Late last night our guns opened out all over the district and apparently so annoyed Fritz that one of his planes came over this way and dropped a bomb near our horse lines. On arising we were treated to a view of much blood, innards, and several unwieldy corpses which kept the burial party busy most of the day.
My mad mare got a small piece in the shoulder and will be hors (or mule) de combat for some time. The force of the bomb was amazing, making but a little dent in the ground, but radiating with wonderful regularity, turning up the grass in strips like the spokes of a large wheel around the hub of impact.
One little scene amused me – a French woman squatting down milking cows, surrounded by a bevy of expectant Tommies, each with a mess-tin in hand offering advice and encouragement.
I note that you require elucidation of the manure mystery. Well, you “compree”, if it were not removed the horselines or stables would shortly assume Augean characteristics. Here we make huge pyramids of it around the lines, or anywhere handy, and cover them over with sods and earth to discourage the aroma. They are sprouting oats and grass now and the other night when Jock was on picquet I found him perched on top of the highest pyramid, like Ramesses II, reading a book.
One boy* is quite an institution in camp. He has a loud infectious laugh which rings out at unexpected moments, whereat half the camp take it up in good-humoured banter and he, no whit abashed, laughs all the louder. Adjournment to watch a mad aeronaut playing tricks around a descending balloon, turning over and over in sheer abandon. Talking of balloons, dozens of propaganda balloons have been sent over today, some bright blue and some pale blue, looking very pretty in the sunshine.
*(Johnnie Johnston: killed by a stray bullet a few days before the Armistice.)
Been up since 3.30 a.m., an extremely heavy fog loading all the leafage with moisture which falls in sheets with every motion of air.
Released animals in paddock as before, whereat they rolled – spontaneously and collectively – in rotund tupsy-turvy-dom rolls; some rolled with such relish that they first sprang into the air, landing obliquely on their necks and flanks, the better to grind in the grime. The Jenny wren I first noticed has brought a large brood out in a hole in one of the trees overhanging our bivvy. Their little wings buzz like those of a beetle.
Saw Warwick today. Lucky dog! He has passed his preliminary exam and goes to England in a few weeks to an O.T.C.
Some of our infantry were manoeuvring and sending up smoke bombs which emit sprays of fire as the smoke column ascends. Saw them practice with a charge with much vim and a mighty yell.
Some drunks the other night were entertaining. Their pleasantries took the form of heaving spadefuls of loose earth over one another and uprooting fruit trees. They appeared to quite enjoy the earth baths, standing ecstatically under the descending showers, whilst one reclining on a bank, submitted to partial interment.
4.p.m. Out on picquet; the sun setting like a blood orange and the sky a cataract of luminous cloud-puffs. Having competed unsuccessfully with Driver Jones in a hop, skip and jump, I’m off to bunk.
[Image: New Zealand troops practising for an attack during World War I. Shows soldiers advancing in a line over flat fields near Bus-les-Artois, France. Photograph taken 11 May 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013197-G]
Light-golden cloud-piles towering into an almost turquoise-blue sky. Large droves of our planes flying at a great height and resembling in appearance and orderly formation flights of wild-swan. Cornflowers and patches of red clover, picturesque groups of peasant women and old women bending over their work as they, in the words of Stephen Phillips, “curiously inspect their lasting home”. The women often dress in blue prints and always wear aprons. They are longer limbed and more graceful than the typical English countrywoman.
Amusing to watch the gambolings of some of our animals. On finding themselves free and unfettered, they commenced prancing, “gallumphing”, kicking up heels, tossing crests, bumping into one another, snorting in one another’s faces and other outrageous ebullitions.
War journalism is often misleading twaddle. They have to have something to say – get no information from the military authorities. When they tell you we “enjoy the prospect of battle” don’t believe them. The only thing we would enjoy, if we got it is leisure. We want to loaf when not fighting, but discipline says “no, clean your harness and groom your mules, shave, polish your boots and buttons, tidy your bivvies, stack your clothes and gear according to diagram and if you’re good we’ll let you off from noon till 3.30.p.m. next Sunday, to write home”.
A Hun plane brought down one of our planes; pounced on him from above with a spit of flame and a puff of smoke and “finished”.
As an example of Army forms, take the document I received on leaving the rest camp (I had asked to be issued with a jack-knife, but they had none). “To the O.C. 15 Bty. N.Z.F.A. This is to certify that (my name, rank, etc. in extensor) has this day been discharged etc. On examination of his kit he was found to be deficient in one clasp knife (mounted) and has in accordance with army order No. … been issued with … Nil.”
Back at Bus-les-Artois to the same old round of duties and the same old donks – if this were a novel the latter would have scented me in the distance and whinnied their welcome – in hard fact they remained perfectly indifferent and for my part I hardly recognised them owing to the growth of their coats. The crops have also grown wonderfully in so short a space, some fields of scarlet clover are a brilliants blazes of colour; and poppies make vivid patches in the green. I see quite a number of new faces in the battery, showing how rapidly personnel changes in a unit. It is curious to see that as soon as I got back here I heard the cuckoo’s call, yet never heard a single one at the hospital. Perhaps the wood there is not large enough to support one – they have, I believe, a reputation for greed and intrusiveness. (The warning trumpet puts an abrupt end to these startling disclosures).
Last day at Chateau – huge white clouds on a pure cobalt – birds practising solos and duets – trees sunning themselves in silent attention. The drone of aircraft is audible everywhere and they and a random gun alone remind one of the continuance of hostilities. It is a good day on which to stop the war, and I’m wondering how I can manage it, other than by crossing the lines and demanding a personal interview with the Kaiser.
One meets with a variety of men in an establishment such as this: N.Zers, little Lancashires from the cotton mills and factories; burly Cumberlanders with a brogue like a wire entanglement; tall, superior, moustachioed Life Guardsmen, now despoiled of their gorgeous peacetime paraphernalia and acting as infantry, whilst retaining something of the “swank” of a crack regiment. The class distinctions are very much more marked in the British Army. The officers are more stand-offish. There is something about their rounded highly-cultivated voices and apparent absence of all emotion that I cannot quite stomach; hang it all! a man ought to be human, even if it does occasionally cause him to make an ass of himself.
The Tommy is completely under discipline – he stands before his superior officer, with the air of an inferior before a superior, a humiliating sight to those who have dreams of the equality of man. They gape in amazement at the comparative freedom of our fellows in the awful presence of Authority. Is England a Democracy?
(Adjournment for pills has broken this masterly train of thought.)
There is a N.Z. born Irishman (None other than the redoubtable Rowley who afterwards came into a barren title and distinguished himself in the divorce courts) here who puts me in mind of Whistler. He is small, perky and irrepressible; holds the floor wherever he goes and somehow or other manages to rule the roost and get his own way. He is prime mover in a bridge-party whose session commences after breakfast and continues until dark. They sit in a circle under an apple tree, the Irrepressible conducting them as one conducts a band. As I have just been handed a mystic tin clipping which entitles me to a meal I shall quit babbling awhile and eat.