Diary of Frank Simon 66142 NZEF
Frank Simon serves in WW1 for years before he starts his diary.
Then he marries an Irish girl and writes his account of the war for her. It is a wonderful diary, full of personal opinions and dreams of promotion. He lives through some of the most savage fighting of the war.
The subtext shows him as a man of his times - prejudiced against people of colour, yet compassionate towards deserters suffering shell-shock.
He wins high praise and promotion for his courage during the battles of Messines Ridge: ‘A very intelligent and useful officer … A good disciplinarian and organiser … Very cool under fire’.
Months later, he is devastated by a poor report, unlike any he has ever received: ‘An unreliable officer.’
It destroys him. He immediately resigns his Captaincy and relinquishes command of his Company.
Nine days later he is killed in action.
The diary runs over two books, from May 1917 through to January 1918.
Frank Simon was born to Thomas and Edith Simon in Dunedin, New Zealand around 1887. He studied at Otago University before travelling to Ireland to continue his studies at Trinity College Dublin.
There he meets a young Irish girl, Mary Kavanaugh (Mamie). They marry in London halfway through the war. Not everyone is happy; Mamie is treated coldly by some of his friends when they return to Ireland on leave.
Was it a religious issue? From his book choices, Simon leans towards atheism. In the field, he attends Protestant services.
Simon’s women friends are the most disapproving, so perhaps he and Mamie were ‘living in sin’ before the marriage. The fact that the marriage was in London rather than Ireland supports this notion. Simon is later relieved to find that her parents approved of the marriage; it appears they did not know in advance. Perhaps Simon and Mamie moved to London to escape censure.
The diaries are laced with comments and opinions, giving insights into Simon’s thoughts and feelings - on the rich and famous, his fellow officers, his friends, and those around him. This is a very personal history.
It ends 9 days before he is killed in action.
'If I should chance to be killed ...'
Frank Simon was born in New Zealand around 1887. He studied at Otago University and later at Trinity College Dublin. Unsubstantiated reports say he studied medicine; his enlistment says ‘university student’.
He spent 2 years with the O.T.C during his time at Otago University. He was still a student at Trinity College when war broke out; within weeks, he received his commission as an officer.
The following significant dates come from his diary.
Commission dates from 28.8.14
Joined T.M.s 3.7.16
Came to France 12.2.16
Promoted lieut 10.9.16
Struck off 9th/R.D.F strength26.10.16 (taken on strength Royal Dublin Fusiliers)
Went on leave 11.10.16
Long leave 8.2.17
His marriage to 21 year old Mary Elizabeth Kavanagh (Mamie) provides the impetus to write the diary: 'If I should chance to be killed or wounded ... please send it to my wife ... & place these notes in the hands of one who will value them.'
He shares his thoughts and feelings in his diary - expressing his opinions as well as recording the facts. He has Mamie in mind as he writes. He shares with her his pride at a glowing reference, and later his desolation at a poor review. Tragically, the diary ends with his words of confusion and despair; he is killed in action 9 days later.
. . . . .
Below the entries on his Dates page, he mentions the reward for his efforts in ‘the Messines stunt’: he is given command of a company over the heads of more senior men. The seeds of discontent are sown - a motive perhaps for the harsh and belittling comments a few months later that lead to his resignation.
The details of the promotion are on the page facing the dates. He is to replace the wounded officers as temporary Captain.
Frank Simon, Lieut. 9th R. Dub. Fus.
If I should chance to be killed or wounded, will whoever gets this book please send it to my wife, and thus at the same time oblige an unfortunate comrade & place these notes in the hands of one who will value them. Her address is
Mrs Frank Simon,
32 Ainger Road,
Commission dates from 28.8.14
Joined T.M.s 3.7.16
Came to France 12.2.16
Promoted lieut 10.9.16
Struck off 9th/R.D.F strength 26.10.16 (taken on strength Royal Dublin Fusiliers)
Went on leave 11.10.16
Long leave 8.2.17
M’s birthday 3.5.’96
Divisional Parchment 7.5.17
Transferred to 1st Otago Rgt 26.5.17
La Basse Ville 31.7.17
made (scored out) appointed bombing officer 29.5.17
13th Complimented by Colonel on work in Messines stunt & given as reward temporary Command of 8th Compy thus put over the heads of a Capt & Senior Lieut who had already commanded companies.
T/Captaincy. Order 1312 of Div. Orders 18.7.17.
“The under mentioned is granted Temp. rank of Capt. from date shown:-
Lieut. F. Simon, vice Capt. J. Thompson, wounded, to date 8.7.17".
To Command Coy.
“Batt. Orders C.182 of 18.7.17.
“Capt J. P. Hewat relinquished command of 8th (S) Coy. on evac. sick 10.7.17.
Lieut (Temp. Capt) F. Simon assumed command of 8th (S) Coy. on 11.7.17.”
Frank Simon - lover of books
It seems Frank Simon loved books and used his time in France to seek them out.
His choice of books suggests he was fluent in French.
They also give some insight into his ideas and beliefs. He had an open mind and was interested in the controversial.
Felix le Dantec - "fanatically Lamarckian, atheist, monist, materialist and determinist" (Wiki) - wrote a major work on Darwin.
Frank Simon wrote his Will during the fighting at Messines. His major concern was the collection of books he’d left with a Justice of the Peace back in Ireland; in the event of his death, these were to be sent to Southland Boys High School in New Zealand, with ‘EXPENSES OF CARRIAGE’ to come out of his estate. He was emphatic about this; it was important to him.
Everything else was left to his wife.
Books to get:-
Balzac. Guerres choisis illustrées. Trois vols. rel. demi peau. 18fr. Librairie Larousse.
Felix le Dantec. “L’origine de la Vie” Biological.
(Félix-Alexandre Le Dantec was a French biologist and philosopher of science. He has been characterised as "fanatically Lamarckian, atheist, monist, materialist and determinist". Wiki.)
Strand Magazine Dictionary Dept. 11 & 13 Southampton Row. W.C. Brit. Emp. Mod. Dictionary. Ed. de luxe 9/-
(This last entry has ‘Obtained’ written across it.)
Books to get.
Frank Simon continued his diary in a second book, transcribing important information such as addresses from the first book.
He is still looking for the books by Balzac and Felix le Dantec.
Ref: Simon, Frank - WW1 66142 [AABK 18805 W5568/67 0136440] Archives New Zealand
In the event of my death I give that part of my library stored with C.G.Warner Esq.,J.P. of Boden Park, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, Ireland, to the Southland Boys High School, Invercargill, N.Z.
EXPENSES OF CARRIAGE TO COME OUT OF my estate.
The remaining part of my property and effects I give to my wife, Mrs Mary Elizabeth Simon, 23 Ainger Road, South Hampstead, London N.W.
Signature Frank Simon
Rank and Regt. Lieut. & Temp. Captain 1st Otago Regiment
Date August 10th 1917.
A Man of Ambition
By the time Frank Simon starts his diary in late May 1917, he has years of experience as a junior officer. He enlists in 1914 and goes to France in early 1916. His promotion to lieutenant comes in October that year.
He is still a lieutenant when he starts his diary. And his resentment at the upper ranks is starting to show. He and his fellow section officers have to take the men into action while the captain and the adjutant sit around in safety - presumably thinking about ‘anything but their shortcomings’.
There is a certain irony in his attitude. The following pages show that he is very keen to join their ranks, counting the number of officers ahead of him and looking for opportunities to prove he is worthy of promotion. He has his eye on the prize, and the prize is captaincy and command of a company.
He cultivates those he meets, savouring links to senior officers who knew his parents or his brother Horace. He is particularly pleased to meet General Braithewaite, who treats him very decently and takes an interest in what he has to say. ‘He seems keen & efficient. I hope to see more of him’.
Today the battery was reinforced by twenty men drawn equally from the 4 battalions, & none too soon, as we are very short of men.
Unfortunately these men will be wholly untrained if any stiff work ensue, & will be of little more use than carriers.
The captain should have seen to this matter long ago, or at least not later than when we last went out into Reserve. If instead of over-drilling a few unfortunates who were already trained he had trained fresh men, we should be twice as effective a unit today, & everyone would have been better pleased.
The worst of it is that we section officers have to suffer, as we take the men into action while
the captain & the adjutant remain behind in safety & think - presumably on anything but their shortcomings.
Today I went into Bailleul after lunching with the Machine Gunners. In Bailleul Officers’ Club I met Scanlon & Fielding of the 8th, & we had tea together & then went to the Pierrot Show run by, I think, 11th Division. It was an unusually fine performance in which everyone seemed to take an equal share.
We got part singing, sketch, solos, ventriloquism, dancing & patter of almost professional standard, & a marvellous series of imitations of animal & other natural sounds. This show beats the “Wallabies” hollow!
After the show the three of us went to the “Canon d’Or” hotel & had quite a good dinner & a bottle or two of champagne. Scanlon met an old pal, & a gunner came & shared our table. This latter belonged to Army H.Q. & was full of tales of the Arras fighting. He says we did much better than we expected, especially at first, when we broke through a very strong trench system about six hours ahead of scheduled time. On this account many guns went out of action, as the troops got out of range. Our casualties were slight & chiefly from shell fire, & the whole show was hotter than the Somme work.
Cavalry were used too late, but they are, we were told by a cavalryman, to be used from the start in the next big show.
I cycled back to Liege
… Farm to find all the guns going, or at least all the light ones. We were raiding Maedelstede, & poor Bill Riordann must have had a hot time with his guns in the line. The Hun seemed vastly perturbed, & gave quite a fine display of Very lights & red rockets. I never remember to have seen so many of the latter.
This was the raid I was asked to plan the mortar part of when I was in the line a day or two back, & probably my scheme was not much changed, though more artillery was engaged than was originally planned for. We seem to get new batteries daily, & the Bailleul-Loire-Kemmel road is blocked with the traffic. I saw a negro battalion pass along it today.
Last night I unexpectedly was told my transfer to the New Zealanders had come through. I was not over sorry & went round telling everyone. Today I spent in visiting N.Z.Divisional H.Q. They told me to get my luggage to the Reinforcement Camp at Steenwerk, so I returned to Bailleul & spent the night at the Officers’ Club. Early next morning I went to Steenwerk by early train.
The O.C., Capt Ferguson of 2nd Otago Rgt., is a gentleman, & made me feel very welcome. I met Dr. Barrie, of Dunedin, with him, & put in a quiet Sunday.
For the first time in many months I attended church service, but I didn’t think much of the padre offic-
offic-)iating. Sunday night also I spent at the camp.
Next morning, 28th, I set out for Red Lodge, the battn. H.Q. After a long tramp & many enquiries I arrived all right, and was made very welcome& attached to 10th Coy. (N.Otago). The skipper, Capt Brice, made me welcome. It is a fine thing to be once more among my own folk, & I wish I had been able to join them long ago.
Today I went up to front line & had a look round. I shall find it hard to master local topography before I shall need the knowledge. At night I was appointed bombing officer, & so, although not to go over the top, I am to have an active, responsible, & sufficiently dangerous job in the thick of it. Shall be in charge of the supply of bombs, grenades, rockets, flares, & small arm ammunition for the advancing battalion.
Unfortunately it appears I shall get little aid from anyone, & shall have to rely on myself, which will be a hard job considering I know so little of local ways. However, I’ll do my best, & if all doesn’t go well it won’t be my fault.
Even batmen are hard to get, perhaps because they are all so keen to go over the top or else because lately they have had to go on fatigues as well as look after their officers. Strange enough
there is no fixed rate of pay for batmen here.
Col. Charters has promoted many lieuts, since I saw him two & a half months ago, but there are yet five lieuts. senior to me. But he is going to be very decent & allow my seniority to count from the date he agreed to take me. This ought to make me only one or two removed from a captaincy. I hope I do well in the forthcoming show.
Came into trenches, into subsidiary line, & this all the better considering how much the front line is shelled, especially by whizz bangs. Everyone has to work very hard, although I do not get bothered much, doubtless because they are leaving me free to get familiar with all routes & with the details of my job.
Yesterday I went back to English Farm to see Wilson, Brigade Bombing Officer. He is a decent sort, & told me that in the stunt I’d be under him & with him, at first at Osborne Fort, where Brigade Bomb Store is, & afterwards at a dump to be chosen near Birthday Farm in enemies’ lines. I shall probably have a warm time but shall get a good idea of the show to compensate.
The Staff Captain is one Wilkes, friend of Bert Hinton & who knows my father well, & incidentally enlisted my brother Horace. Brown, general’s orderly, says he met me once, & knows my mother. I do
not remember him. The General, Braithwaite, treated me very decently, & asked me a few questions about my old Division. He seems keen and efficient. I hope to see more of him.
'THE MESSINES STUNT'
There is a tense build-up to the cataclysmic explosions of 7 June 1917.
‘The last hour of waiting for dawn on the 7th was the most trying. Our artillery was uncannily quiet …’
‘At 3 am the mine went up. The earth rocked & swayed, stilled again, rocked & swayed, trembled & was still. In that brief time thousands must have lost their lives, & Hell was let loose.’
… not remember him.
The General, Braithwaite, treated me very decently, & asked me a few questions about my old Division. He seems keen & efficient. I hope to see more of him.
1st (June 1917)
Today our position at Fisher’s Place was shelled with 4.2’s, probably searching for a field battery near. One direct hit on the trench killed one man, Rice, from Dunedin, severely wounded another, and caused several others light casualties. This put the wind up the men, & a mixed lot from all units rushed to our company dug-out for shelter. Fortunately nothing fell nearer than 30 yds. off & shelling soon stopped.
In the trenches I met Timpany, a private in this battalion, an old schoolfellow, who was one of the best gymnasts I ever saw. It is strange how I remember faces but cannot recall names.
About 2pm the Hun began to get objectionable. He strafed us at Fisher’s town with 4.2’s, 5.9’s, & dozens of whizz bangs - in all he must have sent at least 150 shells over. I believe no one was hurt, but I had several visitors to my dugout, which is about 4.2 proof & the strongest hereabouts.
This afternoon there was a practice barrage along the ‘corps’ front, organised with the object of making the enemy drop his 3.0.3. barrage & give away his position & that of his guns. It was a fine sight, though I expect the activity will be much more intense
when the real show comes off. Wilkie, intelligence officer, was ordered to observe from Midland Trench, & came & asked me to accompany him. This I did, & though I felt no hero when the first 5.9 dropped 20 yds in front of us, I am glad I saw the show. Retaliation was weak, but most accurate.
Communication trench Medicine Hut near us was hit thrice in a hundred yds. I believe two of our heavy batteries were spotted & destroyed.
We had hardly returned to my dugout when the Hun recommenced around it, & all the floorspace is now booked for tonight by 8th Coy. Officers, in expectation a hot time. I shall be glad when we are relieved, though we shall probably still be under shell fire.
3rd (June 1917)
During last night the Hun dropped heavy stuff around the dugout & further back, & one great dud fell quite near & shook the ground quite a lot.
In the morning, after handing over to the bomb officer of the Second Aucklands, I stayed on at Battn. H. Q. to go down with the Colonel, so as to see the Z emergency Track. Result, I was collared to go up with Wilkie, Intelligence Officer, to observe for a practice strafe by all the Army guns. Our show was good, especially the shrapnel bursts. It is inconceivable how anyone could live through such a barrage as we put up. Our smoke shells also are good, through (sic) to make an effective screen a lot need to be sent over.
