Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
MacDonald letters, 14 June-24 August 1918
James MacDonald left Australia for London in 1898 to attend the Westminster School of Art and then spent five years in Paris then moved to New York. He enlisted in the 5th Battalion AIF and served at Gallipoli as a private and on 26 April 1915 he was wounded in the abdomen and was classified unfit for active service. He served as a pay sergeant from 1916-1917 in England. In 1918 he worked as a camouflage artist with the 5th Division in France and was medically discharged from the army in April 1919. Returning to Australia, MacDonald took up art study, publishing works on various Australian artists then having given up painting, from 1923 he was art critic for The Melbourne Herald.
Macdonald writes entertainingly and observes things as an artist, although he feels he should have been an officer and was often dissatisfied, illustrated in the following extract: "the probation has turned out, for me at any rate, to be just the thing to inhibit good work, not only because such a period inevitably tends to make a man nervous, from anxiety to do his best, but on account of the many changes and the consequent reluctance to begin work that cannot be completed; the lack of accommodation; the looking after traps; the want of help and the insignificance of one's non-commissioned self all of which tend to limit production: both as to quality and quantity."]
Camouflaging in Picardy
These letters were written from France to my wife in England shortly after the dark days and up to the turning point of the war. Going from England to do camouflage work and paint pictures for War Records purposes, I arrived I arrived at the front 10 weeks after the Australians had stopped the Germans at Villers-Brettoneaux. The letters were kept buy my wife and they have simply been filed in date order, typed, and handed to the printer. On reading the typewritten copy I can see that I have left out many things that I know might have been of interest, but it is possible that their insertion might have impaired whatever freshness the letters, in their intended form, possess. I have called them "Camouflaging in Picardy" because the camouflage which my confieres of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th Divisions and I, on the 5th were sent over to do, was used, in the end, only to disguise our painting activities. I am not aware of anyone else having recorded experiences in surroundings quite like mine, and this is my apologies for my hardihood in putting them forward. The whole period, environment and action interested me intensely and if, through these letters, a little of the atmosphere is conveyed to the reader, I will feel happy. I count myself lucky to have been on the scene on the wonderful 8th of August: the day that Ludendorff has called the "Day of Doom"
I am at my destination and it has taken me a week to get here. S. and I had a quick journey to Folkstone, arriving there at about 9.20 a.m. There we were informed by the embarkation officer that the boat to Boulogne would not leave till 4f30 p.m. He told us where we could leave our equipment, gave us each a pass and said we were at liberty to do as we liked until the boat sailed. An Australian sergeant who looks after embarkation matters there then took us in hand, and after showing us where the Hun had not long ago bombed the town and killed a few children, women and old men and blown a house or two to pieces, left us with some tips as to what there was to see, where to go to eat, how to get on and off the boat and how to act when we got on the other side. We made a tour of the pretty little town, bought and sent off some post-cards and then went to listen to the band. The parade on the top of the cliff was full of wounded men and officers and women, and looked quite gay. In the distance looking towards France, we could see balloons, apparently tethered to floats and round about them and along the coast was a ceaseless patrol of seaplanes, which sometimes landed on the sea, only to rise again shortly in a sort of wild-duck flutter and resume the rounds. A great number of Americans were in the town - a fine looking lot of men and very well behaved. An endless number of them, it seemed, were all the time marching in column of route through the streets, in from or out to their camp and a host of them were sauntering through the town, up and down its quaint, hilly, twisty little streets. They were buying things. "Chahclate" and cigarettes were their chief purchases, but, on going into a shop to get a nail clip, I was told by the comely lady who owned it that there were none to be had in the town: "those American soldiers have bought them all." Their bearing was remarkably good. There were a lot of them in these small streets; thousands: yet, they got in no one's way and there wasn't a word from them that anyone could have taken exception
to. They'll give a good account of themselves or I'm a Dutchman. We got to the boat in good time, but she started late. Once started though, she didn't waste much time. Three T.B.D.'s, one ahead and one each flanking us rushed along to shepherd us and, well ahead, scouted a silver-queen dirigeable. A brisk wind blew and the little airship most of the time was beating up against it obliquely. There seemed to be a good bit of channel traffic, but what it was I couldn't say. None of the vessels we saw were escorted. They looked like tramps and trawlers. Of course the boat we were on was crowded; packed full of khaki; and a fair number of women - nurses, V.A.D.'s, W.A.A.Cs, and more civilians. The first thing we saw at Boulogne was a couple of wrecked planes - one on the water and another which appeared to have crashed on a low bit of cliff. Otherwise the initial glimpse didn't reveal anything specially warlike. Our bulky traps handicapped us in getting off and once on the pier the distance to the quay seemed immense. We alternately lugged and carried them until we struck an A.M.L.O., a gentleman whose tunic must have been made for him by a Patagonian or Thibetan tailor. It was about half a foot too long for him and looked like some kind of fancy hunting coat. Perhaps it was once the fashion in Ruritania. I told him that we were to report to him and he would set us on our way, but, as we were special cases, he was at once gravelled and played for safety by deciding to send us along in the ordinary way. That's why it has taken me a week to get here instead of a day. All the other "other ranks" who had come across on the boat had by this time moved off to march to the rest camp at Osterhove, called by the Australians "Starvation Camp" or "One-blanket Hill". This A.M.L.0. said we would have to follow them and calling two sergeants, told them to escort us to the station, there to leave our luggage until we left for Havre. This gave us a chill. It meant travelling the two sides of an inverted isoceles triangle to reach from one point to the other of the base! To get our impedimenta to the station we hired a crapulous looking son of Gaul, Who had never let the repression of absinthe weigh on his mind - he had discovered satisfactory
