The Somme, 1916

We lay for some days in huts outside Acq, a village of no great interest, although in its vicinity were two large stones les pierres d’Acq said to have been raised by Beaudouin Bras de Fer in 862 in honour of his victory over Charles the Bald, but in reality old prehistoric monoliths. A visit to the village cemetery shewed the more common names of the local families to be Delcour, Allart, Richebé, Genel, Bacqueville, Cuisinier, Gauchy, Delassus, Masclef, Dubois (of course), Cuvellier, Goude- mont, Compagnon, Leroux, Lantoine, Delettre, Bayart and Bulteel. And if one had, like Hervey, to spend one’s spare time in meditation among the tombs, it can be guessed that there was not much else to do. For, knowing we were soon to be on the old tinker’s trail again, we wasted no time on landscape gardening round about our hutments to catch the eye of itinerant medical brass hats, but stuck in to that never-failing operation, the over-hauling of equipment. 

So, having got orders late on the previous night, we left Acq on the morning of the 15th, and spent a very hot and dusty summer day in trekking via Haute Avesnes, Habarcq, Avesnes le Comte and Grand Rullecourt to Ivergny, a picturesque little place of some 400 inhabitants. It was a longish march of fifteen miles through pretty, undulating country, with good crops well forward everywhere ; and we got down comfortably enough, as the motor ambulance cars made repeated (and illegitimate ) trips, picking up our men in relays, and allowing them to settle down early, and not too tired, in bivouacs and the village school. My own billet had the unlooked for disadvantage that my hostess retired to rest through my bedroom ; but as her catching me en chemise obviously did not disturb her beyond eliciting the customary “Pardon, Monsieu,” I, with equal courtesy, did not allow it unduly to disturb me. 

Next day we left Ivergny and trekked fourteen miles in rear of brigade transport via Lucheux, Gorges and Doullens to Candas. The pace set was rapid, and (until we broke off from the column at Doullens) very trying alike to men and horses, owing to dust and heat. To Lucheux the route was a very pretty one and lay through extensive woods (the scene, in bygone days, of the murder of the famous St. Leger), with a steep descent into the village ; while at Gorges the Divisional band was dis- coursing cheerful music by the roadside to enliven the dusty column as it passed through. 

Doullens, a fine little country town of 6,000 inhabitants, was looking quite gay with its pavé streets and its cafés thronged by citizens in their Sunday best ; and, on leaving it, the citadelle later to be the scene of a most diabolically deliberate outrage on the Red Cross  – stood out on its rock as a war-worn relic of days gone by, with a history going back to the middle ages. 

Out of Doullens our route lay up a steep hill, to negotiate which the bearers had to buckle to and assist the transport horses ; So everyone was glad to get at last to Candas, where the men were bivouacked in a good field. An Empress Club bath unit – a water-heater and a nest of tin baths, some of which lasted out the campaign – had turned up as a kindly and welcome gift before we left Acq and this, set going in the lee of a hedge, afforded a much appreciated chance of a dip for the footsore and weary. 

At night I found a reversal of my previous night’s billeting arrangement ; as, in the small earthen-floored cottage where i slept, I had to pass through my hostess’s room, in which she and her family were abed, to reach my own chamber further “ben” But here again the arrangement seemed a customary one, and only elicited a sleepy “Bonne nuit! Monsieur” from the lady of the house. 

At Candas we stayed three days. It had the widest streets of any village that we ever saw in France, and was even then a great Air Force centre. In one little épicerie, where we went in search of picture post cards, the owner was well read in Franco-Scottish history, especially in the career of the unfortunate Marie Stuart ; while the cordonnier (the village “souter”)- a sturdy old septuagenarian with large spectacles – sought out by us for bootlaces, also supplied us with a vigorous denunciation of the enemy to the accompaniment of equally vigorous hammering on the sole of the boot he was repairing- “Ahl monsieur!” (tap!) “Les Boches!” (tap, tap!) “Les barbares!” (tap, tap, tap!) “Les féroces!” (tap, tap!) “C’est une race à détruire!” (tap! ) “A détruire!” (tap, tap, tap!) A détruire !!” (tap. tap. tap, tap!) If his honest hammer could have done it the war would have been satisfactorily finished that evening.