The Hun retaliation was disappointing. He must have
… much more artillery than he disclosed, & so I should say our show was a failure. If he really showed his hand he is very weak in artillery & ought not seriously to trouble our advance. Wilkie & I were observing from his subsidiary line, & had bad luck in getting in line of one of his batteries, seeking Plum Duff trench & road just 100 yds or so behind us. I have such respect for his accuracy that I was not disturbed once I knew what he was after. Wilkie owned to being very windy, thus reversing our experiences of the preceding day.
We walked to tents at Canteen Corner, under a wood of about 100 trees. Hardly had we lain down for the night when a single enemy gun got going on us, & after five had come fairly near I made for the open fields, like everyone else. There was no order, but none would have been of use. The gun was a 4.2 naval, and came fast as a whizz bang, made little noise in explosion, & buried itself. Little danger except very close. I slept under a hedge, quite comfortably. The Colonel & Officers fraternised with the rank & file, more than Imperial Officers would have done. After an hour or so the gun stopped firing. Today the men are digging shelter trenches.
Had a great swim in a pool as big as ordinary baths after breakfast. At midday Sid Read came & lunched with us. He is with the Ninth Brigade & was on the prowl for some …
… bombs for practice. He is a decent sort of lad, & I was pleased to see him.
The band has been playing for intervals throughout the day, & with the birds overhead, the music & countless gramophones, with sun & trees it is an ideal scene.
At Stinking Farm I saw an unusual instance of the fearlessness of the birds out here. In an iron dugout beneath a farm which had been shelled to fragments, a few officers lived more or less comfortably. A swallow had built a nest right inside, & the birds flew in through a narrow door & carried on as if war were a mere incident & humans of no importance whatever. There must be three or four generations of birds out here bred to the noise of war. They’ll be surprised when peace “breaks out”.
On evening of 4th. my visions of a long sleep in comfort under a hedge were rudely dissipated. I was ordered to meet the Brigade Bombing Officer at Blighty Bridge & then take charge of a water carrying party to the front line. I took the R.S.M. with me to show him the dump, etc. Unfortunately the party did not turn up, the Brigade B.G. went to find them & missed us, & we returned to camp fed up about midnight.
5th. The Hun did not shell us throughout the night, but about 7 a.m. he began with the same naval gun, but not so near as on previous day. He put over only about 1/2 doz.
All morning of 5th I was detonating bombs trying to find out the extent of my responsibilities. Just about now I was ordered up to the line, to stay & take charge of stocking the Brigade Dump. My Battalion jobs I handed over to Paisley.
In the line carried on with filling tanks, & had a wearing night. Hun artillery very annoying indeed, & trenches blown in in a dozen places. Some very narrow escapes. Only one of carriers hurt.
In this show Wilson is O.C. of Bombing Officers, 2nd C/// have none, Douglas has been put on D traffic control, & With all & I alone are acting as supply officers.
6th. All day have been carrying up water to the forward tanks, & the job was done at 5pm. First chance of the men getting a sleep.
Unfortunately the excitement of the coming attack & the noise of guns keep one from sleeping. The enemy is sending over innumerable tear gas shells, & because we fear they may contain worse gases we dare not sleep. Our own artillery is not very active.
And all the time I know men are marching up to the assembly trenches for tomorrow’s attack. If the Hun bombards heavily the casualties will be enormous. All depends on keeping sufficiently quiet. So far reports say casualties are almost non-existent.
So much has happened since last writing that it will be difficult to put it all down, but such as I can remember I’ll write.
The last hour of waiting for dawn on the 7th was the most trying. Our artillery was uncannily quiet, & it had been agreed that if the Germans had discovered our dispositions & bombarded within half an hour of zero hour, our S.O.S. would be disregarded by our batteries lest the men should take their opening as the signal for the advance & so go over prematurely. How slowly that last half hour passed.
The tanks were to take part. Our aeroplanes began to fly loudly & low about 2 p.m. & indeed we thought at first that they were temerarious Huns scouting to find out what they suspected, & we feared a devastating bombardment to break out. we were relieved to be told the unusual noise was meant to cover the approach of the tanks, & it served its purpose admirably.
I had to take 25 carriers over in rear of my battalion with S.A.A., & to form a dump at the objective. If possible I was to get them up before Hun barrage dropped, & with this in view I got them loaded up & placed well towards the front linen BOYLES C.T.
Then we were warned out as this trench was held to be in the danger zone from the mine explosions.So I took the party back to the …
support line, KING EDWARD TRENCH, & waited myself in the neighbouring Fort Osborne dugout. This made our chance of getting over before the Hun barrage cut us off out of the question.
At 3 am the mine went up. The earth rocked & swayed, stilled again, rocked & swayed, trembled & was still. In that brief time thousands must have lost their lives, & Hell was let loose. The newspaper men have described all in detail, but I am sure no one who took part saw much of it. Dust & smoke & crashing noise blotted out sight & hearing. One could not see twenty yards ahead & you would bawl into your neighbour’s ears. What fools the public are if they believe these newspaper men, & what knaves the latter mostly are.
I waited a few minutes then hooked off, to find the men not ready. A couple of minutes’ wait, & then my nervousness & excitement left me as I realised what I was up against, & the same self-mastery as I experienced at Ginchy came to me once more. By the time the men were ready to follow, I was fit to lead.
Up the windings of Boyle’s C.T. I led, through the dust & smoke & fumes & noise & the blinding flashes.
Halfway up I had an inspiration & hopped over the parapets of the supports & made for the front line overland. I judged it less risky that the C.T. in that barrage, & I was …
… right. Until were were well beyond our front line wire we had no casualties.
Out in the open I made for supposed direction of Birthday Farm, but in the dark & confusion I bore too much to the left. The men would not spread out, & I had to bawl myself hoarse to get them to scatter.
By & by I began to meet 25th Division men, & by this I saw I was too much to the left & so bore to the east. Halfway I dumped the S.A.A., left two guards, sent rest back for another load, & went on with my batman, to find my battalion & choose my dump.
Soon found battalion digging in, & spoke to Capt. Thompson. Then I roamed & found a great shell hole, probably made by one of our Henry T.M.s, about 180 yards east of Birthday Fm. The sides were sheer, & the hole would easily have held a full platoon. Here I made my dump.
Then I returned to collect my kit & found Capt. Thompson badly wounded by shrapnel in the lung, & in great pain. I gave him 1/4 gr. morphia & a chit to that effect, & got him carried back. In the hustle I forgot my kit. My batman looked after it.
He is a curious lad, McCallum. He is a Scot, with but a short time in N.Z. He came here with 19th reinforcements & had been with the battalion only a couple of weeks. He was quite good in the show, but afterwards seemed keener on souvenir hunting than on anything else. From the time …
… I left him after seeing Capt. Thompson to the first night back in billets on relief I never saw him. His own tale is that he hung around my dump, often asked for me, once at H.Q., & that he practically starved. He kept my rations & Thompson’s & my kit intact, however. He seems willing but too soft to hustle for himself.
After getting up S.A.A., water, & bombs to my dump, I strolled over to H.Q. There I reported positions of my dump, & returned to it after devious wandering over shell swept ground. I found one of my party digging a trench in side of crater nearest to the Hun, as a slight protection if the dump went up owing to entrance of a shell. When finished the dump was a fairly safe place to be, for although shells skimmed it & more just missed entering it by pushing in rear wall, no shell did fall in. But it was a thrilling place to be.
All the first afternoon, after we had consolidated & the Australians went over & pushed further, the Hun strafed heavily, & our casualties were by no means negligible.
Late that night (7th) I went down to Boyle’s Farm Dump to attend to rations. It appears supply was hopelessly mismanaged, &, although I got all sorts of rations by being on the spot first, I could not get them transported to the battalion. My message asking for (‘runners’ crossed out) carriers did not arrive. However, in the morning, 10th Coy. sent a party for theirs, & they got all & …
… more than they expected. The other companies did not send, so I took matters into my own hands after seeing the Staff Capt. & Wilson getting no satisfaction. I commandeered about eight mules, loaded rations on them, & sent them up with a note to H.Q. Shells came over as they loaded, & the mules bolted. Some of the stuff fell off. Half an hour later I picked it up & repeated the commandeering. It worked excellently.
The next night rations were brought up to Boyle’s Farm by our own S.M & carried by Companies to the line. I spent most of the night following the Staff, for wire & water were desperately needed. I had to be content with promises only, but I got a good feed of onions & potatoes & Machonichie for myself - about my first meal for a week. About 8.30 pm. there had been a big wind-up about a counter attack. All sorts of unreliable rumours came through, but things were never so bad as depicted. Our artillery was splendid, & broke the attack.
(W E. of Messines) At H.Q. we all stood & got the two captured M.G’s working. Also I was without a weapon, & felt an awful fool. This show made everything late, hence I was up all night trying to get wire & water. I slept in the Boyle’s Farm Bomb Store.
In the morning (9th) I returned to H.Q. & was soon told to go off & billet the battalion, as we were going out on 10th. Hursthouse came with me. We took a wrong road, & arrived at canteen corner on a lorry.
Casualties and Commendations
‘The casualties of the battalion were light - only about 215 out of 750. Officer casualties were heavier, largely because of their eagerness to keep close to our barrage. Clancy & Tiddy owe their deaths to our own shell fire & not to the Huns’. Of sixteen officers combatant … eleven are casualties. Eleven out of sixteen is far too high!’
Of heroes and others -
‘Some off these officers were very plucky. Freed is said to have been badly wounded in the hand on starting out … Everyone except Rasmussen seems to have behaved excellently. The latter ran a bayonet into his foot - how is not quite clear.’
‘15th. Last night was most unpleasant for everyone. The Potterie was shelled heavily, & had it been held at all strongly casualties must have been very severe.’
16th. ‘These catacombs are very roomy … but the air is heavy, moist, & foetid. But even so there is safety …’
‘… gas shells - tear gas, with perhaps an admixture of some lethal gas. I have never experienced so strong tear gas before, & it was most unpleasant …’
After tea we walked to our camp , MAHUTONGA, & found that the battalion was to be relieved that night.. All went well enough, & there was a great reunion.
The Brigade supply work was rotten. Rations were bungled, & water supplies were by no means assured because some units were allowed to take more than their share of this. Wilson, Brigade Bombing Officer, is useless. He did not go over himself, or send his friend Douglas of 2nd Otago (a lazy devil) over either. He left his 100 Brigade carriers to Withall & me, so we were unable to organise battalion carriers. Withall was wounded before going over, & so I was left practically alone to run the supplies. Wilson should have established a dump about an hour after we went over. I did. He got his Brigade dump going on the morning of the 9th only!
The casualties of the battalion were light - only about 215 out of 750. Officer casualties were heavier, largely because of their eagerness to keep close to our barrage. Clancy & Tiddy owe their deaths to our own shell fire & not to the Huns’. Of sixteen officers combatant (leaving out C.O., Adjutant, 2.M., Transport Officer) eleven are casualties. Eleven out of sixteen is far too high!
Indeed, Hursthouse was also wounded, but did not go sick to we came out, by which time his knee had swolen (sic) & necessitated his resting.
As far as I can remember …
… our casualties in Officers were
Capt. Thompson shrapnel in lung
Lieut. Pilling Killed
2nd. Lt. Clancy Badly wounded
“ “ Tiddy Killed
“ “ Wallsie “
Lieut. Forsaythe “
“ Lewis Wounded
“ Freed “
Capt. Molloy Bad shell shock
Lieut. Rasmussen. Accident.
“ Flux. Wounded
Some off these officers were very plucky. Freed is said to have been badly wounded in the hand on starting out, but nevertheless to have continued till he had taken his objective & consolidated before reporting to doctor. Lieut. Flux is said practically to have taken a machine gun & team on his own. Everyone except Rasmussen seems to have behaved excellently. The latter ran a bayonet into his foot - how is not quite clear.
On the seventh, about an hour after we had taken Birthday Farm, one of our own shells struck a low-flying aeroplane. The pilot was hurled out & came down with a sickening thud, followed more slowly by his machine.
On the 11th we were warned for the line, this time to take over from the Australians S. of Messines. The Company commanders went up to reconnoitre, a shell landed near, & Duncan Rae, of the 8th (Southland) Coy., was wounded in the hand.
I had been sent into Bailleul to get Mess stuff & met a lot of old friends.
Doran & I had dinner together & exchanged experiences. 9th R.D.F. had no officer casualties & altogether a soft time.
On arriving back at camp I was told the Colonel wanted to see me. He complimented me on my work in the line, said he was pleased, & gave me the 8th Coy. as a reward - temporarily. If no one senior turns up I may get it altogether. I was thus put over the heads of Capt. Rattray & Lieut. Gabites, both of whom have commanded corps.
Came into trenches E. of Messines, following 10th Coy. My company in reserve, or rather further back. We were held up by Hun balloon observation at Hyde Park Corner until darkness fell, & so the relief was quite late. Throughout night there there was intermittent shelling right & left of my bit, but none on it, & the men were too tired to dig in well. Early in the morning the Colonel came round, decided the trenches, considering their condition, were too closely manned in view of shell fire, & ordered my company to retire to near Battn. H.Q. & so make more room for the other companies. This was done during the morning of the 13th.
Company H.Q. were placed in a gun emplacement - probably a H.T.M. emplacement. The cover was good, solid reinforced concrete, & two strong dugouts led off from the pit. Probably nothing lighter than a 5.9 directly into the pit could harm us.
To simplify rationing, water supply, & ammunition …
… and revetting material supply, I was given charge of the whole for the battalion. By dint of hard work throughout the night plenty of everything was sent up, & a little boiling tea was sent up to the hardest-worked company at dawn.
The nearest Huns were supposed to be about 800 yds. from the Potterie, our most advanced post, which had been captured by the Australians two nights before (10th). During the night of 13th - 14th it was proposed to advance about 600 yds. & dig in on a front of 600 yds, & arrangements were accordingly made. But the enemy barrage was so constant that it was found impossible to do this, or even to make the three advanced strong points which were later decided upon. Casualties to battalion were only about half a dozen.
During the day of the 14th. the enemy shelled round our H.Q. & battalion H.Q. very persistently, with 4.2’s & 5.9’. Many came quite uncomfortably close, & we had to keep well under cover. In the afternoon Cockrill & I were nearly caught. We were returning from a visit to the Colonel, & he was in front of me, proceeding along an almost obliterated trench, when we heard a shell coming. We crouched down, & it burst just over the trench about 6 yds. in front of him. We were splattered with earth & choked with fumes, but not hurt. Had I been leading we should probably just been on the spot, as I walk rather fast. This shell we heard fully two seconds before it burst. This is the closest shave I have had for some time.
About 5.30 pm. on 14th a surprise was sprung upon us. Cockerill was detailed to take a platoon from the company & try & capture Sunken Farm, S.E. of the Potterie. He had two hours’ notice only - very short.
He is now up there, having carried out his job - successfully, I believe. There are some casualties. Must wait till morning for particulars.
2.M.s of 10th Coy. has just been in. He says Timo of Greece has been deposed & that Russia is pushing at five points. I hope it is so.
15th. Last night was most unpleasant for everyone. The Potterie was shelled heavily, & had it been held at all strongly casualties must have been very severe. My carrying parties had a rough time, especially that to Cockerill at Sunken Farm. The rations ultimately got up to the advanced dump (10th. Coy.) after Martin had lost his way hopelessly. At one time he got far in front of our advanced posts, & saw two Huns asleep in a dugout. He realised he was too far ahead & left them alone & returned with the rations, ultimately finding his objective. He had one or two casualties. This was his first introduction to nasty night work.
