On chaff-cutting fatigue, chippety-chop-chippety-chop. Find that the driver whose horses I performed with the other day is trying to get rid of one of them and am not surprised.
Driving manure cart with a dour and taciturn old Scot. Same job this afternoon. They’ve painted all our tin hats battleship grey.
7.30. A charming sunset over the snow, everything fading away in a tinted mist and the red sun sinking behind a straggling row of tall bare trees. Two very squiffy Canadians were grovelling about on all fours on a railway line, to the huge delight of a gathering crowd. Gave my quiet Donk a snowball, which to my amazement he ate and swallowed. I repeated the performance, so did he, and I let it rest at that, fearing to make him ill. One forgets in this continental winter that such a climate as summer and warmth ever existed. What we are getting now is mere child’s play to last winter, when they often had to send the men into their huts and give them fuel. You may perhaps wonder why I talk of riding when carting things in waggons, etc. but no doubt you know that almost all driving in the army is done postilion fashion.
Image: Photograph taken on 14 January 1918 showing waggons ridden ‘postilion fashion’, not of New Zealand troops, but of British field kitchens arriving to relieve the French on the Seraucourt-le-Grand road, Imperial War Museums, Q 78272.
The snow has thawed and the sloppiness baffles description. We have had an exciting day; at intervals of about ten minutes – beastly sudden high explosive shells – and lunch was cut short in order to get animals out, which we did, taking them to a large tract of open country and walking them about there all afternoon, watching the shells burst in the middle distance. A few of our men who were left there were wounded and other batteries lost a few men. We are all hoping to goodness they won’t open up again tonight, as we will then have to get up in the dark and take the donks out again. If it doesn’t freeze again the mud will soon be almost as bad as it was at “Wipers” – boot-wipers are what we want.
Note: Lieutenant J. R. Byrne, in New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-1918 (Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, 1922, Auckland, p.213), describes German artillery bombardments of NZ Division artillery positions in January 1918 thus:
Hostile shelling was responsible for a number of casualties at gun positions, one unlucky shot on the night of the 9th January penetrating a dug-out in the 3rd Battery and killing all five occupants. Casualties and material damage were also inflicted at the waggon lines by periodic shelling from a long-range high velocity gun, which searched rear areas as far back as Poperinghe. The lines of the 1st and 3rd Brigades and the D.A.C. were concentrated in a confined area, and must have looked a tempting target to the German aerial observers, while the 2nd (Army) Brigade lines were unpleasantly close to the Engineer’s big dump on the railway line at Busseboom. The shelling usually started in the morning and continued on throughout the greater part of the day; a high velocity shell has an unusually disconcerting effect, owing to the frightful suddenness with which it shrieks down out of the sky, and one of these shells could inflict tremendous damage in a crowded horse line. The horses were promptly removed to a flank after the first shell in or near the lines, and were kept out in the open until the shelling had ceased; but casualties to men and horses were frequently suffered before the lines could be cleared.
A batch of us were sent off for foot-bath and to my delight the N.C.O. in charge of us lost his way, so that we got a good warming march, through the establishment was in fact, quite close. En route we tried skating in jackboots on a pond and in spite of the retarding carpet of snow on the ice I came quite a nice cropper on a safe portion of my anatomy. The foot-bath is a fine thing – wash ‘em in hot water with soft-soap, dry, sprinkle feet and socks with camphor powder and the operation is over.
6.30. p.m. A good old snow-storm this afternoon. However, we got a brazier of coal going in the harness shed, the fumes of which kept us in a state of coma until ‘twas time to water and feed the snow-crusted mokes. They were a sight! Some of them had tall white horns between their ears, making them look like degenerate unicorns.
On a fatigue all day shovelling and carting manure. There must be enough manure in France by now to fertilize the Waimarino Plains.
When we got up this morning the ground was hard and black, with thousands of little ice-puddles gleaming all over, but very soon it snowed. And so it has remained all day, a mass of glittering white with blue shadows and every dark thing whether animate or inanimate standing out against it in the sharpest relief. A tender brownish-red sunset, to end the day, was caught and reflected on a million little rumples of snow.
Intensely cold. Old Jove is right overhead and his coy spouse has done a bunk below the horizon, in fact she has dodged right under the bed clothes.
The Civil Servant has had his christening today, going up to the front and getting in the way of a bit of mud from a shell-burst. He has returned full of heroism, and is now being drawn on with sly humour by the old hands to expatiate on his experience.
Image: A battery of 6-inch guns of the Royal Garrison Artillery, covered with camouflage netting in the snow. Near Ypres, 8 January 1918. Imperial War Museum, Q 9804.
Inspected by a Red Hat who took exception to my wearing a comforter outside my overcoat. The snow has melted into most infernal slish or slosh.
Made an amazing hash of things this afternoon; was sent off to drive a waggon with another man’s horses – result – capsized the whole caboodle into a ditch, horses and harness being immersed in mud. The Corporal in charge (killed in action later) a quiet sort of cuss, showed what he was made of; in a trice he had taken a flying leap off the waggon over the ditch, and had me by the shoulders and off the floundering quadruped. He only grinned and didn’t blame me but (wise man) sent for an old driver. Disasters like that kind don’t make me crestfallen a bit; they so tickle me that I have difficulty in concealing my mirth. W. has just received his fourth balaclava and was lucky enough to give it away, though to a man who already had one, but appears to be a collector.
Entertained by the spectacle of a burning farmhouse and haystack. The parson discussed the war prospects. He had just seen a friend, lately in Germany (secret service) who told him amongst other things he must not disclose, that the internal conditions there are appalling, that Germany’s present bid for peace is a colossal bluff and that if we only keep optimistic they must crack up before very long.
Got away for a bath this morning and obtained change of underclothes and towel, for which thanks be to Allah. Great hullabaloo over the bacon being boiled to rags this morning; the O.C. blew the cooks up a great; in fact they got into hot water all round – an element they should be fairly used to. As for me, I raked out a lot of scraps with my fourchette and quite enjoyed them. The gun we salvaged yesterday was nothing but a barrel and axle of a 4.5 howitzer yet it is worth £500. That gives an idea of the cost of the implements of war. Each shell of a light field gun costs a couple of pounds. The amount of stuff that can be salvaged is colossal and they’re always at it.