In same trench ’till dark. Shelled heavily about 1 pm to 2 pm. Shelling on and off all day. Have little charcoal fires in trenches. No water served out. Move to another trench about 50′ from German lines at dark.
Plogsteert Wood. German trenches shown in red
Romarin. Drill in morning. Wash and Shave. March off to trenches 3.30 pm. Passed through village that had been shelled, scarcely a soul left in it. Stop in dugouts ‘till nine, then go into front line. Hour on hour off all night. Four in our trench, J A Millar, I and two Hampshires. Little dugouts for sleeping in and cover from shrapnel. Two East Lancs. lying dead in front for last two weeks, can’t get them in.
Romarin was the battalion’s first exposure to trench warfare, and they remained in close proximity to the German front lines for the next 5 months, occupying various front line positions in the area between Poperinghe and Armentieres. Not all the time was spent in the forward positions, and much of the days were spent in fatigue work, carrying supplies up to the front line, digging new communications trenches, lectures and training. Diary entries are quite ‘matter of fact’, with signs of emotion restricted to detailed records of food consumed, much of which was taken in small restaurants which were still open for business in the front line area, and visits to local churches to admire the architecture . I found it strange to picture these men spending the day in a front line trench, and then going out to have dinner in a local restaurant in the evening, or going for a sight-seeing stroll.
There were certainly casualties, a few of which are recorded in the diary when they occurred within Hob’s platoon, but at no time does he allow his personal feelings to come through, and I suspect that the whole experience was so awful and terrifying that he was determined not to record this aspect. ‘So-and-so’ was shot and died, and that was that.
The battalion was in that section of the front line which fell silent over Christmas and Boxing Day, and Hob watched the football match between the Rifle Brigade and a team from the German lines. It may be well known that the football match took place, but I wonder how many of us knew that the Germans won 3-2. ‘Not a good omen’ I can hear him muttering. It is interesting, but understandable, that no mention is made in the Bn. War Diary of the fraternisation between the two opposing sides over 25th and 26th December.
March to Romarin, about 8 miles. Billeted in three-room cottage with loft. 30 men. Houses on one side of the road in France, other side in Belgium. One man and woman jabber like anything, can only make out a few words. Heavy fall of snow. Hard frost. Big gun firing over our heads. Attached to the 11th Infantry Brigade.
Bailleul. No duties all day. Had boots resoled in morning at French shoemakers. Saw milk cart drawn by dogs. Went out in evening, bought sausages and steak, and took them to an estaminet to be cooked. Wrote letters to be sent to Mother in case of accidents.
Marched about 9 miles to Bailleul. Arrive at noon. Dinner, footwash and shave. Went for a walk about four. Nothing much to see. Bandstands in squares seem to be usual thing. H.A.C. and lots of others here. Germans have been through about a month ago, cleared the place out but did no damage. Tea at café. Bought matches in street. Billeted in school on stage of theatre.
Leave Wisques for Hazebrouck 15 miles. Pass through Arques. Soldiers’ graves by roadside marked with packing case wood crosses. Dinner by roadside 11 am. Rained ‘till we were just on in Hazebrouck , but left off in time to allow us to dry. Cobbled roads. Billeted in café in the square, La Ville du Cassel. Bandstand in middle of square. Go out for steak and chips, café and rum, and cigar. Bought an English-French dictionary.
Wisques. Company orderly. Morning parade put off owing to rain. Route march in afternoon. Just saved from getting wet through again by ground sheets. Lovely sun effects in afternoon. Long avenues of trees. Squalid villages. Unkept grounds to large houses. One floor cottage with sort of upper loft, description of most of the houses. Big cart horses drawing little carts. ‘Paper’ men go about blowing on little horns. Hear we are off in the morning.