Festubert 1915


Fighting in France






To the men in Flanders, that first long winter of 1914-1915 was the most terrible of all. Their trenches were waterlogged for want of suitable material to build and drain them, their reliefs were few and far between for want of men, their efforts to keep the enemy in check were rendered abortive for want. of artillery support. All day long they were shelled with "whizz-bangs" and "woolly bears," "coal-boxes " and “Black Marias," but nothing ever went back. The Field Artillery had no ammunition, the heavy artillery had no guns. The poor battered infantry were paying England's usual penalty, one which has a precedent in every war in her history, the penalty of being unprepared.

Meanwhile those at home were straining every nerve to repair that tragic lack. Our four siege batteries at Lydd were trained and ready to the last field dressing. Only one thing was wanting-guns. Other batteries were being formed and mobilised in Coast Defence stations all over the country, waiting to proceed to Lydd as soon as room should be made for them by the departure of the first four. Finally, in February, the long awaited orders were received. Two batteries, armed with 9.2-in. howitzers, were to embark for France immediately, and two, armed with 6-in. howitzers, were to proceed to Portsmouth, there to await the final collection of their stores and guns before sailing.

It now transpired that the real cause of the delay in sending the 6-in. howitzers across was the vexed question of traction and transport. A specially constructed lorry with a four-wheel drive had been devised to pull the gun and carry the gun's crew. Other lorries were to carry the ammunition, and the vast amount of technical stores considered necessary to keep a siege battery continually in action in the field. The experiments with the F.W.D.s, as these special lorries were called, had not yet been completed. They were carried out then and there on the Portsmouth Downs, and this mode of traction proved eminently satisfactory. In countries with good and sufficient roads, such as were fought over on the Western Front, the F.W.D.'s were infinitely superior in speed and mobility to the old-fashioned teams of cart horses. The 60 pounders, however, kept to their horses, and occasionally had the doubtful satisfaction of lending them to their tractor-driven brethren in order to help them out of the mud, as after heavy rain the tractors were helpless off the road.

Shadbolt once saw this situation reversed when a 6o-pounder got so stuck in a ploughed field on the Somme that it took seven caterpillar-tractors hooked on in tandem to extract it. The caterpillar was the ungainly monster, not unlike a steam roller with caterpillar wheels substituted for rollers. which formed the mode of traction for all siege artillery of larger calibre than the 6-in. howitzer (with the exception of those on railway mountings).

Ml forms of traction for the siege artillery, caterpillars, F.W.D.'s and lorries, were in charge of the A.S.C., who supplied the necessary drivers and effected all the repairs. This arrangement was not an entirely satisfactory one from the point of view of the artillery. It meant that a Battery Commander had no direct control over his own power of movement. It was true that an A.S.C. subaltern was attached to each battery nominally under the orders of the B.C., but in practice this did not amount to a great deal. In the line the lorry park, for obvious teasons, was situated a long way in rear of the battery. Lorries were wanted by all sorts of formations for all kinds of jobs, and it was only in the nature of things that they should sometimes be commandeered by local deities for their own particular ends. Nor was it always easy for the A.S.C. to decide the relative importance of a battery's needs and those of higher formations. But on the whole they worked whole-heartedly and loyally for the artillery, and the R.G.A. owe them a very deep debt of gratitude.

At last all was ready and our two batteries, complete with lorries, guns, ammunition and enough baggage and impedimenta to do justice to the Queen of Sheba on a state visit to King Solomon, set sail for France. The Germans must have had news of this imposing armament, for the ship containing the guns was but a few hours out from Avonmouth when the dreaded periscope of a submarine was sighted. Undaunted, the subaltern in charge pulled a 6-in. howitzer out of the hold, and proceeded to open fire. Imagine trying to hit an active trout in a pond by lobbing at it with a cricket ball! No shot fell within a quarter of a mile of the submarine, but this strange combat Went on for nearly two hours. For some reason, at the end of this period the submarine gave up the chase, and was no more seen.

Three days after landing at Rouen, the two batteries, now formed into a brigade, proceeded by road to Aire. After a further week's delay, orders were received to occupy positions in the line near Festubert.

