20th July (1918)

Could I remember, obtaining a satisfactory substitute for his all too picturesque language, the extraordinary stories told us late last night by the little rascal who runs the “Crown and Anchor” board, anent his pre-war experiences as an undertaker’s assistant, it would rival anything in Dickens or Fielding.  I lay for hours quaking with laughter, whilst this perky pigmy, squatting on the ground, devouring tinned fish and bottled stout, told us how he, to save expense, upholstered his father’s coffin as a “porpoise” (meaning pauper’s) having failed to identify the body after 3 weeks in the Wanganui River; only to discover his missing parent a fortnight later and get drunk with him on the strength of it – accosting his begetter with – “Why you old bastard, you’re dead!” – “I buried you as a porpoise three weeks ago!”  He seems made of leather, speaks in a raucous shout and contrives to get wholly or partly inebriated every night; in fact, though funny, is an infernal nuisance, but we can do nothing with him.  Rather disturb a hornet’s nest.

Went for a bath to a quaint village (Couin) situated on a steep hill-side topped by a church, passing through superb grounds of a large chateau – cloistral vistas of trees radiating from the building to a distance of about half a mile.

19th July (1918)

Yesterday morning we set forth for Ordanance with the gun, a journey of some 12 to 15 miles passing along higher country, until we reached one of the great asphalted, tree-lined highways.  This was punctuated by tall, ferro-concrete power poles, with which the French appear to have been reticulating the country, then the road took a tremendous mile-long drive into a deep, wooded valley, landing us in the picturesque little town of Pas.  From its winding streets we emerged on a long slope of 5 to 6 miles, into Doulens.  Its inhabitants had undergone a metamorphosis.  It was now alive with Americans.  They are certainly robust fellows, cut very much to a pattern and as easily recognisable as Chinamen.  We yarned to many of them and found their talk and accent entertaining enough.  The shop people are mostly still at their posts, but the rest of the civilian population seem to have fled.  There are no buildings of any magnificence, but any of these winding streets presents a jumble of grey and ancient architecture, with artistic irregularities of roof and chimney, each building built as a separate creation, of a different height and often at a different level, yet, by long association and the hand of Time, wedded, as it were, and blended into one.

We poked around and bought this, that and the other, drank some mawkish vin blanc and eventually obtained eggs and chips in a suffocating shop, where a lank-haired lantern-jawed little girl bossed us all about and chalked up and calculated the charges with remarkable expertness on the door-post.  The cooking was done in the dining room.

Another diversion was an American band, which played marches with extraordinary vim and in very quick time.  They have their own way of doing everything, even of saluting.

Back to your quarters (eights or sixteenths) as the horizon cut the ripe red sun in half and swallowed it, curled up in our overcoats and damp horse rugs on the floor of a big bare barn.  (These barns, by the way, are fantastically built, maze of curved and beams cunningly fitted and morticed together.)  The gun being duly fixed, we got away in the early afternoon, taking another route back.

IWM (Q 8986) Americans near Famechon w NZers in background, 7 June 1918

[Image: The 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th American Division (attached to 42nd Division for instruction), headed by a British regimental band, marching past Major-General Arthur Solly-Flood (GOC 42nd Division) on a road near Famechon, 7 June 1918.  Note New Zealanders on far side of road filling water-cart from a pump. The 42nd Division had just relieved the New Zealand Division.  IWM (Q 8986)]

17th July (1918)

What with nocturnal revellers last night and Fritz starting to shell before dawn, got precious little sleep.  Today has been characterised by aerial episodes.  The first bit of excitement was when Fritz put up a remarkable barrage of H.E. at a high altitude against a homing squadron of our planes, but failed, as far as we could see, to get any.

Soon after that, a distant balloon of his was converted into a tower of black smoke by a cheeky little speck representing one of H.M’s cloud-dwellers.  This afternoon a Hun “sausage” balloon came floating vagrantly over us, but again through hundreds of archibalds made practice with it and machine guns rattled on all sides, it continued to float on till lost to sight.

The storm is now on us with a great gust of wind and a roar of rain, electric lightening being turned on free, gratis and for nothing.  Curious in the intervals between the thunder-fits to hear the guns taking up the tune.

