Out grazing graminivores or herbivores. Plenty of tanks to be seen in these parts – all shapes, sizes and sexes. There’s a slump in balloons just now in this sector: as we were finishing lunch a crackle of machine guns brought us out to view one broken adrift and gaily ascending into the cloudy sky. A few moments later I saw in the distance the unmistakable column of smoke where another had been fired.
The canteen is much in evidence today. Big keg of (rather watery) English beer – cigars (of a kind) – sweetened condensed milk (fermenting) – biscuits and golden syrup. Have already spent a small fortune. The cigars were a failure – if you smoke them they become hostile.
I have about a dozen letters to write. What shall I do about it? If I plead as excuse the exhausting nature of this magnum opus, this history of the war by one who went there – “they’ll never believe me” – (Drat that gramophone!)
Now, you might suggest, this evening is the time to make a start, cold and showery and uninviting – but did not I promise myself to take my washing and find a blanchisseuse on the first evening of the kind (Damn that gramophone.)
A bombardier has just been in to see if I could guide a party up to that forward gun position tonight – oh, no my dear sir, me no compree.
Found my blanchisseuse. Met old army acquaintance and imbibed two leaky cigarette tins of vin blanc and so the evening has passed and letters remain unwritten.
[Image: Infantry practising an attack behind a smoke screen and a tank. Photograph taken at Sautricourt, 12 July 1918. IWM (Q 9819)]
Last night’s experience was a curious mixture of the tedious, the comical and the thrilling. Some of our guns are in advance of the others, i.e,. the firing battery is split up, and it was to the advanced position we had to go. Leaving camp at a little after seven with an ammunition wagon ahead of us, carrying an N.C.O. supposed to know the way, we started out towards the lines. As we proceeded, the shell holes in and near the roads grew more numerous, some of them enormous craters made by the heaviest guns, until we at about 9 p.m. reached the rear part of the battery situated near a village. Here we had to wait to let it grow darker. Whilst we waited we saw the road we had recently travelled being handsomely shelled and a couple of vehicles, nearly caught by it, turn tail and bolt. We then drove up through the village, which had been pounded to pieces and reminded one a bit of Ypres.
By this time, a few gas shells had landed not far away and projectiles of a more noisy nature. We halted for some time in a sunken road whilst the N.C.O. reconnoitred. At last he returned with the tidings that we were on the wrong road. Back to the battered village. The flashes from our artillery and the glare of the Hun’s multitudinous flares, rockets and star-shells helped in showing the pitfalls in the road. At the village our N.C.O. was put on the right road and we battled on once more, seeing nothing but the dark mass of the G.S. wagon ahead and shattered trunks and limbs of a famous wood (Gomecourt) which has changed hands again and again during the war. Indistinct forms of infantrymen and machine gunners moving about their trenches often gave us warning of shell holes to be avoided and telephone wires to duck under. So we proceeded until it seemed we were extremely near the front line. Rifle bullets whizzed by occasionally and a machine gun did a little spurt here and there. Then we stumbled into a trench cut through the road, and over it with a bang. Then we pulled up with a jerk. The wagon ahead had fouled a wire entanglement across the road. A machine gun officer started to make sarcastic remarks. If it hadn’t been for the wire we would probably have been addressed in German in another 5 or 10 minutes.
Rain has now reduce the dust to a super-mud like half-cooked welsh rarebit. Stick! This evening out of a clear sky Fritz dropped hundreds of ineffectual shells, right onto one of our balloons. In a trice a couple of parachutes left the latter; just in time too, for with incendiary or “tracer” bullets he set it aflame with pausing in his career and made off. As one of the chaps said, “If we’re fighting fellows with a nerve like that, its no wonder the (adjective) war has gone on so long”.
The village is seething with dusty troops looking for alcoholic refreshment and finding solace in two-up, crown and anchor and the rest of it, not forgetting the “good old game of House.” The little medical orderly who used to hop around the hut in Ypres and run the gaming business is in this bivvy.
I am now sitting in a very different bivvy, some four of five miles from our last position. Have investigated village whose name is like the noise of a lemon being squeezed (Souastre). It is much the same as the last though a little more attractive owing to the hilly ground. I am with a queer mixture now – the little ex-sailor with whom I once shared a calf-house, or pig-sty, or hen-roost – and unshaven individual with a very receding yet double chin, famed for a constitutional aversion of H2O, a comic-looking yet exceedingly boresome ginger creature who tells you the same pointless anecdotes of his colourless past every day, and two brainless boys who get half tipsy on the smell of a bottle of vin rouge.
Had a glorious gallop for about a mile on Rangatira. Started in the rear of the ride but finished up in front and minus my hat. We are within view of a ridge over which the front line passes; French mortars are growling over there and smoke drifting about. The stew this evening was of the unappetising order which we common soldiers dub “dog’s vomit.” Went on my usual nocturnal prowl and produced a crayon drawing of hay-cocks. When you see the Lilliputian dimensions of the blocks I have to use for sketching, you will sympathise.
After inordinate delay the projected review by the Premier and Ex-Premier of “Noo Zealand” came off a more idiotic performance you never witnessed. The politicians were dumb – Boanerges was voiceless. With downcast eyes and hastening steps two adipose, grey-silk-hatted, black-frock-coated civilians of familiar physiognomy, accompanied by a few red-hats, ambled round our expectant columns; then ambled off again to their motor and away. Not a word! Not a word! “Not a drum was heard.” Why the thing took place at all, I cannot surmise.
Last night Jerry dropped bombs all over the shop. Perhaps it was that that dumbfounded the politicians.
[Note: Despite Lincoln’s clear annoyance at the absence of a speech from New Zealand’s two leading politicians, it seems likely from the photograph below that Massey did address some New Zealand artillerymen during his visit. The Prime Minister was also photographed addressing large groups of New Zealand soldiers on 3 July at Etaples – see later below.]
Image: William Massey addressing members of the New Zealand Artillery at Louvencourt, France during World War I. Joseph Ward is standing second from right, partly obscured. Photograph taken 2 July 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013355-G]
[Image: Prime Minister Massey and Sir Joseph Ward talk with assembled New Zealand troops stationed at the New Zealand Infantry and General Base Depot in Etaples during World War I. In the background are rows of tents and base buildings. Photograph taken 3 July 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013717-G]
A thunderous night, with multitudinous bombs in unpleasant proximity and guns banging off in all directions. Some Tommies were killed in billets in the village. Tomorrow we are to be inspected by Bill Massey and Joe Ward.
En route for baths, met a French woman in great distress over her cow which had become “blown” through eating too much clover. The vets from another battery were helping her, poking a knife into its ribs and their arms down its throat, whilst she by aid of lively gesticulations and the use of the word “ballon” gave a vivid account of its earlier symptoms. Joan, by the way, went up the road today in a killing get-up including rough bluey stockings and a huge pair of men’s army boots. Her troubles!
[Image: Prime Minister William Massey and Sir Joseph Ward reading a message dropped by an aeroplane during tactical exercises of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade at Bois-de-Warnimont during World War I. Photograph taken 1 July 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013298-G]