FRIDAY 1ST MARCH, 1918
In London I visit Tau Taylor also Aunt Georgie and Connie Cooper.
SATURDAY 2ND MARCH, 1918
I catch 8.30 train from Euston for Haylhead to cross to Dublin. In the train to Holyhead I meet over a hamper lunch, a Mr. George Darley. He was travelling from London to his home at Blackrock and when our ship reached the wharf for Dublin he said, “you are coming home with me tonight” and his car was at the wharf waiting for him.
Mrs. Darley was in London meeting her son back on leave from France but his two daughters were with him. They were a charming family and their hospitality I will always remember.
SUNDAY 3rd MARCH, 1918
It is Sunday and Mr. Darley said, “I will drive you to Bishops Court” which place I was on my way to visit as he knew Kennedy and would pay him a Sunday visit. So we lunch at Bishops Court. Kennedy and Doris are most hospitable and I am shown through their stables and see Ry Herod that massive grey sire of the Tetrach. We also saw the dam of Tetrarch. Her finer points still showed against her advancing age.
The Sarchdon was there and had just won his first race and he was to be exported to Australia on a date to come.
MONDAY 4TH MARCH, 1918
Dorris Kennedy takes me to visit Bertram Barton and his home at “Straffan”.
TUESDAY 5TH MARCH, 1918
On my way back to London I stay one night with George Darley at “Carysfort” in Blackrock.
WEDNESDAY 6TH MARCH, 1918
Travel back to London and put up at United Forces Club, 14 Belgrave Square SW1.
THURSDAY 8TH MARCH, 1918
Spend day in London. Lunch with Minnie Crawford and May. Take room at Rubens and pay an evening visit to Aunt Nora.
FRIDAY 8Th MARCH, 1918
Return to Calais via Dover.
SATURDAY 9TH MARCH, 1918
Train to Ballieul and lorry hop to Kemmel. Stay night in Kemmel. My Battalion is still in reserve at Irish House.
SUNDAY 19TH MARCH, 1918
Report to Battalion Headquarters in Lancaster House (deep dugouts) and I am pleased to see there has been no move since I left.
MONDAY 11TH MARCH, 1918
Same place. We do fatigues improving our defences, each day will bring us closer to active fighting which must come with the warmer weather.
TUESDAY 12TH MARCH, 1918
Night fatigues on back trenches. Shell fire appears to be increasing.
WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH, 1918
Same place and fatigues. Enemy starting to shell our front and shelled heavily at midnight.
THURSDAY 14TH MARCH, 1918
Was a big fatigue party laying the cylinders out of which to fire the gas bombs. We lay 400 of these cylinders each a one man load. The gun is simply an iron cylinder about 4 or 4’ 6” long one end closed in. The diameter of the barrel about 5”. The casing was not heavy iron, one man could carry one cylinder on his shoulder quite easily and it was one nights fatigue to carry up 100 of these barrels and leave them lying in line along in the vicinity of where they are to be used which is along the supports line.
It is now a job for the Engineers to pace each one in position and set at the same angle of elevation.
The night following the laying of the cylinders we carry the shells. I can only guess at the weight of a shell, about 30 lbs say and each man carries one shell and ays it beside a cylinder.
The Engineers throw in a bag of powder (slow explosive) and then slide the shell down the muzzle. A wire is pushed past the shell to reach the bag of powder. These wires were grouped into fives and four groups of five attached to one switch, so that twenty could be fired at once from one switch.
After delivering the bombs our carrying party retires and in about the space of 30 minutes Engineers will have fired the whole line of 400 cylinders as one gun like a volley. The range would, I think, be not more than half a mile. The objective is to gas the enemy front line by a sudden surprise before he has time to put on gas masks. I was at a later date to take a fatigue party carrying these gas shells but beyond this carry have not heard any more of them. At this present carry our party was still on its way back to its lines when we saw a flash and then a dull explosion. Evidently they synchronised the explosion well.
On the same night as supports were carrying gas gun cylinders, which were being laid extending to our left flank it happened on our right flank that Fritz made a raid on a post of our first division. It was reported that the raid had failed. Fritz losing. 20 dead and 30 prisoners were taken.
It is now the season of the year for raids and they are an indication of fighting to come. Both sides, Fritz and ourselves, are keen to secure prisoners to locate each others army units in readiness for the fighting to come.
