Trying to use those crayons. I have done one little daub (or rub, or smidge, whichever is the word appropriate to chalk offensives) and am in the middle of a second.
Have lately been and felt gay almost to hilarity – don’t know the cause, other than good health and the approach of spring. I even made a bad pun this morning before dawn while Jock and I were harnessing in semi-darkness – he got quite annoyed.
Great shells, coming from so far back that we could not distinguish the reports of the guns they came from, kept roaring overhead in salvos, sounding like railway trains. There was, to me, the novel sight of many blue, bright and wonderfully swift swallows, swooping and skimming above in every direction. Their wings and backs are a sleep electric blue, the under body from the wing-joints white, their long neatly-forked tails streaming behind. They are the smartest birds I know.
My mules are now a pair of madcaps – the supercilious Rangatira and the “scatty” mule who dances a fandango all the time I’m grooming her – neither of them inclined to make chums either of me or each other.
Have just received from Jock’s hands a ‘dixie’ of tinned fruit and custard – we have also in reserve five or six eggs ready boiled.
[Image: Sketch of “Donks” in crayon by Lincoln Lee, c1918]
We met with “outlaw” mules, which have either escaped or, more likely been surreptitiously released by their exasperated muleteers. These roam unmolested by harness and humans, finding luxury in the young oat crops and clover patches, but when we troop by their gregarious instincts revive and they come trotting alongside and accompany us to water. One, striped, obviously part Zebra, and quite unmanageable. Here and there are colossal cherry trees in blossom. The Froggys are funny about their water. Every day there are “rumpuses”. “Darby” white with rage and clenching his toothless jaws, a large stone clutched in his hand, threatened to bombard a Tommy caught in the act of “pinching” a bucket of liquid putrescence, from the stinking pond near their dung hill. Tommy beat a retreat. A woman was this morning making fuss over a notice being stuck in her field. When the battery, subject of the notice, appears on the scene she will probably get St. Vitus’ Dance. Her main blast was against a soldier squatting on a temporary latrine. He sat on, looking her stolidly in the eye. It was a treat on the other hand, to see something of the French troops, smart and efficient-looking.
[Image: Mules tethered in the abandoned trenches of the Hindenburg Line near Bellenglise, 4 October 1918. IWM (Q 9610)]
Spent most of the morning burying my mule. Salved a lot of material with which we are making the bivvy quite palatial. The episode of the Maori Officer – We saw him posed in Napoleonic attitude, sternly contemplating a tangled heap of wire. He managed to maintain this attitude, regardant, until about half our cavalcade had passed, then gave in, pulled off his tin lid and staggered away, a very inebriated and muddy-backed Maori Officer. The N.C.O. who caught me when I capsized that wagon some months back was killed last night, poor chap, and buried this morning. Even in ugly things like making a noise man cannot compete with nature, the loudest battery is not so appalling as a peal of thunder.
Carting lumber from a battered brewery in Mailly-Maillet. The place is deserted save for soldiers. A fine church has received some hard knocks, and most of the buildings bear signs of bombardment. Today W. has left us to go to the O.T.C. in England.
My wounded mule is developing tetanus and must be shot. I just now went to say good-bye to him but he gave me such a piteous glance that I had to beat a hurried retreat. The murder of animals is one of the war’s worst features; a chance shell this afternoon killed and wounded about 20 horses not far from us.
Received from sister Myrtle a small parcel containing crayons and a little block.
[Image: Entrance of the church at Mailly-Maillet, showing brushwood protection on stained glass windows, 29 April 1918. IWM (Q 60811)]
[Image: British troops passing by the church at Mailly-Maillet, 23 August 1918. IWM (Q 60809)]
In his 23 April 1918 entry just published, Lincoln Lee reflects on how diary-writing serves as a kind of consolation or comfort in a time of great distress: “A man has in a way gained something when merely to be dry has become a luxury. All is a matter of comparison, after all, and the fellows who find respite in cognac or “two up” are attending the same end as the superior individual who seeks solace in Shelley and keeping a crazy diary.”
To depart from the diary format of this blog, the photograph below is held by Lincoln’s descendants, and shows him either writing or sketching, with a grassy bank behind him and a cigarette in his mouth. The photograph is not dated and digital restoration work has been done on it by Pixelfix. Lincoln’s uniform appears well pressed, so it is possible it was taken while he was in England in 1917, before deployment to the front. It seemed appropriate to post it here.
My songster has been performing and continuing throughout the forenoon, but somehow the glare of day distracts from his charm. He hadn’t sufficient reserve – not like our native wren who gives you just enough to make you long for more.