Cockerill at the time of writing (12 midnight) is still up the line. It seems he took Sunken Farm easily, as the Huns ran at sight. He dug in, striking water at 5 feet, & henceforward his men had all wet feet. The Hun shelled him heavily, …
… knocked out his machine gun, which was replaced by one sent up from 4th Coy., & cost him some casualties. No rations were sent to him, as he was to have been relieved by 2nd. Canterbury during the night. The relief lost their way & failed him, he sent back a few men, & up to the present has remained there, living solely on iron rations.
Tonight he is to be relieved by 2nd. Otago, who relieve all our battalion.
My company has been relieved from 6 pm. & the others are coming in now. We are to remain at Hyde Park Corner, & are billeted in the catacombs. We had no sooner arrived than Brigade ordered us to stand to, for what reason I know not. The relieving battalion 2nd. Otago, was hurried up tp support our three companies & relieve them, & after a while my company was ordered to stand down. I was very glad, as we are all dog tired.
16th. After a day spent in resting more or less unsatisfactorily in the catacombs, a great day out in the hill, with numerous galleries consisting of corridors with berths along one side, three deep, we had a big fatigue at night. These catacombs are very roomy, & can accomodate at least two battalions, but the air is heavy, moist, & foetid. But even so there is safety, & overhead shell explosions are hardly heard. The consciousness of safety is a great tonic, & comfort is a very secondary consid-(eration.
The fatigue was to go to the line east of the POTTERIE and there dig a good trench a couple of hundred yards or so in rear of our advanced strong posts. It was likely to be a ticklish job if the Hun spotted us. The company commanders went ahead in daylight to spy out the land, & find the tape laid out by the sappers in readiness. The whole battalion took part, arrived after dark through a fair barrage with few casualties, & before dawn dug a really fine but too straight trench of dimensions 4 ft deep x 3 1/2’ x 2 1/2’.
Just as we arrived back at the catacombs the Hun, who had not strafed us at work except with one or two furious & badly ranged salvos, opened up with plenty of gas shells - tear gas, with perhaps an admixture of some lethal gas. I have never experienced so strong tear gas before, & it was most unpleasant getting to quarters. The shelling was kept up for a considerable time, & one shell landed right at the entrance & badly gassed one or two & filled the corridors with gas in spite of the curtains, & generally made things unpleasant. A number of men went sick, & no one felt in very good form. Cockerill seemed rather upset, for he was feeling seedy before the gas added to his troubles.
17th. The next night, 17th., we had to continue our work, for the sappers were dissatisfied with the few waves we had con (structed in the line.
… con)structed in the line. Captain Brice was again put in charge, & the dog-tired men were again sent up to deepen the trench to make fire bays & traverses off it. We were shelled with 5.9’s on the way, but I had only one casualty. A man carrying sandbags was struck, sandbags (50) pierced, helmet struck & dented, but head not injured except for a hard smack. He will probably be all right in a few days, thanks to the sandbags.
I preceded the company to the line, fully expecting we were in for a hot time, for the Huns would doubtless have spotted the new work. I had hardly arrived when they strafed savagely, which delayed the men for a little. When they came up things had quieted down, & the rest of the night was uneventful, what stuff put over going too far, evidently at the line behind, or not reaching us. We left off early, at 2 a.m., & although shells were landing near the catacombs, we arrived back without casualties by making a slight detour.
18th. After a couple of hours sleep, & breakfast, we marched off at 7.30. am for KORTEPYP, where we arrived after a break for tea & biscuits (free issue) at the Y.M.C.A. hut en route. There are rumours of remaining out for 10 days or more. I hope they are well founded. The men really need a rest, for they’ve had a long spell in the line with plenty of fighting & excitement, & the …
… excitement & tension invariably have a reaction which can be cured only by a stay out of the danger zone.
Today Jack Hewat, who returned only yesterday, took over the company from me. The Colonel is undecided whether to make me Bombing Officer again or to let me carry one in the company. I hope the former.
19th. About 5 a.m., when we were all sleeping the sleep of the dog-tired, two or more enemy planes came over the camp & dropped several bombs. These were luckily small, & not followed by others, & no one was hurt, but they served to remind us that the war doesn’t quite finish when we leave the trenches.
20th. Today has been passed in a little practice in preparation for inspection by Gen. Godley tomorrow. During the afternoon two Hun planes successfully attacked our balloons. One ballon was brought down, & the two occupants landed safely by parachute about 5 minutes later. The Huns meanwhile attacked the balloon nearest us,, or rather one of them did, & brought it down in flames also. The basket alone reached earth, quite near us. We did not see the occupants escape by parachute, but I am told they did. Our anti-aircraft made poor shooting, & our contact planes avoided battle. This affair was a distinct score for the enemy.
Gen Godley - 'cold ... inhuman'
‘21st. Gen. Godley inspected the Brigade, & expressed himself very pleased with our work at Messines. After seeing him I can understand why he is so unpopular. He looks like a machine, cold & inscrutable & inhuman. He is probably a good soldier.’
After a much too long sermon by the padre, there were hymns.
‘The band accompanied the hymns, which were not sung, as they seemed too highly pitched. Most ironically, the first hymn was “Peace, perfect peace.” Meanwhile aeroplanes buzzed overhead, anti-aircraft batteries fired, & the Hun shells screamed in the distance!’
‘25th. Today I was asked by the Colonel to defend Pte. A. McBride of 10th Coy., charged with desertion during Messines stunt. Things look black for him ...’
‘I defended … a charge against a man for deserting just before the Messines attack. Evidence against him seemed conclusive, so I laid myself out to obtain anything less than the death sentence.
The sentence was 10 years’ penal servitude - the best that could be hoped for.
The king rides by on the Neuve Eglise road - and the troops give a ‘spontaneous’ welcome -
‘the King came by in a covered-in car … If the King had ridden past on a horse, or even an open car, & not so fast, we could have seen more of him …’
‘Capt Hewat is a most annoying O.C. He is constantly worrying everyone, & seems afraid to let any of his Officers alone for an hour. I now understand … why he is so hated. He is always nagging, nagging, nagging, & will not let an Officer run his own job.’
‘Today I got letter from Mamie enclosing one each from Mother & Father to her. I am very pleased they agree with our marrying. Father especially is a decent sort.’
‘Major-Gen. Holmes, was showing Mr. Holman, Premier of New South Wales, about the front, & intended taking him up to Messines. They had just alighted from a car near the Shrine at Hill 63 when a shell came over & a piece caught the Gen. in the back. They put him in the car & came down here, but he died on the way …’
21st. Gen. Godley inspected the Brigade, & expressed himself very pleased with our work at Messines. After seeing him I can understand why he is so unpopular. He looks like a machine, cold & inscrutable & inhuman. He is probably a good soldier.
23rd. This has been another day out for the Huns in the air. The morning was beautifully clear, & a Hun machine came over & brought down three of our observations balloons in succession. It seems such a pity, when probably one good fighting plane could patrol the area & make such attacks impracticable. The balloon observers lose no time getting into the air. Six of them together were parachuting to earth at the same time. They all seem to land quite safely.
In the afternoon the Battn. was inspected by Gen. Russell. At the end he impressed on Officers that the present semi-open fighting was the normal kind, & such as we’d have much of in the near future.
Late in the afternoon a Hun plane came over to attack one of our balloons. The anti-aircraft brought it down with seven shots only - almost a miracle for anti-aircraft guns! It fell near Romarin, & was salvaged by units near there. It is said the Intelligence are mad at this looting, as the ‘plane was one of the Hun’s very latest.
24th. Church parade here is compulsory. In a glaring sun padre Burridge gave us a full hour’s service, most of it standing. He is very …
… very earnest, I believe, & by the letters I censor seems to be well-like by the men, but his long service would benefit no one. It irritated me. I could not help comparing it with the beautifully informal service at the Reinforcement Camp at Steenwerck, where a seemingly less sincere padre gave us a short & more satisfying service. It seems to me that the Presbyterian touch is always too heavy.
The band accompanied the hymns, which were not sung, as they seemed too highly pitched. Most ironically, the first hymn was “Peace, perfect peace.” Meanwhile aeroplanes buzzed overhead, anti-aircraft batteries fired, & the Hun shells screamed in the distance!
After the service a Hun plane came over & set a balloon on fire - the one nearest to the camp. This is the third time this balloon has come down in a week. It must evidently annoy the enemy very much.
Early this morning the naval guns landed shells about 300 yds. in rear of the camp.
Earlier still, at dawn, two planes dropped bombs near. The various massing for inspection must have been seen, & we may expect trouble.
Tonight a Hun aeroplane, or perhaps two, came over & dropped bombs on the main road half a mile in rear. He put the wind up us, as we thought he might take a turn at strafing the camp.
During the naval gun’s strafing behind us in the morning, several civilians & a number of soldiers were killed, some of them while attending divine service.
25th. Today I was asked by the Colonel to defend Pte. A. McBride of 10th Coy., charged with desertion during Messines stunt. Things look black for him, & I shall have little case.
26th. During afternoon the Hun strafed Neuve Eglise & roads near it, but none of the shells came nearer than 300 yards of us. There are rumours of the Division soon going out. I hope it is so, as there cannot be complete rest here, under Hun observation.
Today has been memorable because, although it was very clear, not one of our balloons was brought down. Marvellous!
27th. Today at about 3 pm another balloon was brought down on our left. The Hun seems to do what he likes with them. The one above us was fired on, & pieces of shrapnel fell all round the camp.
At night our own planes were up, but Hun planes dropped bombs not far off. A lot of shells seem to be falling about Ploegsteert Wood.
Tomorrow we move to reserve in open fields half a mile or so in rear of Petiwawa. I hope we do not have to go into the line. We shall not unless the Division relieving us fails to hold the recent gains.
28th. Went to 1st Otago H.Q. to defend men inn F.G.C.M. but found on arrival the C.M. was postponed.
Came to camp in shelter of trees about 1/2 mile behind Petiwawa. Fine place if weather holds & if …
… the Hun leaves us alone.
29th. The Court Martial was held today. Five men were charged with leaving a front line advanced post without orders. The chief witness against them was a Sergt. who broke down in cross examination. It was shown that accused all thought they were justified in leaving because of preceding orders. All were acquitted. I defended.
The other case which I defended was a charge against a man for deserting just before the Messines attack. He gave himself up the evening following the stunt. Evidence against him seemed conclusive, so I laid myself out to obtain anything less than the death sentence.
Quoting Sect. 12 & subsection 11 of Army Act, I stressed the necessity of prosecution showing that he intended to absent himself from '“the particular service” of the Messines stunt. I submitted that the possession of money & the desire for drink furnished sufficient explanation of his absence, & not cowardice; & that he had not intended to stay away, but had got drunk. Sentence, promulgated 1.7.17, was 10 years’ penal servitude, & it was confirmed. I could not have hoped for anything less severe.
30.6.17 Took a working party up to Stinking Farm, & got soaked. One platoon refused to work, & Sgts. Toper & Kinnan seemed indifferent. Must keep my eye on them. Men very wet, & no use trying to make them work, so I marched them back. Engineer Officer very sick about it, & says he’ll report. I must say …
… the Irish troops would not refuse to work for so little. Their discipline is much better than what prevails here. On the other hand, 2nd. Otago on a similar job were dismissed on arrival because of the weather. the 290th. Coy. O.C. was very tactless, & got the men’s backs up.
Half a dozen new Officers joined the battalion, & two came to our Coy., so we are now up to strength. The newcomers say several Captains wait to come out to us. If this is true I’ll be done out of my job as 2nd. in command & of any chance of a captaincy. This is one of the hardships of service.
2.7.17. This morning a flurried Staff Officer came rushing into the camp for the doctor. It seems that the General commanding the 4th. Australian Division, a Major-Gen. Holmes, was showing Mr. Holman, Premier of New South Wales, about the front, & intended taking him up to Messines. They had just alighted from a car near the Shrine at Hill 63 when a shell came over & a piece caught the Gen. in the back. They put him in the car & came down here, but he died on the way, or rather, as soon as the doctor came along. He seems to have been a plucky & much respected General, & Mr. Holman was naturally very upset.
This afternoon we played the Australian gunners who are our neighbours at cricket, & beat them. Glorious weather, aeroplanes overhead, band …
… playing & war seemingly out of the question. Yet an odd shell fell about quarter of a mile off lest we should quite forget realities.
3.7.17. Last night went up with party of 75 to dig a communication trench up towards subsidiary line, near Potteries. It is a long walk, & to shorten it I tried going past Stinking Farm. The choice of route was unfortunate, for about a mile ahead of the Farm we ran into quite a heavy strafe of 5.9’s. I was with leading platoon, & behind was the 4th. Coy. After a detour things seemed alright for a while, but the Hun started again & one shell landed within 20 yds. of me. Most unaccountably no one in either Coy. was hurt. I must confess I was a bit shaken.
We put in a couple of good hours digging, & these lads can dig! The Dubs were thought good diggers, but they can’t hold a candle to these fellows.
On the return the 4th Coy. led, & a few hundred yards on the way Capt. Rattray stopped them because of shelling. These shells were passing overhead & landing fully 250 yds. off. This got us all waiting on a narrow tramway. After it ceased we moved on, but had hardly got under way when it started again, & this time it barely cleared us. Some mules behind, led at a run, passed through us & kept us from running, & there was a fine mix up. Luckily we again got through without casualties, & safely home. But Martin & I were both pretty nervy about going up next …
We naturally expected a night’s rest, both (sic) the O.C. sent us both up again, or rather was going to, owing to some change whereby platoons were to go up under their own Officers.
I was allotted a platoon for the night (3rd) & though I thought the O.C’s action most unfair & on a par with his methods generally, I went up. Martin, equally disgusted pleaded chafed thighs, but seemed rather sorry when another Officer was deputed to do his job. We hoped the O.C. would sent up the other two platoons & give us our night off.
I went up, but by the Neuve Eglise - Messines Road & was not shelled. Returning via Stinking Farm we got a hot ten minutes near Blighty Bridge, but no one was hurt, though some of the Australians who came down with us were.
4.7.16. (sic) Today fifty men & three Officers per Coy. marched to Neuve Eglise - Deseule Road, carefully lined it in negligee attitudes, & when the King came by in a covered-in car, gave a magnificent exhibition of a spontaneous welcome (in true Colonial style, of course). If the King had ridden past on a horse, or even an open car, & not so fast, we could have seen more of him & would certainly have given him a royal welcome. The day was dull, the road tree shaded, & a fleet of our own planes kept the Huns away, so the King might have shown …
… himself a little longer. Nevertheless we are glad to see him. He must have a very anxious time. He was accompanied by the Prince of Wales & various other notabilities.
Artillery on the Hun’s part increases round the camp. aA great 15” naval gun placed near is probably the cause. It has attracted planes by day & night, but has not fired today because position too wet. Its charge alone is about fifty pounds, & its projectile weighs about 1500 lbs., but range is one about 10 miles. It is a howitzer, I think. Against it a Hun naval gun of lesser calibre has been used. A nose cap recovered registered a range of 27,000 yds!
Capt Hewat is a most annoying O.C. He is constantly worrying everyone, & seems afraid to let any of his Officers alone for an hour. I now understand why everyone warned me of him before he returned, & why he is so hated. He is always nagging, nagging, nagging, & will not let an Officer run his own job.