Now before leaving the subject of raids I must tell the story of a raid by the 54th Battalion. It happened just after my return from leave when I was informed that Lieutenant Alec Bates was heading a raid. Bates had been selected to bag a Fritz in order to get his regimental marks and badges.
The German posts were echeloned out in front of us and much the same as our won. We knew that the post called Fly Buildings and also another cose to it Whiz Farm were occupied by Germans. Both the places were identified by a few stumpy remains of concrete. Whiz Farm was selected as the victim and the drill was for our Artillery to shell the place for two minutes and then in a moment to lift onto and keep up shell fire on all posts in the near vicinity of Whiz Farm as a protection for the raiders. The lifting of the fire on Whiz Farm was the signal for Bates and his party to rush in and bellow surrender. The raid was over in a few minutes. My trench was in a few yards of where the prisoners and escort passed out.
14 men made up the raiding party and all returned safely and with 17 prisoners leaving one for dead. It was quite a snappy little raid and meant, for Bates, an M.C.
Bates was an Anzac and his name will appear again in this dairy when we are securing the Hindenburgh line.
We now come to another raid which happened about this time. The runner who brings our nightly messages handed me a note which told that th53rd Battalion on our right was sending over a raid. The party 300 strong, zero hour was 11 pm. The barrage which was to cover the raid would be a wide one and would cover the front of the 54th Battalion as well with the object of deceiving the enemy of the exact shot where the raid was to take place. Accordingly I was to send back one third of my strength so as to have less men to come under the retaliatory fire which was bound to come from Fritz. I sent back Corporal Bradwell with his section of six men. This left me with 13 men in my post. The number of 13 was immediately brought to my notice by Ike Hall, I replied “13 men are lucky you made up the 13th man Ike and I am convinced they can never kill you”.
At 11 pm. To the second our Artillery opened up and the shells scream over and burst in line along our front and burst in a line of flame. The wild beauty of the sight is completed by the very lights which jump upwards from amongst the falling shells and behind them also for a considerable way back lighting up the whole scene and adding its colours of red, green, yellow and white. There is the big bright white flare which lights up a large area. There are assortments of red, white and green and there is the beautiful shower of golden clusters known as the onion bag.
Now is to come the retaliation. Fritz sends his shells screaming at us all along our front and lucky for us and that is of my post the centre of his fire seemed to be just behind us. Some fell in front but nearly all fell just behind. One shell fell into our trench and that one fell fairly into that part of trench used as a latrine and naturally the least occupied part. Not long after the start of shell fire came the machine gun fire with a great clatter as the bullets smack the air overhead. One more bullet and they must jamb above us was a remark uttered by one chap.
Machine gun fire is harmless to men in a trench as long as they keep their heads down. At this time they eased my mind at some indecision I might have had regarding a move forward in order to avoid shell fire. Such a move was now out of the question. We must be like old Brer Tarrapin “just sot and tuck it”.
In not many minutes the whole show was over. The snow of very lights dropped to the usual scattered few. Great numbers of flares would spring up at any time when Fritz was alarmed.
I could not imagine our war if there were no flares. It would have been completely different and it was generous of Fritz to supply all the lighting. This raid by the 53rd Battalion had been very successful and a number of prisoners taken.
FRIDAY 15TH MARCH, 1918
It is night fatigues working in front of the ravine. A big strafe is going on both to the North and the South of us.
SATURDAY 16TH MARCH, 1918
General Hobbs (who commanded the 5th Division) comes round inspecting our lines. More fatigue parties at night.
Through these winter months we have been strengthening our trenches and improving the position against the enemy attack which must soon come.
SUNDAY 17 MARCH, 1918
Bathing parade in Kemmel for C Company and Ousterverne Wood, through which our reserve line runs, is heavily gassed. Estimated that 1000 gas shells fell. This makes the use of that ground difficult for a few days and any troops moving over the gassed area are ordered to keep their gas masks on while doing so.
MONDAY 18TH MARCH, 1918
Weather is improving and fatigue parties busy at night digging and wiring.
TUESDAY 19TH MARCH, 1918
Same night work again
WEDNESDAY 20TH MARCH, 1918
Night work postponed another heavy gas shelling occurred on our left over Ousterverne Wood and there are only a few broken stumps of trees left. The term Wood applies only to that area.
