Last day of November (brains!). A long arduous day. Rising at 5am. we had fed up and breakfast before dawn. In the saddle all day, pulling up after dark in a small village about 5 kilos. beyond the town of Bavay. Bavay looked interesting with it’s spires and its leafless trees. Astonishing sites in the way of refugees returning from exile in Belgium and Germany. Our host in Escarmain, an old chap, not an inhabitant, was drifting back after 4 years in exile. He had 11 including 7 soldier sons, none of whose whereabouts or safety was he aware.
6pm. Billeted in a tumbledown hovel in Escarmain, a village a day’s march nearer – not “home” – but Germany. Rained all day: conditions too miserable to mention.
Jull and I sat shivering on a railway embankment, sketching the village.
You should have seen how everyone stared. One officer took us by surprise from behind with a humorous pretence of arresting us – he was candidly puzzled.
[Image: Lincoln Lee, ‘Quievy’, dated 24 November 1918. The Artillery had rejoined the NZ Division at Quievy on 13 November, and spent until 28 November getting ready for the march to Germany]
[Image: Lincoln Lee, ‘Quievy, Nov. 18’]
The grand review lasted until after 1pm, a tiresome and useless affair. Every day we witness the repatriation of French civilians – many of them returning from such places as Maubeuge, where they had been sent on, or back from more Southern towns, whither they had fled. They plod along, shoving all kinds of hand carts; with donkey – or dog carts – or without cart at all, lumping their remaining possessions in bags and bundles. What speculations they must entertain, as to whether their homes will be ruined, damaged or intact. Their privations must be and have been severe. But there is an air of renewed hope about them – their country is free and victorious and “L’heur de gloire est arrive!”.
[Image: New Zealand Division leaving the town of Solesmes, France, after the armistice ending World War I. Shows an army band leading a column of marching troops through a cobbled street. Photograph taken around late November 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013776-G]
Tomorrow the whole division has to parade for our coming mach to Rhineland – confound Rhineland!
Have been to a friendly tea given by the Y.M.C.A. We had small plates of strawberries and cream! The Irish chap (Rowley) whose acquaintance I made at the rest camp near Bus was there and sang a couple of songs – he has a good voice. Half of the crowd left as soon as they had eaten everything in reach. There are some “beauties” in the army. Life is growing monotonous. Please consider that the show is over and that I am only pulling down the curtains and dusting the seats. Everything has become deplorably uninteresting to me as this rough record must have become to you. I continue it only because I know you wish to follow my movements.
Church Parade in a protestant church, very little damage, in which our raucous voices reverberated powerfully. “For those at Sea” was pitched too high on the wheezy harmonium, but we overcame that by ringing the changes from base to tenor and tenor to basso, producing withal a turbulent and not un-oceanic effect.
Nemesis has found me out and I must stump up 24/8d. – railway fare Torquay to London.
Freezing day; the frost remaining on the ground throughout. They keep us going from dawn to dark. Apparently the only thing of real importance after beating the Bosche is to clean the harnesses.
Wherever we spend the winter, its terrors will be minimised by the knowledge that it is our last on this side of the world.
[Image: New Zealand Division Transport watering mules at Solesmes, France. Photograph taken ca late November 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-013782-G]
Picquet last night under the freezing moon, but we had a bright little fire going behind a brick wall. From our billet one can look across the small North France manufacturing town, with its sharp preeminent Church tower rearing above the sea of tiled roofs, and with its curious mixture of the military of all nations, mingled with the recently repatriated citizens.
Whole morning at a colossal church-parade-thanksgiving-service, attended probably by the whole division, held in a large natural amphitheatre – the bishop, or whoever he was, standing up a small hillock in the centre. Aeroplanes were whirring about overhead the whole time, we could hear absolutely nothing. At noon our O.C. addressed us on the situation and somewhat cleared the air. If he is right we go to Germany only until the armistice (36 days) is completed, when demobilization will commence.
After all, if it does not delay our return, it will be something to have crossed the Rhine before the actual signing of Peace.
The N.Z. infantry are kicking up an awful shindy about going to Germany. I think what they object to is marching all that distance.
On trek again all day – fine, clear, cold weather – passed through many small towns and villages, finally pulling up where we were stationed the night before I went on leave (Quievy). Billeted in a deserted farm house and have secured a fine spring mattresses. Hear that the German Fleet is in revolt, that She is torn with internal troubles, and that the Kaiser, “Clown Prince”, and Hindenburg, have “done a bunk”. It really seems that the end has come.
Johnny Johnson, the cheerful boy with the contagious laugh, was killed by a stray rifle bullet, a few days before my return. Everywhere signs of repatriation of French civilians. Passed a whole party of both sexes this morning – they were going, so they told me, “a l’église” – a very battered one no doubt to a thanks-giving service.