Friday, 20th September (1918)

A “Rest”.  Regimental stunt – several brand new officers on the scene – muster parade – shaved, washed, boots clean, buttons, teeth and toe-nails polished etc.  Although we have had only half a day of it we are beginning to wish we were in action again.  Perhaps that is the real reason they persecute one with their Tommy rot.

Much amused yesterday to see a bevy of very young Tommy officers fresh from the training school – brand new equipment – smooth, hairless, pink and white countenances – dumped by the wayside and looking so like lost lamps that one expected them to bleat.

I want another N.Z. mail.  I also want the war to finish tomorrow.  No, tonight, before Fritz starts bombing.  I want to go home.  J’ai froid; Je vais m’accoucher.

Wednesday, 18th September (1918)

6 p.m.  Saw a great deal of shell-fire going on up forward.  Passed a batch of prisoners.  One of the new drivers, quite a boy, came back from the guns gassed and was sent off to hospital; been here one day, and a casualty.  And here am I, a “veteran” of 11 months, unscathed and never had my gas mask on in earnest.

Have just completed a prodigal repast – tinned peaches and condensed milk, procured at hair-raising cost from canteen, the manager having made a two day trip to get them.

Midnight: A nice boy out of the reinforcements helped me to harness.  On the way we could see a heavy bombardment from our side, spattering along the horizon in almost regular rotation, suggestive of one of Bach’s Fugues.

Omitted several important items yesterday.  (1) Wasp stung me on the chest (2) washed 2 pair of sox in water intended for cleaning harness.  (The trumpet sounds!)

Opened the Bible I have had all along, and read Book of Ruth and the Song of Solomon.

nlnzimage 1-2 013603-G German prisoners passing Havrincourt Wood, 16 Sep 1918

[Image: A column of German prisoners of war from the Jaeger Regiment passing Havrincourt Wood in France during World War I. They are escorted by New Zealand soldiers. Photograph taken 16 September 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013603-G]

Tuesday, 17th September (1918)

Towards midnight our gunners turned up and got us well awake with banter, rummaging for biscuits, and general hilarity.  The Hun availing himself of moonlight besprinkled the whole countryside with bombs, one string of them running towards us with a tremendous crescendo.  Later, we awoke to the most infernal din ever heard.  In our dazed state some thought a bomb had hit our hut, others had visions of the end of the world – run-away railway trains etc.  To me it seemed that bombs, highly luminous, were bursting over my bed.  Then the hut started to bulge and quiver; gusts of air, water laden, came squirting in at every cranny and we were in the middle of a cataclysmic electrical disturbance.  The whirlwind which had preceded it had, we discovered this morning, snapped off a large tree behind our hut and thrown it across a shack nearby.

Now that there is some possibility of Germany being beaten, one begins more than ever to speculate about getting through safely.  It will be very hard luck for those who fall during the closing days of the war.  Still more reinforcements arrived tonight.

11 p.m.  At dusk, ordered out with ammunition.  The Hun, taking advantage of the clair de lune was bombing heavily.  He struck a large dump, exploding ammunition with a vivid, incandescent glow, lighting up the country for miles around.  After we left our guns, bombs commenced to fall behind us and to flank unpleasantly near.  We dismounted for a while and covered under a bank, then away at a hard-gallop.  Before getting into bed we had the satisfaction of seeing one of the raiders crashing in flames and finally exploding, with an immense blaze of bombs and petrol, in mid-air.  Annoyed Irish mate by lighting cigarette during bombing.  “Lee,” he said, “you are a bloody fool – I have no love for the grave.”

Monday, 16th September (1918)

Glorious morning after a night of bombs.  Sweet September restored.  One bomber was brought down in dramatic fashion by one of our planes which pounced from above, through our own barrage.  A howl of jubilation from the picquet and sundry hop-out-of-bed enthusiastically-exclaimed his fall.  Reinforcements arrived today and we carry on.

