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.