A clear night with a young moon descending along the path of the sun. I have to pass the night in an empty iron hut and do 4 ½ hours picket in the small hours. The big guns have been barking today. A batch of reinforcements including many who, we thought, had become permanent instructors at Ewshot, so there has been a combing out of the “die-hards” or “Anzacs” as the Villian ironically calls them. Curiously the old faces keep popping up, in all sorts of places and under all sorts of conditions, you keep scratching your head wondering where on earth it was that I came across that chap.
Went up with W. and another chap with waggon and 6 horse (or mule) team with a load of ammunition. Dumped that and returned by a wide detour through another village (bashed) picking up a load of stuff to take back. I was able to take a fresh interest in the city after last night’s lecture. The walls and moat are more attractive when you know that on innumerable occasions the besieged poured molten lead on the heads of the besiegers floundering below. We were able to just distinguish a fragment of a mural painting on one of the ruined walls which the lecturer had mentioned, and so forth. He had remarked on the opulence of its vegetation; how the buildings were all to be seen surrounded by trees and gardens. One can see the blasted and blackened remains of trees and shrubs, half buried in the debris on all sides, and there is something about them sadder even than the broken buildings. A blown-up cemetery isn’t a pretty sight either. As my little mules knee was still stiff I took in his stead a mad mare which is quite unmanageable in stables, but an excellent animal in harness, and the pair went splendidly. I must confess to some particularly asinine familiarities with my little donk this afternoon. His only retaliation was to lavishly lick my hand, being it appears, partial to the machine oil I had been smearing on my metal work. Usage soon reduces for one the essential weirdness of mules, so that now when occasionally I handle a horse I marvel at the insignificance of his ears and the brevity of his head. Mules are, as a rule, fast walkers and easy to sit at the trot. When you want them to go you say “allons donc”.
Went to an interesting lecture at the Y.M.C.A. Hut tonight, on the town of Ypres. An Irish Y.M.C.A. official who mixed in a spice of humour that often brought the house down. He emphasised the fact that we have been fighting in Flanders in the teens of each century, with one exception, from the very early times and always for the same purpose – to prevent the coast getting in the control of a powerful adversary; also the fact that the Belgians aren’t really a nation but a modern attempt to nationalise a number of stray fragments mongrelised by constant wars. Moreover, as in all invaded countries, the better off people have removed themselves.
We now exercise animals before breakfast. Trumpet!
When you want to do anything to a touchy animal which he is likely to resent, you commence by putting what is called a “twitch” on his lip, i.e. a stout stick with a loop of cord or leather on one end, the loop being slipped over his upper lip and twisted up tight by the handle. When his lip is pinched up into a bulb he is practically helpless, losing interest in everything in the world except lip which he eyes askance in pained suspense until released.
Much amused at the Villian. His leave is due, but of course, he’s unfinancial and hasn’t a single article of equipment approaching decency. He is impatiently awaiting the result of cable to N.Z. for funds. He invents all sorts of explanations, forgetting that they are at variance with his utterances yesterday. His present difficulty is a hat, the punctured and shapeless article now gracing his summit being a sight to behold. As he has an incurable habit of losing everything no one is anxious to loan him one.
Got a chap to cut my wig and feeling light-headed. The gramophone has departed and not too soon – even Kathleen Mavoureen (sung by a woman) palls after frequent repetitions. I now fully believe that we are going to move out soon for the simple reason that they are now protecting the huts with earth ramparts and going on with the roofs of the stables, which by a now familiar military anomaly, are sure indications that we are soon to leave the quarters thus completed.
My touchy mule has gone clean berserk. Before they removed the frost nails, he kicked a large piece of steak out of the rump of the nearest horse, it is now in the sick lines; and today he has lamed my other donk whose knee is swelling visibly. I’m hanged if I know what to do with him. Has also returned to his nipping practices and eliminated small bits of skin from the necks of his neighbours.