Got a chap to cut my wig and feeling light-headed. The gramophone has departed and not too soon – even Kathleen Mavoureen (sung by a woman) palls after frequent repetitions. I now fully believe that we are going to move out soon for the simple reason that they are now protecting the huts with earth ramparts and going on with the roofs of the stables, which by a now familiar military anomaly, are sure indications that we are soon to leave the quarters thus completed.
My touchy mule has gone clean berserk. Before they removed the frost nails, he kicked a large piece of steak out of the rump of the nearest horse, it is now in the sick lines; and today he has lamed my other donk whose knee is swelling visibly. I’m hanged if I know what to do with him. Has also returned to his nipping practices and eliminated small bits of skin from the necks of his neighbours.
Up at 4.30. to the guns on a waggon loaded with bursters (concrete slabs to protect dugouts from detonating shells on the outside) which, as our vehicle had no tail board, kept sliding off the back and me hopping up and down salvaging them and knocking skin off. The Abomination of Desolation and the ruined town looked particularly dismal today and decomposing horses in lurid-looking pools aren’t attractive. Well – the mud on my strides has dried nice and crisp; got the damp sox hanging over the candle and washed feet in water already used by half a dozen others.
In the waning light the result of military operations was scarce noticeable. The fine spell had brought the grass on and one could feel almost like a peacetime traveller. A stream that is a very glum affair by day, was catching the last of the light, the clumps of scraggy trees concealed their war-gashes and the hideous holes in the building went un-noticed in dark silhouettes against the tinted sky. We have had with us lately the sort of man I like and can get on with – a middle-aged ex-navy man, with a dark moustached visage and keen glittering eyes. His language and outlook generally are quite astounding. Once, when limber gunner, he deprived undetected all the neighbour tommy batteries of their gear. He is “Brigham” Young.
We have the gramophone in our hut tonight, under the superintendence of the Villian, whose redeeming point is his fondness for music. He has been very lively during the past few days, but the dulcet sounds have soothed the savage breast.
Pay day. Plenty of paper currency of the Republic of France flying about. Our tucker has been very good of late; ham and mashed spud for dinner today. Our new canteen right on a busy road is flourishing. Now we are able to get baths and changes so often we are hardly worried with “passengers”. There is a phonograph going in the next hut – somehow phonographs and all kinds of entertainments here strike me as incongruous.
Writing has the great advantage that the sale of your work doesn’t deprive you of it. A painter or sculptor has the chagrin of seeing his off-spring adopted by another. The Musician has a similar advantage over the artist or sculptor.
7. p.m. Colonel inspected the camp and found fault with everything, particularly the harness; harness is my bete noir; I simply can’t clean it. When I am home I am thinking of acquiring a set of army harness and hanging it up on a tree to rust and rot whilst I walk jeering below.
Did I tell you about the “hermit mule” that stood like a statute near the guns at Passchendaele? The gunners used to occasionally cadge a feed for him, perhaps one in two days, yet he hung out there for a long time, his ultimate fate being unknown to me, save that he was never hit by the shells. I heard the other day of a chap being lost in the mud up there, thrown from his horse, those who saw him being unable either to save him or find his body afterwards. Old hands have told me that having seen part of that stunt I’ve seen things at the worst they have been or are likely ever to be.
Yesterday rabbit appeared in the table d’hote, and today we had a dry hash for dinner and roley-poley pudding and sauce for tea. We have recently been given the standard war-bread and old hands say it is the first time, white bread having always been given to our troops in France.
Our animals had been re-arranged and one of mine was the last in a section of the stables, roped off with a wire rope. Putting on his cover and tying up its two straps round the body, I was making off serenely, till recalled by derisive shouts, when I found I had thrown both straps over the wire rope and strapped him to it securely so that he would have passed the night without being able to lie down, move about, or get at the hay nets. One of W’s. is fond of sweets and tries to get its nose into his pockets – the other day it bit and broke the iodine bottle in his field dressing.