The Great War Diaries - 1915 (5th Seaforths)
transcribed and annotated by James Bruce
correspondence to Alan Cairnie [firstname.lastname@example.org]
John Bruce Cairnie was born on 22nd. September 1889 in Thurso,Caithness, the third
son of David Dandie Cairnie, a chemist in the town, and Mary Wilson Bruce. He
attended the Miller Institute in Thurso and Edinburgh
University, where he graduated M.A.
in 1911 and B.Sc. in 1912. His interests were in Botany and Geology. He then
attended teachers' college.
His diary for 1916 will follow in due course. In October 1917 he sailed to join the 3/4th King's
African Rifles with the rank of lieutenant. He kept a diary from that time
until January 1919 when he sailed for home. This diary will also be transcribed
In September 1919 he started his teaching career in Golspie and in October 1921 moved south to Ayr Academy. He later moved to Cumnock Academy where he completed his career, retiring in 1953. During his time in Ayrshire he maintained his interest in Thurso by keeping in touch with family and friends and visiting in the summer. He kept in contact with his comrades in the 5th Seaforths by attending the reunions. He died in 1977, and his pawky sense of humour, and warmth of nature are missed by family and all who knew him..
In 1930 he had married Isabella Moodie and they had a son Alan Bruce Cairnie who moved to Canada in 1967. Two of John Bruce's great-grandsons wrote in 2003, as part of a Royal Canadian Legion competition, the following compositions:
The order comes from the generals;
The tanks halt, the only sound is from the gulls.
The shells stop, the guns are stilled,
The bombs stop blasting, people remember those killed.
Memories come, unstoppable as a flood,
Weep, weep and free the earth of blood,
Tears flow, wash away the sadness.
Thousands died to clean the world of badness.
War is the knife, blood is the lives and peace the tourniquet,
Remember, never forget and feel the pain as battle lines met.
Love peace and never let this happen again,
Restrain your anger and don't unleash again this pain.
Stop the artillery, silence the guns.
No need anymore to slay the Huns.
Call back the tanks, land the planes,
Time to stop the advance across the plains.
We've stopped the holocaust,
The massive total human cost.
The time to mourn now is best,
More death than we could have guessed.
So today is the day that we remember.
Because war can be a glowing ember,
At the thought of war we stand aghast,
And Remembrance Day will always last.********************************
Cairnie, aged 11
A class is sitting in an
assembly for Remembrance Day. One kid whispers to another, " What's
this Remembrance Day thing about, anyway? The other kid replies, I
think it's something for dead soldiers or something.
True. But that isn't
the half of it. Remembrance Day is a time to remember the brave men in World
War I and World War II who died fighting against evil and tyranny. Veterans
come, too, to pay their respects to their lost comrades. In World War I, we
fought against Germany.
In World War II, we fought the Axis- a group of countries that included Germany,
All of these were formidable enemies, but each time we triumphed. This does not
take away the terrible reality of millions of deaths on both sides, and war is
equally horrible no matter who wins. Some questions the little kid in the first
paragraph might ask are:
Why do we wear a poppy?
We wear a poppy to honor dead soldiers. Poppies grew on many men's
graves so it was adopted as a Remembrance Day symbol.
Why do we have a moment of silence?
On November 11th the peace treaty for World War I was signed. The
minute the order 'Cease fire' was given, a silence fell over all.
Today we use these two minutes to think about peace.
Why did these men go to war?
There were various reasons. Some went for the salary. Others went for the
adventure and excitement. Then some went to be with family and friends. Many
went to fight for their country and freedom. Whatever the reason, we can be
sure there are more dead soldiers than veterans.
War is a gruesome prospect,
and we must always try to find a better way. Most minor conflicts can be
settled by negotiations, but sometimes war is necessary. Whatever any soldier
does, he or she must only fight for freedom and justice.
So before you go rampaging off to battle, think. Is there anything else we
can do to help? Do we have to kill? There is almost always a solution other
than violence, and it is up to us to find it.
The origins of the 5th Seaforths lay in the Sutherland Highland Rifle Volunteers, raised in Sutherland and Caithness in 1859/60 as part of a country wide enthusiasm for part-time soldiering inspired by fears of French invasion. In 1908 the old volunteer force became the Territorial Force and the SHRV became the 5th(Sutherland and Caithness Highland) Battalion, The Seaforth Highlanders, TF.
They were mobilised on 4 Aug 14 and together with the 4th
(Ross Highland) and 6th
(Moray) Battalions, Seaforth Highlanders and the 4th Queens
Own Cameron Highlanders, from Inverness-shire, they formed the Seaforth and Cameron
Brigade of the Highland Division.
After a couple of weeks spent improving coastal defences at Cromarty
(which protected the naval base at Invergordon) the brigade moved with the rest
of the division to Bedford,
where they were billeted in private houses.
The commitment made by TF soldiers pre-war was to serve for home defence
only. On the outbreak of war most men made the additional commitment to serve
overseas although some, for various reasons (age, business or family
commitments, etc.), chose not to.
In Sep 15 a second battalion of the 5th Seaforths was formed,
as it was in all TF regiments. The 'first line' battalion - 1/5 Seaforth - at
Bedford contained men willing to serve overseas; the 'second line' or reserve
battalion - 2/5 Seaforth - at Golspie consisted of men who had not signed the
overseas commitment, were not fit for overseas service and recruits surplus to
the requirements of the first line battalion.
It had always been expected that the TF would require 6 months training
before being fit for overseas operations. In fact, 1/4 Seaforth went overseas
in Nov 14 and 1/4 Camerons in Feb 15, being replaced in the brigade by 1/6 and
1/8 Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.
TF infantry battalions were, at the outbreak of war, still organised in
eight companies - an organisation little changed from Napoleonic times. Regular
battalions had adopted a four company organisation in 1913.
Judging by his regimental number (3471) John Bruce Cairnie enlisted in
Sep 14. The popular image of men flocking to the colours on 4 Aug 14 isn't
really accurate - the peak of recruiting was actually a few weeks after the
outbreak of war. At the start of the diary he was serving in E Company (the
pre-war Thurso company) as a Lance Sergeant - this was appointment not a rank. His
actual rank was Corporal; a Lance appointment was usually a prelude to further
Company drill from 9:30 to 1 p.m. It would get rather feding up if we had much of it. An hour of 'cross-tig' relieved the monotony. In the afternoon, bayonet fighting for NCOs, and then a lecture by Sergt-Major. Very busy all evening and got up to orderly room by 11:30.
Wakened by reveille. Mac lazy as he hadn't been in bed till 2:30 a.m. Route march to Turvey, somehow I felt less fit than usual. The company marched well going out, but coming in when No. 1 section were leading there was no step in it. 20 men on the sick-list this morning, mostly with chest-colds. No cases of measles in our Company today, but one death in 'G'.
The Colonel and Maj Sinclair left for a fortnight at home tonight. Still there is no word of leave for us.
Slept in this morning and had a bit of a rush. Black was orderly officer and I think did ditto as I saw him passing down at 8:30 in very squalid and untidy condition. Company drill under Joe Robertson with Ritson in the background and a military funeral in the neat ['over the wall' inserted above last phrase]. Quite cheerful sounds on the pipes.
It rained all afternoon so the NCOs got a lecture from Ritson and Black consisting of reading aloud extracts from 'Notes from the Front'. Ritson seems to have a good grasp of theory at any rate but too excitable.
Margaret and her mother at tea.
Mac got his Corporal strips tonight, dating back to 12th December so he draws a big pay. He's chucking things about in the kitchen now. I am writing this in the lavvy as Jimmie was in our house in one of his frequent states of fed-up-ness.
One death in 'A' today, and I believe 2 in 'H' yesterday.
There was nearly a mutiny this morning when the men were told to parade with their equipment which still wringing wet on. The Adjie wouldn't give in but when half the battalion paraded without it he had to send them back for an hour to get great coats. Route-march round by Rinhold and Cleat Hill raining most of the way. I enjoyed it very much.
Afternoon pay and rations. Lecture from Sergt-Major. He thought this about wet equipment - 'a damn good joke'. He insisted on punctuality on parade, which is certainly necessary. Our men aren't smart enough yet at turning out.
Mac sleeping up in Orderly Room tonight as he got a little slap last night because Gwyneth had a bad throat - mostly sham I'm thinking. She was alright today and Pitman was in her room till after 10:30 p.m.
We went to St Paul's Church and English Church boys. Delighted to get my spell of Orderly Sergeant over and so was Mac. Along at tea with Rev Herbert Reid and met Davidson McKenzie and Miss Strang. The former isn't such a great bug as I used to think him, nor as he thinks himself. No side about the Rev Hubert.
Tonight I was on Town-picket - the High St, with 4 men of 'B' and had a very good time.
Platoon drill and bayonet fighting this morning with pack and ammunition. Two of 'C' Company with about 20 others left this afternoon with ammunition and blankets for unknown destination. Everybody much excited and much speculation as to where they are going to and what it may mean for the battalion. Rumours of Edinburgh Castle or Inverness.
After afternoon parade I found myself and 2 of 'C' detailed to go on similar duty. Russell was picked and Jim Matheson. We paraded in 15 minutes, expecting great things and feeling very big. It turned out to be picket duty at Herring Green crossroads with orders to stop all cars and take number, etc. This result of last Zeppelin raid as the airships are thought to have been guided by cars with powerful headlights.
We barricaded the road with carts and took turns - 2hours on and 4 hours off. Not very exciting and very cold, but more exciting than platoon drill. My first experience at sleeping out and none too pleasant, but I think it wouldn't kill me.
The Kaiser's Birthday - bless 'im!
Got into Bedford at 9 a.m. after rather a smart walk. Slept from 10 to 12 and paraded again at 3 for the same duty as yesterday. Mac rather annoyed as I didn't tell him where we were, but he had a pretty good ideal all the same. Our officers say they heard an airship of some sort over Bedford last night but nobody seems to have seen it.
We got out to Cardington at 4 p.m. and took up our quarters this time at the Pub - The Anchor Inn. It is a very cold night and like snow, but Pitman got tea for us here and if it wasn't for the skittles we might have a very good time. Tonight we got order to turn back every motor car or m. bike, so things are soon interesting.
We took up our positions again at 4:30. I had from 6 to 8 and 12 to 2. A fine night, coldish but dry. The time passed very quickly, sitting very comfortably in a cart of straw. Jim getting on my nerves with his songs or rather his song. He has improved though with the change of work and under strenuous conditions might be a keen man. Pitman had to sleep by the roadside as he was the only one who knew the password.
No cars were to be turned back, except officers who hadn't the password. Very little doing - they seem to be avoiding the place.
Got in to Bedford at 8:30 and as we got word that our special duty is now at an end we had a free day. I was down town in the morning and again on special pass at night. Went to 'Grumpy' which was very good. The best thing I have seen here so far.
I was helping W. Ritson today with the billets as his clerk is on leave. I shouldn't care for his job, or his clerk's either. R. can be very disagreeable when he wants. In the afternoon I played soccer for 'E' v 'G'. We beat them 8-1. It wasn't a great match but I was delighted to be playing football once again. I think I must be as fit now as ever I was.
Today the new double company system was inaugurated and henceforth we form, along with 'F', the new 'C'. We are all sorry to bid goodbye to the old state of affairs, which seemed to work very well, and in which we were all very happy. We aren't keen on 'F' as they are a pretty rough and coarse crowd, but no doubt will improve on acquaintance.
I had made up my mind to get a lot of letters written today, but only managed three. Church Parade in the morning and we got a good sermon from the Cameron chaplain. He always makes an impression and rivets the attention of the men: reminds me in voice and manner of Daniel S Calderwood. In the evening I went to Corn Exchange Concert but was asleep most of the time.
Paraded under company arrangements - company drill and physical exercises in the forenoon and musketry in afternoon. I find I have forgotten most of the musketry and expect that most of the NCOs are in the same box. I put Davidson onto my squad - he was a musketry instructor.
Ian and I went and had out photographs taken again and I hope they will be more successful than the last. We went to 'Brewster's Millions' with Mrs. Platts. Mac is living up to, if not beyond his pay - a very bad habit. His late hours must tell him sooner or later and if he doesn't chuck them soon I will speak to Mrs. Platts.
Parade at 7:45. Marched round by Wilden Shrubbery and Sevick End with ammunition 120 rounds. Pace very hot and atmosphere muggy in the extreme. The whole division was on the road and marched past Sir Ian Hamilton at Goldington Green. We marched past very well and I hope made a good impression. Kept a perfect step from Goldington to Clarendon St.
Soccer match between 'C' and 'D' ended 3 all although we had the best of the game. Got a little writing done tonight but still have heaps to do.
Parade at 8:45, for a concentration route march to Sevick Farm. Our company went by Goldington and Water-end. The marching was very good. After we got to Sevick each company went on its own for some extended order work. No. 1 platoon was in reserve, under George Forbes and got wiped out by being too far up and coming under fire in artillery formation. I don't think that my section, of 8 men, would have suffered so severely.
In the evening we were at Dr. Bell's for dinner and progressive whist. A lovely house and very hospitable people; especially as they had never seen a lot of us before. There were 20 of us, mostly Englishmen. Bailey and Mac sang. One of the 4th home from the front was there. He's not keen on going back.
Today I was helping Ritson to pay the billets. This is rather monotonous work, only Ritson's arithmetic is occasionally diverting. What neat, clean house most of the people keep - 'We're poor but we like to be tidy and comfortable". R. was in better tune today. Mac, Addie and Jim digging drains all day at Harrowden Range, came back dead tired.
Jim is trying for a commission in one of the Reserve Battalions or more preferably the 5th.
I hear Willie Torrance is not expected to get better - pneumonia. Am very sorry for his mother.
Got a 'permanent' pass till Tuesday from Ritson and went down town. Had an unsatisfactory evening and will not waste another in the same way. Mac is for his first quarter guard tomorrow and I have been coaching him. Had a very cheery letter today from Louise.
With Ritson again paying the billets. He bangs into the houses in the most unceremonious fashion, but all over today he wasn't unsympathetic. It's when he is crossed in the least little detail that he loses his rag: and he can't abide to be chaffed.
Jim Miller who was more than half tight and was in seeing Nanna, has somewhat raised my hopes of a commission, but I don't know I want one. I wonder whether Ritson has not an inkling of it and is not trying to get the billeting job shifted onto my shoulders. I wouldn't have it at any price. I hear there are 8 vacancies - Jim says the Colonel has been speaking to him on the QT.
More billet-paying today. I thought that I was going to have the afternoon off but Ritson was anxious to get on with the work, so we on till 4 p.m.
Then I went down town, had tea and went to the Chums and to the Palace, enjoyed myself in a quiet way. The Chums are getting on my nerves: they aren't a bit clever - except for Harold Johnson himself. I can't make out whether he is acting a part of not.
Church parade at 7:35 and didn't move off till 8:20 - absurd. Sermon quite good from the thin man.
Helped Ritson an hour or two with his books and wasted the afternoon reading a novel.
Wrote home after tea, but didn't give them any idea that leave is starting as we may be disappointed. Escorted Margaret home on my way to the Corn Exchange Concert. I rather like her, but don't know her well enough.
Mac and Gwyneth are downstairs now singing - howling rag tunes and making hideous the Sabbath evening.
Billeting again and got a good deal done in the afternoon. At three Ritson had an appointment and that spoiled us.
Went down town and examined Hockliffe's secondhand bookshop: picked up one or two geological book of an ancient order. Also A.W. Russell's "World of Life". Had tea and went to the Whip. The staging rather ambitious but not bad considering the amount of space at their disposal. Mac is going North on Wednesday and is in correspondingly good form. Met Scott tonight in High St. - of Edin. Battery. He's a L/Cpl in the 4th Gordons.
Mac left today for seven days leave. Harcus went too. They were very cheery. Ritson and I went down to the station and afterwards to the Empire he standing me in. Not bad but rather vulgar.
Weighed myself at the station: found I have put on nearly a stone since coming down but that is with the kilt instead of trousers. Am now 10st 3 lbs in uniform.
Billets all day: am beginning to like the work, and also to be very lazy in the mornings.
Along to Mrs. Campion's at night and played bridge with the girls. They are quite good and I like them. I can't stand complicated girls.
Paid the last of the billets today and another rummage with Ritson in Hockliffe's old books, but didn't get anything. Worked in R's billet in the afternoon, arranging the forms. Had a yarn with Mrs. Mortimer.
Nothing doing at night it has been very cold all day, and I haven't got decently warmed up once.
A wet rotten day with sleet. Slimed [?] in the Orderly Room most of the morning. In the afternoon played Ellis at Chess and he wiped me: we are about evenly matched - he's probably a little better than me.
After tea, went to The Chums with Ritson - he paying. Programme not bad.
The Colonel interviewed a lot of fellows today, with a view to commissions - in this battalion. He didn't take me, which is either a very hopeful sign - or a hopeless one. I think Ritson is trying to wangle me in for his present job, but he won't manage it.
