April 1916

Roger’s diary continues from his last entry in March 1916

Saturday 1st April 1916 – We settled down in our overcoats to sleep but it was very uncomfortable, the trucks clanging at various stops and not running smoothly. This morning, a lovely day, it was pleasant to watch the scenery as we went along, there were primroses in galore in the woods and railway sides. Reached HARFLEUR and marched to the camp then, after reporting to No17 base camp where I was before when down here. I have missed that chap again today (Reed)

Sunday 2nd April 1916 – This morning paraded with bayonet and rifle. Attended Wesleyan parade this morning, I got a book from the YMCA yesterday and this afternoon went on a little walk nearby and had a quiet read and sleep, it’s very hot today. Voluntary Wesleyan service tonight, quite a good attendance, afterwards about 40 received the Lord’s Supper and when that was finished we stayed and sang. The sacrament was in the little chapel built off the institute. Several of us put our names in the roll book at the chapel.

Monday 3rd April 1916 – The food is very bad compared with the places we have been in while down the line. On Saturday only biscuits and jam for tea, yesterday biscuit and bully beef stew. This morning had to wait a good half hour for tea being made, only butter, bread and jam for breakfast. My hearing is bad again so this morning, and not being on my duty yet, I went to the chapel, Wesley, and prayed for my hearing and strength to endure till God gives me it. This morning have been in musketry, fired 12 rounds and this afternoon paraded to a training camp nearby where instructions were given. The party I was with in bombers trench. I don’t wonder the enemy getting information, a chap, French, and his wife I presume, wandered through the camp, a road runs through, and could do all kind of military training. Tonight attended the Wesleyan service and have come to a conclusion; I have thought of it before, that instead of going back to North services, to go to other places where workers are scarce. Tilery will presently loose H Doughty, maybe I could take his place or at least do more good than at NT, if I do I must completely give up NT, the socials and other things of interest. On Sunday last April 2nd the chaplain introduced a passage of opportunity: A statue was placed in the middle of a square; before it was a youth looking up to it. The statue had one or two peculiarities, on the forehead was a long lock of hair while at the back was no hair at all, it was raised on its toes and bent forward. Then the conversation supposed to have taken place between the statue and youth. Y=youth    S=statue Y ‘why are you bent forward?’ S ‘to run quickly’ Y ‘why the lock of hair on your forehead?’ S ‘so that men may see me as I come’ Y ‘why no hair on the back?’ S ‘when once I have passed there is no bringing me back’ Y ‘what is your name?’ S ‘Opportunity’ Opportunity must be seized as it presents itself, once it is passed there is no reclaiming it.

Tuesday 4th April 1916 – Reveille at 5am, while getting breakfast (boiled bacon) the order was again given by the Orderly Sergeant that everybody would fall in at 7am full marching order. Later this was cancelled but had to parade with our blankets, all surplus being given in, at 10am we had the kit inspection. This morning just before dinner the Sergeant came for names of men who had come out with the division and not had leave. Had a bath and afterwards washed my dirty clothes. Tonight attended a Wesleyan service.

Wednesday 5th April 1916 – I, along with a party, went to the training camp and there set up some obstacles for jumping. We had tea, bread, butter and jam at the camp for dinner and when we came back had stew for tea. Attended Wesleyan service tonight.

Thursday 6th April 1916 – On a fatigue all day at the docks. Saw some German prisoners working in the dock. Some of our chaps said ‘hook the Kaiser!’ One of the prisoners tapped his head as though to say I know a good thing, its better down here, that’s how I take it. We had to wheel rations, all sorts, into a warehouse from the dock as they were being unloaded. While having the spell for dinner I had a look round one or two boats, one was the Hunt Strickle not named but the cook and men of the crew told me, it had been a German boat and was the first capture of the war; on the cabin doors were German name plates. It was a four decker, perhaps more, but the cargo was not sufficient  unloaded to see. Later in the afternoon I had another spell again going on the boats. When I got back the party had gone so I missed the car which conveys the parties to and from HARFLEUR. I set off and took a road, wrong, so retraced my steps, by asking was directed right. I had been walking a good way before a tram came going in the direction I wanted. I had bought some figs, getting a pennyworth for three pence, and after getting in the car, got a penny ticket and had not gone far before the car stopped to make a return journey so I walked the remainder. I was not pulled up, not even by the police at the entrance to the camp which I was thankful. I had prayed that all would be well with me and it was. I bought some tea and cakes in the YMCA.

