Diary of events during war
August 4th - 20th November 1914
Transcribed by Adam McLean Glasgow 2004
Lance Corporal R.W. Kirke
1st Royal Fuseliers
17th Infantry Brigade
British Expeditionary Force
On Active Service
I am trying to get this home to you. Try and read it and also if you care to do so, get a large book and copy it legibly for me. Anything you cannot understand leave until I can do so. You will have a job to do, but try please. You can put dates in where required.
Our Doctor is getting it home for me if possible.
Diary of events during War.
Mobilised on August 4th 1914. A week's hard training followed. Our Reservists were soon in fairly good condition and we were shifted from Kinsale via Cork, Holyhead to Cambridge. There we spent a busy fortnight in which hard marching was prominent. We were also inoculated.
We were then marched on to Newmarket. Here we stayed another week and had a still busier time. Finally on the 7th of September we entrained at Newmarket Station at midnight.
We travelled all night until about 7.30 a.m. on the 8th when we found ourselves at Southampton. We had travelled a very queer route to arrive there. Everything was done silently and we passed through London, Woking, Farnborough and other large towns like a trainload of dead men. We embarked at 8.00 a.m. on 8th September aboard the West Meath for a destination unknown,
The morning was spent in loading transport and it was not before 12.00 midday that we slowly steamed out of the dock. It was a glorious day and the fellows were all very jolly. Mouth organs, tin whistles, flutes, also a piano all helped to sweet a horrible din. Songs of all kinds, sentimental, comic and otherwise were borne across the sea to other troopships in harbour who bellowed the choruses.
Our pace was very slow and steady. The boat was rather a large one but struck me as being rather an ancient affair. With darkness so the weather took a complete change and the sea became rougher. Rain began to fall and the weather became beastly cold. I had, in anticipation of a fine night rolled myself up on the deck in my greatcoat. I would not shift despite the rain. About midnight we passed a fleet of 14 warships. Not a single light could be seen and we could only guess as to who they were. Reveille was at six on the 9th. I awoke to find I was wet through and chilled to the bone. The rain was still falling fast. The breakfast consisted of tea with a very strong salt flavour, salt bacon and a biscuit.
During the morning the King's 'God Speed and Farewell' was read by the Officer Commanding to us, and three cheers given. Dinner tinned meat and biscuits. I fell asleep in the afternoon. Tea, jam and biscuits. Tea very salty. In the evening a concert was held, but not feeling like being crushed to death I set a seclusion in the fo'castle and watched the coast of France as we crept slowly along. It was raining a drizzle.
We had no slightest idea as to where we were and curiosity was at high pitch.
About six in the evening we passed a shoal of porpoises. It was an extremely interesting sight to see the queer creatures as they leapt in the air and gracefully meet the incoming waves.
It gradually became dusk. Lights twinkling everywhere. Ahead was the light of a lighthouse. A couple of troop ships and a cruiser in rear. Very soon after six bells the weather again changed. The boat started rocking and there was every prospect of a rough night. I tried hard all night to find a suitable place for a sleep but with no luck. It was beastly cold and every decent place was inhabited by someone more lucky than I. I finally perched myself in the iron framework in the bows but a rotten porthole let a fair sized draught have full play on my already frozen carcase. About 2.00 a.m. on the 10th the Fleet again passed by. It was a weird sight to see them pass so silently and steady. With daylight we could see in the distance a hazy line, presumably the coast of France. Breakfast, cheese and biscuits. Came on deck and found you could distinguish fairly easily with the naked eye a few prominent objects on shore.
We lowered anchor and awaited a pilot. He came aboard at midday and slowly took us into a beautiful harbour. All along the coast were huge camps. Few seemed to be filled, but there must have been 15,000 troops waiting to disembark. We dropped anchor a few hundred yards from shore and waited our turn to disembark.
The town was a rather large one we found with large factories etc. a-plenty. The other side of the harbour is all cultivated land. We still were in ignorance of the name of the town. Eventually we heard it was named Saint Nazaire. We steamed slowly into the docks at 10p.m. and anchored in company with a few other ships by a large quay. All along the docks and quays were crowds of French people cheering madly. I eventually managed to get a sleep on deck and slept till 8 a.m.
Friday 11th September 1914. Morning. It was bitterly cold when I awoke. Around us was a scene of great activity. Huge cranes were at work unloading a ship ahead of us. The ship we found out later was called the Braemar Castle. All around are docks and shipbuilding yards. Just ahead was an old French warship sadly battered. Close by us was a large white hospital ship.
As we were watching a hospital train drew up alongside and unloaded a hundred or so wounded fellows. These were soon placed on board the Carsbrook Castle. There were a fair percentage of Germans among them. A large number of them were unable to walk and seemed in a bad way. The French workmen are really funny people to watch. Everyone is so excited and continually getting in the way. We disembarked at 5.00 p.m. and marched to our camp. Our drums were at the head of the Regiment playing the Marseillaise. The French people seemed to greatly appreciate the compliment. Afterwards the fellows joined in with a couple of song marches 'Tipperary', 'Row, Row, Row' and a few others all being heartily sung.
The French people seem hugely delighted with our Tommies and pressed cigarettes etc. upon us. We reached camp very soon. Our first thought was some food. It was a job to get it as it was hard to make oneself understood.
We obtained a loaf in the finish and were well satisfied. Suddenly we had the order to entrain at once. After a fine send off from the town we entrained at 9.15 p.m. destination unknown. There were 38 of us crushed into a goods van. It was far from comfortable but we are getting hard now. I managed to get a little sleep. During the following morning we had all manner of kind of fruit given us at the various stations. We passed through numbers of small villages but few large towns. Tours is one of them I remember. The people are all eager for one of our brass badges. I passed a few in a very short time. We were continually passing trainloads of wounded and German prisoners. Once more we slept in the carriages.
Sunday 13th September 1914. Woke frozen and cramped. The country looked very desolate here and rain was falling fast. About 10.00 a.m. we drew up and disembarked at a station named Coulommiers. It seemed to be a large hospital base. There were crowds of wounded in every building. English and German side by side sharing rations. I went up to see them and they looked bad, poor devils. It was just at the place where the Middlesex Regiment was badly cut up. The town was quite deserted. Houses were just as they were left, washing was still hanging on the lines. The village is a pretty one and it seems a beastly shame to see it also deserted.
We were rested under a large shed. The Tommies all Londoners were more cut up over the lack of a Sunday newspaper than anything else. "I wonder how the Spurs got on? Did Chelsea win?" were the remarks flying about. One officer was going mad with anxiety about which horse won the St Leger.
The enemy were only a very short distance away yet it seemed like an ordinary day on manoeuvres. It was reported that Uhlans were in the vicinity and had killed an old peasant. The troops were busy getting emergency rations etc., as we had orders to shift at midday. During the afternoon we marched 13 miles to a village named St Cyr. Here we were billeted. There is evidence of a terrible fight here. Half burnt horses and graves are prominent. The people are scared out of their lives but buck up at the sight of British soldiers. I slept in a large barn and had the best sleep for a long time.
Monday 14th September 1914. The sound of heavy artillery fire was plainly heard. Uhlans were reported to be in the forest and had strong outposts. It rained all morning and the ground was like a swamp. Just near our barn are the graves of some of the Germans killed here by the East Sussex Regiment. I was startled by my reflection in a glass. I did look a queer animal, and went far to proving Darwin's theory of our descent from monkeys. The people told terrible tales of the Germans. Every house has been pillaged and people disgracefully treated. We were taken for a short march around in the morning and the stretcher bearers came across a deserted school. Inside was clothing and equipment belonging to Gordon Highlanders, Royal Irish Regiment, and Scots Fusiliers. Also found German curios which we fetched home. In the afternoon one of our privates was fired on by a Uhlan in the town. Half a company were sent out and returned later with a German gun limber and medical companion but no signs of German troops had been found. In the evening in company with Jack, Les and Ginger I strolled to the village and used various shops and the café. Later we went for a stroll around and a pleasant talk. Returned to our barn at 9.15 p.m. but were disturbed all night by artillery taking hay from us.
Tuesday 15th September 1914. Awoke early. Breakfast, bacon and biscuits. We paraded at 8.00 a.m. for a march towards the north. We marched about 18 miles through a deserted country and finally halted at a village named [Aizy]. Artillery fire was very plain now. During our halt Les and I made a fire and cooked some tea. It was smokey but delicious. Orders had just been read out that we were to march to the front. We paraded again and marched for miles and miles in a drenching downpour. It was soon pitch dark and progress very slow. My boots were almost falling off and let water badly. The poor Tommies were walking along absolutely done, but still game. I was quite knocked up when we halted at a large farm and billeted. No sooner was I free to sit down than I was asleep.
Wednesday 16th September 1914. Ravenous. Snatched small breakfast and were soon on the move. We were passing graves of dead soldiers now frequently. Dead horses partly burnt were also by the roadside in plenty. A message came through. Germans retreating in disorder and despite rain we passed on. Disabled motors abandoned in the flight were in every hedge. My feet were now starting to pain terribly and every step was torture. Half a dozen ambulances passed by us filled with wounded Tommies still cheering. We eventually finished marching at 5 o'clock. We must have marched about 50 miles these two days and considering the heavy roads and our equipment it is a fine performance. My poor feet had been a terrible trial to me. We bivouacked in a field and Les and I cooked up quite a passable meal. An aeroplane in front of us had a terrible bombardment from our artillery but got safely away. It was a queer sight to see the shells bursting around. First a flash and then a cloud of pure white smoke. We rolled up in our greatcoats and tried to find sleep but a nasty cold wind made this very hard.
Thursday 17th September 1914. Rose early and went for a run to restore circulation. Another aeroplane was bombarded but safely rose out of range. We marched all morning and finally halted at a farm and billeted. We were very wet and cold and were not sorry to halt. The firing line was very near and we fully expected a shift in the evening. Nothing happened however and we slept in our hotel.
Friday 18th September 1914. The weather was a great deal improved. We were now waiting orders. I received a pipe and tobacco from my sister. It was our first mail for a fortnight and my first smoke for a week. We made a fine stew. Tinned meat, carrots, onions, soaked runners and biscuits boiled in a canteen. Some of our fellows are smoking tea leaves. They are far from pleasant I should say. The day was quiet and I was early asleep.