Muggy and wet. Church parade at 8:45. Got a very good sermon from the Cameron chaplain. Got a word from Willie for wearing my khaki hosetops on dress parade. Felt ratty at him.
Wrote home; and spent afternoon in Ritson's doing company drill with matches. He has the double company this week as Joe R is on furlough; and he's nervous about it. Went down to Church in the evening but so late. Went to Corn Exchange Concert - quite good. A fine soprano, and Blake of the Camerons.
Cold and bright. Battalion moved off at 9:30 and marched out about five miles towards Turvey. From there advanced cross-country in artillery formation for a mile and a half or so. Poll and I had a platoon to ourselves. We finished up with an advance in open order, of a very ragged sort. We badly need training in extended order. Ritson in his element, his language too grandiloquent. Some of the fields very soft and claggy. Marched about six miles home and arrived at 4:30.
In orders tonight, extract from King's Regulations which seems to say we must not shave upper lip - whiskers moderate if any.
Jim had a row with Gwyneth and then with Nanna. How absurd we can all be.
Another magnificent day - the sun is getting quite warm. 'C' marched out to Bromham Bridge and then took up an outpost position to cover it. Had charge of a picket and got on quite well. Willie and Black were the only officers out. We lay down for a couple of hours and then marched round by Stevington and the Stagsden road. The pace was a little hot and even Willie was a little pegged. He doesn't seem to remember we carry more than he does. No one fell out but Addie had blistered feet and no doubt there are others. Got in at 3:30. Most enjoyable and healthy day.
Down town in the evening for a few necessaries and spent the rest of the time getting my kit packed. I don't feel the least bit excited about going home. Jim cooked some haggis and it's lying heavy on my stomach now.
It turned out wet today - so wet that the battalion didn't go out. I was glad as I had all my things clean and ready for the journey. We left about 8 o'clock at night, marching down to the station in great form and best of spirits.
Got into Bedford about 9 a.m. Coming up Clarendon St we found the remnants of the Company (8) already paraded and George in the middle of them waving wildly. I had expected him to be much older looking: instead of that he is just the same as when he went out. I thought that we would be getting off parade but the Adjie sent for us and we had to follow up the Company. Drill in close order all morning.
At 4:30 parade for outpost duty. We marched out to Stagsden; a lovely night , bright moonlight and George and I had plenty to speak about all the way. We were put out under Harcus, as a screen to the position, and then withdrawn as the supports. The Colonel came along and said support should entrench - which I doubt. Pretty cold waiting about, but a stiff march in warmed us up plenty: me nearly asleep on the march, and glad to get to bed.
Marched out past the Swan Inn, and fought out to Stagsden. A perfect day. George is very keen. Most of the way was through woods with thorny undergrowth. Our section finished up with what appeared to me a very knutty piece of strategy, but the Adjie galloped up and put half of us out of action.
Drew 42/7 today for the last 2 weeks. Am feeling rather depressed today - no doubt a reaction after furlough and even George's presence can't shake it off altogether. Regular fed up with the family.
Laurie and I got a swearing from the Adjie today because he saw some of the men scratching their faces when they were at attention. He's getting very snotty about details, so I suppose we'll have to stiffen up too.
Company out in the field above the Cemetery, practicing bayonet charging against sacks of straw. The sacks were set up as an extended line: good fun but not far good as instruction went: not enough ground. George was at musketry instruction in Mod. School Park, and was pretty fed up with standing about.
In the afternoon we went to Rugby Match, and at night George and Ian and I were down town on pass. We had tea in Dudeney & Johnson's; went to the Chums and enjoyed ourselves very much. The 'ass' is very like George. Went to the second house of the Empire.
Dreamt last night the Adjie told me he wouldn't recommend me for a commission. I gave him a bit of my mind.
Church parade today at 8:45, to the Baptist Chapel. Quite a good sermon on sacrifice: church done up inside like an ice-cream shop.
After dinner Geo, Ian, Addie and I walked out to the Swan, ordered tea and went on round by Stagsden. A perfect day, as clear as any we have had here for a long time.
Coming back from Stagsden we were hailed by the tract-delivering parson, so we took to our heels. He wanted us up to tea - judging from his gesticulations, so went back and explained and received a few tracts. George wild we couldn't accept his invitation, as the daughter seemed 'a peach'.
Tea at the Swan: the landlord rather unpleasant about tossing. Walked home: Geo. sent Addie sprawling.
Started running drill at 7:15 this morning, the Sergeant-Major leading. Going on parade at 8:45, Capt Ritson bagged me for billeting staff. I wasn't sorry to go as it made my position secure for tonight. I let him know I wouldn't have his job if I get a commission, and he said M'Intosh in the orderly room would likely be put onto it. So that's all right, and I have my pass. Didn't get a lot of billets done as there were a lot of mistakes owing to furlough, etc.
Went down town at 6:30 as arranged and saw The Girl from Utah. It was about the best thing I have seen here - certainly the best musical comedy. The actresses were pretty, and almost proper. I like Kitty very much: nice and quiet.
Running drill at 7:15. Paying billets with Ritson and Sandy Ross. The latter's services were requisitioned in order that the Captain might be saved the labour of writing out the amended forms.
This was to be a divisional day but turned out wet so we turned in. Had a reading in the office, and a short route march in the afternoon round by Oakley and Bromhaw.
At night we were hauled out to a concert nobody wanted to go to. It turned out to be a dancing display by some school kids very good in its way but not the sort of meat and drink the Army wants. One little girl of 9 was a splendid turn - comic songs, etc. and should make her name.
Running drill at 7:15 paraded in full marching order at 8:15. We marched out to Stagsden and from there advanced cross country towards Stevington, in extended order the whole way. The 6th Seaforth were on our immediate right and we got rather boxed up against the road which was the left flank boundary. Marched in from Stevington, 'C' company next the band. Willie was paying great attention to covering today.
Went down town tonight to the Picture-drome. Came back early. Gwyneth has had toothache for the last two or three days and Mac and George have had to take turns at holding her hand.
Running drill at 7:15. Battalion parade at 9:15 for trenching. We had only to go up above the Cemetery and had a pretty slack day. Our squad practised entrenching with the small tools - the first time we have used them. The Brigadier was knocking about. We had 35 minutes to cook and eat our dinner and were back to work again till after four.
After tea I wrote home. George and Ian are both 'out' as regards the house and doubt if they will ever smell it again.
We had a so-called medical inspection at nine. It consisted of our new M.O. walking briskly along the ranks and studying the men's' boots. At 10 we marched up to Clapham park to get into the trenches again. We had two shifts and Willie was for making us do handling of arms when we came out of the trench. However we marched them to the hedge and sat down. He is probably the most unpopular officer in the battalion now: he used to be the most popular. 'F' Company vow to school him when we get into action.
Jim Miller, Blake and I had to parade to the Brigade Office at 3 p.m. and interviewed the Brigadier. The Brigadier was quite affable and signed our papers.
Cambridge played the Highland Division at Rugger this afternoon and got beaten. Cambridge had a very poor team they didn't seem to have played much together, and looked rather a rag-a-muffin bunch.
George and Ian on pass tonight.
Church parade at 8:20. Good sermon from the new chaplain. The Camerons have already had some casualties. Took Orderly Sergt's work over for the day as Laurie was B.O.S. so that I didn't get out of the billeting area. Wrote Rob Alexander.
Black and Howie were in to supper.
Running drill at 7:15. Very cold, and snowing slightly. George not on duty yet as he was inoculated on Saturday. Company drill was cancelled and battalion went out for a route march - Milton Ernest, Filimousham, Pavenham, Stevington and Oakley. A splendid day for marching - cold and bracing and blinks of warm sun between the showers of small snow. The buds are on the hedges. The Company marched well today, and with a little care on the part of some NCOs - especially Laurie and M'Adie we would have a good marching coy.
Dinner at 3 p.m.: afternoon tea in the park and then again in 21. 'M' arrived this morning to Ian's discomfiture who was in Gwyneth’s bedroom at the time. He has come from China to join. It will be interesting to watch developments.
Marched out to near Stagsden and did the same scheme as on Thursday's last. This time we were the supports and had a most pleasant cross-country ramble - more like a botanical excursion than a sham fight.
Had the parade S_a_ [?] etc. in good time, having been up at 6. Marched out towards Colmworth and division attacked Gordons in direction of in the direction of Milton Ernest. When we just beginning - I was with the supports, the Adjie came and ordered me to take the pack-ponies to the ammunition column.
I managed to catch them up after about an hours march. Then we stood for several hours on the road, very cold. Moved forward and came abreast two batteries in action. No sign of our battalion and I believe the commander of the column had quite lost touch with most of the infantry including ours The 6th lost touch with the 5th and seem to have lost themselves into the bargain.
Had a good march home, fine exhilarating weather. Got in after 4, one of the longest days we've had.
With J. Ritson today, working all morning in the Orderly Room. Wonder if I'll take as badly to laboratory work as I do to office work. In the afternoon we paid some outlying billets, in a very lackadaisical state. JJR infects me that way.
Had tea in the pavilion with George and Ian, and Dolly sat and gassed till we were fair fed up. Nanna is jealous. Went down town to the Picture-drome.
Hear Major M'Millan told Willie of in the mess last night. Willie gets more unpopular every day. M'Millan told him to look out when he got to France.
Quite a good day, and did practically no work. I was in the Orderly Room till about 10, then went down town and spent the rest of the forenoon looking round the 2nd hand bookshop. Didn't see anything good.
After dinner went with Ritson and Ian to the Bank and was free at 3 p.m. Had tea in the pavilion.
After tea at 21 I wrote home and found my diary a great help. Black was in practising songs tonight and has settled on 'My Old Shako'. He hasn't got a voice or a temperament for it and woes me playing for him and Gwyneth, I hear they are going to rag Willie.
With Ritson in Foster Hill Rd estimating the damage done by the men in some of the empty houses. A good deal of damage, much of it apparently wilful, but I believe nothing to what has been the case in some of the Morayshire billets. Banisters, wainscoting, etc burnt up and marble mantelpieces in smithereens, but I didn't see any as bad as that.
Concert at night a great success. Black didn't turn up for which I was sincerely thankful. Gwyneth surprised me, singing so well. Cowper of the Groat was down for the occasion and was quite successful in one or two of his songs, though they were of the usual antediluvian order. Willie and Ritson both sang, but very nervous. Willie got a good reception. The Sergt-Major danced the Highland Fling.
Church parade at 8:45. A new chaplain this morning and he had a husky throat. Not nearly so much coughing in Church now. Tea in the pavilion relieved the monotony of the day.
Went to St. Paul's with George at night and were shown into a front seat, where our ignorance of the service must have been most apparent.
Went out to Harrowden for field practices. Fifteen rounds per man at ranges from 600 to 300. Disappearing targets up for 35 secs and down for the same. Not very realistic but better than ordinary butt-shooting. Very easy to forget adjustment of sights. Our detail - with Donnie Dunnet, Poll, Laurie, etc had a long way the best score.
Was down town but nothing doing.
Divisional practice today - that of Wednesday 10th revived, with the 6th we held a position E of Milton Ernest. Whole 5th were out as a screen for the rest of Division. Willie spoilt it by moving from the right of our company's front to the extreme left, taking his platoon with him and consequently left a gap through which the enemy penetrated. Perhaps he wasn't to blame - haven't heard his side of the matter yet. Anyway we had all to retire in double time and at one point were almost taken. Not at all a brilliant affair, but very difficult to gauge what the results would be in the real thing. Got home on four o'clock, pretty hungry.
Went down town at night. Pitman was in tonight saying we are down to move in six weeks time as a Division. I say# there have already gone over 2 or 3 Territorial Divisions. Hope we are sent to the Dardanelles.
Examined some of the empty houses today with Ritson. A good deal of damage done in some cases, but others well looked after. Over at the Park for tea. The Battalion went out at 6 for night marching, but I went down town, having slight neuralgia.
Commissioning in 1915 was a relatively informal affair. Candidates for regular commissions continued to attend Sandhurst, but in the case of the Territorial Force and the units of the 'New Armies' raised since the outbreak of war, there was no centralised selection or training of young officers.
JBC would have applied for a commission on the standard army form and been recommended by Lt Col Davidson. He would have been required to produce a copy of his birth certificate, references as to his standard of education and his moral character (usually a minister or a JP) and would have been interviewed by his brigade commander. For the TF, the final approval word at this stage would have been with the County Territorial Association in Caithness - the group of local worthies who oversaw the TF units from their area.
Once everything was approved, the only formal procedure was the announcement of his commissioning in the London Gazette. At this point he would have been discharged from the 5th Seaforth 'in consequence of being appointed to a commission'.
It was then up to his regiment to train him - and in early 1915 there was very little knowledge in the Highland Division of the practicalities of soldiering in France.
Was just going on parade this morning when Ian and Jim Miller came to tell me I had been gazetted. Miller and Blake are too. I wasn't a bit glad in fact it almost brought tears to my eyes to think that I must give up all my friends. George was very decent and tried to pretend he was glad but I know he isn't. I had to go and put on 'civies' which I had taken care to keep by me. Queer it feels to be in them again. Spent most of the day about the streets and transferring my things to Mrs. Mortimer's where I am to be billeted.
Went to lunch at the Mess with Ritson, and met most of the officers. It is much more free and easy than I had expected. Took a box of cigars up to the office and found Jim Miller carting up 4 bottles of Johnnie Walker. He was well screwed, and would have me go over to the Mess with him which I did until I found him going in the kitchen door, then I made my escape. Am sleeping this last night with George.
Breakfast at the Mess and glad to get decent Scotch porridge and cold milk in my mouth again. Got leave to go to Glasgow for seven days, so am leaving tonight. Spent a wearisome day, unsettled, half in and half out of 21.
Left by the 9:13 with Mowat of the Machine Gun. He is engaged to Mary Stewart. Left him at Rugby. The 4th Seaforth have been badly cut up, and 4th Camerons also#, so the officers' dance which was to be tonight is cancelled.
Arrived Glasgow 7:30. Breakfasted at YMCA. Ordered uniform at Moore, Taggert's and then started to hunt for Daisy. Found her (out) after an hour and a half's searching.
Met John Budge and had lunch with him at Miss Cranston's. He's a quaint bird but looking more spruce than I've seen him.
Got Daisy and Tina in at 2:30 and we went to tea together and then they saw me off from Queen's St. Arrived Crossgates and found Bessie here: also the spring-cleaning.
Walked to the Goat Brae with uncle in the forenoon - a blustering day, and a good deal of slushy snow on the roads. Uncle is a very good walking companion. Bob came along in the afternoon and was surprised find Bessie and me here.
Cycled down to Donibristle Ho. this morning. A lovely soft day, but colder later on. The country side is pretty just now and wreaths of snow behind the hedges give it extra colour. Found Donald M'Kay superintending the physical exertions of the men. He had a half day off, so I stayed till after tea. They are mounting 2 9.2 [inch] guns on Braefoot Pt. where he will be stationed when they are completed: at present the guns are 3 days overdue having be[en] shipped from Woolwich. Ship not since heard of. Probably another case of false economy. D.W.M. seems well content with his lot, and if he gets obedience from the men I should think it is more by taking it for granted than by exacting it.
Got up to Xgates at 5:30, against a stiff breeze and after reconnoitring a few imaginary positions. Went along by car to Lochgelly, with the intention of returning again, but didn't. Had two games of chess with Bob - successfully.
It has been a muggy day. Called at Cowdenbeath on my way down and introduced myself to Mr. Bain. Had a long yarn with him during which he frequently went beyond my depth. Had a longish walk with Uncle in the afternoon.
Left for Glasgow at 12:30. Auntie down seeing me off. She has broadened considerably in her views lately. Met Dorothy Middleton as arranged and had tea. She continues to increase in beauty and Ian will be dashed lucky if he lands her - an idea she appears to pooh-pooh. Had a very nice time with her - went to La Scala and then to The Picture Ho. for coffee. In the former we ran into Connie Soutar and Tina Cameron, who no doubt thought us an ill-assorted couple. D. is companion to a lady out at Bothwell, and has a very leisurely existence. She took herself home about 9:30 and I made for the YMCA where I got a room for 2/6 consisting of 4 walls, a bed and a bible!
Spent the morning looking for a waterproof, and didn't find one. I am a most undecided person when hunting for anything like that, and usually start out with no clear idea of what I want. I ultimately came to the decision, on looking up Land & Water, to go down and inspect the London productions and incidentally visit Vane. Went out to Randolph Gardens and found Mary Fargie in. She is small and fat, with a triple chin and a pretty bad Glasgow accent.
Was at Daisy's at 4:30 and we had tea at Miss Rombach's. I paid a hurried visit to the tailors and then we proceeded to the King's Theatre where we got seats in the front row of the Upper Circle. I enjoyed the play very much, all the more being in their company, and I couldn't help thinking it might be for the last time. I should have liked to tell D. what she has meant to me but Tina was there, which was probably just as well.
