Before 6 a.m. we were breakfasted and away. Fritz was shelling and shelling hard and certain corners in the route we took were more than lively. I can’t describe what it is like to be under fire, but it isn’t nice. A couple of our animals were slightly injured by the fragments which came whistling and whining as with evil intent. You hear the shells come down with a sort of screaming rush, thud into the soggy fields and there burst with a vicious and metallic Screech. A geyser of black smoke and mud is vomited into the air, tree-shaped, and the green earth is rent with an ugly ragged hole, charred and blackened at the verge. That is H.E. Shrapnel on the other hand burs over-head with a sharp crack, a puff of white smoke and a whistling hail of bullets that rip up the wet surface as herrings rip up the surface of calm water. Gas lobs with a dull pop; making a small hole whence issues its vile vapour. An infernal smell of phosphorus, apparently a component of the explosive, greeted us in one place where some shells had just burst, and hung about for almost an hour, for we passed and repassed it several times carting many loads through heavy muck and giving our poor mules the hardest day’s work they’ve had for six months. It is grim to see the country gradually being devastated and the buildings in the villages showing signs of bombardment, trees just coming into bud or bloom blasted and torn, more and more dead and mutilated animals strewing the fields and roadsides and the fields themselves being cut to pieces by the heavy wheels and deep hoof-marks of cross-country traffic. ‘Cest la Guerre! Damn it!’ I have caught and thrown from man to man, hundreds of 35 lb shells and their charges, and my hands are getting like a navvy’s. A ludicrous element amid all this mess is an everywhere recurring advertisement on iron gates – ‘Druon Lagniez’ is no doubt out of business. The whole day has been misty. One could only see a few hundred yards and objects came looming out of the haze in a mysterious fashion, the canopy of fog blocking out the unessentials of their composition, leaving a church spire suspended here and a red tiled roof gleaming there, and, as it were, grouping them. Another phenomenon was the appearance of the numerous teams; each being surrounded by a cloud of steam from the hot bodies of the animals. Near by the luckiest old Darby and Joan live. We see them pottering about together, feeding their pigs or calves, or tapirs for ought I know; as the animals dwell in their dingy recesses and never make themselves either seen or heard. One of their fowls, however, was not so retiring, and made flagrant attempts to steal my tucker.
Warwick (now a gunner) is up with the guns in the thick of the slather. I caught sight of his old dial bristling with ginger whiskers as I drove past.
We all smoke innumerable cigarettes. The infernal things are so handy, especially when you are driving and can’t fumble about with loose tobacco; light the next one from the butt of the last.
[Image: Battle of Estaires. German shell bursting in distance. A British 18pdr battery in the open in the background, near Bethune, 10th April 1918. IWM (Q 10877). Note Bethune is not in the sector the NZ Division was deployed, but the image nevertheless captures what Lincoln describes about the ‘tree-shaped’ plume from shell-fire, and was photographed the day after this diary entry.]