20th December (1917)

Severe frost, accompanied by fog which has crystallised on everything in a snow-white rime; every twig on the shrubs and hedges looks as if it had been dipped in the hot springs of old N.Z. the legs and ears of our devoted donks are affected likewise and the ice on the shell-holes easily bear one’s weight.  If you leave a little moisture in your mess-tin it soon freezes up.  We go about with glistening pearl-like appendages to our nasal protuberances.  Our fire is merrily consuming purloined wood and what with the exterior warmth and the interior glow induced by some hot rum and sugar we are quite comfortable.  The brawny young Scot has today astounded us with his gastric feats – at lunch he ate (inter alia) a mixture of jam and pickles and roasted cheese – this evening, dissatisfied with the official menu he made a huge hash of buffy and pickles cooked in his mess tin on our brazier, washing it down with over a pint of tea.

Payday again and the 5 franc Xmas Dinner Fund was duly collected at our door – catch ‘em on the hop.

My effort in French (wrote a letter in French today in reply to one from my father) is as you will see deplorable.  Before starting I had all sorts of high sounding idioms floating in my noodle, but when I tried to work ‘em into the composition they refused to go (like some of our mules).

Wednesday (19 December 1917)

Had another green envelope issued, so can for a while be even sillier than usual.  I believe the practice is to censor a proportion of these letters at the base P.O., but of course it doesn’t matter a fig when you are not known to the censor.  Getting used to riding about bare-back and managing two animals at once should tend to make a man a fair horseman; when you get into the saddle you feel as secure as Dad in his armchair.

18th December (1917)

Frost again and hard ground with fairly thick ice on the pools – the mokes* don’t fancy much sucking the (always) dirty water through a sieve of broken ice.  The sun only attains about 20˚ above the horizon, around which it makes a very modest segment of a circle and effects an early retreat.  Tonight is clear starlight with Venus in the West and Jove in the East, both in great splendour.  The guns are growling away in ceaseless ire, spring offensives being replaced by winter offensives, in fact perpetual offensives.  Have just been the grateful recipient of 3 small parcels from the Menteath girls.  Tell E. Her sketch of the Kaiser, chased by (I presume) a New Zealander, is pinned to the roof of our tent.

Didn’t think I should ever need gloves, but am now glad of them especially when riding.  Every day when out exercising the animals we have free entertainments at the expense of some unfortunate who loses control of one or both of his donks.  Intoxicated with its unexpected freedom the weird one tosses its eary head, stamps on and breaks its bridle and then in sudden terror bounds off with a succession of startling rearward and upward lashings-out of heels, to be recovered later on, probably at his place in the line, looking quite innocent and unconcerned.

A short sketch of my companions may amuse you.  W. you know.  Next to him a big brawny lad of hearty, if boisterous disposition.  Then a nondescript individual just returned from Hospital whom the others call Von Kluck, and roundly but good-humouredly accuse of being a professional lead-swinger.  To this he makes very faint opposition and seems to be resigned to his fate.  Then comes a chirpy youth with no specially outstanding features physical or otherwise.  Then there is the low-browed villain – the tend brow-beater and know-all.  A volcanic specimen of young Taranaki comes next – his nicknames are legion.  Last on my right is “The Civil Servant”, rising 40 years, the oldest in the Battery.

* Moke: British term for a donkey, or slang used in Australia and New Zealand for a horse that is old or in poor condition.

Monday, 17th December (1917)

My second “buckshee” parcel was from the Spinster’s Club and contained amongst various goods an amazing size in cholera belts which will come in either as a spare comforter or for cleaning harness.  Church at Y.M.C.A. yesterday – a spirited address from the same little man as before.  They have there the tiniest piano I’ve ever seen (set up on top of a packing case) on which the hymns are strummed.

The fireplace is a great success; we make toast, heat water, dry our things and keep warm.  The noise of the guns is at times not unlike the banging and rolling about of big tanks in the distance.

Tuesday (11 December 1917)

Great doings in our tent this evening.  We collared another tent from an abandoned camp and put it over our own, so we are under two thicknesses of canvas; obtained also a brazier with a chimney, which we now have going in full swing in the doorway, with the prospect of dry boots and socks – tres bon!  Or “trees beans” as some have it.  Had a lovely spill off my donk tonight, landing in the mud which, unpleasant in itself, saved me from so much as a bruise.  These are the humorous interludes and we all roar with laughter at the unfortunate, except when your own turn comes: you scrape most of the mud off with your jack-knife and proceed with the business of the day.

Monday (10 December 1917)

This afternoon bought an exciting aerial display by a number of the redoubtable gothas sailing serenely over our heads supported by a squad of fast scouting machines at a much higher altitude.  The archibalds got busy and plastered the atmosphere with shell-bursts, but the beggars got away without apparent injury.  We could see the dropping bombs flashing in the sun.  None came near us.  Have made a patent tin-candle-sock-drier and am now experimenting with it, its heat is hardly tropical.

Sunday, 9th December (1917)

The mud is getting quite fantastic in its smell, stickiness and general enormity; watering horses is now one gigantic and confused bog-scramble.  Went to church in Y.M.C.A. this morning and bellowed hymns and heard an earnest little chap discourse quite eloquently on one of St. Paul’s epistles.  We had W’s cake at lunch and have guzzled most of the blackballs, which are very popular.  One chap got a tin of asparagus which we beated up and schlooped down by the yard – it needed condiments and white sauce, which our imaginations had to supply.  Managed to get rid of the superfluous balaclavas. Note: the plethora of balaclava caps sent to soldiers was a standing joke.

8 p.m. We have just had the ginger out of the parcel – it went down like a hot toddy.  If you good folk will send the stuff what can you expect us to do but enjoy it?  You will perhaps be amused to know that every part of your parcels is utilised not excepting the tins and the cloth-wrapping, which either comes in for dishcloths or harness rags.  There is actually a farm house here still inhabited, right in the middle of the camp.  W. and I had some coffee there today in the now familiar handle-less cups.