substitutes. Elderly, splay-footed, all wrists and knuckles, and round-shouldered, he didn’t look the part of a bearer of burdens, and I told him so. However, he assured us with amused pride that these fardels were a mere bagatelle for a man of his calibre, and producing a greasy length of window cord he cunningly slung the two bulky bundles over his shoulder and shambled to the station. We - the two sergeants, Scott and myself, went with him and, that done, were then directed to the camp. The sergeants (who were Tommies) were decent, chatty fellows and they strongly advised us first to get something to eat. The first place we tried we were told by the waitress was only for officers, so, out we went. The next looked all right, but when we saw some officers eating there Scott suggested that he should ask if our presence was objectionable to them. He spoke to a lieutenant, who told him that, for his part, he was agreeable but he would ask a colonel, who was dining, if he minded. The colonel did, most decidedly, so we went on the search again, and at last found a place and did pretty well. We then set out for the camp, and after passing some wrecked streets, the successful result of a Hun raid of the night before, reached the cheerless place; a sort of a "khan" on our pilgrimage. Awaiting our advent there, was an excited Sar. Major who told us that the adjutant wanted to see us at once for an explanation as to why we hadn't come "with the draft". We went to his office and were greeted with a fine, free gush of denunciatory oaths. As the cad had an Oxford accent, was a captain and looked a gentleman, his profanity and deliberately offensive manners were an obvious misfit. I let him cool down (or rather cease, for his heat was assumed) and then quietly explained the situation. He let us go and we sought our tent, where we found that the one subject of the camp was the mean ration and the bounderism of this jack-in-office. Next day, the 8th, we found that we had to entrain at the Tintelleries station, so S. & I left the camp earlier than the others, to retrieve our luggage from the Boulogne station. We got a cab from the latter place and arrived at Tintelleries in plenty of time. There we made friends with 3 charming young French women, ladies who were doing
red-cross work at the station canteen. They were very serious, capable and attractive, and made the time pass more quickly for us fretting individuals. On our way we had in the compartment an English W.O. with a Scotch name, a good sturdy type; an Afrikander and a Boer named Lombard, a fine, enlightened man, athletic in body and mind. It took us 24 hours to get to Havre. At early twilight we reached Etaples, pulled up for a little while and saw the damage done to the hospitals by the unutterably wicked raid, when so many wounded men in cots and brave sisters were slaughtered. A stray American engineer who had boarded the troop-train somewhere en route and who said he was "lahst" reckoned he would get off here. He said that he had no idea where his "gang" were; that the directions given him were vague and that he didn't see why he shouldn't "combine pleasure with war" and see as much of the country as he could. His "mileage" was all right and he could always "rustle"a cup of "cawfee" and something to eat. Just before the train started again he came back and said "when God made this lil’ burg he must ha' bin feelin’ kinder keerless. He seems to ha' left out a few pieces." I think that in the half light he took the ruins for unfinished buildings. At Abbeville a bombing raid was in progress, but nothing landed near us. At Amiens the shells were bursting a few hundred yards away but we were either asleep or too sleepy to notice much. Our train, chiefly composed of horse trucks, was very long and very slow. When the engine stopped the jarring and jolting were something to cable home about. One would think the cars would telescope. And it went on all night. All day we clanked through Normandy; seeing few signs of war; occasionally a plane or a few motor wagons of the "ravitaillment" corps, curiously shaped pale-blue vehicles, scuttling across country. At noon we reached enchanting Rouen, and at 4 in the afternoon Harfleur. We left our stuff at the station and walked to the Base Depot where I met a lot of old friends, who welcomed me royally. The quartermaster, Capt. W., was well known to me, and he gave me a well needed new outfit of clothes. Here I parted from Scott who left for Flanders to join his
division, while mine was on the Somme. He and I were students together at Julian's and we had a lot of common interests, I was heartily sorry to have him leave me and hope he gets on well. His rank of private will lay him open to even more bangs and insults than I'm going to get. Isn't it ridiculous to be sent here as a sort of war artist - "other rank" hybrid? An ex-schoolteacher who writes ungrammatically is responsible for the arrangement. It takes a Pommie to do such things.
The 0. C. my company, Lt. White, was kindness itself, and he made things as easy as he could for me. We went through gas mask drill and through the gas chambers. The underground chlorine tunnel was weird, with its great cobweb like skeins of sickly green fumes hanging across the trench. On the 12th we entrained back along the track we'd come down four days before. We travelled all night and next afternoon we arrived at a camp not far from here, where I found I had to stay overnight, with the prospect of next day having to march here (eight miles!). This, of course, for me (apart from the question of my baggage) was impossible, so I explained the matter to the Commandant, whom luckily I knew and he consented to let me go by myself, instead of with a draft, so as to give me the chance of catching a motor-lorry and getting a ride. This I eventually did. That night I slept in a Nissen hut with one of the Depot clerks, a very obliging chap from Somerset, but a member of the A. I. f. There was a certain amount of discontent in the depot air that evening. Where it is situated there is nothing to see or do, so, the boys on the staff got busy with spades and improvised a sporty tennis court. They then applied for and got rackets and balls from the Y. M. C. A., and being enterprising Australians, invited the nurses from a hospital train lying near at hand to join them, for as long as it was stationed there, in a game. This evening the nurses came along as usual, but with, their M. 0., an Imperial officer and said they couldn't play. They stayed only a little while but, in that short time the M.O. must have got on the snobbish side of the depot adjutant for he, unlike any real Australian, shortly afterwards sent out his shamefaced batman on to the court with a notice which the
unfortunate kid had to hang on one of the net posts. It read "FOR OFFICERS ONLY" and the "boys could have been shot for what they didn’t say out loud about it. The perfidious sisters - God forgive them! - turned up later and for the considerable period up to when it got dark, they and the officers played, while the court-makers/dumb and sullen hung, round. I was sick from powerlessness. To them the Zummerset man said - "You talk a lot abeaout yer Australian democracy and English snobbery but, ye’re failin' inter it yerselves." "They wasn't like that, not till they come here" said the Diggers - "may their etc., etc. !! – them!!! the ----s!!!!" And I felt for them all the way.
