Frost again and hard ground with fairly thick ice on the pools – the mokes* don’t fancy much sucking the (always) dirty water through a sieve of broken ice. The sun only attains about 20˚ above the horizon, around which it makes a very modest segment of a circle and effects an early retreat. Tonight is clear starlight with Venus in the West and Jove in the East, both in great splendour. The guns are growling away in ceaseless ire, spring offensives being replaced by winter offensives, in fact perpetual offensives. Have just been the grateful recipient of 3 small parcels from the Menteath girls. Tell E. Her sketch of the Kaiser, chased by (I presume) a New Zealander, is pinned to the roof of our tent.
Didn’t think I should ever need gloves, but am now glad of them especially when riding. Every day when out exercising the animals we have free entertainments at the expense of some unfortunate who loses control of one or both of his donks. Intoxicated with its unexpected freedom the weird one tosses its eary head, stamps on and breaks its bridle and then in sudden terror bounds off with a succession of startling rearward and upward lashings-out of heels, to be recovered later on, probably at his place in the line, looking quite innocent and unconcerned.
A short sketch of my companions may amuse you. W. you know. Next to him a big brawny lad of hearty, if boisterous disposition. Then a nondescript individual just returned from Hospital whom the others call Von Kluck, and roundly but good-humouredly accuse of being a professional lead-swinger. To this he makes very faint opposition and seems to be resigned to his fate. Then comes a chirpy youth with no specially outstanding features physical or otherwise. Then there is the low-browed villain – the tend brow-beater and know-all. A volcanic specimen of young Taranaki comes next – his nicknames are legion. Last on my right is “The Civil Servant”, rising 40 years, the oldest in the Battery.
* Moke: British term for a donkey, or slang used in Australia and New Zealand for a horse that is old or in poor condition.
My second “buckshee” parcel was from the Spinster’s Club and contained amongst various goods an amazing size in cholera belts which will come in either as a spare comforter or for cleaning harness. Church at Y.M.C.A. yesterday – a spirited address from the same little man as before. They have there the tiniest piano I’ve ever seen (set up on top of a packing case) on which the hymns are strummed.
The fireplace is a great success; we make toast, heat water, dry our things and keep warm. The noise of the guns is at times not unlike the banging and rolling about of big tanks in the distance.
Great doings in our tent this evening. We collared another tent from an abandoned camp and put it over our own, so we are under two thicknesses of canvas; obtained also a brazier with a chimney, which we now have going in full swing in the doorway, with the prospect of dry boots and socks – tres bon! Or “trees beans” as some have it. Had a lovely spill off my donk tonight, landing in the mud which, unpleasant in itself, saved me from so much as a bruise. These are the humorous interludes and we all roar with laughter at the unfortunate, except when your own turn comes: you scrape most of the mud off with your jack-knife and proceed with the business of the day.
This afternoon bought an exciting aerial display by a number of the redoubtable gothas sailing serenely over our heads supported by a squad of fast scouting machines at a much higher altitude. The archibalds got busy and plastered the atmosphere with shell-bursts, but the beggars got away without apparent injury. We could see the dropping bombs flashing in the sun. None came near us. Have made a patent tin-candle-sock-drier and am now experimenting with it, its heat is hardly tropical.
The mud is getting quite fantastic in its smell, stickiness and general enormity; watering horses is now one gigantic and confused bog-scramble. Went to church in Y.M.C.A. this morning and bellowed hymns and heard an earnest little chap discourse quite eloquently on one of St. Paul’s epistles. We had W’s cake at lunch and have guzzled most of the blackballs, which are very popular. One chap got a tin of asparagus which we beated up and schlooped down by the yard – it needed condiments and white sauce, which our imaginations had to supply. Managed to get rid of the superfluous balaclavas. Note: the plethora of balaclava caps sent to soldiers was a standing joke.
8 p.m. We have just had the ginger out of the parcel – it went down like a hot toddy. If you good folk will send the stuff what can you expect us to do but enjoy it? You will perhaps be amused to know that every part of your parcels is utilised not excepting the tins and the cloth-wrapping, which either comes in for dishcloths or harness rags. There is actually a farm house here still inhabited, right in the middle of the camp. W. and I had some coffee there today in the now familiar handle-less cups.
W. got a tin of the most scrumptious home-made shortbread and biscuits, so we are having a royal time in this hut. Yesterday and today have been warmer, the ice has thawed and King Mud rules again.
Well, we move up to new positions tomorrow. The frost this morning was intense and the ice on the ponds quite thick. This cold clear weather has the advantage of rendering the ground dry under foot. The trumpet has just blown “Come and get your pay” and there is great rejoicing in the camp.
9.30. p.m. Spent the evening with Campbell at a sort of variety entertainment by some chaps out of Yorkshire regiment. The show was excellent and well put on – had a real good laugh.