December opens with Roger continuing to develop his skills as a company bomber. The weather deteriorates and his battalion is moved to Dickebusch on the outskirts of Ypres.
Wednesday 1st December 1915 – This morning we practiced on a field, an attack according to theory.
Thursday 2nd December 1915 – The attack was today made in some trenches which had been dug near Headquarters and this afternoon mufflers, tobacco, pipes, soap and writing pads were given out, being sent by the Queen Alexandra Field Force Fund. I did not require a muffler but got a writing pad, soap and handkerchief. Had to parade at Headquarters at 4.15pm to report for bombing school, and from there went to Brigade Office and then to the Division Bombers School which is only about 1¾ hours’ walk from the Company billet. There is two men from each battalion in the division, I think the other person 5 DLI is from ‘B’ Co[mpan]y
Friday 3rd December 1915 – Had running parade at 7.30am then breakfast. We are in a large house for billets. Lecture at 9 & 10am, bomb throwing practice 10.30 to 11.30am, lecture 11.30 to 12.30. Dinner and Squad instruction on bombs 2 to 4pm. We are all divided up now being 3 squads, York, Durham, Durham and Northumbrian Fusiliers. Been wet more or less all day.
Saturday 4th December 1915 – We had a route march today and then inspections after. On the route march I saw two lace makers working and tonight I called to see if they would make a collar for Annie but they could only make straight lace. One wanted four francs a yard and the other 3¼ francs for about 2½ feet but I did not buy any but in BAILLEUL saw a table centre hand worked so I bargained for it and left my cap badge to be worked in: this to be 15½ francs.
Sunday 5th December 1915 – The bombers paraded to morning service, C of E, which we had with Headquarters staff [indecipherable].
Monday 6th December 1915 – Section throwing today. Yesterday the transport played 3 Platoon football for battalion medals. 3 Platoon won. Today ‘A’ Company is having sports but as I don’t finish till 4pm cannot partake of any.
Tuesday 7th December 1915 – Lectures and throwing.
Wednesday 8th December 1915 – Paraded to baths, had a bath but there was no change of shirt and socks. Had no other parades today, went to BAILLEUL and bought Mother a table centre, hand made lace on silk and paid for as such.
Thursday 9th December 1915 – Instruction on West thrower, rifle grenade and catapult. After tea went to Company billet and the Major (Raimes) passed my parcel for me, then had to take it to Headquarters to [the] postman but he had gone out with the days’ mail so left it with Chris Smith.
Friday 10th December 1915 – Still at bombing school.
Verse on card sent by M.P.
When time who steals our years away
Shall steal our pleasures too.
The meaning of the past will stay
And all our joys renew.
Went to Headquarters to see if parcel had gone alright. The postman said I could take it to the Brigade Post Office, I had to pay 7d, one penny for each ounce, a bit strong I think.
Saturday 11th December 1915 – Had a route march to VIEUX-BERQUIN, STRAZEELE, MERRIS and back to OUTTERSTEENE where the billet is, it rained very hard, our capes are a washout, no use for a storm or long rain. The ditches were flooded and parts of some fields from the heavy rain we have had during the week.
Sunday 12th December 1915 – A nice fine day.
Monday 13th December 1915 – This afternoon had to throw live bombs, ball, lattice, egg and pippin bombs.
Tuesday 14th December 1915 – Finished up at school and returned to Co[mpan]y.
Wednesday 15th December 1915 – The battalion paraded near Brigade Headquarters where the RE [Royal Engineers] had built some trenches, shown arrangements of double block and holding communication trenches, the arrangements for wiring.
Thursday 16th December 1915 – Battalion bombers threw two egg bombs each, live bombs.
Friday 17th December 1915 – Only could have the route march today on account of rain.
Saturday 18th December 1915 – Co[mpan]y training at present in the farm, had the wanting for a plate of chips 2½[F].
Sunday 19th December 1915 – The enemy had released gas, it was felt in BAILLEUL about 9 kilometres from the firing line. The artillery has been firing all last night and today. No Wesleyan service so attended C of E.