I was glad when the time came to go to floor, with one ground sheet and one blanket. In the distance the rumble of the boche guns could be heard and against this sombre, tonal background a nightingale threw a wonderful liquid pattern of song. Larks in Gallipoli and nightingales in Picardy! Shelley and Keats to the accompaniment of Hell's orchestra! Love and Hate as foils to each other.
In the morning a stray youth who was going part of the way, offered to show me the road as far as he was going, so, with all of my things, excepting my painting outfit, we set out, our goal a point where motor- lorries could be hailed. By luck we had only gone a hundred yards when from this comparative backwater, along came the necessary vehicle and in we got. It took us as far as the place where I had to change and there I caught another, that landed me within a mile of where I am now writing. I'm dead beat - continue to-morrow
The place where I landed yesterday proved to be a railhead and big ROD engines of British make were hauling long trains of trucks, bringing up loads of road metal and shells; for a huge dump was here to feed a light railway that wound away to the east through the undulating country. The road bed of this light railway was of the whitest, most glaring limestone and the little engine belched out a huge volume of black dense smoke. It seemed to me to be an automatic guide to lead the hun to the dump. Some roadmakers of a Tommy labour battalion placidly toiled at pick and shovel work and but for their military caps, might have been in England in peace time. They relaxed, "man with the hoe" style, when asked the way and in kindly English fashion altogether told me of a short cut. This kept me to the fields for part of the way and then I struck a road full of traffic; teams clanking, straining, rattling and plunging up and down the road leading up to the chateau, our Headquarters. They were all supply wagons and limbers and followed each other as close as they could crowd. They were English drivers and horses and splendid brands of both. Some horses coming down to water were just groomed; and unsaddled and ridden barebacked by fresh young Tommies in the pink. The combination of cool, athletic humanity and satiny muscular equinity (?) was a thing to "buck" anyone. The boys controlling the traffic were Australians, in slouch hats and with slung rifles and they did their work on the puzzling cross roads with admirable ability and absence of "rattle". At last I turned down a road, lined with Foden road engines and steam rollers and found the chateau; and our headquarters. The whole of this village is dilapidated from sheer neglect, and I noticed - one couldn't avoid it - how flimsy French rural dwellings are. Just mud and lattice; with a tile roof giving a fictitious appearance of solidity. I was welcomed by Lt. L--- to whom Col. E.---- had written of my expected arrival. He was very kind and did many things for me, among others taking me to F.'s tent, where later in the evening I met several officers whom I indirectly knew and Capt. K---- an old 5th battalion fried. F--- who is an
hon. Lieut, and painting pictures for the Commonwealth (and free from military tyranny) showed me some very interesting sketches, and K---- and I had a long yarn in which we gave each other news of different men of the old 2nd brigade, I slept with the pay clerks on the floor of a small room in the ramshackle chateau, and sleeping lightly, heard during the night, at waking intervals, the rush overhead, towards the city where Purvis' "War" and "Peace" decorate the Hotel de Ville*, of monster shells. The night before, at twilight, I watched a ridge where recently our boys did some fine work**. The air was wonderfully clear and only on the horizon was there any smokiness, and against this opaque grey field I could see, like fireflies, or electric sparks, the flash of our artillery. It looked so small and the sparking was so sporadic that it was hard to think of it as part of a battle. This day I've seen some good flying and even now at 7 o’clock they are performing. Just now a boche, flying very high and probably coming over to try and observe, got a very hot reception from our archies. He turned tail and beat it for all he was worth with shrapnel bursting all round him. But - give him his due - he was game. They all are.
I am fairly well but suffer much from the disabilities of N. C. rank.
ST. GRATIEN, 16/6/18.
After writing to you yesterday I had to go before a staff officer to get orders and though he was quite nice I felt how hopeless it was to expect him to understand my situation. As a soldier I don't mind getting soldier's treatment, but having been sent as an artist it's hard to get ordered round as a soldier and I tacitly resent it. But, as this is the only way I may rebel, the inhibition has had a depressing reaction. Last night I was round at F's. tent, where I have a standing invitation. There I am permitted to meet on a footing of dubious equality, officers to whom during the day I am bound to show every kind of humbling, ceremonious respect. At the end of 3 months' probation ("if satisfactory" - according to the schoolmaster - tho' what he knows of art I can't say) I shall be one of them but with no hope of forgetting my former
(present) inferior position. This jewelled morning Headquarters moved to another war-worn chateau, of fine design, exquisitely placed among noble trees, close grouped and set out with a judgment well-informed by a sense of beauty. The village about it is pretty though neglected and decayed and being on high ground, from it one gets a good view of the fair, surrounding country though towards "the line" the terrain is cut up. The game is going on all the time - exactly like an incessant, intensified London air-raid; so, you need no description. To-day a hun plane tried to come over but one of our chaps got to him and he came down like a stone. We scrambled on to the lorries and soon covered the six miles between our old and new headquarters. My materials are still at the depot where I left them but I have my clothes in a kit bag with me. Arrived at the new quarters the first person I met was my brother brush attached to the --- Division. Although a painter, owing to his military rank of Captain, he has been having the time of his life and this also enabled him to join his division in 24 hours as against the week that it took Scott and me. Likewise he sleeps in a bed, has a batman to carry his tools of trade round, and eats at the officers' mess. And, nobody bosses him about, even though he is a painter. While I was talking to him my old friend B--- staff captain and aide to General M----- the divisional commander, came up and at once asked me if he could do anything for me. Streeton was also there, occupying in the --- Division a position analagous to that of Fullwood on the ------. They were moving to where we had just come from and when they had gone, a captain, whom I didn't recall, stepped up and introduced himself. He proved to be Ellis, once our champion Victorian runner, and is now our division's bombing instructor. We had met it seems at some gatherings where art and literature used to be discussed, and he had been an invitee. He was everything that was courteous and friendly, and his attitude took off a lot of the soreness I was feeling.