Foot and anti-gas helmet inspection, overhauling equipment, and a route march or two to keep our feet hardened for further road work, passed the rest of the time ; and on the evening of the I9th we marched independently as a unit via Valheureux and Naours to Flesselles. Even with a moon only four days on the wane and a clear night it was no joke finding one’s way through the tortuous streets of the various villages. Naours was full of Anzacs, some of whom had enjoyed – wherever they had got it – an over-generous wine ration, and were lying about in graceful confusion with their empty gilt-necked bottles beside them. 

Having failed to extract any intelligible replies from a somewhat bemused sentry, hypnotised apparently by the glimmer of his bayonet, I rode, to reconnoitre our route, up one silent side street ; and, at a corner of it, the village church and its graveyard, dotted with white stones, stood out clearly in the light of the nearly full moon shining serenely above the church tower. It was a peaceful sight, curiously suggestive of stage scenery. 

Suddenly, to complete the illusion, the quiet was broken by the sound of quaint music ; and, silhouetted against the moonlight, a six-foot colonial playing vigorously on a mouth organ, with his sombrero set at a most rakish angle, lurched out of a farmyard entrance into the street. Carried away by a fierce pride in his own tunefulness, like Apollo when he slew Marsyas, he never saw my now somewhat alarmed horse, off which he ricocheted as he pursued his eccentric and melodious career. He looked for all the world like the Pied Piper, and was certainly in a condition entitling him to the necessary retinue of rats. 

We got into Flesselles – choc-a-bloc with troops – at 1 a.m., to find billets few and of the poorest, many of the unit never rising higher than an uneasy rest for some hours in shelter of the buttresses of the church. Four of us were proudly led by the billeting officer to the gate lodge of a château where he had secured one room. Alas! The single bed therein was filled by the adipose body of an unknown French interpreter of another division – none too courteous in his assertion of absolute proprietorship. The landlady, a handsome young woman in a charming peignoir, at first peremptorily refused our application for leave to sleep on the floor of the kitchen. Was not her husband home en permission? And the first time for two years! The room would be needed tomorrow for his déjeuner! He must have every comfort! Did he not deserve it? We agreed with empressement that this was indeed true. But I ventured to add : 

“Madame would not make her joy an occasion for our sorrow? Would she turn us, exhausted as we were, out into the Street? We all of us could perceive by looking at her beautiful countenance that it must be associated with a kind heart!”

That did the trick : the objective was taken : with many expressions of sympathy for our toil-worn condition she helped us to push the furniture into a corner, and we had a sleep of sorts on the floor for three hours. Later, as we, in attempted silence so as not to disturb our amiable hostess, left her door at 4 a.m., she, in the manner of Juliet, opened the lattice of her rose-trellised window, and in charming disarray bade us “bonne chance”. 

Many moons had slowly waxed and waned when, later, I told this affecting tale with some pride to the then chief of our Divisional French Mission. He followed the story attentively and finally asked : “Will you tell me – in French – what exactly you did say to her?” I told him ; and, after a pause, he meditatively remarked : “Yes! she might have understood it – a little of it anyway!”‘

His cynicism may have been due to the fact that he claimed descent from Corneille ; but I hold it to my credit that until he left us I remained on speaking terms with him – in English.

At 5 a.m. in drizzling rain, which later cleared off to leave a very warm, sultry, summer day, we left Flesselles and trekked, again through picturesque and undulating country, via Villers-Bocage, Coisy, Allonville, Querrieux, La Boussoye, Bodnay and Heilly, to Mericourt-Ribe- mont, where we had been before in July of the previous year, although now we were in the Ribemont part of the village. The march was again in rear of brigade transport ; the pace was as hot as the weather ; and the distance covered was twenty miles ; so that all hands arrived pretty thoroughly done up.