Friday 7th April 1916 – Last night I received a letter from E Green who tells me she sent a parcel to the trenches, also that E Cotes had done the same. This morning was warned for the trenches. Tonight a party is going up, we have been issued with fur coats, waterproof capes, glasses and helmet, bag etc. Have to fall in for medical inspection. Had the inspection and kit inspection afterwards. This afternoon I went to the little Wesleyan chapel and had a prayer and played the Spanish chant and tried two other tunes on the harmonium. At 7pm I went to the chapel, they were singing one hymn. I asked the next to be ‘God be with you till we meet again’ then it was prayers after which I came out and we had to fall in. At 7.30pm the bugle went and I got my overcoat on. The chaps started singing and nothing seems to me more touching than a big chorus at a time like this, ‘Adeline keep the home fires burning’ and the like were the songs sang. The CO [commanding officer] read out some orders concerning us, afterwards one of the camp chaplains said a few words, then all said the Lord’s prayer and the chaplain finished with the blessing. We did not sing a hymn, one would have gone well. We’re off and the other chaps cheer and songs are struck up to march to. It seemed a much longer march to HAVRE than it really was, but marching at night time there is nothing to divert the attention, it is marching only. We had three spells on the way, we were about 1000 men for the 50 Division and there were other divisions sending drafts up, some of us ‘old hands’ but the majority reinforcements. The songs got weaker as we go along and how much further is asked. We reached the place on the docks and I was fortunate to get in a first class carriage along with nine others. I have been in a third class to say nothing of horse trucks. The third class are very poor, the second class are not to compare with our English third but the first class are equally as comfortable as our own. We in our carriage put the packs in the centre and four at each side and two in the middle, on the packs made ourselves comfortable, we took our boots off to ease our feet. I slept during the journey and awoke about 5am…

Saturday 8th April 1916 – …just as we were nearing ROUEN where we have stopped and will move tonight. We have been issued with biscuits and bully, had some tea but in the place where we are is a very good canteen, the ladies work very hard and one time the door had to be shut, the place was so rushed. Only one slice of bread was sold to each person to enable all to get it. During the afternoon I had a walk in ROUEN, again seeing prisoners work. I kept to the station side of the wire fence and when coming back about 100 yds from the entrance of the station I was pulled up by a military policeman, he said we were not allowed out and I had better go back. Had tea made by detailed cooks and had a good feed at 8pm in the canteen. The train came in about 9pm and we were not long in starting. I was now in third class with five others.

Sunday 9th April 1916 – At about 6am we reached ABBEVILLE and were able to get hot water for tea. Passed BOULOGNE, did not stay and stopped off [at] a little place at 10am where more hot water was ready. Soldiers are stationed at various places to prepare for the troops. Here was also a canteen and I bought some bread buns, I don’t mind buying from these canteens on Sundays for they are worked for love not as a money making scheme where employees are forced to do without a Sunday off, also was able to have a wash here. One of the chaps said it is Easter Sunday. That was the first I knew of it so instead of reading the 14th Kings I read the 22nd and 23rd chapters of Luke. A very nice sunny day today. I learn later that it is a mistake about Easter. We arrived at BAILLEUL about 6pm, one of our transport was there to carry our packs, we had a good hour’s walk to a place called NEW DRANOUTRE, here at a farm was the battalion headquarters. We had bread issued and tea was soon ready and as there were a few chaps staying here sick I soon had all the news, we were issued with blankets and slept in a barn.

Monday 10th April 1916 – Our fur skins had to be given in this morning, very good too as they were a nuisance. Made enquiries at the post room about my mail, he said the parcels had gone to the company and the letters returned. Had a walk to the village and bought Annie a card for her birthday. After dinner the newcomers all fell in and we marched to the trenches, I thought we should have had to wait till dark. We passed through KEMMEL village and although it has been shelled there are still several houses quite good, one old lady still living in the place. Before reaching the firing line I met C Gooding, I was surprised to find him out here. I was placed with my old platoon No1, not the bombers, the Corporal came up for me to go with the bombers but I could not go without the Sergeant Major telling me so the Corporal went to see him but I had not to go to the bombers. Have been on ration fatigue tonight but have done no sentry duty. I was delighted to receive from Jack Andrews 23 letters which he had saved for me, he had also received two parcels but there is yet another one that I cannot trace, this had 2/6 in. I found a good dugout but it seemed strange after not being in one for two months. I have been in a bad temper with myself, a silly thing to do it, having to come back.