Got into Euston at breakfast time, which meal I got in a little dingy restaurant with marble topped tables and no table cloths. A lot of others there too, quite decently dressed, but mostly going in for tea, or hot milk and cake! I couldn't make it out. Went to look for a waterproof, and spent most of the morning in that way. Went down Whitehall and also called at Jermyn St. and fixed up with D.S. Kitchen to take over my collection if I don't require them afterwards. Speaking of Salfeld and Pompekj: he thinks they would both be officers in the German Army.
Went out to Edmonton and caught Vane just going out. We had tea. Both Vane and Con have the pip, and have no fire or keenness left in them. Probably Vane isn't reading enough, and yet he has plenty time. The house wasn't in such good order either.
Got a train from St. Pancras about 8 and got into Bedford about 10. Was up till after 12 trying my uniform on.
Jim Miller was attached to A, and I to B. "B" was on the miniature range this forenoon and practising fire control with landscape targets, so I hadn't any occasion to make a fool of myself although I felt one with my trews as wide as a divided skirt.
The afternoon I spent moping about the digs. I was over at 21 for a bit, but George and Ian have gone to London for the weekend.
Church parade at 9:20. I got a loan of Captain Ritson's sporran. I had a very bad cough, which I expected would bother me in Church, but I managed to suppress it. Mr. Bain, our Chaplain, can't keep the Germans and their Kaiser out of his sermons. Mowat, Lybster, was next me and trumpeting into my ear.
Wrote home in the forenoon and after dinner at Platts I went with Ritson and Mortimer for 18 holes of golf. It was an ideal day and we had a most enjoyable round. I won by one hole, to Ritson's fairly evident disgust, but I think he really was off his game. I don't know whether I did right or wrong to play but I don't see any harm in it, under the circumstances, and this is the only day Mr. Mortimer can get. I like him, he's just like a kid out of school.
Another brilliant day. Marched out about 9:30 to Oakley and then across country to Tithe Farm and Bury Farm. I had charge of 2 platoons in the firing line and got on all right except for a slight inclination to get excited. I must watch that. Ultimately, I was working with one platoon on the extreme left, as the enemy were trying to work round that flank. This was a practice day for the stretcher bearers etc., and was the first hard manual work the pipers have done. The only thing that spoilt the day was waiting on the roadside for 35 minutes for the band to come along. Got in about 2:30.
Invested in a set of chess, but don't believe I'll have much time for it. I haven't been able to do any reading for some time.
Divisional practice today and moved off at 8:35, so had early breakfast. Marched out about 8 miles, with many checks and then lay on the side of the road for about an hour and a half. It was quite hot in the sun today. At last we advanced, being in reserve to the Argyles. I was with the supports (of the reserves) so hadn't much to do: but it's a treat to work with "B" Coy.
The men are keen and tractable and I shall do everything I can to keep them so. The difficulty is to draw the happy medium between Harper's laisey-faire [sic] and Willie's nagging tactics. We marched home as we came out, with many irritating stops and didn't get in until 6 p.m. so we were very hungry. My face is smarting with the cold and the sun.
Very warm today - the most summery day we've had yet. Rifle and foot inspection at 9:15. Musketry and handling of arms from 11 to 1 and again from 2 to 4. During the latter period I took the company for a short time and felt rather nervous. Somehow, they impress me more than 'C' did, partly because the NCOs are older and more experienced men.
Am getting to know W. A. M'Donald, as we are the only officers at present with 'B' and I like him, as every other body does too.
Had hoped to get some letter writing today - to Daisy as I had some cigarettes from her this morning, but got none done. Had a game of chess with Ritson, in which he nearly beat me.
Was on duty in the butts at Harrowden today along with Corrigal. We left here at 8:15. Fine dry morning. There is still about 8" of water in the butts so we had to put on waders, which were not water tight, so I was mucking about in wet feet all morning, which didn't do my cold any good. Got home at 2 p.m. and wrote to Daisy. Pills with Blake at night, he is too good for me, but I am very bad. Was over at 21 for a little.
Black had No.10 platoon on Brigade inlying picket last night and they were nearly all tight. He wasn't quite sober himself I'm told. That's the way to be carrying on just now. No wonder we have a bad name.
A total holiday today. Wrote and read in the forenoon. After dinner, Ritson, Mortimer, George and I went out, per taxi, to Clapham golf course and had 18 holes. George was fair excited, and driving a very long, if somewhat erratic ball. It was great to see all his old mannerisms. We all had tea in Mrs. Mortimer's, along with Ian and Addie and some lady friends of the family. We had quite a jolly night. Mrs. Mortimer thinks a lot of George.
Wet today, so the Company didn't parade at all. W.A. M'Donald and I inspected some of the billets, but in a very perfunctory way. I was Supernumerary Orderly Officer, J.B. Morrison being Orderly Officer. The duties don't seem to be either onerous or difficult; and as far as I can gather they are mostly skipped. Morrison seems to be rather a conscientious cove, although it may have been partly for my benefit. I read most of the afternoon, and had to spend from 8 p.m. onward in the orderly room.
Church parade at 8:20. Mr. Bain again: he covered a large field in his sermon, from Homer upwards. After dinner at 21, to which place I am half thinking of not going back, we went to Biddenham - Capt. Ritson, Mr. Mortimer, George and I and had 18 holes. Ritson and I lost by one hole, a very close match and very enjoyable. George was in good form. A perfect evening.
We all had tea and supper in 26. George waited till roll-call. I am very sorry for him, he seems so sick of 21, where the gramophone is never quiet, unless it's to give the piano a chance.
Divisional sports, and thank goodness a fair and mild, if not a brilliant day. The sports were in the Grammar School grounds and attracted a huge crowd. The crowd, as far as fashion, etc. was considered, was very tame. There were 5th competitors in many of the events and we won the 100 yd (Goddard) and the officers relay race, besides being second in the tug of war and number of other events. All over we had second place, 21 points to 43 of the 8th Argyles. The latter carried off most of the heavy events. The dancing was a treat but the presence of three or 4 professionals knocked all the amateurs out.
After mess sat in the billet where Mr. and Mrs. Ritson, Mrs. Mortimer and her rather pretty niece Miss Monk had foregathered.
Divisional exercise today and a most disagreeable day at that. We marched out the Kempston and Ampthill road and effected a junction with another column which was on the Cotton End road in Wilshamstead Wood, from which we turned south and attacked the Gordons at Haynes Park. The attack went rather rapidly at the centre where we joined the 6th, and I rather foolishly joined in a premature assault which they made. As it was we were in a salient and would have been enfiladed, but thought the movement was general. I must be more careful in future.
"B" Coy's concert is on tonight, but I was told off for Brigade Inlying Picquet in Albert Terrace. After several attempts to quieten them the men have at last subsided and quietness reigns. I suspect they have been throwing lemonade bottles through the (closed) windows, but am not certain. I have just had to speak pretty plainly to some of them.
JBC spent the next few weeks at Golspie with the 2/5 Seaforth, during which time he made only one entry in the diary.
On 11 Apr 15 the Highland Division was warned to prepare to move to France. It arrived in France on 1 May 15 and shortly afterwards was retitled 51st (Highland) Division with the brigade became 152nd Brigade.
Jim Miller was wounded by shellfire on 19 May and evacuated to UK.
On 15 Jun 'C' Company, led by Capt Joe Robertson, took part in an attack on German trenches which failed in the face of machine-gun fire and uncut barbed wire. 2 officers and 33 other ranks were killed - many others were wounded. Among the dead were Sgt Ian M'Millan, Pte George Alexander and 2/Lt Donnie Dunnet. Capt Joe Robertson, Capt Joseph Ritson and Lt W A M'Donald were among the wounded.
Sergt-Maj Sutherland and three others won the Distinguished Conduct Medal bringing in the wounded under fire.
JBC's diary for 15 Jun simply says 'Battle of Festubert'
Shortly after Festubert JBC's mother received the following letter:
3472 "C" Coy
1st 5th Sea Hdrs
152nd Infantry Brig
51st (Highland) Division
B. E. France
Friday 25 June
Dear Mrs Cairnie,
You all must have got a great shock when the news of our casualties reached Thurso & especially when you heard of the loss of the two boys you know so well, I can well understand your feelings but I know one gets a great comfort in the knowledge that they have died the most noble and honourable deaths.
Thurso & Wick have suffered heavily as a result of the charge which shall never be forgot by any of the survivors.
Your parcel for poor George came here the other day and was handed to me & I saw by the card that I was meant to share it, I shared with several of the other boys here & let them know who it was for & who it was from.
I wrote a short note to Bruce the other day, poor Bruce will feel it terribly as George was always speaking about him & the rare times they used to have together especially in camp at Reay & I always knew by the way he spoke that they were the best of chums. I remember him say not very long ago that he was glad Bruce was not out here.
I'm not to say give any of the details of the attack as I've begun to hate speaking about it, one does not realise what chums really are till after they are gone beyond one's reach.
Nothing more at present, hoping this finds everyone in Thurso in good health.
Andrew B Sinclair
After the shock of 15 Jun 1915, 1/5 Seaforth remained in the front line until the 25th when they moved to rest billets at La Gorgue (about20Km east of Lille).
The need to replace battle casualties and the increasing numbers of officers required by battalions on active service meant a draft of officers was sent out from the 2/5th at Golspie. After a farewell dinner in the Sutherland Arms Hotel, Brora on the evening of 23 Jun 15 JBC left for France the next day.
Barnetson and I left Golspie at 6:30 a.m. Had a grand send off, all the officers and men of the battalion coming to the station to see us off. The journey wasn't exciting, as Barnetson isn't any more of a conversationalist than I, but very pleasant. Saw a number of friends in Edin. including Bob and Bessie. Left at 10:50 for London, having picked up Sutherland.
Breakfasted at the Strand Palace Hotel and after being photographed, at Lafayette’s, went and met Vane at Piccadilly. He is looking much better after his route-march to Cambridge. We shopped, and had lunch at the SPH - eleven of us, including five of us officers. Left Waterloo 2:55 p.m., and feeling in very good spirits all of us, but I think the women who are left behind are bravest of all.
Arrived Southampton about 6 p.m. and got our business done. Leaving tonight late by the Harve packet. A number of civilians crossing too.
On deck shortly before 8 a.m. No land in sight, but fine breezy sunny morning. Had breakfast and before we were finished we were inside Harve harbour.
Char-a-banc up to the Base Office from which we received orders to proceed Rouen same afternoon. Had a very enjoyable journey, not much sign of war here, but on the quays were piles of barbed wire and large numbers of transport waggons parked.
Arrived Rouen about 5:30 p.m. and after some difficulty found our way to the Hotel Angleterre where we found Nicolson and Paterson eating strawberries. Later went out to the Base Depot where we are to billet until further orders - in canvas shacks.
This being Sunday there way nothing very much doing in the way of drill. We went down to the town and wandered through the streets, visiting the market which was pretty well packed with country people. We (Barnetson, Suddy, Hamish and I) had some grub at a café - strawberries made up in some sickening sort of way. Saw the Cathedral and most of the older parts of the town, some of it fairly ancient and replete with carved arches and figures in all sorts of corners and attitudes. Had a decent dinner at a restaurant: Hamish inclined to get a bit uproarious. Nearly all the shops were shut. Sat in a café on the river front for a bit and then took the car out to the camp.
After breakfast we walked up to the pine wood about a mile along the road for a lecture by a young Captain who has evidently been out all winter. On the road, and on the sandy bit of plateau between it and the river infantry and cavalry were being drilled. The infantry were in some cases drafts newly come out, in others details, sick, etc. They were fairly getting it rubbed in and smartened up, but it was only for a few hours in the day.
In the evening we went down to Rouen, Finnie playing football on the way and generally conducting himself like a young child. Barney and he and I thought to go down the river on a steamer but missed it and put it off. We went and had dinner at the Café Normandie. The three of us climbed the chalk hill on the South? side of the town. It rises almost perpendicularly from the side of the river, of which and all the surrounding country especially to the West it commands a magnificent view.
The same programme today as yesterday but it came on rain so we returned to camp, when it cleared up. Harry Lauder's son has joined the camp. In the afternoon we had revolver shooting at which I was nothing patent. Went down to Rouen tonight again and in time to catch the steamer. We all got aboard and comfortably seated. Just as it was about to leave we sent Suddy to see when it would return. On finding it would come back tomorrow morning we bunked for the quay. Adjourned to the Café Normandie where we found Johnnie Paterson with the news that we are for the road tomorrow. So we had what we thought was to be our last civilised dinner - nothing now but bully beef and biscuits - and celebrated the occasion by having a good feed.
Packed up our stuff, and drew web equipment, etc. from the QM Stores. Left camp at 5 p.m. The train left at 7:45 p.m. On board are several drafts of men and a good number of officers. Had a fine view of Rouen when crossing the railway bridge, with the sunset in the background.
Didn't sleep very well last night, probably because of certain amount of une Slept from 10 to 8 a.m. although the train was jolting and bumping at a fearful rate. We got into Bethune in the afternoon and later detrained at La Gorgue.
Major Morrison met us three and conducted us to the transport train where we were entertained to tea by Major Sinclair and James Willie - under the greenwood tree. I was surprised to see the civil population evidently going about their work as usual and children sprawling in the gutter although they are within range of the German lines. Of course all the men are in uniform. The countryside is very flat, rather like some of Bedfordshire, but the crops are getting pretty high and make the country even more difficult. We went on later to the 'Reserve Trenches' in Rue Baceanot.
Breakfast at 8. The men are up at 5:30 but no parades are held. Rifle inspection at 9:30. I have No 4 Platoon with D. Morrison and Skinnie in it. There is nothing doing - sleep and eat all day and this being Maj M'Millan's birthday we did the latter very well. Went over to 'C' Coy in the forenoon and found Addie, Deuchart and the rest wonderfully hearty. We had a tea party in honour of the Major's birthday, although I think he supplied most of the eatables.
Before tea I went up to the firing line and had the first experience of being near shrapnel. Up there it is very quiet and everybody is very comfortable. The trench is of the nature of a redoubt, built of sandbags, over which it is almost certain death to stick your head in daylight. The enemy snipers are very good. I found Adam very happy, in one of the dug-outs.
IN THE TRENCHES
Some of our batteries were going it strong last night although there was little reply to them. They kept us awake a bit. Went up to the fire trench with Major M'Millan and 6th Sea officer and had a good look over the part we are to occupy. It consists mainly of an old Brit communication trench running at right angles to remainder of our line, joining us up with the A&SHs who are further advanced. From this communication trench, several redoubts have been built at right angles. These we have to hold. Seemingly the Germans gave it to them pretty hot last night with shrapnel and high explosive. They got one of the latter into a fort and smashed a dug-out, the two men inside having miraculous escapes. I found Adam, again as happy as ever, exploring the inside of his kilt for 'Scots Greys' which are very abundant here. After dinner I slept and in the evening got my things ready for going into the trenches. This we did after dusk and I got my platoon in without difficulty, but of course this part is very easy indeed to relieve. We took over and No. 4 Platoon was told off to the reserve trenches.
No. 4 had to furnish visiting patrols and listening patrol as well. I was rather afraid of the latter but found it quite a simple affair as we didn't go out far. The night was splendid and beyond desultory rifle fire there was nothing doing. No casualties in the battalion. Turned in at 3 a.m. and slept till six. After breakfast wrote a few letters and Adam came along to my dug-out. Am very comfortable. Wrote home in the afternoon and slept a bit.
Quite a quiet day and little doing. Explored the ground just in front of the Sally Port for a sniping post along with Major M'Millan. It is a great thing to be serving under him. No 4 Platoon moved up to take over the two redoubts this evening. It promises to be more exciting work. Stayed in Z until after stand-to. Nothing much doing. There are 16 Argyle bomb-throwers in Z as well as two sections of my own.
A fine morning. Had to wait on after stand-to (3 a.m.) in case the Briggie comes along. Shaved, breakfasted and to bed. The redoubts were shelled while I slept and one high explosive landed just behind the parados beside the bomb supply. Fortunately they didn't explode. The can get a perfect enfilade on the redoubts so we are going to strengthen the traverses. I went up in the forenoon and underwent the next part of the bombardment which was not so trying as I expected. However the shells weren't coming within 50 yards but the splints sang and hummed overhead. I got one wee bit on the leg but only a scratch. It is shrapnel that plays the mischief as regards splinters.
At night again the fun started but Y got it worst. I don't know how they hadn't some casualties. Fortunately a lot of the shells didn't explode - duds. Later the Bosches started rapid fire, having spotted a work party of Argyles so we had a hot time, the bullets going cracking overhead. I wasn't excited, but it took some nerve to put my head above the parapet. The Argyles who were with us were a great asset. Donnie Morrison is a very useful and willing man. I'm glad to have him.
