15th October (1917)

Saw the fleet of fishing boats with their red, brown and white sails go down to the sea and, later on, return.  Trains loaded with guns etc. keep passing and re-passing and along a road near by an almost continuous stream of ambulances, wagons and motor lorries was moving.  The coast is low-lying, unlike the opposite English coast.  It looks incongruous to see an old windmill right in the middle of this camp.

Sunday, 14th October (1917)

A fine sunny day and all busy spreading our things to dry and a more cheerful atmosphere prevails.  If the people responsible for the messing arrangements in N.Z. would adopt the methods used here, the saving in food and improvement in comfort would be revolutionary.  It makes one angry to think of the disgusting waste in the N.Z. camps and the bad cooking and general spoliation of so much good food that goes on there – or did.  The French beer isn’t the best and certainly not over-proof.  We are still in the throes of learning French coinage and I have a thing in my pocket which looks like a 1/- but is only worth about 2 ½ d.  I did make a girl understand that I wanted ‘deux pommes’ on Friday but when I said ‘comment vous portez vous’ to a boy he didn’t appear to grasp it in its entirety.  Saw French peasants going off to work in the fields early this morning and it was like looking at a moving Millet.  I little thought a year ago that I should be over in his country, or Corot’s, Hugo’s, Flambert’s, Rabelais’ and all the rest of them.  A man soon gets used to sleeping with most of his clothes on and giving up his few remaining little luxuries.  W. and I towards dusk had a stroll through the main street, narrow ones lined with old white and tray patchy-looking shops and cafes and estaminets.  Also had a look at the water-front, a tidal river or inlet, mostly mud-flat when we saw it, on whose banks were reposing all sorts of fishing craft.

Saturday, 13th October (1917)

(Etaples)  We have been bandied about from pillar to post, mostly in teaming rain.  We had all sorts of parades and lectures yesterday afternoon and evening.  The O.C. at Etaples, a much wounded officer, and S. A. Veteran, gave us sensible address on the running of the camp.  An amusing anecdote was of a soldier detailed to clean out a sump, poking at it with a stick as though saying “you nasty thing!”.  Asked his occupation in civil life he replied “I was a barrister and solicitor”.  Then, said the O.C., if you were to put your arm in up to the elbow you might find six and eightpence.

The feeding arrangements are excellent, the food being properly cooked, and equally meted out, so that though actually less in quantity than in England it is much more satisfying.  We are in small bell tents, about a dozen in each, all with wet clothes and all our equipment, including gas appliances.  We each have 2 rough blankets, very ‘hummy’ with disinfectant, and sleep on the boards and have again gone through both lachrymatory and poison gasses.  As the O.C. said, it used to be a sporting war, now it’s a devils war.

This place is composed chiefly of rolling sand dunes, with patches of pine and scrub, and one blessing is that the mud being sandy is not of the clinging order.

PART III. PASSCHENDAELE & WINTER IN FRANCE. “Somewhere in France” 12 October 1917

Embarked on small fast ferry steamers; a medley of all regiments; daylight failed us half way over; interesting in the method of convoy and manoeuvres adopted to ensure safety.  We arrived at Boulogne.  It was too dark to see anything of the city, but the fact that we were at last in France and hearing French spoken around us was in itself sufficiently novel.  We had a stiff and much encumbered march up-hill to a camp on the hill-tops known to old hands as “one blanket camp”.

Awakened at 5 a.m. – At about 10 we moved off and marched after various delays, chest inspections etc., through the outskirts of town, and to our joy found that we were to go to the base in motor lorries instead of marching.  Packed 25 in each and rumbled off on our first journey through France.  The countryside hereabouts is rolling and even hilly, broken by woods with villages lying in the valleys.  The only Frenchies we saw were old men, women and children, with an occasional soldier on leave.  I liked the look of the French country girls who ran along selling us apples and chocolate etc., they seem fresh and healthy.

[The significance of 12 October 1917 for the New Zealand soldiers in France must be acknowledged here.  As Lincoln Lee travelled across the Channel, 843 New Zealand soldiers lost their lives during an attack in the Third Battle of Ypres.  As historian Ian McGibbon writes, “In terms of lives lost in a single day, 12 October 1917 ranks as the most catastrophic in the country’s post-1840 history”.]