Moving into a battery position at night within a mile of the front line was always an unpleasant if not necessarily a hazardous undertaking, but on this occasion it was carried out without incident. The long column of lorries and guns, with all lamps doused, crawled up the narrow paved road from Bethune in the darkness. Presently they saw for the first time that amazing firework display of Very lights which every night from dusk to dawn, from Switzerland to the sea, illuminated the Western front. There was little or no gunfire, but the silence was broken by the occasional rat-tat of a machine-gun or the crack of a solitary rifle. The general effect might be compared to that of a life-size picture by Doré of Dante's approach to Inferno. The waving arms of a shattered tree, the derelict remains of a sightless house, appeared and disappeared in the fitful light of the distant flares. These flares were sparks thrown up from the fires of hell, and the crackle of rifle fire was the shrivelling in the furnace of the bones of the damned. At one point the road was blocked by infantry coming out on relief, and a sergeant of the Loamshires, out since Mons, spent an enjoyable two minutes regaling the newcomers with a complete list of the battalion casualties since that date.

The position taken up was in an orchard off the Rue de Chevattes, near Richebourg. There was only room for two guns, so the other two went into action about so yards farther down the road. The first two, under Captain Gregory, led an isolated but extremely strenuous existence in the orchard. Gregory was an old mountain gunner, who had seen some active service on the frontier, a small man with a large personality, brimful of energy, and with Spartan ideas about discipline and the proper conduct of a war. He lived in a pair of large rubber thigh boots and went to bed at night under a bivouac on the ground, the rubber boots, with his feet in them, sticking out from under the flap.

The guns were always manned at dawn. From then onwards every man was kept hard at it, sorting ammunition, polishing breech-locks, digging dug-outs, doing gun-drill, quite apart from the actual firing. All meals were eaten off a tin plate, balanced precariously on the knees, and consisted of bully beef and biscuits, varied by ration stew as provided for the troops by a benevolent Government. It was considered extremely unsoldierlike for an officer to supplement these rations with luxuries from home or the local canteen. These views did not, however, appeal to the sybarites Alington and Shadbolt, and they made unavailing efforts to soften the heart of that grim soldier, Gregory, and to induce him to eat his food off a table, take his boots off at night, and share the amenities of the farm cart lined with straw where the two subalterns slept side by side like the Babes in the Wood.

This question of comfort in the line was ever afterwards one to which Shadbolt gave his particular attention. He took the view that as the gunners were nearly always in the line, and seldom, if ever, went out on rest like the infantry, it was up to them to make their permanent home as comfortable as the conditions would allow. A man's efficiency was not improved, but actually impaired, by undergoing unnecessary discomforts. Even Shadbolt, however, could not live up to the high standard of a certain Corps Commander, who in 1917 came to inspect a siege battery in the line near Ypres. After being shown the guns, the dug-outs, the B.C. post, the telephone exchange, and even the latrines, the Great Man said, "And now I should like to see the men's dining-room."

Batteries, of course, were always being moved from one part of the line to another. No sooner had they settled in and got themselves really comfortable than orders came from headquarters for a move, and the whole business of home-making had to be gone through again. Here the garrison gunner had a big pull over other units, as, like the well-known denizen of the garden, he carried his house on his back. When a siege battery moved, the lorries would be packed with chairs, tables, wire beds and other furniture, in addition to the legitimate stores. This was strictly against orders, but the wise Battery Commander always turned a blind eye to this house-moving, provided the golden rule was not broken, comfort without impairment of efficiency.

This is really a corollary to Napoleon's maxim: "An army marches upon its stomach."

The above panegyric on comfort and its relation to efficiency in war should not lead the reader to deduce that the heavy artillery was always comfortable. Far from it. This will be made abundantly clear if he has the patience to pursue this history a little further.