Saturday 19th September 1914. Raining. We moved forward with Division at 1 p.m. Marched for 9 hours mostly in darkness over cobbled roads at a terrific pace. I was almost spent when we halted and billeted. The stretcher bearers found a cave and we were soon asleep.
Sunday 20th September 1914. Raining hard. Found our cave very smelly, so joined Companies. Cooked breakfast. A squadron of French cavalry passed us looking very jaded. One of our fellows accidentally shot in stomach, chest and arm. Spent morning with him till he was shifted by ambulance to the base. This is Alma day usually celebrated by the Regiment as Sports day. We received a gift of tobacco. Fellows soon smoking for all they were worth. Paraded at 2.30 and marched to within a few miles of the firing line. All through the night was a succession of German attacks. Six in all were repulsed. The firing was deafening.
Monday 21st September 1914. We had slept in a very old barn which we were glad to evacuate at 4 a.m. Cooked breakfast and ate it with relish as I was starving. Went to a hilltop and watched the artillery duel.
This lasted for 10 days. The Germans hold strong positions on a far hill and are exchanging shells with our fellows at a furious pace.
The Germans blew a bridge sky high while I was looking. Received letters from Cambridge. It is a treat to hear from England. Jack received cigarettes from Bert. A German aeroplane went over us and was fired on with no good results. The place we are in is a deserted village named Dhuizel. We paraded and marched over the most horrible route I ever travelled to the trenches. Never shall I forget that march and so will not describe it. We arrived and relieved the Guards Brigade in the trenches at 8.30 p.m.
Tuesday 22nd September 1914. We stood to arms at 4 a.m. Three stretcher bearers myself included were sent with two officers to an advanced position. We had no sooner started than we had bullets whistling through the trees and beat a retreat. A second venture was more successful. A brisk engagement between A and D companies ended in the Germans being repulsed. Upon leaving the trenches to follow up on our fellows were met with a sharp fire and hit rather badly. Our Adjutant was shot by a sniper. The wounded gradually crawled in from the open. They are so plucky these poor devils making least of horrible wounds. We had a busy time bandaging them up. In the evening we collected wounded from the trenches. Suddenly there broke out a sharp rattle of rifle and maxim fire. I just managed to fall into a trench. The maxim pumped lead into the Germans at a fearful rate as did the men in trenches. There was no lull for 20 minutes and then all was silent. It was horrible to be still in the midst of shells and shrapnel. The Germans also sent rockets into our lines which illuminated the place like day. It was awful. At midnight we started off with our wounded to the Field Hospital 2 miles away over a road 18 inches deep in mud. It was killing work and we were thoroughly done up when we reached the place.
We slept in the stables of a large house belonging to M. Calamet one of the principals in the recent shooting case.
Wednesday 23rd September 1914. Awoke at 9 o'clock. Still tired after only 3 hours rest, and no food for 2 days. We walked round the village and searched for food with no luck. We arrived at the second trench or rather caveat 4.30 p.m. We then went to the firing line at 6 p.m. We then had to get the body of Sergeant Parrish from the trenches. This was a terrible job as we were on the skyline an easy mark for the German snipers. Despite shaking at the knees we managed to get him out. He was quite dead. We then floundered through the mud to Headquarters where he was buried. We then retired for the night.
Thursday 24th September 1914. A fine day. We stayed in our trench all morning. Only a few shots were being sent over, but these were good ones from the German snipers. There was plenty of artillery fire going on however. Last night a comical thing happened. One of our Tommies being without a light and being unable to procure one, picked up a glow worm and placed it upon his pipe with the remark "I'll get a light somehow". There was smothered laugh from all those around. A queer day.
Friday 25th September 1914. Awoke disturbed by rifle fire. The Rifle Brigade tried an attack on the German lines. They reached them but were not strong enough to keep them and returned. Their loses were rather heavy. 18 of them were left dead on the hill. We took 22 wounded to hospital. It was sad to see the dead lying so still. Immediately behind the Rifle Brigade lines were a couple of graves with rough crosses bearing the names of two German soldiers whom they had buried. We were about half way to hospital when an aeroplane spotted us. Immediately the German guns began to play on us and we had a warm time with shrapnel. The only one to be hit was the fellow I was carrying. He received a slight wound in the shin. He was a sergeant in the Rifle Brigade wounded in 4 places. He was very plucky and before we left him he thanked us very nicely. He also gave me a coin he had taken from the German Officer he had shot. We arrived at hospital at 1 p.m. Here I witnessed some awful sights, the result of an accident to one of our big guns.
We reached the trenches at 4 p.m. Big attack was expected but nothing took place only the usual artillery and sniper fire.
Saturday 26th September 1914. Awoke early after a rotten sleep. The night had been bitter cold. Artillery fire was going on like a perfect hell. I will try to describe our position. The summit of a hill is between us and the Germans. We are 250 yards down the slope on our side and the Germans 750 on theirs. Our trenches run parallel to the crest. Immediately behind our trenches is a wood. Dividing the trench into two is an old pathway. Down the pathway behind the trenches is an old quarry in which are old caves. These caves are far from safe as they are only sandstone and crumble at the least touch. Our cave is absolutely the worst. 5 of us inhabit it and it is no picnic. It opens towards the hill and German rifle fire peppers the top rather freely. We have built a breakwork of stones and made it as sound as possible. Inside we have leaves and with our overcoats we try and keep warm. We are filthy dirty and all possess beards. We tried to dig a little deeper but were met with such a stench that we hastily filled it in again. Our mail arrived. Three from Cambridge. It is jolly good of them to write and it does cheer up so to hear from England. Nothing happened all day. Retired early.
Sunday 27th September 1914. A chilly morning. We were startled at breakfast to hear the sound of a band. It proved to be a German Regimental Band playing Church music. It sounded so sweet and with the bells from the village (Soupir) made the day feel quite a Sunday. The music however, had only barely ceased when rifle fire opened. A platoon of B Company number 8 to which Jack belongs was ordered to advance and take a German trench believed to be unoccupied. No sooner had they advanced from their own cover when a murderous fire opened on them. The fellows were falling like sheep. They pushed on up the crest and down the hill but were beaten back by overwhelming numbers. A few took cover in a cabbage patch and kept firing waiting for dark before they returned. The others who tried to reach the trenches were all knocked over. We had a busy time bandaging up the wounded. They were then sent down to hospital as soon as they came in. I had been going mad with suspense as to whether Jack was safe. All kings of thoughts flashed through my brain. With twilight we went out on the slope searching the living from the dead. It seemed so pitiful to see the still forms lying in groups and singly in the silence of death. Everyone I turned over I expected would reveal to me Jack's face. While hurrying about I kicked over some tins and made a fearful noise. Immediately the Germans started firing. After hard work the dead and living were all fetched and taken in. The wounded were attended to and sent off with the exception of one fellow too serious to move.
Then came an awful job. Harry Rowe and myself had to search the dead. Seventeen of them were lying still and silent in the quarry and Harry and I turned out their pockets in search of any little things to be valued at home. Photos and little souvenirs were always found. Most times stained with the life blood of the poor brave fellow to whom it belonged. I came across the body of an old Regimental footballer. He used to play half-back with me and was a great pal. He had been riddled and must have met death quickly. All were buried with their faces to the German lines. After we had finished we retired to our cave to lay awake thinking of all the horrors of war.
Monday 28th September 1914. Was soon awake and went to find Jack. I found him looking for equipment. He had been reported dead and his kit distributed. Poor Jack. He did look upset. The German artillery were rather busy and sent us over a breakfast of shrapnel. The fellow badly wounded died in the night, poor fellow. The Brigade A Company, Green a fine officer was shot dead by a sniper. In the afternoon I took a much needed rest. In the evening 4 of us went out to recover the body of Private Harrop. His body had been missing a week and was in an awful state. It is a ticklish business going up that slope. You never know which moment may prove to be your last. The poor fellow was soon buried. I returned to No 1 High Street as we call our cave. Had laid awake for hours when the Leinster Regiment was attacked on our left but repulsed the attack. I fell off to sleep then.
Tuesday 29th September 1914. Awoke 5.45 still dead tired. Found Jack in the quarry and had a long chat. He has not recovered from his terrible experience yet and looks very bad. Heavy artillery firing took place in the afternoon. Our gunners did fine work as they were dropping shrapnel over the enemies trenches all afternoon. The Germans replied rather heavily and I had many a doubt as to whether our cave would stand it. An accident to one of our guns resulted in one of our fellows being killed and another losing an arm. The weather was very threatening and we expected a storm. In the evening I went down to the Company off duty and sat around the fire all evening. On our return we were required to fetch in the bodies of two more dead from the now fatal "Cabbage Patch". This done we returned.
Wednesday 30th September 1914. A clear day but cold. Just finished breakfast when we received a shower of shrapnel as an extra course. Luckily no one was hit, but we soon found shelter. Received letter from Lester and from Cambridge. Heavy firing took place all afternoon. The Germans seem to have mounted a couple of guns near us and they have a horribly loud report. Strolled down to the Companies off duty in evening. Found Jack on guard and sat round free talking until dark, when I returned along Dorans Walk, Dead Man's Lane, to No 1 High Street. Here the pleasant flavour of rum and I found they had drawn an issue from the Quarter Master. It warmed me up beautifully. We lay awake till very late talking about old times, etc.
Thursday 1st October 1914. Very cold indeed. Was soon sitting round the fire. After breakfast we started to dig a couple of small trenches. We had nearly completed them when the snipers put a few shots our way very close indeed and we beat a hasty and orderly retreat to a safer part. We returned after a time and completed them however. In the afternoon all the fellows in the trenches were in a jolly mood. It was a change to hear them singing as they worked on completing the defences. After tea an order came through that we were to move. At dark a party of Highland Light Infantry relieved us and we marched out of the trenches. We marched back on the now familiar route to Dhuizel via Soupir. It was a beautiful moonlight night. Scattered about was a scene of great desolation. Saw house in a tumble down condition through shelling. Graves large and small were to be seen everywhere. Each one marked pathetically by its border of stones. A rough cross, a piece of wood, or a couple of bayonets completed the last resting place of our poor fellows. We reached our billet at 3 a.m. on Friday.
Friday 2nd October 1914. Awoke at 9 a.m. Did not rise till 10.30. Such a change but I still felt tired when I did rise. We are in a fairly comfy billet. A large roomy barn upstairs with a ladder approach rather rickety. The German devils were still clapping shells into the valley. We could plainly see them explode. Cooked a creditable stew. Came over jolly queer in afternoon. Felt as queer as a fish out of water. Just managed to climb our ladder and collapsed. Felt a great deal better in the evening. Found Jack and Ginger at work cooking supper and had a long chat. Retired to roost at 9.00 p.m.