ST. GRATIEN, June 18, 1918.
My painting materials have not yet turned up and I am consequently more or less of a derelict. In desperation I began
yesterday in a flimsy notebook a sketch of the area commandant whom I met on leave in London and who has been very considerate to me. I have just finished it and he and all to whom he has shown it are pleased, which is something, though I didn't come here to do that sort of thing. I sleep in the same place as the pay sergeants, a loft in the building which once was "l’ecole des jeunes filles". The Town Major's office and bedroom and Divisonal paymaster's office are on the ground floor, and the staffs of both sleep on the garret floor. On the pay office walls still hang the educational maps, charts and time-tables. In a niche above the mantel-piece stands a plaster cast of the Virgin and Child with the paint flaking off it. A mossy wall surrounds the small grounds. In the front yard are a few sheds and an apology for a well, and in the back yard long grass surrounds some old fruit trees, some of which are laden with cherries. I heard Frank, the Town Major's batman, roaring at some mounted men who in passing had wrenched off some branches. Frank has a young lady who lives opposite, by name Mireille. She is the fruit of a Poilu’s promise and lives with her mother and grand mother in the opposite cottage. They, poor souls, wash and have some A.I.F. men billeted on them. The boys help them with the washing and are generally helpful and decent. Little Mireille, aged 2 1/2, comes over every day and calls "F'ank, F'ank" just like any little Briton might. Her father probably doesn't know of her existence - if he himself still exists. A few old French women still live in the village and a very few decrepit looking, more than middle-aged men. These and a crippled idiot make up the complement of the misfortune-stricken hamlet which, with its frail cottages tumbling to pieces and weed overgrown yards, matches the inhabitants. Round about is lovely country, well-cropped and sleek, with tree clumps, indicating the once neat and cheerful villages. We are on high ground and many of them can be taken in in one sweep of the eye. From the distance they might cheat one into thinking they were still living, but one knows they are only the semblances and husks of what they once were. We rise at 8 and then make for what used to be an estaminet and is still occupied; but no longer is bock, the
good (?) "vang roudge", amer, or any other drink to be had there. It is now the sergeants' mess and as we haven't enough knives and forks and mugs to go round we have mungey (manger?) in two sittings. We get plenty to eat, but oh! it's coarse, white bread but only one mug of tea as water is scarce, or rather, difficult to get as it has to be drawn from a well 300 ft. deep and then taken by water-cart to where it is wanted. At the place where the officers feloniously deprived the diggers of the tennis-court, the country was almost flush with the small but famous river* and away from those levels the land mounts to the country where we now are. Down there, the poplar marches in file, escorting the winding small stream, and each successive terrace flanking it has its guard of these graceful sentinels. The effect is very satisfying yet suggestive and gives the country an elfin, fairy-like character, until a camp quietly declares itself and makes sad confession of the real state of affairs. Up here, except in one direction the visible expanse is vast, and flashes on the horizon show it where the artillery are working away. A little village nearby is being steadily demolished, not on account of any offence on its part but, because cross roads meet there. Yet men and civil and military vehicles continuously pass through it and a few precarious traffic controls live there. All day long, dusty officers and men come in for money, or on duty. They come from the line or near it and they come impartially by road or across country. Generally they haven't much to say. They may vouchsafe an informative remark to the effect that "We stoushed them up in that raid last night"; or, "Steve was done in yesterday. Anything you want me to take back to Lofty or Dark?" (a tall friend or a black-haired one). They are always grousing, ragging and joking. Frequently they lug out some piece of loot from a pocket "Jever see one'r them? I got that from a Jerry we copped last night. Give him a cigarette for her." They go as they come, except for being loaded down with chocolate, fags, condensed milk and other things for their "cobbers". No one ever goes for a walk without his gas mask, though here the chances are fairly slender of anything happening. To-morrow I go on the trail to try and find my equipment. It means starting early but that will be quite worth while if success attends the jaunt,
June 19. 1913.
