The Front Line and Beyond It – Part 2

29th October. Battalion received orders to move to another part of the front, So all paraded at 7 a.m. and, after a long weary march of 20 kilos in full pack, we reached a small village called Ostreville about 12.30 p.m. Billeted in a barn – better than the last one, but very cold. Stew for dinner. No such things as shops, so had to visit estaminets and get café.

30th October. Got up 5 a.m. and paraded in full pack at 7 a.m. Another long march of 24 kilos. Terrible! – men fainting and falling out, right and left. I just managed to stick it, but oh, my feet and shoulders!! Hope we don’t have to do any more for a bit. Arrived at our destination about 1.30 p.m. Billeted in a barn containing about 150 wire netting beds. Stew for dinner. The name of the village is Ivergny (in the Arras sector). Rotten place where there is absolutely nothing to do in the evening. Everything knee-deep in mud and dirt – can’t get rid of it. No shops, no amusements – nothing.

31st October. Nothing doing all day except cleaning up for future parades. Had a lecture on “Penalties of falling out on the march”. It made a great impression – I don’t think! Stew for dinner. Bed at 8 p.m.

1st November. Parades this morning and a few games in the afternoon (football, leap-frog with the officers, “pie crust” etc.). Stew again for dinner – just about fed up with it. Arthur and I wandered about in the evening like two lost souls – nothing to do and nowhere to go. Not tempting enough to stay in billet – the barn was pitch dark and we had no candles. Absolutely miserable and sick of the whole show.

2nd November. Spent bad night. Clothes full of fleas, lice and all sorts of other weird things- – horrible!!! No getting rid of them. Shirt, pants, singlet, full of their eggs. Itching all the time. Sent urgent letter home for ointment and powder: “roll on and they come”. Had a bit of a field day this morning, but I took no interest in it. Stew for dinner. Nothing on in afternoon. Wandered about the dark and dismal lanes in the evening. Bed(?) 8 p.m.

3rd November. Physical drill 7 a.m. followed by field manoeuvres and barrage work. Took a little bit more interest in it this time. Great surprise!!! Jolly good dinner – roast beef, rice and plum duff! Afternoon being wet I stayed in and scratched myself to pieces. Oh, those lice . Later – strolled round the “village” with Arthur. Had no money so got no cafe au lait!

4th November, Sunday. Had church parade in open at 9.30 a.m. All the churches were Roman Catholic, so could not go to church. Were paid 10 francs this morning. So I went with Arthur and bought some café au lait (nothing else to buy!). Stew and rice for dinner. In the afternoon wrote letters and made notes in an estaminet. Officer of my platoon (Mr. Hillditch) took note of all marksmen and first class shots. Perhaps I may touch for a good job! Wandered about in evening. Estaminets packed with soldiers and reeking with smoke and beer. Could not get any café as I was unable to change two 5 franc notes.

5th November. Had some firing competitions this morning. I managed to get into the final between A and B boys, but shot badly, and A Company beat us. Stew as usual for dinner. Afternoon went on main guard outside the billet. The “guard-room” consisted of an old archway with a door at one end only and this is where we had to stop for twenty-four hours.

Windy and rainy all the time just my luck. Needless to say I spent a very cold and sleepless night. Had a letter from home today, the very first letter from Blighty since 15th October. Very surprised to hear of my brother Rex’s departure for Australia on 28th October last, as Wireless Operator on a Transport Ship.

6th November. Still raining, and still on guard. Mud everywhere – have never seen such a place for mud and dirt as these French villages – disgusting places they are. Stew for dinner. And then we were relieved at 1.30 p.m. In the afternoon went for a “bath” with fifty other men in a small village, Boquemaison, about 7 kilos away. Very hard marching in the muddy roads. The baths were in a tiny tin hut divided into two compartments – one for dressing, etc., and the other where the shower-baths were. Twenty-five of us went in at a time, and it meant a terrific rush and scramble from the beginning. There were only ten little sprays and as you passed out of the dressing compartment into the bath-house another twenty-five men dashed in mixing all their clothes with those of the batch in front and shouting to the others in the bath-house that they were waiting for them to finish. After the bath all soiled under-clothing was exchanged for clean.

7th November. Reveillé, 5 a.m. Breakfast, 5·30. Paraded at 6.30, and then marched to a village about 10 kilos away where a division of the M.G.C. was billeted together with a detachment of the Tanks. I saw about fifty of the latter manoeuvring about in the fields, and was very surprised at the way they overcame any obstacles or obstructions in front of them. After a bit we were split into small parties, and Tank officers took charge of each, and explained to us the principles of the tanks, and also let us look inside at the mechanism. Very interesting indeed, but it rained in torrents all the time till, after a roundabout march of I2 kilos, we got back to billets.

I was saturated to the skin and thoroughly fed up with tanks and France in general. Had stew for dinner and then spent the afternoon in “bed” while I hung my things on a rafter of the barn to dry – in a fashion. Had a p.c. from Rex dated 27 /10 /17, saying he had got the post of 2nd Wireless Operator on H.M.T. Berrima, bound for Sydney the next day.

8th November. In the morning practised a new form of drill in which infantry work done in conjunction with tanks. After that we marched off to see more tank manoeuvres. Had dinner in a barn on the way in a small village, Etrée Wamin – stew as per usual! Watched tanks going over trenches and wire entanglements. Pouring with rain all the time. Rotten march back through filthy roads in the pitch dark. Fed up to the neck.

9th November. Still practising tank drill in the morning and still wet. The usual for dinner. Brought up the Company’s rations in afternoon. Bed, 8.30 p.m. Arthur Robinson left here today for a general course of training at Allouagne. Left all on my own now – don’t like the other chaps at all.

10th  November. Tank drill all morning. Stew for dinner. Wrote letters all afternoon and evening by candle-light.

11th November, Sunday. Fine day (!!) Church parade in open, 9 a.m. Stayed for Holy Communion afterwards in the village  schools. Wrote letters afternoon and evening. Three of them returned – not passed by censor – hauled over the coals. Stew again.

12th November. Beautiful day. Gas and Company Drill all morning. Stew for dinner (I’m going to have some when I get home again – for a change). Nothing doing rest of day.

13th November. Got up 1 a.m. Had pint of tea and rum at 2 a.m., and paraded at 2.30. Marched off to some open ground about 9 kilos away, and at 6.30 a.m. had some more manoeuvres in trenches with tanks and ground flares. Finished at 8 a.m. and had breakfast in the field-tea, bread, and boiled bacon. Marched back and arrived at billets 10.30 a.m. Stew for dinner. Tea at 3 p.m. Vague rumours about our going “up the line”.  Some big “stunt” coming off, I believe. Our transport service left here at 4 p.m – first sign. Guns very busy in the distance all yesterday and today.

14th November. All numerals and badges taken from us this morning and, after parading at the Quartermaster Stores for green shoulder ribbons, we were given a lecture on “1st Aid in the Field” by the Medical Officer – second sign. Stew for dinner followed by half hour’s tank drill for the last time. Nothing doing later.

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