Saturday 3rd October 1914. Awoke at 7 a.m. Very cold indeed. Received cigarettes from Mum. I feel quite elated with a cigarette between my lips. We were supposed to have crossed the Aisne for a rest camp for a few days. It is a queer rest. The Regiment were out all morning. The German shells have been playing the very devil with the village. All morning they were dropping thereabout. They are very near to us and as each explodes the whistle seems to be on top of you. We have been in the window of our loft all morning watching the effect. Let go by clouds of smoke and dirt. One which fell on the village put a house in flame. The shelling continued the whole day. I went to the village and found Jack and Ginger whom I fetched back to our barn.
A concert was in full swing when we returned. A mouth organ, flute and tin whistle were all being used at one time with a weird result. Still the melodies were distinguishable. The evening went by quickly in this way and everyone was jolly.
Bert Rowe was the life and soul of the party. He played the flute and whistle alternately with Wag. Finally they played the whistle between them, one hand each. It was the brightest evening I had spent for a long time. About 9 p.m. the rattle of rifle and machine gun fire was heard between the crashes of artillery fire. I went to the door of our loft and watched the hills opposite. It was a fair sight. In the valley below us shells were bursting in the mist. On the hill near our heavy guns were hard at work sending back our answer. Searchlights were reaching from the hills occupied by the Germans with a beautiful effect. The Germans also send up rockets which are very brilliant and light up wonderfully. In the far distance could be seen the flashes of German guns. As one of our bearers said, "it reminded one of a firework display by Pain at the Crystal Palace". The shells were falling very near us and we were on tip toe with expectation of one dropping on our roof. All night they fell around, but not one touched us. I had a rotten night.
Sunday 4th October 1914. Awoke early as I was the Headquarter orderly Corporal. It does not seem a week since the German Band so startled us. The weather is cold but fine. The same old artillery duel took place all day. In the evening we marched to Chassemy via Braisne. It was a fine night for a march and despite danger of a few German shells I enjoyed the stroll.
Passed numerous cavalry patrols who seemed very active. Passed through Braisne at dusk. Rather large town. One house in six is inhabited. As we passed through it was to be noticed how the French people were to be seen busily working and barring doors and windows at our approach. We reached Chassemy at 9.30 p.m. and billeted in a school. It has evidently been in the wars as a large shell hole in the roof betrayed. Soon asleep.
Monday 5th October 1914. Awoke early. Two companies of ours are occupying land ½ mile along road. Rifle fire awoke me. Jack and Ginger are attached to us as orderlies. I hope it is a permanent job. This place is absolutely battered. We are not allowed to move from one street as Germans have a good view of the others and would soon send us sky high. During the morning our fellows fetched a few Germans captured in the surrounding woods. All of them looked glad to be taken. A more miserable crowd I never saw and talk about sacks, they make a British Tommy blush.
They were marched off under an escort. We had orders to prepare to shift at a moment's notice. Received letter from Nan and answered it. Have been exploring the school.
Of course it is upside down, but it is still full of various books etc., among them being a copy of Horace.
A German helmet is among the litter with a French cuirassier's epaulettes. Too heavy to carry else I would keep them. Found a French soldiers pocket book which I will keep as [a curio]. One of the bandsmen John Hunt has found a saxophone which he says he is going to keep somehow. Probably belonged to French line Regimental Band by inscription. Songs, music also are among the litter of paper which is piled high in the rooms.
The Germans seem to have realised our village is occupied for they have started shelling it. I hope they will overlook our school. A French soldier now on leave, convalescent after being wounded, is spending his leave time within a mile of the firing line. He intended to go home but found that the Germans still occupied the town he lived in and so stayed in Chassemy. Queer place for a holiday.
I am keeping this diary in strict contravention to army orders. Still I hope no harm is cause by doing so and it has become quite a habit now to write down everything as I go on. Opposite our billet is a wine shop taken over by our Regiment as quarters for the Guard. Sentries pace up and down inspecting passports of anyone trying to pass them. A queer looking French farm cart was stopped just now. I inspected the vehicle at leisure while the driver's passport was being examined. Inside the cart was a motley crowd of women all half dressed. Chickens, cats and household goods were also packed in where space could be found. Passport being genuine they proceeded on their way. I suppose they were flying from the Germans as they came from that direction. Poor devils, doing no harm whatsoever and yet going in fear of their lives. The women all looked half mad with fright.
I could not help laughing just now. We were burning straw in which by accident were live rounds. These of course exploded. An old Frenchwoman was toddling up the road looking quite pleased with herself. As soon as the explosions occurred she picked up her skirts and hopped down the road like a frog with an ingrown toenail. Doubtless she thought the Germans were in the village. The village is filled with fruit trees overloaded with pears and apples. The night passed with no move.
Tuesday 6th October 1914. Woke early after an awful sleep. Coughing all night. Felt absolutely queer as though I was going to faint. Have done nothing all day but lie down. I feel too bad to move. We are moving tonight some bally where. I hope it is not too far as I am afraid I shall never be able to stick a long march.
It takes a healthy appetite to appreciate our present rations and I failing that have eaten nothing all day. We marched a dozen or so miles to Droizy. Paraded at 9.20 arrived 1.30. A beautiful moonlight night. We were fired on by the Durham light Infantry en route who mistook us in the darkness for Germans. They realised their mistake in time however and no one was hit. I marched with Jack by my side and we had a fine chat. We were both tired when we reached Droizy.
Wednesday 7th October 1914. Awoke about 8.00 o'clock. Feel bit better today. Received letter from Lily. Jack was promoted this morning. Leave here at 4 p.m.
We did not leave till 7 p.m. We then marched through Corsy and a few small hamlets to Dampleux where we arrived at 2 p.m. It was a stiff march. We bivouacked in a wood. Despite the terrible cold I was soon asleep.
Thursday 8th October 1914. Awoke frozen. Can't see out of my left eye. Cold worse. Cooked breakfast. Hear we leaving here by train at 12 noon. We eventually left at 2 p.m. not by train. This was our first march in daytime for a long time and it was quite strange. We passed regiments of French artillery, cavalry and infantry frequently.
We halted for 10 minutes in the town of Villers Cotterets a nice town where we had a fine reception. It did seem strange to see shops and crowded streets after being in the wild for a time. It soon became dark and marching was a dreary job.
We passed a whole lot of villages all crowded with French troops who tried to say "good night" to us in English. We eventually reached Gilocourt at 9.30 after marching 7 ½ hours. It was a hard march and I was troubled a great deal with cramp in my thighs which caused me terrible pain. We only had a biscuit to march the distance on and we were ravenous when we got to bivouac. Biscuits and jam disposed of we were very soon asleep.
Friday 9th October 1914. My cold is no better and my left eye is still on strike. It is a fine morning but the night are bitter cold. We understand that we entrain today for Belgium. I wonder what is the idea. Still, ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die, as someone said who knows nothing about it. We rested our worn out feet all day. Sat all evening around a camp fire listening to a heated argument over respective merits of tariff reform and free trade. Paraded at 10 p.m. and after a cold dreary march in darkness reached halt [Halle] about 2 a.m. Here we found a government siding erected. We waited all the early morning hours for orders. It was as cold as ice and I certainly had a shiver. We eventually entrained at 5.30 a.m. 40 men in a compartment. Merry it was, gorgeous not a single spare inch. Fellows piled on top of each other and all cold as ice. We passed no end of French troops. Such miserable mortals they appear. Our fellows call them "Parker's army". Where we are bound for I don't know. We have passed through St Just and Amiens, the latter seems a very large town. Just secured a copy of the Continental Daily Mail. All war news. I want news of the Old Country. We were travelling for 24 hours exactly. It was a horrible journey. The carriages were filthy, absolutely crowded. The train jolted terribly and I soon had a fearful headache. We finished up at 5.30 a.m. on Sunday.
Sunday 11th October 1914. I fell out of the wagon I was so cramped. We then marched to the village and bivouacked temporarily. We scoured the village and managed to secure tobacco, bread and butter. All the people were hurrying off to church. Everyone is dressed in black. Some of the girls are quite good looking but most of them like all country girls here are anything but decent looking. We left the village and marched to a deserted Chateau. Here we billeted. It was a beautiful Chateau, evidently belonging to a wealthy person, beautiful grounds and flowers. The house is enormous. The village is Blendecque 2 miles from Wizernes where we disembarked.
We had no sooner made ourselves comfy, when we received orders to move. We marched a few miles to Lizol. This was a fine place and we were able to secure a few luxuries. We bivouacked in a field and one man from [each] section was allowed out [scavenging]. We received an advance of pay which we soon utilised on tobacco, butter, bread etc which we had been denied a long time. We made a fire and slept around it. One company being on outpost near.
Monday 12th October 1914. Awoke surrounded by frost. Blankets overcoat wet through and I was frozen like an icicle. Made a huge fire and thawed ourselves. Marched to St Omer where we halted awaiting transport. We had a fine time here being treated royally by the townspeople. Gifts of every kind were given as we exchanged for the ever wanted souvenir. We were surprised by the appearance of a crowd of [wagons] which we found were to be used by us. We squeezed in and after a rough ride of 20 kilometres we found ourselves at Hazebrouck. We billeted here in the Town Hall. We witnessed a fight between aeroplanes in which the German seemed to wound his antagonist who took his hook. Hazebrouck is a very nice town. We found a nice café and were soon at our leisure supping cognac and coffee. Such a treat in war time.
Very soon retired to sleep which I badly needed. Rolled up in my overcoat on the floor of the top attic in the Tower among the mechanism of the clock and was soon asleep.
