The Great War Diaries - 1916 (5th Seaforths)
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Got word last night to return to 5th Seaforth today. Heckie Murray was even more pleased than myself and soon had my things packed. The bus left Bray Church at 11 a.m. and took us by Mericourt to Bouzincourt to drop the 154th officers. Then through Senlis, Warloy to Molliens-au-Bois arriving there about 2:30.
Found Black and Splosh and Harper entertaining to dinner 6th Seaforth officers who had been playing ours at soccer and beaten them. Major M'Millan is on leave, Dannie Harper having command of 'A'. 6th Sea. men's team beat ours in the afternoon.
Billets here aren't very good. Black, Tosh and F. Harper sleep across the road, chez Mmlle Irma. I am in the mess here alone. Men's billets not good either. And no beds have been put in.
Wet and cold this morning. The rain just came on as we were starting Church Parade. It was a very short service. Walked round by Mirvaux and Pierregot with Johnnie Paterson; pelting rain the whole way. After dinner rode round by Rubempre with the Colonel, Doctor, Barney, etc. Capt Sutherland and Drummer E. F. Lawrence mentioned in Sir John French's dispatches.
Quite a nice day. Black and I took 'A' Coy (about 14 men) out for squad drill without arms. Howie joined us later with Johnnie P. and M'Kenzie and 'D' Coy. Very stale, both for the men and for us. In the afternoon we had a short route march - A & B Coys together round by Mirvaux, Rubempre and Pierregot. I had 'point' ! Got home about 4 p.m.
Blacko being orderly officer I had command of the company and therefore privilege of a horse. It was too cold for comfort. The programme was a route march - combined advance and rear-guard - by Rainneville, Cardonette and St Gratien and finished up with a farcical attack on a wood near Moillens-au-Bois. I had no difficulty in handling the company as it didn't consist of more than 16 men.
Blacko and I paid the company after dinner and there was a great rush for big sums as the men wanted to take advantage of the Major's absence. Large numbers of troops passing through these days - all moving up. We had a splendid view of a Division on the march when we were out this morning.
Martin laid up tonight with a bad cold so Steven D. has taken over his duties.
Rather a nice morning. The battalion - less courses of instruction - paraded for squad drill at 9 a.m. We spent the forenoon at that below the wood between Molliens and St Gratien.
No parade in the afternoon. Football match against 6th Argyles. Very good game - but rather too much feeling. We were beaten 2:1 but should have won I think.
Blacko and Splosh and I had to go to a lecture at Vignacourt - per motor bus. Adjutant and Colonel as well as officer from other battalions. Driver missed the road and landed us on a bleak piece of countryside, so we turned and came home. Splosh in good form.
2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers passed through this afternoon - a splendid lot.
Church parade in the morning. Walked over to Fleselles in the afternoon, it being a splendid day. The guns were going it hard. Found the Grenade School still in an embryonic condition and no messing arrangements made beyond getting a room. Had high tea at 7:30 and was ready for it. We were all billeted in a barn in which two tiers of beds have been put up. Heckie Murray had had the gumshon to bag an end one for me.
Rather wet and drizzly. Had a big attack this forenoon, along with about 3 companies of infantry, 4 machine guns and grenadier parties. Very difficult to keep up the realism of the thing, but it illustrated pretty well what confusion there would be and the necessity of having everything cut and dry. The NCOs had a binge at dinnertime and some of the cooks got drunk over the heads of it. After the final lecture, at which Col. Ian Stewart spoke, I got my valise into the Mess Cart and set off for Molliens-au-Bois, arriving there about 4:30 p.m.
First person I met was Capt. Sutherland who has just been awarded the Military Cross. Jim Bruce, Deuchart, RSM and a drummer all got DCMs . Great rejoicing among the officers.
Went to the Major's billet where I found him. He is looking splendid and I was very glad to see him. It was just like being at home again to find ourselves all round the same table once again - the Major, Capt Sutherland, Blacko, Splosh, Fred Harper and myself and as I had brought some tinned salmon and lobster from the Canteen and there was a good stock of other stuff we had a very good tea.
A nice morning to start with but started to drizzle about church time. We started porridge for breakfast this morning and find it a real improvement as we can get real Scotch oatmeal from the Divisional Canteen. Church Parade 10 a.m. The Major didn't attend as he doesn't like the Padre. Walked up to bomb school and had a look at the trenches.
Jim Smith rode over from Rainneville in the afternoon. He is much the same as he used to be, especially as regards language, but perhaps not quite so fat. Lobster for tea again which Davit put down with great gusto. A number of the officers at Amiens today.
Mmlle Gabrielle and Irma are going to Amiens tomorrow so I had to take them along to the orderly room for their passes. Davit and the Major were in for a while and were highly entertained by Gabrielle. Davit had to see her home.
Splosh left this afternoon in the Maltese cart, for the Div. Grenadier School and I am to carry on with the bombers in his absence.
Early morning parade 7:30 a.m. for running drill. Turned out in footer shorts: found I wasn't in good training at all. Took the bombers today. The men are bowling very well and mostly prefer it to throwing.
Capt Sutherland came to tea tonight as we had Tosh's devilled kidneys. Lecture by M.O. on gas helmet and goggles. Sat in Irma's nearly all evening.
According to orders tonight the officers are to be rearranged to a certain extent - Fred Harper going to D and Hamish M'Intosh to A. We also get Shand who was in the gazette today, along with Sergt. Reid who goes to C .
Twenty aeroplanes came over this morning evidently practising manoeuvring. Cold and dry in the forenoon, but raw later on and a great deal of rain in the afternoon.
Had 'A' Coys bombers today. It turned out rather a wet day. Went straight on till 1:45 p.m. as the battalion was staying out. Too wet for football in the afternoon.
Running drill at 7:30 a.m. No. 4 didn't turn out so I had a word with Jock the Post. 'C' Coy came up to dig trenches at the Bombing School but left again at noon without having made much difference to the place. The discipline and the amount of work done are quite in keeping with each other.
The Battalion played the Div. Cyclists in the afternoon and beat them easily. It was like old times to see Millikin stripped again. Johnnie Stewart outside left. Howie left tonight for his second furlough and Blackie drove into Amiens with him.
