The night began to get colder and colder, but the days were still warm, and the lice and flies just as bad.
We just lived from one day to another.
Mail day was a great event.
We opened our mail, swapped the news and talked a lot of home.
Got the papers to read – the war news especially, as we did not know anything about it – only the little piece directly in front of us.
We read with much amusement the stories of two of our boys who had arrived home for discharge after only a few days in the trenches. The nights were long and lonely; one hour on sentry, an hour lying down on the fire step – go to sleep with the noise of bursting shells and the crack of the rifles, and wake with them still at it.
Often winter nights at home sitting by the open fire and listening to the crackling of the sparks from the wood still reminds me of the intermittent rifle fire on quiet nights on the peninsula.
How long the nights were in November, when it got dark before five and was dark for about fourteen hours.
And how hungry we were.
In fact, hunger and food were the chief topic of conversation.
Bully beef, army biscuits and dried veg; a handful of prunes now and then, and apricot jam made out of turnips and hayseed (?). 2 oz of cheese per week and two oz of butter per week per man.
I often wonder since I came home why we eat so much.
I often feel stuffy after a big meal, and I think back to the army meals – just about a quarter as much.
We were always hungry but still strong and fit and able to handle all kinds of hardship. We were 35 days in the front line on a stretch one time.
General Cayley would come in and ask our officers if we could stick it for another few days.
He sure liked us, and our old Colonel Burton loved us and we him. We were quite a handful too.
Whenever we had a mix up with the Regulars in our Brigade he always took our part.
Once he objected to the High Command that we were getting too much digging.
He said “these boys came over to fight, not to do all the dirty work”.
He went off sick, then we got Colonel Frew I think – I don’t remember too well, for I still had dysentery bad.
No pain any more, but just the constant drip, drip and a very uncomfortable feeling either sitting or walking as one’s bowels were weak and came down.
I was in a kind of haze or something – after a while we got used to them too.
I just went on doing the daily round, half conscious. Capt.
Bernard – C Company’s Captain went off sick. He asked all the boys to go and see him in his dugout before he left.
A good officer who was well liked by all men – a good leader – he understood us and was never too strict. Sometime early in the fall we finished our new firing line and put up the barbed wire in front of it.
A few days after the Worcester Regiment took over and while they were in charge of the trench the Turks stole all the wire.
The Worcesters blamed us for losing it, and after that every time we met on the beaches there was a free-for-all – till it came out on orders that the Worcesters had lost it.
There was an uneasy peace after that between us.
The Fifth Royal Scots were good pals of ours.
They even shared their rum ration with us, till we got our own a few days after joining the Brigade. As the weather got colder we had spells out to the beach, a few days at a time, and we began work on four dugouts to sleep in.
I don’t know how many men they would hold, about a hundred each I would guess.
We dug down about seven feet; then we put a ridge pole the whole length of it, put long poles on each side and let them run in on the bank about six feet and covered them with about three tiers of sand bags filled with earth.
They were good and comfortable and warm.
We could not hear the guns or shells and we lay as close as we could to each other.
Dan Moore said that there would be nothing left but bones, because we were packed in so tight.
You hadn’t room to turn or scratch and you got warm.
Then the lice had a great time.
Our Sergeant said eat plenty, stow thick and be lousy. We just had one night in them when up comes the big rainstorm.
We were ordered to the firing line and did some growling and swearing.
We did not know how lucky we were – we went in the front line the day before the day of the storm.
It was awful hot that day; we lay down in the bottom of the trench to get a breath of fresh air.
About four or five in the afternoon of the 26th of November the rain began, the like I never saw, and the thunder and lightning were also the worst any of us had ever seen or heard of.
You could see miles and miles when the big flashes came and when ‘twas over you could not see your hand before you.
And going in for rations we had to take hold of each other’s coat tails so we would not lose contact with each other.
I never saw it as dark in my life. Late at night it began to blow from the east and it snowed and rained and froze intermittently for two days and nights.
I was sent out to the beach in charge of a couple of men to get the rations and bring them in.
When I got out, Sergeant Hector McNeil had them all ready – an East Indian and three men to each gharry (A horse-drawn carriage, used primarily in Egypt and India, often as a cab).
The road in was by this time in spots a raging river.