A shell whistles overhead every little while and crashes into some ill-starred village, but even the old French peasants have abandoned interest in such occurrences. The peasant women are very sturdy and a soldier who carried a refugee woman’s bundle for a mile or so, said that he was glad to put it down and resume his pack and rifle. Fritz is now potshotting at a balloon, failing to hit either it or to silence the skylark now making melody above me.
8 p.m. The distant fire of large guns is very like the sound of an empty iron tank being beaten or rolled over a hard surface; that of the shells that burst in our terrain, like deep coughing of consumptive leviathans. A man has in a way gained something when merely to be dry has become a luxury. All is a matter of comparison, after all, and the fellows who find respite in cognac or “two up” are attending the same end as the superior individual who seeks solace in Shelley and keeping a crazy diary.
A few days ago my wrist watch stopped. Yesterday I was preparing to pack it up when – it went. The poor brute is obviously dirty and I can’t get it cleaned. He’s too small to groom.
[Image: A party of New Zealand soldiers gathers salvaged shellcases and loads them for transport to the bases at the rear of the lines. Photograph taken Bus-les-Artois 20 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013140-G]
Heavy bombardment by our guns commenced in the small hours – an inferno of sound continued till daylight. Grazing is now confined to roadsides, as the Froggies make such a to do over using their fields; in fact it is a common sight to see irate old women in full chase after trespassers. One still occasionally meets with refugee families on the highways, or loading some vehicle with their most treasured belongings.
6.30. p.m. The gamblers are again hard at it – “Come on me lucky punters. If you don’t speculate you can never hope to accumulate. I bar no bet in the way of fair play. You pick and I’ll play. Die, Hook, Heart and Spade. The old man spits blood. Paid here. Paid there. And away to war we go again.” That is extracted from the Crown and Anchor King – the lingo of the Two-uppers is too mystic for my comprehension – “I bet a frank ‘e micks ‘em”.
A bird sang before dawn, his note the purest crystalline tinkling; a peal of about four notes, rapidly repeated. A well-informed European would be able to tell me the name of all these birds, trees and flowers. And they are all, no doubt, as familiar by name and repute as the denizens of the ‘Bush’.
The fields are thick with game, such as partridges, and hares, and, as one chap suggested, this abundance is doubtless attributable to the fact that for the past three years the French have had something more exciting than game-shooting to attend to.
Given an alarm turn-out and much pleased the O.C. by harnessing and hooking in with all our paraphernalia in 10 ½ minutes, the prescribed time being 15. The guns have been thudding along the battle front all day and at one time Fritz poured a hail of shells into a distant village, apparently setting it on fire. The indications are that he is well held up.
My ears are belaboured by a hideous babel. Having just received their pay, the speculators are making haste by medium of “two up” and “crown and anchor” to exemplify the adage “A fool and his money are soon parted”.
My day at home; grazing graminivores. A harrowing sight in front of our doorway is a horse dying of tetanus, or lockjaw. He makes desperate attempts to eat, but cannot unclasp his teeth, through which a frothy slime oozes. Every now and then he falls down with weakness, then struggles again to his feet. Our fire is burning merrily and boiling two tins of steam pudding which we have jointly purchased for supper.
9. p.m. A bit of good news was the crack of the revolver that put the lock-jawed horse into the happy hunting ground where he is now, unharnessed, a rampant stallion bounding over the Elysian Plain, rolling topsy turvy on the Celestial Sand Hills, and splashing through translucent streams.
Orders were to take the gun to Ordnance, about 10 miles back near Doullens. The country we traversed was very pretty, sprinkled with villages and hamlets. We wound through a great wood, the floor of which and the road-sides were chequered with wild violets, cowslips, thyme, and snowdrops. The trees are just burgeoning with a glow of dull bronze colour, their straight stems are freckled with green and silver. Going through this I sang “Under the Greenwood Tree”. In the villages were plenty of women and girls, neatly dressed and comely; soldiers, French and English, old folk and children and every one of them at work. Quaint old houses, pretty grey stone churches, all with their background of trees traced against the sky. I hummed “The Two Grenadiers” and it almost made me shed tears to think how many of such peaceful places have been or are being devastated. The greatest charm of the villages is their approaches. As the roads wind toward them, embowered in protecting trees, with their small but predominant church-spires they make an appeal as much to the heart as to the eye. The people seem fond of trellised trees, lopped to a fair height, boughs and branches cunningly interwoven on one plane, as a tree is trained to a wall. Crucifixes often enclosed by such trees are placed at the approach to each village.
Every available building under British occupation is numbered and has a notice announcing its billeting capacity. The streets also are often given English names, which look very incongruous, as you can imagine. – “Leicester Square” for instance, in a humble Frankish hamlet.
[Image: British troops in the Rue de l’Eglise (Church Street) at Mailly-Maillet, 20 April 1918. IWM (Q 61329)]