Cogitating the hard history of herbivorous and gramivorous animals hampered in their evolution by the unremitting pangs of hunger due to the little nourishment in their food.  Under different conditions they might have excelled man-the-monkey.  Their ideas are confined to food.  If you use a wisp of hay to wipe the slush from their fetlocks, you face an apparition of glaring orbs and protended lips, groping for the filthy handful which you then employ as a sort of boxing glove against their astonished probosci-ae-a-es (or) –oscises – whichever be the plural of that singular word.

Reinforcements arrived, squatting on the grass attacking bully and biscuits and trying to look like veterans.  The plane brought down last night was a six seater – all were killed.

Sitting on a broken tombstone, near what remains of a village church.  The ground is strewn with shattered crucifixes and gaping tombs, rank grass grows over all.  At the bottom of the tomb I saw a young toad, caught by one toe under a piece of a fallen slate.  I couldn’t get down and had a risk of liberating his death – by dropping bits of stone on the slate, until it shifted and he crept off.

Sunday, 15th September (1918)

To the next village to water, the pond of green slime here being exhausted.

Dozing in the grass in the afternoon whilst my charges browsed, I suddenly became aware of the blazing mass of a strafed balloon in mid air and the parachutes of its crew and those of next one gaily descending from the empyrean.

Watching a “windsucker” horse – an extraordinary equine vice.  He takes the picquet rope in his teeth, gives a tug and a grunt and so swallows some air.  It appears to be incurable.  An animal so disposed is never in good condition.  A wild Scot treats us to lengthy recitals on his national wind instrument – an inflated bladder squeezed under the arm, having long funnels projecting there from in all directions, emitting a variety of warring harmonics.  Each evening, wet or fine, his weird incantations waken the echoes of longsuffering France.

Saturday, 14th September (1918)

Last night one of the Huns bombing planes was caught in the concentrated rays of many searchlights and brought down in flames.  Hopped out of bed just in time to see the great flare of its bomb-laden annihilation.

Am getting used to my new mounts.  One (nameless as yet) is excellent in all respects, quiet and almost too willing – a loveable animal.  The other “Toby”, has many shortcomings – he is rough, clumsily built, inclined to kick, nip and side-step on to your foot, and lazy; he reminds me of an I.W.W., the sort that hides behind a brick wall and throws broken bottles at a policeman.

Some men wounded at the battery – by gas shells – not pleasant things to be hit with as their wounds don’t heal.  The Hun uses shells partly gas and partly H.E. for the purpose.

Was rather hard on ‘Toby’ – his good points are that he doesn’t wander whilst grazing and obediently opens his mouth to receive the bit.  Their necks are short and sturdy and their little sharp ears quite diminutive after my long lugubrious, leather-lipped last-lappers.

The men’s pronunciation of French names is killing – Bapaume – Bay-poom; and imagine a name like Bus-les-artois pronounced like English.

Sent up to move the guns and ammunition to a less vulnerable position.  There has been a devil to pay (50 casualties in our battery) with gas.  The stuff was still hanging around when we got there.  Plenty of hard work and hard driving over treacherous tracks, through gloomy and poisoned woods, after which, having imbibed copiously from a tank of water, we rattled away back.

The officer of the day – a hardcase – announced to us today the good news of the cutting off of the salient at St Mihiel.  That, he concluded “will teach the bastards to come bombing us!”  He also remarked that the colonel had directed the reading of the news to improve our morale; “so turn in”, said he, “and put some of the morale into the harness.”

nlnzimage 1-2 013604-G NZ battalion passing through Bapaume, 14 Sep 1918

[Image: A New Zealand battalion passing through re-captured Bapaume, France, to rest, during World War I. A sugar factory is in the background. Photograph taken by Henry Armytage Sanders on 14 September 1918. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013604-G]

nlnzimage 1-2 013607-G NZ battalion passing through Bapaume, 14 Sep 1918

[Image: A view over recaptured Bapaume, France, showing a column of troops from a New Zealand Battalion moving towards the camera. Two ambulances can been seen in the background. Also visible is the damage to the town itself. Photograph taken 14 September 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013607-G]