We move off tonight. A totally hideous and disgusting day! We spent all morning doing gas-drill. After lunch we went off in rain about 3 miles to gas school, wet as shags, and hot as hell, went through lacrhymatory (much blubber) and chlorine (ugly guggly) gas, to ruination of brass buttons; had a whole lot of senseless orders yelled at us, shoggled off back to camp in harder rain, got there about 5.20pm to be told to parade “fully equipped” at 5.45. Rebellion – parade a wash-out. Parade to get issue of rations, clothes, etc. wet queue about ½ mile long – floor of hut strewn with indescribable litter. Hurrah! A cruel war! So long! Good luck! Auf — No, that’s German.
Midnight on train for port – a very hurried departure from Ewshot and a perspiring and rafferty march down to Aldershot about 5 miles where after endless sitting about in gutters and other places we were finally entrained. In opposite corner sits old Warwick, half asleep.
We are busy darning socks, altering tunics, collecting gear etc., all excepting the gamblers who sit round one of the tables rattling money and crying out “bust me for a crown!”, “bust me for 6d” as if there were no such thing as drafts either of men or of chill air. Have been mending puttees as I want to keep the woollen ones as long as possible.
Returned Dombey* to the Y.M.C.A. The attendant was dumb-founded to find that I had put a paper cover on it, he looked up with admiration and ejaculated, “Well, you’re a gentleman!”. He said he had a cousin in Nelson, N.Z. and to my astonishment I knew the man well.**
Donald the infuriate and elderly Scot is in great form, being 3 sheets in the wind, and his language is something to listen to. He believes in simplicity and takes only his boots off when retiring and I must also “prepare to retire” as the drill hath it.
* Likely Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens.
** Lincoln writes ‘Frank Hornbell’ in the typescript.
As nothing was done with the draft, J. and I took our hook at about noon and mooched off munching huge quantities of lollies and salted nuts J. had just had sent to him as a birthday present. We also ate innumerable black-berries. We essayed a sketch of a pond, seated on some old palings with our feet deep in mire, when a crowd of young bulls came grumbling and nodding up to us from behind, threatening to bump us into the pond. After a careful scrutiny they apparently decided that we weren’t worth strafing and moved on.
[Lincoln Lee, sketch of moorland, Ewshot-Hants, 1917. While not of a pond, this is the final sketch of Lincoln’s we have from the period after he arrived in England, and when he departed for the front.]
The N.C.O’s who are included in the draft were up before the Colonel today to be told what they already knew, that they would have to drop their stripes in France. It has come at last. At the 2 o’clock parade some 300 of us were called out and warned for draft. We may move off any time, so don’t be surprised if the next letter is from Somewhere in France. The draft is comprised of a jumble of various reinforcements with a sprinkling of old hands. One of the old hands was very wild at being sent, as he had been through 3 winter campaigns. Neither R. nor J. are in it, worse luck, but Warwick is.
Am now in Church Hut with J. We imagine we are going to spend the evening writing and reading, but time will show. We have been making grotesque attempts to draw all sorts of outlandish things, including ourselves, with much hilarity; then made awful attempts to play a tiny harmonium. Very funny; fell in with Guard and found 1 man too many. The Sergt. Instructor got me “snouted” because I made a mess of “port arums” and sent me off back to duty; so am taking a spell off. The gamblers every evening sit round a table calling out in a varying tones, “bust me for 6d”, “bust me for 3d”, “bust me for a bob” and so on. I haven’t any idea what game it is – and as regularly as clockwork all are taken by surprise at lights out and grumble about, getting undressed and making their bunks in the dark. Their facial expressions during play are a study. Incredible how very few of the men take even the remotest interest in the scenery, men, or manners of the countries in which they find themselves. Many of them hardly ever move out of the camp and they look back upon Oldham as a sort of Earthly paradise!
A pretty sure indication that we are to move off to France before long was that a handful of men (all the football team) were today transferred from our section to one of the others. If you want to “swing the lead” here you only need to play a band instrument or play the game – not THE GAME. The hardcase who resisted my efforts in physical jerks the other day is a character. He “fell out” with a fatigue party which he didn’t belong to, and when the officer asked him why, cooly replied that he thought it would be better than physical jerks. The officer, a returned man, only grinned.
[Recreation room at the New Zealand Artillery camp, Ewshot [c 1918], National Library 1/2-014107-G]
[Canteen at the New Zealand Artillery camp, Ewshot [ca 1918], National Library 1/2-014106-G]
THE HAT TRICK (A Military Mystery)
To wit: At 5 p.m. instead of our being dismissed, the Sergts. were sent off to round up all hands on the Parade ground. The cooks, gardeners, bootmakers and candlestick makers, the sick, the lame, the weak-sighted, came trapesing in bewildered rows, whilst officers walked around examining the inside lining of our hats – without one word of explanation. No doubt it was an attempt to identify some man or some hat. One man suggested that it was to see whether our hats harboured any life.
Blackberries (brambles) only just beginning to fall off, have been very good; also plenty of nuts about. A large percentage of my hut-mates are inveterate gamblers and I leave them at it when I go out and find them still at it at 10 p.m. and there they sit until lights out – even then they will finish off with the aid of lucifers. J. ricked his gizzard doing physical jerks and got 2 days light duty.
[Image – NZ Artillery troops on parade, Ewshot Camp, c1918, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: New Zealand official negatives, National Library 1/2 014100-G]
Nocturnal ramble with my two co-dabblers to Fleet. We chatted for a time with Mr. & Mrs. Colourman Artist, who took us into their houses at the back of the shop and showed us a lot of paintings and a portfolio, always an interesting jumble.
Have I told you about the Hieland fire-eater? – a brawny old Scot with a walrus moustache, about 60 years of age. He goes to bunk early (usually with his bare feet protruding) and flies into appalling rages if disturbed; gets half out of bed with eyes blazing and “offers out” every man in the hut in the most picturesque (adjectival) Scotch. He has been all through the wars – as wild as the ocean wave is Donald.