Enormous numbers of rooks and crows all over England, big ungainly scraggy-looking birds that gorge all day. There is a water-cress bed nearby. Where a stream widens out the cress has been planted over an area of about ½ an acre and is cut systematically as it grows – the whole thing being surmounted by a lifelike scare-crow armed with a dummy gun. A big battle plane flew over us, quite near, at a terrific rate, then returning at a higher altitude, did a corkscrew dive, turning over and over like a shot bird; eventually righting itself and roaring away home to its roost.
Camp full of what look likes generals and field marshals. Trying to manage two rough nags this morning, I made rather a mess of it.
Went to concert in Y.M.C.A. which wasn’t half bad. The room was very full and I had secured a seat on a table but after a while found I was sitting in a pool of water out of a vase some clumsy person had upset, so removed with damped ardour (if that is the seat of ardour). The chaps who have the bunks near me are not half bad, though one of them stutters and it is rather painful listening to his hampered narrations.
To Fleet this evening and fossicked out artists’ colorman. Had another beauty of a red moon to look at coming home, eating chips and fish, hot, out of a piece of newspaper. With Warwick for companion tonight, we made a start through Paradise, but struck a side-track which proved somewhat wild and brambly. Were repaid by stumbling across a hedgehog, curled up in a ball from which he absolutely refused to budge though lifted about by his spikes. The inhabitants tell us there are plenty of squirrels about, but hard to see with the trees in leaf; also snakes of several varieties. Whilst I was sketching, a half grown foal came up, bit my boots, sniffed by hat and sketch and in short, became so familiar that I had to shoo him off. His dam, on the other hand, bolted when she saw me, but she would probably know more about art.
Made Crondall by a track leading over stiles and rustic bridges, through woods and copses from field to field until it eventually landed us near our food-provider’s back garden. We stopped in various shady nooks to eat blackberries and play with a tame pony. This path we afterwards discovered is called Paradise because of its many charms. After dinner we sketched part of the village and a round haystack. That over, we set forth to Odiham, 4 miles further on. A delightful walk along a splendid tarred road with huge elm and oak trees on either side, often meeting over-head. There were some ripping old cottages en route, one of which I sketched amongst its trees and hedges. Near it was an amazing structure, the thatch of which projected far enough to form a verandah and was propped up all round by rustic poles. Odiham: a larger place than Crondall. The first two pubs we came to looked rather pretentious and were styled Hotels. That did not suit us, so we proceeded. Saw some old stocks in which offenders used to be placed (Lights out! and a rough house on owing to the draft men going tonight – Lights turned on again so resume in bed). We wandered on through the long straggly main street until we came to the real thing in pubs – low, old and laced with beams – in front of it the village pump, which we worked and, to our delight, brought water up at the first heave. Sat in the funniest low-ceilinged tap-room at a table made of a single rough oak slab which had been scrubbed out of recognition; served by a rheumaticky old chap from a bar about 4 ft. square – to wit – the cupboard under the stairs. We ate our simple supper there and after I had obtained from mine host a cigar, and not a bad one either, proceeded to our homeward way. The full moon came up a golden globe behind the trees and everything was, to use R’s adjective, “Apple”. The departing heroes of last night made such a mess that I got the job this morning of cleaning up so will also clean up my correspondence.
[Sketch, G L Lee, Crondall. Likely 2 September 1917].
An interesting gathering in the old pub last night. The landlady, a pleasant enough woman, chatting with her guests: an intelligent man of about 35 buying some bottled beer and having a yarn with us; a middle-aged chap dressed like a city clerk or business man; a jolly old chap with a bushy beard who cracked a few jokes; two typical old hay-seeds who omitted little sound other than an occasional dry cackle and who were decorated with what R. calls chin-weed, and who both smoked tiny clay pipes; and lastly, we two antipodean artillerymen. It seemed to give the beer a good taste.
6. p.m. “Runnymede” – the name of the cottage in Crondall where we feed. The good wife is just frying the eggs. Ate innumerable ripe blackberries and did a sketch showing Farnham in distance – hay stooks in foreground. The Crondall Church is of Norman architecture built about 1150, the tower being added some 5 or 6 centuries afterwards. The pub is about 200 years old. This village was once the most important centre hereabouts, more so than Fleet or Aldershot, that is why it has more historical interest. This information from the village grocer, from whom R. purchased some very nice cakes called Parkins, crumbly things browned on both sides flavoured with coconut, and full of raisins. Kapai!
Wet weather is menacing the crops throughout the district. In many fields the stooks appear to be going rotten and where grain is still uncut it is getting sodden and broken down. There are many large fields of clover which look pretty and smell better. Tore a hole in my unmentionables climbing a fence – so to the end of another day.
I saw my largest toadstool (as well as my largest toad) yesterday in Ewshot churchyard – almost big enough and strong enough for a child to sit on. Another loafing morning – ate a lot of blackberries and sawed through a small log – making a gun emplacement. To Crondall in a sunset which made all the little farms, fields and trees glow with an indescribably peaceful beauty. Back through some strange lanes in the moonlight, the effect of which was even more beautiful than the sunset.
Fleet – a long straggling row of shops in which there appears to be nothing of interest and soldiers everywhere. Spent afternoon pretending to lift logs into waggon and push waggon up a hill. R. and I did our caterpillar act under the rainproof cape for a few hundred yards up to the Queen’s Arms. The small plumes are sloes from which Sloe Gin is made – they taste very bitter.