I did not refuse mine. It was vile stuff, but I never did jib at taking nasty medicine. From there we moved to Bernafay, another camp of Nissen huts which was the reserve line. In those days there was no night bombing done, nor much shelling of the back areas. Some of our chaps struck fatigues up to the line right away, but I was a 'Signaller in Training', a very important person who scorned to do such things. One afternoon at about four o'clock we moved up to the line. I was told off for Ration Fatigue, with Arch Willman, Strange and Bert Buckman.
At Waterlot Farm we experienced shell fire for the first time. I heard something whistling towards us and saw a cloud of smoke alongside some engineers near by, and the force knock them over. As nobody was hurt I thought them very harmless things and so did not get the wind up then. Right along the duckboards from there, we had them bursting between us (W.S. and J.) and the party in front, about 50 yds in front of us. Fritz was very accurate, getting the boards each time. When we arrived at Neeule Dump we sat down to watch the others coming. At the same time Fritz began to sweep backwards and the first shell got the party behind us. Stonestreet was wounded and Slade too. I then remade the acquaintance of Tom Lucas who had two Mills Bombs in his haversack smashed to pieces.
Well, as I still had some doubts as to my power of endurance I did not know what to think when I saw the things we had to carry and the distance we had to go. However I got along very well. On reaching the platoon's position I did get an eye opener. The line was nothing but a row of old shell holes and one had to go over the top for about four hundred yards to get there. And Fritz was supposed to have a deep line of trenches about 500yds. in front. He never gave us any trouble though and we were very thankful for his flares, which he used in thousands.
Arch and I wished to take hot tea up to Mr Hill and our mates in the morning but he would not permit us to as there was no trench, so four of us used to take it up to the other platoons every morning as well as do the night trip. On the first afternoon Fritz gave us a heavy bombardment for an hour. I then saw badly wounded men for the first time. However that did not prevent me from finishing frying my bacon and annoying Arch by refusing to come into the shelter.
The next morning when we were returning from our trip, we passed some pioneers in the trench who poked a board up above the top to let us pass Immediately Fritz opened up with Whizz-bangs. As I had a big stew dixie on my back I could not hug the sides as the pioneers were doing. The chap nearest to me seemed very frightened and I shall never forget his face when I asked him if they were whizzbangs. As they did not trouble us, who were all new to them I gave Arch a nudge and we made a dash for it across another open stretch. I lost my footing on the ice and skated most of the way.
After being in for four days we moved back to Bernafay again for four days. Two of our refcts. were killed and several wounded. Whether it was because Fritz spotted our new leather jackets or not I don't know, but as I [have] so often seen since, new men always get a rough go on their first time in the line. The old hands of the Battalion had told some poor chump that the new jackets would draw Hun fire and some had been only too willing to change them for the 'chatty' old sheepskins. Also during that trip in I had picked on a new shell hoe for Claude Lineham and I to get our water out of. It was not till the last day that we discovered the two dead Huns in it.
While we were at Bernafay Griff had a tin of pineapple and gave the chap standing near him a nudge in the legs saying:– Have a bit Hilly? and much to our surprise Mr Hill turned around and had some. Bill Hill, a Lewis gunner, had been standing there just before.
Firewood being scarce and the lining boards of the huts being too valuable for keeping the wind out, we used stacks of buiscuits available, for the fire. While camped here I struck my first line fatigue and they then became a nightly episode.
We used to start after dark and go to the dump at Guinchy and there pick up the material to be carried. From there it was about 3 miles to the line along the duckboard tracks. Going along in a bitterly cold wind with your load trying to twist around one's neck was anything but a pleasure. The load used to consist of all kinds of things up to a ton in weight, and the size of a house in bulk. Curved sheets of elephant iron, double duckboards, iron pegs for wiring, iron girders, beams of timber etc. The usual thing was to make three trips before returning home.
I must say here that the behaviour of the Engineers was scandalous. At Guinchy too were several batteries of heavy guns and it was the usual thing for them to fire just as we were passing under their barrels. It was nothing to be blown fifty yards off the track. It was on one of these jobs that Reid was killed, staying to help another wounded chap along. The general thing for the next few months was a trip in the line of four days and a spell out for six or seven but a fatigue every night.
On the second trip in, much to my delight I was picked for a fighting patrol, and was always told that I was dotty by the others. From then on I did nothing but patrols, of which here goes for a general account.