Another mountain gunner of the old school was the Colonel of the 13rigade. He was entirely without fear, and if he had been allowed his own way would, without doubt, have put all his 6-in. howitzers into the front line trench, there to blow the opposing enemy trench sky-high like a stockade of savages in the jungle. The observation post (O.P.) at that period was a house on the Rue de Bois, about 400 yards from the German front line. Half the side of the house facing the enemy was intact, the other half was completely blown off, leaving the upper rooms exposed. Shadbolt was on duty one morning observing from the intact side of the house, when the Colonel came up and suggested they might get a better view from the exposed upper room. He accordingly strolled upstairs, followed by the reluctant subaltern, and there remained erect, manoeuvering a telescope in full view of the whole German Army. After five or six minutes, during which Shadbolt felt as if he were standing naked before a firing squad, he wandered tranquilly down again and proceeded on his way. As usually happened on these occasions, the Germans turned belated but accurate shell fire on the spot where the gallant old Colonel had been, so that those who were left behind had to suffer for his indiscretion.

Shortly afterwards the Brigade suffered its first casualty in the loss of the subaltern on duty at this very O.P. The Colonel continued on his foolhardy course, utterly regardless of his life or safety, was promoted to Brigadier-General a year later, and then, whilst exposing himself more recklessly than usual, was killed by a wandering bullet.

On May 8th the Brigade took part in the Battle of Festubert. The night before Alington and Shadbolt slept lightly and uneasily in their farm cart. About an hour before dawn they rose in the darkness and crept shivering on to their guns. Except for an occasional rifle shot, the front was deathly quiet, and one could plainly hear men stumbling about and shouting in the neighbouring fields as, by the fitful lantern-light, they prepared their monstrous gods for the coming day.

Suddenly there was a deafening crack, followed by four stabbing flashes of flame. The i8-pounder battery behind had opened fire. As if this were the signal, every battery on the front crashed into a thunderous accompaniment, and the whole earth seemed to shake to the blasting roar of their guns. Shadbolt's first battle had begun. In the half light behind the gun he watched the mechanical feeding of an insatiable monster by its statuesque slaves, their grey, unshaven faces contorted by the flickering gun-fire into something evil and unearthly. This diabolic illusion was increased by their continual ramming and stoking, their tireless activity, and their silence. Across the orchard the men on Alington's gun were working with the same precise and deadly concentration. Through the trees he could see his friend's long legs moving restlessly to and fro, as he checked the sights and ammunition, and superintended the working of his detachment.

The whole of that bright May day this devil's work went on, and in the evening its first results appeared in the shape of a few shaken-looking prisoners in muddy field grey, who crept in listless batches down the road behind the battery position. The gunners crowded round them demanding "Souvenir," the only word common to all the nations at war. Each man returned with a helmet, the old German " pickle-haube," a set of buttons, a belt or a haversack. One wondered if these poor prisoners would retain even their clothes by the time they arrived in rear.

The next day Shadbolt was sent forward to observe from a captured German trench. Taking with him his batman, Gunner Langmead, and two signallers, he threaded his way through a maze of battered trenches. Sandbags and dead bodies lay jumbled there in wild confusion, as if some petulant giant, growing tired of play, had thrown down his broken toys in heaps. Finally they arrived in a little trench so choked with dead and so void of all semblance of a parapet, that it had been left unoccupied by our troops. Sandbagging up one corner of this, Shadbolt and the signallers settled down to the day's work, whilst the cherubic-faced batman set off on the inevitable souvenir hunt. He had just left when the enemy began a tremendous bombardment, the exact centre of which seemed to be situated on their isolated and defenceless little post. Shells were bursting with thundering concussions in front and in rear, to the right and to the left and in the air above when the. Major rang up from the battery to inquire what was happening, and whether a counter attack was impending. These were points which Shadbolt would gladly have been clear about himself, as he knew that between him and the enemy, a few hundred yards away, there was only one tired company of Coldstream Guards in a hastily thrown up trench. "You must go and find the infantry O.C., ask what's happening and what we can do to help." This meant a hundred and fifty yards, mostly over the open. At school Shadbolt had won a cup for the quarter mile, but he beat his own record that day. Arriving panting and splashed with mud, he was informed by a bored sentry that the officers were having lunch about two bays down the trench, and as he rounded the next traverse he caught the words, " Fruit salad, m'lord ?" Apparently quite unmoved by the activities of the enemy, they asked him to lunch, and suggested that, when things had quieted down, he should shoot up a machine gun which was worrying them. Declining the friendly invitation, he only stayed t6 locate the offending machine gun, and then bolted back to reassure the Major.