5th. Last night Hursthouse returned from hospital & was posted to 8th Coy. This gives us our full complement of Officers, & unless some are translated to courses I may expect to be relieved of platoon work & left to my 2nd. in command. By the gradation list Hursthouse is senior to me, but I am left 2nd in command.
Last night I went up the line by the same Neuve Eglise Messines road. It is the longest way, but …
… also the safest & the easiest walking. During the day the enemy had made some excellent shooing with some gun much heavier than a 5.9”. The medium gauge tramway, or rather very light railway, running at right angles top Messines road had been hit in half a dozen places & wrecked. The grouping was excellent. No shot was more than 25 yds. off. Where the line was hit the rails were torn up for 20 yds & twisted. One shell which landed short pushed rails with sleepers attached out of the way without breaking them, which shows the marvellous concussion. The sight of these craters alone put the wind up me, & we didn’t delay long at that spot.
No sooner had I laid out the digging tasks than the enemy started shelling with 4.2”, impact bursting. He sent over about 70. As soon as they began the men got to digging with a will, but luckily no one was hurt in spite of a few narrow squeaks. One stray shell put the wind up me. It just cleared my head & burst 20 yds. behind. On the way home we were not disturbed.
Today I got letter from Mamie enclosing one each from Mother & Father to her. I am very pleased they agree with our marrying. Father especially is a decent sort.
The Hun has been worrying us. Today he sent over three shells at the camp, all in a direct line, & separated by 75 yds. or so. We fear they are ranging shots for dirtier work at night. A …
Captaincy and Bailleul
‘9th. Major Hargest told me today that my name has gone in for promotion to a Temporary Captaincy…’
‘I heard Major McIntyre was wounded. He was brought in & I dressed him. I believe piece that went through him got left lung & perhaps top of spleen, but missed stomach, & so think he’ll recover.’
‘Whitelock was a good Sgt., & had had 3 years service & remarkable luck. He was blown to pieces.’
‘22nd. A day or two ago we got detailed report of gas shell bombardment on night of 12 - 13th at Ypres. Mustardish smell. Effect inflammatory on eyes, & soon destroys power of smell. Then lethal gases come over, & casualties bad.’
‘I was waked at 4 a.m. to look at men who had been gassed. As a working party were returning the Hun sent over gas shells - not the new type - & several men got a touch. One was badly gassed, & his hands & arms went rigid … I believe he was bad afterwards.’
'War on this grand scale cannot be ignored. It was a scene of terror.’
‘La Basse Ville was taken by our folk amid a very severe bombardment.’
… heavier gun of lower velocity is firing at a heavy gun of ours a few hundred yards off. I hope these shells were all meant for that objective & come no nearer us.
7th. The night passed quietly enough, as far as anything coming near us was concerned. The party up in the trenches got shelled fairly heavily but without sustaining casualties. 2/Lt. Cook arrive & was posted to the Coy. We have now 7 Officers, a marvellous thing for a Coy. on Active Service!
Captain Greer arrived. He is a senior captain, & was posted to the 10th Coy., displacing granites as 2nd. in C. I am now the only 2 in C. who is not a captain. I am very pleased , but fear that someone will soon displace me.
9th. Major Hargest told me today that my name has gone in for promotion to a Temporary Captaincy, as I have now been 30 days with them. I hope this means they’ll ante-date it 30 days & give me the pay.
I spoke to him about my leave, & he is going to do what he can for me. I hope I get it soon, & the Captaincy before it.
11th. Went into Bailleul on horseback. Yesterday Capt. Hewat took ill & went to hospital, as Lt. Hursthouse did the previous day. Cook was sent to the model platoon for a course, & so only four Officers remained. McKeown was attached to us to enable us to carry on equally with the other Companies.
I had a good day in …
… Bailleul, although I met no one I knew, nor did I see any 16th Division men. The Division has evidently been moved.
Returning to camp, I met B.H.Gilmour, a Capt. in N.Z.M.C. I had not seen him for six years.
12th. Marched from beyond Neuve Eglise to neighbourhood of Doulieu, or, rather, to the environs of Estaires, & got quite good billets. I rode, as I am in command of the Company, with Cockerill as my second in command. Am told work is not to be severe while we are here, & that a lot of time is to be given to recreation.
13th. Visited Estaires in the evening, but did not greatly care for it. Wish I knew some folk in it.
Mamie sent me a parcel & some books.
14th. During afternoon we held Company Sports, to enable us to choose our best men for the Battalion Sports tomorrow. We were only fair, & seem to have no very good athletes.
My temporary Captaincy came through, & is to date from 8.7.17. It has not taken long. Major Hargest wrote me a very decent note of congratulation, & spoke of my “well-deserved promotion”. He is always a gentleman, & has plenty of tact.
15th. Battalion Sports held, and easily won by 14th. Coy., who have the majority of good runners & jumpers. 4th Coy came next, & we just managed to beat the 10th Coy. Our only real win was the hurdles, in which Keane won heat, semi-final, & final in fine style.
In the evening I celebrated my promotion by a dinner, which passed off well. Besides the Company there were present Captains Selby & Bryce & Lieut. Allan. All seemed to enjoy it. During the day Major Hargest congratulated me verbally.
16th. A quiet day, with no parades except for Officers & N.C.Os, who were lectured by the Brigadier on use of the rifle. A good lecture. Brigadier is very keen & knows his job.
In the evening McAlister Acting Transport Officer, told me I might have a new horse that had just arrived. After a brief trot I decided to swap my hack, slow & steady as it is, for this smaller & much faster animal. In appearance the new horse is all one could desire.
17th. Practised for sports tomorrow, & in the evening I went for a ride on the new horse. It is very skittish & frightened, & has evidently never heard artillery or M.G. fire. When conditioned & trained a little it ought to do well. In the meantime I shall have a rough passage, & perhaps I have bitten off more than I can chew.
19th. Marched to the Catacombs, by companies. Horse was frisky, but I can manage him, & once he gets used to the firing he will be a fine mount.
Cook returned from Brigade School. McKeown is to go on Lewis Gun Course. Cockerill will probably go to Paris for five days. We shall be very shorthanded.
The vicinity of CATACOMBS is much changed in appearance, & has evidently seen some very heavy shelling since we were last here. It is doubtless unsafe to hang about much outside.
20th. Today I went up line & made exhaustive reconnaissance of N. Brigade Area of the Division. No remarkable consolidation since last visit, but doubtless because we expect to go forward soon.
Came back & started to write up report, in newsroom. Half a dozen heavy shells came over, & I was gathering up things to get out & into catacombs when I heard Major McIntyre was wounded. He was brought in & I dressed him. I believe piece that went through him got left lung & perhaps top of spleen, but missed stomach, & so think he’ll recover. Doctor not so optimistic, but he didn’t see wound.
14th. Coy. lost three Officers & three O.R. Officers were:- Cap. (Temp. Maj.) McIntyre. W. (wounded). 2nd. Lt. Richardson. Died of W. (2nd. Lt. Isreal Buried & shocked.
Richardson was hit in several places, & through lungs. He died a few hours after. Israel was buried, lost a few teeth, but was not hit by shell. He was excavated in nick of time.
My Coy. had six casualties.
8/500 Sgt. Whitelock. P. Killed
8/2164 L/Cpl Trafford. A.R. Killed
40009 Pte. Jenkins. G.E. Killed
8/383 Sgt. Grenville. Scratched
8/1137 Pte Anderson. W. W(ounded)
14843 Pte McLaren. D. Died of W.
Whitelock was a good Sgt., & had had 3 years service & remarkable luck. He was blown to pieces.
Cockerill got his Paris leave. I miss him, as Martin is not up to his standard in any way.
22nd. A day or two ago we got detailed report of gas shell bombardment on night of 12 - 13th at Ypres. Mustardish smell. Effect inflammatory on eyes, & soon destroys power of smell. Then lethal gases come over, & casualties bad.
The warning was hardly published before we got samples of the new gas sent over, but only one man of ours has so far suffered.
Went up the line to reconnoitre with Adjutant. Saw a fire shell burst in a cloudless sky, seemingly aimed at nothing. In shape it was like sketch, a marvellously big effect too, nearly as large as a balloon. Why it was fired I don’t know.
The air was very calm, & it took several minutes before its shape was dissipated. At one time it looked for all the world like Von Tripitz’s beard.
In the line there was nothing remarkable except the absolute isolation of the picquets & sentry groups, towards which absolutely no movement is permitted during the day. The Canterbury dispositions were an example of what dispositions ought not to be, & the Adjutant, Capt. Greer & myself sat up till midnight & worked out a better plan.
I was waked at 4 a.m. to look at men who had been gassed. As a working party were returning the Hun sent over gas shells - not the new type - & several men got a touch. One was badly gassed, & his hands & arms …
… went rigid. Doctor was away, & I could do nothing. This man was up for breakfast, but I believe he was bad afterwards.
29th. Relieved 1st. Canterbury in line, holding in a different manner from them - roughly one platoon in Str. Pts. which make front line, one in supports, one in UMBO SUPPORT, & one in UMBO RESERVE, where Coy. H.Q. are situated in a very strong concrete dugout lined and ceiled inside with oak or some such wood.
I was immediately given the job of re-establishing strong point VULTURE, which had been withdrawn owing to heavy shelling. This I did, being lent Lt. Roche of the outgoing Coy. as guide, & under cover of a patrol screen. No opposition. I left Sergt. Swindlehurst in charge, with Lt. Macky in charge of front line Str. Post behind him, & came home dog tired with the heavy walking. Macky seemed to lack confidence & hadn’t the sense to conceal his feelings from the men.
30th. Chief operation of the day was to form a further advanced post with the object of, in conjunction with VULTURE, breaking any enemy attack before it reached our front line. 2/Lt. Hannah was put in charge of IN.C.O. & 15 men, & my orders to give him allowed him little play. He didn’t relish the job, but got a suitable place in the open, & so far has fared best of all. He took a couple of pigeons with him, but had no occasion to use them & sent them back in return for others last night.
Had not a wink of sleep all the night, so much to do in way of feeding outposts. A terrific bombardment up N. hinted at bigger doings in the morning than our job - the taking of La Basse Ville, which was a 1st Wellington task.
My Str. Points were on S. flanked this show, & incidentally on S. flank of the whole movement in Flanders. Naturally they came in for a rough time.
At 3.50. am. the show started, & I guess the Hun thought his best day had come. I got up on the parapet to watch, & saw the whole sky as far N. as I could see lit up, but by red flares & flashes, but by the yellow flashes & sheets of flame that exploding shells make just before dawn. A machine gun nearly got us, so I hurriedly stepped down, but I had to watch in spite of myself. War on this grand scale cannot be ignored. It was a scene of terror.
Every minute or two S.O.S. signals shot up from the Hun line, but more numerous by far were the down dropping red flares of our aeroplanes signalling the limit of our advance at the moment. The artillery was awful, & the enemy retaliation was heavier than I have yet seen from him. It was luckily confined to our left, except for the advanced posts of my company, who got the Southern flank limit of the great battle. I daresay i was in the most favourable position possible for observing without great danger, as the enemy artillery confined itself exclusively to our front & support line systems.
This made possible as fine a piece of organised leadership as I have seen. Because this S. flank of the battle was so important, - because it was the natural place for the enemy to attempt a turning movement - a great number of travelling Vickers’ guns had been brought up. I have heard the number on our Brigade front estimated variously at from 40 to 70, & aided by a slight rise & an excellent field of fire - they could have stopped the world, provided too many were not knocked out by artillery. In this case only two were, & the major in command stood on a rise about 200 yards from me & controlled them all by gestures. The wonder is he lived an hour, considering the spasmodic fire of an enemy M. Gun opposite.
La Basse Ville was taken by our folk amid a very severe bombardment. Buildings were blotted out after the first 1/4 hour, but now & again the red brick dust rising would show where one had been hit. We, on our part, used great shells seemingly of liquid fire. Once I was told these were ours I knew we would get the village.
After about six hours all became quiet on our front, though up N. the noise still continued. We settled down to wait for news of the results.
About 3.30 pm it all broke out afresh, probably owing to a Hun counter attack. For a while our S.O.S. gold & silver rain rockets shot up in many places left of us, & I feared the Hun would get through, as his …
… artillery seemed stronger than ours. But I had not realised the power of the machine guns. Their major stood up as earlier in the day, with his glasses scanning the left front where the smoke of the attack merged with the clear air S of it. Suddenly he saw what he wanted. Like a conductor of a band he waved his arms, and Vickers after Vickers broke out. In a minute he intensified his signal, & the whole broke into a ceaseless rattle that drowned the guns almost & must have put up the most terrible barrage of its kind yet seen in the world’s history. It was magnificent.
The enemy were evidently very much surprised, & a great armoured plan soon appeared & made a tour of the chief line of Vickers. This manoeuvre it repeated continually until two of our planes appeared, when it retreated, only to come up when the coast was clear & skim along very low & most audaciously. Once it tried to get the controller of this great orchestra, & banked as it passed him & emptied a belt or so in his direction. But he had got into the trench in time. The coast once clear, he reappeared & carried on as before.
In about four hours all was again comparatively quiet. We had held our gains. Our own casualties were few, but the 2nd Wellingtons, who had taken La Base Ville in the morning, suffered more heavily.
As darkness fell the most trying of experiences for a Company Commander began. The enemy began to shell most heavily, & our sector …
… as well as on the North. It must have been hell for those in it, & my front line Strong Point & one of my two Forward Points got a terrible drubbing. The Officers were both new hands, both in the line as Officers for the first time, & both were very nervous. Hannah, out further in another Forward Post, says he can’t understand how any one survived. The strafe cleared his position,, & he could see the others getting it hot.
Bye & bye a frightened man turned up at my H.Q. with a tale of the Forward Post abandoned & the majority killed or wounded. I gathered that there had been no retirement on the front line Strong Point, as ordered in such an event, but a desertion of the post. I began to get anxious, though I knew the Hun would not easily cross the river. In an hour or so 2/Lt. Cook turned up, incoherent & very much frightened, with a tale of men being blown to bits. I found he had had several killed by him, & had had a very rough spin. After a while he quieted down, & I tried to get him off to the doctor. I recognised a verdict of shell shock alone could save Cook, an unwounded Officer, from serious trouble for leaving his post. After a while I got him to the doctor. He was kept away, as a case of shell shock. not evacuated.
News of this happening I had meanwhile sent to battalion, & they were ordered by Brigade to reestablish the post. 2/Lt. Deal of 14th Coy. was sent to do this with 8 men & a Lewis gun. I gave him what advice I could & sent him off, as I thought, probably to his death.
He was very frightened & despondent, but obeyed his orders.
While all this was happening the bombardment had continued, & 2/Lt. Macky in the Front Line Str. Point was wounded & four or five of his men killed. He staggered in with a head wound, not serious, but he was very shaken. I feared this post too would give way, & so sent up C.S.M. Doherty to take charge, gave him a few men, & promised more. Then I asked battalion for reinforcements.
These were granted immediately - one platoon of 4th coy. & one Lewis gun team. When they arrived, I sent & relieved all men in Doherty’s post by 4th Coy. men, & left Doherty in charge. I also strengthened the support line behind him by a Lewis Gun & a section of rifle grenadiers.
Before all this was done things had quietened down, & there was no further excitement that night.
