After parading this afternoon with all our gear packed, it was announced that we were to move off after midnight, trek some miles and then entrain for the “war” i.e. where (according to our O.C.) “the Bosche is now making his great attack on a 50 mile front.”
Back to camp about 9 p.m. was mightily surprised to find the whole place in a ferment – gun-park full of men, lanterns, gear, fodder, ammunition and all the rest of it. We had been warned to be ready to move out and there are wild rumours that the Hun has made a big attack further along the line, inflicting severe losses.
Fritz went on steadily shelling back areas throughout Wednesday night and yesterday, varying his attentions with an occasional bomb.
[Note – the German Spring Offensive started on 21 March 1918. On 22 March the NZ Division was ordered south to the Somme region to help.]
[Image: A wounded soldier of the British 66th Division helped through the streets of Peronne, after returning from the Battle of St Quentin, part of the Battle of the Somme during the German Spring Offensive, 23 March 1918. IWM (Q 10779) ]
What a jumble of humanity is here. Chinese labourers, Belgian soldiers, civilians male and female and, of course, all variety of British and Colonials. The Villian has taken a job as batman to an interpreter – known to the troops as the “interrupter”.
A party of about 25 of us set out for some new baths up in the busted city. It was a long walk. Reached camp again to go straight on picquet. Noticed several full grown frogs flopping into a ditch, which I take to be a sign of spring. Vivent les grenouilles!
During inspection a Fritz plane cut an amazing caper in the sky, giving some elaborate smoke signals that left a huge scroll of white vapour hanging around. Another incident was meeting under “impossible” conditions an old school-chum, Tom Seddon, as the red hatted olympians stalked majestically passed. I noticed one of them going through strange facial contortions as he looked from me to W. and from W. to me. Eventually he sneaked behind and greeted us in undertone to which we muttered our replies. Our new C.O. also had a word with me. I got a good “one on to him” when he said my face was familiar, with “Yes, Sir, I’m the man you gave fatigues for not shaving the other day”. The Villian returned from leave yesterday more pessimistic than ever. Of the fatigues I referred to I am still ashamed. Along with that little gambling expert, we had to clean the “Cape Cart” (used for carrying food-stuffs), out of sight we “cleaned” it with water from a shell-hole full of bones from the cookhouse. Here and there Belgian peasants plough and harrow the farms as though the war was not. By the way, the school-book type of “the horse with very arched neck, small head and projecting lips” is actuality. The farm horses here are of that kind.
Jogged up through the ruins, to our guns. A number of large guns were firing, some right close to us. Fritz was lying low – but a number of wounded were brought down in stretchers running on bicycle wheels. Some of our planes flying low, worth watching, their bright silvery bodies, the large circles on their wings, and coloured devices making them resemble huge noisy insects. There were also many unpleasant sights and odours.
Daylight-saving commenced. Occasionally, one hears a rather amusing remark – today when we were all solemnly cleaning harnesses and everything was warm and still, a very large gun went off near by, shaking the building. Whereat one wag, turning on us a face of consternation, ejaculated “There, that’ll start the war all over again. Some bastard must have pulled the trigger!”
Everyone madly cleaning gear, against the General’s inspection tomorrow. General nuisance! Saw a balloon falling this afternoon from a great height. It came down very slowly, turning over and over in the air.
[Image: A 6 inch Mark VII gun of the Royal Garrison Artillery in action at Metz en Couture, 9 March, 1918. Ref: Imperial War Museums, Q 8563]
Quack round early and after remarking that he could work up as good a cough for “purposes of demonstration” told me to keep indoors, so I cleaned the hut up whilst the rest paraded in marching order. Pay day again and a half holiday, but I went to the dentist and had three fillings put in. Carried all our belongings out into the paddocks and scrubbed out the huts with disinfectant to try to rid the camp of the influenza colds that are rampant. Went to assistance of water-cart stuck in mud. When it did get out the horses started off at such a pace that one of them struck his head in the ground and completely turned turtle and we left the concern in a worse mess than we found it.