We have been treated to a thunderstorm and have received one orange (and eaten it – the orange not the thunderstorm). Today being payday, the Crown and Anchorites are popping up like garrulous mushrooms (have you ever seen one?) bent on securing some of the shekles. “Any more for any more”? “You pick ‘em and I pay – where you like and when you fancy. And the old man has a skinner for dinner. Away we go to war again. And the old man spits blood!”
A bit of humour at the expense of the Tommy artillery bivouacked in an open field behind us. When advising us of our rendezvous in case of shelling, our O.C. remarked “I don’t anticipate any shelling, but our friends over the way seem to have successfully camouflaged their establishment to look exactly like a Camp.”
It was there a man was given “Field punishment No. 1” i.e. spread-eagled on a gun wheel. Our chaps went over and untied him and so “put the breeze up” the Sgt.-Major that the act was not repeated.
A rather nice brand of ‘bully’ is called “Fray Bentos”. The men has seized upon the words as an expression of satisfaction, e.g. “How did you like such and such?” (answer) “Oh Fray Bentos”. The words of General Russell good: “The dawn is already breaking in the East. May you see the Southern Cross next year.” Have only recently known that Rodin is dead; what a loss! This has been my page of oddments. Oh that we two were maying!
[Image: A circle of World War I New Zealand soldiers watch a game of Two-up at their camp in Louvencourt. Photograph taken 30 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013163-G]
Did a picquet in the small still hours. During the night Fritz dropped a string of heavy bombs. Though bombs are no more dangerous than shells everyone hates them – they drop with a kind of menacing throb-b-b throb-b-b! and an unseen aeroplane, by some acoustic peculiarity, always sounds directly overhead.
Novel sight of dropping of propaganda balloons over Hun’s lines. Bright blue in colour. Don’t know by what arrangement they are regulated, probably clockwork.
[Image: Siemens-Forsman four-engined heavy bomber. IMW (Q 66433)]
Last night Jock, Bombardier Dawson and I carried on rather abstract discussion to a pretty late hour, to the obvious boredom of the two cow-spankers: “get to bed you bastards” they said “and to hell with your Hart and your littertoor”.
Large undulating fields are relieved with patches of brown earth, varying tones of young crops and occasional splashes of light yellow flowers – mustard I think.
A distant picturesque old windmill, peeping over the brow of the hill, swings his big arms slowly against the sky; church spires peep up from among the wooded villages and one begins to soak in somewhat the spirit of an ancient and famous country.
Riding to water this morning, whiz, plunk, plunk! nose-caps from anti-aircraft shells smacked into the ground a few yards away. Merriment in the horse-lines when one of the sergeants came crashing through the hedges leading a wild-looking horse drawing an enormous roller, used by the peasants for agricultural purposes, and with it rolled the now doughey mud into a state approaching consistency. Supper last night a superlative mixture of rolled oats and custard concocted by Jock almost at the expense of his eyesight over a fire of bituminous painted boards.
Have been for a stroll with Jock, talking of pleasant things – of designing houses and building them and other pleasantries of the world we have left but not forgotten. He, too, is married.
Cold, damp, and raw. This morning entertained by an escaped charger; a large black horse, which in spasms of elephantine friskiness insisted upon accompanying us, punctuating his gallops with harried munching of young oats, whilst his distantly blaspheming driver brought up the rear. He, the horse, would be pausing to crop the oats and apparently an easy prey, but out of the corner of his eye he had been noting his would-be captor, and just when the latter’s hopes were rising up, up went his heels and down went his head and “Quadrupedante putrem sonitu quatit ungula campum”. Witnessed some rite of which I am ignorant. An old priest, accompanied by a woman and young girl carrying a large box with a cloth covering, walking down the middle of the street monitoring all comers aside in an authoritative manner. Perhaps something to do with May Day?
Trying to use those crayons. I have done one little daub (or rub, or smidge, whichever is the word appropriate to chalk offensives) and am in the middle of a second.
Have lately been and felt gay almost to hilarity – don’t know the cause, other than good health and the approach of spring. I even made a bad pun this morning before dawn while Jock and I were harnessing in semi-darkness – he got quite annoyed.
Great shells, coming from so far back that we could not distinguish the reports of the guns they came from, kept roaring overhead in salvos, sounding like railway trains. There was, to me, the novel sight of many blue, bright and wonderfully swift swallows, swooping and skimming above in every direction. Their wings and backs are a sleep electric blue, the under body from the wing-joints white, their long neatly-forked tails streaming behind. They are the smartest birds I know.
My mules are now a pair of madcaps – the supercilious Rangatira and the “scatty” mule who dances a fandango all the time I’m grooming her – neither of them inclined to make chums either of me or each other.
Have just received from Jock’s hands a ‘dixie’ of tinned fruit and custard – we have also in reserve five or six eggs ready boiled.
[Image: Sketch of “Donks” in crayon by Lincoln Lee, c1918]
We met with “outlaw” mules, which have either escaped or, more likely been surreptitiously released by their exasperated muleteers. These roam unmolested by harness and humans, finding luxury in the young oat crops and clover patches, but when we troop by their gregarious instincts revive and they come trotting alongside and accompany us to water. One, striped, obviously part Zebra, and quite unmanageable. Here and there are colossal cherry trees in blossom. The Froggys are funny about their water. Every day there are “rumpuses”. “Darby” white with rage and clenching his toothless jaws, a large stone clutched in his hand, threatened to bombard a Tommy caught in the act of “pinching” a bucket of liquid putrescence, from the stinking pond near their dung hill. Tommy beat a retreat. A woman was this morning making fuss over a notice being stuck in her field. When the battery, subject of the notice, appears on the scene she will probably get St. Vitus’ Dance. Her main blast was against a soldier squatting on a temporary latrine. He sat on, looking her stolidly in the eye. It was a treat on the other hand, to see something of the French troops, smart and efficient-looking.
[Image: Mules tethered in the abandoned trenches of the Hindenburg Line near Bellenglise, 4 October 1918. IWM (Q 9610)]