18th April (1918)

Orders were to take the gun to Ordnance, about 10 miles back near Doullens.  The country we traversed was very pretty, sprinkled with villages and hamlets.  We wound through a great wood, the floor of which and the road-sides were chequered with wild violets, cowslips, thyme, and snowdrops.  The trees are just burgeoning with a glow of dull bronze colour, their straight stems are freckled with green and silver.  Going through this I sang “Under the Greenwood Tree”.  In the villages were plenty of women and girls, neatly dressed and comely; soldiers, French and English, old folk and children and every one of them at work.  Quaint old houses, pretty grey stone churches, all with their background of trees traced against the sky.  I hummed “The Two Grenadiers” and it almost made me shed tears to think how many of such peaceful places have been or are being devastated.  The greatest charm of the villages is their approaches.  As the roads wind toward them, embowered in protecting trees, with their small but predominant church-spires they make an appeal as much to the heart as to the eye.  The people seem fond of trellised trees, lopped to a fair height, boughs and branches cunningly interwoven on one plane, as a tree is trained to a wall.  Crucifixes often enclosed by such trees are placed at the approach to each village.

Every available building under British occupation is numbered and has a notice announcing its billeting capacity.  The streets also are often given English names, which look very incongruous, as you can imagine. – “Leicester Square” for instance, in a humble Frankish hamlet.

IWM Q 61329 British troops in the Rue de l'Eglise (Church Street) at Mailly-Maillet, 20 April 1918

[Image: British troops in the Rue de l’Eglise (Church Street) at Mailly-Maillet, 20 April 1918. IWM (Q 61329)]

17th April (1918)

Back at the old wagon lines, by gum!  A man never knows what he is going to do next.  Was enjoying a rest when our team got orders to pull our gun out for repairs.

1-2 013156-G Soldiers carry mortar shells 15 April 1918

[Image: Soldiers carry mortar shells across open ground and stack them for a New Zealand trench mortar battery near Colincamps, France. Photograph taken 15 April 1918 Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.  Ref: 1/2-013156-G]

16th April (1918)

I had just snuggled down congratulating myself that I had won the toss for picquet, when whiz-z-z Bang! Plump! came seven or eight shells right down into the other side of the embankment.  We hopped over the bank.  Our team at the end seemed to have got it the worst, one animal being stone dead and ‘blug’ all over the shop.  Had the rest off the lines and away up the sunken road in no time.  Soon after Fritz gave the place another slather.  Among the casualties my small mousey donk has some nasty flesh wounds and is pretty sick.  My mad one has a scratch but disdains to take notice of it.  The picquet’s escape was miraculous as he was amongst the mules at the time.  The shell holes are placed almost in a line where we were bivouacked.  Jerry must have been exceptionally clever to observe us in such dull weather and so soon.  A driver has gone back to the wagon lines leading his own surviving and wounded donk and my poor little chap, who is peppered all over.  My darkie, (I think I’ll call him The Maori Chief, or Rangatira as you can’t touch his head, which is tapu) had a most extravagant roll in the mud, succeeding in getting it even on his ears and neck, and then let out with both hind feet when I approached to groom him.

An avenue of tall trees runs right through the wood from side to side, a vista or colonnade of trunks with an arch of light at each end.  Tall yellow cowslips are cropping up among the grass and I saw the leaves of wild mignonette.  Its outskirts are encircled by very gnarled old pollard trees, the branches being chopped and tied in large faggots.

If I leave off at the bottom of this page it will have the effect of the chapter in a cheap novel finishing at an exciting juncture.   The Hero – a full blown lead driver in a battery of field artillery, having been shelled out of one position retires to another.  The burning question is – will one “Jerry” or “Fritz” let him enjoy so much as a night’s rest as the inhuman practice of “Standing to” at 4 a.m. permits him?  The Heroine, waiting breathlessly some 12,000 miles away claps her binoculars to her yearning eyes and finds (alas!) that the bulge in the surface of the terrestrial ball baffles her vision.

Several of us went back to bring up cookhouse gear.  We found the cook (a fearful looking geyser with a liberal sprouting of blue-black whiskers) squatting among the remnants of his hovel as drunk as an owl. (our rum)  He informed us that he was “waiting for shells”, vituperated us in the vilest terms; said he had been “keeping the Tommies off with an axe”, and had demonstrated to them certain woodsman’s cuts – to which a huge gash in a piece of timber testified.  Later he appeared in the distance staggering hatless towards us, draped with all sorts of litter and rubbish salvaged from his wreck.  Later still, whilst he was attempting to make the tea a few of our planes came scouting round close to the ground – whereat he went berserk, demanding a rifle and cursing us for our indifference.  The Sergeant-Major did not report him; a stern man with a kind heart.

