31st May 1917

Squad, physical, games, bayonets.
Tested box respirators by tear gas.

Original diary entry
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30th May 1917

Physical, games, etc under Lt Chilton.
Pay - 15 francs.
Evening on range. 8 inch group, 2 bulls, 2 inners, 1 outer - 150 yards.

Original diary entry
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29th May 1917

The silent enemy legions struck suddenly as we three lazed in the long grass minding our own business.  Bradley was deeply absorbed in a book but in the hot atmosphere Forster and I were content to sit and ruminate.  Jackets were removed and then shirts.  Forster said “I’ve got prickly heat”.  It was in fact something more tangible and he and I spent the next hour probing the hundreds of lice comfortably ensconced in the cells of the thick, grey woollen vests so thoughtfully provided by the army.  The camouflage was perfect and it was only those who had partaken of their fill that could be readily identified by the contents of their little semi-transparent bellies.

Bradley was disgusted and said so in no uncertain terms.  How could fellows of decent upbringing allow their bodies to become so filthy – cleanliness being next to Godliness, etc.  With mutual understanding Forster and I listened to his diatribe in silence and at length abandoned the exercise for the day.  Bradley stoutly refused to admit to harbouring lice, fleas, bugs or any other form of parasite but just to satisfy our curiosity he removed his clothing.  We returned from tea in about an hour to find poor Bradley still searching busily!

So far as the infantryman was concerned lice were his blood brothers.  True we had an occasional “bath” usually by means of primitive contraptions consisting of horizontal pipes irregularly spouting drips of boiling and ice cold water onto the heads of the naked bodies underneath.  We dried ourselves feeling moderately refreshed and more often than not re-clothed with the same lousy undergarments we had taken off.

The billets and dusty, straw “beds” which had been occupied by thousands of men who had passed that way before were the main breeding grounds but no man could pretend that he himself made no contribution to the grey battalions!

My mother, aware of the disgusting state of her son, sent out many preparations guaranteed to exterminate all kinds of vermin.  I remember “Harrison’s Pomade” which certainly helped but one would have needed a gallon jar to do the job properly and besides, it was very messy.  On one occasion I received from home a large cardboard box which contained, according to the accompanying letter, one home-made cake together with a large packet of insecticide.  I opened the box expectantly to find a mixture of cake, currants, and carbolic.  The most effective weapon against lice proved to be the lighted candle along the seams of the garments but even that method had its limitations.

Harrison's Pomade advert

The Bow Bells Concert Party* (see diary entry below)

Squad drill and lecture by Mr Hayes.
Bayonets, etc.
Bow Bells concert party - Harry Brandon.
New rifle (sniping).

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

* This work has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighbouring rights and is being made available under the Creative Commons, Public Domain Mark. The Wellcome Library.

28th May 1917

The allocation into sections of the men of the new draft in their respective platoons was now essential and B Company was paraded with all the officers present.

Snipers required special qualifications and were chosen first.  Volunteers were called for – “Any marksmen?” – there were none.  “First class shots?” – I looked at Bradley and raised my eyebrows.  He responded by whispering - “No fatigues!”.  Simultaneously we took one step forward and were thereupon nominated as Platoon Snipers.

Poor Forster was nowhere in the running when it came to shooting and gloomily foresaw the break-up of the trio.  I am glad it did not work out that way.

6:55am parades.
Detailed sniper with Bradley.
Map reading, contour lines, etc.
Air raids.
Half day off.
On the range in evening.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

27th May 1917 (Whit Sunday)

Drumhead service on the football ground was a change from the exertions of the previous day although to me the regimentation of the Church service smacked of religion by numbers.  Standing at attention in the boiling sun I could not attune myself to the pious attitude the occasion demanded nor enter wholeheartedly in the many appeals to the Almighty to bless our cause and our arms.  The ceremony failed to provide the necessary uplift which the spirit demanded and I became depressed and ashamed of my heretical outlook.

In the weeks that followed I learnt to know the meaning of Christianity without frills from all those men with whom I spent every hour of every day.  I owe them much.

Church parade.
Divine service on football ground.
4:30am air road.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

26th May 1917

The general was late – a prerogative exercised by the top brass.  From an early hour the company were hard at it - squad drill, rifle drill, more squad drill, rifle drill, marching and wheeling in formation interminably until officers and men were sick and weary with the continuous performance.  Lunch would be late.  Platoons were detached for individual squad drill and Lieutenant Smith manoeuvred No. 8 into a secluded position at the rim of the perimeter.  Here we continued our labours until Smith, in desperation, said “Hold it – I’m fed up with this lark let’s play strap-ass”.

Strap-ass is a simple game.  I have forgotten the precise rules but for the purpose of this chronicle the title itself is explanatory and all embracing.  Briefly, the participants stand in a circle facing inwards.  Each man in turn has the privilege of using a heavy leather belt, any man at the receiving end has to chase around the ring to avoid the buckle end and resume his position.  We became thoroughly immersed in the enjoyable break from routine, not excluding the worthy Lieutenant himself who in the excitement of the chase was prancing around like a schoolboy and generally behaving in a manner unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman, at least on the parade ground.