I nearly committed murder that night.
The driver of the leading gharry kicked off his shoes and refused to drive till his shoes were found and that was impossible for there was about four feet of water there, and besides ‘twas as dark as could be.
The mule stopped right in the middle of the river.
There were two of us spoking the wheels but chummy refused to drive.
I got so mad I reached up and hauled him down and pounded hell out of him.
I used to bang his head against the gharry – only for one of the lads spoke to me, I might have injured him badly for I was in a murderous rage.
I fired him ashore and got up in his place, took out my bayonet and gave the mule a little jab and he sure got on the job pretty quick.
And incidentally, our fellows were the only ones who got rations that night in our Brigade. When we were waiting to go around a little hill, where they always gave a couple minutes machine gun fire about every five minutes, we heard somebody moaning and we went to have a look and found a chap of the London Regiment lying down on the wet cold ground in the pouring rain, crying – only a young man too.
We stood him up and walked him around till he got warm and put him on the road to go to the beach.
Then we left to go in with the rations.
His regiment was only about two weeks with us and they should have been good and strong. We got caught in machine gun fire on the way back and lost five of our seven mules.
Had to take the harness off them and make the two haul the seven gharries.
One of the drivers was killed too and I don’t know why we did not lose more, as the bullets were hopping off the old gharries pretty often, while we were getting them ready for towing out.
Anyway, in our hurry we forgot about chummy.
Next night when we were bringing in the rations, we stopped as usual to wait for the fire to slacken, and I said to the boys, let’s go and see if chummy went out to the beach.
There he was, lying down just where we left him, dead as a doornail.
He was better dead anyway – he hadn’t guts enough to live. When we got out with the gharries that night, instead of going back to the line, I was sent to guard the rum.
It was stacked in a ravine and done around with coils and coils of barbed wire, but the flood coming down the valley from the salt lake took the pile and drove it hundreds of feet in all directions all over the hillside.
Well I was up there all alone walking back and forth to see that no stragglers came along and got at it.
It was still dark and raining, with thunder and lightning, when suddenly I tripped over something.
I stopped and felt around – ‘twas a box of rum – two one gallon jars. — After a few minutes we were all herded out in the open to dry ourselves, and a new bunch went in.
In the meantime, the windows were packed with laughing girls seeing what they could see.
It’s not often a gal gets a front seat and a chance of a hundred naked men standing in a line.
Some of us were shy and modest, but some were not and I expect some of the girls were uneasy for a time. We got our clothes after a long wait and sorted them out.
We put them in tied up tidy, but anyone that had not marked his clothes was out of luck, as the gals must have mixed them up deliberately so they could watch the fun.
Personally, I got my own tunic, but trousers that would not fit a boy of ten.
Eventually we got sorted out and we were marched off to our billets feeling quite fresh again.
But that feeling did not last long unless you had Blue Ointment to rub under your arms etc.
To kill the lice as soon as the eggs were hatched. We got paid – there was lots of beer and wine and champagne in the village.
We spent a few lovely days there getting refitted and drilled a few hours each day.
To hear the old songs of home – a real rest – after an hour or so we’d be quite relaxed and happy again.
I often wonder how the chaps who would not drink at all got by.
I never was real fond of liquor, but over there I liked it, for relaxation, to get out of yourself, to forget. We were at Louvencourt at this time.
The mail came and we had letters from home.
The mail was always looked forward to and read over and over and talked about, and then you’d wonder if you’d be alive when the next mail comes.
I often think of people who did not write their sons or brothers or husbands very often.
If they could only see the look of disappointment on the faces of their loved ones. The mail came on the 28th of June – a day before we went in for the July drive.
A buddy of mine, Edmund Edgar (Edwin Edgar actually) got a P.O.
Order for 25 pounds – it was in the P.O.
In Aschu (Acheux) about four miles away and he asked Capt Rowsell for leave to go and collect it, but was refused.
He was in a bad way about it, and said “imagine being killed with 25 pounds coming to you – what a horrible thought”.
We were all broke and Edgar said to us all “boys, if I could get that money ‘twould do us all for a night anyway”. So I went to the Sergeant – I won’t mention his name – he was a good trump.