1st Aug. During the morning Major Hargest visited me, & told me to bring back the 4th Coy. lads that night if possible, as next time it would be their turn in first, & it wasn’t fair to get them all tours. This was of course but fair, & at night reliefs were carried out. Traynor relieved Hannah & the latter took his job in the new support line. I left S.M. Doherty in but changed his men.
2nd. Aug. Colonel Charters returned from leave & camp up & visited me with the Adjutant this morning. Had a talk on tactics, as a result of which 2/Lt Cockerill has gone out tonight to reconnoitre & get touch on our left (North).
As I write a very heavy bombardment is going on two Brigades N. The Hun is according to message recd., sending over against Stiegnest road - River Donne sector shells of every calibre. He has been seen massing, so the bombardment, which has now lasted seven hours (now 2 a.m.) may presage ann assault.
3rd. Aug. Luckily the Hun did not attack, though I do not doubt he would have been repulsed on other sectors if not by us. The necessity to keep awake throughout the night, however, gave me time to write up this diary.
Today we have come back into Ploegsteert Wood, rare to do fatigues for the 4th Coy. who have taken our place in the line.
During this tour in the front line the Company has had the following casualties apart from casualties among the platoon of the 4th. Coy. lent to us:-
14358 Corp. Smith.J. 31.7.17
23931 Corp. McKinnon R/A. 31.7.17
8/2868 L/Cpl. Campbell. W.B. 31.7.17
39172 Pte. Cooper. W. 31.7.17
23594 Pte. McLean R.M. 31.7.17
22106 Ringrose. D.J.C. 31.7.17
32625 Pte. Campbell. G. 31.7.17
2nd. Lt. T.R. Macky 31.7.17
32499 L/Cpl. Bell. W.J.A. 31.7.17
12953 Pte. Swallow.A. 31.7.17
13862 Pte Nallantyne. W. 31.7.17
8/1647a Sergt. Swindlehurst. A. 31.7.17
8/3333 Pte. McKellar. D.J. 31.7.17
Wounded (not evacuated.) shell shock. 2nd Lt. S. Cook
32638 Pte. Dowdle. W.T. 31.7.17
13980 Pte Patterson W. 31.7.17
14004. Pte. Todd. J.A. √31.7.17
13910. Pte. Hamilton. J. 31.7.17
For one day, or rather one night, the above was a heavy list. Some of the Coy. must have gone through hell. None of the young Officers will forget it.
7th. For the last four days the Coy. has been supplying fatigues to the 14th Coy. in the line & has itself been in support. For myself these have been four quiet & restful days, as I had to go on night work only once. Today we have been relieved by 2nd. Canterbury.
Three Companies have gone to Regina Camp, near Romarin, but this one has gone into support to N. Brigade & goes out only to Catacombs.
10th. Last few days in the Catacombs have not been pleasant, as Hun has shelled heavily all back ares, especially on 9th. Harvey Road got three direct hits. None of my fellows hurt, but some engineers.
Last night Coy. had to carry wiring materials up in advance of strong points for two other Companies wiring. The other two Coys. helped, as the Engineer had not plotted out their work. Machine gun activity was great, though artillery was much less than normal. Of my men, three were wounded, two by M.G. & one by shell.All three belonged to a draft which arrived in the afternoon, & all three had no previous experience of the front. One of them was a Sgt. - before he came to us & automatically went down one …
… he was a Sgt. Major. These lads had a short enough spin, in all conscience!
I believe that there were quite a number of casualties, of which about a dozen were in this battalion. There were many other parties out besides ours. I fear the wiring on the left will entail quite a lot of casualties.
We are promised a spin at Regina Camp in a day or two, & shall be glad of the fresh air. Yesterday Ploegsteert village got a terrible hammering with heavy guns, but so long as he leaves Rigina alone it should be a fairly comfortable camp to be in.
A couple of days ago Major (temp. Brig. Gen.) F.E.Johnston, C.B., North Staffs Regt., Brigadier of own 3rd Brigade, was killed by a stray bullet up in the line. Lieut. Col. R. Young, C.M.G., D.S.O., of 1st Canterbury, was given the Brigade on 9.8.17, & made a temp. Colonel. He has been severely wounded already. Perhaps our Col. may get the Brigade now. This Division has lost three generals in the two months I have been with it - probably a record in the Army.
15th. Last few nights have been very hard - constant pushing & carrying parties. A few men have bolted, & it looks like a bad time for them.
17th. Today, a day later than we expected, we left Regina Camp to go into reserve at Canteen Corner. Night of 16th there were no working parties, so we all got a rest. We needed it.
On the night of 16-17th we did really good work. The whole battalion went up on our own battalion front, just in rear of our own wiring, & dug a new front line trench.
Shelling was unusually infrequent, & the machine guns were firing high. We completed the job with two casualties in the battalion & were congratulated by the Brigadier.
This morning about 11.15. a.m. the Hun strafed Regina Camp. First shell anywhere near just cleared my massed company by 20 yds & hurt no one. One or two more came over, & one got the H.Q. cookhouse & killed two & wounded four or five, of whom some have since died. Runners & batmen & clerks they were, & were all well-known lads in the battalion. The 10th Coy. suffered most. During the whole tour they had up to this come off scot free. A few more shells came over, but I doubt if any were aimed at the camp. Hun was probably searching the hedges for batteries. But we were all glad to get out to here, spite of the nocturnal bombong which is customary.
20th. Recd. word during the afternoon that all working parties cancelled & that we were to move in morning to a back area - probably near St Omer - for training. All men at Brigade & Battalion Schools rejoined us.
Luckily I rode into Bailleul yesterday & made a few necessary purchases.
24th. For the last few days we have been billeted …
… at Candeseure hamlet, near MERVEILLE. We have not been doing much except march & swim, as we are to move away back of St Omer in a day or two, there to train. The march will take three days, & we are nursing the men’s feet.
On the march from the line to here the record of the battalion for never having a man fall out on the march in France was broken by one of the bad eggs. The Colonel found out he was too lazy to report sick that morning, & so got a file of the guard to take him out of the ambulance & prod him along. He’ll probably not offend again.
Leave and Lectures - Sep 1917
‘On Friday we walked to Lough Bray with the "Rookwood" girls, their father & mother, & the Boden folk. It was a glorious day, & everyone was unexpectedly nice to Mamie. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Next day … was not such a success, owing to weather chiefly, but also because the Thrift girls seemed determined to ignore Mamie. Of Emily I hardly expected this.’
‘1.10.17 Tonight Gen. Harrington Chief of Staff to Gen. Plumer, came about 20 miles to lecture us. This he did in the midst of operations by his Army around Ypres. He spoke quietly but confidently … He told how long his Army had lain inactive, & how Messines should have come off in 1916 instead of June 1917 if all had gone well. He told us how successful it had been, & how subsequent successes were beating Germany … Altogether this was the kind of lecture one rarely hears. Gen. Harrinton is one of the great men out there, though he was but a Coy. Comdr. when the war commenced.’
‘In the Hotel du Commerce there I ran across T. Darling, who is qualified & in the R.A.M.C as a Captain. He was one of the last I expected to see qualified. He is not in an Irish Regt., but wishes he were. It seems ages since I used to know him in College.’
28th. Aug. 1916. (1917)
Last diary closed yesterday. I write this a month afterwards ( 4.10.17) from memory, so will be incomplete.
On 28th. I left unit at CAESTRES, when I handed over Coy. to Cockerill & caught a train for Boulogne a few hours after battalion had gone by train to rest & train in preparation for a stunt. I had marched with them from temporary rest at CAUDESAURE, near MERVEILLE.
As my pass was not dated for that day, but for the next, I had to spend a day in Boulogne before crossing to England. Boulogne is a sorry hole, but I had a good sleep, which I needed badly after the night marching.
Passage was rough, & I was nearly sick - but not quite. On reaching London I phoned Mamie, & then started getting kit. At 5.30 p.m. I met her & we taxi'd home. She had furnished much better than I had expected, & made quite a good beginning. We were very glad to see each other.
My leave was till 9th. We put in four or five days furnishing & wandering about London together. Her firm allowed ...
... her off for the rest of my leave, & on Tuesday night we crossed to Ireland. I had got two days' extra leave out of General Richardson by dint of a three hours' wait at No 8 Southampton Row.
In Dublin we put up at the Standard Hotel, where I shall stay again. We first tried the "Ivanhoe" & the "Russell”, both of which were full up. In the afternoonn I visited Boden Park & arranged a walk for Friday, & she visited her own folk.
On Thursday, we shopped & in the afternoon visited Mr. & Mrs. Bateman at Whitehall. They were as decent as ever, & offered to pack the layer of my pictures & bring them to the station on the day of my return. The others I took away then in a bag they lent me.
On Friday we walked to Lough Bray with the "Rookwood" girls, their father & mother, & the Boden folk. It was a glorious day, & everyone was unexpectedly nice to Mamie. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
Next day we drove to "bohern" a breesia (?) waterworks, with the Boden folk & the Thrift girls. Mr. Tom Warner came too. This day was not such a success, owing to weather chiefly, but also because the Thrift girls seemed determined to ignore Mamie. Of Emily I hardly expected this. The Boden folk were very cut up at parting with me.
Next day I visited the Sandy Cove folk, & stayed with them an hour or two only. I took a few photos in the garden. Mr. Martin & Mrs. Sidford are the pick of the bunch, & their attitude towards me has not changed. I returned to the hotel & picked up Mamie, & then went to the train, where Eithne, whom I had visited in the morning, was. Mr. & Mrs. Bateman also saw us off. At the boat were Mrs. Sidford & Flo Martin to see us off.
While in Dublin I saw few old friends. Douglas, late of R.D.F. & now R.F.C., I saw in the train, & he lunched with us at the hotel one day. Redding did the same on Sunday. He gave me news of all the old band.
We returned to London to find that German raiders had destroyed a home a hundred yards away. I judged it best to insure, & this Mamie has since done against all risks.
The 10.9.17 we put in shopping, & at night I developed a lot of photos which Mamie has since had printed & sent out to me. The next morning I left for Folkestone.
There I found the boat did not sail till evening, so had a day roaming about the shore. The passage across was calm, & I found I could not leave Boulogne until 4 a.m. After a brief sleep I got a train & reached my unit later on in the day at a place called SENNINGHEM.
This was a sleepy village, but the presence of the Divisional Entertainers made it bearable. One of them is Bert Green. He came to see me, but I can spare his company!
Work was pretty strenuous, & the new Coy. Cmdr., - a Captain Nicholson just back from fifteen months at Sling - made things unpleasant, as he is a nigger driver. I found out I was to remain in reserve when the Coy. went in to action. I was not sorry not to be going in with such a skipper.
Those left out were Major Hargest, probably Major Tracey, Capt Selby, & Capt. Brtce, & myself. Of these Major Hargest has since gone on a three months' C.O's course to Aldershot, & is, incidentally, going to get married. We raised cash to give him a present, & my share came to 20 frs. Capt. Selby went for two weeks to command a rest camp at the seaside. On 28.9.17 I left them to come to this School - the 2nd. Army School of Instruction - at Wisques???? It is to last five weeks.
On the way I spent one night & one day at Poperinghe. It is quite a large town, & prices are excessive. All the night enemy planes bombed the town, I am told casualties were numerous, & many bombs fell quite near the E.F.C. Rest House where I stayed. The traffic, day & night,, to Ypres is very heavy. The Hun cannot help cause casualties, but I wonder he does not shell more.
The course at Wisques began 1.10.17. It is not over arduous, but leaves us little time on our hands. The Staff is a very good one, & includes a V.C. Captain. The Commandant is a gentleman & a soldier, & is Col. Hamilton of the 1st Grenadier Guards. He was a Major commanding a Coy. ...
... at the Aisne. The Chief Instructor is a Lieut. Col. - not a good lecturer, unlike most of the staff, but I believe a good man in the field.
The system here is to lecture first, then to demonstrate on the subject matter of the lecture out in the field. Sunday & two half days a week are free, but on week days there are sports in which one is expected to take part. There are frequent lectures from outsiders, & these are usually first class & very interesting. The School is held in a fine large convent, in extensive grounds, & as this is on top of a hill, the view on a fine day is one of the best I have seen in France.I ought to put in a pleasant & profitable five weeks here.
I don't intend to say much of this course in this diary, except to note any unusually good lectures I hear.
1.10.17 Tonight Gen. Harrington Chief of Staff to Gen. Plumer, came about 20 miles to lecture us. This he did in the midst of operations by his Army around Ypres. He spoke quietly but confidently. He sketched the disadvantages under which we laboured early in the war & how we overcame them, so that now, instead of the six Divisions we had on the Aisne, we now have in France & Belgium seventy Divisions, & thousands of heavy guns when we then had sixteen only.
He told how long his Army had lain inactive, & how Messines should have come off in 1916 instead of June 1917 if all had gone well. He told us how successful it had been, & how subsequent successes were beating Germany. The latest, those of 20.9.17 & 26.9.17, had cost him heavily in spite of his new system of defence. That of 26th he estimated to have cost Germany more in proportion than any other stroke of the war. There would be more & greater successes in the near future.
Altogether this was the kind of lecture one rarely hears. Gen. Harrinton is one of the great men out there, though he was but a Coy. Comdr. when the war commenced.
3.10.17. The Commandant gave us a lecture on Advanced Guards, & mentioned that he had just been ordered to push open warfare instruction for all it was worth.
Farm SUGAR BEET FIELDS CORN FIELDS
This lecture was perhaps the best of its kind I have ever heard. The Colonel gave his own experiences as a Major commanding a Coy. at the Aisne. He sketched the terrain as above.
He was avanced guard comdr. & had to cross the river & clear the way for the rest of his battalion & incidentally for the Brigade. He was told as much as was known & then left by his Colonel to his own devices.
When reconnoitring the bridge he met the Divisional General, who asked him what he was up to. On being told, the Gen. said " For Goodness sake stick to the top of the hill if you once get there". This told him the Gen. idea.
The Col. pushed on one scouts & one platoon under a brilliant young Officer over the bridge & through the wood. The platoon occupied the farm house & yard.
Meanwhile he had sent an officer & a section N.E. through the thickest part of the wood, to reconnoitre. This officer never returned. Some time afterwards he was sent home. He was a dud.
On receipt of news that farm had been occupied the Commandant sent another platoon up the slope, 1st day in at the top on the edge of the sugar beet fields. He then sent up a third & fourth platoon, who dug in alondside them. A message from the farm stating that Bosch were seen coming towards cornfields in large numbers ...
... caused him to entrench in full strnegth on beet fields' edge.
Each time he sent a platoon forward he advised his Colonel, & a fresh platoon was sent him to supply its place.
The huns were beaten off easily by rifle fire in spite of their strength, & the crossing of the Aisne was made good. This was the first permanent bit of trench made in France, & has never been lost.
The young officer in the farm was cut off with a few men while out in front of it. He was wounded & while lying down was murdered in sight of his captured men by a Hun officer, who shot him through the head with his revolver. These men later overcame & killed the few guards left with them & got back to the farm, which they helped to defend. The murderer was captured during the day, was identified by ten separate me, & shot.
The night before these events a Pte. of the Connaught Rangers was found by the Grenadier Guards in a ditch, dirty, unequipped, & drunk. He spent the night in their guard room. Next morning he asked to see the Colonel. The latter was pleasantly surprised to be asked "May I come into action with you, sir? I'd take it as a very great honour to be allowed to fight with the Grenadier Guards".The request was granted, & he behaved most gallantly. When the officer & all the N.C.Os of one platoon were casualties Pte. Murphy took charge, & was recommended by Col. Hamilton for the D.C.M. He was most unfortunately killed three days' later.