A quarter of an hour later, when the bombardment had died down to scattered shelling, in staggered Master Langmead, absolutely covered with pickel-haubes, sword-bayonets, and other trophies of war. "Please, sir, I'm sorry I've been away so long, but I've brought you this ring which I got off a dead orficer's finger."

In the evening, after Shadbolt had dealt faithfully with the machine-gun, the enemy put down another fierce "hate." The little party laden with telephones, reels of wire, rifles, kit, spare food, and Langmead's souvenirs, sallied out as soon as it seemed safe, and made a dive for the trench behind. This was packed with Canadians waiting, with bayonets fixed and set faces, to make another attack. There followed another sprint to a third trench, and then a fourth. Suddenly the air was torn with the crackling rattle of musketry and machine-guns. Up got the Canadians in front and in the far distance Shadbolt thought he saw grey forms hurrying eastwards.

Borne down with heat and the weight of the telephone reels there was still trench after trench to be passed, all crowded with anxious, waiting men from whom the words "Canadians attacking, Germans running," brought a smile of relief and a muttered " Thank Gawd, sir, for that." And so wearily home, meeting one of the fresh Highland battalions from England marching up to relieve the Coldstreams. They looked grim and determined enough. Shadbolt had known one of the Company Commanders at home, and shouted him a cheery greeting, but he only stared blankly and made no reply.

Early in June the battery moved to Annequin, where a whole month was spent, without firing a round. Every effort had been made by those at home to supply the much-needed ammunition for Neuve- Chappelle and Festubert. At the last named battle some of the 6-inch shells were stencilled April 24th, showing that no time was wasted between the factory and the gun. Actually, since the beginning of the war, about 49,000 rounds had been shipped to France by this date. This compares with 38,000 a month for the first six months of 1916, 290,000 a month during the Battle of the Somme, 840,000 a month throughout 1917, and over a million a month in 1918.

The effect of these early battles was to shoot away all the available supply, and for some months after Festubert all siege batteries were reduced to a maximum of twelve rounds a day. At that time the oniy ammunition supplied to these batteries was some 6-inch gun shell from Gibraltar, which had been condemned as unserviceable in the piping times of peace. To ensure safety these were fired by means of a specially long lanyard, all the gun's crew being ordered out of the gun-pit except the hero who pulled the string. A premature occurred in a neighbouring battery, which blew the whole of the front of the barrel off. But owing to the care that was taken when firing these condemned shells no casualties occurred. Whether they caused any casualties amongst the enemy is also an open question.

A few 6-inch shrapnel were also issued, but it was found quite impossible to persuade them to burst at the right spot in the path of their trajectory. This is, of course, just before they reach the ground, so that the shrapnel bullets spray out like the drops from a watering can. Fired from the howitzers they usually burst about a quarter of a mile up in the air, or on the ground, or quite frequently not at all.

Time hung very heavily for officers and men alike. Books and newspapers were in great demand, and the arrival of the mail from home was the outstanding event of the day. The captain sketched, the subalterns loafed and read, and the gunners played " house " all day. This is a gambling card game, much beloved by the troops, and consists in betting on the face value of the cards dealt out to each player. Part of a second pack is then dealt, the dealer in a sing-song voice calling out the values, most of which have special names. On a hot afternoon, half asleep under a gun tarpaulin, Shadbolt and Alington listened to the droning, unceasing chant : "Clicketty Click, Number Seven, Kelly's Eye, Legs' Eleven, Number Nine, Top o' the House," while in the distance a regular whine and bang indicated that the enemy gunners were getting rid of their daily allotment. Nearby a battery of French 75'S, like irritated terriers, would occasionally reply with a spurt of angry yapping, but elsewhere from the British position all was quiet.

Shadbolt visited the French battery once or twice, and was much impressed by their methods. He never found more than four men in the battery position, one to each gun, though there must have been others hidden away somewhere. On his first visit he' was accosted by a friendly-looking tramp in odds and ends of soiled uniform, who appeared to be the only inhabitant. This individual turned out to be a sergeant, and, finding that the visitor understood French and was also a gunner, was only too delighted to show him round and to describe the inner workings. After an exhaustive inspection of the whole battery he inquired whether " Monsieur le Capitaine " would like to fire a round at the "sale Boche." Shadbolt said he would. Without further ceremony the Frenchman pushed a round into the bore and told him to shoot. Thereupon he banged into the blue, shook hands with his gallant ally, and departed, still without seeing another soul. Shadbolt could not help contrasting this with the methods employed in his own battery, where the procedure of firing involved a solemn ritual including an officer and six acolytes. per gun, and attendant High Priests standing round with range tables and telephones.