I said “Serg what would you do for a couple of bottles of champagne?” “Well”, he said, “I’d be as blind as the Sphinx for two or three hours.” That was all we wanted.
Edgar and I went and inside of two hours were back with the money and a couple of bottles of champagne for the Sergeant.
He’s alive yet, a real man he was, and a born leader.
He’d get men to follow him to the gates of hell.
Edgar divided the money and we had quite a night, and on the first Edgar was killed.
A very likeable chap; his cousin Charlie was killed a few months afterwards. We went in the line again on the 15th of July and our first job was to finish burying our dead, as some of them were still lying around.
You can’t imagine, or no tongue can tell of the smell of these bodies.
We had to take the equipment off them, search their pockets for money, letters, their identification discs etc.
They were just awful to look at.
We’d just dig a hole near them, put on our gas masks, put our picks over them and roll them into the hole.
The worst was taking off the equipment; when you’d open the belt, the gas would whistle out.
Lucky for us there were not many left.
We could smell, or imagine we could smell, our hands for weeks afterwards. We went out again on the 22nd of July to rest and refit.
We had some reinforcements; for the meantime we stayed in a place called Abbeyville (Abbéville) for two or three weeks and had a real rest.
We were getting new drafts now.
We got lectures and training every day.
We vets were especially urged to get the new bunch trained on the skeleton of the old. Again I was asked to take stripes but refused again – just did not want to bother.
Non- coms were always on the run, going here and there after the Officers.
And we, the privates’ chief pastime was to keep clear of digging parties, fatigues etc.
And getting away with it OK with our old Sergeants. ‘Twas alright till they all got wounded or sick.
Then I saw my mistake and some of my old buddies were quite peeved with me for not taking stripes.
However, at this time I was senior private doing non-com’s work leading patrols, digging parties etc.
But as soon as the new Sergeants were competent to take charge, I was back to the boys again. The Australians were billeted near us, and we got quite friendly again.
They had lots of money and spent it freely.
We had fine times together.
Six of us were billeted in one end of an Estaminet and seven Aussies in the other end.
Jack Davis and Leo Delacey are the only two I can remember, I forget the names of the other three.
I remember at Abbeyville (Abbéville) on the 24th of July I was writing a letter home, when I went to date it, I said “this is my birthday”.
One of the Aussies said we must celebrate, so he brought in about four gallons of champagne and a lot of wine, and the 13 of us sat down and made whoopee.
Boy, what songs and dances. About 2 in the afternoon we heard yells and oaths from an orchard up on the hill back of us.
By and by I hear Newfoundland, Newfoundland, and I knew our fellows were in a row and wanted help, so I said “come on boys, let’s go” and we went up over the hill.
I was just feeling nice and happy, a big Regular Army Sergeant ran down the hill to meet us.
It didn’t seem to me we were fighting, and before I knew it he gave me a good wallop in the face.
And before I knew it I was lying back of the Estaminet and one of the Australians giving me hell for letting a Limey knock me out. What a scrap that was.
Seems some of our fellows were eating fruit in the orchard, the English troops tried to stop them, as whatever damage was done by the Regiment, the Division or Brigade had to pay for it.
Generally ‘twas our fellows who were a wild bunch, and it was really too bad, for most of the English soldiers had only 10 cents (six pence) a day to spend.
We had a dollar ten, and for that do the Brigade was assessed 200 pounds damage, as it seems there were two horses bayoneted, beside the damage to the trees.
We did not mind our share of it, but it sure made a small pay for the rest of the Brigade.
That was the chief reason they did not like us.
Besides, we laughed at them for saluting their officers at every twist and turn, and being afraid of their non-coms.
We saluted when we could not help doing otherwise, and did not bother much about our NCOs, only doing what we had to do and lots of times covering up for them to keep them from being demoted. Coming out of the trenches that time we had a long march out to Louvencourt again.
I remember we had not marched four miles, when four of our new draft fell out.
Capt Rowsell went back and talked to them.
He said “nobody in the Newfoundland Regiment falls out on a route march – that is our record in this 88 Brigade and keep it that way”. “look around you and see what some of the fellows around you are doing and feel ashamed of yourselves.” Some of the guys were marching with their boots hung over their shoulders – their feet were too sore or too swollen with trench foot to wear boots.
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