Before Fritz had evacuated the Somme area he had carried out some very intense and heavy shelling which had caused us many casualties and given us a very bad time in every way. After that it seemed like Heaven to be free from it all for a while. On his side of No Mans Land there were fresh green fields and fresh country everywhere, except for the villages which had all been almost entirely obliterated by our artillery. During the preceding moths we had had some very dark periods and I now felt the loss of my old mates in earnest, although I had made many others. Arch Willman had gone, McSpedden , Reid killed, Stoney & Slade wounded, and Griff gone away with a very severe dose of malaria How I got through it all without a scratch still seemed too good to be true. I had got a good deal of fun out of it though and even at the darkest times the situation was never without its humour. When we were alongside the Tommies, we had a good deal of fun though we were in a rotten position and my feet were very troublesome.
There was the night that we had gone over to them and tried to explain that Woolloomooloo would be our password. And our familiarity with our officer seemed quite incomprehensible to them. They were a good lot though and several times we went out with them on patrol. Talking of patrols again there was one night when six of us went out with Mr Hill, Claude Lineham; It teemed rain and was very miserable but Dick and Bill livened things up by giving us all of the latest rags much to our annoyance at times. 'Im afraid to go home in the dark' is not a bad song at all so long as it is not sung while you are tangled up in the wire in front of a Hun trench.
The night that we made our first acquaintance with gas shells was also a bit comical. There were three of us with Mr Hagerty counting the great number of dud shells coming over until we had counted over a 100. Then we got a strong whiff of the gas. We then had a short argument as to whether it was gas or not but soon decided that it was a case for gas helmets. The only casualty we had from it was Dick Scott, who thought he was 'garsed' and put the wind up the Tommies for miles around by blowing the 'tromus'. Johnny Laing, a sergeant with whom I was camped decided that a diet of tinned peas and milk was the thing to pick up on.
Well we stayed there for about a week or so and then went up to the line at Beaumetz. And I think that was absolutely the worst trip that I ever experienced in the line. Open warfare was always spoken of as being so much better than the trench style. After my experience of it there though, I had strong doubts.
On our way up we passed through several villages deliberately ruined by Fritz in his retreat. Our position was in a good sunken road with old ammunition possies on either side, so we all thought we had a good home. Gutsers were right though! We got no rations the first night and the next lot that we got had to do us for the rest of the four days. And the water(?) that we drank is best left undescribed. After four days of extreme misery I was sent out with bad feet and a recurrence of trench fever. Within a few days I was well enough to go into Bapaume and saw what a mess the Hun had made of that town. I did a good deal of tramping around after canteens though and returned to Fremicourt worse than ever.
About four days later we picked up the Company and we did a day helping the 56th in the Doignies stunt. When we had finished that we were all more or less broken up and felt very glad to start out for a rest. How I did the march to Thilloy I do not know but there were many others worse off than I was. Bert Buckman was, I think, the only one of us that could raise a laugh. Bennie was so done up that I gave him a hand with his pack, and brought on another dose of fever. Incidentally I lost my own pack during this move with all of my souvenirs etc. Captain Ramsay had quite made up his mind then to send me back to the Base on account of my being under age but I managed to be kept on.
We spent a fortnight there and then made a long march back to Becourt There we had splendid weather and a pretty good time in general. The hot days made themselves felt on me though and I was soon in Hospital again with the 'dogs' disease'. It was then that I first noticed Kline. I had several arguments with him on all kinds of subjects and also heard his 'after the War' speech. While in there the Battalion moved off up to Bullecourt. We had all heard of the stiff fighting going on there, and as the Company had gone over a week and we had all kinds of rumours back I made my mind up to get out and go up. I was still a bit mad headed, but learned better only too soon. Well after a good deal of argument with the A.M.C. orderly in charge of us, I got out and was sent up as a signaller. We had to march to Bazentin and that took all the good out of me at the start. There we got onto the light railway and had a good trip to Vaux. We had to get out and walk most of the way as the thing seemed tired, but that was a mere detail. We stayed at Vaux for the night and were ready the next morning to go up to the Battalion. Just before we started our chaplain came in and I think we all took advantage of his presence as we never saw too much of him. Then after dinner we started off.