The O.P. for the Annequin position was situated in the wing of a large distillery in the support line. At various times this had been occupied as an O.P. by every battery in the British army, as well as by the French and Germans in 1914. In the vast cellar lived the signallers and telephone exchanges of no less than five batteries. They had made themselves comfortable with lanterns and stoves, broken arm-chairs, old French beds, and a piano. The first night that Shadbolt arrived the Germans were putting up their usual evening hate on the village behind. The noise of bursting enemy shells was loud and continuous, but the only retaliation from the British lines was "Hold your hand out, you naughty boy," played to an accompaniment of much laughter and shouting, on the cellar piano. He decided to sleep upstairs, where the advantages of a large double-bed and plenty of fresh air seemed to outweigh the possible disadvantages of a wandering whizz-bang or a spent rifle bullet. One wall of his bedroom had been blown away, and he looked straight down a long vista of ruined rooms on which the flarelights from the trenches cast g, fantastic shadows. The ghosts of all the nations, who a ought and died in this place, crept and peered and prowled. Every so often a brick would fall or a bomb go off, and they would stop and listen-Shadbolt was connected by a speaking tube to the cellar, but it seemed hardly in keeping with his dignity as a British officer to order Gunner Langmead up to keep him company.

Another O.P. was in a ruined house in Cuinchy, just off the La Bassee road. One sultry Sunday afternoon, when all else was " quiet on the Western Front," the enemy began methodically to shell the building with 5.9-ins. Shadbolt and a subaltern from another battery who were both on duty thought it best to retire to a small sand bag dug-out at the back. They stood at the entrance to the dug-out, which was splinter-proof and no more, and watched the performance with professional interest. In the stillness one could hear the German howitzer fire, followed by the long-drawn whine of the approaching shell, and the shattering burst as it landed on a house or a garden wall. They counted the overs and shorts, and the rights and lefts, and were presently joined by Saunders, from Shadbolt's battery, who had come up to repair the telephone wire, which had been cut by the shelling. Suddenly one shell seemed to be coming much closer, and Shadbolt felt a sharp pain in his leg as he dived with the others for the mouth of the dug-out. The blast of the explosion knocked him flat, and when he staggered to his feet he found both the others, covered with mud and blood, moaning on the ground. Binding. them up as well as he could, he then discovered that a small splinter had severed a muscle in his thigh, that the telephone wires were again cut, and that the enemy had gone to gun-fire, that is, having found the range slowly and methodically with one gun, he was now firing the whole battery as hard and as fast as he could.

It seemed as if the rocking dug-out would certainly collapse on them with the mere force of the explosions. Saunders was unconscious, but the other subaltern, who was badly hit, kept crying for help in a piteous way. There was nothing to be done but wait. After what seemed to be an eternity, but was in reality not more than ten or fifteen minutes, a figure appeared at the doorway and a quiet voice said: "Art any of you fellows alive ? It was the Colonel. It appeared that a hysterical signaller had run the whole way down to the battery and reported that three officers had been killed and the O.P. destroyed. Whereupon the Colonel, who happened to be in the position, had calmly walked up through the shelling to see for himself, whilst an ambulance was sent for by telephone.

There followed for Shadbolt a week of peace in a casualty clearing station some miles behind Behune, a week spent mostly in an old walled garden reading books and writing letters. After that, being fit to hobble and the brigade short of officers owing to the loss of the two subalterns, he returned to duty.