At last I have got my materials and strange to say, not much knocked about. Last night after finishing my letter I went round to Fullwood's to see an officer who in some way had learned where they were and who was going this morning to take me by car near that point on his way to some further out place. He, however, had had to change his plans, and so when I arrived was considering how he could fit me into someone else’s plans in order to get me over. While he went off to arrange this I had a look at two of Fullwood's latest sketches, both of which I think you would have liked. One was a study of the handsome old chateau seen from the lawn in front, with its splendid trees banked up on either side like deep green cumulus clouds and the other, the stone dove cot in the middle of the big stable yard; a curious building, something like a bandstand, with the roof serving as the loft. In all the buildings the stone is weathered and maturely toned, with pale buffs and greys prevailing and these, spaced with occasional bands of red brick and the green of the trees, make a particularly pleasing colour ensemble, which F.. it seems to me, has very happily caught. His tent-mate Lt . S., a Mancastrian, is a most generous, kind fellow and at their tent I meet various officers; most of them good sorts. s--- came back and told me that he couldn't make arrangements till later in the evening, so I had better wait, but no sooner had he said this, than a summons came for all officers to go to a concert. They told me to wait around and I did. till 11 p.m. without a sign of them. I put in the time watching the ridges beyond Morlancourt, Corbie and Villers-Brettoneux alive with sparks that looked like fireflies and sounding like the bellowings of all the bulls that Bashan ever bred. Star shells aplenty there were too, rising and falling with aggravating deliberation and illuminating everything. The unfortunate village near by was playing receiver general to a steady, vicious deluge of earth shaking shells, to which some nearby batteries of ours were replying with plenty of vigour. From N. to S., from left to right, as far as the eye could see the twinkling, thudding strafe went on without a stop. The hardened campaigners
aren’t interested, but me it interested intensely - and always will. Apart from the beauty and mystery of the phenomenon it makes my mind exert itself very energetically in numberless speculations - mostly insoluble and not even to be formulated at the time. This evening the situation is quite different. At this actual moment there isn't a single sound - not one except some wayfarer's footsteps on the crunchy street and some small birds in a huge beech tree I can see from the garret window. It has rained heavily all day and now at 7 o'clock the sky is clear, except for some mountainous, wool bale clouds. This is the first time for even a minute that strafe has ceased since I arrived, and for 20 minutes all has been quiet. Not even in the distance can a sound be heard. But to get back (I can hear the guns far off, waking up). I went to bed disgusted at 11 o'clock, though I could see that the concert had lasted longer than my friends had foreseen and so couldn't leave. So, first thing this morning I went to see Capt. K. the camp commandant, (our air-squadrons are off now for Jerry's lines and beyond-like flocks of wild swans, flying wedge shaped) and he told me to get his corporal to order me a half-limber from the transport lines, so that I could go myself to the camp and get the anxiety-causing, traps. The horse lines are under a lovely double-lined avenue of beeches. Everything under them is in dark green shade and so, horse: limbers and men ever move about richly silhouetted against a background of sunlit landscape. In the sparkling morning light this background was emerald and gold; sunlight on grass, mustard and other vegetation and "Norman" (that's all) and I and the two horses set out for .........£1,000 if you guess it. While he had been oiling up his harness I had been studying up a map, though I had a fair grip of the route. We took a road leading to a wood, which like every wood about contained various little camps of odds and ends - they are full of surprises. We cut through near one end of it and then struck a metalled road carrying plenty of traffic and after a few hundred yards of travel I heartily cursed the regulation that decrees that half limbers shall have no springs. Rough! "rougher than goats' knees" as they say out here. Then the rain came down in Noachian style. In five minutes we were
drenched - oozy and squishy with water and the road in spate - a scolding flood-creek. For two miles the jolting and drenching kept up, during which we passed through a recently shelled village and entered another wood. Here we pulled up and at an A.S.C. tent. I caught sight, just as he was disappearing round the back of it, of L---G--- an old Egypt and Staples friend. We had a joyous reunion, for, he is one of the best and he lent me an old overcoat. Norman the half-limber specialist got a new pair of '‘strides" (breeches) and on we went. We then drew near the village I'd seen shelled the night before, but without entering it we swung round to the left and pulled up at the edge of another little wood, and here I got my treasures - the canvas roll a bit bent, but otherwise the stuff not in bad shape. Off on the home trail the rain again came down on us direfully and in no time the borrowed overcoat was soaked through and I feared for my fine blocks of drawing paper. After more fearsome bumping over the macadam and down the roaring gullies, a-leap with rushing water, we got back. I descended stiff, shivering and dripping and dragged myself and my bundle inside. Practically everything except my book and one of my sketch blocks was undamaged and they but a trifle. I put these under weights to keep them from buckling, went for some lunch, hurried back, took off my water-logged duds and went to bed for the afternoon. At five I went to tea (our usual hour) and since then have been writing this letter. If this were peace time and you were here we could be enjoying it in a way that would "make Milwaukee jealous". Tomorrow if the day be fine and I am well I intend to wade right into some of the good subjects that are so plentiful round about. On my journey to-day I saw a great barn with huge wide-open doors, turned into a smithy; a regular Cyclops cavern. Several of our felt hatted diggers were welding and the heavy old beams up above looked in the glow like bulky red-hot metal bars against a purple-bloom shadow such as a cathedral vault at dusk would hold. There are lots of subjects, but their mobility is the drawback, though this may ultimately be to my benefit by forcing me to speed up my senses. Nous verrons. The sky has again clouded over and the setting sun throws the tree up, a brilliant pea-green against dark slate coloured banks of cloud.
It’s over an hour since the guns ceased grunting, but as soon as it's dark, no doubt they’ll begin again. Presently I’ll make my way round to old "Remus" tent and hear the yarns told.
June 20, 1918
This morning not feeling well, and the weather gusty and rainy I stayed in bed; that is, on the loft floor with two blankets and an overcoat. In any event I could not have worked, as my materials were not dry. I was very stiff from my drenching of yesterday, so I welcomed the chance of getting a rest and snoozed until about half past three; then got up, shaved and washed and to a little farmhouse for a glass of milk. Then I hied me to an amiable blanchisseuse and after some friendly debate regarding change, got it and my washing. Then back to the billet and lay down till tea-time - five o’clock. I felt better then and was on the point of going out to sketch when, down came the rain, so a little earlier than usual I began my letter. There has been almost complete quiet to-day and I have no news but heard indirectly that the Italians have disappointed the Austrians; I hope it’s true. Last night f---- was requested by the General to show him his work and was much pleased at the appreciation shown it. The General in private life is an architect and a man of taste and he congratulated f. on both the quantity and quality of his work, and said that he must have a competent and responsible officer to show him things of interest. So, on every favourable occasion he will be whisked off to the scene of something significant. It pleases me to know this, as f. is a dear old boy and his work has charm and is far removal from the banal.
