thing to do.
…I am not so sure I appreciated the other things. I will certainly not have time to read the French-books, and I don’t think the Periscope will be of much use to me. Nevertheless I appreciate the forethought in their being sent and I will keep them in the mean-time and no doubt they will come in very useful later.
The rasins [sic] came in most opportunely as we have just completed a dinner-party and the rasins came in for desert. I had the almonds from the last dinner-party and they made a good show, though nobody took many of course.
You may be interested in the dinner. We began with Green-pea soup – a cake, made up with water. After a good deal of hurrying and shooing I got them to bring it in about half an hour late. Then long pause. Amidst a good deal of scurrying about the plates were at last removed and we started on a tin of ham stuff with toast & butter. Again long pause (washing up of plates, forks etc etc) Scurryingly removed plates and then curry and rice – very good indeed – chutney. Roast mutton. Onion bauge. Excellent jam tarts (marmalade and strawberry) made by the servant of the Colonel in a kindly native’s home as our stove won’t do it. Then slices of fried bread with a slice of hard-boiled egg and a little heap of scraped ham on the top – stone cold! Excellent café au lait made from tinned coffee of the Colonels. Rasins, almonds, figs, ginger. Cigarettes. “Bridge”. It is trying being Mess President at such a dinner – the long pauses get on one’s nerves and one does not feel inclined to join in the conversation much. You see these men can’t prearrange things well and have no gumption. They have to be constantly washing up all the time, and yet I don’t suppose they eat anything till after the caboosh is finished.
…As to my cases here. I have a very troublesome neck – a mass of boils all over. I have got it very clean now although one little boil about an inch behind the left ear remains very intractable, reappearing every day or two. I have had two good layers of surface skin off (with INDECIPHERABLE), which ought to carry off most of the causal germs. There is one of the clerks with a similar abscess in the finger. I incised it once, but he is an awful coward. I then let it heal up too fast and pus reappeared. I thought myself justified in giving a “local” and having a good old slice at it. It was simply great after all the medicine to plunge a knife into live flesh once more. I gave him cocaine + adrenaline and he felt nothing at all. I have a good set of knives in a case with perfect edges and I prolonged the pleasure by slowly slicing away the surface in thin layers, while the eyes of the assistant corporal nearly fell out they bulged so far. He couldn’t get over the fact that the patient felt nothing. After I had sliced to the root of the abscess I asked the chap to have a look at his finger, which he evidently thought would be deformed for life I had cut such a lot of it away – but I assured him it was a mere nothing and all absolutely essential: and I don’t believe any amount of incising would have cured the thing.
I have another man with an abscess.
I got a bad shock today. A man was coughing badly outside the Surgery so I told the corporal to bring him in first. One glance told me I was “up against it”, and two beats of the pulse and his appearance and breathing told me he had Pneumonia. I might have spotted it the day before, I suppose, but he been attending for a fortnight with a cough and I was off my guard, although I had examined his lungs some days previously. He began to feel ill the previous afternoon and instead of coming to see me had waited till the ordinary morning sick-parade.
Then there are two men with “sore throats”; and a few odd things such as a lumbago, a kicked ankle, a sprained ankle, and a sprained thumb.
June 16th (posted 17th)
…I wonder if Pea [his sister] remembers a chap Watson I introduced her to in the Union – such a nice gentlemanly chap and brilliant too. He was the man I met in Neuve chapelle – I was glad to see him. He is dead. Died of wounds in the chest in Boulogne.
…Well to continue. We had a great business leaving. You should have seen our luggage! Bygad!! We had a hay wagon – this is a huge long thing, pulled by two heavy draught horses. It was filled to the skies! I too had my own cart: I can tell you it was loaded! I had washing stands, wardrobes, valises, gum-boots and what not indeed? My “wardrobe” is a long box with three shelves – a very useful thing. My washing-stand is a long plank on two boxes. I think I probably told you [illustration]. One of which has my gum-boots. The other has shelves for my slippers, sponges, shoes, boots and tennis-shoes.
So now that I have brought all these I am jolly glad to have them: I thought of leaving them, but I would have been badly off until I got substitutes. In a real move of course things like that would have to be left behind along with lots of other things.