Very bright morning. Battalion out route marching today. Had 'A' Coy bombers until 2 p.m. Threw the dummy test, and put 20 men through the live as well. Throwing pretty good. A lot of artillery, etc. passed along towards St. Gratien this forenoon.
Harper had an accident with the Lewis Gun today, while demonstrating with dummy cartridges - Pte. Thompson , 'B' Coy, being shot through the abdomen. Harper was very much cut up about it. [Although not clear from the diary Pte Thompson died as a result]
The officers played a scrap team from 'A' and got beaten 3:1 but we hadn't out a decent team. I was very off-form and quite out of condition.
Battalion parade at 8:30 a.m. Marched through Mirvaux to attack Herissart. All the brigade was in it and plenty of red caps about. The 5th (A Coy in the firing line) advanced across the valley and up the long slope to the village which we 'took', No. 4 capturing a machine gun and dashing up the street to the consternation of the old women. Marched back over the hill to Mirvaux and then home, the Coy commanders going to Rubempre for a conference.
Fortunately the day kept up, but running over ploughed fields in full marching order was rather tough work. Absolutely done out between yesterday and today. Capt. Sutherland in at tea (salmon and eggs, and a cake which Bob sent out).
Had 'A' Coy bombers today, finishing off the live test. A number didn't get through. Football match between Sergeants and officers in the afternoon. Unfortunately the day broke down and the ground was very heavy. Sergeants won 2:1. Capt. Sutherland played outside-left and scored for us.
Tosh returned at tea time and started to tell his experiences at the grenade school. In great form and brought back a case of whisky with him.
Colonel Davidson left today for England and we have got Col. Spooner DSO, 2nd Lanc. Fus. for C.O. We were all sorry to part with our late Colonel as he was becoming more and more popular, and there is a good deal of feeling that an Englishman should be put in command of a Highland regiment. Sat in Irma's all evening and as usual got no letters written.
Raw and misty this morning. Church parade at 10 a.m., everybody trying to look as smart as possible because of the new C.O. Brigadier also on parade. Gathered in Irma's after parade to criticise the sermon which was poor. Tosh and I walked up to bombing trenches.
Spent the afternoon writing. Stevenson, 4th Black Watch, who was at Flesselles with Tosh came over to tea. Sat in Irma's most of the evening.
Tosh and I had 'B' Coy's bombers today and put them through the live test. Cold and some drizzly rain. C.O. and adjutant visited the school.
Fine starry night. Heard what I was told afterwards told was a Zeppelin, pass over about 8:45 p.m. It was reported travelling South over Arras a little earlier. Too dark to see anything.
Route march 9 a.m. via Pierregot, Rubempre, Herissart and Beaucourt. Splendid day of sunshine and bracing frosty air. Pipes bad today, the pipe-major being on leave. A lot of French soldiers (292 Regt) in Rubempre - big strapping men nearly everyone. Had to go along a very bad bit of road between Herissart and Beaucourt. Got home about 1:30 p.m. Dinner about 2 p.m.
Reader and Fraser , two new officers just arrived had dinner with us. Fraser was afterwards posted to 'A' Coy. A draft of 4 officers altogether arrived today so we have now 35.
Sat in the billet across the road most of the evening. Splosh and Davidie came in about 10 p.m. and the latter insisted on singing his latest songs and then translated them into French for Irma's sake. Got to bed about 11 p.m. Fraser in his valise taking the floor.
Breakfast at 7 a.m. Battalion moved off at 7:45 to Herissart, by same route as yesterday. Dull day, cold but dry. Had a fairly long wait on several occasions. Idea was that Bde was Advance Guard of German forces advancing on Amiens: to drive British battalion out of Rubempre. 5th were in reserve and weren't needed so we were in column of route all the time. Marched home from Herissart arriving 1:20 p.m.
Match with 4th Camerons today: they beat us 3:1 but had advantage of football boots. Fight on the field and a Cameron player sent off. Capt. Sutherland in for tea - haddies and curried prawns, etc.
Kit inspection in the football field. Men's boots in a bad state. Officers of 'A' and 'B' under Tosh in the afternoon for bombing. Bombed along the trench and threw several live.
'A' and 'B' Coys bombing this morning, all the officers being there too. Tosh demonstrating with his pipe in his cheek in front of the C.O. Company drill. Half-holiday so as to get things packed up. Squared up the mess in the evening.
Up at 6:45. Paraded 9:15. Marched by Pierregot, Herissart, Toutencourt, Lealvillers to Acheux, arriving 1:30. Misty and close, roads soft: heavy marching and we were glad of the frequent halts although they were short enough. 'A' Coy in canvas shacks without straw. Shand, Fraser and I in a small bedroom. 'A' feeding at H.Q. which we found in a Maison de Retraite which is still inhabited by about three of the nuns. Snow white table cloth, and crockery on the table. The sun had come through by this time and things looked decidedly cheery in spite of the frugality of the get-up.
Went to last performance of Robinson Crusoe by 4th Div. Follies, in the Sucrerie. Orchestra splendid and scenery very good too.
Orderly officer today so couldn't go to the Voluntary Church Parade in the Theatre. Shand marched down the 10 men who turned up. Blacko and I paid the Coy this morning. The men always want more money than the Major is willing to pay them. Sat in the billet in the afternoon, writing.
Wakened Shand at quarter to five. Rose at six, shaved and washed and took the Coy over to Lealvillers by 7:30, picking up tools there and going out to a railway cutting. Very cold day so the men worked well and didn't have a fall out except for dinner, which was brought over by the cooker at 11:30. Very clean work as the soil is a sandy clay. The most difficult part is the levelling off as it is intended to lay the line on the clay surface to begin with and get slag from Bethune to lay down afterwards. Got back to billets about 4:30. The pioneers were very well pleased with the work done. The 6th Argyles made a very bad impression.
There is no concert party in the Theatre this week as the Division is going out to rest. Had a letter tonight from home telling me about Frank Soutar's death in Mesopotamia .
Black took the company out today. Gid, Johnnie P. and I rode over to the 10th Bde bomb school at Beaussart. Very cold, but bright. Saw the West Gun and a Mills fired from a rifle, like a rifle grenade: also a 9.2" in the hedge .
