I had just snuggled down congratulating myself that I had won the toss for picquet, when whiz-z-z Bang! Plump! came seven or eight shells right down into the other side of the embankment. We hopped over the bank. Our team at the end seemed to have got it the worst, one animal being stone dead and ‘blug’ all over the shop. Had the rest off the lines and away up the sunken road in no time. Soon after Fritz gave the place another slather. Among the casualties my small mousey donk has some nasty flesh wounds and is pretty sick. My mad one has a scratch but disdains to take notice of it. The picquet’s escape was miraculous as he was amongst the mules at the time. The shell holes are placed almost in a line where we were bivouacked. Jerry must have been exceptionally clever to observe us in such dull weather and so soon. A driver has gone back to the wagon lines leading his own surviving and wounded donk and my poor little chap, who is peppered all over. My darkie, (I think I’ll call him The Maori Chief, or Rangatira as you can’t touch his head, which is tapu) had a most extravagant roll in the mud, succeeding in getting it even on his ears and neck, and then let out with both hind feet when I approached to groom him.
An avenue of tall trees runs right through the wood from side to side, a vista or colonnade of trunks with an arch of light at each end. Tall yellow cowslips are cropping up among the grass and I saw the leaves of wild mignonette. Its outskirts are encircled by very gnarled old pollard trees, the branches being chopped and tied in large faggots.
If I leave off at the bottom of this page it will have the effect of the chapter in a cheap novel finishing at an exciting juncture. The Hero – a full blown lead driver in a battery of field artillery, having been shelled out of one position retires to another. The burning question is – will one “Jerry” or “Fritz” let him enjoy so much as a night’s rest as the inhuman practice of “Standing to” at 4 a.m. permits him? The Heroine, waiting breathlessly some 12,000 miles away claps her binoculars to her yearning eyes and finds (alas!) that the bulge in the surface of the terrestrial ball baffles her vision.
Several of us went back to bring up cookhouse gear. We found the cook (a fearful looking geyser with a liberal sprouting of blue-black whiskers) squatting among the remnants of his hovel as drunk as an owl. (our rum) He informed us that he was “waiting for shells”, vituperated us in the vilest terms; said he had been “keeping the Tommies off with an axe”, and had demonstrated to them certain woodsman’s cuts – to which a huge gash in a piece of timber testified. Later he appeared in the distance staggering hatless towards us, draped with all sorts of litter and rubbish salvaged from his wreck. Later still, whilst he was attempting to make the tea a few of our planes came scouting round close to the ground – whereat he went berserk, demanding a rifle and cursing us for our indifference. The Sergeant-Major did not report him; a stern man with a kind heart.
[Image: Bandaging the leg of a wounded mule at No. 23 Veterinary Hospital, St. Omer, 16 April 1918. IWM (Q 10907)]
[Image: Surgeon of the Army Veterinary Corps removing shrapnel from a wounded horse at No. 23 Veterinary Corps Hospital. St. Omer, 16 April 1918. Note the means of chains used to keep the horse still. IWM (Q 11025)]
[Image: A howitzer positioned to support New Zealand troops in their section of the Front in Bus-les-Artois on the Somme during World War I. Also shows the gun crew in place. Photograph taken 16 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013157-G]