I saw my largest toadstool (as well as my largest toad) yesterday in Ewshot churchyard – almost big enough and strong enough for a child to sit on. Another loafing morning – ate a lot of blackberries and sawed through a small log – making a gun emplacement. To Crondall in a sunset which made all the little farms, fields and trees glow with an indescribably peaceful beauty. Back through some strange lanes in the moonlight, the effect of which was even more beautiful than the sunset.
Fleet – a long straggling row of shops in which there appears to be nothing of interest and soldiers everywhere. Spent afternoon pretending to lift logs into waggon and push waggon up a hill. R. and I did our caterpillar act under the rainproof cape for a few hundred yards up to the Queen’s Arms. The small plumes are sloes from which Sloe Gin is made – they taste very bitter.
Have been scratching up weeds with an antediluvian implement supposed to be a hoe, and catalogued as such in the camp inventory. Easy job, let off early. Same thing on this afternoon. Being a gunner has its compensations. Take this fatigue for instance, we chop round with our hoes and things, but the N.C.O. in charge has to stand about mooning. We are still in Merrie England – our Officers went straight to the front, N.C.O.s have to revert to Gunner when they get to France. We can’t get any lower.
10. p.m. Started off by stopping a fearful blast from the orderly officer for not standing to attention whilst Retreat was sounding. Walked to Fleet. Walked back by half-moonlight and finished off by nearly being late – in fact just escaped C.B. twice over.
Have just picked tit-bits out of a greenish sea of dried beans, spuds and beef. Item: never disliked margarine. You know my partiality to lardy butter, well good margarine is something of the same but much more crumbly, that’s its defect; you are conveying a portion to your plate and it drops off in transitu (a legal expression).
At Crondall on Saturday we saw a huge hollow elm tree centuries old – its bumps were used as a style to get over the fence from the road. The outer crust was still alive and bore many luxuriant branches.
Had a decent cigar given me and am now lying on my cot puffing it. The blankets here are of diverse texture and colours – violent electric blues, glaring scarlets, lemon-yellows, brown grey and black. Imagine their motley appearance along the sides of the hut. The rain it (to all appearances) raineth every day-a-hay.
A moist but not unamusing afternoon. R. and I set out for Farnham, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants some 4 ½ miles away. As it didn’t look like clearing up we hit upon an amazing device. I crept under R’s cycling-cape which just held us both and by keeping very carefully in step we proceeded down-hill, like a two-headed 4-legged monster, to the mixed mirth and astonishment of the villagers. The smoke from my pipe gradually asphyxiated R. It continued to rain very hard so we crept along under the trees, accompanied by 3 or 4 very wet youngsters who had attached themselves to us. Eventually we found a tool-shed in which we and the boys crouched for about an hour. By short rushes from tree to tree arrived at length at the castle, which was closed to the public, but as they had left the huge gate unbarred we simply pushed it open and got in, walked around the Castle and climbed up into the keep. Ages old and surrounded by the most beautiful ornamental trees. The seat of the Bishop of Winchester. We then reached the town, an old and interesting one. Plenty of beam-laced houses with projecting upper stories, alms-houses, etc. We found an interesting eating house and had a good feed – the proprietor was a whiskered old wag – quite facetious. From him I cadged a sack which I threw over my shoulders and strutted off through the streaming streets past the spellbound inhabitants.
The chaps in the hut have just been talking about Burns’ poetry, but have concluded by unanimously agreeing that “Ella Wheeler Wilcox beats the lot” (which sounds like a line of her own verse.)
With Warwick and a “returned” Corporal to Crondall – joined by R. and a friend of his. They purchased 2 lb. of bacon and a lot of eggs; these we bore off to our one – (here the electric light went out and I came to a sudden stop – Sunday morning) – legged tea-man whose missus cooked it for us. We made back to camp through lanes and avenues, fortified by various drinks. The Corporal told me he was with an artist in Cornwell who got so wild because the Corporal looked at his painting before it was finished that he tore it up and went off in a huff, whereat the Corporal retaliated by remarking that it was silly to make such a fuss over such a rotten picture. Have just been to Church Parade where Padre gave a sensible but of course totally useless sermon on swearing. He said that however meaningless and lightly used the words are they must in time filter through and poison the mind. He didn’t go into side-issue that occurs to me, i.e. will having to listen to it, for perhaps years, have a like effect?
The shortage of sugar has had an extraordinary effect on sweetmeats in England – they are not mostly made of gelatine and saccharine.
To excuse my loquacity I quote Bacon: “If a man write little he had need have a great memory” and (I can’t resist the next sentence though it isn’t in point), “If a man read little he had need have great cunning so that he may seem to know that which he doth not.”
Some of the tallest men were picked today to form a bodyguard for the King at some review tomorrow. We were “standing at ease” and by keeping my feet wide apart and leaning forward I managed to miss it: (Dad will be disowning me).
Sketching an old farm house, was somewhat discouraged by the occupants bringing out a very finished real “ile” painting of the same by an itinerant artist 20 years ago and sold to them on the spot for 7/6. After-wards we did a smart mile to the Queen’s Arms where we consumed pints of bitter beer with biscuits and cheese. Good fun this morning acting as a driver. We went helter-skelter down lanes, over fields, ditches, and brambles and made the pace whenever we got a chance. The countryside is thick with blackberries which are just beginning to ripen and what appear to be small wild plums. Plenty of woodbine in flower and although it is not springtime the fields are gay with wild daisies and other flowers, with occasional red poppies. In most of the cottage gardens are yellow daisies and red hollyhocks.
Note: R. has taken kindly to the big sock and is going to get a girl friend to knit a mate for it. Went forth towards Fleet where we hired a canoe and paddled about on a disused canal. After nearly 2 hours on the water we made for the nearest pub, and back to camp in the dark.
[Mounted New Zealand troops towing transport at a training camp in England during World War I, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: New Zealand official negatives, National Library, 1/2-013887-G]
Plenty of aeroplanes about this evening; saw them do the spiral or corkscrew descent. Was in the riding for the first time today and was the first one to be classed “1” (1, 2, and 3 class) so can’t have forgotten how to ride. R. is on guard tonight and I sent him facetious messages in semaphore across the parade ground, including “Crapaud” and almost upset the solemnity due to his duty. Got “one on to” R. today. Found an enormous sock, big enough for an elephant, and left it on his bunk – he has stupendous feet – elevens.
[Crapaud is a French word meaning “toad”]
A year today since I arrived in Featherston camp – that probably explains the fact that I am a bit off colour with a headache. I put it down to living chiefly on dried beans and dried peas – two things I don’t fancy. This district is well farmed, but is so well wooded that you would have to be in an aeroplane to realise it. Instead of the cobble stones of Lancashire we here have fine hard yellowy-white sandstone roads – the main roads being mostly asphalted. This is a land of cyclists – you see them everywhere and in every village or centre are cycle shops or motor garages. Another feature (apparently it is so all over England) is the wonderful tidiness of most of the cottages old and new – they usually look scrupulously clean within and without – pots of geranium on the windowsills and tidy little gardens of bright flowers and green vegetables, with brick paths. Did I tell you how the Lancashire folk even in the most squalid slums make it shine qua non to keep their door-stones clean and may be seen scrubbing them all hours. Most of the pubs here have square signboards, stuck out in the road, divided by a coloured diagonal stroke and usually named the (something) “Arms”, whereas in Lancashire they are all “Inns”, “Brown Cows” and so forth.