10th June 1917 (Sunday)

Fortunately that first night in the trenches was quiet, maybe the Boche was also engaged in relieving his front line troops and was not inviting trouble.  I awoke to the glorious song of the skylark high above in the clear sky and experienced a strange feeling of elation.  Under the hot sun with no responsibilities of a personal nature, good friends on either side, I was happy with a new-found freedom – tomorrow could wait!

Together we peered over the parapet towards the enemy trenches in the hazy distance – fascinated by the vast white expanse of the chalky landscape covered with millions of brilliant red poppies under the deep blue sky.  “In Flanders fields where poppies grow”* – but this was Picardy; we saw no poppies in Flanders.

In Flanders Fields is a war poem, written in 1915 by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

With Forster, Bradley and Willis the day was spent happily conversing and writing home.  Letter writing was a problem.  Conscious always of the censor’s blue pencil hovering in the background, it was impossible to relate anything but the most trivial activities of the daily routine and difficult to express one’s personal feelings.  My own correspondence was stilted in the extreme and consisted of a stream of white lies which bore little resemblance to actuality in my earnest endeavours to allay the fears of those at home.  I now know that I underestimated the perspicacity of my mother who often tramped the deserted Essex fields in the dead of night listening to the murmur of the guns across the water.  The printed field service cards were a blessing.  By the deletion of a few lines of print the troops were able to send out frequent, brief messages to those at home that all was well.  Moreover the censors were relieved of much labour and, it must be admitted, so were the writers.

Rose 9:30am.
Stand to at dusk.
Front line - digging trenches.
Stand down at 4am.
All night shelling.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes