My 34th birthday. A cool breeze playing over the land. Scatty had the effrontery to shy at a donkey led by the oldest and most crumpled-up man I’ve ever seen, not recognising her own half-brother. Water is a problem in these districts. It is quite a sight, the pairs lining the road for kilometres, waiting their turn. Today you can smell the sea in the wind, the hawthorn is in the height of blossom, poppies are showing up amidst the corn and the meadows are sprinkled with butter cups and millions of misguided human beings are occupied with the problem of mutual murder. In the hazy light-blue sky, aeroplanes are singing like hornets. Set off to a village about 4 miles away where a stream has been damned for bathing. Rangatira makes a fine little hack and I should like to acquire him apres la guerre. How would I look trotting up Queen St. on a mule? At the pond were a number of Yankees and it was interesting to hear their conversation and study their types, mostly big men.
The grass is a seething mass of insect life. I tethered my mules to a partially buried wire and did a rough sketch of some trees. The next time I looked they were stampeding, maddened with terror by an old sack, pulled out of the ground with the wire and now leaping and bounding after them like the Mullish Nemesis. After they had become entangled in the chains and violently thrown by and then repeated the stampede, I managed to secure them, crestfallen, somewhat scratched about and still eyeing with dread and apprehension the now motionless Flying-Sack-Demon.
The Gamblers take not the slightest notice of the weather, the war, or other phenomena, absorbed in the spin of 2 coppers.
Magnificent beetles and other insects, spawned from the warm soil, are making clumsy efforts at flight. One enormous fellow after setting different-hued sails, only managed a six-inch flop. Spiders and other leggy individuals are running steeple-chases over my puttees and strides.
Great fun this afternoon watering. On reaching our troughs found them out of order and had to go a mile and a half away. The sergeant in charge of us was a sport and in defiance of all rules and regulations took us across country at a hand-gallop. About 15 colonels set up a hue and cry and took the names of battery etc – (Bai jove!). The sergeant is a fine chap – absolutely fearless – holds Military Cross, Serbian Medal and what not. When he gets them he shoves them in his pocket and says “Oh well, I suppose my mother will be pleased”. I have been re-reading Shelley to be awakened out of the wonder-world of his creation into the vile world of hate and murder which has evolved from those types which he detested. Been growing strong carting ammunition. A battery of 6 inches let fly right across the road, scaring us and our donks into the middle of next week.
During grazing one horse got so entangled in his tether as to be thrown – amusing to see him make the best of things by instantly resuming his repast in a recumbent position.
[Image: Feeding the horses of a New Zealand howitzer brigade near Lumbres, France, during World War I. The horses remain harnessed. The horse in the foreground eats from a feedbag. Photograph taken 15 May 1917 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Ref: Turnbull Library, Wellington 1/4-009455-G.]
Rangatira has developed a high-pitched tenor note in blowing his hose – a true chieftain, magnificent even in his emunctions, he blows his nose like a bugle.
The mad mare who replaced my deceased hero, will have none of me; her back is one perpetual arch, her eye a maniacal glare, her slender but badly scarred legs move in fitful prancing. I sweat, I swear, making ineffectual dabs with my brush, I seize her legs and hold them up by main force, she lurches at a dangerous angle and threatens to fall on top of her tormentor; or actually lifts the other leg and drops on her knees. The chieftain regards me coldly in stern aloofness, unresponsive to my encouraging pats, his hard little underlip set firm. I groom at his sturdy hocks, which he permits for a while, motionless, indifferent; smack! with lightening rapidity he has lifted his foot and stamped in the vicinity of my boot. But I like him, though my passion is, and always will be, unrequited.
Blue propaganda balloons have been released at intervals and gone sailing over our heads to drop their mental bombs on Fritz’s lines.
Have been amusing the establishment with drawings of my companions. Jock is writing a letter on his to send his wife. The plebeian considers I have given him too wild a glare in the eye. In mortal combat with Demon Mud, in plastic form on the ground, and in concrete stalactites on the mules. The weather is getting like the moist head of Auckland. Not that I’ve got any quarrel with Auckland.
Broad marks across the fields show where tanks have passed, pressing the young crops down into the soft earth.
Good tobacco being temporarily unobtainable I’m making shift with a vile concoction of issue stuff and a sort of black-twist costing the huge sum of 2½d a stick. Though so unlike our bush in matters of detail and lack of undergrowth, the tout ensemble of these old-world woods is reminiscent of our own. Patchy grass in place of our undergrowth showing up the boles of the trees and giving a spacious air. The sound, too, of a chorus of birds of the one hemisphere is very like that of the other.
I was deceived in Duron Lagniez. I thought him a land salesman. After “long argument about it and about it” I must admit that it is the iron gates, on which his legend appears, of which he is, or was, the “constructeur”. I now picture him as a master smith with a square black beard and authoritative bearing, his very gait recrudescence of business. We hear that the redoubtable Von Mackensen is after our gore, but are more put out to hear that the Colonel is going to spring a surprise visit on us soon.
[Image: Sketch by Lincoln Lee, titled “(Driver Jones) Our ‘Bivvy’ of Bus 1918”]
For the first time heard a Cuckoo. The note is soft and mysterious, well represented (without the mystery) by the cuckoo clock. I may remark that the Argentine Songster, of whom I gushed one fine morning, looks to be a species of linnet and his note is only a cheerful whistle, but in that period before dawn when “The casement slowly grows a glimmering square”, (N.B. No casement in our bivvy) it seemed a subtler thing.
To show you the extraordinary chances of war – you will remember how a solitary shell casualtied between 20 and 30 horses; today a shell burst right in front of a wagon team. The underneath part of the wagon itself was much damaged and the pole almost severed; the shell-splinters must have passed between the legs of all six animals, 24 legs, without touching one of them, their drivers, or the men aboard the vehicle.
The woods are clothing themselves in foliage, copper beaches are noticeable, the fruit blossoms are commencing to fall.
[Image: A 5.9 shell bursts close to the New Zealand reserve line, during World War I, causing a large cloud. Photograph taken near Courcelles, France, 4 May 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/4-009515-G]