11th October (1917)

Folkstone.  (Item: the chap who threw his watch overboard from the Corinthic is here and has since purchased and lost 2 watches in England).

We get up any time and do as we please in this camp – the “woodbines” in charge of it are scared of us and never interfere – we heard one of them say he wouldn’t be on picquet with those wild bastards in camp for any money.  Looked down on to a skating rink where men from almost every corner of the world were whirling round with the Folkstone maidens in the maze of whatever in skating terms corresponds to the waltz – I would suggest a “Scaltz”.  It’s laughable to think that the old forts on the cliffs were designed with a view to repelling French invasion.  Once more I say Au Revoir, both to English soil and to you folk at home.  Keep smiling!

Wednesday (10 October 1917)

Still here.  We don’t know what is delaying us though rumours are as usual not lacking; some say want of transports, others presence of mines broken loose in recent bad weather.  In the town is ample evidence of proximity to France, French names to streets, shops etc. and sometimes public notices printed in French as well as English.  Had quite a successful day.  W. and I made for the motor bus that goes to Dover.  You aren’t allowed more than halfway without a pass.  This took us by a winding road up to the top of the tall chalk cliffs on the East.  Along the top of the cliff at intervals were some round medieval-looking turrets or forts, probably Martello Towers.  When we came to what is called the Barrier an “Ozzy” officer, who had 2 of his men with him, wheedled the guard into letting us through with him, promising our return by next bus.  So we have seen Dover.  You sweep right down into it.  I thought it an enchanting place, bounded by huge chalk cliffs on the highest of which the Castle stands out against the sky.  The cliffs are riddled with forts and loop-holes and things.  In the harbour, which is enclosed with a long mole, were many destroyers and mosquito craft.  It is a small town, but more picturesque than Folkstone and smelling more of the sea.  When we walked along the promenade we attracted quite a lot of embarrassing attention, being the only diggers in the town.  Or probably being two such handsome fellows!  Back at Folkstone we went over a museum, its most interesting feature being a remarkable collection of butterflies and of the various insects that use mimicry as their protection.  The setting of the sun as we came into Folkstone this evening was wonderful – we could see clear over the western cliffs out to the horizon.  There was a large belt of cloud through which old Sol glowed like a Chinese lantern, with one narrow streak of black cloud cutting him clean in half.  As we came down the sun he touched the horizon, which seemed to eat him up at the same rate as we descended.

Tuesday morning (9 October 1917)

(Near Folkestone)  When I wrote the last word above the train stopped with a jerk and we were tumbled out at Gilford station where we had to squat about for an hour, nice and warm, except that the sweat we had got up marching now grew clammy.  Well, we were poked into another train and arrived here at 4 a.m. and eventually got down on the board floors of some tents in a waiting camp or whatever they call it.  We have now had a snack and cleaned up a bit and expect to move off to the ship.  There are Tommies, Ozzys and other troops here as well.  We are all very cheerful, almost hilarious.  The huts we are in are mottled in colour, green and white etc. to baffle aerial observation.  There is a fine Y.M.C.A. here; plenty of stalls, piano, Post Office etc.  Scores of men are writing, eating, drinking, smoking, with the inevitable rag-time pianist at his musical machinations.  Will now conclude, last Blighty instalment of this record of deeds and misdeeds.

Didn’t sail after all but have got leave at about 3 p.m. and I and another chap went into Folkstone and wandered about the big marine promenades.  This is a picturesque town, sloping down to the sea with trees lining the streets, promenades along the top of the cliff – a fine view to the west where the cliffs seems to break abruptly away and a long low coast swerves out sea-ward into the glare of the setting sun.  To the east are high chalky cliffs.  We could see the French coast.  The walks were seething with soldiers, sailors and officers of every race and clime, and many well dressed ladies.  The channel studded over with small craft, mine-sweepers, destroyers and such, showing what numbers guard these coasts, and there were several planes overhead.