Stephen Warner Diaries, Volume IV, August 2017

Wednesday 8 August

“Have just had two days of fine weather in which to pass the gas course and test.”

“The ordinary drill with mask and helmet with lachrymatory and chlorine tests and the rest – the first named had a delicious stench of pineapple but makes you weak like a child if you get it in your eyes.”

Friday 10 August

“Where at Felixstone we used to have the searchlight, during the night, here on the horizon other constant plastics from the guns bombarding the Germans.”

Saturday 11 August

“At mess in the evening the now common toast was given by our colonel, “gentlemen, I propose the health of these officers who are going to the front tomorrow – we wish them good luck and Godspeed!”

Monday 13 August

“They had been training at Etaples and Woody told me that the Portuguese were admitted to be very unsatisfactory and that owing to their quick temper, there had been more than one fracas involving bloodshed.”

Saturday 18 August

“On Thursday came the order for all officers of the 35th brigade to go up the line and I was told off to take up a draft of 30 royal Berkshire – a mixed lot of small drafts were joined up to us and we started off at 1.30pm on our 10 mile march into Arras.”

“Yesterday we went up to the battalion HQ about a couple of miles behind the firing and we were told that as they had so many officers at the moment we shall remain in Arras more or less for a time and begin some jobs somewhere.”

“and now into Arras itself! Well, to start with I think I may say that, on the whole, the place is not quite so battered as depicted – of course evidence of the bombardment meets the eye at every turn – a house here which has no roof, a house there which has a great gaping hole in the side and another nothing but a heap of rubble, but the majority are all standing and appear capable of being made habitable in the short term.”

“The houses immediately surrounding the Hôtel de Ville are absolutely obliterated except for a few heaps of grass grown rubble – the petite place has been so roughly handled that I could not see one single whole façade and on one side about 6 houses in a row had been entirely demolished – I do not see how this place can ever recover itself.”

“The cathedral, museum, library and student’s college all practically one enormous building are hopelessly gutted.”

Sunday 19 August

“As I write this at 11:45pm on a still and starlit night the flashes and booming of the guns are very evident and the Germans seem to be sending over some heavy stuff which is falling in or near the town but so far not at our end.”

Tuesday 21 August

“Our Battalion is in the 12th division and our distinguishing division mark is the ace of spades.”

Sunday 26 August

“I duly went up to the firing line and returned safely after spending about two hours there being shown round by Wardle, the officer on duty. And so I saw my first real life trenches – pretty much what I expected except that our front line in this sector has been much knocked about and so is in a bad condition.”

“meals: dinner last night – soup, stewed beef, potatoes and cabbage – a kind of bread pudding made in a basin with Jamades black coffee. The whole washed down with whiskey. Breakfast this morning – tomatoes and bacon with toast, bread butter, jam and tea. Lunch – tinned herrings (very good although they were tinned fish!) cold ham and hot potatoes, and to drink beer.”

Tuesday 28 August

“Last night was some night! Slithering and sliding about, dropping into shell holes full of water, slipping and launching against the sticky sides of the trenches, up to the ankles in liquid mud, squeezing past other parties in the narrow way, all amid drowning rain and ever strong wind.”

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