After a somewhat interrupted night am reclining dressed and washed, digesting, I hope, the one small slice of dry toast which composed breakfast, amongst a dozen other diggers all afflicted with the same complaint, in the low ceiling, whitewashed compartment of an old mill with a large stream flowing beside it. Humorous orderly here mimics the medical officer. His piece de resistance is “Sergeant, All these men are suffering from Dia-HO-Ea.”
Am sitting in a Red Cross Motor bound for I don’t know where. The same innards again. I consider myself hard done by, as last night’s dinner was the best I’ve ever seen in the army – ham, potatoes and cauliflower galore. Couldn’t look at it. To my astonishment this morning when I went for medicine, the Dr. coolly kicked me out on half an hour’s notice.
5.p.m. (Division Rest Station) At a village a couple of miles further on. We seem to be occupying a set of farm buildings. This is a N.Z. “joint”. So far I have been in a dazed state, listening to the unremitting din of a large gramophone churning out music-hall stuff. My diet is soup and dry toast. There are a number of ‘Dinks’* here. They seem to have been having a pretty rough time in the trenches – wet through for days on end.
* ‘The Dinks’ was a nickname for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (Earl of Liverpool’s Own), short for “the Fair Dinkums”.
Stables in the congealing slush with my mountainous mustangs. The Poet has contrived to get some fearful kicks on the shins and now imitates the Hunter’s stretching contortions. The evening bade fair, so I strolled up hill and sketched. A fantastic funnel-shaped thunder-cloud came coiling out of the westering sun, like the Gin the in Arabian Nights. I had the unseen but close company of a most industrious mole, who kept pumping out fine red earth in great style.
Slish! Slosh! Slush! Rain, rain, rain! Grazing the mountainous mules in it, watering them in it, grooming them in it. One thing in their favour, they are quiet, though the excess of acreage about compensates. The Poet is aptly named; he has a long mildly-foolish face, his blackish hair softening off into brown around his long pliable lips. When I ride him (no more bare-back stunts – he has a razor spine which appears to be supported on struts a foot or so above his back bone) I gaze wonderingly along some six feet of neck to the huge cross-tree of his ears. He works well, but grunts dolefully during his best efforts. The Hunter is a more forbidding Blunderbore – has string-halt or something in his hind legs and keeps raising and stretching them in what appears to be a menacing manner. If he takes it into his head to move in a certain direction nothing can stop him. I come dangling after like a frog tethered to a gander. Have you ever seen one?
Big events seem to be pending on all fronts. Most of us do a lot of growling but things might be worse. Some of the men are a standing lesson to the rest of us. The chap, for instance, who cut my hair today, always cheerful and ready to do one a favour. After he had cut my hair, a passing tommy who thought him a real barber, asked him to cut his, which he forthwith set about to do with a quiet smile. One of the bombardiers is another “white man” through and through – an old hand unembittered; full of kindness of courtesy. Men like these do a lot to buck one up.
Roaster. The long threatened exchange of mules for horses has at last taken place and I rode over to the D.A.C. with who it was effected, mounted for the last time the Chieftain, leading by his side one “Neversweat”, a somewhat forlorn and raw-boned mule. What mules remained to us were later on paraded before our O.C. and assorted into fresh teams, and lo! I am still a muleteer. But my mules! Gigantic and misbegotten creations! One dusky and angular colossus, the Irish Hunter, that I well remember, during many bitter hours, lugging through the mud of Passchendaele, and his only possible mate – not quite so bulky but even more altitudinous – the great moping Poet! I have not yet attempted the ascent of either of these Averni. As a neighbour remarked, I shall require a ladder to mount and a parachute to descend. I was to have made a trip tonight but, being on picquet, a very short man took my place. I didn’t see him get up.