Stayed in Z Redoubt until after seven a.m. when I came down to HQ and got shaved. It was a pretty quiet day as far as the redoubts were concerned although they have been searching again for the sap head. In the afternoon there was fairly heavy bombardment of the rest of the line but no damage was done. Finlayson took over the redoubts at 8:30 p.m. and I moved my platoon down to the parapet opposite HQ. Am now fine and near the dug-out and more in the centre of things. Turned in at 11:30 p.m. so as to be able to relieve Finlayson at 3 a.m. I hear there was pretty heavy firing after I went to bed but never a thing did I hear.
Finlayson called me at 3 a.m. but as things were quiet I didn't get up till after 4. Went round the redoubts, shaved and had breakfast. Pte W Reid of my platoon was shot through the side while working behind the parapet. He died shortly afterwards. We thought at first it might have been an accident by a couple of Argyle snipers behind, but as another two bullets have come into same spot, I am pretty sure it is a German sniper. We hunted round behind for him unsuccessfully, but they are devilishly cunning.
Slept in the afternoon, censored some letters and went along the line to see Addie. I never feel as sad as when I see poor old Addie's face. I believe 'C' would put up a desperate fight but their spirit is clean gone at present.
Went out on reconnoitring patrol about 11 a.m. with Sgt J Fraser and a man. Were out for at least an hour and a half but didn't see or hear anything. I was quite nervous and 'chattery' before going out but soon settled down once I was there. We got out a good bit. Went to bed at 1:20 a.m. The Germans have been sending over some big shells today and trench mortars. They are getting onto our new communication trench.
Wakened by Finlayson at 3 a.m. All quiet. Some trench mortars came over about breakfast time but did no damage. Lay in a ruined cottage for a couple of hours with my corporal to see if that sniper would come out, but no luck. Shells began to come over so we had to shift. Went out with Finnie and C. Serg. Major Miller and got some shell fuses belonging behind the lines.
Were relieved at 9:30 by incoming Bde. Nasty jamb getting men in as they had far more than us. If the Germans had sent over some well aimed trench mortars they would have done tremendous execution but they were unaccountably quiet and probably being relieved themselves. Got down to the far end of Laventie without mishap although one bullet made the skin of my back creep. The men got tea and were led to their billets. Then we got to ours and had a grand supper with fried eggs, etc. in the Café Aux Voyageurs. Turned in at 1 p.m.
Breakfast about 8 a.m. - ham and eggs, sausages, tea, etc quite a good affair, with Steven D in attendance. Company parade at 11 a.m. for inspection by C.O. - rifles, bayonets, shaving, etc. The Colonel was unconsciously particular, as if men carried burnishers in their kit. Slept in the afternoon and wandered down town in the evening with little Willie. Rather colder today. A few shells falling not far away, watched apathetically by the remaining inhabitants from their door-steps.
Nearly slept in. Had to attend bomb school at 9 a.m. for a few days course, but found the instructor had also overslept. Rather old again: a quiet Sunday morning. Walked into Estaires with Howie in the afternoon and had a bath and a good dinner for 3 francs. It was great to get clean again. Got home at 9:15 and found letters and parcels, including a very nice letter from May and cakes, etc from home. Fags from DeCain [?]
Went bombing this morning and threw some live Bethune bombs. Rather nervy work at first. Slept and wrote May in the afternoon. Big pile of letter to censor. Black and Stalker arrived this afternoon Black to A Coy, Stalker to B.
Put of a lot of rifle grenades - saw a display with trench mortars by Blake - horrid affair.
Took my platoon into Estaires for a bath and had one myself, along with Blackie. Fine clean feeling afterwards. This is the first hot bath the battalion has had since coming out, so they must have needed it. Had to up to the trenches on fatigue - Black too and it was his first time in the firing line. It was a splashing wet night and everybody got soaked. Had to lead along about 300 yards of newly dug, narrow trench in pitch darkness. Worked from 11 to 1:30 a.m. although the spades wouldn't lift anything - or wouldn't let it down again. Wonder we had no casualties - we are always lucky or is it cautious? Got back about 3 a.m., the latter part being dry.15-Jul-15
Slept till dinner time. Went up to relieve the 7th Gordons at night. Trenches seemed very strange the first night, getting into them in almost inky darkness. Everyone stood to till dawn, as Major M'Millan believes in doing so the first night.
Up at dawn - fine bright morning. Black and I slept spent most of the afternoon potting at a German with the periscope rifle but didn't get him. I saw his head and shoulders - my first German. Two or three times it struck me this was Sunday, but it was hard to remember. It's just like any other day, only the Germans usually send over a few more shells than usual.
In the evening, during Church time at home, I lay and 'imagined' the organ and service. We seem very near home.
Another grand day and just the usual routine of the trenches. Went out at night with L/Cpl Sinclair reconnoitering and was out for 2 hours, looking for disused trenches along our front. Got back about 12 and found the Major getting anxious.
Up at 3 and found Blackie waiting for me to make tea which we did. Grand morning. After breakfast Finlayson and I took bearings for 3 fixed rifles to sweep roads behind German lines. Loopholes are to be built tonight. Both sides were very quiet today, the Germans can be seen carrying long poles through their trenches.
Went along to see 'C' Coy tonight. Addie in good form and more cheerful than usual. I hear from the sergeants that George was simply splendid and willing to do anything. A lovely sunset tonight - great long fiery clouds stretching over the West and overhead and giving everything a fine glow. Overhead several aeroplanes - they usually come at dawn or in the evening. Turned in about 10:30.
We leave the trenches tonight so most of the day is spent in cleaning up, etc. It is always a wearisome day when we are going out as there is no outgoing mail and therefore no incentive to write. We were relieved by the Indian Division - a regiment of Sikhs relieved the 5th. They were very quiet about is and weird looking. I'ld rather fight with them than against. It started raining just about 10 p.m. and rained steadily till we got to Merville about 3:30 a.m. Had to stand an hour and a half on the other side Laventie for D Coy which did not turn up even then. Were pretty well soaked. We are out this time without a single casualty in 'A' Coy.
Rose and breakfasted about 12 midday. Felt rather washed out, as if I had been at a dance last night. Allan had a birthday party which was a great success, especially the smoking concert which followed. Paterson and Dannie were in great form. A perfect, moonlight night.
Inspection by OC at 10 a.m. - rifle inspection. He was in better cut today. Went into Merville after that and again after dinner. Tried to get a bath but there are only 2 in the town and not accessible. The population wash in the river. Had champagne in the Hotel de Ville, to celebrate Barnetson's gazette.
Church Service at headquarters this forenoon. Rev. M'Farlane still hammering away at the Kaiser: the sniping pretty rotten. Meeting of officers at Bde HQ in afternoon addressed by Brigadier, revising lessons learned by 3 months experience. I hope he has learned his lesson. Had to go into La Gorgue to find road to station and did so on the Major's nag. Went to bed at 8:30 p.m., at least lay down on it, and wakened at 8:30 by Steven D.
ON THE SOMME
In mid July the 51st (Highland) Division moved to the Somme region and took over a section of the front line from the French. This was a 'quiet' sector where the division could continue to train. 'Quiet' is relative, but in 1915 the name 'Somme' carried none of the implications that it would gain after the battles of Jul - Nov 1916.
The battalion remained in this area until late 1916, mostly occupying positions on the River Ancre just north of Albert.
Marched to La Gorgue station, leaving Merville about 5 a.m. It was raining for the first bit but the sun came out and dried me. Got aboard - 30 men in each truck and officers in 1st and a few in 3rd class carriages. Rather a bumpy journey but not too fast to make the bumps uncomfortable. We made a big detour, round by Calais and Abbeville to Amiens. At Calais we drew up alongside a buffet run by English girls. After Calais we ran along the coast and then up the valley of the Somme, the country improving every mile. Arrived Corbie about 10 p.m. and marched 4 miles under a full moon up to the Amiens - Albert road. Out billets were at Pont Noyelles.
Rose late. Had a bathe in a burn with Black and Finlayson. The water is clean and wholesome, quite unlike what we have seen up north. Concert by 'A' and 'B' Coys at the Girls Seminary. Piano on the steps at front door and men standing or sitting round below the trees. Perfect night.
Reviewed today by General Munro, Commanding 3rd Army. Concert tonight by officers. Great success. Finnie sang splendidly. Another perfect night. Conversazione of officers afterwards in 'B' Coy headquarters, and one of the men doing 'Imitations'.
Drill in forenoon - handling arms, and also bathing parade. Sun very warm. Lot of Kitcheners passed through today. We expected to move today too but cancelled. This is a lovely little village.
Handling of arms and swim in the morning. Marched off at 5 p.m. for new billets up nearer the firing line. Rather warm to begin with but cooled down as the sun set and after that had a glorious march. Tea under the trees at the roadside. Then on till 11:30. Some of the men were pretty well /----/ up with soft feet. Got to bed about 12, in an old stable which had been used as French Hospital. Straw beds and rather lively. Rose very itchy.
Difficult to get good water here - the stuff we washed in was full of H2S. Hence late breakfast. Port wine under the trees in the Chateau garden until some of them were beginning to get merry. Paraded at 5 p.m. and marched down into the little valley: the air very thick and close. Through the wood d'Aveluy, to the ville d'Authuille. My platoon told off to a detached post on the railway which I took over from a gesticulating Frenchman with the aid of an interpreter. Very comfortable little place, especially the quartiers du Commandant.
Dined with the latter gentleman and 3 regular officers in a shanty below the bridge. My French very weak. Went round the post about 11 p.m. and found everything OK and the men fraternising splendidly with the French Johnnies.
Nothing worth noting down in the past week. I have been on this post all the time. We did some work during the day - clearing the wood in front of Mound Keep and cleaning up the trenches. At night of course the sentries were on and I had to make a tour of these with the sergeant.
The weather has not been too good - fair amount of rain and drizzle, but I have been very comfortable in the hut below the bridge, with first a Somerset and then a Hampshire officer as company. I messed in Authuille along with the rest of 'A' and 'B', otherwise I spent all my time here.
Have read 'Captain Maigaret' this week and written a few letters. The time passes very quickly.
A fine quiet day, quite Sunday like. Had a glorious bathe, or rather bath in the burn this morning. Afterwards read Study in Scarlet.
Having been living very much in the past, dallying with old memories, but keeping out the later tragic ones. Think it's good occasionally to just take a good look back.
Moist warm day. Too lazy to do any work or to see that the men did any. Glad we're not in the Dardanelles. Have started having rifle inspection every morning and section commanders have one at night. The Bosches are beginning to send over a good many bullets our way so I have altered the route to Authuille, making it exactly the same the French had it. Had a very heavy downpour of rain tonight and a great deal of vivid blue lightening. It was so wet that I didn't visit all the sentries.
Thick and misty this morning - no improvement after the thunder. Put the men on to clear out the trenches which are rather muddy. Felt more energetic in the afternoon and wrote two letters. A and B have a joint mess but I don't think it would be well to continue it always. The Bosches are beginning to send over shrapnel occasionally now, and two landed up in the wood tonight not far from one of my groups. Probably there is too much movement in the wood.
Another good day. Had a good view of the firing line from trenches on the valley side behind us. The Chateau of Thiepval isn't much of a place now. Had some shrapnel into Authuille tonight and some of us had a rather narrow shave. Argyles had one killed and 1 wounded at the river. A lot of our men there too. We are always very lucky.
Germany has offered peace to Russia but she has declined. British have taken 1200 yards of trench at Hooge, but it will be only a very local and probably extremely costly success.
The Argyles were relieved by the Indian Cavalry Division. These have been in the trenches only about 48 hours since they came out in December. Rather funny to see them losing their companies in the darkness and as I couldn't make myself understood to them I had a bit of a job.
The officers of the ICD came round today - half a dozen majors and captains with note-books all asking questions. Discovered Leslie who used to be in Chem T among them. He didn't seem to relish the reminiscences so I left him alone. I handed over to an officer of the Iniskillings at 6 p.m. I was only sorry I couldn't wait to hear about India from him. He says 'It's a fine country to go on leave in'.
Battalion formed up in Bois d'Aveluy and when it got dusk, took the road through Albert and got to Buire-sur-l'Ancre about 11 p.m. No billets for us officers but it was a fine night, and we got our valises under a tree, Blacko and I and were soon asleep.
A fresh awakening this morning: got up about 8 and shaved and washed. Breakfast in a hired room, and later on Murray got us two nice bedrooms next door to BHQ. The village we are in has not been touched by the war, so that we are rid for the time being of the depressing sights of roofless houses. The inhabitants are all in situ.
The newly joined subs paraded under the Sergeant-Major in transport lines and submitted to public degradation - right turns by numbers. Great indignation, especially on Freegard's part.
Drill in the forenoon. After tea had a walk by myself up to the main road and back by Ribermont. Read Gray's Elegy on the way and much of it that was meaningless before was quite clear. Lovely evening.
Drill in the forenoon beside the river and after dinner walked over to Bresle to a gas demonstration. In the evening had a stroll up above the village through the cornfields.
Football match between men and officers tonight but had to stop in the middle as the ball burst.
The forenoon was spent mostly in spraying respirators and smoke helmets, and also, on my part, in packing my valise. Left shortly after 3 p.m. for the trenches. Had to hoof it with full pack, and left myself just rather too little time. However the Major and Dunvegan, coming behind on horseback were late.
Went by Dernancourt to Moulin du Vivier (Bde H.Q.) and through Albert up to Becourt (Bat. H.Q.) and so up to the fire-trench. We are taking over from 'A', 7th Gordons. Had supper and a look round the trenches. Turned in till 4 a.m.
Up at 4 a.m. and had breakfast. Another look round and then started back to Buire where I arrived at 8.30 and had brekker. Battn. paraded at 6 p.m. At M. du Vivier I was sent back to Buire for the 1/4 guard but managed a byke from Captn. D. Sutherland, and met the guard coming along with transport. Got into the fire trench about 4 o'clock, pretty tired, so turned in.
Had a bathe this morning and found myself 'lowsy' in the extreme in spite of my mouslin shirt.
Had a 'snackie' at 4 a.m. Very quiet day, which I spent mainly in fitting up a dug-out for myself. I have put up a swinging hammock which won't be so likely to harbour vermin and have partially latticed the doorway which at present is rather open.
Great draw back to these trenches is the lack of proper water supply. All drinking water comes up in water carts at night to B.H.Q. and has to be fetched from there in jars, bottles, tins, etc, by roundabout way. Same with grub and ammunition.
This early breakfast is a good idea and gives a sound basis for beginning the day on. Up at 4 a.m. and spent the morning in making a sketch map of my trenches. The front line is held very lightly and think the Germans do the same. A good system of communication trenches leads up to the fire trench and the dug-outs are mainly in the support line. A platoon of Kitcheners (7th Beds) is coming up tonight for instruction. Turned in after stand-to.
Splosh wakened me this morning at 4. Evidently there was a mix up last night and he was on by himself with the Beds subaltern. I turned out and had a belated breakfast at 5. 'K's Chaps' had turned in. Saw them at breakfast time. They are nice [or mice ?] like fellows and ours get on with them all right. In some places there has been some friction between K's and Terriers, but not here. They took over all my part of the line after stand-to at 8 p.m. so I withdrew all my men except 4 sentries.
It was 5 before I was up this morning owing to some mistake. Another splendid day, and very quiet. The Germans have been busy opposite us these last nights and are sandbagging their trenches. They have the advantage of us in being on the top of the hill. We can't see their support trenches but they can see ours and down to B.H.Q. as well. In the early morning with the sun behind them they have a big advantage in light too, and I wonder they don't do more sniping.
Spent most of the forenoon in the observation post getting to know their line. Wrote in the afternoon. The evenings are short after tea now. Stand-to is about 7.30 p.m.
The Russians have had a naval victory in the Gulf of Riga.
We have been sandbagging the parapet for the last few days to keep the chalk from falling into the trenches. We have made no loopholes here. Kitchener's platoon went out last night and were replaced by another of the same battalion. They were spread over all the line, a section to a platoon. We put one of our men to two of theirs for instructional purposes, but I think the instruction mostly took the form of tall tales about 'The Orchard'.
I was on all night and had much trouble in keeping some of the men alert. The 8 hour shift is rather long I think as there are so many fatigues by day.
Splosh singing Harry Lauder in the Mess. He is rather like D.B. except that he can carry a tune.
Got to bed about 5 a.m. Rose for breakfast at 8, and went back till dinner time. Wrote in afternoon, and made a sketch of German lines showing loopholes. Think it may be of some use to the men.
Another glorious day - not a drop of rain since we came in to trenches. Had a wash and a shave in a bowl: also a hunt and got one of each variety so I'm proving. But I'm very itchy. Turned in about 9.30 p.m. Finnie and two Beds' officers are on till 4 a.m.
Splosh got rather a setback tonight when playing the veteran up among the Queens. The Major gave him rather a hard time when he came back.
