<< January 1918 – March 1918 >>
FRIDAY 1ST FEBRUARY, 1918
In local reserves again. We improve our positions. The day is very foggy.
It was customary of a forward Battalion to occupy with a Company each position in the forward area namely: 1. Front line, 2. Supports and 3. local reserve.
Meanwhile a sister Battalion would occupy reserve position and the change over would come each few days each relieving the other.
SATURDAY 2ND FEBRUARY, 1918
C Company in local reserve and we supply ration parties front line fatigues such as wiring and digging while front line men would supply the covering parties.
SUNDAY 3RD FEBRUARY, 1918
MONDAY 4TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Ditto. The day is unusually quiet not much shell fire either way.
TUESDAY 5TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Still in reserve.
WEDNESDAY 6TH FEBRUARY, 1918
THURSDAY 7TH FEBRUARY, 1918
C Company prepares to take over front line tonight. When darkness comes our Company move up the half mile or more of Manchester Sap which leads out near our Company Headquarters. It is the front we were on before but now is a line of posts each to hold a complete platoon.
The relief walks in and the relieved walk out without noise. It is a comfort to get the job over without being disturbed while in the job and a lot of men about.
Fritz still sends his pineapples over and his showers are becoming more numerous.
FRIDAY 8TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Officers strength in C Company is now four, Captain Crombie has for his second in command Lieutenant Evans occupying Company Headquarters. The four posts of the line each holding one platoon are commanded by Lieutenant Agnew and myself. Distance between posts is 60 to 80 yards. Each post supplies its own listening post which in this case were small covers to right and to left fronts.
Each of these little covers is manned by two men who would be relieved about every hour during the night. A wire with a weight on the end led from main post to small cover, for the purpose of signalling by a pull on the wire. These pulls are to warn of any prowling huns.
SATURDAY 9TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Spent in front line trench or post. Our artillery are becoming more active and our flying pigs have started on their daily dozen. The flying pig is of the mortar family. The missile weighed about 170 pounds and thus was largely explosive. To carry the missile to the gun was two man job per shell. A limber each night would unload its consignment of 12 pigs with rail for each and shirt rope ties by the side of the road about half a mile behind the gun position. It took a fatigue party of 24 men to carry the shells forward to the gun and the way to the gun, being very much shelled and turn up ground, there would be many falls.
The method of carrying a pig was to lay a rail beside the pig and tie it in two places then a man at each end of the rail would carry the load on their shoulders. During the day all the 12 pigs would be discharged and the gun ready to receive 12 more for the following day.
Men in the front trench would hear the click of the gun and see the pig like a big stick turning over in the air, watch it fall and explode, always thankful that it is well forward of their trench.
A hole in the ground 10 or 12 feet deep and large enough to put a house in would be the result of the explosion, but it never went near the mark. The error was too great. I have never seen one go near enough to its mark to do any damage and we were always pleased that it did not fall any closer to us. The nearest about 80 yards in front.
What I have written goes to show that the pig was not much in use. Its range of error was too great and like the Germans heavy Minnie Werper was too cumbersome as regards its ammunition.
SUNDAY 10TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Finlayson goes on leave is the only note in my diary.
We are getting our rum issue each night, fairly regularly and in order to issue it to the men “fairly” I carried the brass nose cap of a small shell which just held a fair nip. Rum would arrive at Company Headquarters each night with the rations and could only be obtained by the Officer or the Sergeant of a platoon. By issuing the rum through my measure if the main issue to the platoon was a little generous I might save up on the rum and have some stored up.
On this particular night I had two half bottles stored in my possie beneath my blanket. It was Finlayson’s turn to go on listening post duty. He came to me and said, “Its very cold tonight Sir could you let me have a drop of rum”. Scotty Finlayson was my batman. He was bred on the West of the Island of Skye and had come to Australia before the War. He had a very good reputation with the Battalion as a stretcher bearer. He had served on Galipoli, Scotty was about the oldest man in my platoon. It was on account of Scotty’s age and it being a cold night I gave him a nip of rum and after I had handed it to him my suspicions were aroused that he had already helped himself to some. When I returned the bottle to its place and I shook the other bottle I knew that my suspicions had been right.
By this time Scotty was in the listening post and commenced firing his rifle. Each time his rifle went off a burst of Fritz machine gun bullets would smack across the cover and cover for such a little post was not plentiful. So I brought Scotty back and took away his rifle sending him to his possie. He obeyed all this until he heard the voice of Sergeant Larkings speaking to me in the trench just in front of his possie. At this he came out and wanted to fight Larkings and also said he was going to raid a German post.
