Thought my shift at picquet last night was never going to end. There’s a fine little poem by Bret Harte about a picquet and a falling star which I can now appreciate. Out exercising where there were broad flat ploughed fields with an old Flemish peasant trudging about them like a Millet.
At sundown the colouring was delicately distributed, the sun looking like a red ball, more like our full moon in smokey weather. Again saw one of our balloons broken adrift and ascending to a great height, dropping its two parachutists and pursued by shells from anti-aircraft guns. The parachutes are pure white and glide gracefully down at what seems to be a very slow pace, but in reality is quick enough to give a nasty jar on alighting. They look like jelly-fish sinking in sunny waters; contrasting with the bright light-brown balloons, which, to carry on the simile, might be the hulls of floating fisher boats.
The canteen is infested with gambling fiends who run Crown and Anchor boards, yelping out a continuous stream of patter. Rather fascinating, watching the throw of the dice and the money going this way and that.
Got the news of the Dardanelles action with the oft-sunk (by journalists) Goeben etc. Doesn’t seem very wonderful to me; we get two boats sunk, sink the small German and the big one gets away and grounds herself, probably to be repaired to have another go. We can’t afford to skite; even on the water, given equal forces, they seem to fight as well as we do.
A mild excitement was the Court Martial of our Trumpeter – a fat jolly chap – for trotting on cobble road, – he got off.
Almost uncomfortably warm – so N.Z. is not the only place where the climate plays tricks. During the forenoon Jerry sent a few H.E. so close that the C.O. thought it advisable to evacuate the stables. We therefore had a quite enjoyable prance around the fields and I again was pleasantly surprised to find what good jumpers my two mules are, an unusual quality in this beast. I haven’t had a chance of trying them at a hurdle, but by the way they go neck and neck over streams and ditches I think they would make a good job of it.
Amusing incidents often occur at mess; some men insist on using shallow plates for things like stew, soup etc., then slither off through mire and slush, try to pass one another on narrow duck-walks and slop their mess in all directions.
Shifting into a Nissen hut. It’s a bit crowded; but a change of neighbours varies the monotony. Three giddy airmen (probably N. Zedders) swooped down on us from nowhere and buzzed around and over our camp like huge mosquitos. One madcap dipped down so as to just shave the top of a telegraph post under which I and others were standing. You should have seen us jump!
8 p.m. Today was pay day and tonight was rum night and the first night we have all been together in the new Camp. We have a huge new canteen with two fireplaces. I spent half an hour there, drying socks at the blaze, making sundry purchases, drinking beer and watching the effects of firelight on the rough semi-bibulous faces and forms of the thronging soldiers. How quickly a camp like this materialises! In a couple of days huts, tents, canteen Q.M stores, smithy, buildings of wood and iron, canvass, tarpaulin and what not, spring up like mushrooms, men take possession of them and the whole is soon a going concern.
A jumbled troublous day; most unsabbatical. Busy shifting camp to a new position nearer our stables. The sun went down through a brilliant slot between an overhanging bulk of drab cloud and the horizon, on which the little hills with their windmills stood out in sharp relief of deep purply-blue against an orange background. I have been indulging in a supper that would stagger you and may possibly stagger me – a hunk of dry bread and some salt bully-beef – opened with a muddy bayonet – washed down with a mouthful of musty water out of my bottle. Today banged into another waggon, interlocking our wheels which were un-interlocked after a spasmodic 4 minutes.
Could I but get an excused duty for a month, a box of colours, a camp stool, gum boots, break-wind with plate-glass window, permit to paint, a few minor commodities, I might be able to supplement this budget with some sketches; but, a yes, I forgot; that would necessitate a larger and stronger green envelope.
A great naval gun mounted on a railway line, close behind us is banging away at regular intervals. A few Yanks are to be met with here and there – they say they want to “go up there where that gard-damn noise is going on”. One of our captive balloons got adrift today and mounted out of sight followed by dozens of shell-bursts – our guns trying to destroy in case it should fall into Fritz’s lines. The Villain, who never writes – only sends a cable once a year for money to go on leave with – has given me a green envelope. The Villain has good points. For instance, he scorned the idea of selling the envelope, though it is common to barter them. Extraordinary people! They wanted a steward for the Officer’s Club and instead of getting some tired old chap they let a younger active member have it. I see that the Yankees allow only one batman or groom to several officers, whereas in our English armies every officer has at least one and from my observation they seem always to be young and active fellows.
[Image: A distant view of a British 9.2 inch rail gun firing in the New Zealand sector during in Coigneux, France, 30 April 1918. Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association: New Zealand official negatives, World War 1914-1918. Ref: 1/2-013726-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22886860]
[Image: Gunners of the Royal Garrison Artillery hauling a shell on to the platform of a 9.2 inch railway gun by its crane. Near Bethune, 17 April 1918, Imperial War Museums Q11593]
Helping to build a Nissen hut all day. The mud steadily increases. Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky! This afternoon some of our returning airmen, in small, fast graceful machines with cocked up tails, swooped down within a couple of hundred feet of us, one after another, each waving his hand as he passed. The engines in that proximity made a tremendous din, like a bevy of machine guns, and the whole of the little incident was pleasant and thrilling.
Heavens! There’s a man in this tent reading “The Waipukurau Press”; wonder if its leader is entitled “Our Warning to the Kaiser.” (It won fame in distant times with a heading “Our warning to the Tzar”)
[Image: Photograph taken on 19 January 1918, of mule teams crossing a muddy field near Arras. Imperial War Museums, Q10627. A Nissen hut can be seen in the background.]