Afternoon, went to Geo. Murray's class - explanation of the prismatic compass and then made a small survey down beside the Sucrerie .
Had tea at the E.F. Canteen and wandered home. Game of chess with the Doctor. Dinner and so to bed. Fraser has been in bed most of the day, and the Doc looking after him but at night he was better. Had a letter today from home saying Frank Soutar has been killed in Mesopotamia.
Fraser took the company out today. Capt. Rutherford, Johnnie P. and I rode over to Beaussart to the 10th Bde bombing school. Saw West Gun, and Mills Bomb fired as a rifle grenade.
Spent the afternoon with George Murray's map reading class and made a sort of survey down at the Sucrerie with the prismatic compass. Tea at the B.E.F. Canteen.
Paraded with Coy. at 7:10 a.m. Fine bright morning but a red sky, and very cold. Worked out at cutting just beyond Lealvillers - men doing splendid execution. Had stew off the cooker for dinner. Back to Acheux about 4:15.
Cold and wet today and I was glad it wasn't my turn to take the parade - Fraser doing it. A few words on march discipline from the Adjutant, embodying mostly the C.O.'s very commonsense ideas on the same. Map reading class under George Murray, but he didn't welcome discussion.
Cleared up in the afternoon. Walked over to Forceville and found John Gray in a smoke helmet leading his men round a field. Went to his billet with him. He is quite content with his life now. He's with the 12th Field Ambulance, and has been out since the very beginning. Took the Coy. for a bath at the Sucrerie and nearly had a mutiny as some of them didn't want to bath. Not very nice, especially as my sympathies were with the men.
Fortunately this has been a fine day. Breakfast early and saw all the billets clean and tidy. Marched off at 9:30 a.m., 'C' Coy leading. Splendid day for marching, very clear and cold although a bit soft underfoot. Arrived at Molliens shortly after 1 p.m. to find half our billets collared by 6th A&SH: consequently we are a bit squashed. I got in with Major M'Millan and Gid, in the Major's house, so am O.K.
The Major is now 2nd in Command of Bn and Blacko temp. O.C. 'A' Coy. Officers played a scratch team from Battn. and drew 1 all. Crowe one of the latest officers is first class player.
Cold morning. Joint Church Parade with 6th Argyles. Fortunately we had our backs to the wind. Hair cut, the first I believe since going on leave. Rode with Black and Finnie by Rainneville and Cardonette and back across-country. I had the Major's horse, which was 'in fair heart'.
Orderly officer today. A number of us went up to the bombing trenches in the after-noon to help Tosh to get rid of some superfluous 'lives'. Had some bombing up the trench with them. Tosh absolutely happy. The evening was wet. Everybody preparing for the shift.
Rose early and packed my valise as Heckie Murray was busy at the Mess. The rain was just beginning when I was washing outside. Breakfast over I had to see about squaring off the mess, and billets had to be inspected as well. Col. Spooner is very particular about billets being left clean, and Major M'Millan was detailed to look after that.
The rain cleared off shortly before 9 a.m., when we fell in. The starting point was the exit to Molliens, so the Brigade was drawn up inside the village and consequently there was a good deal of congestion and 'A' just got into position as the head of the column moved off. It turned out a splendid day for marching and when we got beyond St Gratien we had a fine view away down the valley which lay below us. The rolling spurs with their thick covering of brilliantly green woods up towards Baizieux and Warly looked particularly fine. Passed through Querrieu and Pont-Noyelles and saw our old billets of July. Halted for a rest beyond P.Noyelle and again outside Corbie.
The marching was bad the last hour and led to a heated argument between Splosh and the C. Sergeant Major. Arrived in Corbie about 1:30 p.m. The men were billeted in the upper storeys of the cafes, etc. Fred Harper and I are together in quite a decent billet with however 60 men over our heads. Mess is in the Café opposite where we had a good lunch and then I went to bed with symptoms of a doze of flu'.
Felt rather washed out this morning as a result of feverishness; so had breakfast in bed and didn't get up till about dinner time. The Major, George Murray and some others came up to see me. In the afternoon got orders to go to Flenicourt for a month so my leave is postponed for a month. The Adjutant tells me I'll have to take his job when he goes, so I told him I didn't want it but evidently my inclinations won't be consulted.
We went to the Cinema show tonight. Wedgewood of the Trench Mortar Battery and of Hotel d'Authuille fame has wedged himself into our mess. Madame is great stuff and has five daughters of all sizes who 'help' in the Café.
Paraded at 9 a.m. Dry but very cold. The Company marched out the Bray Road till we found a sheltered parade ground in lee of a fir wood, overlooking the ponds and marshes of the Somme. Fine day and could get a good view. The right bank of the Somme is very high and almost precipitous - composed of chalk. The other bank is low and rises very gradually. Did some tube helmet drill, dummy bomb throwing, etc. The heavy guns were going at it strong today, about due east, probably round about Frise.
In the afternoon Black and I checked the pay books to see if any men were overdrawn. A good number of them were.
Wet today. Kit inspection in the billets in the forenoon. Afternoon - nil. Went to bed early but was prevented from sleeping for some time by our own mess across the road which became very rowdy as the evening wore on. 'For he's a jolly good fellow' and 'Egorra' led by Tosh in his stentorian tones threatened to keep me awake till they dispersed, which fortunately they did in fairly decent time.
Tosh had to parade at 8:30 a.m. with party to mark out the proposed bombing trenches which the battalion is to work on today, so I went with him as advisor. We got everything marked out when a cyclist to report the parade cancelled. All local courses are to stop and no bombing trenches to be dug. Marched back to billets and on enquiring at OR Tosh was told that according to latest orders trenches are to be dug.
5th Sea. officers played 4th Cameron offs this afternoon. Shand and I turned up late which occasioned some delay but by the time we turned up our places had been filled. Not very sorry as I still have a cold.
Went to the Cinema tonight and sent all the servants. Performance practically a repetition of last nights and very boring. Had to go upstairs after lights out to stop a row, and found several peacemakers hanging on to Ha' Wull who was rather high.
Wet. Got Madame's account which works out at 7 francs per head per day. Handed the mess a/cs over to Shand in a more or less chaotic state and glad to get rid of them.
