PART IV: To the Somme, Thursday, 28th March 1918

Writing this in a rather dank, leafless and blossomless orchard, where the Hun is making his great attack.  This is the first moment I’ve had since leaving our old camp early Tuesday morning, having had a rough and almost sleepless time since.  Well, we moved out and did a track of about 5 or 6 miles down past the little hills with the windmills; eventually entraining – a battery is given 4 hours to entrain, we did it in under two – a very strenuous affair – and started off about 2 p.m.  We passed through some pretty and interesting country, with farmhouses, trees, chateau etc.  After dark the train got up a higher speed, which it kept till about 4 a.m. and we must have travelled 100 miles and more, and managed a good sleep on iron floors of cattle trucks.  We then found ourselves at a small town (Hangest) in the Somme.  After dragging out our disconsolate donks and harnessing them under all sorts of difficulties we started on a very long trek.

9.p.m.  Since writing the above I’ve been going like a scalded cat.  But to resume: – The trek took all day to long after dark – luckily there’s a full moon – taking through some 20 to 30 miles of very interesting country, several towns including Amiens, and innumerable villages.  One simply froze sitting in the saddle all day, hordes of wretched folk turned out of their homes before the man of war, mostly aged men, women, and children, either carried in bundles, or trundling on wheel-barrows the most treasured of their lares and penates.

The country between the towns and villages, the latter being never more than a mile or so apart, is rolling and highly cultivated, giving the appearance of a patchwork quilt, almost entirely without fences, or hedges.  We eventually ——– (have to get out of bed and go for ammunition – wet and dark!) ———

We eventually (as I said) got into the region of war with guns cracking around us and shells falling here and there.  But what a contrast to the other battle area!  This is open country, fairly well wooded and dotted over with almost intact villages and towns.  How long they will present this appearance I couldn’t say, but here open warfare is being waged.  We bivouacked last night in the open.  Slept on a hay bale, too short, feet projecting.  Up before day-break and after a hasty meal (meals are very hasty and far between) pushed on several miles further to where we now are, in the battle zone.  Our guns are about a mile away – out in the open – and most of today I have been driving to and from them with shells and more shells.  The whole thing is more exciting, more interesting and more strenuous.  There are batteries, big guns, quite near us now, kicking up a fearsome noise, yet one manages to get a bit of sleep.

nzlimage 1-2 013074-G soldiers firing shells near Mailly-Maillet, 1 April 1918

[Image: Soldiers firing shells near Mailly-Maillet, France, 1 April, 1918. Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders. National Library, New Zealand, 1/2-013074-G]

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