…This is rather an interesting case. He was drunk I am sorry to say, but instead of the ordinary drunk he made an awful fool of himself kicking and fighting and biting. There has been a mad dog around here somewhere and we are incidentally killing all dogs which we have in the wood if they appear the least ill. We have far too many dogs about. Well it only occurred to me when I went into the Officer’s Mess of his Coy that he was pretending to have Hydrophobia!!! They asked me whether he had! Of course when I was examining or rather looking at the man from a distance the condition was only too obvious to me, but the other Sgts. obviously thought he was ill and I suppose thought he had hydrophobia. They will be disillusioned when he is put under arrest this morning and he can look forward to being reduced from Sf. Sgt. to the Ranks. I will certainly make my evidence as strong as I possibly can.
…We are to have a Colonel who is acting general, a major and the A.D.C. [Aide de Camp] of the general (who is on leave) to dinner tonight so there are great doings. I decided we would have no soup. I rather wish now that I had arranged for soup. However. Well we start with Asparagus. Then I have two fouls with cauliflower and potatoes. Greengage tart. Savoury of tinned stuff – meat or something – spread on bread and covered with scrambled egg. I think this ought to do. Of course these great people live far above my scale and tomorrow at noon they leave for a spell of sixteen days in the trenches: I imagine on the last of their eight days out they have an enormous lush – but I think this should do. We will have an ordinary issue roast beef at the same time as the chicken as probably noone will want any. These dinners are no great pleasure to me as unless I watch everything the batmen will be overwhelmed – you have no idea what hopeless idiots they are. Then too before I can start eating everyone is ready for second helpings – I generally get someone else to do that, but even then, if they refuse a second helping I have to start after they have finished – if they do I start when they are beginning their second lot and some always refuse a second … Then I always feel hurried as someone is always finished before I begin …
…For some time now I have been considering myself as somewhat of a slacker. I think it has been quite excusable my long uninterrupted stay in my “cushy-billet”. I don’t think there were many men who had such an introduction to the War as I had. I always wanted at the beginning, to stay for a while at the Base until I saw the lie of the land. It so chanced that I had not this opportunity however.
I can well remember the awful work during the 17 hours when I worked in the Field Ambulance during Neuve Chapelle and the horror I had in imagining myself in the place of one or two of the officers whom I dressed. I will of course never forget some of the sights – I remember one Captain who came in with the most of his face shot away and certainly no lower jaw left although part of his chin was still there, but not in its proper position: he tried all the time to tell me something but of course if just sounded like an interrupted ah ------ as articulation was out of the question. He had one thigh fractured and the other leg bones all smashed up. I remember having three such cases, all having their faces absent. It makes me think, such a thing.
Then came the order to go up to the trenches. And the awful shelling all around us. The hunger and exhaustion of that day, with dead men all around me, combined with the knowledge that at any moment the Boches might come over us produced a combination in my mind which I think many people might call a justifiable fear. I remember on one occasion particularly thinking I would like to run away. A Company of men came marching back saying that the Germans were advancing rapidly and they would be over us in a few minutes. I am most thankful that I had my men under me then. Had I been by myself I would probably have gone back a mile or two, but when I saw them looking to me for guidance there was no hesitation.
The absolute exposure of those days is largely done away with now. I certainly was never so cold as in those days. I remember my first night (second night of battle) it froze and I was so exhausted that I went to sleep between two dead men – to keep the wind off –, and woke not long after feeling stiff all over. I then walked about and lay down, and so on. Later I made a cover, and later there was fine weather and blankets were sent down and by that time our food came all right – there was little or no shelling and we began to feel alive again and to have such a satisfaction in having lived through it all.
But, I must pull myself up – I am away at a tangent …
Well, latterly I have been getting rather fed up and I decided I ought either to go down to the Base for a while or take on a Regt. I came to the conclusion I could notgo down to the base knowing nothing of the War. So I arranged on a certain afternoon to go to the A.D.M.S. and ask for the first Regt. vacant.
It so chanced that in the afternoon there was a gas-demonstration, which I heard of later. This took up so much time that I could not go to the A.D.M.S. and postponed it until next day. That evening I dined with one Capt. Orr R.A.M.C. who told me how fed up he often got with the trenches: how he sometimes felt that he would give anything to have a fortnight in a field ambulance instead of going to the trenches.
This set me thinking and I thought an occasional change with a regimental M.O. would suit very well. As Orr was going on leave I suggested that I should take his place, and this would make it more feasible for me to exchange with him some other time.