Bus left the Place at 11 a.m. Very crushed. Through Amiens to Flinecourt arriving 1:30 a.m. Got our billets fixed up, everything having been perfectly arranged. Mine quite a good one with a big bed, table, stove, etc. Lunch at the Mess, and dinner at 7:30.
9 a.m. Inspection of syndicates, in Chateau grounds, by Commandant - Col. Kentish, followed by opening address in the lecture hall upstairs. All Adjutants have been collected into one syndicate so we have changed our Mess too and struck a very comfortable one. Capt Yates, Indian Cavalry, Syndicate Commander.
2 p.m. Lecture and demonstration of Drill. Pouring wet so it didn't last long and we came back at the double, wet through. Lecture at 6 p.m., on leadership, by Commandant.
8:45 a.m. Lecture on Attack Normal (i.e. open country) by Chief Instructor. Followed by demonstration of Extended Order Drill by the Cambridgeshire Territorials. Very cold. Followed then by practice in the same by ourselves.
2 p.m. Drill - in the Jute Factory as it was pouring. 3 p.m. Bayonet fighting. 6 p.m. Lecture on Leadership.
8:45. Lecture on 'Fire Control' by CI. Went out in buses to small wood other side of village where we lay on our stomachs for an hour in rashing [sic] rain doing a fire control scheme on the Cambridgeshires who advanced over the opposite ridge in artillery formn. and then extended. Absolutely soaked.
2 p.m. Lecture on sanitation etc. by MO.
8:45. Lecture by Col. Kentish in which he described two examples of the attack in open warfare in which he himself had taken part - attack from Fletre on Melerin and the adjacent ridge, and that that on St. Julian after the first use of gas by the Germans. At the latter place they lost 3200 out of a Brigade of 5000. A lot of bungling on part of Staff. Demonstration of first three stages of the attack by the Cambridgeshires followed by Company drill under the Adjutant (late Sergt. Major of Guards).
2 p.m. More drill and more bayonet fighting - this time at the sacks. 6 p.m. Lecture on Esprit de Corps by Commandant.
8:45. Demonstration of last three stages of attack, followed by practice of same by ourselves. Raining and very cold. Method of consolidation of captured position was the only thing worth seeing - extension to one arm interval, so many men being told off to bay, so many to traverse (8 and 4).
2 p.m. Lecture on 'Interior Economy' and then on Courts Martial by one of our own syndicate. 6 p.m. Esprit de Brigade, by Commandant.
Travelled by motor-bus to Domart and dad an attack scheme on the ground. Returned twelve-thirty. Spent afternoon and evening in billet trying to get rid of neuralgia which has troubled me all week.
Breakfast at 9:30. Walked up the Amiens road past the windmill and a good view of the country down to the valley of the Somme. Splendid morning, and quite warm. Plenty larks, just like home. Spent the day in the billet reading and writing.
8:45. Lecture on Advanced Guard attack; followed by a scheme on the Domant-L'Stode road. The right bank of the Somme here is very high and has a very good command, the river itself runs as usual through broad marshy flats.
2 p.m. Bayonet fighting in the Café du Centre, followed by drill.
Long lecture on 'Trench Orders' this morning by Col. Kentish. Emphasised necessity for system in everything. Major Riddall took us in the afternoon on writing of reports and messages.
Commandant and Major Stansfield were entertained to dinner tonight by our syndicate. Bon dinner. I sat beside Gordon, Adjt of 4th Seaforths.
Lecture on Outposts, followed by a scheme at the crossroads near Surcamps. Very cold but very interesting.
Opening lecture of engineering course by Capt. Chase. Method of laying out trenches in front of firing line and getting parties onto them. Col. Kentish took us on Adjutant's duties. Clerk-Adjutants and fighting adjutants .
Still more lectures from Capt Chase as the weather has been too bad to work outside. Has been freezing hard for several days and today it started snowing and continued all day.
Lecture on Patrol Work and Scouting by the Commandant, and description of some of the small scouting incidents round the mill at Hamel. Necessity of a good system of scouting. I'm afraid that our own Company Commanders wouldn't agree to their best men being taken from their companies. I think with us the men would have to be organised within the Companies. Had half an hour's digging the snow out of the trenches as the thaw is setting in. Spent the afternoon and evening in the billet.
Good deal of slush on the roads this morning so I decided to put off again my visit to Amiens. Went to find the cave they speak about, expecting it to be a prehistoric dwelling but couldn't find anything but a fancy grotto. A lot of British troops, some at least newly out, passed through today and rather blocked the French artillery which was also streaming through towards the south. The British are taking over the Arras sector from them so I expect there are them on the move - probably away to give a hand at Verdun, where the French are having a pretty anxious time. Their guns seem pretty antiquated - those that passed through today. They gave us an exhibition in the afternoon. The gun had to be relaid after every round so they couldn't fire much quicker than about 1 round every 3 mins. Their horses were pretty good and tough looking.
The village is full of French artillerymen but part moved this forenoon. A great many guns went through at a great speed today - drawn by motor vans which seemed to contain the gun teams. We had another demonstration, this time with a How[itzer]. Also saw a patent hook arrangement which the French are getting occasionally in the horses' fodder which is coming from America and is evidently being doctored in this way by the Allemands . Col. Spooner was attached to the school this week but was recalled today to the battalion.
Sandbagging a parapet this morning. Machine gun (Lewis) and drill every afternoon this week.
All the artillery cleared out today. More troops went through by train. Started wiring. They are strong on the necessity for drill and system and it certainly helps to get the work done quietly and quickly. Commandant gave us another talk on Adjutants. Captain Yates in to dinner. Canadian officers lectured on the bombing raid on La Petite Douve farm done by them in November last.
Put up French wire today and practised rapid laying out of trenches. Bath in the Jute Factory. Concert in the White Chateau in the evening.
Started revetments. Doing an expanded metal one. Others doing different kinds. Capt Grove-White on Loos from the RE point of view.
Continued the revetment, putting in firestep.
Afternoon - firing the Lewis gun.
Major Riddal on the German and the British mobilisation. He was RTO at Frimley, near Aldershot, and although war was declared on 4th Aug, no troops moved from there till the 13th. All the timetables, etc. had been worked out years beforehand and revised in June of 1914. Germany violated Belgian and Luxembourg's neutrality on July 31/Aug 1 but our Govt. did'nt act for 4 days.
