9th May 1917

At 5am we detrained at Bouquemaison, a little town in open farming country some twenty miles to the west of Anas and proceeded on foot to Le Souich two miles nearer to the big town.

A few hundred yards along the road the column was halted in front of a small wooden building and Lieutenant Hooper, in charge of the draft, addressed us in the following terms.

“We are about to draw iron rations.  Each man will be issued with a canvas bag containing one tin of bully beef, one tin of tea and sugar mixed, six biscuits and one bar of chocolate.  These rations are for emergency use only and must not be consumed except in times of great extreme – for example if you find yourself cut off from your unit by enemy action and unable to draw rations in the usual way.  Any man found guilty of misusing iron rations will be court-martialled and subject to severe punishment.  You will now proceed in single file and the Quartermaster will issue one iron ration to each man.”

Having drawn the iron rations and stowed them away in haversacks we continued the march along the dusty road between the barren fields until on the immediate outskirts of Le Souich the column was again halted in front of another wooden building.  In a load voice Hooper again addressed us – “Now men, we are about to draw iron rations.  You have already been instructed what you will incur if you misuse them”.  Raising his voice again - “you will now proceed to the Quartermaster who will issue one iron ration per man.”

We had received our first lesson in the art of soldiering as practised by the old sweats throughout the ages from one who had himself served in the ranks and whose heart, I suspect, was still with the boys.  Poor Hooper was killed in the battle of Cambrai in the following November.

That night we had a brew up and by the time ‘lights out’ sounded every man was replete and yet fully equipped with one iron ration according to the requirements of King’s Regulations.

Le Souich was the usual nondescript French village but one with a particular sense of civic pride.  Across the village street was strung a high banner bearing the words “Le Souich – this is a clean village keep it so”!  We took over our quarters, one odorous, broken down cowshed with stables adjoining.  Across the road was a disused estaminet (1) and the usual midden encroached in all directions.  We were now the 7th Army Corps Reinforcement Camp and here were issued box respirators (2), the PG gas helmet having been supplied at an earlier date.  We did not appreciate this additional burden to our over weighted bodies, although I personally had good cause to be grateful for it at a later date.

Arrived Bouquemaison early morning, 5am.
Billeted in cow shed at La Souich.
Box respirators.
7th Army Corps reinforcement camp.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

Google Maps entry for Bouquemaison here
Google Maps entry for Le Souich here

(1) estaminet = cafe
(2) Imperial War Museum example of a box respirator here.