14th and 15th July (1918)

The gramophone has just “put the wind up us” by emitting a long dreary preliminary wail just like one of Fritz’s big shells coming over.

Who, by the way, was the man (Lourd I think) who used to do grotesque drawings of horses stampeding towards some miserable little human?  The other night on picquet I had to hay-up the animals at midnight and was vividly reminded of his work – a sea of groping necks, flattened ears, and grotesquely protruding lips – and me squished in the middle, kicking wherever there was space for my boot, trying to tie the hay-nets to the picket rope, whilst half a dozen big jaws jerked it this way and that.

Back for my washing – had a fearsome palaver in rusty French with the old dame, who had mislaid several garments and swore I’d never left them.

12th July (1918)

Very heavy showers – mud simply astonishing!  Each man brings several pounds of it into the bivvy on his boots.  You use the word “battle” often.  The actions are better described by the slang “stunt” and simply indicate that one section has awakened from a dormant to a bellicose state.  You hear “the cooks took part in one battle” – everyone within 5 or more miles of the front line does – the enemy may shell and bomb any where within 20 miles of the front and at times back areas are more dangerous than the trenches.  Everything is on far too big a scale to be a battle.

11th July (1918)

“Omnis Gallia in tres partes divisa est”*  I’m in one of them but don’t know which.

The day has been variegated, concluding at tea time with a prodigious clap of tonerre and orgasmic downpours of hail and rain.  Afternoon’s very hard work cutting chaff with a hand machine and getting the dust and grit of it into every portion of my anatomy.

Whilst I was grooming Rangatira this morning he deliberately kicked me.  I replied with interest into his cast iron ribs.  I couldn’t help being amused at the way he took his gruel; he didn’t flinch a muscle or attempt to escape.  Anyhow you can’t hurt him – he’s invulnerable – bites the noses and necks of his neighbours and scoffs at their inadequate retaliations.  I’m certain that the shells and bombs that have done for my other two mules, have hit him and bounced off, leaving merely rough, leathery, bloodless abrasions, which I cannot account for in any other way.  The poor wounded “female frenzy” shows no signs of recovering yet, rolls on her wound and prances about in a most demented manner when you go near her.  I have lately been using her in place of a spirited little chap who works with a will and whose only defect is that his head is so enormous that he is unable to carry it high and occasionally stumbles on the end of his own nose.

Moles continue to burrow around and under our bivvies and scuttle out heaps of fine earth in all sorts of unexpected places, sometimes right over some luckless slumberer’s head.

* “All of Gaul is divided into three parts”, from Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.

Lincoln Lee, Windmill nearly 200 years old, 11 July 1918

[Image: Lincoln Lee, crayon sketch dated 11 July 1918 of windmill, with note “nearly 200 years old”]

10th July (1918)

Out grazing graminivores or herbivores.  Plenty of tanks to be seen in these parts – all shapes, sizes and sexes.  There’s a slump in balloons just now in this sector: as we were finishing lunch a crackle of machine guns brought us out to view one broken adrift and gaily ascending into the cloudy sky.  A few moments later I saw in the distance the unmistakable column of smoke where another had been fired.

The canteen is much in evidence today.  Big keg of (rather watery) English beer – cigars (of a kind) – sweetened condensed milk (fermenting) – biscuits and golden syrup.  Have already spent a small fortune.  The cigars were a failure – if you smoke them they become hostile.

I have about a dozen letters to write.  What shall I do about it?  If I plead as excuse the exhausting nature of this magnum opus, this history of the war by one who went there – “they’ll never believe me” – (Drat that gramophone!)

Now, you might suggest, this evening is the time to make a start, cold and showery and uninviting – but did not I promise myself to take my washing and find a blanchisseuse on the first evening of the kind (Damn that gramophone.)

A bombardier has just been in to see if I could guide a party up to that forward gun position tonight – oh, no my dear sir, me no compree.

Found my blanchisseuse.  Met old army acquaintance and imbibed two leaky cigarette tins of vin blanc and so the evening has passed and letters remain unwritten.

IWM (Q 9819) Infantry practicing with tanks, Sautricourt, 12 July 1918

[Image: Infantry practising an attack behind a smoke screen and a tank. Photograph taken at Sautricourt, 12 July 1918. IWM (Q 9819)]