Our Division was here relieving the 33rd in the attack on High Wood, and in the afternoon two officers left with the bearer sub-divisions to take over the Relay Bearer Post at Mametz and an Advanced Dressing Station at Black Hut in the valley “Happy Valley” – beyond it ; while the rest of the unit moved to Mericourt and there relieved the 101st Field Ambulance in a large barn- the largest I ever saw in France or elsewhere –lit by an excellent pre-war instalment of electric light, in which building they were running their Main Dressing Station. In the 48 hours of their stay they had dealt with 950 casualties : and taking over the show as a going concern, with a steady flow of wounded passing through, was no easy task for our clerks and personnel generally. In addition we had to look after a small château, with huts in its front courtyard, as an officers’ hospital ; so by evening everyone was up to the eyes in work.

All night and next day the constant stream of wounded from High Wood went on ; and in the evening the news came down of the death by shell-fire of three of our men’ at Black Hut, which post had been completely knocked out by some twenty shells coming over, the survivors of the party falling back on Mametz. 

The weather, fortunately, kept fine, and the scene at night was impressive – the steady stream of motor ambulance cars whirring and humming as they came or left, with their headlights, when they passed it, momentarily illuminating the crucilix, vividly white against the greenery ot the poplar trees lining the triangle of turf opposite the barn ; the cooks’ fires silhouetting them against the wall at their work amongst the Soyer’s stoves ; and the never ceasing gun flashes lighting up the whole horizon. One Wolseley car had been hit en route and the driver and car orderly wounded. 

By the morning of the 24th work was slightly easier, although the news from the wounded was that furious fighting continued at High Wood, and that the German machine guns were playing havoc, while the artillery fire was heavy and continuous. The M.O. of the A.D.S. came down at night from Mametz with the bodies of our men who had been killed, ; extricated under fire with great difficulty and risk from the spot where they had been buried by the shells. Their funeral took place next day to ground beside the communal cemetery of Mericourt ; and later, two more of our units passed through mortally wounded, a shell having struck a party who had volunteered to go on foot from Mametz up Happy Valley while a heavy bombardment was on, with dressings and stores in answer to an urgent demand from the Quarry Post near Bazentin. 

While the stream of casualties had been steady all day it had not been So heavy ; but on the 26th a harder day was put in. For we functioned as an M.D.S. up to 12 noon- -having dealt with 1,806 cases since we took over and then, having closed, worked against time loading four motor wagon loads of miscellaneous stores from the château to go to the new Corps Main Dressing Station on the slope of the hill above Dernancourt. That done, with all speed we had to pack up and load our own transport, get a meal served and trek out at 6.30, marching by Meaulte to Becordel, where we camped under canvas by the roadside on the slope of the valley towards Fricourt. 

The pace was slow, as the whole district was stiff with troops and guns; all the villages crowded up, and tents and bivouacs on every hand. From our camp at night the entire valley was twinkling with fires in the line summer night ; and a steady cloud of white chalky dust from the unceasing traffic on the road found its way every- where. Grinding the teeth was easy here, and one bit the dust in the erect position. 

On the 28th four more bearers’ were killed, and, next day, buried in the military cemetery at Becordel, crosses made by our own carpenters being later erected over them.

Each of the three Field Ambulances was now supplying personnel for a 48 hours’ spell apiece at the Quarry Collecting Post in Happy Valley, two and a-half kilometres beyond Mametz on the route to High Wood ; a most dangerous spot, enfiladed as it was by enemy fire and without proper dug-out accommodation, the only shelters in the quarry being of sandbagged timber, roofed with corrugated iron. But it was a case of Hobson ‘s choice and carry on, although R.E. help was got later to better the conditions generally. Up to this place, however, in spite of the cut-up state of the road and the continuous shelling of it, the Field Ambulance motor cars were running steadily. But, on the evening of the 30th, the corner- “Death Cornery” on the Mametz side of the quarry became quite impassable for cars, owing to shell holes ; so horse ambulance wagons worked past it by the field track, and for three days and nights took stretcher cases from the quarry all the way to the top of the hill at Mametz, where they were reloaded in the motor ambulances to go back to the A.D.S. at the File Factory, Becordel – a very nerve-racking piece of work, most gallantly carried out by all concerned.