In the Franco-Prussian War the Prussioans heavily defeated the French on this same ground. This time we were half an hour too soon for them.
5.10.17 General Kentish Commandant of the Aldershot School for Commanding Officers, called in & told us of his experiences on the Italian front. He has a strong vein of humour, & pulled our legs a good deal, but where he wanted too he was serious & made things delightfully clear. He is sure the Italians, who have five million men mobilised, are making a very fine fight.
He described their very ...
... thorough methods of training, & described one practice attack in which the barrage was only sixty yds. in front of the attackers. The idea seems to be to make the actual attack seemm just like training over again. The casualties in this practice were 1 Officer & 5 men wounded.
Arditti are now being formed & correspond to German sturmstruppe. These are picked men, & are trained to have nerve. many of the South battalions are not good, hence the need for "Arditti".
General Kentish finished by explaining the tactical situation on the I talian front.
MONTE SANTO MONTE GABRIELE CORIZIA PRESENT LINE TRIESTE ADRIATIC ITALY
He explained how Italy got into Austrian territory up to the Izonzo River at the start. Later she crossed the river. Later she took Sano & Gabriele in turn. Once she has the rest of the range she will be in a position to outgun the two Southern ranges & the Hermade, & then the way to TRIESTE will be clear. Italians expect Austria will then give in.
He explained how Carderna, a brilliant soldier, organised a fifth army from odd parts & met the Austrian advance in April (?). Reason was a senile & uxorious General let his defences rip.
Cadorna is Chief of Staff only. The King commands.
4.10.17. Went into St. Omer, as we had a half holiday. In the Hotel du Commerce there I ran across T. Darling, who is qualified & in the R.A.M.C as a Captain. He was one of the last I expected to see qualified. He is not in an Irish Regt., but wishes he were. It seems ages since I used to know him in College.
The same evening I went to a "maison toleree" & didn't think much of the show. How such women can attract anyone I don't know. In spite of silk negligees & champagne the whole atmosphere was one of sordid commercialism. I douby very much whether our lads would go to these places if the life here did not make any sort of famale company a boon. And yet such places must pay, else they would not exist - in normal times, I mean.
27.10.17. Went to Calais for the weekend & found it a much cleaner & better built town than Boulogne. The hotels are good, & there is a fine strand. I stayed at the Y.M.C.A Officers' Rest House - a very clean & cheap place. I wish I could get another weekend.
The previous week Dr. John Kelman gave us two lectures. One was on America's entry into the war, on which subject I had heard him before. His other was about the Italian effort, as he had just retired from the Italian front. It is amusing to think of his confidence in the impregnability of their front, in view of their present debacle.
Dr. Kelman had two fine metaphors in his peroration. One was based on the groundwork of our strange Union Jack - viz. the blood-red cross, the cross of sacrifice. The other took a recent Christ's head by an Italian soldier-sculptor, as different as possible from the conventional Christs of Art. It was copied from the face of the sculptor's dead comrade in the trenches. The point was that the soldier looks & finds a Christ with the lineaments of his own comrade. Such a Christ the church must supply.
Later on the Commandant told us he was so impressed by the value of Dr. Kelman's lecture that he had written the Army Commander in order to get him to demand that Dr. Kelman be ordered to spend the winter lecturing to troops. Dr. Kelman very much wishes this.
Left School on 3rd. The previous night there was a fair row in both messes, but not so much as I had expected.
In the morning Harris played me at billiards & missed his bus to the station. He was on his beam ends, so I lent him a pound.
Altogether it was quite a good course, though drill was stressed rather too much. I should like a job on the staff for a while.
Perhaps the best instruction given was in topography by Capt. Escombe, D.S.O., & in bayonet fighting by Col.. Campbell & Major Betts. But to make the course an ideal one for Company Cmmanders it would have to last about three months, to allow time for individual tuition & for more tactical schemes.
Rejoined unit on 3rd. & took over command of 8th Coy. from Gabites, who returned to 14th.
The billets are in a hole of a place called HARLETTES, and the weather is execrable.
9.11.17. Whether or not I have infected the powers with open warfare fever I can't say, but we have had an advanced guard scheme in which this Company scored heaviest & in which Gabites & the 14th. did very badly, & are to have another similar scheme.
Also I have given the Company one day's practice in outposts - & none too soon for they needed it.
Folk are daily writing me for details of how different lads were killed. It is a saddening business, for so often I can find out very little.
Lately I have been getting very few letters, chiefly, I suppose, because I cannot find time myself to write.
10.11.17.Alan Cockerill, now on well-earned leave to U.K. after Bellevue Spur, has made a record for the Division by getting the D.S.O. while still a subaltern. He did marvellously well, took many prisoners practically singlehanded, at one time was without a single man under him, ultimately ...
… gathered a few Australians together, sent runner after runner back & saw him sniped, & ultimately got back to remnants of Coy. & gathered them together. He has at last got good recognition, but he deserved it ages before. I am very lucky to have him in my Company.
My other subs. are McAuley & Cook. McAuley is an old hand, of O.M.R. & Pioneer battalion experience mainly. Cook was with me at La Basse Ville & got shell shock. Both are promoted N.C.Os, keen & reliable though not very capable as yet, perhaps owing to lack of experience. McKeown has been made Lewis Gun Officer, so the Coy. loses him, though he still messes with us.
Retreat from Mons.
Rough outline for a lecture to the men.
After strenuous fighting during the afternoon of the 23rd., G.H.Q. received from Joffre a message which altered the whole situation & made their fight one against far greater odds. It ran as follows:-
"Namur has fallen. The Germans yesterday won the passages over the River Sambre between Charleroi & Namur. The French armies are retiring. You have at least 187,500 men & 690 guns attacking you in front; another 62,500 men ...
... & 230 guns trying to turn your left flank; & probably another 300,000 men (victorious army in pursuit of French) driving in a wedge on your right."
This message would appear:
But the real German strength was greater:-
Position as it appeared 5pm. Aug. 23rd.
At 2 a.m. (24th). orders to begin to retire were issued from G.H.Q.
10.11.17. Had a scheme of attack with Advance Guard. The 4th. Coy. acted as Adv. Guard & were slow & did only moderately well. 8th attacked on right & 14th. on left. Latter made some bad mistakes. 8th. did well & attacked with plenty of vim & without any delays. 10th were Reserve, & had little to do. At Coy. Coms. Conference afterwards the 8th. easily scored the honours, & I was very pleased.
13.11.17. Removed to SENINGHAM, to old billets, where everyone seemed pleased to see us back, although our stay is only for a night. A pleasure to get near the Officers' Club again. Before starting we were issued with maps of the new area. It doesn't look a promising place, & will doubtless be very unpleasant.
15.11.17. My birthday, but got no parcels. Were in huts & tents near RENINGHELST, & sent in to Poperinghe & got four bottles of sauterne & some raisins & other fruit. There was nothing else obtainable, & we just managed a dinner a little better than ordinary. I invited all the Coy. Cmdrs (Freed, Bryce, & ...
'The grand old Cloth Hall is shattered'
‘rode through Ypres to Hooge Crater … YPRES is a woful sight. Not a house stands intact ...’
‘The grand old Cloth Hall is shattered to fragments. The few statues remaining in the niches are all mutilated, mostly armless & headless. A sad sight!’’
... Hewat, & we had quite a pleasant meal.
16.11.17 Marched to near DICKEBUSH, & are camped in tents in a mud hole. Ceaseless traffic on the road near, though McKeown, who took up four Lewis guns & teams to protect a field battery against aircraft, says there is not so much traffic further on, & less mud, although the roads are heavily shelled. I suppose we shall soon have to go up & reconnoitre for ourselves.
17.11.17. Yesterday Alan Cockerill returned from U.K. leave, with his D.S.O. ribbon up. He was decorated by the King, & was the only 2/Lt. to get the D.S.O.
Today I have applied for job as D.T.M.O. Had I been likely to get a pukka captaincy this time I would have remained here, but as I am only a lieut. and likely to remain one for some time I see no reason why I should not try to better myself. Should I get this job I do not know how I would stand for pay & promotion, but I should be no worse off.
21.11.17. Today I went up to the line, Broodseinde Sector. The previous day two of our officers who got right up to the front reported excellent trenches there, but great difficulty in getting in & out. During the night the weather broke, & Freed & I had to go up in rain, which had transformed the whole countryside into a quagmire.
We started about 9.a.m from near Dickebush, & rode through Ypres to Hooge Crater. My horse started by bolting with me for about a mile along the Ypres road, scattering traffic right & left. I kept my seat with ease, however, though I was not able to pull him up for lack of a curb.
Ypres is a woful (sic) sight. Not a house stands intact, though the town is not much shelled now. The devastation beggars description. It is laughable to speak of Sackville Street after the 1916 Rebellion as a ruined street after seeing the ruins of Ypres. The grand old Cloth Hall is shattered to fragments. The few statues remaining in the niches are all mutilated, mostly armless & headless. A sad sight!
The MENIN ROAD was full of traffic but was not shelled. At Hooge Crater we dismounted & gave the horses to the groom with instructions to come back for us at 3.30.p.m.
'the abomination of desolation'
‘A large copse remained, leafless & branchless columns of dead wood only, blasted & savaged, like the last ruins of some many-pillared temple of a long dead civilisation. Through this the plank road pushed on, an emblem of creative effort in the midst of all this destruction. Fully half a mile of its course was planked by timbers & wheels & broken conveyances, with here & there a swoln (sic) & putrescent carcase of a mule, or a dead horse. It seemed the abomination of desolation, horrible, very sobering in the train of thought it induced…
For nearly four miles this duckboard track leads up to the front line… If one steps off the boards, as he must where a shell has broken the track, he flounders in deep mud or falls into a shell hole full of water…
‘I sat huddled up in a room six inches deep in water, companied by two men & one or more corpses. I stood on the foot of a corpse to keep my own dry. His bare & rotting knee stuck up, & I could see into the joint. The smell was sickening. But outside the tornado of high explosive & shrapnel & gas shells raged, & I stayed quaking…’
‘The utter desolation of the whole countryside is awful.’
‘our heavy guns opening up half a minute too soon …When the 18 ponder barrage opened it was far too short, & on the left especially caused our folk many casualties.’
‘Capt. Bryce was twice wounded & still carried on with the utmost pluck. He had just decided to go back when he was killed … his death an almost irreparable loss. He was not a brilliant soldier, & was slow on the uptake, but he was absolutely reliable & absolutely fearless, & always anxious to go out of his way to oblige anyone. He was a man.’
‘Capt. Hewat had several men killed & injured by our own shells.’
We turned off to the left up a plank road, about 1 1/2 miles long. It was no mean engineering feat, & led through as desolate a stretch of country as I have ever seen. A large copse remained, leafless & branchless columns of dead wood only, blasted & savaged, like the last ruins of some many-pillared temple of a long dead civilisation. Through this the plank road pushed on, an emblem of creative effort in the midst of all this destruction. Fully half a mile of its course was planked by timbers & wheels & broken conveyances, with here & there a swoln (sic) & putrescent carcase of a mule, or a dead horse. It seemed the abomination of desolation, horrible, very sobering in the train of thought it induced. This road ended in crossroads, locally called , & thence onwards our way was duckboards only.
For nearly four miles this duckboard track leads up to the front line. At its widest it is two duckboards in breadth, & for the latter part of its course only one. It is constantly shelled somewhere. If one steps off the boards, as he must where a shell has broken the track, he flounders in deep mud or falls into a shell hole full of water. There is danger in the air, to right & left, behind & before, but perhaps least danger lies ahead.
The track crosses a gully, "Dead Mule Gully". Here are a line of concrete structures once held by the Hun, & hereabouts he searches long & thoroughly every day for guns & gunners. We were driven to take shelter, & for an hour I sat huddled up in a room six inches deep in water, companied by two men & one or more corpses. I stood on the foot of a corpse to keep my own dry. His bare & rotting knee stuck up, & I could see into the joint. The smell was sickening. But outside the tornado of high explosive & shrapnel & gas shells raged, & I stayed quaking. "Adversity makes strange bedfellows." I put on my gas mask, & vision blurred but imagination keenly alive, I waited. In an hour Freed & I & a few other shelterers pushed on. Most stayed. Later on I met Capt. Potter of the Canterburys. He had been delayed there for two hours. Shells continued to fall before & behind, but none came ...
... close enough to harm. We wasted no time, & finfing folk at Battn. H.Q. too busy to help us, went ahead & got to Support H.Q., where 2nd. Lt. Newton gave us a cup of tea, & we eat our lunch. Then we pushed on & inspected right & left sectors of the front line. It seems a home of peace, & no doubt we could push further forward, but it is doubtful is we could hold it.
On our way home we were shelled, but at a different spot. Several shells splashed us with mud, but no one of the various parties about was hurt. We got to Hooge Crater, & our horses soon arrived. I was soon home, soaked, & changed.
The utter desolation of the whole countryside is awful.
9.12.17. I write from Hotel Astra, 29 Rue Caumartin, Paris.
After above reconnaissance, all reconnoitring was stopped, as it was decided not to send the battalion in to hold the line. We were given instead the task of taking Polderhock Chateau on the extreme South of the Divisional front.
This Chateau, now only small heaps of ruins, was in peace times a very fine place. Its present importance lies in the fact that it is situated on top of a crest & affords the Hun fine observation. Without the Chateau he would be blinded for some miles, & our casualties would be greatly diminished. Also, the Chateau would give us observation at present denied us, & would menace BECELAERE & GHELUVELT.
Unfortunately the Chateau should have been ours since Oct. 26th. It was then actually in the hands of an English Division, but because the attack on Gheluvelt was unsuccessful, the Coy. Cmdr. who held the Chateau relinquished it without being counter attacked, fearing to be outflanked from S.E. It was a terrible tactical blunder, & has cost us dear ever since.
I speak of the Chateau, but in reality the job given us, in conjunction with the 1st Canterbury Btt., who were allotted the S, half of the frontage, was an attack on a front bounded by the REUTELBEEK on the N and by the SCHERRIABEEK on the S. We had two objectives, the first ...
... being a line running N & S just beyond the Chateau, & the second a parallel line three or four hundred yards further on. This latter objective was intended to place us on the Hun side of the crest & bar him from all observation from it.
The area was infected with pill boxes & machine guns, some known to us & some unknown. The various maps showed 35 pill boxes & other strong points, but there were more. We had also the information got by the attackers of 26th Oct., but this did not help us much. We expected the Hun to put up a fight, but that we would get the place easily & find our difficulties commence afterwards.
The job was allotted to two battalions, ours & 1st Canterbury. Each was to attack on a two company frontage (whole frontage of brigade was 500 yds.), have a third Coy. behind as a counter to the counter attack, & have the fourth Coy. behind in reserve. The strength of personnel was limited to 450 men & 10 Officers per battalion. This worked out at about 108 men per Coy. My Coy. had four platoons of 25 men each, & 12 men on H.Q. The Officers were Lieut. D.MCAuley & 2/Lt. S.Cook.