Tuesday 13th October 1914. Roused out at 5 a.m. First wash for the devil of a time. Left Hazebrouck at 7.30 a.m. We could hear rifle fire and artillery plainly. The vicinity so crowded with British and French soldiers. Thousands of British cavalry are concentrated here. The horses look in fine condition compared with the French who possess queer shaped animals. About two miles from Hazebrouck we passed through a village almost demolished by shell fire. The roads were crowded with refugees all tramping in the same direction. Poor devils they do look miserable, each with a pathetic bundle on shoulders and boots hanging round necks. Our fellows give them tinned meat and biscuits as they pass but no smile is forthcoming. They appear to take trouble very seriously hereabouts. Aeroplanes are very busy today and are continually passing over us. To our right heavy artillery fire is in progress. We are expecting a mail today. We have had no letters lately and so a mail would be an agreeable surprise. We finally bivouacked in a field. Rain was falling fast and shelter being non est we had a bad time. We managed to cook some tea however. Our guns galloped into position nearby and soon a deafening cannonade was opened. Brisk rifle fire was also to be heard. We are in reserve for today. I strolled round to a pump to fill my bottle and was invited indoors by four Frenchwomen who made me at home. The Germans had slept at the house overnight and commandeered everything of any value. Things left behind were all smashed and the women were still half scared. I left them a tin of bully beef when I left as they had nothing eatable only potatoes. Rain continued to pour and we had all resigned ourselves to a wet skin when the Doctor secured us a billet. We hailed the announcement with joy and round we trouped, Stretcher bearers and Douks, whom I have asked to describe what followed. On arriving at the house apportioned to us we found the door locked. "Although so long in finding it, Alas they found it fast." The butt-end of a stretcher makes a very effective substitute for a latch key, however, and a few gentle prods and some profanity soon gained us admittance. Within, a match, after spitting and smelling as only a French match can, disclosed a room which in our wearied eyes looked like a fairy palace. A large lamp hanging from the ceiling was full of oil and quickly lighted. A door led into the kitchen, where a splendid range (all French kitchens have splendid cooking ranges) was soon set going at full speed. On the shelves round about was about a hundredweight of coffee and chicory. A coffee-mill (Moulin-café) was discovered in a cupboard and a stalwart stretcher bearer set to turning the handle like an organ-grinder. I forgot how many gallons each of coffee we drank in the first half-hour. Meanwhile others had been scrummaging about all over the place and a couple of sacks of spuds and onions came rolling downstairs from the bed-room in no time. Don't know why the French keep vegetables in bed-rooms, I'm sure. Perhaps the idea is to retain them as a last resource and use them as missiles against the Germans. I went out of the back gate with the intention of getting some drinking water, but a dog the size of a young donkey made me change my mind, and we dipped into a water-butt in the garden. The water was a trifle green, but, I believe, drinkable. Nobody has rolled up yet anyway. Any amount of delicacies were found in the cupboards. The owners must have hopped it pretty quickly. A jar of evil-smelling jam-like stuff created a mild diversion, but the door was quickly closed on it again and the discoverer, who had dipped his hand in to see what it was all about, was thrust out into the back-yard to cleanse himself. No idea what it was, but it spoke up well for itself. Wag Pooley found a jews-harp and tried his hand, or rather jaw on it, with feeble effects. He evidently does not hail from Whitechapel. A meal that would have satisfied a half-starved Uhlan Battalion was soon put under cover and most of the lads went to bed, leaving Kirke, Pooley, Bothing, Douks H, Hammerton, Egerton and myself round the fire, chinning. At least Kirke was chinning. The remainder were putting in an occasional "yes" or "no" when opportunity offered, which was not frequently. Hammerton suggested boiled spuds and butter. The dog voiced its protest when I filled the hotting pot. At 10.30 p.m. they were ready, and about five minutes later we were ready for another lot. Pooley suggested the second issue. Everybody was agreeable except Kirke, whose waistbelt showed signs of wear. Conversation waged general under the kindly influence of the warm fire. Several cheerful themes were chosen. The favourite subject of everyone was the care of the wounded. A vivid account of the bringing in of a fellow who had lain dead in front of the trenches for a week helped my eighth potato down very nicely. At 1 a.m. Douks H. gave his third yawn and nearly blew the lamp out. We saw it was time to retire. H. put the alarm on for five. It's still on, I believe. We stayed then till noon the same day and it hadn't made a show up till then. Hammerton perched like a canary on three chairs and a door-mat. He couldn't have gone to sleep, for I didn't hear him fall off. I lay with my head to the fire. It's the warmest my head's been since I gave it a sanitary hair-cut. Breakfast at seven wasn't much of a success. We couldn't do ourselves justice. Aynes cooked a splendid dinner though for eleven a.m. which made up for it. Macconochie is my friend for life. His tins of preserved dinners are spanking. A fruit tart to finish up with was absolutely the limit, and we took the road about noon looking like a squad of prize porklings.
Our march covered the same ground over which the Germans had been driven the same morning and some horrible sights were to be seen by the roadside. About one and a half miles away a large church with a high steeple was blazing furiously. Shells were still dropping around it. Evidently our gunners had found the range. Our progress was slow owing to the congestion of vehicles in the road. Guns, wagons and refugee carts all of a mix up. It soon became dark. In the darkness the scene was quite pretty. The steeple still burning brightly and the red flash of shells exploding all helped to make a decent firework display. Rifle fire was very near us and two of our fellows were bowled one while marching. No talking was allowed and the column was silent. We finally halted by the roadside for a couple of hours. One company was sent off to take a German gun but found it had hopped off. After waiting in the rain for hours we retired to a farm. The companies lined all the hedges and we layed down on the refuse in the yard and slept. I slept soundly too. I was absolutely dead tired. While I was asleep a scrimmage took place quite close but I did not hear it. 5 Germans were captured and 2 killed. I woke at 4 am wet through. Still I don't mind that as long as I had a sleep. Everything has been quiet so far and we are moving soon.
We started marching about 10 a.m. Dead men and horses (German) are littered frequently. We came across a wounded Uhlan whom I have conveyed to a house and am now looking after until we can find the Field Ambulance. Poor devil he is on a stretcher in the kitchen. I am afraid to leave him as I distrust a couple of French peasants in the room who possibly might do him harm. I don't think he has much chance of life. The house is filthy dirty and I shall be glad to leave it. Three cavalry horses dead are in the roadside by the door. Our troops have gone on. I shall have a job to find them again. We do get some cheerful jobs. Here am I locked up with a couple of filthy old women and a dying German. Hooray. They are acting like decent and have given us a cup of coffee. I hope it is not poisoned. After roaming the village I found some food which I cooked at HOME and with coffee and cognac given by the old lady, Ginger and I dined quite decently. Artillery have been passing our place all day and have taken all the saddlery from the dead horses outside. There is a dead Uhlan behind the house. Quite a young fellow with a beautiful beard. Two Frenchmen had a row in our house which I settled by giving both the order of the "Boot". Some peasants here have just told us that there are Allemands (Germans) in the wood. We heard a maxim plainly just now but sincerely hope they are not too near us. I don't fancy Christmas in Berlin. Ginger has gone to find assistance of some kind. I am left alone. Cheerful it is too. No rifle worst luck. Still I suppose it is all in a lifetime. It is dark now. Some cavalry passed just now. Close behind came a patrol of French. The officer questioned my Uhlan. The officer afterwards told me that Uhlans were in my neighbourhood. Cheerful beggar. The night dragged by. How long each minute seemed. Every noise set my heart beating and I don't mind confessing I felt an absolute funk. I wouldn't mind if I had a rifle. I could have a sporting chance, but to sit here risking life and liberty for the sake of an ungrateful Uhlan is a bit cheeky. Whatever I do for him he still gives me a vindictive look. Pity and resentment struggle in me.
I had given everything up and was almost on the point of drinking a half bottle of cognac and having a sleep when I heard the sound of footsteps. This to my joy proved to be Harry Rowe and a couple of stretcher bearers. How relieved I felt. We are now sitting in the cottage waiting for help. The Uhlan lies on the stretcher moaning. The old crone who has proved quite decent is sitting by the fire. She refuses to move to bed. We are at a loss what to do for the best. It is now about 4 am. Harry and Ron are asleep. Ginger and I keeping awake somehow. Maxim and rifle fire is taking place up the road. The Uhlan is very restless. He wakes suddenly and throws his arms about. When he catches my eye he gives me such a queer look out of his big black eyes. He has dysentery very badly. He is wounded in the abdomen and the left leg. On his chest he wears the famous Iron Cross. All my hopes are centred on the arrival of an ambulance this morning. It will soon be light now. Another day of this and I shall be a bit wrecked. The old lady refused to go to bed and so I secured a blanket and put it round her shoulders and forced her up to the fire. She looks comfortable enough to go to sleep but she never shut her eyes for a second. She nods and smiles at me and with her specs she reminds me of the advertisement for Mazawatee Tea. The village is about 3 miles from the frontier. Where my Regiment is I cant even guess at. Don't I envy Harry and Ron. Asleep like the babes in the wood. Ginger looks dead beat and has an occasional nod.
Friday 16th of October 1914. We have just had an argument as to what day it is and finally came to the conclusion it is Friday morning the 16th of October 1914. The time wore on. It gradually became light though misty. I went out for some firewood and ran into the long expected ambulance.
They soon had our Uhlan off our hands and I was very pleased to see the last of him. We then buried the dead German. I then as chief scout went foraging with no bad results. One bottle of cognac and a dozen eggs. With bread and coffee we made a fine breakfast. We are now going to find the Regiment expeditely. We said our fond adieus to the village and hopped it about 10 am. Called in the "Coq Blanc" for a livener.
We passed thousands of troops bivouacked. Highlanders, Middlesex. etc. We reached Steenvoorde about 11.30 and billeted ourselves in an empty house. There we slept till about 3.30. Awoke feeling a great deal better than I had for a long while. The opposite house being inhabited we strolled over and quickly made friends. We cooked our Irish stew and eat it with relish. We are going to stay here the night and push on in the morning. We are now sitting round the table talking of our German friend. Stewed pears are bubbling on the fire and so we are not doing so bad for this time. The family are on excellent terms with us.
We returned to roost on the floor of the kitchen. We were fast asleep when we were awakened by a loud knocking at the door. It was a couple of fellows who had lost their regiment. We gave them all the help we could and then once more fell asleep.