Snowing hard so outside work was no good. Lectures instead, including one from Major Campbell, Gordon Highlanders and bayonet expert .
Spent the afternoon in the billet. Had a letter from Moira.
Lecture (voluntary) by Commandant 3rd Army Artillery School. Very long and tedious.
A fine frosty morning so after a late breakfast I set out for Hangest where I got the train to Amiens. Had a swagger lunch at the Rhin, where I met George Murray, Kestin, Bulger and M'Donald and got news of the battalion. They are back at Molliens and expect to go up to Arras early this week. Visited the Cathedral where the service was going on. Many sightseers - Scotch, English and French poilus. There are a few fine windows but the majority are ordinary glass. Interior is therefore quite bright and not much of the dim religious light about it. The front doors are sandbagged up to prevent damage from bombs. Went into the Picture House and waited till train time - 6 p.m. Bus waiting at Hangest, took us back in time for dinner.
Frosty and bright. Took bus to Surcamps which we put in a state of defence - theoretically. Discussion in the village school. Afternoon machine gun and drill test.
Evening, lecture by Maj. Gen. Montgomery, late of 4th Div, on Loos from the Staff point of view. He discussed the idea of 'limited objectives' and showed that, in view of their knowledge of the German dispositions behind the line, it was really a race against time. The mistake was not having reserves up, and also seeing that they had failed to get right through the first day and had given the Germans time to man their third line, that they did'nt delay the attack on it until it had been properly bombarded. The 21st and 24th Divs made the attack next morning, were unsuccessful - and 'withdrew' .
First parade at 9 a.m. for bombing, the only thing of note being the bombing officer in charge got a bit in the forehead.
At 10:45 we paraded again and marched up to the field to see Major Campbell's squad give another demonstration with the bayonet. General Allenby and a lot of staff had turned up, but Haig was later. E. Surreys and London Scottish did an attack with smoke and phosphorus bombs. Afterwards, intersyndicate wiring competition was won by NCOs of the 51st Div.
C-in-C was'nt much to look at but I hear everybody stands in fear and trembling of him. We marched past him to the tune of 'The British Grenadiers' and must have put some swagger into it as Haig said to Kentish that the drill was splendid, and his praise is scanty. Commandant interviewed us singly in the afternoon and was very affable.
Breakfast about 9. Took bus with Moser and Gordon to Hangest, where we found the Amiens train an hour late. Fortunately it was a perfect day. When we got in we made straight for the Café Courmantel (?) in the Rue de Trois Cailloux, where we had a 20 franc lunch. I was rather aghast at the price but said nothing, making silent resolution but the experience is worth something.
I spent the afternoon between the Cathedral and the Picture house, and a walk round the boulevards which I had'nt known of before. Got back to Flixecourt in time for dinner.
Another grand day. Demonstration of how to teach bayonet fighting: the method is at least simple but Campbell has a way with him which is all his own. Last lecture by the Commandant and the usual eyewash about the keenness etc. of everybody.
Buses for the different divisions began to leave about 2 p.m. with many goodbyes. We were especially sorry breaking up the mess which in spite of rather indifferent feeding had been a very happy one. We of the 51st Div left at 2:45 p.m. and got into Doullens at 4:30. Fine ride, and splendid view of the country which did'nt lose any, or very little, of its variety between the two places. Our division was to pick us up at Doullens but the bus did'nt arrive till 9:30 so we had time for tea and dinner. It is quite a nice place but crowded with troops moving through - the London Scottish being very prominent and I formed a much better impression of them than I did at Flixecourt.
When we left at 9:30 the moon was up and pretty cold travelling but I managed to get a bit sleep on the top of the bus. Met a lot of French artillery coming South: their horses did'nt seem accustomed to motors. Arrived at last in Maroeuil, which was apparently deserted and is in a very dilapidated condition. We found our QM Stores at last and got M'Ewan wakened up, and so to bed.
Breakfast with Major Morrison and Barney. Maroeuil does'nt afford good billets either for men or officers although it may be better when the remnants of the French clear out. Very hot this morning and walking up to the trenches was as much of a pain as a pleasure. When we got up to the Arras-Bethune road we had a fine view of the lines of trenches - the Labyrinth.
It took us a good couple of hours to get from Maroeuil to Battn. HQ and would have taken much longer if we had'nt come across the open the first part of the way. Met the Major in the communication trench and presently came across Blacko and the rest of them in steel helmets.
Hamish took me round the lines which are rather impressive as we are only about 40 yards from the Bosch and the advanced posts of both sides bomb each other. While we were at tea, 24 trench mortars came over but did no damage. New officer in 'A' - C.A. M'Kay , formerly in 9th R. Scots, and employed in Carnegie Library, George IV Bridge. Fraser has gone to the trench mortars.
On duty from 12 - 3 a.m. Very quiet. Germans were working opposite Pt 61. There are a number of French soldiers left behind to listen in the old French mines for the sounds of Germans sapping. Unfortunately they are'nt engineers and have never sunk a mine in their lives and so are liable to get the wind up. One of them told us this morning in a fit of trembling that 61 would likely go up at dawn, so we withdrew our posts but nothing happened. Sgt Alexander of 'C' Coy was hit in the back this forenoon while going round to see the saps before taking over.
'C' Coy relieved us during the afternoon. We went back into support where the dugout accommodation is rather scanty and many of the men are sleeping in the fire trench.
Duty 3 - 6 a.m. Fine sunrise and very bright all day. Great aerial activity in which the Germans were uppermost. We spent the day draining the trench and putting in boards. The trench is very shallow so that in parts we are visible from the waist upwards - only to observation balloons though or people away on the ridge behind - as we are in dead ground to their front line.
M'Kay and I went over and visited the 7th A&S who are on our right. We went out across the open to find how big the gap was between us and them. On duty till 1 a.m.
Wakened at 7:30 by the Major who was shouting at the door for Black. Rifle inspection in the trench. Fatigue parties on all day preparing the parapet and fire-step for reveting. It was rather misty so we had'nt to be so careful.