ST. GRATIEN, June 21, 1918.
L. McC--- paid me a visit to-day. He looked well but complained that as yet he had not received his materials and was making out with scraps of paper. I gave him my water colour box to help him out and when his arrives he will hand it over to me.
He has had pretty bad treatment, the camp commandant of his division going so far as to put him on a picquet - that is, go on guard; but he made a protest and the C. C. had to climb down. This morning an obliging lieutenant sat for me and I did a drawing which pleased everybody. I felt quite bucked. He went bragging about it to one of the big guns who asked to see it and on doing so expressed a wish to be "taken". This I have just been doing and it is amusing to see his pleasure. Perhaps they're easily pleased but, boasting aside, I really think I have done something quite like him. He is a splendid looking man, the beau-ideal of soldierly appearance and it is a delight to set down his strong super-manly features. I hope it will send my stock up.
St. Gratien, June 22, 1919
Life here is very tame and uneventful. I had been hoping to get busy, but the weather has been so annoyingly boisterous (rowdy and squally), that anything in the nature of out-of-door work is out of the question. This is all very disappointing, and were it not for the interest I have in the portrait I'm doing I would be very much down in the mouth. And they don't want portraits from me, but illustrations. Unless these wretched gales give out there won't be any work to-day.
St. Gratien, June 23, '18.
I have to submit, at the end of each week, a diary showing how much work I've done. I set down what sketches I had done, trips I'd made and took it to the officer who for the time being is looking after the work of my real "boss". I took it along to him this morning and he told me that I must report to him at 4 p.m. and bring along what work I'd done. It struck me as peculiar that I should be ordered to do this (what does he know about it?) but when the time came round I was there with the goods, such as they were. It turned out that sheer curiosity was his ill-bred motive and he invited two or three other young officers
kindly to take a hand and patronisingly approve of the "works". This they did cheerfully though somewhat in the manner of Laodicea. I think they didn’t know what to say. The jocund convener of this reunion of critics then informed me that "before I went I could "take" him. What a lout! The whole performance mortified me. He then proceeded to tell me that the C.R.E. wished to see me with regard to camouflage, so round I went to his office at the other end of the village. He proves to be John Mather's son Leslie; a very able and nice chap whom I know but, when I got there he was engaged. I saw his adjutant and likewise he proved to be an old acquaintance and a gentleman. As a result of this interview to-morrow I am to mount a bicycle and ride out a few miles to prescribe camouflage for some brigade dugouts that are being heavily shelled and bombed. Had I that promised commission I could argue with him on the easily foreseen futility of such an expedition. They don't seem to grasp the fact that covering or disguising a once seen and registered spot bluffs nobody. But with my present rank I musn't open my mouth, so to-morrow I go on this wild goose chase. The weather has cleared up finely and I was promising myself a pleasant day's sketching to-morrow. I'll get it but, it will be plans for dug-out covers; if that is possible.
St. Gratien, 24/6/18
This morning I was given the original safety bicycle and directions which were to take me out to the place I was to inspect with a view to remedying. I had a cycling companion part of the way and together we pedalled through several villages now occupied only "by soldiers, some poor old women who probably feel that it is too late in their lives to move, and cats. Poor, ancient creatures! It seemed all wrong that after living the whole of their lives in one place that that place should so change in character that though these aged dames believe they're on the old spot they really aren't. They've stayed, but the village hasn't. They and the cats have remained for the same reasons. After comparatively little trouble I found my objective. It turned out to be what I suppose was once a castle wall or rather one of the faces of a "butte" reinforced by being bricked. The dug-outs which the engineer officer reckoned
could be camouflaged were made glaringly apparent by well built entrances of white limestone and all the disguising in the world would only draw attention to the fact that they had been disguised. Some of our engineers and some American engineers stood about and when I'd asked them a question or two they told me the place was unhealthy; that Jerry had just ceased shelling and no one could say when he'd re-commence. It was a wild goose chase and made me reflect on how little the army uses its brains. They might as well have had a sign up "Here we are" and then seek to correct it by putting up another "We're not here now". After a careful study of the place I decided that nothing on earth could be done to ameliorate the condition and that it would not lend itself to any treatment I could prescribe, so I walked to where I had planted my awful camel and part pushed, part rode it back. I took a different route back, and in a little wood struck Capt. C. who was sick in his tent with Spanish flu, which we call "dog's disease". He was pretty bad. Before this I passed a little hamlet, a watering point, as it was getting shelled, but the shells fell at the wrong end of it while a hundred yards away at its other end men were calmly watering the horses and mules. A great main road runs along here, but the Hun doesn't shell it, they say because he thinks he will one day soon be using it himself. What with head winds and hills I arrived & back dead to the world/with a rebellious "little Mary". The rough food and general conditions are beginning to play up old Hob with me. On my return I reported and was told that to-morrow I must go to see something of the same kind near to the same place. I then told the adjutant that I couldn't manage to push a bicycle out so far but that I would go if I were given transport and added that I felt too tired and sick to pedal it. He told me to report to the critic officer but till now I haven't been able to get him.
St. Gratien, 25/6/18.
Last night after several attempts I reported to quidnunc to whom I explained myself. He gave in to my arguments and allowed me a day off. So, all day long I've been stretching canvases and in spite of fatigue and painful stiffness I've had a good day: tomorrow, if it's fine, I’ll have a better one. We have the
good news of the Austrian debacle. Let’s hope the Italians make it complete. There's a great deal of air-activity and shelling. Yesterday I was only Just out of the nearby village when the Hun gave it a heavy dose of shells, and they bomb here every night.