Saturday 17th October 1914. We were disturbed by transport at 6 a.m. and soon were on the road. All along the road was a litter of abandoned loot. Empty wine bottles, dead chickens and German clothing and equipment. Dead horses were very numerous. In one small compound were 25 carcasses killed by our artillery. We passed the church we had seen blazing a few nights previous. There was very little of it left. Whole rows of houses were shattered and the whole place was a ruin. We are having a halt by the road now. I don't know what time it is but should say it is somewhere about midday. We have had no food and have none with us. We have made a small fire as it is rather chilly. A mile in front a battle is raging. We are going to let it subside a bit before we move. We have cooked dinner. Potato or rather Pom de terre and Bully Beef. We had company to dine. Three Leinsters and such a devil may care clique. With many a joke about Home Rule and the Ulster Volunteers. The town in front is Armentieres and is in the hands of the Germans. Our fellows are driving on. Heard the town is reported clear now. We eventually moved off and after a two hour stroll found the Regiment billeted in Armentieres. All the stretcher bearers hailed me as a long lost brother and soon had a meal ready for me. I received a budget of letters and a parcel from Sally. Early to bed as we have an early rise before us. The town is surrounded by our fellows in trenches and at midnight heavy rifle fire opened on some Germans in a wood who were beaten off. I was very sick during the night.
Sunday 18th October 1914. Up and out at 4.30 am. Felt a lot better. Paraded at 6 am. We marched for half a mile and then half the brigade started an attack on some German trenches. Some very fierce fighting has been taking place all day and we have been very busy with many wounded. B Company has gone up. Jack is with them and once more I am on tenterhooks. There are scores of our fellows lying dead and wounded in the open but we cannot possibly get at them. Have just seen a weekly English paper. Reading are doing fine at football I see. Play up Reading, I hope to see you at Christmas. Our artillery are very busy but are in difficulties in finding the range. Suddenly we had the order to advance. Off went the Battalion over the field in skirmishing order. After the last company we went. We had advanced 300 yards when suddenly over came a hurricane of shells. It was like hell. We scampered for cover in a ditch. Just as I fell into the nettles on the left of our line so a shell caught the ditch 4 yards to my left. My heart stopped and before I could get over it another shell and a shower of bullets whizzed over the ditch. They kept this on the go for 10 minutes. As we lay we could see the town (Armentieres) going through it. The church tower came down with a crash. The town was soon on fire. We could see plainly as we were only a quarter of a mile away. We waited for a half hour and then skirmished to a railway line. We followed this for 300 yards under fire and then stopped in a farm. Here we waited until dark. Our fellows were still advancing. Our artillery had set on fire half a dozen farms and it was a queer sight to see the lights in the sky. With dusk we went further forward to a house. This we made into a temporary hospital. Then we started collecting. We found a few, but fire was still fierce so we retired to our house. Here we attended to the wounded who came in gradually in semi darkness. A German maxim saw our light and [purposely] gave us a warm time. We all lay on the floor and waited for a lull. About midnight volunteers were asked for to fetch in a bad case. This was an awful experience. Harry Rowe and I went. As we went forward rifle fire was going on all round us and bullets were whizzing all around. We came to an open field and here we had a warm time. The Germans seemed to be about 800 yards away and our front trench about 200 yards from us. As we crawled across the flat a shower of fire balls floated over us. These must have shown us up as we were promptly shelled. We lay still for 10 minutes and then advanced to the trench at a trot. We soon had the fellow on our stretcher and then we had the same performance going back. The fellow we were carrying was moaning so pitifully and already it was a nerve wracking experience. We got back to our house in the finish. They were in an awful state there. The doctor lieutenant Hare was working away for all he was worth in the almost darkness. They continued all night. Everyone was busy. We had them all finished about 3 a.m. and then we went out and collected more. The poor fellows were all cheerful but some had horrible wounds. We could form no idea as to the number of casualties but it must have been heavy. Firing kept on all night. And continued all morning. A shell dropped a few yards up the road and demolished a house. It injured an old woman and two men also an officer of the Engineers who was passing. Two of us went up and fetched him in, another fine job. His leg was smashed at the knee. Our fellows had made themselves as comfy as possible in trenches. We found some potatoes and made a stew.
In the afternoon I made another journey to the trenches. I fetched a fellow back wounded in the leg. Shells are still bursting around our house. Our casualties are 10 killed and 27 wounded including two officers. I shall be glad when we advance from this position as it is anything but a safe one. We have just brought in the body of Sergeant McGowan. He was a fine fellow. A good soldier and a splendid sportsman. He was a Regimental half back in the footer team. I am the sole survivor of the half back line. Blackburn killed at the Aisne, now poor Mac. Our poor old doctor has retired for a sleep. He has worked jolly hard and must be quite done up now. I took him up a cup of tea and a blanket and he was soon asleep. I wonder what is going to happen tonight. Everything is absolutely still but for the sentry's occasional challenge. We retired early. I stood looking out of the window for a time. Rain was falling slowly. The Germans as is always their custom at night had lighted large fires all round. The flashes of big guns and from the rifles made a grand sight. A sniper has somewhere handy to us and sends an occasional shot our way.
Tuesday 20th October 1914. I awoke early and lighted a fire and made coffee for the boys. All the morning heavy firing has taken place. The Leinsters on our right have been forced to yield ground but have now been reinforced by the East Lancs. Their artillery have been doing grand work and have been dropping shells all around us. We have had a few cases of wounds from shrapnel. Three of yesterdays wounded have gone under from their wounds. In the afternoon we had it hot. They sent over Black Marias and shrapnel at a terrific pace. They fell all around us and the din was deafening. Some were dropping over our roof and the tiles were sliding off. Half a dozen houses within 50 yards of us were soon blazing. All we could do was lie on the floor and wait for our fate.
Every one of us thought we were about to go. I honestly thought so and not frightened was wondering where I shall get it. They kept this up all the afternoon. Our guns were retaliating as fast as possible and being only a few yards away made the din even more deafening. This kept up all the afternoon. About 4.30 we received orders to shift as the house next door was on fire. Away we went under a fearful rifle fire. Harry Rowe and I were carrying an old Frenchman on a stretcher and our progress was slow. We had moved about 50 yards when I felt a bullet go across the back of my neck. I shouted as I thought I was hit and Harry and I fell into a ditch by the roadside. Here we could not move as the ditch was very shallow. From all sides bullets were plunging into the trench and three times they missed us by inches. Rain was falling and we were soon wet through. Four machine gun Leinsters went galloping by. Two of their fellows had stopped it while coming down the road with us and were moaning. We lay quiet till dusk and then made a sudden dash over the road to a house.
We thought we were safe now but we soon found otherwise. A bullet came whizzing through the window and caught one of our fellows. Off we trotted again to another farm. This we found a bit safer and so stayed. About 7 o'clock we made an attempt to remove our wounded from the firing line. The whole line was lit up by burning houses, hayricks, etc. It was as light as day. To get to the trenches we had to get through the burning buildings. We attempted this but were promptly met by a volley and so retired. Again we went and this time got through. We got the wounded back to our farm, and from there to Armentieres.
During the night our firing line was altered half right. Our farm was now in a dangerous spot. We informed the inhabitants of this. The Doctor and I went down the cellar where they were all living and told them to move to Armentieres. Such a sight at once. The poor old lady fell out of her bed and started praying. Three younger women started wailing and hiding under bedclothes. It was 10 minutes before our Doctor could get any sense from them and then we had absolutely to dress the whole bally lot before they would shift. All sense seemed to have left them. Two stretcher bearers carried the old lady away on a stretcher and the others followed still wailing. It was a terrible sight. Poor devils, I did feel for them. The Doctor now wished to find a cave of some sort as shelter for the wounded. He sent me out to find one. This was a merry job on my own. I fell into a ditch of water almost as soon as I left the farm. I stumbled out and into another one immediately. It was pitch dark and everything as still as the grave. I walked half a mile with the occasional fall into the ditch as a pastime. I could find no bally cave and so came back via the same route of ditches and railway lines. I have now had my first sit down for a long long time and time to think. I cannot say how lucky I think I am to still be alive. Still I am far from out of the woods yet. We expect Hell today. I wrote the above by a shrouded candle in a farm 20 yards behind our firing line. We had to leave that about 5 a.m. this morning and take a new position. We dug ourselves some holes in the railway embankment. All the time under a shrapnel shower. In the midst of our task we had to cease to remove more fellows from the trenches and take them to the village. I am still wondering that I am alive. Harry Dowes a fine young fellow in the Band was one of them. A few of them are lying stiff in the trenches.
I am back in our hole again now. Our hole soon became too warm and we retired to a small tunnel under the railway. Again we had to go to the trenches for three officers. One ours and two the Leinsters. The day passed as usual, a sequence of attacks and heavy shelling. At night we had a big German advance. This was a big treat for our boys who knocked them over wholesale. We could hear their hochs change to cries of pain quite plainly.
Thursday 22nd October 1914. All along the trenches are rows of German dead and badly wounded. We have four of them with us. We took them to the town which was being shelled heavily and returned at once. We found we had to make another shift. We manoeuvred across country to a deep ditch just behind the firing line. Here we dug trenches. The ground was heavy and my hands were soon blistered. We dug a decent hole however and have been there ever since. It is raining now. Artillery has been making a devil of a row all day and I possess a fearful headache. Attacks still keep going on but with no luck. We have had it given one that we are in a tight corner and to stand with our backs to the wall.
All night we had a bombardment of shrapnel and coal boxes. Constant attacks were kept going at various parts of our line. They were all beaten back however. It is weird to sit in our little dug out and listen to the horrible din. The German prisoner I took to the village said they had only to advance and yell and the French would run. They yelled enough last night but our fellows only laughed and joked at them. As soon as they attack, our fellows light pipes and cigarettes and leisurely pick out each man.
Friday 23rd October 1914. A beautiful day. Shells are bursting fast and furious. I made a journey to the town early this morning with a wounded fellow and came back with our rations. Since leaving England we have had 150 casualties. We are having a crowd of aeroplanes over us today. Who they are I don't know but I am getting to hate the sound of them. I had some fine dreams last night. Some of home and Cambridge. I felt quite downhearted when I was awoken by a coal box dropping near. I am feeling fairly well in health but feel run down. My shoulders feel bruised as though I had just come from a good 20 round scrap. My hands are covered in blisters. Haven't washed for six days. Mud covers me from head to foot and is next my skin through falling from our cave. Take it all round and I am in a pretty pickle. These damned shells are getting nearer and nearer. The day has gone by as per usual. A few casualties have occurred but not many. Out Maxim is reported to have laid a few hundred Allemands out in an attack. We discovered a couple of rabbits which aided by spuds and onions made a fine dinner. Aynes cooked them under a shower of shrapnel which made him go apoplectic with rage at its near to spoiling his culinary efforts. A good lad is William. All the afternoon we were annoyed by a sniper near us who has a rather good idea of shooting.