Monday 20th December 1915 – Moved to DICKEBUSH, my boots were very bad, the left one I was practically walking on the uppers. I indented for a pair as soon as I got back from the school and I had a chilblain on my little toe which had swelled it to twice its size and when I walked all my weight went on it, it was just where my boot was worst So I tried to get on baggage guard to go with the Motor Rolly with the blankets but was not successful. Just before we set off a butcher came to the farm and killed a pig. After it was dead he put straw round it and set it alight, lighting it at the top first then put some cold water on and scraped it. I don’t know if this was on account of bad accommodation for in England they put the pig in a tub of hot water to soften the skin for scraping. After that he dressed it as ordinary. Fell in and we paraded to Battalion Alarm Post and some in the wood; my foot and boot soon began to tell and was thankful for each of the three rests. We finally reached STEENWERKE nearly everyone done up for we having this time full pack and we had come by a long circuitous route. The train was waiting so we got in, 3rd class not horse boxes, and before long we were off. And then the first station we passed was BAILLEUL, some bad management I think a long walk like we had. We were to set off from the Battalion Alarm Post at 9.30am, after the march and ride it [was] 4.15pm when we got out of the train by the station clock. I hoped my foot would be better, but it was not. A halt was made, the officers’ horses having come and I thought a cart also so I asked to drop out and go in the cart but it was not our cart so our Co[mpan]y Commander, Major Raimes, said I could ride his horse till he wanted it, so I got on. After a long march several fell out, three others besides myself getting horses and others holding [on] to stirrups. We went very near some of our guns on the road, the artillery were working hard again. We were held up a good while by transport that was stuck in the road, then after we passed we were directly on to our destination. Had we only known we could have crossed a field cutting a corner off and missing the transport, saving a bit of time. We had sent an advance party off 5 days before to take over the huts. In ‘A’ Co[mpan]y 1 Platoon was last and the guide did not meet us so our huts were filled up by other platoons while we were looking for them. The bush or wood is in an awful state, there are a few trench roads down but not near what is required and we were over the boot tops in mud. At the finish we were broken up, our platoon and put in huts that were already full, five of us going into a hut that was packed with the 18 men already in. Mess Orderly was called for, but after having nothing to eat since breakfast there was only half the usual quantity so that half got none, I got none. Afterwards the Orderly Sergeant came and claimed all our hut for blanket fatigue and while on this I learnt of the short cut I mentioned above. We got back and just managed to get a drink of tea which had been made for those who had had no stew. We got one blanket each. We were by this time ‘up to the eyes’ thoroughly. The lads got settled down and I managed to squeeze in at the side, the other four of our platoon had to sleep in the middle between the other lads’ feet. Then to finish the day it rained and continued all night, still raining now when writing this on
Tuesday 21st December 1915 – We were awakened by Orderly Sergeant telling us rouse parade was at 6.45 but it has been cancelled although of course we had to get up. Later the officers came round and after learning the number of men in the huts, we were soon provided with tents. Tents in December heat far better than the huts, there are eight of us in, we are quite comfortable. Rained later on in the day. Orders to wash our feet and Condy’s fluid was provided. We got a fire bucket and found some coke and wood, also a tin so we made a fire, warmed the water and washed in our tent. Had a fire on all day and we went to bed after tea.
Wednesday 22nd December 1915 – No parade today, it rained a little but had a very nice day with some books I found. Tonight in our tent we had the co[mpan]y’s sonophone, one was sent from Stockton for each co[mpan]y and have had a good time. Issued with fur coats today.
Thursday 23rd December 1915 – Moved off directly after dinner to trenches. More rain today and last night. I got a pair of new boots this morning and all were issued with 2 pairs of socks. The bombers paraded all together, the battalion bombers, and after being on the road a bit we saw once again YPRES the city of ruins but instead of going through we cut by it and were met with a guide, a good guide he was taking us several miles. Rain commenced and night settled all at once, just as we were going along a light railway line which was then elevated about 6ft off the ground. After a long march we reached our trenches we only had to go on listening post, the remainder got into the dugouts; ours, which had five of us in, it dripped but we could not grumble, the lads in the firing line have no trenches.
