I left the Base with six others for the same destination, the Corps School which was then at Aveluy. Owing to the rotten memories which I had of that part of the Somme I did not view the prospect with a great deal of pleasure.
After a tiresome and uneventful train trip we got out at Albert and walked to the School. The town was then looking pretty good as a good deal had been done towards rebuilding the ruined premises. After a long walk we arrived at our destination and found that the School was to move within a few days to the St. Omer district. Of course there was plenty of work to be done and we had far from a good.
we were attached to the Engineers and were expected to be rough carpenters and also to know something about a few other trades as well. I was indeed a rough (in fact a very rough) carpenter but seemed to prove satisfactiry [sic] We were there about five days before we started on the move. The party that I was with were put onto loading lorries and then changing the load onto the train. It was far from light and I did as little as possible.
The journey lasted two days altogether, the route being by Achiet le Grand, Arras, Bethune, St Pol to Esquelebech, where after spending the night in the truck we changed to the light railway and went to Bolzeele. From there we were marched to Merckeghem, the site of the new school. For a week I was then very engaged in helping to erect Nissen huts. At Bernafay I used to think them very convenient and simply arranged. Needless to say I now learned differently. I had only one uniform, and that was the good one that I had brought from Havre, and as that was also my working suit it was soon in a disgraceful state indeed. And I must have looked a picture covered with paint and tar, doing very little but giving instructions to those who at least should have been in charge. Anyhow two days later I was put in charge of a squad to erect them without the advice of the Engineers.
I got a great surprise one day then, to see Nick Carter arrive. After I had left the Base to go, presumably, to the 2nd A.G.H. he had decided to follow on. And like me he had been sent to the School, all the time thinking how fortunate I was to be at the Hospital. Just as I met him a runner came along from the orderly room to take me up there. Naturally I wondered what was wrong, particularly as I had noticed the C.O. giving me a good 'screw' on several occasions. However I went up and was surprised to see that the Sergeant had a huge sheaf of papers all relating to me.
As I had then no idea of what was going to happen and knew that they were not the papers I had brought with me I got the wind up right away. Instead, I was told that the Colonel had noticed me and was putting me in the best job available at the time:– Officers' Mess caterer. He considered that 'navvying' was no good to me. Perhaps he had decided to put me where I might do a bit more work to earn my pay. The new job was certainly more satisfactory on account of the good food, and easier work, though it meant long hours.
The day after I had been put in there, the C.O. came around looking for me but I was out. He asked the cooks and waiters whether I liked the work and if I had too much to do or not. So when I came back I thought that he must be taking me for somebody he knew, and I quickly decided to keep well out of his way. If he had found I was not the chap he took me for, he would naturally lose all interest in me. He came again the next day, and I was again out (outside the back door) and took some of my usual work off my hands and gave it to the others to do. How I managed to keep out of his way for the following few weeks I do not quite know but he never lost his interest in me and my doings.
Carter and I were then going to get our leave together, when he got a cable announcing the death of his father in England, and went over right away. I got mine then the next day and went off. I had a good trip across and went to Shooters Hill. The general topic of the news then was the expected German offensive. I quite thought that he might get a bit of headway but certainly never credited the seeming huge success I read of a few days after I got to England.
Around Shooters Hill there were several Tommy Brigadiers and Colonels whom Mrs Butcher had introduced me to and I used to sit in their various office and discuss the situation with them. As they had never been to France there was nothing irregular about it for I had been over most of the ground that Fritz was getting so easily, and so knew a little about the situation. And when I surmised that he would make a push up North later on they thought that I must know something and one wanted me to write articles for him to send to the paper
Thank Heavens I knew nothing then of the despicable part played by the Tommies under the influence of their rotten officers then, for I would certainly have been put under arrest for disloyalty. The situation certainly looked very black till I saw the news that Foch had been put in supreme command. Haig and his hammer blows had never been less popular than with me, though I had never had any part in them.
As I expected the School had been disbanded when I got back but it was a surprise to learn that even then the Colonel had not forgotten me He had left word that I was to go to Corps H.Q. to see a Major Churchill about a position there with him. With a lot of kidding I got the staff-sergeant to let Nick come with me, and after a few days we started off for Caestre with a Sergeant from the Gas School.