21st September (1917)

The idiots that be, have made us change huts again and I am with a different set of chaps from whom I know.  However there is a certain interest in making their acquaintance.  Returned after some light refreshment out beneath the twinkling but unknown stars, to find half the camp in its usual state of pay-night inebriety – they call it being stunned.  I enjoy the vagaries of boozed soldiers, they usually get happy tight.

[“The spirit of the troops is excellent”, cartoon of boozed NZ artilleryman by H. P. Watson, copy supplied by Nigel Robson with thanks]

The Spirit of the Troops

 

18th to 20th September (1917)

Just seen a lovely triangular pillow fight between two bald-headed men and a thin chap.  Physical drill at 2 p.m. is a disgusting innovation and gives us all indigestion.  R. materialised with hands-full of boot protectors, whereat we stole, boots in hand to the parson’s hut, where a cobbler’s last was secreted.  There we made the walls shake belabouring our nether gear with the remains of a poker, then strode iron-shod into the night – to what Ultima Thule? what “wished and glorious metropolis”?* – Crondall.  The air was cool and clear but nothing to the beer.  You will be surmising that we were over-bibulous but no – 3 half pints of the best bitter and all the fitter, returned we to durance vile.  At one stage we bellowed Up from Somerset to the alley’s titanic (not of cypress but elms) and probably to the astonishment of wakeful cottagers.  The landlady of the pub at Crondall gave me a farthing.

[Physical training exercises at the New Zealand Artillery camp, Ewshot, 1/2-014102-G, National Library]

014102.tif

* The phrase “Wished and glorious metropolis” may be from “Marpessa”, by Stephen Phillips.

Or since thou art a woman, thou shalt have

More tender tasks; to steal upon the sea,

A long expected bliss to tossing men.

Or build upon the evening sky some wished

And glorious metropolis of cloud.

 

 

 

Monday, 17th (September 1917)

For the last 3 days I have been shaking and rattling my watch in vain endeavours to make it go.  Today I wound it up and it went.  This morning two or three of us were on a leisurely job in a shed where there were a couple of white-wash buckets, when a rather timid new chum asked if he could borrow one of the said buckets.  The reply from one of the old hands, without flinching a muscle, and which the enquirer took quite seriously was: you can have it; one of the diggers was “going to whitewash the nose-bags but there isn’t time to do it now”.

8 p.m.  The official end of summer has come and the clocks were put back an hour this morning.  It is now dark by about 7 p.m.  Fields are often dotted with mole-hills – small heaps of loose earth thrown up by the creatures.  Autumn tints are beginning to be noticeable.  An interesting feature of Farnham is the Almshouses – often very handsome comfortable-looking buildings.  Everywhere are cottages and houses with Virginia creeper climbing over them, now a blaze of colour.  In England one is struck with the stability of things – where we would have a wooden culvert or length of piping they will build one of bricks or stone like a complete little bridge, – a cow-byre or piggery will be, as often as not, a solid brick building.  So much more care is taken and economy exercised.  Instead of turning a mob of sheep helter-skelter into a field of kale or rape or turnip, they put half a dozen at a time into a movable pen about 5 yards square until they have eaten every scrap enclosed by it, then move it on, until the whole field has been eaten, not trampled into the ground.  How good are the cloud and sky effects here.  This is no doubt accountable from the fact that England being nearer the pole the sun is at a lower angle than with us and strikes the clouds more in the flanks.

Sunday (16 September 1917)

Hunted up the ancient wag and did eat of his victuals.  Having run up a reasonable account, and being still unsatisfied we vaunted to the Y.M.C.A. and topped off with tea and cake.  I find R. one of those people I can get on with.  He has savvy and a certain appreciativeness and personality that make him attractive and different from the average sapling, the dash of Irish, I think.

14th September (1917)

One of our officers has set up an ingenious panorama of a sector of the Front.  You give him what you consider the right directions and corrections for shelling a given point in the miniature landscape and by means of certain apparatus and an electric battery he makes a little puff of smoke show up where you have aimed your imaginary gun.

Night:  Out alone.  Rabbits and hares were running around and pheasants and pigeons flying about; it seems to be a game preserve.  The noise the crows and rooks make roosting in the trees is simply deafening – similar in effect to the croaking of innumerable frogs.  I walked on to Crondall afterwards with its old cottages and great looming trees overhanging the narrow roads, and the dim lights coming through the latticed windows from the tiny low-ceilinged rooms.

12th and 13th (September 1917)

R. and I sallied forth and found a new and delightful cross-country track through meadow-lands and a great alley-way of trees, over numerous stiles and finally through part of what appeared to be a gentleman’s estate.  We are given quite a lot of “Gas Drill” now and the smell of disinfectants on the masks hangs about our hair and clothes for hours.  Today when we all had the helmets on some goat discovered that, by pinching the exhaling valve and blowing through it, he could make a weird bleating noise, whereupon all the others took it up in various keys – imagine yourself with your head in a vile-smelling bag of damp flannelette with a tin tube in your mouth peering out through glass goggles at a roomful of monstrosities emitting uncanny wheezes.  However, the Box Respirator is almost more forbidding in appearance – making it appear that the wearer is devouring a portion of his own “innards”.  Some of the fellows at times say amusing things.  Today one chap who has an extraordinary cognomen informed us that Sergt. Bland had “got him properly snouted”, because, quoth he, “He has got my monicker off pat, and whenever anyone gets hold of my monicker they like to use it because it sounds funny”.  “Monicker” means name, or signature, but whence it is derived I can’t make out unless from Monogram.  The returned men have a smattering of Tommy French.  They keep in little cliques and treat us new chums with aloofness and condescension.