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”.
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)
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.
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.
[Image: Battle of the St Quentin Canal (Saint-Quentin). Prisoners in a Clearing Depot, Abbeville, 2nd October 1918. IWM (Q 9355)]
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.
[Image: View of the main square in Cambrai, showing damaged buildings and the town hall, 23 October 1918. IWM (Q 3314)]
[Image: Group of Canadian or British troops in the main square of ruined Cambrai, 10 November 1918. IWM (Q 78789)]