26th February to 2nd March (1918)

A beautiful, bright, and breezy day.  After getting acclimatised, one imagines that on a day like this the temperature is as high as it would be at this season in N.Z.  The way to disprove this is, as I have just experienced, to eat half a can (or tin) of tinned (or canned) peaches – they freeze your gizzard.  Prolonged ululations, intended to represent the air of “Annie Laurie” are emanating from boozed tommies in the adjacent canteen.  Big wet clouds which emit an occasional dash of hail or rain.  Fritz threw a few shells about last night; they went squealing overhead and landed a mile away.  One young fellow got over twenty letters.  He read them in less time than I did my half dozen and burnt them forthwith.  I was amazed.  I value my letters and read them several times as they are a connecting link with that un-warlike world to which I would return.

Congenial job, digging drain through the slush round the cookhouse.

Monday, 25th February (1918)

Amongst our mules is one gigantic affair about 6 ft. high (actually about 17 hands) who goes by the name of “the Poet”.  As he is given to kicking I take it that his vein is satire.  “Brigham” returned tonight to go on leave, hurling his tin hat on the floor by way of greeting.  Who should also turn up but R. [Roche] down from the guns at last.  He looks well enough though he has had a disgusting time, some of the details of his experience nearly making me sick – living for weeks in a dug-out into which various portions of long-dead Huns protruded.

More ‘buckshee’ parcels today.  We were lined up like a lot of kids at a bazaar round the Corporal’s bunk receiving handfuls of this, that and the other.  One group had a huge sack of heterogeneous rubbish, sweets, chocolates, pills, tobacco, chewing gum, soup, coca and whatnot and after a long and noisy effort to effect a partition they ended by each filling his hat and pockets and abandoning the balance.

R’s feet are still a fertile field of humour.  His Major (now killed) went to no trouble to get him a large enough pair of jack-boots when his others wore out; eventually returning with a huge pair and the remark “Well, R. you have most extraordinary feet.”

An amusing incident of today, a civilian cab laden with Tommy officers.  We rushed out and yelled “cab sir, cab sir”, to the huge delight of the two drivers on the box, but to the consternation of the officers, who looked at one another dubiously and cast stern glances in our direction.

23rd (February 1918)

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.

20th February (1918)

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.

IWM Q 10271 Mule-drawn artillery column passing through Poperinghe

[Image:   Mule-drawn column of the Royal Artillery passing through Poperinghe towards the front, 22 February 1918, IWM (Q 10271)]


18th (February 1918)

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).