St. Gratien. 26/6/18.
This morning I started a picture of the transport lines under the trees and a tent in which some of the men live. It makes about as interesting a little tableau as one could wish to see and right from the jump I was interested in it. Time flew and before I had nearly covered the canvas the light had completely changed. But change or no change I just had to go on and by the time I had it covered the picture was an altogether different one. However my main object was accomplished and if to-morrow the paint isn't tacky I will try to finish it. I had an enthusiastic mob of friendly and appreciative onlookers, all drivers, and as the horses went on to the canvas they would say "Hi, "Buck! there's your Black he's putting in", "Look Red! there's the sandbags you and Curly built up". One obliging digger, inordinately slow of speech, offered to clean harness in front of the tent. And clean it he did - I had a model for the whole day. All the jibes and roastings he got didn't rattle him in the least. Everyone who came up said the same thing "Don't put him in the picture sar' major (they're hazy about ranks) - he'd spoil any picture".
Onlooker, "What did you do in the great war, Daddy?
Model, "Go to the museum where this here picture's going to hang and you'll blooming well see"
"Put some shrapnel bursting over his head"
"It's a pity some don’t burst and kill him"
"There's frank's saddle hangin' inside the humpy"
"When that's finished, you can take it from me it'll be a dam fine picture. One o' these days I'll take me tabby to th' museum and say to her; "five years ago, kid, that wuz me, somewhere in France, doin' me bit fer Aussie" - and so on.
In the afternoon I made sketches of horses that will come in handy and on the whole I covered a good bit of ground. The town
Major allows me to write in his office and to-day an American Lieutenant came in, so I took the opportunity to ask him if he could tell me how to find Col.C. and Major S. His reply was "I'm from Illinois - they ain't fr'm Illinois - who the Hell are they?" He was about as crude as they make them, so I didn't persist. An old baron owns all the land round here and they say that he puts in a claim for every blade of grass trodden on and eggs on every one of his tenants to do the same and get every penny out of those who are defending his property. They swear at the Australians but skin them all they can - the most avaricious rooks on earth. Luckily our claims officer is a French scholar and some years ago lived in this district studying the sugar beet industry. Added to this he is a sworn valuator so he frustrates their brazen attempts to rob us. It's degrading isn't it?
St. Gratien, June 27, '18.
To-day I expected B. over from the 4th Division but he didn't come. I was keen to learn from him how his work was progressing and what sort of subjects he was taking on. I found that yesterday's canvas of the horse lines was tacky, so started another, a small thing, while the first was drying. The small one I finished to-day, a neat little dug-out under the trees. The usual transient group of onlookers was in attendance. Captain E., the officer who introduced himself to me, came along and made some very intelligent and encouraging remarks. He also offered to take me out, when the opportunity arrived, to places of interest. Last night "Jerry" came over and did a lot of bomb dropping. The boys were in their blankets in the loft reading by candlelight. All of a sudden a quick ear caught and imitated the uneven drone of his engines, which don't synchronise. "The Hun!,
the Hun!" he said sing-song fashion. All listened, and then, as the lights went out, joined the first in the chorus. They do this every time, and as he gets near they change it to, "for you! for you!" To-day it was said that several of last night’s Hun bombers had been brought down. This afternoon I saw a great attempt to stop a Hun airman. A very close "archie" barrage was put up to prevent his escape, until the hanging puffs of shrapnel smoke lay along the sky like a
carelessly flung necklace of pearls; but he doubled at a great height and eventually got away. But he had to go for the lick of his life. It has been perfect to-day and I was wishing I had a big canvas and the certainty that the fine weather would continue. As it is I go round making all the notes I can - just collecting data. As old Remus says - "you can't make pictures out of nothing". Material is the thing. To-day one of our men and two Tommies came in, having escaped from the Hun lines. They are in very poor condition and are being fed up, poor chaps. For a start they ate three breakfasts.
St. Gratien, June 25th, ‘18.
