We have started making things merry at early morning exercise by going at spanking trot along roads, and watering at the finish. The idea is to get the animals warmed up so that they will drink more.
Two phenomena today – (1) A carriage and pair, and (2) two ladies (Belgian) in black, going to Church.
Have just been reading about the sector taken over from the French, where there are towns still inhabited, hills and woods and all sorts of attractions. Am indulging in a long thin cigar and small bottle of “Bass” to celebrate the half-holiday. The personnel of this battery has altered tremendously since I joined it; men are always going out and coming in. Some striking signals went up from the front lines tonight. Strings of bright lights shooing into the sky in luminous arcs and curves. Don’t know what they portend.
I wonder if you realise what an immense business it is to keep the roads here – there must be many thousands of men and many hundreds of steam rollers etc. constantly at work. Or imagine the amount of fodder, harnesses and general attention needed by hundreds of batteries, A.S.C. mounted troops etc. Even a mule by the time it is got here is valued at about £75 and (we are told) as three times the monetary value of a man. The innumerable railways and countless motor vehicles must present an even greater problem of upkeep. The whole thing is gigantic. A laughter episode has interrupted me. The curly boy, who spent the earliest part of the evening tossing other sporting gentry for their rum issue and winning was telling a humorous story and going into such convulsions of laughter that his listeners took it up con amore and ad nauseam. This threw him into hysterics. They only calmed down when he was actually sick.
[Image: Mule-drawn column of the Royal Artillery passing through Poperinghe towards the front, 22 February 1918, IWM (Q 10271)]
Detailed to take Rocinante away to the sick lines, the Sergeant Major declaring that it gave him gut-ache whenever he looked at him. He lumbered along in complete indifference to his fate.
Out first thing this morning to get some mangy-looking horse clipped. Whilst waiting our turn we went in and got coffee from the inhabitants. There were a couple of bright young girls of about 15 or 16 who spoke Flemish, French and English, the last quite well. They had learnt it from the soldiers during the war. They used bad English swears with innocent faces, no knowing the meaning. Madam was cheerfully chopping up leeks, not washed, on a very dirty table. One of the horses I took was a Rocinante, even prior to his shave, but afterwards he was the limit. He has a lop ear, flat clumping feet and is lame in one leg; add to this that you could hang your hat on any of his corners, wallowing along beside me like an unseaworthy ship. The one I rode was a sturdy, determined-looking, half-draught, who just plugged along huge-hoofed and purposeful, loudly grinding his teeth. Found later to my astonishment that “he” was a mare. Got back and had an immense feed of spuds flavoured with a bit of skin someone had put among ‘em to look like meat. Topped off with rum issue and now feel quite comfortable. (There drat me if I haven’t singed my socks again).
My mules continue to act with eccentricity. Yesterday I mended a hole in their stable floor with two loads of bricks, which I packed down nice and firm, and then went away for a few moments with a feeling of satisfaction. The moment my back was turned they fell to, like a pair of dogs at a rabbit burrow, and scuttled out the whole result of my labours in a few seconds. The madder one gets hung up every night with one hind leg on each side of the dividing rope. This is high up, about level with his shoulder, but he takes high-angle pot-shots at his new enemy on the other side and eventually kicks right over and so gets hung up. His old enemy is still in hospital. In my absence today W. intrepidly attempted to put his cover on, with spectacular results.
[Image – Veterinary Surgeon examining a mule at No 4 Base Remount Depot in Boulogne, 15 February 1918, IWM Q 8531]
6 p.m. Whenever there is clear weather, like today, aerial and other activity revives. Up go more balloons. Fritz takes pot shots at them, aeroplanes buzz about, Archies bark, and the guns spark up. Last night I could hear the machine guns rattling and see the big star-shells, or S.O.S. signals flaming in the sky along the line. Dawn broke in a gentle pink deluge directly behind the front itself and it was indeed difficult to believe that this gigantic madness was going on in its midst. You must understand there are no country lanes here – there may have been at one time, but now everything is militarised – metalled roads with ditches of mud on each side and the land between them thick with camps, stables, etc. all dreadfully ugly.
[Image – Two observer officers in the basket of a kite balloon. Note the telephones, map rest, parachute and parachute harness. Photograph taken in Gosnay, 2 May 1918. IWM (Q 12028)]