Another fine day, but rather close. Saw two Huns through the periscope and had a pot at them. In the evening started putting up a loophole, which took from 7 till 11 p.m. to finish and it was pouring rain most of the time. No. 4 has very good Lance Corpls, only they do too much work themselves. Seaman and Skinner helped me with the loophole.
Soaked through by the time were done and the trenches were very bad with water lying in them. Wakened Splosh at 12:40 a.m. and turned in after setting my things to dry all round the dugout
Had quite a comfortable sleep considering. Got up at breakfast time. The loophole is a wee bit low but may do.
My pocketbook was brought in at 6 a.m. badly mauled, having been extricated from the debris we threw down last night. Got the things separated out and photos washed, but they won't be quite as good as before. Fortunately it was dry and hot this morning so I got most of my things dried. The trenches wanted a lot of cleaning up, and require some more thorough method of draining.
Up at 4 a.m., clear and cold as usually in the mornings now. The loophole is a bit improved, but all the wire isn't yet cleared away. Artillery tried to get onto a machine gun emplacement, but were far out. Evidently the map is not accurate, or else their shooting is very poor, and the seldom will send up an observation officer.
Black and I on duty at night. It was very cold and we stayed in the mess most of the time, alternately sleeping and writing. Took occasional turns along the line, and tried to locate the underground sounds. We think they must be from some dug-out, or from the trench itself. It hardly seems possible they would drive a mine 350 yards when the lines are much closer elsewhere. Still there must be some explanation of these very high mounds they have thrown up. They can't be from any ordinary trench work.
Wee Willie slept in my bed till 4 a.m. when we all had breakfast, and fed also Fishy, Stalk and Nic. Thank goodness they kept off Golspie for once.
Rose for dinner. Very little doing today. Had a few shots through the loophole, but the earth has been too damp lately for observation to be easy. Sandbags are at an end, so there isn't much work to be done.
The Major was testing the artillery on a point today, and found it took ten minutes for them to open fire, which is rather too long.
'Stand-to' is shortly after 7 p.m. now. It was very quiet last night.
Wakened at 4 a.m. by Finnie. Cold, clear morning. I hadn't been in the fire trench a minute when a boy Graham was shot through the head. Death was instantaneous. It was hard luck, on our last morning too. We hardly realise how near death is, and yet it doesn't awe us somehow. You feel that the body isn't everything, and yet there's nothing religious about the thought. We buried him at 10:30, in a grave dug by his companions. One of the burying party was hit with shrapnel, on the leg, while returning.
In the afternoon the 7th Gordons officers came up to take over, so we had a large party at tea. It began to rain in the afternoon and the trenches were soon in a great muck. It is always wearisome waiting for the reliefs, and tonight they didn't arrive till 11:30 p.m. They were too smart to need guides so lost their way.
We got down to the foot of hill 106 after plootering through the mud. Some platoons came down the road, but I didn't care to take that responsibility. The moon was high by this time, and we had a good march in although the tail straggled a little at first and I had to leave three men behind. Arrived at Buire as 3 a.m. and found Murray waiting for us. We subs of 'A' are billeted in the mayor's house and have bed between two.
‘Rest’ for infantry units out of the line was not really an accurate description of what happened. It was more a matter of continual fatigues in the trenches and rear areas.
Wakened at 11:15 by Ross, who reported breakfast ready. Rose with that 'after the ball' feeling which we always have the night after coming out. It was drizzling in the forenoon but I went for a wash and a bathe. Met Adam who seemed to acquiesce in his engagement.
Had a letter from Daisy re rose bowl which appears to have given satisfaction. Dinner and tea at 5 p.m. Had a walk up to the high road in the twilight.
Parade at 9:30. Blackie, Finnie and I. We had inspection and physical exercises. Rather cold and raw - too cold for a bathe. Football match at 3 p.m. between right and left halves of company. Very enjoyable, but not good football: one fellow got his ankle broken. Very wet tonight. Fatigue party of 150 men up at Bouzincourt all day, Splosh with them. This is Daisy's wedding day. Long life and happiness to her and her husband.
No parade this forenoon as another fatigue party of 150 left at 7 a.m. with Finnie etc. Wrote Bob in the garden. It was a fine forenoon, but wind is getting cold.
Left with party of 200 men at 5:30 p.m. for Albert. We worked on communication trench which leads up to La Boisselle. Line was pretty quiet, except for some heavy explosions - heavy shells and trench mortars. Just a few stray bullets near us. Fortunately it was a grand night, although not too warm. We got back at 2:30 a.m. after a fine march.
Brekker at 8 a.m. I though to have a fine quiet Sunday and get some letters written, but about 11 o'clock word came that the battn was to shift quarters to Henencourt. This necessitated the fatigue party of 300 men going in full marching order. We packed up after dinner and left at 4 p.m.
Arrived at our new billets after a very warm but short march. The new place isn't nearly so comfortable as Buire, but the air is brisker. Finnie and I have a nice room upstairs, with a motherly old wife to take an interest in us. Had tea at 8 p.m., "and so to bed". Some pears I carried in my haversack today have mucked up my diary, which is rather a humbug.
Up at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast and fatigues. Left with 300 men and 6 officers for second line trenches between Albert and Bouzincourt. Very fine morning, the air and the pipes and everything reminded me of Bedford, in fact the difficulty is to realize we are behind the firing line. The country is splendid and the harvest ready for carting home. The women, children and old men do the work, mostly early morning, and evening. Worked till after 12 and got back 2:30 p.m. The men very tired, and not fit to work well. There are far too many fatigues here, and always a long march before and after.
Had a rest in the afternoon and after tea wrote and went for a stroll. Singing in B Coys tonight, also a case of O.P. Didn't go down.
Lovely day again. I was to have gone on fatigue this forenoon but it was cancelled so we had a bit of a rest, but not altogether undisturbed as there was a 'non-surprise' alarm at 4:30 p.m. The battalion turned out pretty smart, even considering they were expecting it; I don't see what good it did - so much 'eye-wash' no doubt.
After tea, went for a stroll up into the corn fields and wrote to May: A glorious sunset. The nights are splendid just now.
Breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and left before eight for work on the second line defences near Bouzincourt. Capt M'Leod in charge of party. We took rather a round about way going, and in trying to take a short cut coming back we ran up against the wire near Millencourt and had to make a big detour to get round. It was a fair scorcher of a day, and we were glad of any shade to be got from trees on the wayside, but that was not much. We got in at 2 p.m.
Spent the afternoon in my sleeping bag reading and sleeping. After tea went down to Buire on the Major's horse.
Splendid day again. Breakfast at 8 a.m., as the fatigue part wasn't in till about 3 a.m. Another left at noon, so dinner was at 11. Many who were on last night were on again today. The men are getting footsore.
Lay in most of the day, as I am rather stiff and have a bit of a cold coming on. Worked after tea at Fortnum and Mason's accounts with Murray, trying to get them squared off but there are several difficulties. We tackled it again with the help of the Major after they came back but with no greater success. It can only be a very approximate allocation.
Breakfast at 8 a.m. Another splendid day with more air. No fatigue today, but had an inspection parade, under platoon arrangements. Some of the equipment very badly put on. Rifles are usually well kept with the exception of one or two - including Skinnie.
Right half company played left half this afternoon, resulting in a win for latter by 1-0. Finnie and I played for left half, and Blacko, in a flimsy costume and identity disc played for right. There was too much temper in it, especially on old Stewart's part. The refereeing was strict to excess. Very good game all the same, and although I fell absolutely pegged out I believe it has done my cold good.
Laurie [?] has gone away with some skin trouble, and don't expect he will come back. Watson away to hospital again, this time with his eyes.
BACK INTO THE LINE
Rifle inspection as usual. Billets had to be cleaned up in the afternoon: have always to keep nagging at this job. Teas at 3:30. Marched off at 5 p.m. No. 4 platoon leading.
The day had been very hot but it was a grand evening for marching, although road very dusty. They were taking in the harvest along the roadside, and away in the distance beyond Albert, the white lines of the trenches could be seen. Got to the rendezvous, on the other side of the town, at dusk and were met by the guides who led us up. The communication trench up to the Chateau has been much improved and drainage arrangements are much better. Still I thought we would never get up to the top: and beyond the Chateau we had about as far to go again. We were posted by about 10 o'clock. Turned in till 4 a.m.
Wakened at 4 a.m. and went on duty with Blackie. Splendid morning, the trench especially what is held by No. 4, is in a bad state of repair. We vary from about 200 yards to 100 yards from Germans. Pretty quiet all day - a few trench mortars on the left.
One of the Neats in No. 2 was shot through the head while looking over the parapet through his telescope. He was always too daring. His brother was very much cut up.
We are working one officer in firing line here, as we have a small frontage. I was on at night from 10 to 1 so had a decent sleep.
Breakfast was a bit late as 'C' Coy is not strong enough for all the fatigues. Poor old 'C' they don't get much consideration -some think too much including Howie.
Got a fatigue party on to sandbagging the trench. There's a tremendous lot of work to be done before the trench will be suitable for winter. Carried on in the afternoon, but had to chuck it when trench mortars started coming over. They were dropping all along our line in No. 4. Fortunately it is possible to see them coming. They came from the left, but weren't of the large type. They were just like Bethune bombs, and turned over and over making a whistling noise which rapidly mounted in strength till it was like an express train coming up. Sometimes the bombs lay for a few seconds but usually they burst immediately they reached the ground. They sent over a lot of rifle grenades.
On duty from 1 to 4 and got in about 10 hours sleep, in spite of Blackie's snoring. No work done on the trench this morning. About 11 o'clock the Germans blew up one of our mines and a number of men of the R.E. were gassed. One officer and three men or so were done for. Some Argyles who assisted at the top of the shaft were the worse of the gas too.
We took over the left sector of the line at 4 o'clock, changing over with 'D' Coy. A lot of trench mortars came over just at that time but did no damage. No. 1 platoon lost a Melvich boy at tea-time - shot through the parapet and Argyle working party had two killed and 5 wounded at night by a trench mortar.
And after all we are just holding on and doing no good. Our sentries in the front line are sitting in little holes in the parapet, neither observing nor firing and the Germans are firing our own mines. Everybody talks in whispers and walks on tiptoe.
Was on duty from midnight until six. Sat in the dugout and read all the time. Quiet night and no casualties in the Coy. Was round the front line with Blackie. The right is worse than the left. The men are mostly pretty cheery about it, but some are very shaky. We heard today that the big push is to start tomorrow - combined movement by the British and French. That explains the heavy cannonading we have been hearing for the day or two, to our right and left, mainly left. We are evidently not to be in the first push.
A bombing party were sent out tonight to try to jigger up one of the German mines. They threw some bombs and got back safely but whether they accomplished anything or not we don't know. We had some hefty trench mortars and rifle grenades back by way of reaction, some of the Bolton boys got badly shaken but nothing worse happened.
Sat in the dug out reading and writing till 5a.m. but the atmosphere was stifling and the flies a torment, so I had to get out occasionally. A misty night. Some of the men were a bit nervy, and one of my posts had 'retired' before a series of mortar bombs and rifle grenades. We could see the trench mortars coming quite well with a tail of sparks behind. No casualties.
In the afternoon our artillery bombarded the enemy's trenches and tried to demolish the craters between the lines. They fired about 12 huge explosives (2 duds). The company was withdrawn to the reserve line - fortunately as some of the shells were short and made a dickens of a mess of our own trench. The result was that we had to put on fatigue parties to build up and clear our own trenches after our own guns.
So hot in the dug-out that I sat outside the door all night, among the rats. Finally lay down and slept for an hour. Very quiet all night.
Had to get the trenches cleared up today to hand them over clean, and must say Kitchener's men are getting them in a much cleaner state than we did. As usual had a tiresome afternoon, but finally the relief arrived before we were quite expecting them. Before I got mine out the trench mortars started and we had rather a hot time. Still, no casualties occurred. After jamming in the trench for a long time we got down to and through Albert, and once over the rise we sat down, glad to be out and on top of the ground. The men were in good spirits and sang a good deal which is unusual at such a time.
Arrived Henencourt at 10 p.m. fairly well fagged out, and made a bee-line for Splosh and Blackie's estaminet where we had a couple of bottles of champagne: then a cup of tea as we had sent the cooks on ahead. Then to bed.
Breakfast at 10. At 11 marched down to Buire for a wash and a bathe. Very hot and dusty. Had a good bathe. Adjourned to the Pharmacie and helped Splosh with a bottle of Bass. Got back to Buire at 4 and had dinner - Macconochie, and roasted apples. Nothing doing tonight. Had stroll in the moonlight.
Another very hot day. Orderly officer today, which I discovered only ten minutes before time for guard-mounting. Company inspected by C.O. in the afternoon and pronounced very good. Don't know what makes them take that badgering tone with the men. Perhaps it's modesty, but I think if Davidson told them they had done well in the trenches they would think more of themselves and of him too.
Church parade at 6 p.m., Herbert Reid preaching on "This Gospel". I walked back to Millencourt with him. He has opened a dry canteen there and sells at home prices. He is in his element there. Had great argument with Murray and Moy Hall tonight about God and the War, Marriage, etc. and as a consequence felt very restless tonight.
Breakfast 6 a.m. To Bouzincourt at 7:15 with fatigue party. Perfect day with a nip in the air. Large fatigue party out, and part of it (Argyles) was spotted and had to quit. Finnie's new job is to take him from us for a bit and he has given up his platoon. James Willie is Divisional Transport Officer. Got a few letters written and am now trying to square up the Mess accounts but it strikes me that somehow I'm running this on my own money.
Lord Kitchener inspected us this afternoon before we went into the trenches. He was very red in the face, and the fellows said worried looking. We marched straight off after the inspection (3:30 p.m.) to Aveluy, passing through Albert which had just been shelled: the side of a house was lying across the street. Got into our quarters in the Bois d'Authuille about 7 p.m. Had a late supper as we had some trouble with the mess cart.
Breakfast at 8 a.m. We have a splendid mess with a pergola and verandah outside. This is my birthday and a splendid day too. Splosh and I made a set of chessmen out of cardboard and had a game. We haven't managed a wash today - in fact it has been a very lazy day.
My birthday cake hasn't arrived yet and I'm afraid Mother will be much disappointed when she knows. Still we managed a first class tea with sardines, queen-cakes, currant buns, etc. and later in the evening champagne. We had a fire in the mess and were very nice and cozy. Finnie is grubbing with D Coy to be near H.Q.s.
Rather dull and sultry today. Nothing doing all day, except smoking and eating sweeties. After tea, had to go over to Head Qrs. and see to the digging of some dummy trenches. Thunderstorm came on and the men got soaked so they worked hard. The guns have been going it strong today, making a great din in the trees and I hear that La Boisselle has been heavily bombarded by us.
Freegard had a narrow escape last night. Went out with an Argyle officer to take in a flag which the Germans had planted before our line. There was a bomb attached to the stick, and it exploded and killed the other officer. Machine guns were turned on them then.
Still raining this morning: the woods were soaking and the road and paths all turned to mud. After breakfast we lit a wood fire in the Mess, and played Bridge till dinner.
Was up at the 6th Seaforth lines with party in the afternoon but didn't wait. The Brigadier is afraid the Germans have gone back as things are very quiet so he wanted Nicolson to take a patrol out in daylight. There is still some rifle fire coming over and a few pip-squeaks. They will likely leave a few machine guns in their front trench up to the very last. Our guns have been giving it to them very hot all day, and the wood has been echoing with the reports.
Gid and Harper in to tea which was rather a spread with sardines and tomato sauce, apple tarts and seed cake.
Raining hard all night, and most of the day. Had a fatigue party up to 6th Seaforths, building parapet. 'Davit' in to dinner and tea. He is always so cheery.
Sat in all afternoon and evening with a big wood fire. Our guns have been going strong most of the day and the Germans lying dogo mostly. Good news today. We have broken through on the North. The Germans here are a bit jumpy, and the 6th gave then a bit rapid and a cheer at 'Stand to', which brought a brisk reply.
Finished up the evening with a great argument in the mess, ending up on evolution which the Major strongly opposes.
Rather a better day. Got the dugouts cleaned up. Were relieved at 5 p.m. and just after my platoon got clear, some pip-squeaks came over and Black's lot had rather a narrow shave. Nobody hit. The road in the wood was very bad, but once we got onto the high road it was grand. Company formed up on the other side of Albert. From there we had the pipes, and the moon came up. There's no time like the march to billets.
Got up at about 8:30 a.m. The men were payed in the forenoon, getting only 5 Fr. each, with which they were rather dissatisfied. There was a good deal of drink going at night and rows in several estaminets. Tube helmet parade before dinner.
Cold and raw. Inspection by new Divisional General (Harper) as 2:30 p.m., Allason having gone home in bad health. Very cold standing on parade. Short route march followed, round by Bresle and Baizieux. Got in to tea about six, and had a good spread.