IWM (Q 10907) Bandaging leg of wounded mule, St. Omer, 16 April 1918

[Image: Bandaging the leg of a wounded mule at No. 23 Veterinary Hospital, St. Omer, 16 April 1918.  IWM (Q 10907)]

IWM (Q 11025) Surgeon of the Army Veterinary Corps removing shrapnel from a wounded horse, 16 April 1918

[Image: Surgeon of the Army Veterinary Corps removing shrapnel from a wounded horse at No. 23 Veterinary Corps Hospital. St. Omer, 16 April 1918. Note the means of chains used to keep the horse still. IWM (Q 11025)]

nlnzimage 1-2 013157-G 16 April 1918

[Image: A howitzer positioned to support New Zealand troops in their section of the Front in Bus-les-Artois on the Somme during World War I. Also shows the gun crew in place. Photograph taken 16 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders.  Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington.  Ref: 1/2-013157-G]

Monday (15 April 1918)

Grazing.  Different trees and shrubs disclose their identity as they come into leaf.  I recognise walnuts, wild woodbine, and other old acquaintances.  Most of the big trees seem to be birches or beeches.

(“Oh to be in England now that April’s there”)*

7.30. p.m.  A mile or two away at the guns.  A small community of 20 or 30 of us in very makeshift shelters along-side a railway embankment.  Our job is to harness up at 4 a.m. each morning in view of emergencies and if and when needed dash to the guns and haul them out.

On the other side of the wood is a village with a name like a sneeze.  “Acheux”.

* The first lines of a poem by Robert Browning

nlnzimage 12 013076-G Artillery Horses sheltering 1 April 1918

[Image: Several teams of artillery horses sheltered in the lee of a railway embankment during bombardment near Mailly-Maillet on the Somme. Photograph taken 1 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders.  National Library New Zealand, ref: 1/2-013076-G.  Mailly-Maillet is very near Acheux but it is unknown whether this is the same railway embankment referred to by Lincoln in his 15 April entry.]

13th April (1918)

Well, lords and ladies gay, as yest’er’en I was roaming the nigh meadows contenting myself muchly with the beauties of the late gloaming and endeavouring to depict in rough pencil sketch a cow and other scenery, wondering even whether or no I might string a couple of rhymes together, from such mood rudely was I awakened by the raucous reiteration of my rank and cognomen.  Hastening thither I was quickly and without ceremony informed that the guns were hungry for gas – harness up, load, hook-in and away.  Clatter, clatter, jangle, bump! through the quiet villages and along the country roads – no police about and we are late so let em go – hell-for-leather.  The sky full of bright stars, planets, and nebulae, varied by strange mobile astral bodies supplied by the ingenuity of men; the whole district lit up by the spasmodic flashes of cannon and every now and then, as a memento more, a screech of shrapnel overhead in unpleasant proximity.  The mules were fresh and in the cool night air a bit skittish and there were some surprising exhibitions of shying at motor bikes (their pet abomination) which came badgering out of nowhere and some headlong dives round unexpected obstacles on the roads.  Where we cut across country, it was simply turn your team at the bank and over, trusting to luck that you were in the right place and that the wagon or most of it would follow.  We got there, and not last, though last to start.  By the time we had pulled into our orchard, half-brained by invisible branches banging on our tin hats, reloaded, and got rid of our animals, it was near midnight.  Off with boots and tunic, and under the bedclothes after an enormous jorum of cold Quaker Oats and condensed milk left by our mates.  Find I can cope with the shortage of sleep by correspondingly and in inverse ratio increasing my rations.  After tea we got the now familiar order and “off to war we go again”.  I can tell you we lost no time doing most of the trips at a spanking trot, spontaneously accelerated when passing batteries of sixty-pounders firing salvos.