The Major and Capt. Murray came over in the forenoon and Black and I went back to 'B' Coy with them, where George Murray found to his horror that his whisky was all Perrier. Hamish turned up in the evening bringing cigarettes with him - we have been in great straits the last two days and everybody is the same. I had from 9 till 12. A party of 24 was working until then on the trench at 54. We had to send a fatigue party up to 'C' as their trenches got badly trench mortared although they had only one very slight casualty.
Did'nt waken until nearly 9 a.m. Breakfast, and a 'shave-wash'. Nearly all the company was away on fatigue all forenoon, and in the afternoon as many men as we had tools for tackled the communication trenches to the front line. It came on rain in the late afternoon but cleared up again after tea. Our snipers are having good sport just now and have accounted for more than German - the Hun being unaccustomed to being sniped at here. A good few aeroplanes of both sides over today, but no fighting.
Another fatigue party away to 'Cs lines and just after I got into bed - about 8:30 - I heard the Major round asking for another to finish work at 54. A fine sunset tonight and silhouetted against it the ruined town of Mount St Eloi.
Duty 3 -6 a.m. Fine morning. Was told to go on leave today. Left the trenches in the early evening, rather ashamed to be going away again so soon. Marched to Ecurie, where I got him a bus and arrived at Bethune just in time - 2:20 a.m.
Boulogne 8:30 a.m. Breakfast, shave and hair-cut. London 4 p.m. Ran across Cattanach in the Strand Palace. Saw 'A Little Bit of Fluff' at the Criterion. Got into sleeper at 11:15 p.m. for Edinburgh.
Edin 7:30 a.m. Breakfast at the R.B. Bath at Warrender Park. Parkside. Picture house. Train 9:45. Met David at Perth.
Breakfast basket at Bonar. Thurso 1 p.m. Bob meeting me, and Mother.
Round by Weydale in a snowstorm, to harden Pieser's muscles. E.C. Organ.
Out to Bardnaclavan for the same purpose as yesterday. Squad of girls in tonight.
Snowing all day. Helped to paper Tottie's lobby. Dick Whittington.
Out to Janetstone with Father, Bob and May. In afternoon James's. Taits'. Evening - Church (Congregational) and Keiths.
Train 9:50. Got off at Dunfermiline. Arrived Xgates about 10 p.m. And found Auntie waiting.
Edin. by the 5:20 p.m. Parkside, Jordan Lane, 10 p.m. for Bedford.
Snowed up at Leicester till 6 p.m. London 10 p.m. Strand Palace.
No money. Train 8:30. Folkstone. No boat till 8 p.m. Husband.
Boulogne about 11 p.m. Hotel Victoria. Train at 1 p.m. Very slow journey and no food. Three hours wait at St. Pol till 12:30 p.m.
Got into Aubigny about 2 a.m. and found motor buses waiting for us. Arrived Marouiel 3 a.m. and after hunting round for the company - they came out the trenches last night, discovered my valise in a spacious building and was soon inside it.
Up at 7:30 and found the rest asleep upstairs. No fatigues here so the men are getting a good rest. The billets are rather better than usual and weather-tight. The town has been knocked about a great deal. Played a scratch team from 'A' Coy and got beaten, but it was a good game.
On duty in the billet today and spent most of the time lying on the grass in the back garden. Went through the underground passage below the Chateau. Many inscriptions on the chalk walls, written by Frenchmen during different bombardments dating back to Nov. 14.
Church Service in the evening in the garden, Rev. Herbert Reid officiating and preaching quite well.
Another fine day. Inspected platoon smoke helmets in the Church-yard while the organ played inside. Also the men of the latest drafts, mostly Irishmen and not very promising looking.
Rather colder today. Inspected the remainder of Coy along with M'Kay. A good few of the tube-helmets seem to be deficient, which fact is rather annoying the RQMS, who seems to be inclined to institute himself as the sole judge.
M'Kay and I took the Coy for a route march today. Not very pleasant tramping over the rough cobble stones with which the village streets are paved. Quite a different type of village from those in Picardy.
Had a dinner tonight in the estaminet downstairs in honour of Tosh's and Shand's birthdays which have been passed for some time. The Major came in later on and we had songs from Black, Tosh, Nickie and Shand with violent piano accompaniment from Nickie.
Packing up all forenoon, always a rotten job. Dinner at 12. Hamish went up ahead of Coy, which left by platoons at intervals, commencing 1:45. Took it very easy going up and had no excitement, arriving at the front line about 4 p.m. Relief did'nt take very long.
Tea about six. Shand and Tosh sleeping down near H.Q., Hamish, M'Kay and I being distributed over Coy. H.Q. and Melvich House. I was on duty till midnight. Our posts are much weaker than the 6th Seaforths as we have only 66 privates and about 22 NCOs. Paper strength of the Coy is about 184. Bosch very quiet
Warm and sunny: men at work cleaning up the trench and lifting the boards. Germans very quiet and practically no rifle fire: a few aerial torpedoes at 57 one of which nearly got the C.O. and the acting Brigadier (Col. Baird, 8th Argyles).
Spent most of the day with Hamish working out a defence for this sub-sector in case of either or both of the mines going up. The platoon sergeants were called along and told the scheme so that every man would know his job. Working parties from 'C' tonight deepening the trench at L and clearing the mud at 61.
On duty from 12 to 3 a.m. Went round with Sandy Mac: everything very quiet and nothing to be heard. Quiet all day too and spent most of the afternoon with Hamish and Morrison R.M. looking at point 127 where the Germans are mining from.
Just before tea Tosh fired a number of rifle grenades from support line. M'Kay and I went up to sap 137 to watch the effect and Tosh almost landed one on our heads. Fortunately it was a dud.
We had to withdraw all the men except for a few sentries at 8 p.m. for a bombardment of enemy trenches by our artillery, the battalion on our left joining in with rifle and machine gun fire, and the T. Mortar batteries doing their bit too. The Bosch replied very feebly and if the idea was to get him to line his parapet I don't think our people succeeded. About 1/2 an hour later he landed two torpedoes just beside Melvich House so we had shift one of the posts.
Wakened at 3 a.m. by M'Kay. Very cold and thick; hoar frost on the sides of the trench. Stand-to at 4 a.m. for an hour. The night has been extremely quiet - a few rifle grenades on point 137. Lay down again at 6 and slept till breakfast time when Tosh turned up alone, Shand being fevered and in bed.
