Standing by is one of the most beautiful trees imaginable – a laburnum grown into an immense forest tree and covered with bloom. The birds are performing a concerto, a dozen different chirpers keeping up a constant undercurrent of orchestration. I am sitting in the field outside the Chateau, my sole companion an old brown cow who stands thoughtfully ruminating and wondering why foolish mortals make rumbling noises over there in the distance. (Adjournment to take a pill).
The Tommies, these Lancashire lads at least, are decidedly a musical lot and usually possess light and pleasant voices. Opposite me is the queerest little specimen. He has a face like an American Indian, with a couple of tomb-stone molars protruding from its oral aperture. His ambition is to be put on chicken diet, but he has taken comfort at present in a couple of nauseating cigars which I gave him, having bought 3 on spec and hurled away the first after a couple of whiffs. As I look up casually, through an opening in the great trees, just over the top of a richly-apparelled copper beech I espy my old friend the captive balloon with its mule-like face turned in my direction – a silent and reproachful reminder of my forgotten charges. Who is now grooming Rangatira and Scatty?
This chateau appears to have been the home of a General. Most of the furnishings have been removed, but there are old suits of armour, guns and rapiers, hung in the hall and in this room are a number of huge volumes of etchings of battles, sieges, etc. In the next room I can see a number of oil paintings, portraits and landscapes and in the centre is suspended a huge glass candelabra. The walls are plaster, tinted, and the ceilings high and plain. The building itself is of square blocks of fairly soft light-grey stone. It is very well lighted with huge casement windows, all provided with shutters.
Explored the grounds of the village church typical of this district and have used my last bit of drawing paper doing a rough sketch of it for your edification. Contemplated the graves of a number of “soldats”, “morts pour la patrie”, bedecked with tin rosettes of the tricolour. An old hag of wicked appearance prowls about the grounds, as though looking for the ghosts of her youthful victims, and picks quarrels with all and sundry.
The gentry appear to sport tombs or mausoleums as in other countries and the memorials recede in grandeur down to the proverbial “nameless grave.” The favourite legends for grave-stones are “de profundis” and “regrets eternelles”, our “R.I.P.” appearing only occasionally. As in Belgium, iron crosses are very common (not the German article).
In the evening we were entertained by an excellent divisional band. They played music both classical and frivolous and played it well. J. joined me and we made another tour of the churchyard, where we ran across an old chap who knew all about it and what with his broken English and our broken French we learnt that the church dated from 1740 and various points of interest concerning the local celebrities.
Informed that I was transferred to another ward in the Chateau, to find they had no diet for me. Befriended the staff and got a feed of spuds, gravy and rice custard. After that got my gear and was again proceeding to the Chateau when sent back again with orders to transfer there again. So “I don’t know where I are” (In announcing at a village concert the comic song “He don’t know where he are” the local parson put it – “Mr. … will now sing “He does not know where he is”).
Here I am at the Chateau, sitting under a tree, listening to the birds singing, to the village church bell ringing good Catholics to mass, and awaiting the inspecting officer – I take a fiendish delight in placing military considerations last.
Did a drawing of the Chateau, thinking it would interest you as giving an idea of the type of building.
Have also written to sister Myrtle appraising her of my recent adventures in thunder-land. The orderly called me to go and get my medicine and I went off with visions of some flowing libation effervescing in a crystal goblet, but was handed instead the most insignificant little white pill.
[It is possible Lincoln was referring to this building as the ‘Chateau’. Image: A general view of the New Zealand Divisional Headquarters in Louvencourt, France for part of 1918, World War I. Shows a large country house at the end of a curving drive. Photograph taken 30 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013723-G]
No reveille and breakfast in bed! This will “do” me. Having my little Shelly with me I have just re-read “that radiant fantasy The Witch of Atlas.”
They have put me on a milk diet which I’ve contrived to augment by a slice of bread and butter. After tea strolled around to J’s quarters and spent about an hour with him. Some subterranean tunnels have one of their openings near by. J took me down a flight of steps about 100 ft. and we walked a little distance along them lighting our way with candles. They have apparently existed for hundreds of years and have bewildering ramifications all over (or rather under) the village and have lately been explored for military purposes. No one seems to know what they were made for, unless for refugees in time of invasion.
“Your humble” finds himself in another place and in another capacity. The complaint from which I have been suffering for the past week still continuing, the medical humourist packed me off to a rest-hospital in the next village. After protracted delays, I found myself here in a large room which appears to have been a school, its walls being still embellished with 2 maps of the world (“Mappemonde”), a long rigmarole in easy French headed “Declaration des droits de l’homme et du Citoyen”, and a chart showing in lurid lines the effect of alcohol on the internal organs, intituled “L’alcool, viola l’ennemi.”
Here I lie with 20 other convalescent-looking soldiers, awaiting the result of a third dose of castor oil and chlorodyne* during the past few days.
* An pain-relieving medicine with a minty taste; active ingredients of opium, cannabis and chloroform.
[Image: A general view of a New Zealand Field Ambulance at Louvencourt, France in World War I. Several soldiers are standing around the entrance of the large brick building. A small Red Cross and a Union Jack hang by the door. A group of soldiers is walking past. An ambulance is parked in the background. Photograph taken 22 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013718-G]
Spent all last evening digging the floor of the bivvy down and making a small earth ramp round the outside to comply with orders. The most you can do is to make yourself safe from splinters whilst sleeping.
The noise of hundreds of shells bursting heard from two or three miles away, is a most peculiar and sinister one. It’s rhythm keeps varying; it has a crumbling, chattering, gibbering, crunch, crunch, mumble, mumble, effect, that I can only describe as wicked. We have orders now to dig in and make our bivvies bomb-splinter proof.
Went to the mad “quack” today to get some pills; he really is most amusing and sometimes quite witty – whatever you say he contrives to trip you up.
Made myself a fantastic preparation of milk custard for lunch, burning my fingers and capsizing half of the curdled-looking result. I buy milk from “Joan”; our conversation is always the same – “Bon Jour Madame – du lait?” “Oui M’sieur” and off she toddles down a flight of steps into the cool bowels of the earth – whilst Darby blinks rheumy-eyed by the fire. She reappears with a basin, fills a small jug and says “voila”. I take it, and hand her a quarter sous (2d.) – “Merci Madam” – “Merci M’sieur” – “B’jour”, “B’jour”.
We won the contest and the teams go to the ‘show-grounds’ tomorrow, but I’m not going with them, being a bit off colour. My indisposition is of a kind that makes it awkward to be on parade.
[What Lincoln might have missed out the next day, had he visited the ‘show-grounds’, rather than been indisposed by dysentery. Image: A general view looking over the audience towards the army entertainment troupe the Kiwis and their accompanying orchestra who are playing for New Zealand troops in an evening performance. Photograph taken Louvencourt 3 June 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Ref: 1/2-013242-G]