A Hun plane brought down one of our planes; pounced on him from above with a spit of flame and a puff of smoke and “finished”.
As an example of Army forms, take the document I received on leaving the rest camp (I had asked to be issued with a jack-knife, but they had none). “To the O.C. 15 Bty. N.Z.F.A. This is to certify that (my name, rank, etc. in extensor) has this day been discharged etc. On examination of his kit he was found to be deficient in one clasp knife (mounted) and has in accordance with army order No. … been issued with … Nil.”
Back at Bus-les-Artois to the same old round of duties and the same old donks – if this were a novel the latter would have scented me in the distance and whinnied their welcome – in hard fact they remained perfectly indifferent and for my part I hardly recognised them owing to the growth of their coats. The crops have also grown wonderfully in so short a space, some fields of scarlet clover are a brilliants blazes of colour; and poppies make vivid patches in the green. I see quite a number of new faces in the battery, showing how rapidly personnel changes in a unit. It is curious to see that as soon as I got back here I heard the cuckoo’s call, yet never heard a single one at the hospital. Perhaps the wood there is not large enough to support one – they have, I believe, a reputation for greed and intrusiveness. (The warning trumpet puts an abrupt end to these startling disclosures).
Last day at Chateau – huge white clouds on a pure cobalt – birds practising solos and duets – trees sunning themselves in silent attention. The drone of aircraft is audible everywhere and they and a random gun alone remind one of the continuance of hostilities. It is a good day on which to stop the war, and I’m wondering how I can manage it, other than by crossing the lines and demanding a personal interview with the Kaiser.
One meets with a variety of men in an establishment such as this: N.Zers, little Lancashires from the cotton mills and factories; burly Cumberlanders with a brogue like a wire entanglement; tall, superior, moustachioed Life Guardsmen, now despoiled of their gorgeous peacetime paraphernalia and acting as infantry, whilst retaining something of the “swank” of a crack regiment. The class distinctions are very much more marked in the British Army. The officers are more stand-offish. There is something about their rounded highly-cultivated voices and apparent absence of all emotion that I cannot quite stomach; hang it all! a man ought to be human, even if it does occasionally cause him to make an ass of himself.
The Tommy is completely under discipline – he stands before his superior officer, with the air of an inferior before a superior, a humiliating sight to those who have dreams of the equality of man. They gape in amazement at the comparative freedom of our fellows in the awful presence of Authority. Is England a Democracy?
(Adjournment for pills has broken this masterly train of thought.)
There is a N.Z. born Irishman (None other than the redoubtable Rowley who afterwards came into a barren title and distinguished himself in the divorce courts) here who puts me in mind of Whistler. He is small, perky and irrepressible; holds the floor wherever he goes and somehow or other manages to rule the roost and get his own way. He is prime mover in a bridge-party whose session commences after breakfast and continues until dark. They sit in a circle under an apple tree, the Irrepressible conducting them as one conducts a band. As I have just been handed a mystic tin clipping which entitles me to a meal I shall quit babbling awhile and eat.
Standing by is one of the most beautiful trees imaginable – a laburnum grown into an immense forest tree and covered with bloom. The birds are performing a concerto, a dozen different chirpers keeping up a constant undercurrent of orchestration. I am sitting in the field outside the Chateau, my sole companion an old brown cow who stands thoughtfully ruminating and wondering why foolish mortals make rumbling noises over there in the distance. (Adjournment to take a pill).
The Tommies, these Lancashire lads at least, are decidedly a musical lot and usually possess light and pleasant voices. Opposite me is the queerest little specimen. He has a face like an American Indian, with a couple of tomb-stone molars protruding from its oral aperture. His ambition is to be put on chicken diet, but he has taken comfort at present in a couple of nauseating cigars which I gave him, having bought 3 on spec and hurled away the first after a couple of whiffs. As I look up casually, through an opening in the great trees, just over the top of a richly-apparelled copper beech I espy my old friend the captive balloon with its mule-like face turned in my direction – a silent and reproachful reminder of my forgotten charges. Who is now grooming Rangatira and Scatty?
This chateau appears to have been the home of a General. Most of the furnishings have been removed, but there are old suits of armour, guns and rapiers, hung in the hall and in this room are a number of huge volumes of etchings of battles, sieges, etc. In the next room I can see a number of oil paintings, portraits and landscapes and in the centre is suspended a huge glass candelabra. The walls are plaster, tinted, and the ceilings high and plain. The building itself is of square blocks of fairly soft light-grey stone. It is very well lighted with huge casement windows, all provided with shutters.
Explored the grounds of the village church typical of this district and have used my last bit of drawing paper doing a rough sketch of it for your edification. Contemplated the graves of a number of “soldats”, “morts pour la patrie”, bedecked with tin rosettes of the tricolour. An old hag of wicked appearance prowls about the grounds, as though looking for the ghosts of her youthful victims, and picks quarrels with all and sundry.
The gentry appear to sport tombs or mausoleums as in other countries and the memorials recede in grandeur down to the proverbial “nameless grave.” The favourite legends for grave-stones are “de profundis” and “regrets eternelles”, our “R.I.P.” appearing only occasionally. As in Belgium, iron crosses are very common (not the German article).
In the evening we were entertained by an excellent divisional band. They played music both classical and frivolous and played it well. J. joined me and we made another tour of the churchyard, where we ran across an old chap who knew all about it and what with his broken English and our broken French we learnt that the church dated from 1740 and various points of interest concerning the local celebrities.