26th to 31st July (1918)

Jull turned up.  He had a letter from Roche who is in hospital in England and sails for New Zealand by the next boat.

At the “Goddam Noise”.  The weather is appalling and we are all wet and mud-splattered.  Have just been looking through an old Weekly News and am surprised to find how almost unfamiliar and exotic New Zealand scenery now looks to me, and am beginning to understand how some artists do not feel inspired to paint it.  The element of human association is, no doubt, wanting.

Have I described to you the magnificent bright brown slugs one finds here on the long wet grass?  They are sonorous and quite beautiful.  I should imagine that a good hungry one could dispose of a cabbage in a couple of hours.

23rd, 24th, and 25th July (1918)

A succession of cloudbursts.  Some of the “bivvies” were filled with water and slush and their cursing occupants are now digging new ones.  The ground is churned into a frightful mash, something like one of our very worst stews.

My contribution to the day’s humour was to overbalance with a mess-tin full of soup in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.  Sketched the famed “Rosignol Farm”, the first isolated farm I have seen in the district.  Watched a shoot by some long-range heavies, flinging light amber smoke-rings up into the air.  My ear caught by a soft but ubiquitous twittering from a vast cloud of swallows, moving round and round in the sky, ever reinforced by smaller clouds and bands of stragglers.  Was I witnessing the gathering of the clans preparatory to migration?  As they circled in interwoven flight, their wings caught the light with a curious flickering effect, somewhat like sunlight on a shallow stream, or (hideous simile) the jiggering of the kinematograph.

Lincoln Lee, Unidentified Farm, crayon, 1918

[Lincoln Lee, unidentified image of farm – potentially ‘Rosignol Farm’, c1918]

Sunday, 21st July (1918)

A weird ride last night, taking the gun up again.  The nags made heavy work of hauling it across country.

The night was of the heavy melodramatic order, a wild half-moon fighting through thunderous clouds, and lighting by fits the battered village with its mutilated spectre of a church, the uncanny irregularities of this shell-torn ground (as though the earth itself was stricken with some disfiguring disease) and the tenebrous and significant apparition of that wood (Gomecourt) now but a foul jumble of blackened timber, where earlier in the war such fearful fighting took place and countless soldiers lost their lives.  It reminded me, that Wood, of the terrible story of E.A. Poe, about the dead man kept alive by mesmerism – it is dead: the events that gave it grim immortality are dead too; but the war will not let it alone, hourly tampering with the corpse.  The guns bang here and there with forlorn insistence, as though they detested their own metallic echoes and all the mess, stink and ruin they have created.

The presence of men in this Valley of Shadow, this Childe Roland’s dismal desert, this unbuilded City of Dreadful Night, is sinister – Lost Souls?  A voice calls gruffly – is gruffly answered – some one curses something – then silence.  A dim light glowers up from the nether world – one of the Hun’s old dugouts, 30 ft. deep, now used by his foe.  Those spasmodic flares, rockets, and coloured lights from the firing line, are they calls for aid, or signals of salvation?  And the shells that eternally wail, whine, and whistle overhead, out of nowhere into nowhere – solid realities, or the shrieks of expiring fiends?

20th July (1918)

Could I remember, obtaining a satisfactory substitute for his all too picturesque language, the extraordinary stories told us late last night by the little rascal who runs the “Crown and Anchor” board, anent his pre-war experiences as an undertaker’s assistant, it would rival anything in Dickens or Fielding.  I lay for hours quaking with laughter, whilst this perky pigmy, squatting on the ground, devouring tinned fish and bottled stout, told us how he, to save expense, upholstered his father’s coffin as a “porpoise” (meaning pauper’s) having failed to identify the body after 3 weeks in the Wanganui River; only to discover his missing parent a fortnight later and get drunk with him on the strength of it – accosting his begetter with – “Why you old bastard, you’re dead!” – “I buried you as a porpoise three weeks ago!”  He seems made of leather, speaks in a raucous shout and contrives to get wholly or partly inebriated every night; in fact, though funny, is an infernal nuisance, but we can do nothing with him.  Rather disturb a hornet’s nest.

Went for a bath to a quaint village (Couin) situated on a steep hill-side topped by a church, passing through superb grounds of a large chateau – cloistral vistas of trees radiating from the building to a distance of about half a mile.

 

Lincoln Lee, Couin in crayon, July 1918

[Lincoln Lee, ‘Couin’, crayon and pencil sketch, July 1918]

19th July (1918)

Yesterday morning we set forth for Ordanance with the gun, a journey of some 12 to 15 miles passing along higher country, until we reached one of the great asphalted, tree-lined highways.  This was punctuated by tall, ferro-concrete power poles, with which the French appear to have been reticulating the country, then the road took a tremendous mile-long drive into a deep, wooded valley, landing us in the picturesque little town of Pas.  From its winding streets we emerged on a long slope of 5 to 6 miles, into Doulens.  Its inhabitants had undergone a metamorphosis.  It was now alive with Americans.  They are certainly robust fellows, cut very much to a pattern and as easily recognisable as Chinamen.  We yarned to many of them and found their talk and accent entertaining enough.  The shop people are mostly still at their posts, but the rest of the civilian population seem to have fled.  There are no buildings of any magnificence, but any of these winding streets presents a jumble of grey and ancient architecture, with artistic irregularities of roof and chimney, each building built as a separate creation, of a different height and often at a different level, yet, by long association and the hand of Time, wedded, as it were, and blended into one.

We poked around and bought this, that and the other, drank some mawkish vin blanc and eventually obtained eggs and chips in a suffocating shop, where a lank-haired lantern-jawed little girl bossed us all about and chalked up and calculated the charges with remarkable expertness on the door-post.  The cooking was done in the dining room.

Another diversion was an American band, which played marches with extraordinary vim and in very quick time.  They have their own way of doing everything, even of saluting.

Back to your quarters (eights or sixteenths) as the horizon cut the ripe red sun in half and swallowed it, curled up in our overcoats and damp horse rugs on the floor of a big bare barn.  (These barns, by the way, are fantastically built, maze of curved and beams cunningly fitted and morticed together.)  The gun being duly fixed, we got away in the early afternoon, taking another route back.

IWM (Q 8986) Americans near Famechon w NZers in background, 7 June 1918

[Image: The 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th American Division (attached to 42nd Division for instruction), headed by a British regimental band, marching past Major-General Arthur Solly-Flood (GOC 42nd Division) on a road near Famechon, 7 June 1918.  Note New Zealanders on far side of road filling water-cart from a pump. The 42nd Division had just relieved the New Zealand Division.  IWM (Q 8986)]

17th July (1918)

What with nocturnal revellers last night and Fritz starting to shell before dawn, got precious little sleep.  Today has been characterised by aerial episodes.  The first bit of excitement was when Fritz put up a remarkable barrage of H.E. at a high altitude against a homing squadron of our planes, but failed, as far as we could see, to get any.

Soon after that, a distant balloon of his was converted into a tower of black smoke by a cheeky little speck representing one of H.M’s cloud-dwellers.  This afternoon a Hun “sausage” balloon came floating vagrantly over us, but again through hundreds of archibalds made practice with it and machine guns rattled on all sides, it continued to float on till lost to sight.

The storm is now on us with a great gust of wind and a roar of rain, electric lightening being turned on free, gratis and for nothing.  Curious in the intervals between the thunder-fits to hear the guns taking up the tune.