Rather a nasty day. Battn did an attack on Millencourt. 'A' Coy formed the firing line. Funny that although the men have all been under fire they wouldn't get down on their stomachs any better than at Bedford, and movement was pretty slow: it made the thing seem very unreal. Wrote letter all afternoon and at 8 p.m. was detailed to report to Martinsart at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Left Henencourt after an early breakfast for Martinsart, along with Nicolson, to take over at Authuille. Howie and Barnetson came over on horseback. Arrived at Authuille via Martinsart and Bois d'Aveluy about 10 a.m. There was a bit of a mix up when the Battalion arrived owing to 'misunderstanding'. Half of 'A' messing with 'D' Coy in the old estaminet. The Major, Murray and I sleeping in the cellar behind the bar, which has been turned into a comfortable bedroom with two beds. Black and Splosh have gone over to the post on the railway, where there are now two platoons. The other two are in the dug-out down below the river bank.
As we came along by Bouzincourt this morning we saw a German aeroplane brought down by a Britisher. Both occupants were killed. There was an immediate rush for souvenirs, and one fellow made off with the machine's 'tail' and though chased by two sentries managed to 'make good'.
Had a very good sleep in the cellar. The weather seems to have settled down again to another fine spell. Went round to the railway post with the Major after brekker. The Mound Keep is much improved, and a lot of new dugouts have been made.
George Murray and Howie put a stove into the mess in the afternoon and we are now fortified against the cold. The nights are very cold now. Things are very quiet on the line here. Practically no shelling and only very few trench mortars up at the Chateau.
Splendid morning and had a bracing wash in the weir - hands and face only. Went over to MacMahon's post in the forenoon. Black and Splosh at breakfast. Steven D in waiting. Splosh ordered by the MO to go to bed as he has been badly for several days.
After dinner we saw a lot of black smoke rising from their direction and it proved to be from the fire Splosh had got lit in the shelters below the bridge. The place was burnt out, the telephone shelter being saved with difficulty. When the Major and I went over Splosh and Black were looking very down in the mouth but the Major's cheery face soon put them to rights. He wasn't in the least put out about it. Blacko lost his greatcoat, magnapole, etc in the conflagration.
Another lovely day. On fatigue at 9 a.m. with party working on drain for water pipe which is to take 2 gallons per man per day to the firing line. It will be a tremendous saving in labour. A German aeroplane came over several times and we had to stop work several times. Shrapnel doesn't seem to be much good against them and I have never seen or heard of a plane being brought down by it. Dinner was sent up.
Sat in all night playing bridge, etc. I hear today that the Kitchener's lot have withdrawn from the Ilo and Dinhollow trenches at La Boisselle.
Splosh went to hospital this morning so I had to take his place at the bridge and the new officers dug-out is a wretched affair. We have decided to have our grub at the Mess. James Willie and Hamish M'Intosh who had gone to hospital were sent across to England, probably owing to the hospitals being cleared out for influx of casualties from the North. We are now 4 officers short. The draft of men (87) arrived late tonight.
The work at MacMahon's post is going ahead but the Brigadier was round today condemning the roofs of the dug-outs as not being shell-proof. Fortunately they are the work of the Gordons. Heavy bombardment going on to the North.
Had a very good sleep in spite of Blacko's snoring. Wrote in the afternoon in the mess. Wet outside. The Court Martial on Dunvegan came off tonight and up to the time I left was 'gey dreich' but I understand it livened up considerably towards the end when George Murray was well canned.
Today misty a bit. Made a sketch of Berridale Brae. In the evening played bridge and went with Howie and Black to hunt rats. Not very successful. Stalker came back tonight from St. Omer where he was for machinegun course. Says British are rather downhearted in the North at not having done so well as they hoped. But we must and shall win in the end, however far away that may be, and however few of us live to see it.
Better weather today. Captain Sutherland comes in every day for dinner which is followed by a game of quoits in the back garden. We are always glad to see his cheery face. More rat hunting tonight and bridge. French are reported to be going on yet in Champagne. Dreamt last night of killing rats.
Nothing doing today. Bridge as usual after tea. Stalker came back tonight an Howie, Dunvegan and myself had a rat-hunt on our way home as 11 p.m. It has to stop now though as too many lights are being seen in the village.
Thick and misty today. No news of the fighting today. At the Mound Keep for the forenoon. The dugouts are all ready for roofing now if only the corrugated iron would come. The Argyles had their parapet blown in last night, with a number of casualties. The Germans are using very heavy mortars. Fatigue parties of out men were sent up to repair, and evidently to the General's satisfaction as he asked to see Sgt Reid and L/Cpl Keith both of 'C' Coy, today.
This turned out to be a fine quiet day. We were relieved tonight by the 8th Black Watch, so most of the day was spent in tidying up. The Major wouldn't play quoits this afternoon, being Sunday. Sat in the dug outs with George M'Kay and Hugh Fraser and others, with a roaring fire and had solos from various singers.
Got a splendid starry night for marching to billets - the men were in good form and sang most of the way. The Germans dropped four shrapnel in Aveluy before we reached it, and put some into Authuille as we left it. There was a lot of transport on the road and a good deal of noise, so I think they had spotted the relief. Got into Stenencourt about 11:25 p.m. Tea was issued to the men, along with a tot of rum.
Breakfast wasn't until about 9 a.m. this morning. A pleasant day, but a bit heavy. Loafed about forenoon and afternoon. Bridge at night. Argument as to why there is an increased % of male children during or after a big war. The matter was to be referred to the Doc. but he didn't turn up.
Early breakfast and left for Bouzincourt at 7:15 a.m. Got back 4 p.m. Fine day. Dugouts are now being made 13 feet deep with 5 feet headroom so that roof is 8' thick. Machine gun emplacements of concrete. Much better line than the front line. Engineer officer there has only been out here for 3 weeks and is fed up. I think the platoon commander is best off as regards variety and interest of work. Splosh is to be Bombing Officer. Had a fine tea of hard boiled eggs and potted head. Parcel for mother and from Bob. Johnnie Morrison came back today from Bray where he has been getting instruction in Adjutant's work. George Murray had a few straight words with Thomson, Staff Capt.
Route march round by Bresle and Brazieux [?] today. Rather close marching and I was glad I had made up my pack with my air-pillow instead of with heavier stuff. Jock the Post nearly put his fist through it. The autumn tints are on the trees now, and the apples still hanging are russet and brown.
Game of quoits before tea, which came on at five with boiled eggs and curried prawns. Splosh got a huge parcel tonight which turned out to be 100 parti-coloured sandbags. They are to be used for screening the officers' latrine, there being no lack of sandbags here now. Finnie has definitely forsaken us for the H.Q. mess. Heavy bombardment away to the North.
Another fatigue this morning to Bouzincourt, the Major, Howie, Blacko, Freegard and myself. Howie and Blackie spent the day in Albert and reappeared in time to march back with us. Fine day to be out. Had dinner when we came back, Martin having risen to the occasion with a boiled meat duff. Tea immediately after, and a shave and then the Concert at the Chateau. The hits of the evening were topical songs for which Splosh was mainly responsible. The Brigadier and the Countess were there.
Field day - attacking position other side of Bresle which Finnie and the stretcher bearers had taken up. 'A' Coy was to deliver a flank attack but it was rather late. Very misty and difficult to see what was going on. Slept all afternoon. Second night of the concert wasn't quite so good as first as there was some repetition of last night's songs.
At 11 p.m. the alarm went, without the least warning. No. 4 Platoon was about the last to turn out. The Adjie was in a screaming and obscene rage and I only dodged him in the lane by good luck. We were dismissed about 12:30 a.m. I hear our battalion took the longest to turn out but that was partly owing to the orderlies not being able to be found.
One of the Kidds, Brora in at tea tonight. He is with the miners at La Boisselle.
Slept in a bit this morning, Capt Morrison, Freegard and self on Court of Inquiry, on man who shot his hand in May. The poor beggar came out with the last draft and is being tried now. Afternoon I spent in lonesome walk round behind the Chateau woods and tried a sketch. Finnie and J.B. Morrison in at tea.
Orderly officer and late for guard mounting. Church Parade at 10 a.m. Got a very good sermon from a strange padre on 'Wherefore this waste?' Misty and cold and service lasted only 1/2 an hour, for which we were glad although we enjoyed what there was of it. O.C.'s parade for A and B at 12 noon. More rapid than usual. Rest of the day free.
Sat round the fire all evening having theological arguments, George Murray being especially keen on the 2nd Coming and producing a diagram to illustrate his views. We have got an open fireplace put in, and with a big wood fire blazing on it we can be very comfortable.
18 Oct 15
Fatigue to Bouzincourt today, reporting time as usual at 8:30 a.m. All the officers went into Albert and had dinner - omelettes, rabbit, etc. The Café Aux Voyageurs is run by two or three women, who have to take refuge in the cellars during the almost daily shelling.
19 Oct 15
Left at 6:30 a.m. for fatigue at Authuille. Cold morning, especially in the valley of the Ancre where it was pretty thick. Bulgar and Nicholson and myself, with 180 men. Found when we got to our destination that we weren't expected and there was no work for us to do. We didn't know whether to be wild or glad, so were the latter and got back to Henencourt just at dinner-time. Capt Sutherland brought some salt fish to the Mess, which we had for supper with Dunvegan, Danny, Gerry, etc.
20 Oct 15
Supposed to report at Authuille trenches as 10:30 a.m. Splosh, Johnnie Paterson and I left about 9 and sauntered into Albert where we had lunch along with Freegard and Nicholson who had preceded us. We went on gradually arriving at 7th Gordons about 2 p.m. They had had a pretty bad time, 'A' Coy losing 2 officers with a kerosene-can and both died. The Germans seem to be putting Potas. ferrocyanide into these cans which produces blood poisoning. The Battn came in about 8 p.m., and relief was carried out through very expeditiously and without mishap.
21 Oct 15
Mice kept me awake most of the night, running over my head, etc. 'A' Coy being in reserve, in Paisley Avenue, there isn't much for us to do. The Company is split up into platoons, No. 4 being on the left in support of D Coy. Coy. Mess in Paisley St where all the cooking for the battalion is done. Very quiet in the front line. Looks as if their trench mortars had been knocked out. Retired to my dugout at 9:30 and had a blazing coal-fire.
22 Oct 15
Very bright today. Dunvegan came limping down this morning with bad attack of lumbago, and was taken to hospital on a stretcher - pity the bearers. I had to go up to 'B' Coy as Allen and Freegard are the only officers there. Just before I got up, they got a number of trench mortars mixed up with shrapnel - probably to make them keep their head down. One mortar got into the trench and did some damage but nobody hurt.
23 Oct 15
Duty from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. Fine night and very quiet. Germans working hard. General Harper round today, and made himself very disagreeable. Four light trench mortars and rifle grenades today.
24 Oct 15
There was a ring round the moon last night, so I wasn't surprised to find it threatening a break-down this morning. It did break down by the afternoon and the trenches were soon muddy. Had 4 heavy trench mortars over this morning, 2 duds. Nobody hurt and some wire blown down.
Capt. Sutherland in to tea, and Johnnie Morrison, who left for furlough tonight. Had a sacred concert in the Mess, under the baton of George Murra', he being an authority on the psalm tunes as well as many other biblical matters. Nasty wet night. Martin left tonight too. Leave has been doubled, so I expect to go home on about a month's time.
25 Oct 15
Duty 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. It had been raining all night, and Bulgar was swearing at the drops of water which were impinging on his physog. There was a pool on top of me but fortunately I had an oilskin over my blanket. Had to put some chevaux de frise in position and it was rather an awkward job. Breakfast wasn't till about 9.
Rather a rotten day, my feet being wet nearly all the time. Two rifle grenades at 6 p.m. Germans going at their work strong. Suspect they are driving a mine towards the salient as we have heard tapping tonight.
26 Oct 15
Cold, bright and windy morning. A number of trench mortars, mostly small, came over in the morning. In the afternoon some 'oil-cans' fell on the right of the 6th Seaforths. Built an observation post at the top of Sauchiehall St. The Germans put over a couple of T.M.s, as I think they heard us.
Some more came over about 9 p.m. in answer to our own TM gun, and some of them were fairly heavy. Freegard was hit in the back with a piece that pierced through to his shirt. He was bruised a bit, and the Doc sent him to the hospital. The Colonel has been in good form most of the day. H.Q. are much more affable than used to be the case.
27 Oct 15
28 Oct 15
Wakened this morning with a lot of rain on my bed, and a fair cold in my head. Blacko gave me a tot of rum on which I slept to 8:45. It was very wet all day and my boots were sodden. Allan kindly let me sleep down at the Mess except to relieve him for meals so by night I was feeling a bit better. Blake and Johnnie P were in to tea and we had the usual feeding of the 5000: our problem isn't so much the feeding though as the seating of them.
About 8 p.m. we heard that one of 'C' Coys dugouts had fallen in, and that Addie was buried under it. Thinking it must be about all up with him I went up to the place, and the Major volunteered to accompany me. We found Addie in a dugout with Deuchart, having been got out with some bad bruises to his leg and a pretty bad shaking. The Doctor reported no bones broken. We got back to the Mess after 10 p.m. and turned in.
29 Oct 15
The 8th Argyles, on our right, got it very hot this morning with oilcans, mortars and whizz-bangs. Dry overhead today, but trenches in a bad mess. Saw Addie at the dressing station en route for hospital.
Splosh took out a bombing party at 9 p.m. to bomb a German sap out from Hammer Head.
Heard later that the Argyles didn't lose a single man although the Germans put over more than 150 mortar bombs - 50 of them oil cans, and a lot of whizz-bangs as well. The Argyles gave them "Are we downhearted? No!" after the fusillade had stopped.
30 Oct 15
Splosh came in at 12:45 a.m. having found nothing in the sap. Spent most of the day trying to get a German sniper. Saw about six Germans today, some of them in the wood in front of their line.
We were relieved by the 1/7th Gordons. 'B' Coy took the longest to be relieved and it was 11:15 before we got to Henencourt. The roads were very muddy especially at Authuille. We were all very glad to get out, and thanked out lucky stars that we hadn't had a scratch except for Freegard's.
31 Oct 15
Slept till 10 a.m. The people at the Mess-room have taken away their stove, so Stephen has to cook in the yard. They are very disagreeable. Nasty raw day and no parades of any sort.
Finnie and I rode down to Warloy, he to get a motor for the Colonel who is going to hospital today with Lumbago, and I to see Addie. Not finding him there I went back to Millencourt where they told me he had been sent 16 miles down. There are rumours that our division may be sent to Servia. One Corps is said to have gone already, and one division of our Corps to be under orders. Hope I get my leave first.
01 Nov 15
Fatigue to Bouzincourt with Capt. Rutherford, Black, Blake and Finnie. The last has been put on fatigues this time. Another rotten day. We all went into Albert at lunch time and had a good feed. The men were fairly wet and no coke to dry themselves with when they get home, but I suppose they manage always to pinch some. 'Dooking apples' and Splosh's Steak and Kidney pudding tonight.
02 Nov 15
OC's (Major Sinclair) parade at 11 a.m. Drizzling rain and very cold and he inspected every rifle in the company and didn't find one dirty. Lecture in the Chateau at 5 p.m. by Col Stewart of the Division on the attack. Nothing brilliant. Went to bed early. Am reading Buchan's History of the War.
03 Nov 15
Fatigue at Bouzincourt. The Major, Black and Blake. Bright cold day, it seems to have rained itself out last night. It's getting to cold now to loaf about with pleasure, and the temptation to drop into Albert is getting stronger. Splosh has been in bed the last two days with rheumatism and melancholia.
A large number of schools - bombing, sniping, musketry, gas, etc - were established in France as the war progressed. These made up for the sometimes skimpy training of units in UK, disseminated new tactics and, unofficially, provided a break from the trenches for officers and men.
Sniping was intimately connected with observation. In the battalion snipers and 'scouts' were usually gathered into one specialised platoon, although in the trenches there was little 'scouting' in the sense of mobile reconnaissance.
The primary role of the snipers was (and is) as counter-snipers, i.e. to suppress the enemy's snipers and only then to engage targets of opportunity. The static and routine nature of life in the trenches meant that frequently visited points (e.g. latrines) could be identified and sniped. Good sniping established a moral as much as a military ascendancy over the other side.
Sniping was something the Highland Division prided itself on - with many gamekeepers (and poachers) in the ranks this is not surprising. 'Splosh' celebrates the deeds of 'Sniper Sandy' (Sgt Alexander M'Donald - KIA Nov 16) with a parody of the popular song 'Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers' [text to follow]:
04 Nov 15
Route march by Millencourt, Aliceville, Bresle and Baizieux. Just after getting back I was told to report at Bouzincourt and go by bus to Querrieux for course in telescopic sights.