The effect of shell-fire on the mind is a cumulative one. When Shadbolt and his companions first landed in France, coming under shell-fire did not immediately produce in them a feeling of intense terror or an acute realisation of its dangers. On the contrary, it was regarded as an interesting and exciting experience, with an element of danger to others, but not to any one so divinely favoured as themselves. The relief at finding they were not afraid after all, induced a kind of foolhardy recklessness which was generally the hall-mark of the newcomer to war. As the novelty and excitement wore off, and the horrors of experience impressed themselves on the mind, the fear of death and disablement became ever present realities. It was then that the imaginative man conquered his shaking limbs and with panic in his heart performed deeds which, though insignificant in themselves, were deeds of daily, nay, hourly heroism.

This strain of never ceasing effort to conquer the imagination wore men down more surely than hardship and wounds. The artillery suffered perhaps more continuously than the infantry, for they were always in the line. On the other hand this was more than counter-balanced by the fact that the infantry had a far worse time while they were actually in the trenches.

On his return from hospital, Shadbolt knew that he had lost that first light-hearted feeling of personal invulnerability. This was borne in on him very forcibly a week or so later, when the battery was heavily shelled, two guns were completely knocked out, and he was caught in his bath, a situation in which one feels the extreme of human defencelessness. A company of infantry, who were resting in the village, took refuge in the battery dug-outs and lost twenty-four killed and forty-two wounded. The losses in the battery were miraculously small, as so accurate was the German gunnery that every shell fell in the right section, whilst the two guns of the left were untouched. The Major reported to H.Q. that he thought he knew the location of the German battery, and was promptly ordered by the Colonel to engage it at once with his remaining two guns. The rest of the front was utterly quiet. Save for the unusual spectacle of a duel a outrance between a German and a British battery there might have been no war in Flanders. The German had the advantage of having got the range by aeroplane, and of having already destroyed half his opponent's armament. The Britisher was firing gallantly and probably entirely ineffectually into space.

In the evening, when the casualties had been dug out, and the total damage estimated, Shadbolt and Alington unanimously decided that the glamour and glory of war were definitely things of the past. Henceforth it was to be a matter of doing your duty to the limit of your nervous capacity, of suffering all things, not gladly but grimly, and of waiting patiently for the inevitable end. The light-hearted sense of adventure was over. The romance of war was dead.

April 22nd, 1915. I managed to get a letter and a telegram off to you from the docks which I hope you received. We had the most perfect voyage over-smooth as a mill pond, and a clear moonlight night. We were packed like sardines down below. Four of us subalterns shared a cigar box. We had to take turns as officer on watch. When my turn came from 12 to I a.m., I couldn't find my socks in the pitchy blackness. No lights were allowed, not even a match. I stumbled and fumbled about, and woke everybody else up. I laughed till I cried. The others didn't. Then I went on the bridge with the Captain, and watched the stars and the path the moon made on the water and felt wonderfully happy. It is a great thing to have your dearest wish gratified especially after eight months' weary waiting.

April 26th, 1915. I don't know if you will be able to read this, written on the march. My lorry is swaying like a beast in pain. I have sat on the front seat for two days now, and am sick to death of the straight French roads with their trees on each side, the beautiful smiling countryside ; and last, but not least, in my air cushion, which has punctured! We have lost one officer already, Eric Leader, in the A.S.C. He was run over by a lorry the first day and broke his arm.

Later. We got in last night after dark. When I had put my men into barracks (very dirty French ones), got them some food and cleaned up the gun park, I set off down the road in search of dinner and bed. I couldn't find the first, except the inevitable bully, but I did find (oh joy!) a real bed and hot water to wash in. This town (Aire) is only 10 or 12 miles from the trenches, and we can hear the boom of the guns quite clearly.

May 4th. We have been in action the last two days and nights and I am very dirty and very busy still. I am longing for a decent sleep and wash. The first night, moving in, we didn't get any sleep at all, but last night I found an abandoned farm cart in our orchard. I jumped in, took my boots off and instantly dropped into a deep coma, which lasted till I was turned out by the sentry at dawn.

May i8th. Hotel de Lockharts Chocolat Meunier Corner, France. The above is my address until further notice. It is our new observation post, a ruined house, bolstered up with sandbags. The whole place is really one massive sandbag with me in the middle. I am joined to the battery, a mile away, by a piece of telephone wire, and I look out all day on a vast expanse of nothing. At least that is what it looks like at first. It is really a piece of flat countryside, corrugated with miles of trenches and teeming with human beings. Those wriggly, whitey-brown things are the trenches. You can't see the human beings. Yes, those two church spires and that fa tory chimney in the distance are real.