Freeman remarked casually. "Tell that [joker] to knock off, he will be hitting someone soon, if he is not careful." Then again during an argument at tea, Rye remarked to Freeman "Come out in the centre as soon as that damned maxim stops and settles it." All day long someone is coming out with something queer. One good example is that of a fellow in the Second Division while advancing under a heavy fire. He remarked "If this is the Second Division, what is the Southern League like?" It is always the same. Jokes everywhere. I can't help noticing all the fellows faces. The constant strain is telling and their faces are white and drawn. Harry Rowe looks very bad. He has been working conscientiously and could do with a spell of rest.
We have just seen a fine sight. A daring German aeroplane went directly overhead had a calm look round and came back. He then slowly went the length of our line. He was bombarded by firing but calmly hopped off. It was a plucky thing to do as he was very low.
We had the order to pack everything as we were to move. After weary waiting during which Jack's company were in a scrap and lost two killed and a few wounded we finally paraded at midnight. Three of B Company were mentioned in despatches over this scrap. After we paraded we did a silly thing. We stood on elevated ground for a bally hour in dread of an attack or a dose of shrapnel. It was the longest hour I ever spent. We moved down the road towards the town about 2.30 am and had just reached the main road when the expected attack arrived at our old lines occupied now by the Warwicks. We had a shower of bullets and dropped for shelter into a trench. One of our fellows was unlucky and was shot through the brain. The attack was a fierce one and lasted an hour, the Germans being finally driven back with great losses. Once we heard the last spasm of the attack we moved on taking the body of the poor fellow killed with us as far as our transport stables. We marched on and on in the dawn until day light appeared. We then found ourselves still in the firing line and have had a couple of hours shrapnel dodging. I received a parcel and letter from Nan this morning. The letters back me up a great deal I must say. They are so bright and cheery. We have stayed in the same spot all day. It has been jolly cold all day. We have had great sport watching two British aeroplanes. They have been having the time of their lives despite hundreds of German shells being wasted on them. We expect a shift tonight. Another bit of sport chasing two spies. Of course they were caught. The Regiment bivouacked in a field in readiness for a quick move. We are reserve in case the Welsh Fusiliers and Sikhs are not strong enough to hold their position. Despite the rain I slept all night.
Sunday 25th October 1914. Awoke early nearly wet through. Three attacks had been beaten off on the right and only two companies of ours had gone. We had a wounded Sikh here. A fine big fellow. We learnt the official news that when our Brigade (17th) was relieved at Armentiers 1700 dead Germans were in front of the trenches. During the day we have been heavily shelled and have lost two killed and about 10 wounded. We are shifted again to a house just close to the firing line. Our fellows expect to counter-attack a German move. We eventually attacked and secured the position. Harry Rowe and I were sent out to bring in a Sikh officer.
After wandering around amidst bullets wholesale we found A Company of ours who had lost a few men. We bandaged them up then went for the Sikh. He had been badly hit and was too dangerously wounded to move. We gave him morphine and left him. Coming back we searched the ground for any more wounded but found only one poor fellow dead. We came back to our aid post and tried to find a sleep. Rain was falling in torrents. We soon had a dozen Sikhs in for repairs. Such huge fine fellows I never saw before. Every one of them as soon as he is hit pulls an awfully tight tourniquet above and below his wound. We could not help laughing. [Papgarets] and puttees all utilised for this purpose. About midnight two Sikh stretcher-bearers fetched their officer down and an hour after a few more came down. As I was bandaging one by a window, there came a bullet by my head. Some daring sniper I suppose after scalps. The morning has dawned a fine soft morning as they say in Ireland. I had not had a wink last night, was too busy. This morning Harry Rowe and I have been left with six wounded men in a house. The Germans are shelling all round. One lance-corporal passing was hit in the eye by a piece of shrapnel. A young girl of 17 also met with a stroke of bad luck. The Sikh office Captain Pailey is a real gentleman. In terrible pain he is full of apologies and thanks. The other Sikhs simple grunt in a stoical way and jabber incessantly in their native tongue. We lost heavily today through shrapnel. We were kept very busy. I felt absolutely jaded but managed to stick it all day. At night there was more collecting to do. Attacks took place all night. Bullets came through door and windows fortunately without hitting anyone. Shell fire set fire to the next farm. We stuck it however. We had breakfast, dinner and tea for supper at midnight. We thought we had finished but a poor fellow came in who had layed in the open for 30 hours with an awful wound in the leg. He was wet right through and oh so cold. We heated some milk and warmed blankets and made him warm and then attended his wound. It was horrible. We had still the Sikh officer with us and he made a decent show although in great agony. The place was crowded. Wounded on four stretchers and beds. We were quite fed up. Smothered in blood and dirt. Still its all in a lifetime.
Tuesday 27th October 1914. Another decent day shelling. Field ambulance arrived and we cleared our wounded. We shifted quarters to escape shelling. Right in firing line now with snipers all round. Heard good news today about situation. Also had large reinforcement of artillery. Big siege guns have arrived and are hard at work. I have been suffering a great deal with my back recently. Also I am blind in my left eye. This had gradually come about since three weeks ago. Our fellows did a fine thing today in helping the Welsh Fusiliers.
The Sikhs at night crept out and attacked a party of Germans in a cottage. They did it fine and few Germans escaped. About midnight we had another big attack. The poor devils got it hot again. They must be tired of fighting by now. We had very few wounded. Work done, we were having a smoke when letters arrived 2.15 a.m. Queer time for a post. We are having very queer days, sleep seems denied us. We sat the night out talking and I did not feel at all tired.
Wednesday 28th October 1914. Another fine day. We have another party of wounded Sikhs. Here one of them can talk English. He has sensible news on the situation and has quite a bad opinion of the French soldier. Harry Rowe is quite an expert with their language and I laugh to hear him talking to them. One of them badly wounded in the waist is an awful case. He has two tourniquets on the artery and still bleeds. Lieutenant Hare our Doc wished to keep him and operate but seeing the others going away he absolutely refused today. Nothing could keep him. The three miles to hospital he said he could run. Our Doc tried to persuade him but had to give him leave. I laughed to see the dusky warriors saluting and salaaming our Doctor when they left. We get to like Lieutenant Hare more every day, He is a fine fellow, always so considerate and gentlemanly. We have just had to hop it to our bomb proof shelter. A case of "get out and get under". Half a dozen shrapnel shells made the move advisable. As we hid over came the shells. Headquarters next door is minus a roof. How we have gone on I don't know. Its not safe yet. We eventually chanced it and went to dinner. Chicken. Two chicken. One roasted, one in the stew pot. Gorgeous.
In the afternoon I tried a sleep in the chair. No go! "Canons to right, canons to left, volleyed and thundered". The French guns seemed to have found the German trenches and they let it rip. The Germans had a smack back and gave the Middlesex a warm time. We have lost a few but not many I think. It is turning piping cold tonight.
It was terribly cold. A shell ignited our cook's billet. Instead of moving off they calmly cooked bacon on the burning woodwork. The same attacking game was tried with the usual result.
Thursday 29th October 1914. Was disturbed early by a party of wounded Sikhs and Welsh Fusiliers. About 11 o'clock we had a lunch of Black Marias. Again we had a fine dinner thanks to Ayres, who is a capable chef. In the afternoon I strolled down to the trenches to see Jack. He like myself is in trouble with his back. He is deaf and I am blind, so we are much of a muchness. He had received a parcel from Bert. I tried to persuade him to visit the Doctor but he would not. We had a fine talk of home. How strange it seems to think of a peaceful life while in a trench. It seems years since we had a quiet day. Still I suppose this has to be seen through, and it will go through. It rained in torrents all night. The Welsh had a few fellows to be brought from the trenches. It was midnight before we settled down. Then we had a fine talk with the Doctor as spokesman and we had an enjoyable evening listening to his funny anecdotes. I fell asleep about 4 am but was awakened by a bullet hitting the wall by my head and found a fierce attack on.
Friday 30th October 1914. The rain has ceased but the ground is in an awful state. It has been a dull day. Rain has started. Shelling as usual. We amused ourselves in exploring our bomb proof. We have two dogs here. One we call 'Lyddite' and the other 'Shrapnel'. We also have a cat, Black Maria, and three cows. These we milk regularly. We had a reinforcement in the shape of a machine gun section from a Highland Battalion in the evening. It had no sooner arrived than a hot attack opened. Of course they applied it. They are hanging in the wire entanglements like crows.
Saturday 31st October 1914. Weather still bad. Captain Howlett returned yesterday looking quite recovered from his wound. I took Jack down a day shirt and a Mackintosh last night. I hope they will prove useful to him. I went down to view the trenches with messages and had to run to dodge a few snipers. We are all on top of our bomb proof watching the effect of shell fire on a row of house to our rear. One is blazing two more are smouldering.
This place is named Fleurbaix.
Selling continued all day and became very hot at night. We expected a big attack at night fall. At 8 o'clock we had it. Bullets came flying through the air like bees. Its no use Kaiser, our fellows will never let you through. We have another Regiment in front of our aid post and we are not too confident in them. Our own dear old corps is the pick of the basket.
Sunday 1st November 1914. A fine day. Cold. This is the German fighting day so we are prepared for trouble. It is one o'clock now and everything is quiet bar an occasional shell. We have been sitting around singing operatic airs. Chicken for dinner. After dinner a warm bath. Glory Hallelujah. Now a sit down and a talk. This has been the quietest day for weeks. I don't trust it. We will get something warm tonight. They have started shelling about 100 yards to our front. I hope they keep them there. A wounded German was brought in wounded in four places. He had been lying out by the wire entanglements for 4 days. We heard today the Kaiser has come here in person to take command. Lord help him, he is in for TROUBLE. Nothing happened in the night. We could not sleep as we all seemed on tenterhooks.
Monday 2nd November 1914. Weather rather damp. Rifle fire is going on all around. Bullets are whizzing all over the show. A Sikh officer 6ft 4in high has just been tied up with a bad wrist wound. A Company of ours are letting it rip. A corporal and six men have been recommended by the General. They have continued shelling again. Shrapnel is the first course. It has not touched us yet but is only falling a few yards from us. Perhaps it will be our luck in a moment. "Wait and see". We had it sooner than we expected. We had orders to stand by to attack when as the troops were moving we received a terrible shelling. C Company were coming along a ditch when shrapnel fell on them like rain. We could see them dashing for cover. Despite the danger and the casualties every one of them was laughing. Some dashed up to us all smiles and collapsed by our dug out holding their sides. The house in which the others took refuge was set on fire and out came the others at the gallop. Our maxim limber and ammunition horses were soon out and on the road. It was a sight I shall never forget. Shells flew all round. They must have planned this well. Houses all over the show blazing and as the fellows fled for shelter so shrapnel and coal boxes burst on the road. Plenty of fellows were hit but none seriously. We found it advisable to seek our shelter and it was lucky we did. Crash came a coal box followed by a shower of shrapnel and down came half our house roof. I gave it up and thought we were certain slated for the River Jordan.