We had a fine run down in one of these London buses. There were 4 officers - Coats, West and King's Own man and about 12 men. Arrived Querrieux about 5:30 p.m. and shown our billets. We mess together in little house and are attended to by a French woman whose husband was killed about the beginning of the war. So far as I could make out he was hit in the fighting near the village and died in his own house. She told us of other 'atrocities' too - her father-in-law, a man of 74 was mortally wounded while minding his cattle
05 Nov 15
We started the course at 9 this morning, beginning with a lecture by the sergeant and then onto the range. At night had a lecture of 2 hours from Col Lloyd RAMC on optics, etc. as applied in telescopes, etc. He is DDMS but has evidently shot a lot at Bisley and probably big game too. He is keen on the subject anyway, although it is outside his ordinary work.
We are very well off as regards billets. I have a fine bed with clean white sheets and quilt. The Mess is first class and we get on very well with Madame and all her relatives including M'mselle Louise. This is the first time I have really had a good chance of speaking French. According to the custom, M'mlle Louise's father came to fetch her home. The French people here won't sing - not until 'après la guerre'. Soldiers can sing, but civilians 'non'.
06 Nov 15
Fine bright morning and we were shooting all day till about 3:30. Then a lecture on sniping, loopholes, etc from Colonel Lloyd himself.
At 5:30 the bus left with the men and should have taken us too but we got a pass for Amiens, and Col. Lloyd lent us his car. We got in there about 6 p.m. Met Davie of Bedford on the street and could hardly get rid of him. Strange to be among shops and lights again but the novelty wore off very soon. French Major in the smoking room while we were having chocolate. Very cold run back to Querrieux in the mist. Amiens is in the French area; all traffic is carefully watched. Hear the civilians have to clear out of Albert on account of spy-fever.
BACK TO THE BATTALION
07 Nov 15
Breakfast about 9:30. Then we began to wonder how we would get back to our billets. We started down the road and hadn't gone 200 yds when a lorry came along bound for Henencourt and we were all aboard very quickly. Got there about 10:30 and it was just as well we came so early as we found the battalion was going to the trenches at 12:30. Major M'Millan is O/C battalion - the Colonel is acting Brigadier and Sinclair in hospital. Captn. Murray returned this morning.
Very slow marching to Aveluy, 8th Argyles being in front and continually halting. German aeroplane over Aveluy, chased by our guns but got away. We thought she must have spotted the relief but no shells came over. Relieved the Loyal N Lancs. Very little dugout accommodation and had great difficulty in getting the men in. General mix up with the machine guns etc.
08 Nov 15
On duty till 2 a.m. when Blacko took over. Very quiet. Pretty good day. There is a lot of enfilade fire, day and night from both machine guns and rifles. The Germans have a very strong position and are steadily pushing forwards their line by means of saps.
Geo. Murray has been very energetic all day and has had poor Splosh in a ferment all day about his bomb stores; and then Splosh lay on his back in the bed instead of on his side - the bed being just on the small side for three.
Took out a patrol tonight - Morrison, Peat and Bain. Saw what seemed to be a German patrol but they were too far away and disappeared.
09 Nov 15
Rather a raw day and the men were glad to have their goat-skins. The Brigadier came back so the Major is back to the Company. The Colonel and Adjutant were round this morning playing havoc, and passing on the row they got themselves from the Divisional General. The trenches are in a bad state and the fire-step has all to be revetted.
Had smokies for tea and Capt. Sutherland and Dunvegan were in. It has started to rain.
10 Nov 15
On duty 12 to 3 a.m. Trenches in a great mess as no provision of any sort had been made by the 154th Bde for drainage. Had to use knee boots to get along and was up to the knee in places. The men are very wet, especially about the feet and their dugouts are about as bad as the trench.
The whole place is in a rotten state: the people who let it into disrepair should have been made to spend the winter in it. It is possible now that it will be our part of the line for the winter but we have been told that sort of thing so often that we are sceptical. The men were working most of the day on the trench - draining it, putting in sink pits and cleaning it up but nothing can be done to the dugouts as they require a radical gutting out and can be touched only at night.
They put over a few high-explosives today, evidently meant for our sap-heads but no damage was done. Heavier guns than usual - about 4.7.
Freegard's birthday party. Murray made me go over as he is anxious to heal the breach. Blacko out on patrol tonight but met nothing. Turned in at 9 p.m.
11 Nov 15
Had a wash and a shave this morning, the first since Saturday. Went up to D Coy with Splosh who was going to see about his bomb-stores. Pitman has been gazetted Captain and has rejoined his company. Howie has come back from leave. Had a very good view of German lines from D, C and B's lines. Our trenches can be very badly enfiladed and crossfire will get worse as the wood gets thinner.
My turn for patrol tonight so Splosh took my turn of duty. However it got so wet that we couldn't go out - the men have no way of drying themselves. The trenches and dugouts are very bad again. The water came through our own, above our heads. Capt Murray slept on the floor.
12 Nov 15
Today it had cleared up a bit. A lot of the trench had come down during the night and the men had to set to and get it cleared. All the sandbagging requires to be done over again. General imprecations against the 154th.
Sgt Gray, L/Cpl Ross and a man went out on patrol with me. We went out from The Nab at 2 a.m. and Gray and I got to within about 60 yards of their line. It came on rain and we were absolutely soaked all except our feet and legs as we had on our gum boots. Put the men into the Sgt Major's dugout where they had a fire on.
The Major was relieved to see us back as Capt Murray broke the mirror this morning.
13 Nov 15
Lay in bed most of the forenoon waiting for my clothes to dry. Black and Stephen D left this afternoon for a course of instruction at Felincourt, near Amiens. They will be away five weeks or so.
Splosh was in very good form tonight, and talked thirteen to the dozen, beginning with really authentic ghost stories which he apparently believes. I turned in at 9 p.m. A number of pip-squeaks came over our dugout and one hit the bank opposite while the Major was reconnoitering at the door. Splosh made some ox-tail soup which I partook of. He broke the Major's bed endeavouring to help him off with his gum boots and about midnight we were awakened by him extinguishing a conflagration which was threatening to develop into a second MacMahon's post.
14 Nov 15
On duty from 12 to 3 a.m. No machine gun or rifle fire so probably there was a relief on. Put Murray up at 3 a.m.
After breakfast got our things packed ready to move down to Normandy City. An aeroplane came over at dinnertime and got a good pestering. The relief began about 3 p.m. and was carried through expeditiously and without casualties, except one wounded, of the 6th Seaforths. Enemy sent over a number of heavy shells and trench mortars and got some of the Royal Scots and wounded Sgt. Wm. Munro ('Boags') 'B' Coy. 'A' Coy went back to the mess room at Normandy City in spite of opposition from 'C' Coy.
The men's dugouts are not sufficient to accommodate them and are in a very bad condition. They are in no state for winter occupation.
Davidie and Stalker came to tea, the latter is to stay here as he has no dugout, so there are five of us sleeping in the mess. Splosh and I occupied the hammocks, Major and Murray the beds and Stalker the floor.
15 Nov 15
The morning found Splosh and me both sleeping on the floor. Splosh began by upsetting the major part of the morning tea. The Major was up first and put the fire on.
During the forenoon, there was a fatigue party up to the fire trench with Splosh in command and the rest of the men were on dugouts and roads in support lines.
Davidie was in to dinner. The Major went to bed at tea-time, feeling chilled a bit. Toast and tinned herring for tea. When we opened the door this morning we found the ground white. Big flakes of snow were falling. It had been raining during the night and the ground was hard beneath but got sloppy as the day wore on.
16 Nov 15
Nearly 3 inches of snow on the ground this morning: no frost. Took fatigue party up to the 6th Seaforths at 9 a.m. The trenches are pretty guttery, especially for men who haven't gumboots. The Royal Scots officer said the 5th were the best looking battalion by a long way. Went round by 'A' Coys lines. The dugouts down at the cookers are being pushed on; if we could only get material they would be ready tonight.
Major M'Millan is rather better today but has been in bed since afternoon. Davidie was in for a short time but couldn't wait for tea as the valley gets very hot at night with machine gun and rifle fire. 'D' Coy had a man shot through the eye while cleaning his rifle. Three days letters arrived after tea and were very welcome. Stalker, Splosh and Murray argued on the subject of freemasonry. Heavy machine gun fire tonight by the Bosche.
17 Nov 15
Snow still lying but no fresh fall. Took fatigue party up to 6th Seaforth to work under Royal Scots. Went round by 'A' Coy to enquire for Splosh's goatskin which has 'disappeared'.
Gid and Dannie Harper came up to tea. We always manage to make toast here. This is the third night the Major has had tea in bed; he is getting the upper hand of the threatened attack of flu. Violent discussion on the war. George Murra' thinks as a Christian, he shouldn't be here. He had us all against him. Moonlight.
18 Nov 15
Got up at 6:30 this morning along with Capt. Murray to issue rum ['the efficiency of lawn-tennis' inserted at this point ??]. After breakfast had a shave and went round with Colonel Grant-Smith and Major Gair to see some work that had to be done. It was freezing hard all forenoon, and a very heavy mist, in the valley especially. Kestin arrived here last night, and Freegard brought him over here this morning. He looks very neat and fat.
Took fatigue party up to Belmont St at 2 p.m. and cleaned it. The men worked very hard, partly because the job had to be finished, and partly because they were promised a tot of rum. Got back by 5 p.m.
No letters this afternoon. Splosh left this afternoon for Amiens to get his spectacles replaced and in a great funk that he might be sent to 'Blighty'. Marks came in tonight with 25 men, but haven't seen him. He is attached to 'C' and Kestin to 'B'.
19 Nov 15
Took fatigue party up to fire trench at 9 a.m. as usual. Davidie was in for dinner - bully beef and devilled kidneys. Gid and Johnnie Morrison were over in the forenoon.
20 Nov 15
21 Nov 15
Took a fatigue party up to 'B' Company 6th Sea lines, but didn't stay very long.
Started to get my things ready and get my clothes cleaned. Officer of the 8th Black Watch came up to take over, and had dinner with us. Went over to headquarters about 3 p.m. Saw Howie on my way to Aveluy, he being in a dugout by the road. Everybody is under the impression I am going home to get married.
Walked up to Bouzincourt and after some trouble hit on the QM stores where I found Splosh returning from Amiens. Had a good tea with potted head and Milikin made me quite comfy in his bed. Couldn't sleep for itchiness. Got up about 2 a.m. The cook brought me tea and toast, and then we went down to the Church where we found two motor buses. After wakening up the drivers who slept inside, and when they had thawed their engines (it was freezing) we got inside and our journey home began.
22 Nov 15
Arrived at Merincourt about 5 a.m. and just got aboard the train. First stop Amiens where I got a couple of rolls and ham, and a tumbler of coffee. Got in beside Alexander, M.G.O. 6th Sea., an Artilleryman, and a Hussar, so included the arms well represented. A wearisome journey down to Havre, including a 2 1/2 hours halt outside Rouen. I saw then the same countryside as when I came up first with Barnetson five months ago but with rather different feelings.
Arrived Havre about 7.30 p.m. The train ran alongside the boat and after bagging an unfurnished cabin for four, we had a scramble for some supper for which we were all in very good form. The four of us played auction bridge in our cabin for an hour or two and then turned into our bunks.
23 Nov 15
Wakened by the noise of the men, who were packed all along the corridors and on the stairs, getting ready to disembark. At last we got alongside and the officers were allowed ashore first to the audible disgust of some outspoken Tommies.
Got into Waterloo about 8 a.m. and took a hansome to Strand Palace, along with the Artilleryman who had taken a fancy to my walking stick. I tipped the cabby in French coppers, and rescued my stick. Breakfast by my lonesome - porridge, fish, marmalade, etc. Taxi to Euston and got train for Bedford arriving 11 a.m.
Went along Midland Road, up Alexandria St and so to Mortimer's shop where I found himself at the door. Had a shave and wet shampoo. Met Mrs. Mortimer in Bromham Rd. She was snotty at first as she thought I had been in the place for some days. Round the High St and up Tavistock to Clarendon where I found Nana, Dido and Morris. Mrs. Platts, Gwyneth and Paddy came in later. Had dinner with them, then bunked round the town myself to see the old familiar sights. At 3:30 had tea with Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer. Visited the Campions about 6 p.m. then back to Platts till 8:30 when they left for the Pictures and I for supper at No. 26. Caught the 10 p.m. for Kettering where I got a sleeper for Edin. and on stripping found myself absolutely 'alive'.
24 Nov 15
The attendant wakened me at 7 a.m. Got into Edin 7:30. Went to R.B. for breakfast and then took car for Marchmont. Found Bessie in, by good luck. Had a bath in Warrender Park, and then put on new semmit which I had bought for the occasion. Bessie and I met Fife train and Bob and Aunt Georgie both turned up. Walked along Princes St and met Rhoda twice, in her usual vivacity.
Had dinner at P.J.s and then I left to pay a visit at Jordan Lane, where I fortuitously found Miss Reid at home. Stopped only 20 minutes and then off to Parkside to meet Bob and Annie again. Uncle and the rest of them choosing china for Gordon's wedding present. Made for the Lyceum and heard most of the Pirates of Penzance. Caught the 9:20 p.m. for the north and had Bob's company as far as Cowdenbeath. Had a walk through Perth up as far as the river. Fine moonlight night. Had the carriage to myself as far as Inverness.
25 Nov 15
Had a breakfast basket at Bonar Bridge. It was a lovely morning; I never saw Loch Shin looking prettier. Shaved before I got Brora where David came in, this being Thanksgiving Day. Got into Thurso at 2 p.m. The family was on the platform. Dinner, and changed into civilian clothes. Game of pills with David. Tea was ready when I got back and after that we had the gramophone. At 8 o'clock a lot of the girls came in for coffee and a yarn. Tottie, Barra, Hannah, Isabel and Clara. Met Maggie and Katie and Willie Torrance in Traill St. Also James and Geordie Forbes.
26 Nov 15
David left this morning. May and I saw him off and then went for a walk by the Vic. Visited Mrs.Torrance for a few minutes with Barra, also the Gerrys. Called in on Mrs. Black. Met Daisy Shearer, looking very well. I paid a flying visit too to Mrs. and Capt. Don Manson, along with Capt. Milligan who was up recruiting. After dinner, Mother, May and I walked to Scrabster where we visited first the Wookeys and then the Sinclairs. Back in time for tea.
27 Nov 15
This morning I visited Mrs. Morrison - Donnie Morrison's mother. Had a lesson on the organ from Berta who plays quite well. The pedals are the difficulty. Dinner and then visited Juniper Bank, to cheer up Skinnie's people. After tea we had Maggie, Katie, Janette, Berta, Hannah, Louise, James and Langdon. Quite a merry crowd once we got started going. Visited the 'Rectory' and gave Con all the news of Adam.
28 Nov 15
Walked round the Vic and down Scrabster road with Father. Back in time for church at 12. Ma, May and I went to Parish Church. Langdon at the organ. M'Lennan wasn't at his best. Waited in to see if the Wookeys were coming but eventually visited Mrs. and Miss Black and had afternoon tea with them. Then tea at home and went down to Tottie's where I had more. Went to church en famille - Congregational this time. Then back to Tottie's - after first visiting the Doctor and getting a medical certificate for bronchial catarrh. Miller of the Patrol boat was in and sang. Escorted Isabel home just after midnight.
29 Nov 15
Visited Adam's Auntie this forenoon. She is a cheery body: saw the Gerrys too. This being the half-holiday, I went a walk as far as Ormlie with Pa and May. Visited the Manse before tea. Mrs. M'Lennan seemed to think I had neglected them. After tea I went to Mrs. Torrance's: saw Connie Walker, and visited the rectory where I found Miss Haig and had a long yarn with her. I find she knows Levy, Harris, Vickers, etc. Tait was looking rather worried, perhaps because his mother is ill. M'Kenzie the minister was in to tea. Wandered round by Olrig St. and thought of calling at Maggie M'Kays but it was rather late. Trekked home where I found May by herself. The rest came in about 9:30 with Charlie from Greig's gramophone entertainment.
30 Nov 15
Cold and wet. The family came to the station with me: called in at Tottie's on the way up. Langdon going south to join the 5th Scot. Rifles. A number of people at the station to see him off. Had his company as far as Perth. Met Clarke at Inverness by appointment. Tea basket at Kinguissie. Had a longish wait at Perth was we missed Edin. connection. Saw Bessie at Waverly for a minute but had to rush for the London train. I got a sleeper and turned in at once so that I should get my full 10/- worth.
01 Dec 15
Got into London about 7:30 a.m. and took a taxi to Strand Palace Hotel where I had brekker. Made a few purchases - e.g. oilskin 13/6, but forgot most of the things I wanted. It was rashing [?] rain anyway. Visited Jermyn St and saw Dr. Kitchen and Allen. Met Mrs. Platts and Dido at Piccadilly Tube. Had dinner with them at Strand Palace. Met Robert Alexander at the Tube, having 'phoned him earlier in the day, and introduced him to Mrs. Platts and D, who seemed much impressed. Had coffee with him at the Strd. Palace and after a long yarn made for Waterloo Stn. Here I got into difficulties with the RTO but at least got a seat in SE&C Ry. Rob. had to leave me at the barrier and was much incensed.
