An approaching thunder-storm has created a dead hush in which the smoke from the cream-coloured chimneys of the hamlet is rising straight up in light-blue plumes against the dark background of pines. The buildings with their grey walls and red roofs are outlined against the green of the surrounding fields, sprinkled with trees, haystacks, grazing horses and goats nibbling at the black-berry bushes.
[Lincoln Lee, Farm near Crondall, nd. 1917]
Whenever we go out we find that there are other villages within reach. Every here and there are hop kilns, with tall conical attachments in which hops are or used to be dried; for the industry has, I understand, considerably subsided in Hants of recent years. On the way is a waterworks from which water is forced by steam pressure all over the district. It has a bottle-shaped chimney covered with ivy – that is a great feature in England, people and corporations are not afraid to let creepers climb over their houses and buildings. They have a love of beautifying their structures and threes are not commercially sacrificed.
One of the interesting types we have in camp is the “old soldier”. There is one in this hut – a R.N.Z.A. bombardier, the hardest faced chap imaginable, who has been in the game for about 20 years – no brains, no nothing – but up to all the tricks of the trade and what he doesn’t know about beer, women and barracks isn’t worth knowing. Since leaving N.Z. he hasn’t written a single letter, not even a P.C. – his troubles! His vocabulary is limited almost to monosyllables with a generous assortment of oaths.
I could rave about the trees hereabouts; like Watteau’s trees. The hawthorns are beginning to glow dull-red with berries and, where whole hedges of them have never been clipped, are fine trees 20 or 30 feet high. I have spoken of the mountain ashes with their brilliant berries. Every here and there one comes upon the imposing entrance to some “big gun’s” country seat, the lodge being often of quaint appearance, but the mansion itself usually hidden behind tall trees lining a long winding drive. One feels tempted to walk in and say “Please I’ve come”. Can you imagine cakes being made almost without sugar? That is the only kind procurable in England for many a day. If you think you are going to beat them by ordering “sweet” cakes you find yourself with something smaller, a little softer and almost as sweet as currant loaf. In one of your letters you mention the morning gargle – haven’t indulged in one since leaving N.Z., in fact have found that every camp and every Commander and doctor has its and his own peculiarities and foibles and am constantly undergoing changes of routine, discipline, sanitary precautions and what not; there is no uniformity in the British Armies.
10. p.m. Some geniuses next door are creating a rough-house and tipping one another out of bed. We are a fairly orderly mob despite the recent addition of a surprisingly foul-mouthed moustached Mackenzie Country squatter, who is always skiting about his fabulous wealth – probably mortgaged to his eyes. He told me he would get an aeroplane after the war. I said it would cost him a thousand – he didn’t care a blank if it cost him blank two blank thousand.
R. and I got away at about 11 a.m. through “Paradise” – we had a feed at the same old place supplemented by two tiny chops from the local butcher for 9d. (2/- per lb). Had another look round Odiham and of course gravitated towards the old inn with the village pump, where we got bread and cheese and beer – and another cigar. On the way back we deviated via villages called Pilcot (a quaint little place with a pretty old church and cottages), Crookham-Street and Crookham itself, which latter is about a mile from camp. R. has acquired a small flute on which he tootles as we walk through the lanes. Sounds quite arcadian.
Enormous numbers of rooks and crows all over England, big ungainly scraggy-looking birds that gorge all day. There is a water-cress bed nearby. Where a stream widens out the cress has been planted over an area of about ½ an acre and is cut systematically as it grows – the whole thing being surmounted by a lifelike scare-crow armed with a dummy gun. A big battle plane flew over us, quite near, at a terrific rate, then returning at a higher altitude, did a corkscrew dive, turning over and over like a shot bird; eventually righting itself and roaring away home to its roost.
Camp full of what look likes generals and field marshals. Trying to manage two rough nags this morning, I made rather a mess of it.
Went to concert in Y.M.C.A. which wasn’t half bad. The room was very full and I had secured a seat on a table but after a while found I was sitting in a pool of water out of a vase some clumsy person had upset, so removed with damped ardour (if that is the seat of ardour). The chaps who have the bunks near me are not half bad, though one of them stutters and it is rather painful listening to his hampered narrations.
To Fleet this evening and fossicked out artists’ colorman. Had another beauty of a red moon to look at coming home, eating chips and fish, hot, out of a piece of newspaper. With Warwick for companion tonight, we made a start through Paradise, but struck a side-track which proved somewhat wild and brambly. Were repaid by stumbling across a hedgehog, curled up in a ball from which he absolutely refused to budge though lifted about by his spikes. The inhabitants tell us there are plenty of squirrels about, but hard to see with the trees in leaf; also snakes of several varieties. Whilst I was sketching, a half grown foal came up, bit my boots, sniffed by hat and sketch and in short, became so familiar that I had to shoo him off. His dam, on the other hand, bolted when she saw me, but she would probably know more about art.
Made Crondall by a track leading over stiles and rustic bridges, through woods and copses from field to field until it eventually landed us near our food-provider’s back garden. We stopped in various shady nooks to eat blackberries and play with a tame pony. This path we afterwards discovered is called Paradise because of its many charms. After dinner we sketched part of the village and a round haystack. That over, we set forth to Odiham, 4 miles further on. A delightful walk along a splendid tarred road with huge elm and oak trees on either side, often meeting over-head. There were some ripping old cottages en route, one of which I sketched amongst its trees and hedges. Near it was an amazing structure, the thatch of which projected far enough to form a verandah and was propped up all round by rustic poles. Odiham: a larger place than Crondall. The first two pubs we came to looked rather pretentious and were styled Hotels. That did not suit us, so we proceeded. Saw some old stocks in which offenders used to be placed (Lights out! and a rough house on owing to the draft men going tonight – Lights turned on again so resume in bed). We wandered on through the long straggly main street until we came to the real thing in pubs – low, old and laced with beams – in front of it the village pump, which we worked and, to our delight, brought water up at the first heave. Sat in the funniest low-ceilinged tap-room at a table made of a single rough oak slab which had been scrubbed out of recognition; served by a rheumaticky old chap from a bar about 4 ft. square – to wit – the cupboard under the stairs. We ate our simple supper there and after I had obtained from mine host a cigar, and not a bad one either, proceeded to our homeward way. The full moon came up a golden globe behind the trees and everything was, to use R’s adjective, “Apple”. The departing heroes of last night made such a mess that I got the job this morning of cleaning up so will also clean up my correspondence.
[Sketch, G L Lee, Crondall. Likely 2 September 1917].