<< November 1917 – January 1918 >>
SATURDAY 1st DECEMBER 1917
We hold parades all the morning and then having the afternoon free McArthur and I took a walk into Lochre for a bath and a clean up. McArthur was O.C. cooks during the term of our recent occupation until the day when Captain Downing was wounded and then he took charge of C Company.
Snow has been falling a little today and it makes walking pleasant.
SUNDAY 2nd DECEMBER 1917
SUNDAY and Church parade is the order for the morning and during the afternoon we had a scratch match of football which was appropriate to the day as a cold wind was blowing and a heavy frost was to come this night.
MONDAY 3rd DECEMBER 1917
I had a big working party from C Company working by daylight in low ground in front of Messines. This being in Brigade reserve area and in ground dead as far as any ground observation went. We erected half a mile or wire. There was ice on the water in shell holes. Visibility was not great and we had no interruptions.
Much more wire in back areas will be erected and more trenches will be made and others repaired all in preparation for the German attack which will come in the spring.
TUESDAY 4th DECEMBER 1917
Parades in the morning and D Company go wiring. In the afternoon Officers of the 54th Battalion play Officers of the 53rd football. Such is the procedure of a reserve Brigade at the time.
WEDNESDAY 5th DECEMBER 1917
Route march for the Battalion during the forenoon. In the afternoon C Company play be Company football. At night Trelaw and I take a working party until 4 a.m. Our work was erecting wire and the ground was frozen hard.
THURSDAY 6th DECEMBER 1917
Half C Company sleep after a long night of work the remainder are working. I am free to take a walk into Ballieule for a good warm bath and I meet up with an old Light Horse mate in Leo Le Fevre. Meetings of this kind often chanced along. Le Fevre had gone into Artillery.
FRIDAY 7th DECEMBER 1917
Route march in morning and then a football match, 54th Battalion Officers play Officers of the 55 Battalion. A three points win for 54th. A football match was entertainment for the men and having marched in the forenoon their days training was over. I always enjoyed these route marches usually only 10 miles with sort halts every hour.
SATURDAY 8th DECEMBER 1917
Some men on parade, some sleeping after an all night work and this night I take wiring party out until 1.30 a.m. We arrive back and have a rum issue at 8.30 a.m.
SUNDAY 9th DECEMBER 1917
The rumours run round that we are to move on the 13th, our destination being near Bolougne.
MONDAY 10th DECEMBER 1917
I take working party out at 8 a.m. another wire erecting job by daylight.
TUESDAY 11th DECEMBER, 1917
Lieutenant Wicks has taken out midnight working party and Trelaw has taken morning party. The remainder of strength go on a route march.
WEDNESDAY 12th DECEMBER 1917
Our C.O. Major Street, holds an inspection parade taking shortages of clothing, worn out britches, boots, missing chin straps etc. It is a tedious job and the Battalion stands and waits in the snow.
On the morrow we move back from forward area so I can close up the story of our first term on the Messines front.
From 15th November to 13th December we had been in the forward area.
Our Brigade was holding a two Battalion front, one Battalion in forward reserve. The change to Brigade front would be a whole Battalion move.
It had been a much more gentle front than Ypres was as our casualties show.
After Captain Downing was wounded at Wall Farm McArthur had charge of C Company but not for very long as Captain Cromby appeared on the scene and was O.C. of C Company.
When a platoon takes up a front line post the Lieutenant feels that he is truly great. Only at night do messages come by runner from C.O. of Company. It is a slip of paper to be read with ones head in a possie under a ground sheet to keep down the light. If any strafe should start up a front line post may easily become inaccessible and remote.
At all tines the Officer controls his post. He snares the watch with his Sergeant or other N.C.O.. He must keep the trust of his men and not become excited. Each Company when in forward area usually has two junior Officers. These two platoon Commanders have half the Company each under his command. At this time Lieutenant Trelaw and myself acted under Captain Cromby. Our nights were made
interesting by the lights which Fritz supplied, beautiful flares of red, green and yellow put up singly for colour or by combination of colour. Also the onion bag as we termed it (a big golden flare which broke into a golden shower of a thousand little lights).
Although no fighting beyond raids occurred during winter time the weather was hard and lack of sleep made the term of four nights in a front trench quite long enough. Each man carried one blanket, a water proof sheet and an overcoat.
We patrolled our front quite a lot mainly to let Fritz know we were watching for him and we always had the thought that Fritz might pay us a visit. On these posts which held a platoon we put out listening posts one at each end of the tench and consisting of two men in each. We relieved these men every hour as they were in a small cramped position and they watched and listened and to signal to them we ran a wire with one end in the listening post and the other in the trench where it was watched by the section on duty. A heavy weight was suspended in the trench by wire and one, two or three pulls gave the signals such as “there is a Fritz about” or °we are coming in” etc.
Winter weather was not suitable for much fighting. Not more than raids occurred.
Our sleep when obtainable was mostly by daylight if we could shiver our way into it.
At the time before our new posts were dug the work of relieving and rationing the small front posts was interesting.
The remains of an old road crossed in front of our picket trench and small remains of a little old hedge along the side of it. I would follow this road to a certain tree stump which marked the spot where I turned off to visit my right hand post called No. 1. My. No. 1 and No. 2 posts were both reached by turning off the same old road and I seldom reached them without adopting the prone position on the ground several times. It was to earth when bullets smacked close. One night on my way to No. 1 post with the rum issue I turned off the road and I flattened down to the smack of machine gun fire. Then up and on and not five yards gained when I was down again. I repeated this action four times in less than 30 yards and at the last time down being only a very few yards from the little post I remained down and reached the post on my stomach. I had a strong feeling that the artist on the gun could detect me each time I stood up to move. This kind of intrusion by Fritz was putting the wind up men in these isolated posts which I know were sparsely sired, if wired at all.
