Monday, 11th November, 1918

At 11am. on this 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 (if we can believe official despatches) hostilities ceased in the greatest of wars ever waged upon this earth.  Most of us are still inclined to be sceptical.  We received this news whilst on trek.  We are already picturing ourselves back in N.Z. and preparing to live “happy ever afterwards”.

Though we were pulled out at 5am. and started about 8.30am., we have not  covered a great distance, owing to the congestion of the roads.  Amongst ourselves and those we have met, there has been little enthusiasm and no hilarity, only a slight access of cheerfulness – the thing takes time to soak in, just as it was difficult to realize the fact of the war when it commenced.

The day was gray and cold.  Have been in the saddle most of the day and did not get corralled into our usual barn till well after dark.  The first rum issue for many a day.  Our feet wet, our blankets damp, our bodies dirty, but our hopes are raised.

Sunday 10th (1918)

Perfect autumn day.  The village folk – bright, cheery and hospitable, like people let out of prison, cannot do enough for us.  Madame is a very sensible, bright woman, and is always doing us little kindnesses which we repay as best we can.

The air is full of rumours such as “abdication of the Kaiser”, refusal of the “clown Prince” to carry on, “Armistice – German fleet surrendered under the red flag”, “peace declared”, etc., etc.  At present we are reminded of war by the boom of land mines blowing up roads, etc. behind the retreating bosches. A huge bridge over the river was already destroyed when we got there.

nlnzimage 12-013666-G Aged town crier of Solemes relaying war news, 9 Nov 1918

[Image: The aged town crier of Solesmes in France reading war news to local people in a village captured by New Zealanders in World War I. Photograph taken 9 November 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013666-G]

nlnzimage 1-4 017543-F NZ troops marching through Le Quesnoy, 10 Nov 1918

[Image: New Zealand troops marching through the bombed town of Le Quesnoy, France, during Poincare’s visit. Taken by an unidentified photographer, 10 November 1918.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/4-017543-F

Note: the various batteries of the NZ Division’s artillery were not at Le Quesnoy itself, but were relatively nearby.  J.R. Bryne’s New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18 (1922, Auckland), p.295, records:

The New Zealand Artillery was in action for the last time on November 8th, when the 1st and 3rd Brigades carried out a little harassing fire. The enemy, now completely disorganised, was still retiring, and in the afternoon both these Brigades moved forward to the vicinity of Boussieres. The following day all batteries were relieved by the 42nd Divisional Artillery, and orders were issued for the three brigades and the Divisional Ammunition Column to march to Quievy, to rejoin the Division. This move was to be carried out on the 11th and 12th, the intervening night being spent in billets at Villereau.]

9th November (1918)

Too bustled yesterday to write.  The whole day and part of the night driving about taking up new lines, finishing up with a long, dreary, wet drive up to a new gun position in pitch darkness.  Off to bed in a loft full of bean stalks.  Did a picquet in the small hours.  Discovered by daylight the nature of the country.  Some particularly horrible remains (a German soldier’s brains had been scattered along a post and wire fence hitting 4 or 5 posts in succession).*  Moved out once more to a village on the banks of the Sambre, comfortably billeted in a house and have made friends with Madame, who gave us coffee and is now stoking up the fire.

We are promising ourselves a treat in the way of a wash and a clean up, our present condition being deplorable.  The horses need it as much as we do.  Have draped wet garments and gear from every vantage point and hung my boots on the side of the stove.  Some of us are shaving, some writing, some telling their adventures around the fire, whilst Madame, Monsieur and their friends have their evening repast in the next room.

* In the early 1960s Lincoln added the text in brackets to his draft typescript, likely meaning this was something he recalled, but had not included in his original diary-like letter to his first wife.

nlnzimage 1-2 013663-G Soldiers Wellinton Regiment sitting eating, Solesmes, 9 Nov 1918

[Image: Soldiers from a Wellington Regiment sit eating a meal out of mess tins in the French town of Solesmes during World War I. They use broken pieces of masonry as seats and tables. Photograph taken 9 November 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013663-G]

7th November (1918)

Queer day all through.  After slushing about in our mudhole, some of us went off to a house nearby to give details of such studies as we may wish to pursue during demobilisation.  At noon we moved camp and were allotted comfy billets, only to be immediately afterwards ordered to hook in and move forward.  All afternoon and evening in the saddle – passing through endless woods, the tall trees still clinging to a few golden-brown leaves, the ground beneath one huge carpet of rich red decay; the multitudinous trunks ranging in vista against a background of misty blue-purple obscurity.  The roads blown up in various places, perilous passages over rickety temporary bridges, abandoned dumps of the enemy’s munitions, wrecked vehicles, rows of dead awaiting burial, occasional woodsmen’s cottages, troops on the march.  It was dark before we pulled our guns into a field and dumped our shells beside them.  After the necessary work was done, ate with our filthy hands a hot mess of what we knew not what and wedged ourselves like sardines into every cranny of a huge barn and slept.