Consequently I now find myself 1100 yds from the German trenches. Yesterday evening I went round our front line trenches with the C.O and the Adjt. In one place we were within 20-30 yds of the Bosch trenches. There we found the O.C. Coy quite content. He might have been in his own garden for all he could, or seemed to, care. We could see the German parapet just there: it looked to me like fifteen yards, but he told us the officer from whom he had taken over had said it was twenty and he thought it was nearer thirty. You may think it foolish, but one cannot resist looking over at a place like that. I looked over freely all along – one could see their parapet just in front and then the flat country for a long way around with trenches all over the place but never a Bosch head! It is perfectly safe looking for a short time at different places as nobody could get his rifle ready in time to pot. The danger lies in always looking over at the same place, when a sniper gets ready for you.
In one place I looked down a telescope and saw the whole thing and the enemy all around. They see Boches all the time there, but I did not chance to see any.
When we had seen all our front line we came back, and one certainly felt safer behind. Some of our men are right up in the front line and others are back here – I don’t want to tell you exactly the distribution as that might amount to Military Information, which I have to steer clear of all the time.
I live in a magnificent dug-out. I had no expectations of such a fine place. It is roughly eight feet long, broad and high. It is quite new and the roof is, as yet not protected. It would stop a rifle bullet, but not more. In this place I find a bed, of all things! It is made of stout boards [illustration] with two layers of wire netting stretched over. I have three blankets and a water-proof sheet. The floor is covered with trench boards [illustration] I have a shelf at one side, and nails all around for hanging things on.
We Mess in a similar place with a table in the middle.
You might imagine we feed on Bully beef and biscuits – but not atall. For dinner last night we had soupy stewed rabbit, potatoes, cabbage, anchovies, coffee. Breakfast today we had porridge, bacon and eggs and toast. Luch today: stewed beef with cabbage and potatoes, then a sort of cabinet pudding I think it was, made with bread and currants and rasins and custard, then a cheese savoury, coffee. It’s really wonderful. The cooking is done in another dug out.
These dug outs are on the same level as the floor of the trenches, roughly, so that their roofs are level with the surface of the ground. They are roofed with corrugated iron so that the rain is kept out. Then to make them shell-proof one has to pile up heaps of sandbags.
There are also deep dug-outs. From the trench level they go down, down, down. It’s a fine business getting down and up – you shove your back in and it comes in violent contact with a beam above, then you lower your back and your head then whacks against the same beam! Each step is the same. You go down and up on all fours alternately banging your back and head until you reach the floor where you have room to stand up.
Yesterday it rained most of the day, so that today you have to wade along the muddy water, in some places about a foot deep already. Now again it is steadily pouring, pouring. Fortunately I brought my gum boots so that I am all right…
Everywhere you see things being slowly engulfed in the mud: here a bit of waterproof showing there a box of something, ammunition and so on. The trench boards get slowly lost in the same way. Parties have to work constantly at them, digging them up, cutting a groove below to hold water and then replacing them.
Every now and again you see a large rat, but they generally clear out when they hear you coming…
…Oh! The extraordinary freedom of being above ground and of seeing roads and people walking about. Today as I reached the same place I heard a Bosch shell come singing and hissing towards me – ah! How I longed again for those sheltering walls to protect me from those deadly fragments that will shortly whistle through the air all around. I cower down waiting for it to approach which it seems to take minutes (!) to do. Crash!! It is 100 yds off atleast. I see the flash, and then the smoke but no fragments come near me. I go ahead unheeding.
I am writing in bed so you must excuse the script. Don’t be alarmed, I am quite well.
We are really living in rather trying times these days. I have had to shift my tent as the Col. Wanted a large tent to cover the area where my tent was. By that time we had all been in camp some three days: thus all the tents were pitched and all the paths etc made. Consequently I had to make the best of a bad job. The whole place is about a foot deep in mud so that made no difference and there was only one possible place for my tent. This was unfortunately an absolutely filthy place where horse manure had been piled. I got two men, Wyness and my batman and the three of us laboured hard and removed the filthy stuff. We scraped the surface and then swept it. There was no time to do more, as the rain had stopped by an extraordinary chance and I was naturally anxious to get my tent up before it commenced again. I had no sooner got my tent up and my things in than it began to rain as usual. The inside stank smelly but I got cresol sprinkled which improved it somewhat.
The floor is really beastly, one’s feet sink about an inch into the ground everywhere. I undress on a strip of wood which my fool of a batman usually stands on and covers with dirty mud.
We have to wade about in mud all day, and most unfortunately at this very important juncture my gum-boots have given out – there are holes in the soles which let in the mud. I got one of the saddlers to sole my boots which he did very well, and I had hoped they would keep my feet dry but unfortunately my feet were thoroughly wet early in the day and have been wet all day … I kept moving about all day, but after dinner came to bed and my feet are gradually getting warm in your bed socks.