The tune was soon to turn for the better now that we are improving the front and our patrols will keep Fritz back at a workable distance.
THURSDAY 13TH DECEMBER 1917
Our Battalion makes an early start from these quarters in Kemmel. Revallie blows at 6.30am. We march to near lamp post corner to entrain there about midday. We detrain about 8 pm. At Desvers and billet there for the night.
FRIDAY 14TH DECEMBER 1917
We leave Desvers at 8.30 am. And march into Frencq. It was to have been a 13 mile march into Frencq but an error was made which took us a good 3 miles out of our way and our day ended in Frencq after a march of about 16 miles.
SATURDAY 15TH DECEMBER 1917
C Company has to move on about a mile to the farm house of Le Mort and here we are to remain until after Christmas and for the next month. About all our days will be filled with route marching, field stunts etc. We are put on very short rations due to the very alarming activity of enemy submarines about that time. Those of us who had any money could buy extra food from the French people and we played a lot of football during our stay.
The 14th Brigade is all stationed close to Frencq and we are close to Boilougne and there was much snow and our playing field was trodden hard to a sheet of ice.
SUNDAY 16TH DECEMBER 1917
Muster parade and then football in the snow.
MONDAY 17TH DECEMBER 1917
TUESDAY 18TH DECEMBER 1917
Company parades on hard frozen snow.
THURSDAY 20TH DECEMBER 1917
Parades and then in afternoon some football. C plays D and play a drawn game. Ground becomes a trodden sheet of ice and skids were plentiful.
FRIDAY 21ST DECEMBER 1917
More football for we players and we are beginning to feel the effect of playing on frozen snow.
SATURDAY 22ND DECEMBER 1917
Route march over iced roads. Captain Norman Lovatt M.C. Captain Reg Downing M.C. & I take a walk into Etarples and back to our billets on a clear moon lite night.
SUNDAY 23RD DECEMBER 1917
Church parade and another walk into Etarples.
MONDAY 24TH DECEMBER 1917
C Company marches into Etarples for bathing parade. Then 54th Battalion rugby team plays team from 14th Brigade machine gunners.
TUESDAY 25TH DECEMBER 1917
C Company was given a Christmas Dinner. Had the use of a barn and crockery was borrowed from Etarples. Also a cask of beer, soup, fish, beef and vegetables. Then plum pudding, cigarettes and nuts. The food was procured from the French people, locally by the Officers of the Company.
At this time all back area troops had to clip their rations.
WEDNESDAY 26TH DECEMBER 1917
A general holiday. Snow fell all day. Some of us walked into Etarples where we could get a good meal.
THURSDAY 27TH DECEMBER 1917
Routine work. A little snow.
FRIDAY 28TH DECEMBER 1917
Clear white snow, I take my first revolver school to practice. Colonel McConaghy had decided that every Officer should instruct in something. I was lucky enough to be instructor of revolver shooting over the Lewis gunners number two’s who not being able to carry a rifle were armed with revolvers. This applied also to the number ones of the teams.
SATURDAY 29TH DECEMBER 1917
Reg Downing and I spent the afternoon in Boulogne.
SUNDAY 30TH DECEMBER 1917
A Cold and windy Sunday.
MONDAY 31ST DECEMBER 1917
Parades in morning and then our C. Company football team plays D Company team in the final match of the competition. We of C Company won 5 to 3.
It was through football that Dannie McArthy came under my notice as a hard working forward. McArthy had only lately been attached to my platoon No. 11. He had lost his paybook due to it having too much red ink in it. In this case red ink was brought about by drunkenness. Some men are misunderstood and wrongly crimed. He had a happy wit and his wit as clean of any filth. He was an expert on the Lewis gun and we will hear more of him later.
And at this time another man who was passed into my care he ? had no paybook on account of red ink. His name was Marshall. Young Marshall still only a boy in his teens. Young Marshall had evidentially met with hard treatment due to some misunderstanding. He had become careless of himself. He was possessed of a dark shade of red hair and a long straight nose indicating a stubborn nature.
Men of the same section as Marshall complained that he was lousy and would do nothing to rid himself of the vermin. I had a talk to Marshall in an endeavour to raise his self respect. And at this time our billets being very cold we were endeavouring to add a little comfort to them. Some of C Company men were in a loft and the winds used to penetrate under the open eves. I was supervising the tacking on of Hessian bagging as a protection against the wind when Marshall, shoes section was billeted in that loft said, “You are not doing that for us are you Mr. Barton. We are the hoboes down this end”. I turned on him sharply and said, “Never you think or let me hear you talk like that again Marshall. Marshall was mending his ways and we will hear more of him later on.
I write this in bed having changed over for a time from reading myself to sleep and I have come to the end of one little diary at this date 31st DECEMBER, 1917 and the one that follows for 1918 has been left at Gordon and I cannot continue until I return to Gordon. I can use this space of broken time in some comments.
Up to the present time I have been writing of front line occupation during winter months and the Autumn. Now our Winter holiday in Frencq is coming to an end, we will return to a war of more action as with warmer weather fighting livens up.