One of these trips is well described in the words of a horse transport driver ; it shows, too, how an experience of this sort was looked upon as all in the day’s work :-

“We were working four horses in a team, as it was far too heavy a job for a pair. I was detailed for one of the wagons with another man in the lead. Except for dodging a few shell holes the first twenty-four hours were nothing much out of the way. But the second night got a bit livelier. If I remember aright the 153rd Brigade went over the top that night, so we had our work cut out to keep the Quarry Post clear, and it was made increasingly stiff as there were no wagon orderlies available, and the drivers had themselves to transfer the patients from the horse wagon to the motor. We jogged along not SO badly till about 2 a.m., although the horses were beginning to feel the strain, as we were taking four Stretcher cases and um pteen’ Sitting cases every trip, all perched in or about the wagon like a lot of monkeys.

While we were going down the valley Jerry commenced to pop tear shells over and then a big ‘Jack Johnson’ made a huge hole on the overland track ; So we decided, to avoid the risk of capsizing the wagon, that we would have a shy at the road. 

“We got to the quarry all right, loaded up and Started on our return journey. About a hundred yards from Death Corner a Gordon picket stopped us and told us we should not go any further as the road was being heavily shelled. As, however, we had a serious case on board and the patients were ‘”windy’ (which a man often enough was after he was hit), we decided to push on. At the corner we could not see a yard in front of us for gas and mist, and it was no easy job guiding the wagon through the maze of shell holes. 

“Suddenly a great shell burst twenty yards in front of us, and my leader thinking it was somewhat to his left swerved to the right to avoid the hole. As it happened, the Swerve took us right into it and the wagon turned over on its side. The leader- a good horseman shouted to me to try and urge the horses to pull it out and that the wagon might right itself in the process. At the first strain the lead-ropes between the first pair and mine broke ; So we made a fresh rope out of some loose wire that was lying about and tried again, but it broke too. 

“Stuck in a shell hole, the enemy shelling: and the valley full of gas : no wagon orderly and several badly wounded men inside whom we were unable to help -what were we to do P We shouted to some ammunition column drivers going past at the gallop to lend a hand – but they either didn’t hear us or thought there were too many shells dropping about for them to stop. So the leader unhitched a horse and rode off to Mametz for help while I stuck to the wagon. 

“While he was away I managed to tell a wounded officer inside what had happened and that we hoped soon to remedy matters. He was in a very exhausted state and died a few minutes afterwards ; but with almost his last breath he said that if we all pulled through he would see that we got proper recognition for sticking by them. 

“Back came the leader no better off than when he left : not a soul at Mametz who could help us. I then went off for a try, and came back with no better luck. When we had about given up hope, one of our own horse ambulance wagons arrived on the scene from the Quarry. They pluckily drew up alongside and we got our cases out of the capsized wagon through the canvas sides and laid them on the ground, while their wagon went off at the gallop for Mametz and came back again for them, loaded up and set off again up the valley. Later on, with a team of twelve horses, we got our own wagon out and started work again. I must say it was a trying experience.”

All in the day’s work, as I said before this incident – and hundreds of others like it – remained untold till long after the campaign was over. But all who knew Happy Valley will recognise the severe strain on these two drivers.

For the valley itself was always an extraordinary scene of destruction and desolation. Going down it the road hugged the sharp rise of the hill on the right, into which ran numerous small dug-outs and shelters ; while, on the left of the road, flat ground ran for a hundred yards or so gradually sloping up to hill again. On this ground guns were going up with their teams ventre à terre at a mad gallop; dead men and horses, and smashed limbers, lay about in every direction ; and a torn and twisted light railway shewed protruding strands like hands held up in grotesque protest against the treatment it had received. It was all curiously reminiscent of the illustrated papers one’s prevailing impression was a sense of unreality-que diable faites-vous dans cette galère? War seemed, as the Canadian rhymester puts it,

the rummiest sort of a go, 

For when it’s most real it’s then that you feel 

That you’re watching a cinema show,

until the heat, the stench from the carcases rotting in the sun, and the shell-fire brought one back to actualities and the job of work on hand. 