We moved from Brewery Camp a fortnight ago today, to a camp of huts about 2 miles further back, passing through DICKEBUSH en route. Here we dug trenches & made heaps to represent pill boxes, all to correct scale, & every obstacle was allotted a given number of attackers. 4th. Coy. under Lieut. Hines & 2/Lt. Digby-Smith & 10th Coy. under Capt. Bryce & 2/Lt. Marshall formed the attacking waves. 8th Coy., my own, under Lieut. McAuley, & 2/Lt. S. Cook, was counter to counter attack, & the 14th. Coy. under Capt. J.P. Hewat & 2/lt. Deal was the reserve. We all trained, but the direction of affairs was left to the Officers who were going to do the job. The 14th. Coy. was not expected to be called on, & was to go up at dusk on the day of attack & relieve the 4th. & 10th Coys. after wiring the front. It looked a nasty job for them.
The practices were carried out well, & every preparation made to ensure success.
On evening of 1st. some of the attacking platoons went up, & on evening of 2nd. the rest followed. The 14th Coy. went only as far as Clapham Junction.
The attack was launched at 12.30 (I think 12.30., but it may have been 12.) as we did not want a daybreak attack & hoped to get the Huns at lunch. It was spoiled by our heavy guns opening up half a minute too soon, & the men hopped out before the main light barrage had opened. There had been no preliminary bombardment, & the gunfire available was unusually heavy - roughly all the guns of two Corps.
When the 18 ponder barrage opened it was far too short, & on the left especially caused our folk many casualties. 2/Lt. Marshall was killed by it. McAuley took our boys back into trench till barrage lengthened. All these unforeseen occurrences doubtless put the Hun on his guard & took away the element of surprise on which we had counted so much.
It was found impossible to gain even the first objective, & the Officers & N.C.Os suffered frightfully, especially from M.G. fire but most of all from snipers. The Hun seemed to have snipers detailed to pick off our fellows from shell holes as they rushed to attack the pill boxes. He was only too successful.
The 14th. Coy. was ordered up from Clapham Junction, which meant two miles march on a duckboard track in daylight under observation. By a miracle they had only two casualties.
Meanwhile McAuley had taken the 8th Coy. in to help the others. By all accounts he did very fine work, but his efforts were unavailing, & we had to dig in on the near side of our first objective. Luckily our proximity to the Hun positions made it impossible for him to shell our front line. Whenever he tried it the front Huns at once signalled to lengthen range.
14th. Coy. was put in also, but we could not get on.
Capt. Bryce was twice wounded & still carried on with the utmost pluck. He had just decided to go back when he was killed. The battalion has sus(tained) ...
... (sus)tained by his death an almost irreparable loss. He was not a brilliant soldier, & was slow on the uptake, but he was absolutely reliable & absolutely fearless, & always anxious to go out of his way to oblige anyone. He was a man.
2/Lt. Cook was sniped through the neck & on his way to the rear drove before him one of several prisoners he had taken - he said the one who shot him. The prisoner demurred at running through the Hun barrage, & Cook persuaded him with two inches of bayonet in his under pants. The Hun made no more attempts to look back.
Hines did excellent work, both before the show in reconnoitring, & during it, although he was badly wounded & might have retired early. He had to (go) back when he got a second wound, - one in the knee.
Of the ten officers sent in Major Tracey (C.O.) & the Adjutant alone were unscathed. McAuley was wounded but not evacuated - a bullet grazed his shoulder blades. Digby-Smith was buried & went off his head a little with shell shock. Hewat was not hurt. Marshall was killed by a shell. Bryce was killed by snipers. Deal was sniped in the neck, as was Cook also.
Lieut. C. Gabites, who the previous week left the battalion for T.M. work, was blown up by a shell which landed in his emplacement. He was the only support of his mother.
The assault took place at 12.30 on 3.12.17. Next morning my Q.M.S. told me that he had been told of various Officer casualties at Brigade H.Q. & that he had some of our wounded N.C.Os on the way to the dressing station.
Just after lunch on the 4th. 2/Lt. Davies, Capt. Frazer, & myself were ordered up to carry on, & we took what N.C.Os were available with us. At Hooge Crater we got a few details, & at the Tower we saw Gen. Braithewaite & Colonel Charters. The Gen. did not seem to think it necessary that we should go up.
We arrived just at dusk, & were told Capt. Hewat & 14th. Coy. were going to take over front line & relieve 10th & 4th Coys, who would then go back to ...
support under command of Capt. Frazer. 8th Coy. occupied front & support. It was very cold, but the night passed quietly & many of our dead were buried.
The Maories came up about midnight & continued the C.T. right up to front line. They worked quietly & quickly, & made speedy progress without Huns interrupting. They unearthed an abandoned Hun machine gun, which they carried back as a trophy.
At dawn the Hun tried to come over in a small party, but he was scuppered. There was a great deal of promiscuous sniping, & our lads claim to have had the best of it. In our line we could see little of it.
During the morning we salvaged & cleaned & fed, as there was plenty of food, owing to the number of casualties. The incoming battalion, 2nd. Bedfords, had reconnoitred the previous evening.
Just after lunch the Hun became obnoxious. All morning he had sent over occasional shells, doubtless ranging. At 1.55 pm. he opened on all our trenches & on 1st Cants. with a battery of 5.9's & several 8" guns. These fired from Becelaere. This fire he controlled from the Chateau itself, by sending up lengthen range rockets. The front line was too close to him to be in much danger of shelling. He missed my line by inches only. I was at the left flank, crouching down with a lot of the boys, but when I saw he was out for business I went along the trench & warned everyone to be ready if he came over. One bit of trench seemed liable to be hit any moment, & I gave orders to clear it. Only one man stayed in it, as he thought his little shelter was safe. He was killed. He was the only casualty I had in the Company.
At end of first hour the Hun sent up two smoke signals from Chateau, & the fire intensified. It raged for three solid hours, & our own artillery made no reply till it began to slacken. Then they opened an S.O.S., though we had ...
sent up no signal.
It was now the 14th Coy. & also my left got a bad time owing to our own 18lb. shorts. One burst over me & I actually felt hurt. Capt. Hewat had several men killed & injured by our own shells.
After a while things slackened down & dusk came on.
The 4th & 10th Coys. suffered worst in the bombardment. There were about fifteen casualties with them. Capt. Frazer had a good baptism of fire.
We came out on relief to Birr Cross Roads & then to Rly. siding & so by train to Hooge Camp, where a good meal awaited us.
The Company lost about fifty in this show.
10.12.17. On the afternopon of the 6th., while in HOWE Camp, I got a chit from Orderly Room asking would it be convenient for me to go to Paris on leave next day. I went & saw the Colonel, who said he could spare me as Cockerill was there to reorganise, & he advised me to take the leave while I had the chance.
That night two bombs were dropped near the camp & put the wind up us. One of the raiding planes was caught in the searchlights & brought down by anti aircraft fire - sheer luck. I heard it fell near Vlamertinghe.
I left camp on 7.12.17 & reported to Details Camp near Oosterverne about 3p.m. They gave me permission to go to POPERINGHE to spend the night, as I had to catch a train at 6.15. a.m from there. I found the Officers' Club had been moved to near the square as the old position near the station had been made untenable by shell fire. I was too late for a bed, but got a shake-(down) ...
PARIS - of art, the colour line, and Odette
Versailles - ‘When I saw the splendour & costliness of all this & heard how much better furnished & on how grand a scale everything originally was, I understood for the first time how the Revolution was inevitable.’
‘Afterwards we went to Les Folies-Bergere, which has a bigger promenade than the Olympia, & is world famous. There are dozens of harlots, but as we had been warned of their wiles we were not inveigled.’
‘It is quite a fine bookshop, & he makes aspecialty of leather bindings. I shall purchase about 100 frs. worth of good French books now I have the chance.’
‘We saw negro harlots & a mixture of all races in the promenade, & Americans fraternising with a great black - some said Jack Johnston. It was a disgusting sight. After this war it will be hard to control the natives all over the world, & their opinion of white women won't be much. For the first time in my life I drew the colour line. I begin to realise what it means in the States, in India, & in S.Africa, & why.’
On Rodin’s ‘La Pensee’ - ‘To me it represents something formed & beautiful springing from the rough & inchoate. It is the conception of a genius!’
‘I then went to Bibliotheque Flammarion, a bookshop at 10 Boulevard des Italiens, & bought about 110 frs. worth of books, chief of them being six volumes of Anatole France. I also got Pascal's "Provinciales" & Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal", & Lamartine's "Poesies Recuelles".’
‘In the evening after dinner with Odette & the French doctor, I took Odette to the Opera.’
‘I dined at the Grand Taverne with Odette & the others, & she ran into about 20 frs. I gave her some money, as I felt I had kept her from earning while I was about, & I know she wants to get down to Marsailles to see her child. She is a most fine woman, & I am very sorry for her. We had quite a long chat over dinner, but I did not let her know I was leaving the next day, or she would certainly have wanted to come home to the hotel with me.’
‘Just now I can hardly realize I am back in the war zone, but I daresay I shall realise it all too soon.’
... (shake)down on the floor & had an hour or two's sleep The waiters are an insolent & disobliging gang.
Next day, 8.12.17 I journeyed to Paris. At Hazebrouck, where we changed trains, or rather at Calais, a very pretty French girl got in & the four or five officers present had quite a lot of fun, & when she got out at Amiens the journey seemed very dull. On arrival in Paris about 10.30 it was raining. I got a taxi with some difficulty & got to Rue Daunon, where I had been recommended to put up at Hotel Daunon. It was full, so I went along to the Astra Hotel in the Rue Caumartin, & got a small room,the last they had. It is quite satisfactory.
Sunday, 9.12.17, I slept in nearly all morning, as I was very tired. I had the unaccustomed luxury of breakfast in bed, but the French make it too light a meal. In the afternoon, which was dull & raining, I went under the guidance of Holmes of 1st Cant. to report to the Commandant. Tea at the Cafe Lionel, 1 Rue Edouard VII, cost us 3.50 a head & was not worth it. We then walked in the Champs Elysee.
I had lunched in the Hotel. I dined with Holmes at the Ceylon Tea Pavilion, in the same street as the Hotel. The dinner is good & quickly served, but not ample enough! Price is reasonable - about 4.50. This includes a drink. The waiters are all Hindoos.
After dinner we went to the Alhambra. The turns are nearly all in English, but the standard is not up to yhat of London & the price for orchestral stalls, 12 frs., is much dearer than average music hall prices in England. I was disappointed in the show.
After returning top hotel, I went out for a stroll. Of course I was accosted several times, & ultimately I lost myself & took a long while finding my way back to the hotel.
10.12.17. Today I have been to Versailles. The Y.M.C.A. run a trip in a Govt. charabanc, at a cost of 5 Frs. only - a price with which no guide could compete. The Party is led by a professional courier in Y.M.C.A. employ. Of course meals are extra. The whole trip cost only 15 Frs.
At this time of the year things are at their least beautiful, & I was warned not to judge the gardens by their present appearance. In summer they must be wonderfully beautiful. The statuary, mostly of soldiers & statesmen, in all sorts of material, is fine, but the groups which are not portraiture are in my opinion far the best as works of art.
The interior decoration could not be described. Not only is there abundance of frescoes & canvases, but richly gilded carvings & fine statuary & bas reliefs & Gobelin tapestries abound. When I saw the splendour & costliness of all this & heard how much better furnished & on how grand a scale everything originally was, I understood for the first time how the Revolution was inevitable. Louis XIV made a big mistake when he built Versailles so near to Paris.
No one could do justice to Versailles in a week, let alone a day. It is a sight every democrat should see. Its upkeep must alone be enormous. What must its cost have been!
At night I visited Olympia, a music hall of just fair quality compared with the best of London. It has a promenade, not so large or famous as that of Folies-Bergere. I dined at the Grand Taverne in the Faubourg Montmartre for about six francs. Not a bad place.
11.12.17. Got up late & spent the morning choosing postcards & coloured etchings of battlefields & places made famous by the war. A few of them I thought very good. I bought about 50 francs worth for ...
... myself, a few for Freed, & a pair, Baupaume & Peronne scenes, for Mrs. Warner. They ought to frame well in passe-partout.
I lunched at the Brasserie Metropole in the Boulevard Monmartre - a fair place only. I then went for pay to Rue Papiniere but could not get any at that time , as it was wrong hour, but I had an interesting talk to the lady who runs the Y.M.C.A. canteen there. Afterwards I had a roam through the shop of 6 Flammarion, 10 Boulevard des Italiens! It is quite a fine bookshop, & he makes aspecialty of leather bindings. I shall purchase about 100 frs. worth of good French books now I have the chance.
On my way to dinner I met Wallcott of 2nd. Otago. We dined at the Cafe Madrid, Boulevard Monmartre, a la carte. It was fairly good. They do not have a table d'hote, I think. Cost about 6Frs. Afterwards we went to Les Folies-Bergere, which has a bigger promenade than the Olympia, & is world famous. There are dozens of harlots, but as we had been warned of their wiles we were not inveigled. Their custom is to get fellows to sit down & drink with them, & then attendants rush up with flowers & chocolates & give them to these girls & the fellow is expected to pay, & usually does, & through the nose. Then these girls hand the goods back to the theatre afterwards & get 2/3 of the selling price. It is on these terms they are allowed in. Sometimes a single box of chocolates is sold thus twenty times. The place swarms with well-dressed & paternal-looking touts, who for a franc or two will take you to the filthiest shows on earth, & doubtless share in the profits afterwards. We saw negro harlots & a mixture of all races in the promenade, & Americans fraternising with a great black - some said Jack Johnston. It was a ...
... disgusting sight. After this war it will be hard to control the natives all over the world, & their opinion of white women won't be much. For the first time in my life I drew the colour line. I begin to realise what it means in the States, in India, & in S.Africa, & why.
Folies-Bergere is an experience, but in a decent country such shows would be closed up.
12.12.17. Spent the morning in looking round & in walk up the Champs Elysee, past the Arc de Triumphe (sic) - which is placarded with bills for the new loan! - out to the city boundaries at Fort Maillot.
In the afternoon went to same place again, to Luna Park. This is a skating Rink, & there I partnered a girl whom I afterwards dined. Had dinner at the Grand Cafe in the Boulevard des Capuchins, & had a fait meal for a very stiff price. Not a good place to visit.
After dinner I went to the Theatre Caumartin, in street of same name. It is a beautiful little theatre, but full of harlots, & the show is not much good! It was not so dear as the other theatres.
13.12.17. Got up late, & only then because guide George Came & asked was I game for an excursion around Paris. I was, & he took us in the course of the day to
(3) Les GFobelins
(4) Le Luxembourg
(5) St Chappelle & Le Palais de Justice.
George proved himself but a poor guide as his knowledge of exhibits is very superficial, but he knows where to go & how to get there, which is something. But now I have been over the ground I am sure I could guide anyone better myself.
The Senate was a fine, compact building, the main chamber being semicircular in form. It is not marvel(ously) ...
... (marvel)ously beautiful, but there is a fine air of utility with as little ugliness as possible.The place abounds with busts of former Presidents of the Senate, & from one room, the library, which has a fine frescoed ceiling, a good view of the Luxembourg Gardens is obtainable. But the place is hardly worth visiting again. Incidentally George appropriated some of the official notepaper for a souvenir.
The Pantheon is a glorious building. Originally it was intended for a church, in honour of St. Genevieve, patron Saint of Paris, & the walls are frescoed with scenes taken from her life. The revolutionaries changed the place into a national museum & crypt. It is a glorious place, & though I did not see the famous tombs underneath, what I did see was well worth visiting. There is a great group depicting famous revolutionaries offering their all to the Republic throned on high. Only one side of this is finished, but it will be a most striking work of art when it is finished. There are also various frescoes done with the painters' knife instead of with brushes. The result is better light & shade effects & at a distance the work looks very well.