Arrived Folkstone about 6 p.m. Nearly 600 men on the train and it took a long time before they were satisfactorily housed - there being no boat tonight. Got up to Queen's Hotel and got a bed. Had dinner, picture house and then to bed.
BACK TO FRANCE
02 Dec 15
Up at 5 a.m. for an early breakfast of rather a scrappy kind. We were told there wouldn't be a boat for us until afternoon but managed to get one leaving at 9 a.m. Bolougne at 11 a.m. Pretty good crossing and few sick. A good deal of traffic in the Channel considering everything: a lot of patrol boats about and we had a torpedo boat for escort. After a lot of delay at the MLOs got along to stn. Had a dinner with Cattenach who had been at Golspie and had come out from the 8th Camerons. Lot of new officers going to Etaples. Pleasant priest at Abbeville. Got into Amiens about 7:30 p.m. - no trains for Mericourt tonight so got a room in Hotel Belfort. Went out and had supper at a café, bought set of chess and posted a p.c. home. Turned in early.
03 Dec 15
Up about 5 a.m. and had a regular French breakfast of coffee and rolls, not much for half a day's tramp. No conveyance to be had at Mericourt so walked up to Albert - Amiens road and after waiting half an hour got an RE waggon as far as Albert. From there walked up through Aveluy, round by C______ Corner and so up to Authuille. Found everybody in the best of health in spite of a number of casualties from shrapnel on Berridale Brae - including Howie, Blake and Marks and 26 men - one killed.
04 Dec 15
Went round by the fatigue party on Black Horse Brae where they are improving the road under supervision of the RE. A number of long waterproof riding capes issued to platoons yesterday. Went round by MacMahon's post to see Capt. Murray and found the Major there. Back in time for dinner at which Davit turned up. At 2 p.m. bombardment by our guns was to begin so we took refuge in the cellar, in case of retaliation. There were a few shells came over from the Germans but no damage done. Had a few games of chess with Splosh. Marks taken away to hospital suffering from nerves.
05 Dec 15
Fairly early breakfast - 7:30. Had a fatigue party up to 1/8 Arglyles to clean up this front trench. The mud was pretty liquid and we were able, by means of pumps, to send a good deal of it down the communications trench, there being a good fall in the ground. The Argyles have already been in 8 days and are to be in 7 yet - much too long in the present state of the trenches and dug-outs. Went up again after dinner. After tea had a few games of chess with Blake. Splosh went on leave today but I didn't see him to wish him luck.
06 Dec 15
Almost immediately after breakfast the officers of the 6th Argyles arrived to be shown round so with that and packing up I was busy all forenoon. After an early dinner Howie and I went up to Argyles and took over. Trenches not bad but dug-outs are awful and I don't know how men will be able to live for a week in them. Company arrived, and also Fred Harper and M'Kenzie. Very dark night and wet. Got orders from Adjt. to go to Martinsart so made my way down to reserve company ('B') where I waited for transport and had tea with Pitman and Johnny Paterson. Transport came about 8:30. Heckie Murray came along with me. Got to Martinsart about 10:30 where I hunted up Bulger and found him and Fishy (returned from leave) sound asleep in an attic in the Chateau. Turned into my sleeping bag.
WITH THE DUKES
Young officers from Territorial units were often attached to regular battalions for short periods. This was usually to gain experience of military administration rather than operational matters.
JBC spent the end of 1915 attached to the 2nd Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. They had been in France since Aug 14 (‘out since Mons’ in Army parlance) as part of 13 Bde in 5 Div. The other battalions in the brigade were the 1st Royal West Kents, 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (both regular) and a Territorial unit, the 1/9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles).
07 Dec 15
Up at 6 a.m. Along to QM stores where Bruce gave Heckie Murray and me an early brekker. Had a wash. Mess cart arrived 8 o'clock. Met West of 1/6th Black Watch outside Albert. Had some difficulty in finding our way to Bray as there seems to be no direct road. Arrived Bray 10:30 a.m. Directed by Brigade to 2nd Duke of Wellington's Regt.
Reported to QM - Major Ellam and then taken to Mess where found Browning. Lunch and tea there. MGO - Whittaker arrived on the scene. Rode up to Bronfay about 7 o'clock, the battalion having just been relieved from the trenches. After waiting a bit, met the acting CO - Capt Cox and the Adjt. Capt Ince. Had a good dinner.
08 Dec 15
Had a 'cold-douche', following the example of the MO of the Warwicks. Orderly room and King's Regulations. Went over with Capt. Cox to the other three companies in the wood. The men are partly in dugouts mostly in bell-tents which can't be any too warm. They were cleaning up their coats etc. after the trenches. Capt. Cox went round each tent and saw the men's feet and enquired after their health, etc. I thought he was very thoughtful.
09 Dec 15
Sat in the orderly room while Capt. Cox disposed of a number of defaulters. A good few of them for insubordination and candid opinions of 'superior officers'. Colonel Bray returned this afternoon from the Corbie rest camp and resumes command.
After tea got a horse, rode down to Bray and went to the Whizzbangs along with a number of the others. Rode back in time for dinner.
Some of the officers of the 14th Warwicks are attached for a few days while their men are undergoing instruction with 2nd Dukes. The Warwicks are a good class, mostly clerks and students and are feeling the hardships very much.
10 Dec 15
Walked down to Bray in the morning for a FGCM. Proceedings rather dry. Lunch at QM's mess and after a second sederunt [?] walked back to Bronfay. Ripping evening. Tea with the CO and 2 of the Warwicks and went early to bed with a May Apple Pill [?] instead of dinner.
A company of Warwicks, coming out of the trenches last night were so done up that they couldn't get further than Bronfay where they were put up for the night. Some of them in a state of exhaustion, and rifles absolutely useless with mud.
11 Dec 15
Cold and wet. Packed up, and hung about in the billet. Most unpleasant with the cold and feeling horribly shy about going into the mess. I thought I had got over that sort of thing.
14th Warwickshire arrived in the afternoon with their transport. After tea we walked over country to Carnoy in the dark. I am to share the Doctor's dugout - Capt Tobias. It is a tuppenny tube variety and quite spacious. Dinner and a talk with the Doc after which I began to find my feet. 'Boutard' provided oysters and an Amiens duck for lunch.
A 14th Warwick Sgt. brought in, wounded in the chest says he has had one drink of tea in the 4 days in trenches and what rations he could borrow from the W. Kents. Their supplies have been very badly managed. About 16 of the Warwicks were put up for the night in the medical station, being absolutely done up and unable to go further.
12 Dec 15
Cold and wet and not inviting so stayed in all day reading 'Hurricane Island', and writing. Very quiet on the front.
13 Dec 15
Frosty this morning and very misty at first but it cleared up later on and a few German 'planes came over. Ours weren't to be seen so probably they were away on a bombing expedition. The Dukes are very partic. about movement when there is a German plane overhead. As the Adjt. and CO were both up in the fire-trench I was left to look after the 'phone and took the opportunity to go through all the files I could find. I think I will get most of my information from the O. Room Sergt.
Afternoon and evening I spent mostly in reading and writing. The Battn. is going to put in three tube dug-outs in the front line as should of course have been done long ago, but the excuse was given that the iron material couldn't be furnished. Funny that the French have had them for a long time - made in Glasgow too!
14 Dec 15
Rose about 8 and had breakfast. Went round two companies lines with the CO. I had fortunately discarded my kilt and done up my shirt-tails with a safety-pin, and it was as well I did so as the mud took me up to the top of my thighs. The trenches aren't quite as bad as I had expected. The fire-trench is quite good in bits but the communications trenches are mostly bad. The mud is on the sticky side and pumps won't lift it. Saw 6 big aeroplanes (French) passing over and believe there were other batches of 6 seen too. Shaved before dinner.
In the afternoon read and wrote a couple of letters. The CO is thinking of changing the dinner hour to 5 p.m. and carrying everything up over the open. The men haven't enough fuel to do their own cooking in the front line and in any case water would have to be carried up.
15 Dec 15
Rather soft this morning, some snow fell during the night but it turned to sleet. Relieved today by the 14th Warwicks. Their Doctor took over the MO Station. Dr. Tobias made him sign a list of 'stores' as another of K's battalions did a lot of damage to it in the way of foraging for firewood.
The Dr. and I walked to Bronfay and got horses. I had a frisky little thing and stirrups were too long so I had rather an unpleasant ride in especially as my hands were so numb with cold I couldn't hold her in. The mess in Bray very comfortable place with arm chairs and sofas and a bright fire. Dinner about 10 p.m. and then to bed - mine is in a wee room at the back.
16 Dec 15
Went down to the Orderly Room at 9 and sat there most of the forenoon, reading KRs. Spent the evening in my own room at the Manual of Military Law, most of the others being at the Whizzbangs.
17 Dec 15
Orderly room at 10 a.m. The Adjutant was at Bronfay, for a C. Martial. Lecture on Bombing Tactics, by battalion bombing officer. Spent most of the afternoon in the O Room with Col. Sgt. Laverack. The Doctor and I were at the Whizzbangs at night.
18 Dec 15
Had the O.R. mostly to myself and got a lot of useful information. Col. of the QVRs in to dinner. Capt. Hunter came in later.
19 Dec 15
Fine day. Had a short walk across the Somme then to QM Stores to learn system of rationing, etc. Church of England Service in the Whizzbangs at 11 a.m. Doctor and I attended. Tea at 4 o'clock and left for Bronfay on Horseback at 6 p.m. with the CO, Adjutant and Doctor. Came up at a good rate. Very bright moonlight. Arrived at Carnoy about 7, to relieve West Kents. Relief was over by 8:15 and then we had dinner. The Doctor and I had a game of chess which lasted till after midnight.
20 Dec 15
Wakened about 7:30 a.m. by Capt Ince coming and wakening the Doctor to attend to a wounded Bosche who had come over to our lines and been wounded before the sentries understood he wanted to desert.
He was rather small, not a typical Hun, aged 38. Belonged to the 23rd Regt. Said his regiment was mostly Poles and he was having a hard time with them. Complained that they didn't get enough to eat, and said that all over Germany there was a shortage of food. Germany would be 'Kaput' in 3 or 4 months. He was Hanovarian, married to a French wife, so his sympathies were not pro Prussian. Said he would fight for France or Britain when his wound healed. Complained of vermin in the trenches. Their trenches hadn't much mud - about ankle deep, and he was fairly clean so this probably correct.
Gave some fairly useful information especially in the evening when he bucked up wonderfully considering he had a bullet in or very near his lung. He belonged to the Landsturm, called up in April, many of his Kamerads were 40 to 46 years old. He was well looked after at the dressing station and although he had some misgivings as to how he would be treated, he was very soon at his ease.
One of the Dukes badly hit tonight.
21 Dec 15
Raining nearly all day. I got up a bit earlier this morning as the CO didn't seem to be impressed by the amount of work I am doing. Went round the front line with him and as I had only on short gum boots I had some difficulty in keeping them on my feet. Trenches are not so bad as last time. Good idea to use brooms to sweep water into sump holes as soon as it falls and before the traffic forms it into mud.
Sat in the Adjt's office and in the mess most of the rest of the day. Has a coke fire in MO's dugout in the evening. Game of chess with the Doctor.
22 Dec 15
Went round some of the communication trenches with the CO. Not much doing today. Three casualties from sniping. It was rather a clear morning and the men didn't seem to appreciate that as some of them got out of the communication trench and were pipped. One was shot dead trying to bring in a wounded man. Couldn't sit in the dressing station with three poor fellows moaning: enough to give anybody nerves. Pym came up to see one of them and the RC Padre to see the other. Both since died. The Doctor much upset. He goes on leave tonight and ditto the CO. Capt Cox returned from leave tonight and at 11:30 p.m. the Doctor's relief arrived - Dr. Limpriere.
23 Dec 15
Went round the trenches this morning with Capt. Cox from left to right. In spite of much improvement there are still places in which the water is up to the top of my thighs and coming over the gum boots. There are a number of fatigue parties but it is much easier for these battalions than for ours as they have only 3 coys of 3 platoons each in the firing line. The rest are available for work. Our guns were shelling a new German trench and their shells were going just overhead. 2Lt Scott was killed at midday by trifling with a dud German rifle grenade.
The battalion was relieved tonight by the R.W.Kents. Relief complete about 8 p.m. Just as we were leaving Carnoy the Bosche shelled the sunken road to Bronfay so we (Capt Cox, Ince, the Doctor and myself) had to make a detour to the left and had a hard time getting through our barbed wire entanglements of the 2nd line. Had dinner about 9 p.m.
24 Dec 15
Sat in the orderly room most of the morning reading F.S. Regulations Part II. The Doctor and Capt Cox rode into Bray so I was left pretty much on my own. Played Browning at chess. Holsworth getting songs off the gramophone for tomorrow's concert. The evening was quite mild with stars occasionally showing and later on the moon came up.
This time last year Mac was in bed with flu and I was nursing him and writing Xmas cards. I hung up my socks on a couple of nails as I turned in, for the sake of continuity and old associations.
25 Dec 15
Awakened by Capt Cox going down to church at Bray about 7 a.m. Rose and had a hot bath which I enjoyed very much. Spent the forenoon in the O. Room with O. R. Clerk. Communion in loft at 12 noon, Pym officiating, officers only. After lunch HQ had a rat hunt in the cabbage garden, and after the expenditure of much labour secured one rat - at least Sam did. The rat had to fished out of the officer's latrine.
Boutard arrived. After tea, concert in the barn which had been rigged up for the occasion with coloured paper festoons and Chinese lanterns. The men lay about on the floor or stood round about. A piano had been brought up from Bray, and also Boutard's friend who played very well and with much resource as most of the artistes changed their key frequently. Pym read Dicken's Scrooge and illustrated it with lantern slides. Free fight for oranges.
As far as hostilities are concerned this has been an exceptionally quiet day. The Bosche shelled some men moving on the ridge to the left rear of the farm in the afternoon. Divisional General Kavanagh had ordered there was to be nothing in the way of special 'straffing' today.
26 Dec 15
Clear morning. Went over country to Carnoy with Capt Cox to see K.O.S.B.'s sector. Had a splendid view of the firing lines and away beyond the German lines, including Mametz. Most perfect view I have seen. No bullets near us. R.W.Kents had a bombing show last night, or rather 12:30 a.m., but were spotted and didn't do much good. Visited K.O.S.B.'s H.Q. Returned to Bronfay as there was nothing for me to do at Carnoy.
We spent the afternoon in decorating the room with coloured paper festoons and Chinese lanterns from the barn. After tea had a rat hunt with flashlights and Sam. Letter from D.S. tonight. Dinner at 8:30 p.m. Boutard had got most of the stuff from Amiens and was able to put up a first class dinner. Menu - oysters, soup, ham, goose and pheasant, lobster, plum pudding. Wines - 20 bottles champagne, Cherry Rocher, whisky. Coffee, cigars, cigarettes, fruit, sweets. Toasts were drunk, including L'Ecosse. Also sword dance on the table. Broke up at 12 p.m. British bombarded Fricourt twice today. We stood outside listening to the 9 inch shells going over - a cheery noise for us.
27 Dec 15
28 Dec 15
Spent most of the day, which was quite a good one, in the mess. Played the Doc at chess and was beaten once again. Inspected the cookers with him.
29 Dec 15
After having breakfast I bid goodbye to the Dukes and made for Bray where I am to spend the next few days in the orderly room before returning to the 5th. Got a horse at Bronfay and rode in, meeting the Brigadier on the way who seemed amused. Spent remainder of forenoon and afternoon in the Orderly Room. After tea I took a chair up to the Whizzbangs, that being the only way I could get a seat. They had a panto on and I had a good laugh.
30 Dec 15
Spent most of the forenoon in the orderly room with Col. Sergt. Laverack. Went over to Etienne with Browning in the afternoon -in my kilt. My horse was rather frisky and I had much difficulty in passing motors, etc. I went on past Et. along the river bank which is composed of river gravel, very high. Had an extensive view coming back but it was rather misty.
31 Dec 15
Was in the orderly room in the forenoon and afternoon. It commenced raining after tea. The battalion came out of the trenches tonight and therefore we are back to the big mess opposite the Church. Col. Land ? of the 2/4 D.o.W. is with the battalion on a 4 days tour. He was at dinner. The Dukes are reported to be going to the 32nd Division and are very fed up.
Nobody seemed to intend to sit up till 12 so I retired to my bed in the little room above the Post Office where I am now sitting writing this up. Twelve o'clock has just struck and a feeble bell is ringing: There has been some cheering and singing of Auld Land Syne up by the Church and the artillery have just blazed away their New Years greeting as had been pre-arranged.
Last year we were masquerading in the High St Bedford. Where will we be the next?