Bosch was quiet all forenoon on our front but trench mortared the 6th Argyles pretty heavily, and ours replied. A fair amount of work was done at deepening the trench between L and 137. Captain Harper was up arranging about the relief which was to take place in the afternoon, 'C' relieving 'A'.
The relief came off all right and without hitch and we got back into support in good time for the men to make their teas before going down for their rations. The Support line is much improved since I saw it last and fire-stepped throughout a fair part of its length. Visited 'C' Coy after tea and also Shand who goes to hospital tonight, apparently with 'trench fever'. Hamish as O.C. Coy has a dugout on the main communication trench, beside CSM. Had a party out in point of support line, wiring up a gap there. Slow work as most of men were new to the job. Lots of French rifles lying out with fixed bayonets.
Breakfast about 9 a.m. The C.O. and Adjie came along in the forenoon and made sarcastic remarks about the amount of wire out, but fortunately I was'nt there. A fine day. Capt. Murray came round just before dinner, hunting as usual for souvenirs. M'Kay has been busy all day at an aluminium ring he is making and he kept me awake half the night filing away at it. I slept most of the afternoon.
In the evening there was a good deal of trench-mortaring on the enemy's part, all along the line. 'C' had a good bit of their trench blown in, and so had 'D' and the latter also had Coy. H.Q. knocked about and set on fire. Only two or three slight casualties. We had fatigue parties up at both front coys. repairing the trench and I had a wiring party out as well.
Another mine went up last night below the 6th Argyles and buried a patrol of six men. The Huns did'nt try a raid. Fewer aeroplane fights than last time we were here and our planes seem to be going over their lines with greater impunity while an Allemand is seldom seen.
Wet and cold today and not much work done beyond what was absolutely necessary. We sat in the Mess most of the day and were entertained by the mining officer of the Corps whom Tosh brought in for dinner. Besides the tall yarns he told, he was quite interesting as regards the mines on our front. It dried up after tea at which Reader assisted, and I had the wiring party out till 11:30 p.m.
The Corps Commander was round our lines yesterday and his report on the battalion is not favourable to say the least of it, although the points he wants more attention paid to are not very serious - wash and shave every day, clean boots, puttees, etc., no cigarette ends to be thrown about and such like.
Cold and showery all day. 6th Seaforths relieved us in the early evening, Capt M'Pherson representing the 'A' Coy of the 6th and having tea with us. The relief went off quite smoothly and we got back to reserve trenches about 6 p.m., down in the Chemin Creux.
Had supper - curried prawns, and haddies at 8 p.m. The Doctor (Townrow ) and Fred Harper are to mess with us while we are here. Not a bad dugout, with 4 beds full of lowsey straw which we had taken out straight away; two forms, a table, etc and all wooden lined.
Breakfast about 9 a.m., Hamish and I having it in bed partly to relieve congestion, partly through laziness. Anyway we were still there at 11 o'clock and got caught by the C.O. who was doing some strafing for the state of the trench and also because there was'nt an officer down to see the Coy. bathed at Anzin where they are this morning.
M'Kay and I set out and had a good tub although the trenches were pretty muddy. Went into Anzin Church on our way back. Capt. Sutherland was in at tea having newly returned from leave. Played the Doctor at chess - one all. M'Kay on fatigue tonight till 2 a.m. every available man in the company being out.
Up in better time today as we did'nt want a second row. The Company is doing night fatigues only so there is nothing doing all day. Beat the Dr. at chess in the afternoon.
Took fatigue party of 50 men tonight to work under R.E. A few shrapnel came over when we at the dump but fell short. Very slow going up the commn. trench and it took us an hour and 3/4 to draw tools and get to the job. Very clear night and cold but rain had stopped. Dropped work at 1:30 and got back to dug-outs about 2:30 a.m. All home leave stopped and those on leave recalled - whether for everybody or only for 51st Div. we don't know; every sort of rumour going.
Breakfast in bed as entitled to and had a long lie. Much better today. Tried to write letters but failed. Beat the Dr. again. Tosh and I had a view of Neuville St. Vaast. M'Kay took fatigue tonight.
Went down to 'B' Coy with Hamish in the forenoon. Bosch were shelling a battery on the other side of the road, with coal boxes. I hear they got a direct hit on one of the guns. There was a plane over late last night, possibly a Bosch and they may have spotted the flashes. 'Bulgar' in bed. Returned by the big mine crater in front of Chemin Creux.
Took the fatigue tonight, Joe M'Kay representing 'D' Coy. Came on to rain soon after we got started but was'nt more than a drizzle all night. About 12 p.m. a mine or something seemed to go up pretty far on the left as the Bosch started with flares, rapid fire broke out and soon the artillery joined in and the sky was lit up with the flashes of guns and bursting shrapnel. There did'nt seem to be much German reply and certainly none came our way.
Wet most of the day and not much sign of it improving. Played more chess and was beaten several times. The Doctor and M'Kay visited the Ouvrages Blanches tonight and the latter brought back two German bombs which he has proceeded to tamper with.
Hamish reluctantly took the fatigue tonight, the first piece of work he has done since he became Company Commander, although we are so short handed.
Raining practically all day. The trenches are getting in a nasty state again. Germans gave the 6th Argyles a hot time this forenoon, with H.E. It is not often they open out with their artillery. They are usually content with putting an occasional shell into some frequented spot and their shooting is usually pretty good.
We relieved 'B' Coy, 6th Seaforths this afternoon - in right support. Black returned just before we left and we were very glad to see him. Relief went off A1 so far as we were concerned. The dug-outs will just hold the men with some degree of comfort. M'Kay and I are sleeping in Support line, and Black and Hamish in Coy. H.Q.
Hamish is'nt in a good mood today - the effects of the fatigue I think.
Wet most of the day. Shaved before breakfast and inspected rifles at 9:30. The few men that were left after headquarters fatigues had been provided for, were put on to cleaning up the lines, the communication trenches and the left of our line being particularly bad.
By afternoon there was a big difference. 'C' had one man killed by an aerial . The weather looked like clearing in the afternoon but it came on wet again at night. I went down to 'B' Coy and had a game of bridge. Geo Murray is in good form just now.