THURSDAY 21ST MARCH, 1918
Enemy shelling all day over Whaitchate ridge and some gas shells fell on our Headquarters.
Our 54th Battalion relieves the 55th and C company goes into forward reserve. Some gas shelling goes on behind us.
FRIDAY 22ND MARCH, 1918
Very foggy day good for our movements. We carry rations to front line both night and morning.
SATURDAY 23RD MARCH, 1918
A rumour goes round that the Yanks had a win over Fritz down near Bullicourt. This turned out to be only a rumour but other reports of more truth say our the British 3rd, army is holding firm while the 5th army is overwhelmed by numbers.
SUNDAY 24TH MARCH, 1918
The curtain has now lifted and we face the spring offensive. Our 14th Brigade is relieved by our 8th in readiness to move us South.
MONDAY 25TH MARCH, 1918
All movement orders are cancelled and we wait in Lancaster House Camp.
TUESDAY 26TH MARCH, 1918
14th Brigade moves to Renninghurst.
WEDNESDAY 27TH MARCH, 1918
We entrain on a little Deckaville train and detrain at daybreak and march to Lovelcourt about 8 miles. The French civilians are evacuating.
THURSDAY 28TH MARCH, 1918
We march to Achieux and I take my platoon on Gutpost near Forceville.
During our march to Achieux we passed many fefugees going back. Carts laden with household goods, old men walking beside the carts and children and some Madames. It is the husbands moving the goods and family back and mostly did the Madames stay in the house to the last in hopes that the home may yet be saved. She would have her little bundle ready to pick up to leave at the last moment.
These French village folk were philosophical enough and greeted us in such language as they knew we understood such as “Tres bon Australia” a common reply from our ranks was “cheer up Froggie we will stop them and you will be back”. This was a most memorable day sad to see but very invigorating. The trusting and hopeful way they greeted us “Bonne Australie Bonne Bonne”, “Allemond Ach” and the cheerful words of the diggers “you will soon be back Froggie we will stop him”, “Bon jour Madam bon ah bon”. The trekking French were all walking as their carts were overfull of household goods, beds, tables, chairs, food etc. When we arrive in Achieux we find it almost deserted. Our Company found a house which had one Madam in it, she was the only occupant. She was living rough with nothing in the house to eat as food and kitchen furnishings had all gone with her husband and children and she had her little bundle of luggage to travel with done up in a kitchen towel tied up at the four corners and there she would thrust a small stick with which she would carry the bundle over her shoulder. She would not leave her home until it became certain it was necessary to do so and at a good guess she knew the troops of ours would feed her. Naturally enough she was very keen to do what she could for us. We made one of her rooms our Company Headquarters and there were plenty of empty houses for the Company to shelter in.
Madam would cook anything for the Officers that they could supply. Officers then present were Captain Cromble and McArthur (second in command) with Lieutenants Evans, Wicks and myself. Our Madam told us that if she did move it would be a fifty mile journey for her – she did not move on the Companies arrival in Achieux.
I am detailed with my platoon, No. 11, for Outpost duty. We march out to the spot about 2 miles distant it is on the rear slope of a rise in the ground. Some old trenches for cover are there and there is a battery of field artillery close on our left which fires a shot each little while probably at random aimed at a crossroad.
My platoon strength is 27 men. Larking is my Sergeant. He had joined me during our Winter break near Bolougne and is very elated about the platoon. As Sergeant he marches in the rear, he said “I have never before known a platoon like them, I never have anything to do and there is never a man out of stip”. Sentries are detailed for the night and Sergeant Larkings and I will share the night watch.
My instructions are to watch the road if the enemy come through in the night to hold the position, against him – send back word to the Company and they will come to my assistance.
I feel very important with my little command, especially so because I know there is absolute trust between the men, Sergeant Larkings and me. At a later date than this I accidentally heard a remark by one of the Officers of our Battalion, “those bloody men will go anywhere with old Toby because they love him”. I put this remark in as in spite of any reticence on my part it did hit on the very essence of good morale.
FRIDAY 29TH MARCH, 1918
My platoon and I march back to our village at daybreak.
SATURDAY 30TH MARCH, 1918
D Company take over outpost guard. It is reported that the New Zealanders have had some success taking 150 prisoners and 40 machine guns in an advance of 500 yards.
SUNDAY 31ST MARCH, 1918
Easter day Church Service held.