Friday 24th December 1915 – Two men had been detailed off as cooks for the bombers so had breakfast after stand to. Were issued from trench stores with long boots up to the thighs in height. Two men were wounded in the firing line by a sniper and the Adjutant asked us for four carriers so I and another three went and with a relay of stretcher bearers we took Nelson to the dressing station in Mill Copse. We did not come back altogether. I waited for Rhys who was speaking to a chap he had met. When we got within a hundred yards of the trenches we were told from the trenches to get down, so we did, then we saw that one of our carrying party, Elliots, had been hit. After he was got away we crept up a ditch to the trenches. I have been told off for listening post tonight, I am top of the roll of ‘A’ Co[mpan]y. We, Major and I, arrived at the post 4.30pm, having to go along the front line, the snipers were on the back, the trenches in some places were about a foot deep in water. I imagined they all would be but some parts had only a few inches, some had been drained away, but all the trenches had given way more or less, in some places practically blocking the trench. The listening post was at the end of the battalion, in the trench, a corner part which could not be used for the firing line, it was in too bad condition. We have sandbags to stand on or would have had about 6 inches of water. Two reliefs of 2 men each were provided by ‘B’ Co[mpan]y as bayonet men, they relieving each other every hour. We were without relief from 4.30pm to 6.30am. The relief of bayonet men came in at 12 midnight and then knew it was Christmas Day. The Colonel visited at 10.30pm, ‘B’ Co[mpan]y’s Capt[ain] at 12.30am and a Lieut[enant] at 6am. Just as Captain Morley visited us a bomb exploded in the enemy lines, we afraid it must have been one of their own bombs gone off. The Germans had a band, just a rumble I heard and could not tell what they were playing, this was after midnight. We had 8 bombs with us.
Saturday 25th December 1915 – Christmas Day. When we arrived back at our dugout we were wished a Merry Christmas and returned the compliments. Also learned that no mail had come or an issue of pudding as expected. Had an hour’s sleep before breakfast then down to sleep till dinner. Meat and pea soup, after I boiled in my dixey my pudding from home, had a wash (I hadn’t yesterday), writing this and then will write a letter home. I know they will be thinking of me now, tea will then be ready. After tea I had no fatigues to do so retired early.
Sunday 26th December 1915 – The others have been out cleaning bombs but Kelso and I are on the Battalion Sergeant Major’s fatigue, we have not been required yet, I don’t know what it is to do. On two of the cards I got today were these verses:
Best Christmas wishes
Though absent on this day of days
The day of all the year
This token that I sent conveys
A thought and word of cheer
We cannot as in days gone by
Clasp hands and offer greetings
But time will be when you and I
Will once again be meeting. from C.T.
To wish you a Happy Christmas
This Christmas card by love addressed
Is sent with joyous greetings blessed
May happy friendships, joys sincere
Attend you through a Glad New Year from E.T.
which I am sure are splendid. We had rain last night but today it’s a fine bright day. I have rubbed some anti frost bite on my feet and got a new pair of socks to put on as my others were damp. The anti frost bite is something similar to thick dubbin. Our ordinary boots are being dried and dubbined now, we gave them in when we got the big boots. The enemy shelled the wood just behind us rather heavy this morning. This afternoon the enemy sent about 20 shells over which dropped about 200 yds away; we are on one back of a valley and above the shells dropped on the other side, we were all watching and saw a few shells on the way over, this being the first time having seen any during the day with the exception of trench mortars. Was not required for the Sergeant Major and tonight are on ration fatigue, we provide a listening post, guard of three men and one NCO, our own ration fatigue and 8 men for ‘C’[?] Co[mpan]y’s ration fatigue; nothing special happened while on this.
Monday 27th December 1915 – From M.P. – What is best, that best I wish you, from H.P. [Herbert Pike Pease, M.P. for Darlington]. To wish you a merry Christmas and Happy New Year would be rather silly when you are not at home but in the midst of war and – – – death. My wish is that as a New Year dawns, God’s peace and goodwill will rest on us all and friends shall meet once more. From Mother – if only I can make you happy at a time like this, I don’t mind – – and – – am wondering if you will get home for Christmas. I hope so, it will be another dull Christmas without you and Albert.