Very dark night coming back. We had Maconochie stew about 10 p.m. and a rum ration.
Today has been dry for a change. All the platoon on fatigue, so Sergt. Morrison and myself had to set to on the trench: the C.O. came round while we were at it and as he had already been along at dawn and had seen the state of the trenches then he was well pleased with 'A' troop's work.
I went up to 46 after dinner and while standing there had rather a narrow squeak, with a torpedo which laid out Eddie of 'C' Coy. Was anxious for some time about R.E. officer who was speaking to me at the time and who disappeared. However I heard afterwards that he had got down the trench all right. Bosche then put a lot of shrapnel round about the support line and had a hit inside communicator at 712. No casualties. About 7 o'clock there was a very heavy artill barrage put up far on the left. Played bridge in 'B' Coy (Left Reserve) and then chess with the Doctor till about 11:30.
Fine morning. The Major visited us this forenoon and at the same time the Bosche visited us with shrapnel, so we shifted. Went up to 'D' with him.
'A' relieved 'C' in the afternoon and in spite of foreboding we had no trouble, but didn't neglect to take all precautions. The trenches were very dirty after all the rain, and to make matters worse it came on to rain in the evening. Owing to the amount of mud in the front line I was sent along to the left to work the two platoons there along with Sgt. Jim Fraser. I slept at Coy. H.Q. till around 12, and then lugged along a jar of rum for the men in the morning.
Duty from 12 - 5 a.m. The Germans were working very hard at 127 all night. Shand appeared about 5 and volunteered to put out the rum so I went back to Coy. H.Q. Had breakfast in bed as there is very little accommodation in the dug-out. The men were working at the trench most of the day pumping the water over the parados: the pump we have is far too clumsy - two men can barely carry it.
I was on duty from 6 - 12 midnight and cabbed a supper off 'B'. It was a rotten night - raining all the time - and although we listened carefully we could hear very few sounds of the Germans working. The trenches are getting into a very bad state, nearly knee deep in mud and water and since the men have no gum-boots they are having a trying time. To my great relief the sky cleared just before I turned in. Slept with Corp. Seaman but as I had only one thickness of blanket I felt very cold and was glad to get up at 4 a.m.
A grand morning so I indulged in a wash and a shave before breakfast. A British plane came over as I was walking round to Coy H.Q. and flying daringly low was greeted with 'massed machine guns' but got off Scot free. Black and C.S.M. went round with rum about 6 a.m.
Slept all forenoon as I am beginning to feel groggy. Tea put me all right. The men have been pumping water all day and have made a fair impression on the trench but the saps are still very bad and quietness is hopeless. Some of the men have incipient trench foot and one of mine who went to the Doctor has'nt returned.
Turned in at 7 and lay till 12 but did'nt get much sleep as there were a lot of interruptions - notably the arrival of soup at 10:30 which I had undertaken to take, just to show there is no ill-feeling. The men don't seem to like it and prefer to live on tea and marmalade, which as the C.O. says, can't be done. 145.
Duty from 12 - 5 a.m. Very quiet along our front but could hear the Bosch moving on his trench boards - a thing we have'nt got in our front line. Stood-to, 3:30 to 4:30. Blacko went round with rum-ration at 7 a.m., and I turned in.
Corps Commander was on the move today but did'nt trouble us. Volunteers were asked for today for a raid on enemy trenches. Good response, especially from 'A', but the men are too worn out just now to be keen. The trenches are dry now, except between L and 137.
An aerial (dud) fell there this afternoon and was cautiously and scientifically removed by the C.S.M. who usually takes these unpleasant jobs on himself. Our T.M.s (60 pdrs) started firing this afternoon and were dropping dangerously short. The handle is a constant source of danger as it come whirring back and has already caused some casualties .
Was on duty from 6 - 12. Had supper with 'B', and was glad when midnight came as I could hardly keep awake.
Stand to at 3:30. Turned in from 7 - 11:30.
Relieved at 4 p.m. by 6th Sea. No hitch. Went out by Labyrinth trench, and Ecurie. The communication trenches were very muddy, and never seemed so long. Bosch were crumping a battery just on our left as we came down to Anzin. It was a great pleasure to get onto the top of the ground again, and we were no sooner clear of the trench than we threw ourselves onto the grass and rested.
Marched onto Maroeuil, everybody pretty well done. Arrived at 7 p.m. to find spring had come while we were in the trenches, and had transformed the garden. The chestnut trees were in leaf, and cherry trees white with blossom.
Sprained my ankle wrestling with Blacko. Spent most of the day in the garden writing. Chess with the Doctor. Pandemonium.
Slacked in the garden.
Bosch put up eight or nine mines in the sector we were relieved from. At least six were on our company front. 'A' Coy of the 6th had over 70 casualties - a lot of them missing. The Germans tried a raid, but the 6th held them well in spite of their casualties.
Church parade in the evening, out in the Garden. Not many present. Watched the sunset from the top of the rise, and thought of this time last year.
- ↑ 3486 Drummer Edward Franklin Lawrence from Northwood, Middlesex. Later commissioned in West Yorks.
- ↑ Capt. Sutherland's MC was announced in the New Year honours list and was for 'distinguished service' rather than an individual act of gallantry. The four DCMs were for efforts to bring in wounded men in the the aftermath of the failed attack at Festubert in Jun 15.
- ↑ Soldiers who were specially trained in the use of hand grenades were initially (and logically) known as 'grenadiers' but, following protests from the Grenadier Guards who felt some ownership of the word, the term 'bombers' came into use.
UNFORTUNATELY THE REST OF THE DIARY FOR 1916 IS UNAVAILABLE, AND IS LIKELY TO REMAIN SO, SINCE THE ORIGINAL WAS LOST BEFORE IT WAS TRANSCRIBED.
MY RECOLLECTION IS THAT MY FATHER WAS INVALIDED BACK TO ENGLAND ABOUT AUGUST 1916 WITH TRENCH FEVER. HE DID NOT RETURN TO FRANCE.
ALAN B. CAIRNIE 10 FEB 2013 firstname.lastname@example.org
WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > The Great War Diaries - 1916 (5th Seaforths)