By 2nd August the Quarry Post conditions were somewhat improved, as four small dug-outs were secured on the roadside beyond it, which accommodated most of the personnel in safety ; while the cooks got cover in another and smaller quarry some hundred yards further on.

All the time of our stay our valley at Becordel and that across the ridge north of us had been intermittently shelled and bombed, and the weather had been baking hot. A South African heavy battery, hard at work some hundred yards away, effectually prevented sleep, and the cloud of chalk dust was all pervading. This last often produced curious spectacular effects. To come back from Mametz and meet the horses of gun-teams breast high in a grey-blue cloud of it, only their bobbing necks and heads and those of their riders visible, black against the copper semi-circle of a setting sun, was a sight suggestive of Eastern jinn out on an errand of Ahriman. 

We handed over again a few days later to the Ioist Field Ambulance and moved back to Dernancourt. There we lay in tents in a field of ripened uncut wheat, like Ruth among the alien corn, on the top of the ridge above the Corps M .D.S. until 10 p.m. on the 9th, when we entrained, the transport having left the day before for Sorel via Cardonette. The train, however, did not set off till 3 a.m., the accommodation for all ranks being cattle trucks ; and after a series of short sleeps on the hard and dirty floors, we got to Longpré at 9 a.m., marching five miles therefrom to Sorel, Here, and on the road to it, we smelt the fine, homely, honest smell of peat-reek for the first time in France. 

Sorel, a well-to-do and picturesque little village untouched by war, was a welcome sight after our experiences of the past three weeks. Good, cheap, white wine was available at 1 fr. 50 to 2 fr. a bottle, with cider, fresh butter and milk and eggs. Peats – tourbes – were the main fuel. The “divots” were smaller than in Scotland and were cut with a longitudinâlly corrugated spade which left its mark on them ; a big, four-wheeled cartful costing 40 frs. The village was on top of a hill, and the wells were of necessity correspondingly deep : the main one was said by a local Munchausen to be 300 feet. However that may have been, in letting down the bucket of our special well too vigorously, some of our men broke the chain, and a busy spell of two hours was spent in fishing for it with a wire rope and a hook ; voluble M. le Maire and his still more voluble wife contributing much excited exhortation. One worthy in the district made a precarious livelihood by descending on such occasions to recover lost buckets at T0 fr. a journey : but we managed to dispense with risking our money and his life, although our salvage operations resulted in the water being very oily for some twenty-four hours. 

Deroy, Dellacourt, Cornu and Succur were some of the commonest surnames in the place ; and in my billet, a comfortable, two-storied, old-fashioned country house. was a very fine collection of ancient brass ecruisie’ lamps. which again, like the peat-reek, gave a homelv touch to our surroundings. Altogether, it was a pleasant “Sweet Auburn” ; and my landlady’s remark, “La vie est très calme et tranquille ici,”‘ was evidentlv true. I should like to see Sorel again : “a man.” as Mr. Markham observes in David Copperfield, “might do verv well here. ,’ 

On the morning of 12th August we set off for Pontremy to entrain, and after a very warm journey via Abbeville, Boulogne and St. Omer, we detrained at Steenbecque and marched to Blairinghem. All (except the main) roads were narrow and often lined with high hedge-rows crops – wheat, barley and haricots   were well on and abundant : the peasantry seemed well- to-do, and the ditch or hedge-lined fields, usually small, were well kept and tidy. As was inevitable in fat watery Flanders, mosquitoes were in plenty ; but billets for everybody were above the average. At the foot of a large crucifix at a road junction in the village lay a lot of rudely made little wooden crosses about 2 ft. long. Every time a child’s funeral passed, it was the picturesque local custom that one such little cross was left there. 

