However after having a good tour around Rouen I left for the Base. I arrived there late at night and in heavy rain. After being passed medically fit at first, though the quack wanted to put me into hospital, I got myself on a draft.
The day before we were to leave though I was put on guard and who should land in the Base but Mr Hill. Naturally he wanted to know what had been going on and when I told him that I was not too good he took me straight off guard and into the orderly room and made me sign a declaration of age. I was then taken off guard and put into the orderly room. From then on I had the most miserable period of my time over here.
Mr Hill was marked P.B. and could not get up the Battalion as he wished, so I did not forget to jib him about it. There was naturally a little excitement on the day when he was orderly officer and could not at first be found. The R.S.M. was in my tent discussing it when he (Mr Hill) found that he could not stay under the table any longer so he had to come out and do his duty. Rather rough on him as he was no soldier.
Just before the Polygon Wood stunt came off he went up with a draft to see the Battalion but they would not let him stay as he wished to do. So he had to come back and moan with me. We both detested the place and the crowd that infested it and would have been glad to get away from it. Eventually he did while I was in hospital.
I got a board out of that and was at first marked P.B. but when the quack saw my age he erased the first classification and altered it. I was of course annoyed as that lot went straight home. However I stayed and had to carry on. As I had told Mr Hill it was going to be a home for any of the Battalion coming through
and I did my best to make it so. By faking the states I soon had 75% of the jobs in the place held by 53 rd men. They were company for me and it suited me as they repaid me by looking after me in return. Many a fine meal I had then and was well looked after all around.
Occasional trips into Havre relieved the monotony a little but mostly I had a miserable time. I had seven trips into hospital with the fever which kept recurring and got pretty thin and discontented. In February, just as I was hoping to get away from it all I was sent to the Corps School to be attached there.
During the above period I had had some very rough times but also many good times. Even in the darkest periods there was always something to keep one's mind occupied and to make the hardships easier to bear. When Mr Hagerty first came into the line, we were having a very bad time but he provided plenty of amusement for us, though quite unconciously. It was very muddy and he managed to keep himself spotless right through. One could not help laughing to see him getting about with a big pickhandle, prodding the ground to find dry spots. And the others got a good laugh at my expense when I got caught between a whizzbang barrage with two dixies of hot tea. (I hung on to the tea though).
Then there was the night that Tom Lucas and I were sent up to Geudecourt with two 'donks' loaded with rations and mine got bogged. As it was the first time that I had had anything to do with such animals I was in a bit of a difficulty. The poor donk may be there yet, but the rations got to their destination thanks to other chaps passing the same way.
After Fritz evacuated I struck the same job again, this time to shift HQ across the old No-man's Land. There were four of us and none had ever had any experience with horses at all, barring me, as above. It was a pitch black night
and only that but I knew the place so well from patrolling it so often. My donk got into a trench then and another one got bogged. And the officers' mess saucepans made the devil of a row. Thank Heaven I never got the same job again.
I do not think anybody laughed much though, when four of us were left in our possie in Blighty Trench while Fritz was shelling it like mad; everybody had got orders to evacuate, but we had missed them. While we were there he only blew five shelters in. It was fortunate that nobody was there. I got knocked down by about half a shellcase that came hurtling over, and a scratch on the face from another piece, and that was as near to being wounded as ever I got. Not to my sorrow either, needless to say.
It was about the same time that the Hun scattered a ration party that was around a truck on the light railway there. An 8" shell landed right on the struck and completely obliterated it, without wounding any of the crowd that were around it. Something similar happened one night out on patrol. Fritz saw us against the snow and dropped a 5-9" into the middle of us out in the middle of No-man's land. For such accuracy I suppose the gunner deserved better luck, but I am most thankful that he did not get it.
Well I think that I have said enough of that time and will go on with the yarn from the time I got to the Base.