The Pantheon is in Graeco-Roman style, & cost about thrity million francs.
In front of it is the glorious "le Penseur", Perhaps Rodin's greatest work. This is a sculpture to which one can turn repeatedly & always find something fresh in it.
We returned to the Astra for lunch after seeing the Pantheon. I think that for lunch it is one of the best places in Paris. In the afternoon we continued our sightseeing. Les Gobelins is a state owned manufactory in the Avenue des Gobelin, who brought a fine scarlet dye to Paris. I think it was Richelieu who put the industry on its feet.
The workmen, or artists, for such they really are, are trained from an early age, first to drawing, then to copying simple conventional patterns & folds of drapery. When proficient they are put on to real tapestries.
The rate of work of a skilled craftsman is about a square metre a year, though he appears to work quicker. Usually three or four artists make a tapestry. Average time taken over a large picture is seven years. I doubt if British workmen would have the patience for this work.
Pay of workers is small, but State boards & feeds them & theirs. The output, about six tapestries yearly, is State property. Only tapestries made in workers' own time can become private property.
I would rather have a fine Gobelin than the finest picture of similar size. Gobelins also make vvery fine & extremely "high priced" carpets.
The Luxemburg is glorious. I had no time to see it in detail, but the statuary is enough to make it world famous were there nothing else there. There are many of Rodin's finest works there, his "Baiseur", "St. Jean", "La Pensee', "L'Age d'Alain", etc. Falguiere, Dubois, Dubois, Michel & others are also represented.
As illustrative of Rodin's style it is good to compare his conception of "La Pensee" with the "La Pensee" of Michel. Both works are housed in the Luxemburg.
Michel's work represents a great whiter marble throned queen, with a thoughtful countenance. It is a fine though a conventional conception.
Rodin has represented a life sized woman's head rising from a rough block of white marble. The head is perfectly worked, & the expression pensive. To me it represents something formed & beautiful springing from the rough & inchoate. It is the conception of a genius!
(Ex)celsior at Fort Maillot, near the skating rink (Luna Park) where I had been on 12th. We dined with Rita & a friend but left them after dinner, much to the fair Rita's disgust. She also is a wonderful study - a Southern type with the ways of a great kitten. Some day she may make useful copy.
15th. I seem to be getting into the way of loafing, & today did little sightseeing, but just strolled round the shops. Walcott was ill & took to bed, & I spent most of the morning with him in his hotel near mine which gives no meals but breakfast,, & is very reasonabl.
In the afternoon I went along to the Rue de Pepiniere & saw the Base Cashier. He gave me 250 frs., which was very welcome. I then went to Bibliotheque Flammarion, a bookshop at 10 Boulevard des Italiens, & bought about 110 frs. worth of books, chief of them being six volumes of Anatole France. I also got Pascal's "Provinciales" & Baudelaire's "Fleurs du Mal", & Lamartine's "Poesies Recuelles".
In the evening after dinner with Odette & the French doctor, I took Odette to the Opera. The piece was "Faust", & I had got tickets to go with Walcott but as he was ill I took Odette instead. The seats had been booked for two officers, & they had given them to me in the first row. They have a rule keeping the three first rows for critics & officers of the Allies, & so Odette was not allowed there. But after seeing the manager we were given two seats further back, though not quite so good.
The opera was fairly good. The female voices were weak, but the tenor, M. Rambaud, who played Faust, was most excellent, & the bass, Mephistopheles, was also good. The orhestra was excellent, & the ballet was about the finest show of its kind I have ever seen. In England folk would go mad to see so much grace & beauty.
... pleased to see her.
16th. In the morning I went to see the Commandant at Place de Bon Marche, off Rue de Saint Honore. I asked him for another day's leave, but he told me he could not grant it, & that in any case I would be risking English leave by taking it. He was very decent about it.
Walcott & I then wandered about, & I picked up a good edition of French book, limply bound, at 3.50. Needless to say it was published by Dent, & I bought about six volumes.
In the afternoon Walcott went off to hospital, as he had trench fever.
I dined at the Grand Taverne with Odette & the others, & she ran into about 20 frs. I gave her some money, as I felt I had kept her from earning while I was about, & I know she wants to get down to Marsailles to see her child. She is a most fine woman, & I am very sorry for her. We had quite a long chat over dinner, but I did not let her know I was leaving the next day, or she would certainly have wanted to come home to the hotel with me.
I had got my ticket & booked my seat early in the afternoon. After getting them, I got a lift to NOTRE DAME & wandered in. The Church was full, & everyone seemed to be standing & many moved about. Vespers were being celebrated, & the grand organ made the place resound. I got up into the basilica & from there had a fine view of things in mass. However much like Greek & Renaissance architecture I think I shall always prefer Gothic. This visit on this daty at this time, with the snow falling fast outside, served as corrective to me against too great infatuation with the mundane pagan Paris. Notre Dame is a glory!
At 11.40 pm. I caught my train & left Paris - with regret. I must see more of this wonderful city.
17th. The train was late at Calais this morning, & so I had to catch the connection at once & could get no breakfast. We reached Hazebrouck about 4pm. & changed fro Poperinghe, which we reached 6pm. I had ordered a bed at the Officers' Club, & so hurried along & got a decent dinner - my first meal for 24 hours. Just now I can hardly realize I am back in the war zone, but I daresay I shall realise it all too soon.
Dickebusch - a dangerous full moon
"Suitable for Coy. Comdr. or 2nd. in Cmd.
An excellent Officer. Has had nearly two years experience of fighting in France with 16th. Division. An excellent disciplinarian, & is a good organiser. Very cool under fire."
‘On Christmas evening we relieved the 10th. Coy. We found the front line long & very much undermanned. The weather was very cold & clear, snow lay frozen on the ground, though it was raining when we actually took over, & the moon was at the full! It seemed as if patrolling & wiring would be out of the question owing to visibility.
We could see almost 500 yards at midnight, & further with glasses. I was ordered to wire but did not, as a Hun machine gun got on to the party as soon as it appeared … Next morning I was reprimanded by Major Tracey, acting C.O.’
‘As soon as one of the party appeared above the parapet a machine gun opened fire … I stopped the wiring.’
17th. The train was late at Calais this morning, & so I had to catch the connection at once & could get no breakfast. We reached Hazebrouck about 4pm. & changed fro Poperinghe, which we reached 6pm. I had ordered a bed at the Officers' Club, & so hurried along & got a decent dinner - my first meal for 24 hours. Just now I can hardly realize I am back in the war zone, but I daresay I shall realise it all too soon.
In Paris I had a talk with the C.R.E. of the 3rd. Australian Division. He was one of the few men I have met who realises that all arms must be auxiliary to the infantry, & when in the line he always has a few men attached to the infantry. When the infantry go over the top, every platoon has one R.E. man with them, & the Coy. Cmdr. has an R.E. N.C.O. with him.
This Officer has standardised the system of consolidation in his Division. He works it under cover of Lewis gun of each platoon, & makes the rest dig under the supervision of an R.E. tasks taped out by him & previously allotted to sections. He makes each successive bay of the front line in eschelon to the next, & so makes enfilade fire by the Hun impossible & front fire necessarily partial as range has constantly to be altered.
He also believes in a circular communication trench, zigzagged, & points of angles of zigzag are given by looking over outstretched fingers. This system makes strafing of a C.T. most difficult.
Stokes gun or Rifle Grenadiers
Wording of report on me sent in by Col. Charters at end of my first 3 mths. with battalion. (From memory).
"Suitable for Coy. Comdr. or 2nd. in Cmd.
An excellent Officer. Has had nearly two years experience of fighting in France with 16th. Division. An excellent disciplinarian, & is a good organiser. Very cool under fire."
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18.12.17. About 10 a.m. I left the POPERINGHE Officers' Club & set out for N.Z. Details Camp at OUDERDOM. Thence I was directed to our transport lines in DICKEBUSCH HUTS. After lunch I rode up with Capt. McCormack to the Battalion, then in Support at HALFWAY HOUSE deep dugouts.
I took over the Company & put in three unhealthy days underground, & developed a throat.
On 22.12.17 we went into the line, my Coy. being the reserve or counter-attacking Company. Just before going 2/Lt. Newton had been posted to us. On 24th. 2/Lt. Armstead, an Invercargill barrister, joined up. Coy. H.Q. was in a strong pill box, safe enough though very crowded. It was several times shelled, but we had no casualties.
On Christmas evening we relieved the 10th. Coy. which went into Support. We had ourselves first been relieved by the 4th. Coy.
We found the front line long & very much undermanned., & held in a system of strong posts with great gaps of trench intervening, unheld. The weather was very cold & clear, snow lay frozen on the ground, though it was raining when we actually took over, & the moon was at the full! It seemed as if patrolling & wiring would be out of the question owing to visibility.
We could see almost 500 yards at midnight, & further with glasses. I was ordered to wire but did not, as a Hun machine gun got on to the party as soon as it appeared. Also I sent out only one patrol instead of three. Next morning I was reprimanded by Major Tracey, acting C.O.
During the night we smacked up several Hun parties with Lewis gun fire, & the Hun Hun was thenceforward not inclined to be peaceable. On the left, where 14th. Coy. held the line, he allowed them to wire, & away further to the left the Tommies wired & sang carols at the same time., quite unmolested. With the naked eye we could see these parties working.
26.12.17. This was a much more eventful 24 hours. We had an S.O.S. in the afternoon & another at night, & wiring parties & a patrol smacked up. Then all day 27th.. we were bombarded. Details as follows.
The 1st. Cants. were on our right. About 3 pm. the Huns began strafing them rather heavily. Waterston saw a party of about fifteen Huns advancing away down S, & a while afterwards the Huns began sending over minnies, & intensified the artillery strike. Just before dusk the Canterburys sent up the S.O.S twice, & the artillery opened out somewhat tardily. Major Tracey rang me up & asked was my front affected, & as a precaution got an S.O.S. turned on. The shooting near Coy. H.Q. (the left) was short & I got it lengthened. After a while things quietened. Next day I heard the Hun had raided Canterbury & been repulsed, but I have no confirmation to date.
About 7.45 pm. the Tommies away to the left put up an S.O.S which gradually extended towards us, & Canterbury on our right is also said to have put up an S.O.S. too, & as far as eye could see on both flanks our artillery were belting away. The Hun reply was remarkably feeble. On my right there was short shooting, which was rectified as soon as I called attention to it. Waterston's travel trench was blown in in several places, but noone was hurt.
The night was as bright 7 clear as the previous one, & wiring was equally impossible. As soon as one of the party appeared above the parapet a machine gun opened fire. Before they could get started Pte. Worger was hit in the thigh & in the arm, & I stopped the wiring. It was about half an hour before the wounded man could be got in, so active was this machine gun.
About ten o'clock 2/Lt. Newton & Pte. Reardon, James, Broadbent & Blomfield went out to patrol the right half of the ...
Company front, in accordance with written orders I had received. They had to reconnoitre the Hun post in JOINER'S AVENUE among other things.
Unluckily the Huns in this post spotted the party & opened fire. They got down into shell holes, & Reardon tried to join the Officer but was shot dead in the attempt. Broadbent was shot in the head, but the bullet just laid the scalp bare, & did no serious harm. The party then decided to wait for a storm or a dark moment to make a rush home.
This was prevented by two Huns outflanking them, doubtless thinking they had only tp deal with dead or wounded men. Newton saw them just in time & threw a bomb, which failed to explode. The Huns threw one too, which also failed to explode. Then they got to grips. Blomfield got hit on the head with a bomb stick. Newton was so numb that he could not get at his revolver for want of strength. For some unexplained reason the Huns made off after a few moments struggle, & then our fellows bolted home. It was then found that James was missing. What happened to him noone knows.
The two men in our listening post in JOINER'S AV. saw much of this struggle, but for some unknown reason failed to fire on the Huns. They say that when fire was first opened on the patrol one man got up & ran towards our lines, but was shot on his way. This must have been James, but we did not hear of this till two days later.
I tried to repeat this affair on the 'phone, but the Intelligence Officer began asking about killed & wounded & I had to ring off as it was not advisable to talk so. I sent in Casualty Return & Patrol report as soon as Newon wrote the latter out. He took a long time, but his nerves were badly shaken.
27.12.17. About 7 a.m the Hun began a regular slow bombardment, using guns he had not used before, & from all directions. I reported same as ranging & gave bearings, & later on my report was confirmed by Division. But the Hun kept this up all day till about 4 pm.
A devastating report - 'unreliable'
‘31.12.17. Today there was an Enquiry into the loss of Pte. James & into my conduct & Newton's … the enquiry showed me that either Major Tracey or I stood to cop a blast, & I guessed it wouldn't be him if he could help it.’
‘1.1.18. Today the quarterly reports came out, & mine was directly opposed to all previous ones. It said I was "an unreliable officer. Administration bad. Showed no initiative in dangerous circumstances." It was a shock to me.’
‘I immediately sent in my resignation of the Company & of my Temp. Captaincy.’
Here the diary ends. Frank Simon is KIA nine days later.
He didn't get the trenches except in one or two places, though he had aeroplanes up spotting, but he kept us all up on the qui vive. We had no casualties. The shells were H.E. shrapnel mainly, & the trenches were full of fragments, but no one was hurt.
About 7 pm. the Waikato Coy. of the 3rd. Auklands relieved us. I came out with hthe C.S.M. & a runner. Just past the Butte de Polygon we ran into an S.O.S. - our own. Our guns to work in great style, & we had a lively few minutes charging in between belching guns & getting almost scorched & deafened. The Westhoek road was very slippery & slow going, but we got to the Birr X rds. in time to get a slow train to WALKER CAMP, where a hot meal was waiting for us. Here we have been since.
31.12.17. Today there was an Enquiry into the loss of Pte. James & into my conduct & Newton's. The Court was to come to no finding. I felt quite sure that if the case was taken further I'd have a very good defence, but the enquiry showed me that either Major Tracey or I stood to cop a blast, & I guessed it wouldn't be him if he could help it. He evidently said he could not let Brigade Know everything because I had reported so tardily, & the evidence was 6.25 a.m. on the Patrol Report. But I never saw this 6.25 a.m., & know I sent off the report about 4 a.m. Newton swears it was earlier. It seems to me it was timed in Orderly Room when someone woke up to read it.
1.1.18. Today the quarterly reports came out, & mine was directly opposed to all previous ones. It said I was "an unreliable officer. Administration bad. Showed no initiative in dangerous circumstances." It was a shock to me. Of course Tracey is responsible. I do not think Col. Charters would have given me such a report. Major Hargest signed it, but as he returned only the day before & as he had been away 3 months the report cannot be his own opinion.
I immediately sent in my resignation of the Company ...
... & of my Temp. Captaincy. The former has been accepted & I am now with the 4th Coy. The latter has to go to higher authority.
Shocked by the adverse report, Simon resigns his Captaincy and gives up command of his Company.
He is killed in action 9 days later.
. . .
Shattered by what he sees as an unfair assessment, Simon stops writing the diary. His words were for Mamie, should he be killed. Now he has no words for the devastation he feels. He stops.
There are several entries at the back of the book, simple reminders written in happier times.
He still had books he wanted to find …