6th November (1918)

Whole of yesterday slogging about in the mud and wet, only finding our battery towards evening, just pulled into a shelterless paddock.  Had all sorts of adventures on the way, but no time to recount them.  All my blankets and everything else I left behind have been lost, but in the meantime I share another’s, and will in time salvage some of my own.  We are in the middle of the fighting and the beastly old shells are crashing around us all night.  This is a rotten hole to come back to.

The Frenchfolk on the road up received us all with great hospitality and would take nothing for the coffee with which they regaled our beau-coup fatigue selves.  They have been living all through the war on the American Relief System and of course have no food to spare.  In many places more gruesome evidences of recent fighting.

In one place a “Lancashire” was cleaning up the result of a direct hit on a detachment of German artillery.  On the body of one horse a startling excrescence appeared.  It was the head and shoulders of a young man, cut clean off below his coat collar.  His hat was at a jaunty angle, his eyes were open, and his face set with a careless laugh.  The “Lanky” in his tuney dialect proudly related how it was all he could find of the “body”, how he had “washed his face, put on his cap, and set him on his horse”, and drew my attention to “his cheerful expression of countenance”.

4th November (1918)

Lying on straw in a huge shell-torn barn: guns banging around us and shells (drat ‘em) whistling over every few minutes and exploding as with the threat “nearer next time”.  Spent all day trudging about the North of France looking for the battery and haven’t found it yet.  The only N.Z. battery we located (a party of whom had just finished burying 30 killed last night)* could not put us on the right track.

* On 4 November the N.Z. Division attacked and successfully captured Le Quesnoy, a fortified town.  This was to be the last significant action by the Division in the war.  The deaths referred to by Lincoln were potentially some of those suffered during the attack.  J.R. Bryne’s New Zealand Artillery in the Field, 1914-18 (1922, Auckland), records:

The enemy’s fire was comparatively feeble, but a good deal of hostile fire fell on battery areas. The 9th Battery had two guns put out of action, and “D” Battery of the 211th Brigade had five guns destroyed in succession, and practically the whole of its personnel casualtied. Heavy shelling was also experienced at the waggon lines of the 11th Battery, more than fifty horses having been killed and wounded. (p.291)

Sunday, 3rd November (1918)

A Mine went up in the vicinity – some of them are timed for weeks ahead, to blow up railways etc.

Supposed to be a big “stunt” on tomorrow – objective Mons.  A fitting terminus to the war, the retaking of Mons!

The civilians here were astonished when they saw our motor transport arriving after the Hun withdrawal – he apparently is almost entirely dependent on light railways.  They say they were treated with the utmost severity, even the children being forbidden to sing or play.  You see them now, clearing out their battered habitations and straightening up as best they can – all immaculately dressed.

2nd November (1918)

Medical inspection in morning – given Vaseline and eucalyptus to sniff up our snouts – weather dismal.  Supposed to be out clearing-up, but as our den remains yet undiscovered we do nothing but stoke up the fire.  There has been hot fighting hereabouts.  All object to the idea of being casualtied during the last phase of the war.

Big drove of 1,000 prisoners brought past as we were lining up for tea.

IWM (Q 9355) Battle of St Quentin Canal, prisoners in clearing depot, Abbeville, 2nd October 1918

[Image: Battle of the St Quentin Canal (Saint-Quentin). Prisoners in a Clearing Depot, Abbeville, 2nd October 1918. IWM (Q 9355)]

Friday (Cambrai) (1 November 1918)

In a huge building at Cambrai.  In the train almost all night and a rough shop it was, endeavouring to doze on the hard, bumpy and filthy floor of one of H.M.’s man-trucks.

Befriended a kilted Jock.  Next morning after a rather gruelling mach and much delay, entrained for the front.

Don’t feel at all like a War Horse frothing for the fray.

Chinese Coolies cleaning up here – they annoy me – the problem of what is to become of their countless millions of souls, past, present and to come, in the hereafter, is a tiresome one.

6-30p.m. (Caudrey). We were all (some 10,000 of us) marched back to the chemin-de-fer and then drafted off to our respective army corps.  Told that our camp was only 3 kilos away, we set off blithely enough under our own burdens.  The 3 kilos stretched out into 6, then into 9 and finally into about 15, so at 5.p.m. we at last found our weary selves at Caudry and at last got a feed.

A small party of us found a tiled-floored outbuilding with a man-trap in the form of a loom with thousands of sharp corner spikes on it, on which I’ve left about a yard of skin off my fingers.  The room had a stove, in which we have a roaring fire going.  News of the capitulation of Turkey and Armistice to Austria is placarded in the town and the period of “apres la guerre” seems to be drawing nearer.

Many magnificently decorated buildings in Cambrai are wrecked.

IWM (Q 3314) Main square in Cambrai, showing damaged buildings and the town hall, 23 October 1918

[Image: View of the main square in Cambrai, showing damaged buildings and the town hall, 23 October 1918. IWM (Q 3314)]

IWM (Q 78789) Canadian or British troops in the main square of ruined Cambrai, 10 Nov 1918

[Image: Group of Canadian or British troops in the main square of ruined Cambrai, 10 November 1918. IWM (Q 78789)]