Two days later we marched to Eblinghem, entrained for Steenwerck, transport going by road, and spent a night at Lestrades, proceeding next day to Armentières on the Lys near the Belgian frontier. The arrival of the unit there coincided with a sharp shelling of the town by the Huns; but the men, going at intervals in parties of twelve, got safely to their billets at the Institut St. Jude, a large Catholic seminary which had already been pretty badly knocked about by enemy fire. An advance party took over the Advanced Dressing Station at the Chapelle d’ ‘Armentières brickworks from the 1st New Zealand F .A. : while the rest of the unit were engaged in running the Main Dressing Station at the Maternity Hospital on the Armentières- Estaires road, a small modern building of brick, but with no adequate cellar accommodation as protection against shell-fire. 

In the evening the enemy gunners got busy again, and stretcher parties were busy collecting casualties from the streets, 40 in all being dealt with – Scots and New Zealand troops with French and Belgian civilians, a large percentage of the latter being moribund and requiring the last rites of the Church from a neighbouring curé. Two sad cases were a mother and daughter, who were mortally wounded by a shell which fell plumb through a two storey building and burst in the cellar of the boot-shop they kept in one of the main streets. The shop, a neat well-stocked up-to-date little place, was smashed the cellar stairs leading from the back shop were blown away, and the stretchers had to be let down and hauled up with ropes through the shell hole, rather a tricky task ; but we got them up, although both women were so badly wounded in the head, chest and abdomen that they died next day.

At no time or place was it desirable to be shelled but to experience it in a town was worse, if anything, than in the open, where at least you could see to a certain extent what was happening. Bad by day it was still worse by night. The thunderous rumbling hubbub of falling masonry echoed amongst the dark and silent streets long after the smashing crash of the shell had died away : while the recovery of casualties from the vicinity of the resulting ruins was often a very risky job owing to the sudden descent of fresh debris.

Even shelling, however, had a humorous side to it. In the street running along to the Institut St. Jude a shell landed one afternoon a considerable distance behind a brewer’s dray- one of these long, sloping structures on four wheels where the beer barrels lay on two parallel rails. Off went the horses at full gallop : off his perch, too, fell the driver : and off the cart, by ones and twos and threes came the beer barrels. The driver, getting on his feet, Started to chase his horses, while nimble Jocks and Anzacs, coming out from their billets like bees from a hive, rapidly rolled the barrels into them. Later appeared dazed Jehu, with his recovered horses and dray, to view an empty street and look in vain for his vanished goods.

We stayed in Armentières till 25th September, and during all the time the town was shelled almost daily by the enemy. Our little hospital was never struck ; but the large French Civilian one immediately behind us, where our M.O.s had to attend surgical cases, was hit several times ; while the run of street casualties was always so large that special parties of our men with wheeled stretchers stood by, day and night, for duty at such work. Out of a pre-war population of over 28,000 a large number still hung on in spite of the battering the town was getting, and many shops and estaminets continued open and got good patronage.

Outstanding amongst these was the establishment of Lucienne in the Square of the Church of Saint Waast. Here, with boarded up windows, as shell splinters had long ago ruined the panes, she ran a restaurant whose praise is still in the mouths of men now scattered over the British Empire.

A proportion of our transport worked daily under the O.C. Divisional Sanitary Section in connection with the removal of town refuse to the incinerators, of which there was quite a little village in a space behind the cinema show at the Divisional canteen. All over this place there was a continual popping of cartridges which had got amongst the stuff to be incinerated. “The cartridges keep you lively!” I once asked a man in charge of some incinerators. “There’s nae muckle harm in the cairtridges,”‘ said the phlegmatic Jock, °but there was a boom cam in the ither day, an’ that’s juist gaun a bittie owre far!’ All the same, numerous casualties were caused this way in the course of the campaign ; and the unromantic, necessary work of the sanitary squads was never without considerable risk. 