Our luck kept good however and we are still safe. Three hours they kept it going and we were on tenterhooks. We are laughing over it now but it was terrible at the time. We had another hot time at night but took no notice much.
Tuesday 3rd November 1914. Was disturbed early by a terrific explosion. Another house gone astray. Flames are starting all round. One of A Company has just stopped a machine gun bullet with his shoulder. One of C Company at the end of their shift was carrying a bottle of rum for his section. A piece of shrapnel took the bottom of the bottle away and he was left with the cork alone. He stood still in the open and his language was shocking. Under his other arm he had a large piece of cheese. All his lament was that the cheese had been spared and the rum taken. About midday we received another shower. Down the trench we hopped and are still there now. Shells are dropping fast and furious. This continued until dusk. Then we hopped out. Our farm was still intact. At night the French on our right were heavily attacked and we had to "stand to". Nothing happened however.
Wednesday 4th November 1914. Misty. Shelling all night. Two women have come in begging for clothes as their house was destroyed in the night. Our Doctor gave them money and we rummaged out dresses for them. All afternoon we had our usual shells mostly over reserve trenches. We have three cases to bring in from the trenches tonight. We, Harry Rowe and myself, fetched Lieutenant Groube from D Companies trenches. He is a small youth of 6 ft 4 inches and broad in proportion. Needless to say we had a strenuous job. Once back our Doctor soon fixed him up, also the other fellow from A Company. Then we transferred them to the Field Ambulance. We then had a cup of tea and a chat with the Doctor. He then went off for dinner and we preferred for a sleep. It had been raining hard all day and still was coming down in torrents. About half nine we had a sharp attack. I never had so many bullets whizzing about me before. Our fellows seemed very cool indeed and wasted no ammunition. Our big guns opened fire and very soon the attack dwindled away to an occasional shot. I suppose we shall have a few more tonight. We had a few attacks which were all beaten back.
Thursday 5th November 1914. Rain has cleared off again. We had breakfast in peace but immediately afterwards we had a hot time. It became hotter and hotter and I don't know how we escaped injury. Shells burst around. A dozen of our fellows were hit and we had a risky time getting them in. Then we returned to our bomb proof. We did not expect to come out alive. Eventually we left it and found another farm. Here our Doctor had a strong argument to find lodgings for our wounded. We had 17 and two killed so far. We are in decent digs now. The daughter of the house is a very chic person. It was quite strange to see a member of the opposite sex. It cost me 5 francs to get a footing in the house as they were very antagonistic. We had a few coal boxes in the rear of the house one setting an outhouse on fire. We had the field ambulance up in the evening and cleared the patients. Then we retired or half of us did to our old digs. The fire was out but we soon had another alight. Supper ahead was our first meal all day was soon disposed of and we then retired to bed. Our artillery was very active all night. This had been one of the most trying days and the strain on ones nerves was terrible.
Friday 6th November 1914. We were up at 4.30 digging our trench deeper. We spent the morning up till 7.30 and then had breakfast. This was a jolly meal, all discussing the previous days experiences in which we had all had lucky escapes. After breakfast we went back to work. When completed our trench was a picture. The trench was 8 ft deep and very narrow. Our top was a conglomeration of sacks, corry iron, wood and clay. On the floor we laid straw. We have two sets of wooden steps. Curtains on the wall and pictures mostly taken from Haselden's commentary and cartoons in the Daily Mirror.
We have a board with the name "Hope Villa" and another board with "Tradesman's entrance". Altogether it is a work of absolute ART. We have had a quiet morning so far thanks to a heavy mist. We went to a near farm and tried to get some honey. The bees seemed to resent this and so we had to beat a hasty undignified retreat. On our left a terrific artillery shelling is going on. We have a few snipers worrying us but have suffered no damage as yet. We made one more attempt to gather our honey. No luck. About 6 o'clock we had the other half of the bearers down. We then ably led by myself tried to find the other farm. I ably lost it. Eventually we found our house in the mist. Here we soon made ourselves at home. We passed the evening singing songs. We could hear attacks absolutely all round us. It was very thick. We returned to roost at 10 pm.
Saturday 7th November 1914. Awoke early and had breakfast. It was a very misty morning and under cover of this mist I went exploring. Our house is one of half a dozen left standing. 20 others are absolutely demolished. I looked over 3 of them. They were still smouldering and full of wreckage. Dead pigs and horses etc were littered everywhere in horrible confusion. The worst was to come. I saw a dog worrying what I thought was a piece of sacking. I went to find what it was. I nearly fainted. It was too horrible for words. I left hastily feeling quite ill. We had a medium quiet day. At evening we had to bring four fellows from the trenches. One a Welsh Fusilier had been shot while carrying rations. An artillery officer who pluckily went to his assistance was also shot very badly. Two of our Regiment then dashed out to help them both and they too fell wounded severely. We had a fine job getting them in. One poor fellow was delirious being shot through the head and the officer being shot badly in the abdomen was also delirious and had to be forcibly held on the stretcher. When we eventually got them to our dressing station we were about done up. All four were very dangerously hit and the Doctor said two could not possibly live. It was quite nerve wracking to have to listen to the moans of the poor fellows. A stretcher-bearers job is conducive to grey hairs. I had quite a headache. We eventually transferred them to the RAMC. Just as we were doing so an attack started on our left and went down the whole line. It was very fierce while it lasted, but it was beaten back after a time.
Sunday 8th November 1914. Ted's Birthday. I suppose we shall have it hot today. We went under cover of the mist and found the long wanted honey. A few stray shots are coming over but they have not finished church parade yet. As soon as they finished they commenced. The day passed as usual. I gradually came over queer. Towards night it was worse and I was glad to hop it. Jack had another lucky escape. The poor fellow next to him was killed by a sniper. I felt absolutely done in all the evening and was glad to lie down. About 10 pm there was a fierce attack. It lasted for an hour and was one of the fiercest yet given. It was driven back in the finish. We had bullets whizzing all over like snow.
Monday 9th November 1914. Feel a great deal better. There are two French guns near us who had kept us awake all night. It is misty this morning. A few coal boxes have come our way. About 10 am we had it properly. They drove us out of HOME. We ran for our lives. Shells were falling like hail over the village. When it ceased about 1 pm I with Lance Corporal Lear went down the village. It was lucky we did. Wounded civilians were littered everywhere and we had a busy time. One family had been all hit, three, two men and a woman were killed and the whole family, three girls of middle age and a boy of 15 badly hit. Three poor little kiddies about 3 or 4 years old were also hit. These we bandaged and put to bed. The house was absolutely running with blood. How dreadful it all is and how lucky the English people are. Will they ever realise what war is. I can still see the poor creatures lying dead in the cellar and hear the wanting for Mamma from the girls and kiddies. It was too terrible for words. Our own place is like a sieve. Holes everywhere.
In the afternoon I visited the village again with Captain Marshall RAMC. He dressed all the wounded properly. The shelling had ceased for the time almost. Only an occasional shot came over. Captain Marshall then sent for the ambulance and left me to await its coming.
All the village people came out of their shelters and bombarded me with questions. My French is very limited but I made myself understood and told them to get away while they were safe. Some took my tip and hopped it. I escorted a few along the road. I wish I could get a photo of it. Me in my dilapidated sack of Khaki, mud streaked and ragged with a host of peasants around me. It is now dark. In the evening at 6 pm the ambulance arrived. I took one wagon down to the house and the other loaded our wounded. My wagon loaded up the wounded civilians. I carried one of the kiddies back. A little girl of 4 wounded in the head. She was a dear little mite and was pulling my hair all the time I was carrying her. I took her to our aid post and let all the boys make a fuss of her for a few minutes. One old Scotchman of the Medical Corps absolutely dragged her from me. "Let me nurse the bairn. I have two of my own at home", he kept saying, and before the kid left in the ambulance she was loaded with money, shawls, gloves, milk, chocolate and various other things. The old Scotchman took her on to the box seat with him wrapped in his overcoat. The last we saw of her was a queer little face peeking out of a large khaki overcoat waving her hand and saying "Merci, Monsieur. Bonsoir Monsieur." All the fellows were talking of nothing else but the kiddie all night. Poor kid I hope her sisters and relations are all treated well. It was 1 o'clock before I retired and then I had horrible nightmares. I could see the dead men and women lying in the cellar all night in my dreams.
Tuesday 10th November 1914. No attack during the night. It is getting jolly cold now. I was quite frozen this morning. We have had a quiet morning but on our left at Armentieres there is a heavy artillery fire going on. It is one continual thud of guns. I bought some butter and I milked the cows. I then took milk, butter and bread to Jack in the trenches. I had not seen him for a long time and we had an hours good talk. Poor old Jack he looked a bit fagged out. I had no sooner left him when over came 20 shells on his trench. I fully expected him and the whole company to be wiped out. A large farm was set on fire and blazed merrily. When the fun ceased I went back and was quite surprised to hear no one was injured. I saw Jack who told me they had been very lucky to escape injury. We then (our half) went to our other lodge where we spent a fine evening telling yarns. In the night we heard the sound of heavy firing on our left.
Wednesday 11th November 1914. Awoke early. Damp morning. Crowd of sick to attend to. Rheumatism prevalent. We had no worries all morning. Played dominoes for cigarettes in afternoon. About 4 pm we had our daily issue of shells. Another farm near was blazing very soon and the wind soon caught a few more with it. They blazed furiously all having straw roofs and plenty of woodwork. Our reserve trenches also came in for a severe hammering from shrapnel. Whether or no there were any casualties I don't know yet. We found one man had been killed. Sergeant Lamphine and one man wounded. These transferred from the trenches we settled down. All the houses in our street are gone now but our one. Tomorrow will see the last of ours I think. I hope I am not in it when it goes. I was amused tonight to see the fellows cooking tea for themselves on the burning buildings. Cheek of the best quality. It has been a fierce day. Bitter cold rain and a terrific wind. As we came across the field tonight we could not see a foot in front of us. To right and left were burning houses. Two German searchlights were playing on the trench. One thing I have forgotten. During the day a spy was arrested in our barn. A trench had been discovered in a cabbage patch. His idea I suppose was either to snipe us off or to signal from this trench. He was hopped off in handcuffs to something the blighter deserves. [Chastening] it is. It is 10 pm now and I am waiting for the mail. The mail arrived at 11 pm. Nothing for me. What a disappointment. We tried to sleep but the howling of the wind and row made by the hail kept us awake. It was a terrible night.