From Father – my heart is in the wish that you will have a Merry Christmas.
Today we have to get our boots out of the store and give the big ones in; we go out tonight. Yesterday when doing my feet with anti frost bite I found a little gathering where I thought was a chilblain, it must have been caused by my old boots and it had been that no doubt which made my foot so bad when going to DICKEBUSH. The men who drove the engine were RE [Royal Engineers] non combatants, they have come over for that purpose only.
Tuesday 28th December 1915 – Moved out of trenches last night to some dugouts near the railway, the bombers are in dugouts, sandbag huts would be more correct, near a farmhouse. They are well built and dry. It does not look unlike, in imagination, a settler’s hut with our guns and fur coats hanging about. I used my fur as a mattress, we found some wood and a fire bucket so as the rations had come for today we made some tea last night. After breakfast was over, dinner was prepared and the fire again lit, but all fires had to be put out until 4pm as the smoke would be perhaps seen by the enemy. The companies are in dugouts under the railway and where we are is to all appearances an old broken farmhouse. Had rifle and bayonet inspection today.
Wednesday 29th December 1915 – The company went out digging tonight and last night, we did not. We have been extra hungry since we came down here so I found a tin of biscuits and made a pudding.
Thursday 30th December 1915 – Today went over to YPRES about a mile away having heard there was a canteen. I found the place but the canteen was closed down. I saw the figure carved of Christ in front of the Cathedral, still perfect as far as I could see, while the remainder was in ruins. The cloth market is now in ruins also. I don’t think there is one place been left untouched. In the front of the city is a lake in which are two white ruins. I saw them today and in what had been a church I looked in in quest of my journey and saw fourteen tableaux on the wall from the sentencing of Christ to after being put in the tomb. All the figurines were raised from the background and were coloured, a similar set but smaller are in a church at ARMENTIERES only are all white.
Friday 31st December 1915 – I was first up this morning so lit the fire and got the water on for breakfast. The platoon is not altogether at present but real cooks for ‘C’ section. Washed my bombs, had breakfast and we had a chat, then rifle inspection and washed and tidied ourselves up and two of us were just off over to the company for the mail; it is a very important place only the Corporal gave me my letters, he had been over for it. After reading them I wrote one then we had a chat partly about a chap I know and his mate was in our dugout; we had been informed that this chap Dixon had been killed. Then had a walk over to some RAMC who were in the railway dugouts. I tried to get some potatoes but they had none. We have not had an issue of them for days, we only had a bit of meat for dinner. After this went over to a battery near by us. They were firing. I wanted to see the guns fired but was not successful, but when near the noise was deafening and made my ears ring. Dinner was called for then so they being fired stopped; came back and our meat was being fried. I had a slice of bread in the fat, not liking the meat, and now they have made some tea, the regulation about lighting fires having been overruled by us and all the company cooks. We go to the trenches tonight, and will not be time to cook after 4pm. Did nothing special this afternoon only had a song and moved off to the trenches at 5pm. At 4pm rain started and continued all the time we were going up, it damped my spirits. I started thinking of the other years at home and those at home and service tonight at NORTH TERRACE. Have just come into the same dugouts as we were in before. Rain stopped when we got in the dugouts. This is the first rain for a few days. Had to go on ration fatigue so got my long boots to go with. After getting back we all made tea in our dixeys and then sat talking of old times and other New Year’s Eves. About 10pm there was an exchange of shells and the machine guns started. The ‘D’ Co[mpan]y bombers had to go up to stay in the firing line, Capt[ain] Glasspool having sent for them. Then ‘20 more minutes’ said Nottingham, the bomb officer’s servant, then later on a ‘Happy New Year’ and greetings were exchanged by Nottingham, Revell, Stevenson, Kelso and myself, we all being in the same dugout. Then the guns of ours started letting the New Year in and the Germans would know it too. About a quarter hour’s heavy firing, we guessed 5 batterys [sic], there was quiet for 10 minutes and then the Germans who had not yet replied sent about 6 whizzbangs. About 1am, (continues in Roger’s entry for January 1916)