Tuesday 11th April 1916 – I was awakened during the night by shelling and went in the firing line, it was brief but hot, one chap was killed, another wounded not far from my dugout, this I learnt later. I went back when all was quiet again. Once or twice I felt the rats about me, one sniffed at my neck as I turned over. I was awakened by ‘stand to’, it being 4.30am, have not yet been on sentry. There is a few old hands left, the majority are strangers and there are several new NCOs in the company. It is very cold today and has rained all the morning. I have not yet been put on duty. After tea I was detailed off for a temporary platoon cook, the cook is to go on leave. I cook for my platoon, the cookhouse is a bucket fire and a hole with a fire, two of us do the cooking for half the company. We have a little dugout just built off from the cookhouse, both of us cooks had to go on a ration fatigue, a stretcher bearer working after the supper which was rice for one platoon and tea for two platoon.

Wednesday 12th April 1916 – Awakened to stand to and found the corporal and sergeant on duty had looked after our fires and had the water on for breakfast so that we had it over early. Have been shelled for about an hour just before dinner, the shells dropping near a sap 50yds behind us. On ration fatigue again.

Thursday 13th April 1916 – Handed C Gooding his razors back this morning and learn he wrote a few letters to me while he was in hospital, I sent him one and received only one from him. It is fine today but we have had rain yesterday, some shells were sent over, landing 1000yds behind us and caused a fire. During the night a German came across and gave himself up. It had been asked why he was allowed another 6yds of our trenches before being challenged, but the Sergeant on duty says he was reported, the German, as soon as he left the enemy lines and was covered all the while by Lewis gun and the bombers were also ready and watching him. The captain says it is much better to have the German alive than to have shot him. Last night we were in the cookhouse and cigarettes were handed around by a Sergeant. I had one and struck a match, lit two chaps cigarettes and was told it was unlucky lighting a third. I thought some joke so I lit my own and was told I should not have done so, as is an old soldier’s yarn that the third man to light a cigarette will die, the other two also. Were shelled again this afternoon, the shells do not seem so strong as they used to be, they have not the force of explosion. Not on ration fatigue tonight. The cook whose place I have been in came back tonight, leave has been stopped so I moved out to another dugout.

Friday 14th April 1916 – Tea time. Have not been put on sentry yet although last night I told the sergeant about the cook coming back. Shelled a little today, of course our chaps retaliate. Cold weather and a little rain today. After tea and before ‘stand to’ I was in a bay of the firing line working on one of my souvenirs when a shell burst, then another and the chaps were soon out of the dugouts and watching the air, the enemy were sending what we called sausages over, they are like a trench mortar shell and can be seen, they are fired up high in the air so that they would drop in our trench and are not fired direct like a shell, one is seen in the air and for a fraction of a second, a long time, it is hard to tell which way it will drop, then, its course known, there is a rush for cover. The enemy succeeded in knocking about 40yds of the firing line in and so blocked one end up, about 7 or 8 were sent over but as far as I know nobody was hurt. Shelling on both sides up to ‘stand to’ when things got quiet, just an odd whiz bang being sent over. After ‘stand to’ I was detailed to take 2 rifles to ‘B’ coy who were at the back in reserve, 4 rifles being damaged, and got 4 good rifles for the damaged ones as a temporary exchange. I came back and was told I had a sortie to do so went in my dugout till I was wanted, but was not awakened until my rations were brought to me this morning.

Saturday 15th April 1916 – by one of the chaps. Later have not been put on duty yet, shelling is going on now but not in the trenches. Relieved tonight and have arrived at some huts just past KEMMEL village. Shelling took place as the relief came up and just as we were ready to go down a shell burst over the communication trench so we practically ran down, Major Raimes had been back to the battalion and while I have been with them has been hit on the foot by shrapnel. Captain Wood has temporary charge of the company and he did not give us a rest on the way down; I was properly done up when we came to the huts.

Sunday 16th April 1916 – Had a rifle and bayonet inspection this morning. The huts are unlike any we have been in before, instead of sleeping on the floor a long shelf runs around the sides so that our sleeping places are not walked on. As there is an aisle way in the centre of the hut, we sleep with our feet to the centre. Had a C of E parade at 3pm this afternoon and have to go on a working party at 7.45pm, have two blankets to sleep in.