One piece of work we carried out here was the timbering, propping and sandbagging of the cellars under the Institut St. Jude, into which our personnel had frequently to descend when things were lively: and we did the same for the benefit of some nuns who remained in the cellars under their own part of the building. And at our hospital, in a corner of its front garden where a neighbouring house would likely, in the event of shelling, fall on it and give extra overhead protection, we erected a large thoroughly sandbagged elephant shelter, which we never, fortunately, required to use ; although we learnt afterwards that it came in handy for our successors on the first night they spent there. 

At the Advanced Dressing Station in the brickfields at Chapelle d’Armentières, the place was also propped and strengthened and the head cover improved with bricks, rubble and sandbags ; although, in spite of occasional shelling, life there was fairly uneventful and, as a matter of fact, safer than in Armentières : many of the men even getting “sport” of a kind by fishing for carp in the small fish pond of a neighbouring and destroyed villa. 

One of our sections was detailed to form a dressing station under canvas for the Brigade training camp near Bailleul. The town was then fairly intact, and the greater part of its pre-war population of 13,000 was still there. With its fine old Place, its Hôtel de Ville of the XVI and its churches of the XVII centuries, its numerous old houses of equal age, and its picturesque lace workers with their pillows and bobbins at their open doors in the back streets, it was always worth a visit. Alas, for its cruel fate in 1918.

On 4th September we took over from the 69th F.A. the M.D.S. at Pont de Nieppe in the school there, along with the A.D.S. at the brewery on the Ploegsteert road – the latter station being a most satisfactory and well-found one in the extensive cellarage of the brasserie. We then expected that the 57th F.A. would relieve us at Armentières and Brickfield A.D.S.; but arrangements were changed and they took over instead Pont de Nieppe M.D.S. and the Brewery A.D.S. on the 7th. On this date, too, Armentières got one of the worst hammerings we had experienced, six shells landing on the Institut St. Jude, and several near the officers’ mess ; while one sheered the small tower on the Civil Hospital clean through like a rotten carrot. No casualties resulted to the unit ; but there was once more a heavy night’s work with street cases, military and civilian. 

Towards the end of our Armentiènres stay the weather was miserably cold and wet, and we were not sorry to hand over to the 103rd F.A. on the 25th September, and trek to La Crêche near Bailleul ; thereby missing another heavy shelling of the town in the evening. After the noise of Armentières the little village, rural and quiet, was a pleasant change ; and next evening in the gladness of our hearts we held a most successful open-air sing-song round a bonfire in a field there- rather a risky performance, now one comes to think of it, in view of possible attention from aircraft. 

Like the rest of the district the village was bi-lingual, Flemish and French. The chief local names in the churchyard were Vanuxeem, Vermeersch and Van-dromme, with Becue, Delsalle, Ducrocq, Lombart, Duthilleul, Buidin, Galland and Gille. In one little shop, the owner, a stout old woman, told us that she could understand a good deal of what the men with the courte jupe said; but not the language of those in trousers except such as belonged to our unit. The “petticoated men’ and our men were north country Scots ; the rest were English. So the kinship of our Doric with the Flemish had not escaped her ear.

A week later we left La Crêche at 2.30 a .m. and trekked to Bailleul, entraining there at 5 a.m. for Doullens, whence we marched to Gezaincourt near Candas. Next day, in very wet weather, which got worse as the day went on, we marched in rear of Brigade via Freschvillers and Sarton to Authuie, and then some kilometres further to Bois de Warnimont. Billets were doorless huts in the dripping cheerless wood, the horse lines were in a swamp of a field beside the road, and every- body and every beast was soaked with rain and miserably cold. After a comfortless night we marched to Bus-Les- Artois, taking over some old French hutments there as a M.D.S. from the 132nd F.A., and an A.D.S. in some roadside shelters at Colincamps, a few kilometres nearer the line.