I was naturally alarmed at the commotion and voices were pitched too high – too much noise was being made. He quickly subsided, however, when I spoke to him and ordered him to go to his possie again he obeyed. By a lucky chance a Blighty leave pass for Scotty arrived this night and before break of day Scotty was off on his way to Blighty. By the time he would be back after 14 days leave all would be forgotten.
Scotty Finlayson was a good man and a soldier and we will hear of him again at a later date, when he is to be awarded the M.M. and the last view I had of Scotty, in France, was as he marched out with his upper arm bandaged conducting two German prisoners.
MONDAY 11TH FEBRUARY, 1918
C Company this night is successfully relieved by B Company.
TUESDAY 12TH FEBRUARY, 1918
We are in local support line having some cover on Wall Farm and Omega trench. Wall Farm was a pill box and a most useful cover when under shell fire. Twenty men or more could easily take cover here. It was in Wall Farm on one very black night that I slipped into a trench full of water waist deep. Thinking it was a big shell hole I plunged to regain the other side but as it turned out to be a piece of straight trench with each frog type jump I only fell in more water until like a drenched bird I scrambled to land and made the best of a drying job in Wall Farm which gave protection from the cold outside.
WEDNESDAY 13TH FEBRUARY, 1918
In supports and work is ration parties.
THURSDAY 14TH FEBRUARY, 1918
FRIDAY 15TH FEBRUARY, 1918
We relieve D Company of the front line. My platoon takes over post No. 1.
Fritz is increasing his little showers of pineapples but although they fall all about do not fall into our trench.
A certain attraction for no mans land is that when on is out there he is forward, mostly, of any sort of shell fire.
Instructions were that men were to stand motionless when the very light was up, but, the flat ground on this front, so much, the favoured Fritz’ machine guns that I always dropped to earth at the first click of a flare pistol and his machine guns on this front were constantly active.
SATURDAY 16TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Still occupying post No. 1. this night post No. 2, on my left, was not so fortunate. An unlucky pineapple did find this trench and wounded three men.
SUNDAY 17TH FEBRUARY 1918
In No. 1 post.
MONDAY 18TH FEBRUARY 1918
We are relieved by a Company this night. A lucky relief as strafe started up just as we got clear and away and we come back to support line again. From the moment we regain support trench we sleep as there will be no call for a ration party until the night after. Any sleep is most useful as it is not easily obtained in wet and cold trenches.
TUESDAY, 19TH FEBRUARY 1918
WEDNESDAY, 20TH FEBRUARY 1918
In support line and Bug Farm pill box. I take a party out for a bathing parade in the morning then along comes my pass for Blighty leave.
The 55th Battalion will relieve the 54th this night which means that my Battalion will be in Brigade reserve back near Kemmel so I will not be missing any front line duty during my term of leave. This is a comfort as when my platoon is in the line I like to be with them. Leave dates from shore to shore so it does not matter if I miss a day in transit. I go to Ballieul for the night and put up at the Army Club there.
THURSDAY 21ST FEBRUARY, 1918
I stay the day in Bellieul, have a clean up and a bath, get into clean uniform from the valise and clean underclothing, and stow away the mud stained digger tunic until the next time in. It is a friendly and comfortable uniform – tin hat is replaced by a cap. After change of uniform I take a walk out to the hospital and have lunch with Darvall Barton in their Mess. Darvall Barton is one of the Medical Officers there and he gives me the address of his wife in London.
FRIDAY 22ND FEBRUARY, 1918
I catch the 8 am train for Calais. The ship leaves Calais at 1 pm and arrives in Dover by 2 pm. Then onto London and put up at Hotel Rubens and have dinner with Francis Kater.
SATURDAY 23RD FEBRUARY, 1918
SUNDAY 24TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Take 2.40 pm train from Paddington for Torgay on a visit to Aunt Nora Murray-Prior and with her then Dorethes and Ruth. The latter was on fortnightly leave also.
MONDAY 25TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Ruth and I travel together back to London by the 1 pm train.
TUESDAY 26TH FEBRUARY, 1918
In London I meet Jerry Upfold (a Lieutenant in the 54th Battalion). Meet Bertha, wife of Darvall Barton, at the Anzac Buffet where she worked and I go out to Tom Barton’s house for dinner at night. Tom Barton, a cousin of my Father, has just had his only son killed near Wischate.
WEDNESDAY 27TH FEBRUARY, 1918
Meet Arthur and Nessie Pritchard then Ruth takes me out to visit Aunt Georgie Martin. Ruth and I go to a theatre at night the 13th Chair.
THURSDAY 28TH FEBRUARY, 1918
I take train to Haslemere in Surry to visit Aunt Flo, Gay and Pearl.