Monday 17th April 1916 – Last night when reaching the appointed place to work there was nothing to do or else the officer could not find the other officers for whom we had to work so we were marched back; we were not vexed at being brought out unnecessarily but glad to be finished so soon. Had inspections this morning and bayonet fighting instruction, we had to go on a working party tonight. I went in the YMCA and when the time was getting round I asked a chap the time, he said ‘7.20pm’ so I thought I had better go to the huts to be ready. I went and reaching them, only a minute walk, I learnt it was 8pm and the party had gone, the chap’s watch must have been wrong. I was told roll call had been called but that the Orderly Sergeant was to go round the huts and take the names of the men in, as the whole company should have been on the working party. I went out so far on the road to LOCRE passing several of the boys quite tipsy, we had been paid today, and found a house which sold eggs so I had a supper, 2 fried eggs, slice of bread and butter and a cup of coffee, this cost 7d and I bought half a loaf of bread 3½d, this to take to the hut to have as extra. I must, I thought when strolling back, look a bit funny with the bread in my hand, on getting back who should I meet but the acting Orderly Sergeant Corporal M Dunn and Orderly Corporal M McDonald. They pulled me up but did not warn me for company office.

Tuesday 18th April 1916 – No trouble this morning. Paraded to the baths this morning and also got a change, rain today and part of yesterday. Rifle inspection by Sergeant, paraded for working party at 7pm, went to Regent St redoubt and while some were digging others carried hurdles and ‘u’ pieces for preventing the trench falling in. On our way we had to cross a piece of open country to get to the new trench where our work was and when the star lights went up we stood still like statues. Rained all the time we were out, we got back somewhere about 12pm.

Wednesday 19th April 1916 – It seems likely I’m to be a co[mpan]y bomber for I had to parade with them this morning when we each threw two live bombs. On coming back we had to join the co[mpan]y on their morning parade. At 4pm was to be a battalion parade but it was actually a separate co[mpan]y parade, when warning we were read out about men dodging the working parties and NCO and men grumbling. The men are kicking against it, it is too bad doing parades during the day and working at night also. Quite a few were up at battalion office this morning for missing last night’s fatigue. Received two splendid parcels today, one was a lovely iced cake for my 21st birthday which is tomorrow. I cut it for tea tonight and all my platoon mates in my platoon, about 15, had a slice each. I cut it today because the company is to have a tea party tomorrow, or rather the men who came out last April. Detailed for work tonight.

Thursday 20th April 1916 – I am 21 today. Had the usual morning parade. At 4pm we had fall in and warnings were also read out again about digging fatigues. All estaminets have been put out of bounds after 4pm and men confined to billets after 5pm. Then the men who came out last April paraded to the YMCA where we had two salmon, an egg, cake, beer for those who wanted it and two packets of cigarettes each. Afterwards we had a smoke and a sing song; we only had the hut till 6pm and had a good time. The wind is up! The digging party had to take drill order, the bombers had to be prepared, two carts of bombs were ready and the order came that the men had to be ready to fall in with the remainder of the day’s rations within 15 minutes if an order came, an attack is expected. Had a fine day today.

Friday 21st April 1916 – This is Good Friday, nothing happened last night. I am mess orderly today, the men only had a very short parade today. We have some guns near us and the enemy is trying to hit them and are getting very near us, a shell has burst in a hill near us about 150yds away. I don’t think it is us that they are meant for as we are in a hollow behind a hill. Yesterday shells were directed at the hill. On digging fatigue tonight.

Easter Saturday 22nd April 1916 – Last night before going on digging fatigue Captain Hill told us there would be no delay, that everything was ready for us and as soon as our work was done we could come back. It started to rain as we went up. On the way up it was so dark that the communication was lost twice causing delay and the second time we set off to the trenches to find the remainder and were, for a short while, lost. We managed to get put straight, in one part of the trench the water was nearly up to our knees. Once the party turned about to go back but were pulled up by the officer who had been away. We were all more or less wet through, I from above my knee downwards, also my arms through carrying the rifle, we also had a shovel, some had picks and our equipment of drill order. I think the officer did not know the exact place, neither the guide. When we reached the place so many had to work, the others had to wait till it was done. Had we been able to do it at our huts it would have taken no more than half an hour, but instead of getting on with it as the Captain had said, we had the longest and worst night of any, being out from 7pm till about 2.30am this morning and had the worst time of any. This morning we had no parade, in fact we had a sleep after breakfast, the men who had not been out last night doing orderlies and afterwards they had the blankets to roll. Our platoon officer came and inspected our tube helmets. This morning I went out to buy fancy cards and also had at the shop 2 eggs and chips, bread and butter, coffee and a cup of custard, this cost 1/2d, the eggs are 2½d each. Tonight two fences were broken down of the height to make a fire and we have been able to dry our clothes to a great extent. We go up to the trench tonight, the rain has continued all today. One of my platoon was the other day told off for a fatigue – he dodged it and at co[mpan]y office got two days CB (confined to barracks.) On Wednesday night he was on digging fatigue, this had been his third or fourth night running, he dropped out and if one of the chaps had shut his mouth all would have been well but he constantly harped on till the Sergeant heard and the man was missed; he got 14 days No 2 field punishment at battalion office.