1-2-013131-G New Zealand howitzer batteries in action at Spice Farm, 13 April 1918

[Image:  New Zealand howitzer batteries in action against the German line at Spice Farm (probably France) during World War I. Shows a line of guns. In the foreground, a gun crew secures the gun in its position. Piles of artillery shells are also prominent. Photograph taken 13 April 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Ref: 1/2-013131-G]

Friday, 12th April (1918)

During the half hour before breakfast we are all about at our ablutions whistling and singing and forgetting about the war.  Birds are singing and hopping about on the now well-budded trees and flowers are popping up in the grass, “ver appetet”.*

Yes, it feels good to be washed and shaved again, to turn up the side of the ‘bivvy’ and let the sun stream in and do up the straw and towels and things.  Riding to water over-took my old friend the stammering Scot (who was so frightfully sea-sick on the Corinthic) and we had a yarn.  It is remarkable how we all get scattered – some in one battery, some in another, some get wounded or sick and go to England or back home and some make a lasting home under the soil of France.  In these few weeks little cemeteries have grown up with their neatly aligned wooden crosses, in the neighbourhood of each dressing station.  “Joan”, espying a soldier taking some water from a most filthy pool in their yard, the soakage from their dunghill, came hurriedly toddling down to stop him, looking for all the world like one of her own old hens and emitting a flow of toothless French, wonderfully like the cackle of excited poultry.  Apparently she,

“Like a lover of camelon, Has grown like that it gazes on”.

Violets and buttercups add to our floral decorations and the buds on the trees are bulging.  It is really praiseworthy how soon the authorities get things organised.  Here now are baths available, the mail service regular, cloth provided and the labour corps in full swing mending and draining the roads.  As Dad put it in his last letter, “We’re in for a big issue” – we will “go on or do down” (Lloyd George).

Aerial activities have been pronounced.  A large observation balloon floats almost overhead, shaped like a monstrous elephant without legs or tail.

* “Anything beyond that spring”

IWM (Q 6510) Troops washing at Robecq, 12 April 1918

[Image: Troops washing at Robecq, 12 April 1918. Imperial War Museums, ref: IWM (Q 6510)]

nlnzimage 1-4 009550-G Soldier's graves WW1 location unknown nd

[Image: A group of soldiers’ graves in World War I. A soldier stands at the wire fence enclosing them. Location unknown. Original photographer is unidentified. Copy negative may have been made by Henry Armytage Sanders.  New Zealand Library, ref: 1/4-009550-G]

11th April (1918)

Just had lunch supplemented with cake and canned fruit from our canteen, which is now making a fresh start in business.  The sun has come through the grey pall out of curiosity to refresh its memory of the earth, but as the guns are opening out he will, I expect, soon retire in disgust.

We have to ride about a mile across country night and morning to water our steeds.  A certain amount of fun is to be got out of that.  The Trumpeter has a great horse that simply won’t walk but prances the whole time, as to the tune of “The Campbells are Coming”; in fact that air comes into your head as soon as you see him.

Some of the peasant women are superb creatures.  One walked past our camp today whilst a sergeant was relieving himself.  He deliberately exposed himself to her.  With no hesitation in her gait or alteration in her friendly smile, she completely ignored him.

Windmills here are not so numerous as in La Belgique.  One ruinous one is quite a land mark, brandishing a threatening but atrophied arm as in a dying malediction of the Kaiser and all his Myrmidons.  What one misses in comparison with English landscape are the snug rose-encumbered  and virginia-creepered cottages, the thick and bosky hedgerows, the cunningly spaced and seemingly self-planted trees, and a sort of “home” feeling one can’t define.

We had an al fresco tub in the evening air.  As I look around me in a benign mood, I spy through the leafless hedges white and unwonted forms following my lead.  Under such circumstances we scrub one another’s backs.  And the guns bang off all around.  I perceive that the very long, straight and branchless boles of most of the trees in France are not due to nature – they are lopped for the wood, as are the hedges, the willows and everything useable.  I am sitting outside our bivvy on an ammunition box.  This small box is a good example of the cost of war.  It holds only two of our 4½ inch 35 lb. shells, is made of thick strong planks, screwed dovetailed together, and at each end is a stout rope handle.  I should estimate its cost at 5/-.  Though they are supposed to be salvaged and used again, 90% are collared, naturally enough, for firewood – countless thousands of them.

Water-pumping stations have to be put up through large districts which, like this, have no effective supply.  We hear that Fritz is pushing on other parts of the Front.  He is certainly making a tremendous and successful-looking effort.  The idiotic papers will talk of “The last stand of the Kaiser” etc.