30th July (1917)

Saw some very old cottages in Middleton on route march and an old Inn at which Dick Turpin is said to have stayed, the masonry trellised with oak beams.  It was the shop’s half holiday and the female population gaped and grinned at us in thousands and at the schools the kiddies were let out in droves to look at us.

Sunday afternoon (29 July 1917)

Yesterday I had Manchester leave.  Set out in company of one Brodie, a signaller.  We had a look around the Belle Vue Gardens again.  Huge crowds everywhere.  Then to Whintworth Institute.  Fairly interesting though few famous pictures.  There was however a collection of Turner sketches, a lot of water-colours of the old school and a lot of very fine architectural drawings in colour of Belgian and other cities by Prout.  Visited the Art Gallery again to get another look at Watt’s pictures and Rodin’s statues.  We then went to a cafe limited to 1/3 worth of food, had 2 eggs on toast and three small pieces of shortbread (awful stuff).  After a cigar, a liqueur etc. we set out by a different tram route via Hollingwood and Oldham, stopping at the latter for a last drink and look round the weird Fair by lamplight.  Finished off with a plebeian feed of meat and potatoes in a “peoples” hash-house where the proletariat were gorging potato-pie, horseflesh, and other delicacies.  The profound, ugly, hopelessness of life in these big manufacturing towns baffles description – millions of moony girls and youths and poor dirty little kiddies whose whole life is passed in gloomy streets of tenement houses, without gardens or any kind of decoration.

[Note – below image is the cover of the 1917 “Official Guide” to the Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester.  A link to the full guide can be found here].

Bell Vue Gardens - Guide Cover - 1917

Friday (27 July 1917)

Practice wearing gas masks, hideous and stinking things they are.  I should think the main thing in a gas attack would be to keep your head.  Rumour (Latrinalia) that we will be here for months, but it goes hand in hand with an assertion that we go to Mesopotamia!  Raining hard but the chaps can’t resist the temptation to go out and blow their pay.  R. has gone out to buy a flute, an instrument he plays from ear.  I am quite interested in him.  Though he is only 21 and has been brought up on a farm he has a teacher’s certificate.  He is a peculiar-looking chap with a high pointed head and very curved features, almost jewish.  Loves hard work, yet a dreamer.

Tell O’Meara that I have smoked his pipe every day since he gave it to me and it is still going strong, but not too strong.

Wednesday (25 July 1917)

The state of hard-upness of most of the men a few days before pay-day is amusing; auction sales of their belongings; pennyworths of cheap cigarettes etc.  The last development has been to keep the gas alight and a few dead matches on the table, as most of them are out of matches.  Cadging is rife but one has to be firm.

Route march this afternoon – awfully hot and after a couple of miles we had half an hour’s rest in a paddock listening to selections from the band.  The cattle became very attentive listeners and invaded the ring of instrumentalists, also nosed around the reclining officers, much to general merriment.

Tuesday night (24th July 1917)

Walked by a canal with a new mate; chap named Roche.  He is good fun and very imaginative.  Whilst I did a sketch he couldn’t resist the temptation to get into the canal with a whole horde of boys who were bathing there.  To get in the water with a certain degree (minimum) of modesty, he wound an old rag around his loins and took a header into the unknown.  The chief difficulty arose after he got out, which he overcame by getting back wet into his clothes.  R. is a bit of a dreamer and can’t sleep for the workings of his imagination and often roams around the camp half-dressed at all hours of the night.

23rd July (1917)

Set out with sketching gear furtively concealed but did nothing.  Moreover I was buttonholed by a garrulous and not-to-be-shaken-off cove who had been gassed and who seemed bent on telling me his life’s history, including the interesting fact that he was in the retail grocery business in N.Z.