No. 8 Platoon were having the time of their lives when a voice from the ring spoke.  The Colonel, not only the Colonel but also the Brigadier, standing not many yards away were interested spectators.  Whatever our distinguished visitors may have thought about our military antics No.8 Platoon and the officer responsible for them, Smith’s reaction to the unexpected and his demonstration of quick thinking should at least have earned him a few marks.  After one, quick obscene exclamation he said, in effect, “Carry on with the strap-ass, we can’t stop now you’ve got into it and for God’s sake don’t let me down”.  I am sure the Brigadier had never before seen such a rip-roaring display as we put on that day for his edification.  To our great surprise the great man congratulated Lieutenant Smith on his enterprise and the men of No. 8 Platoon on their spirited exhibition.

The battalion was under strength and a further draft arrived in the afternoon.

GOC's inspections.
Half day off.
Draft arrives.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

"On May 26th, the G.O.C., 56th Division (Major-General Sir C.P.A.Hull) inspected the Battalion, and thanked and congratulated it on the part it had played in the Battles of Arras. In the course of his speech he impressed on all ranks the need for greater reliance on the rifle; and it is of interest to note that, in the fighting in the autumn and afterwards in the spring of 1918, the Battalion specially distinguished itself by the effective use it made of this weapon."
Excerpt from "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" [ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

25th May 1917

‘Battalion Orders’ we rarely found exciting or amusing - except sometimes, as on the occasions when it was announced that the Colonel had for disposal at cost price a number of high class razors which could be purchased at the canteen.

However commercialism was forgotten and, in his best parade ground manner, the Colonel announced that on the following day the GOC himself would be undertaking an inspection of the regiment.  There would be no formal parade since the great man had intimated that he preferred to see the Battalion actually in training according to the routine of the day.  There followed a long harangue on the pride of the regiment renowned for its rifle drill and smartness on and off parade, etc.  Any man found guilty of offending the code would, in army parlance, be ‘for the high jump’.  The battalion toiled and sweated as it had never done before.  We were not even permitted a good night’s rest.  At 11pm and again at 4am heavy air raids on the casualty clearing stations at nearby Duisans disturbed our slumbers.

Paraded for GOC's inspection on Saturday.
Air raids - 11pm and 4am.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

24th May 1917

We halted in front of the billet and on dismissal the usual scramble for the best places ensued.  The quarters consisted of the usual barn but with a variation.  Two tiers of bunks had been erected around the four walls and we slept on chicken wire instead of the cold stone floor to which we later became accustomed.

Since the lower tier was more easily accessible and had obvious advantages for manipulating equipment and other gear the first comers naturally took possession.  I was in the first rush and immediately staked my claim by depositing pack, rifle and other impediments on the ground floor.  My satisfaction was short lived.  Uncles (his real name) was, at a guess, a well domesticated bachelor with an overwhelming passion for evening cocoa.  Climbing into the upper bunk he neatly arranged all his goods and chattels; set up an abominable primus stove of sorts and balanced his mess tin precariously on the top.  I lay on my back apprehensively watching events through the slackened chicken wire above my head.  That was the one night Uncles went without his cocoa.  A few extra stains on my uniform was not of great import but the full contents of one mess tin of boiling mixture on the chest was not to my liking.

Moved to Agnez(-lès-Duisans).
Wire beds, etc.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes
Google Maps entry for Agnez-lès-Duisans here

23rd May 1917

Physical, games, squad, etc.
B Company complimented by Colonel.
Bombing lecture.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

22nd May 1917

Detailed as bomber by 2nd Lt. Smith.
Service by Chaplain.

Original diary entry
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21st May 1917

Bath. Parade.

Original diary entry
Original diary notes

20th May 1917 (Sunday) - Joining the Battalion at Duisans

Motor lorries to Duissans.
Joined Battalion, 8th Platoon, B Company, 1st QWRs.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

"When the Battalion came out of the line after the Battles of Arras, it was very weak in numbers, and it had lost the majority of its officers; but nine officers and a large draft of men arrived at Duisans on May 20th. Shortly afterwards the Battalion was up to strength."
Excerpts from "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" [ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Google Maps entry for Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise here
Google Maps entry for Duisans here

19th May 1917 - Letter

Letter home to Mum and Dad ...

19th May 1917

FSMO (1) inspection, etc.
March to Bouquemaison.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes
(1) FSMO - Full Service Marching Order

18th May 1917

Route march to Ivergny.
Bad feet.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

17th May 1917 - Postcard

Postcard home to Mum and Dad ...

Same scene of L'Eglise St Vaast, Riviere, France in 2008 on Google Streetview

17th May 1917

Very wet - no parade.
Repaired billet.
Rifle and sword inspection.

Original diary entry
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16th May 1917

Paraded sick with foot.
Fatigue - burying cow in field.
Wet and cold.

Original diary entry
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15th May 1917 - Postcard

Postcard home to Mum ...

4 Cambeys Road, Dagenham, Essex on Google Maps in 2016

15th May 1917

Route march.
Kit inspection.

Original diary entry
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14th May 1917

Extended order. Fatigue - wire carrying.
Wet and stormy.

Original diary entry
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13th May 1917 (Sunday)

Mess orderly.
Church Parade. Field Service.

Original diary entry
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12th May 1917

Bayonets, physical, musketry, etc.
Half day off.
Concert (regimental) at the Chateau.

Original diary entry
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11th May 1917

Lucheux - 5 miles away.
Medical inspection.

Original diary entry
Original diary notes

Google Maps entry for Lucheux here