It is nice to hear you talk of flowers and sunshine. We have had nothing but drizzle here lately, and thick mud, like six inches of lukewarm butter, and ever since Saturday one continuous battle.

June 1st. The trenches here are most terribly complicated and confusing to a new-comer. They are much deeper and better built than those where we were before, and have evidently been dug a long time, for grass and even crops are sprouting from them. This is how to get to the O.P. by trench all the way. Straight up Regent Street, into Glasgow Road, turn to the right across Harley Street, and drop down Hertford Street. Where this trench forks at Marylebone Road, take the right hand turn to Willow Lane, then straight along or rather twist along, till you land in the telephonist's room in this ruined house. There are six of us in here, two officers and four men-all asleep except me and one wretched telephonist. It is frightfully hot and the fog is terrific. I must climb the ladder which leads to the upper chamber and have another look out, and a blow of fresh air.

June 9th. Still at the O.P. I think if those at home could see us now, we might forfeit a certain amount of sympathy. The horrors of war seem so remote. Jones and I are sitting in the hall of this fine house, being the coolest and most draughty place. Shirt sleeves and a handkerchief instead of collar and tie are the order of the day. A table is between us on which is spread a very respectable luncheon, including a bottle of wine.

Books and magazines are strewn around. We sit back with our feet up. There is not a sound except the birds singing outside, and we are only a few hundred yards from the German front line. Life is very pleasant. It is always changing though. To-morrow the "Pip-squeaks," "Woolly Bears," "Marias," and "Johnsons" may be dropping into the poor old house, in the sun.

July 17th. I would love to see Push and Go and Harry Tate. I want to get back for a bit now, just as much as I wanted to go out before. I long to go somewhere where I can't hear the shells coming or going. Except for a week in hospital, I've been over two months within easy field-gun range of the Hun, and one's nerves get a bit ragged I suppose. There is an 18-pounder just behind us, which goes through and through my ear drums every time it fires. We were shelled out of our last position and have since then been through all the discomfort of moving and settling in again.

I nearly got shot as a spy yesterday. A subaltern on the staff and myself, finding life at the P.O. overbearingly tedious, went out for a walk round the trenches. It appears that these had just been taken over by some Scottish Territorials. They saw us dodging about behind the houses and crouching in the long stopped by an officer who came along and put us under arrest until we were able to explain. There's a lot of spy mania about.

July 18th. I have got a new job - 24 hours on and 24 hours off, observing from an enormous slag heap. You never saw such a place. It takes hours to climb to the top and there I sit, or rather huddle, in a little sort of rabbit hutch, with the whole of Bocheland below me, in front, and the whole of France below me, behind. The most wonderful view. When Hans von Spitzbergen makes white and black puffs appear in a certain village below me, I talk down the telephone and similar puffs appear suddenly in Bocheland.

There are some French gunners in an adjoining hutch. Have you ever heard an excited Frenchman talk down the telephone? It is fearful and wonderful business. When I was relieved last night I would have scared a respectable coal-heaver. It had been windy all day, and I was black with coal dust from head to foot.

Later. There is nothing happening and the flies are astonishingly bad. At night they disappear, and the rats come out in hundreds. One of them ran across my face as I was dozing just before dawn. Why any self-respecting rat should trouble to climb to the top of this mountain of slag is a mystery. There can't be much food except what the telephonists throw away. I have been talking to a subaltern in another battery up here, who is just back from leave. We came to the conclusion that after the novelty had worn off, for sheer and unadulterated boredom, war could not be beaten. I also tried to analyse my feelings with regard to the Boche. I cannot feel any strong emotion about him. War from a gunner's point of view is much too impersonal for that. I regard him in the same sort of way as the person who lives at Wigan or at Southend. His ideas are totally alien to mine, and I do not want to live with him in the least. At the same time I do not want all this trouble of killing him. Is it entirely due to him that I live on a coal heap all day and suffer boredom and discomfort and occasional danger ? I don't suppose it is. I mean the average Boche has got no more say in it than I have. It is the old gentlemen in brass hats, on both sides, who are responsible.


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