Bus was no great shakes of a place, and the villainous weather made it, with its traffic-cut roads ankle- deep in thick mud like badly made porridge, look worse. And three of us wil1 always remember the reception we got there when we made for our billets and knocked at the door , No answer being forthcoming, we proceeded to enter the little red-tiled kitchen, just as our landlady came in by another door from the back garden. We certainly exuded rain and mud on the hitherto clean floor ; but even that could not excuse her lack of welcome to us. Madeleine – she was a married woman, So perhaps I should not refer to her by her Christian name; but I have forgotten her surname if I ever knew it – was elderly, biggish and broadish, with a carefully cultivated vinous complexion that matched her red tiles, and she cut short my polite introduction of myself and colleagues with a shriek of,

°Trois officiers? Jamais! Jamais ! Jamais! Toujours un officier- -un officier, seulement!” 

It might have been only “pretty Fanny’s way”: but how to assuage the dulces Amaryllidis irae? While I was explaining – still politely – that M. le Maire had officially detailed this as a billet for three, a third door into the kitchen opened behind us, and Jacques, her husband, attacked us in the rear with a machine-gun fire of “Jamais! Jamais! Jamais de la vie !” To show to what extreme lengths he was prepared to go in defence of his hearth and home, Jacques opened a table drawer and extracted a knife, which he waved melodramatically in the air. The situation had become awkward, and required delicate and diplomatic handling. One of our officers, being a Glasgow man, always carried a large and occasionally full flask ; and this – it being luckily that day in a replenished condition – I asked him, sotto voce, to produce at once and place prominently on the table. He carried out the ceremony with the profound solemnity a Scotsman always shews when handling whisky ; and then in clear, audible tones I asked Madeleine if she had five glasses. The “jamais” storm cleared magically Madeleine produced a smile and the glasses, while Jacques surreptitiously replaced the table knife in the drawer with one hand, and in a determined, anticipatory fashion wiped his heavy moustache with the back of the other. The trois officiers were no longer looked on as brigands, and Madeleine took us under her wing. 

Rather too much under her wing, as a matter of fact, for the owner of the flask ; he coming later to my room after I was abed, and asking me to get up and speak to the lady, who had invaded his sleeping apartment and was talking voluble patois there. I told him sleepily to bear in mind that Jacques was evidently both a jealous man and an expert with a table knife, and that the reconciling flask was now empty ; while he pathetically asked me to cease all untimely jesting and to come and charm Madeleine away. But Madeleine declared to me that she only wanted to know whether monsieur le capitaine wished an extra pillow ; and on my assuring her that in his country one pillow was the invariable rule, she retired. Later I heard my comrade, as an anti-landlady precaution, trying to make up for the keyless condition of his door by balancing a tilted chair under its handle. And a hush descended on the house of Jacques and Madeleine as we all slipped into slumber. 

Madeleine, however, improved on acquaintance, and had considerable store of folk beliefs. It was from her I learned that in Artois a cock crowing after dark foretold better weather ; and her barometrically-minded rooster, who indulged twice in this habit, was evidently a practical student of local weather conditions, for there was a temporary improvement after each of his elforts. 

In Bus we remained for some days, the Division having gone into the line in front of Hebuterne and Colincam ps. As it was rumoured that it was to do a push from here, it fell to our lot to go over the trench system and prospect for suitable Advanced Dressing Stations, one such trip Starting from Hebuterne at 4·30 a.m. In the darkness we mistakenly ran our “Tin Lizzie” past Hebuterne, and got, by a road heavily pock marked with shells, to some guns near Foncquevillers. A surprised gunner officer emerging from a dug-out irritably asked us what the dickens we thought we were doing there ? Dawn was breaking, the road under observation, and our presence apt to invite mischief. Under the circumstances he advised us to clear out rapidly, which – turning the car with difficulty among the shell holes, while thanking him for the correctness and courtesy of his behaviour – we did. 

Numerous fatigue parties worked hard at Home Avenue trench excavating deep cut-outs for Advanced Dressing Stations, which were roofed with iron rails, timber and sandbags ; and more work of the same kind was done at Colincamps. But here again- as so often happened – we were altruists and not destined to use them, for in a few days we moved to Forceville, the Division taking over the line at Beaumont Hamel in preparation for the famous battle of 13th November.

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