Easter Sunday 23rd April 1916 – In the trenches after ‘stand to’ last night we were detailed as sentries, during the night 2 hours on and 4 off, during the day 2 on and 10 off. I and another were on this morning at 2am to 4am, stand to was called at 3.15am and after it was over I went in the dugout till breakfast. I was surprised to find the dugouts so dry, also the trenches. After breakfast I slept till 12 noon, I being no 5 relief it was my turn. Afterwards I wrote a letter and had a read having brought two books with me, also some caramels. About teatime the enemy started with trench mortars, so did we, our battery was nearly behind our bay. No shells came near us but all dropped in the trench that we were in when last time up. We are now on the left, another of our companies being this near the ‘Glory Hole.’ On duty after stand to from 8 to 10 pm, the Captain gave the company a flag each, there was a flag day at home for us yesterday. Have had a fine sunny day.

Easter Monday 24th April 1916 – On duty the same as yesterday and slept in a dugout just the same. This afternoon worked on my souvenirs a while, I wonder where the Guild are having their ramble today. Shelling going on out on our right, has been a dry day but the sun just came out after 2pm. The platoon cook has gone on his leave today, leave having restarted, and again I have to go cooking temporary, on ration fatigue tonight.

Easter Tuesday 25th April 1916 – At ‘stand to’ this morning, when awakened I went to the cookhouse and found both fires out so that breakfast was a bit late this morning. I am still in the same dugout as when on duty with the platoon. There are three cooks for company and we are one cookhouse as the other cookhouse has been hit with a shell. After breakfast two of us peeled the potatoes while the other cut up meat and then after cleaning up there was time for a spell. Have been issued with a steel helmet, the company got them while I was away. After dinner worked on one of my souvenirs. A very hot day, sausage shells have been sent over each day.

Wednesday 26th April 1916 – This afternoon an hour’s shelling took place by the enemy and thought the cookhouse must have been shelled as the first two shells, whiz bangs, dropped quite near, anyway the cookhouse was soon empty. I went back during a lull and fired up and the tea was ready for the orderlies when they came. On ration fatigue tonight.

Thursday 27th April 1916 – Just a few shells exchanged after tea, later the Germans shelled us again for about half an hour.

Friday 28th April 1916 – Today, this afternoon, noticed a man flashing at the back of the trenches about a mile behind and behind a wood. It flashed as though someone was signalling, if so, who they were the enemy could easily read it. I borrowed an officer’s glasses but could only make out the mirror, the officer came and other of my company officers’ attention was drawn to it. I believe a message was being sent to the enemy and suggested a signaller being called to see if he could read what was being signalled but no notice was taken of my suggestion. Captain Hill got the artillery officer’s observation glass and only kept watching. I should have liked to offer to go and see who or what it was but I did not care to push myself forward wherefore the officers and other chaps there. I showed my platoon officer 2nd Lieutenant Robinson my sketches for fixing the bombing arrangement in the trenches, I explained them and asked him if he thought they were worth being carried out. He has kept the papers and will do what he can. My idea is to have bombs in each bay to be discharged by means of a connection running back to the support. Moved out tonight, we cooks had to take our dixeys to the dump to put on the transport and went down with them apart from the company huts at LOCRE. On the road to the trenches is a splendid chateau near KEMMEL with a moat round and although it is a big place it has not been shelled, while houses in the village about 100yds away have been demolished.

Saturday 29th April 1916 – We move back for a rest today. 1 loaf between four. Those whose billets we are taking over arrived at 10.30am just as we set off. We had the full heat of the day and the first chap to drop, fainted I think, did so just on reaching BAILLEUL but the Major, Ensor, who was in charge did not give a halt, not till about a mile further on and we were all dropping. We passed through METEREN, FLETRE, and CAESTRE to a place just beyond CAESTRE, it was an awful march, full pack, and we needed each halt we got, everybody was fully done up on reaching the end. The two company cooks came with their ‘engine’ and soon had some stew, then later on tea. I was again detailed off to cook with another chap for two platoons, the company is in two billets so had to see about dixies and rations. Have got a drying shed for a cookhouse about 50yds from the billet with a good loft above where we will sleep.

Sunday 30th April 1916 – Another lovely day, the country is splendid. This morning at 3am the order came for us to be ready to move off full pack at an hour’s notice. The Germans had broken through or were attacking heavy, we all had to get up there when prepared, being down in our clothes, we were not called in to go but had we been I think nobody would have been able to do the march back, I’ve been stiff all day.