Thursday 12th November 1914. About 3 am on Thursday 12th we had to fetch the body of Captain Shaw from the firing line. He and his section were buried by the face of a trench. The others were dug out alive but despite artificial respiration we could not revive the Captain. We took his body to the rear and there I had the unpleasant job of taking his effects from his pockets. He had a fine pocket kit. This I transferred to the Doc who has now commissioned me to find a suitable place for burial. This I have found close handy to a wayside shrine.
We had just finished the sick in the morning and I was reporting to the Company when a coal box caught the corner of our farm. The row was cruel and splinters flew everywhere. A flying tile caught me in the head and knocked me on my back into a pool of mud and water. I thought I was badly injured but it was only a bump. Old Clare our C.O. laughed like a hyena to see me crumple up in the road. The fellows all made a dive for the trenches. A few of us chanced the cellar. They kept firing all the day but nothing more hit our house despite some very near things. At night we had a look at the damage. One barn demolished, part of the house missing and two sparrows killed.
I went to the far end trench at night to bring down a man wounded in the head. Such a job. Wandering through mud and water in the inky darkness. It was a long journey. Across the road our fellows have placed barricades at various places which all make trouble for a poor stretcher bearer. In another part of the road 4 men lie flat all night in the road. So hidden were they that we trod on them, occasioning a great deal of profanity. At the point where he was we were only 100 yards from the German lines. I am getting rather seasoned now as I find I don't dread anything happening. I take it easy and found myself [a casualty] last night. We found him to be rather badly hit and soon had him upon the stretcher. It was a hard struggle home but we did it at last. The rest of the evening we spent talking. I received a parcel of socks from Lillie at night. Thanks.
Friday 13th November 1914. It is getting terribly cold now. Our guns are rather busy this morning. It has been a wet day. Torrents of rain and a heavy wind. We had a gift of Daily Mails. We may have a shift tonight. I hope so. We had our shift. We were relieved by the Leinsters. We marched to Armentieres in the dark. Rain, wind and mud. We arrived there at 2 am on Saturday, wet through.
Saturday 14th November 1914. Such a fine night last night. I was properly fed up. After being cramped up for a month the walk nearly killed me. Woke up this morning frozen. I have never felt so cold before. We are back in Armentieres again. It has been in the wars since we left. Every house has a souvenir mark. During the morning I had a busy time with sick. In the afternoon I had a day out and visited the café nearby. I left there at night slightly bent [drunk] and went to the firing line. It is jolly dangerous going up as they have snipers everywhere. When I arrived up there the Doc asked me to go back again and fetch some bearers. Back I came in the dark with bullets whistling round my ears. I was indifferent to danger being full up with cognac. The journey down and the return journey accomplished despite a narrow shave passing a large tree we found our trench. The trenches are beautifully made but quite 2 ft deep in mud and water.
Harry and I soon holed up in a dugout. I slept for a few hours and then awoke in awful agony through the cold.
Sunday 15th November 1914. When I awoke it was raining hard and is so cold. I felt like dying with pain. It was awful. We made a fire behind the trench and made tea then I went back to the dugout. It continued snowing and raining all day. And we did not shift till tea time. A sniper handy worried us all day but we took no notice of him. The cold was all we could think of. At night we shifted to the town, being relieved by 5 more bearers. When I reached the town I meant having a gay time and aided by Rosie, Bert and Harry I had it. We were all feeling jolly about midnight when we had to go up to fetch a fellow down wounded in the thigh. He was the heaviest man in the Regiment and being slightly awkward we had a fine job. When we had transferred him to the Field Ambulance we started again. We finished at 4.30 much the worse for wear.
Monday 16th November 1914. Awoke with a fat head. Bert is absent from the trenches and is rolled up like a worm by my side. Still I think it is up to us to have a flare up. No one has worked harder than we. Just killed two chickens for dinner. The chickens were a success and despite my choice headache I enjoyed a good dinner. In the afternoon we had a fine talk and plenty of fun mainly caused by Rosie Freeman and Thompson RAMC. I milked the cow for teatime. A few bullets come over at times some near us but mostly wide. We were looking for a couple of spies who are knocking about. I should have liked to have found them. We had no excitement at night only a little occasioned by a German searchlight being continually playing on our shanty.
Tuesday 17th November 1914. A jolly cold night. Frosty morning. Found four chickens. I am at present cooking them. The Allemand have two stationary balloons up. The chickens were tough. Spent afternoon writing letters. We move into trenches tonight. The other lads moved into trenches and I waited for the move. Nothing for me. One of our fellows, a Corporal, shot dead by a sniper in the road. We fetched his body back.
Wednesday 18th November 1914. It was 5 o'clock when Bert Rowe and I made a start for the trenches. A thick white frost covered everything. The snipers were rather busy. When we neared the trenches we could hear the Germans singing a hymn and shouting. During the morning we improved our trench which was quite flooded. The weather was very cold, but work soon warmed us. The snipers have been active but although they are good shots they have done no damage. In the afternoon the artillery have been busy on both sides. They have been shelling a farm to our front and we have been shelling their trenches. This did not last very long however, and not much damage was done. There are half a dozen farms near us all more or less demolished. The nearest one to us contains the body of a German with his throat cut. The Germans in the trenches are rather happy these days.
At night we shifted back to the town. They have the road well covered and they had a maxim put on us. It was a terrible journey with ones nerves at straining point and death lurking anywhere. When we reached the billet we found the other lads had unearthed a gramophone and were making very merry. I am in an awful state being covered from head to foot in thick evil smelling mud. Another man was wounded on our road.
The gramophone passed the night away quickly and pleasantly.
Thursday 19th November 1914. The Germans were singing all the night. Shells have been skimming our roof all morning and playing the devil with the town. Again we had chicken for dinner. I had my first wash for a few days and consequently felt a lot better. It has been snowing all day and is quite 3 inches deep. I wonder if it is snowing in England. In the evening I found the Leinster stretcher-bearers by request of Captain Marshall. The snow is very thick and still coming down heavy. Another fellow of ours is killed. The C.O. of the Leinsters is also badly hit. All the stretcher-bearers were inclined to be jolly at night and plenty of fun went the rounds. About midnight there was a fierce attack on our position. It went astray.
Friday 20th November 1914. Finished snowing but it is quite 4 inches deep and piping cold. Their artillery suddenly woke up and gave us a few heart palpitations. Ours replied and between them they had a nice piece of fun. Three of the Rifle Brigade were killed in Chapelle de Armentieres. At night we had another lively time. It was midnight before the rations and mail arrived. One letter from home.
Saturday 21st November 1914. Still terribly cold and snow still thick. I am sitting round a fire writing this. Round me are Nick, Jerry, [Chumbi] and Casbury picking chicken. Our chef is peeling potatoes. "Gilbert and Sullivan warfare. What!" The stretcher bearer scouts returned with some beer which was quite strange to us but met its fate. The Gramophone was much in evidence all afternoon and despite shells being very near we had a fine time. In the evening each Company had to be provided with a stretcher squad owing to being relieved by RB and the change in consequence. It was very cold indeed going up at 7 pm. We waited about in the snow until half past one. Then we came back absolutely frozen.
As soon as I once more reached a warm place like a fool I collapsed. When I came round I felt jolly bad but with the help of Douks I reached our new billet. I was soon rolled up for the night.
Sunday 22nd November 1914. Still jolly cold and snow hanging round. I had a very bad night but felt better this morning. Dick Hammerton broke the gramophone so we used the piano. In the evening Jack came down to see me. The stretcher-bearers formed a choir in Church at a cinema in the town and said the service was a success. I was prevented from attending by duty. I had to bring a fellow to hospital with frostbite. By the time I reach hospital I thought I had frostbite. Then Jack and I sent over the café for some beer and we had a convivial evening. Jack had to leave me at 8 for trench digging. Then Bertie Rowe gave us a few selections on the piano. It is a relief to be out of the trenches although the firing line is only ¾ of a mile away.
Monday 23rd November 1914. It is colder than ever I think this morning. The day passed with nothing of importance happening. I was feeling very seedy all the day. What is up I don't know but I feel jolly weak.
Tuesday 24th November 1914. Snow still hanging about. Heard from Nan. Our Doctor is being relieved owing to ill health. We shall all miss him very much as he is very popular. I am going to ask him to take this home for me.
Armentieres is slightly bucking it now. A few people have returned and are opening a few shops. They seem to have the opinion that the war is all over. They are hopelessly wrong I am afraid. The sudden entry of a coal box will bring that home to them. I am feeling rather bad at present. I wish I could conquer the feeling, but I seem too weak to fight against it. There is a strong attack going on to our right. I suppose we will all be back in the trenches tomorrow night.
Good bye Diary and good luck.
Look after this old book Nan.
It has been in some tight corners with me.
Lance Corporal Kirke
Lance Corporal Lewis
Lance Corporal Lear
Private Young RAMC
Private Dacks RAMC
Private Thompson RAMC
Some words with special meanings.
Uhlan - Nickname for German Cavalry
Coal-Box - A type of shell that exploded with a black cloud.
Black Maria - Another type of shell that exploded in a black cloud.
Maxim - A machine gun invented by Hiram Maxim, the Maschinengewehr 08, standard in the German army in 1914.
RAMC - Royal Army Medical Corps.
Pain at the Crystal Palace - In the late 19th century Messrs Brock and Pain created firework displays at the Crystal Palace.
Alma Day - For many Regiments the 20th of September each year celebrates the Battle of Alma in 1854 during the Crimean War.
Cuirassier - French cavalry officer.
Mazawatee Tea - This used a series of adverts based on Alice in Wonderland characters.
Lyddite - High explosive used in shells.
Haselden - William Kerridge Haselden was a well known political cartoonist for the Daily Mirror.