I have been out all day at some military competitions. A number of men under Lt. D. a friend of mine, mounted a lorry and set off early this morning for a rifle range the other side of Amiens. I felt rather sick when we started but bowling along on a perfect day over the plateau braced me up. We went through Amiens, not so knocked about as one would think and pulled up for a minute or two in the Cathedral square. The splendour of the facade set me thinking of that part of Anatole France's book, in which he invokes the spirit of the Middle Ages, a spirit whose influence he declares still infuses modem France ... Though I have never wakened nor stirred it to action, this has been, since I first set foot in France, a dormant thought in me. It is shown in all their doings and it is a spirit that has never touched the Germans. I know too little about it. In order to be well informed on the subject one would need to be a decipher of documents written in characters and dialects long since vanished and to understand the customs of France from the Pyrenees to the Ardennes and parallel them down through the centuries, in their relation to France's illustrious history, from the times of the shadowy Merovingian Kings to these present days when, still as fiery, still as invincible, she drives the savages who pollute it from off her honoured soil. Behind all her doings celestially suspended, (like the shining visionary angels one may see in pions early-Burgundian pictures, charging, with resolute faith, some soldier saint) this
gleaming spirit ever hovers, fortifying and vitalising her troubled soul. But she has been tried and troubled before; when we ourselves beset her. Yet she rose and drove us out; and we should be glad, now that we are fighting side by side, that she did; for, we can say that, what each of us endured at the hands of the other in honorable fight, together we can endure from a foe as unscrupulous and foul as we were fair and clean. That, what in chivalrous battle we inflicted on each other, together, with one mind, one body, one soul, one strength we will inflict tenfold, on a maniacally-perverted, common enemy. It would be monstrous to think that, a structure such as France has raised, by long, self-sacrificing pains, should be broken down by a horde, whose efforts at culture, imposed from outside, have always resulted in something grotesque and childish. Where quaintness was desired the Germans inevitably achieved the bizarre: where simplicity, the infantile; where majesty, the pompous; where subtlety, the involved; where sentiment, mush. Their evil, murky, imitation souls permitted them to plunge themselves into unfathomable sin when they destroyed the material of which were built Louvain and Rheims. When these places were built, miracles were done; and their destruction will work miracles, for, of their tumbled stones, a causeway will be built, To Victory and Glory; the Victory of faith; the Glory of high Ideals. The Architect Trustees of the worship, which the French nation entrusted to their hands, to be embodied in tangible, ever-present, enduring form, took no credit for their wondrous designs, (the results of which they never beheld), but declared that an angelic envoy had delivered them complete into their unworthy hands. And, so he had. A thousand years later he will deliver their enemies into their hands, or those of their brothers of to-day, which is the same thing. Not only were these stone symbols evidence of high faith but they were evidence of high and steadfast intellectual spirits. Reading, in those morning twilight days of France, was only for clerks; and for few of them. So they made these temples speak in sculptured images, which all could understand. Within, these carved forms were wholly of
sacred import. Without were sacred ones too; but, in addition, so that their flock might not be overweighted with seriousness and that they should not forget the joyous side of worship and the life of which it was the outcome, they sang, (in stone), the joys of the hunt and the vintage and harvest festivals, as gifts from Heaven for which, it would be ungrateful not to offer thanks. And all with a restraint that justified their exuberance; for, they recognised that temperance was due, as much as prodigality of worship, it stood as a manifestation of taste; and taste showed balance; proof that their creed came not from ill considered impulse but, from glowing fervour, tempered by the crystal waters of reason, for this has always been the basis of French thought; that, a belief that could not survive criticism, was not worthy to be held. This gives them a right to their enthusiasms and furnishes them with the enthusiasm that makes them fight for their beliefs. So that their devotion might receive all the aid from their surroundings that could be obtained, they built their cathedrals on a huge plan and of lofty elevation; and the decision imposed on them all the penalties of mental hard-labour which such a task implied. Such height failed for comparatively thin walls, but clustered pillars inside and buttresses outside reinforced them and offset their frailness. Their width demanded, and so did the burden of winter snow, a slanting roof. To cope with the outward thrust, which the great weight of these roofs made, they stiffened them with great props of masonry - flying buttresses, whose bare utility they made a virtue off by making them in themselves beautiful. These were placed where they were most needed, to uphold the apse, which they did with a superabundance of strength, not ventured on without reason, for thoughtless extravagance was early held by the French to be a vice. The interior structure of their cathedrals left no room for the story-telling decoration, and the necessity in those latitudes for light was imperative, so decoration, (a vital matter, the visible recitation of Holy writ, no less) would, but for the ingenuity of piety, have gone by the board. St. Luke himself must have carried the first painted window from heaven in
answer to the importunate prayers which rose from the hearts of the first stained-glass artist craftsmen. Light! but light blessed and illuminated by reason, glowing on high like a picture held there by an invisible seraph and carpeting with impalpable, spirit-gems the crucifix-shaped floor, remindful of the play of the last wrathful rays of the wild sunset on the first Good Friday. To soar they must sacrifice – of the sacrifice they made a grace. To spread they must make concessions and their concessions became a virtue. The character of their material bounded their desires, but they triumphantly overcame it. They heightened their edifice by forced perspective, making their clustered pillars converge; and their roofs and floors from the entrance at the west to the apse at the east dipped and rose respectively, cunningly lengthening the nave, not only to the illuded eye, for the body felt, if ever so little, the slight strain that made for the same effect. These then, are the concrete signs of France's early announced resolve, her declaration of her ideals, her profession of faith, a faith which has had and still has the approval of her people for better or worse. To have and to hold. And she will hold to them and vindicate them, despite the howlings of the blood-maddened war-wolves, whose rabid fangs, a- slaver with venom threaten, but threaten in vain, to tear her down. - - - Bergson explains grace, defining it as a series of consecutive inter-related movements, the combination of which gives pleasure because it results in, or gives rise to, a feeling of confident anticipation, which is charmingly reassuring and gratifying to the senses. In the same way true beauty is a reaction from a realization of efficiency; a truth which, two thousand five hundred years ago, the Greeks seized on and embodied in their marbles, thereby establishing, for Europe, an everlasting canon of taste. But efficiency in ancient Greece is not the same thing as efficiency in modern France, for it, necessarily, is modified by conditions of place and time. These conditions the French have grasped and used to qualify the French variety of the prevailing Caucasian average type. This refers to human beings and particularly to French women, for the French have always
showed a fierce pride and delight in their womenkind. France’s selection of her representative type was based on the same good taste, born of predilection (based on instinct), and reason (based on experience) that designed her cathedrals. And so throughout the piece; with due and requisite allowance made for differences of character of the matter under consideration. However, no matter what it may have been that demanded her attention no pains were, by her, spared to make the result a success and in her eyes nothing was successful unless there were put into it the love of country which, with that country, they had inherited, together with its great traditions, customs, arts, and laws. This was their libation to their ancestors, their silent and practical thanks for their splendid heritage, which carried, inherent in it, an injunction to perpetuate the intentions of those who had passed it on to them. They had to turn their five talents of natural gifts into ten and this they did by adding to the value and not to the bulk of their legacy. "Quality not Quantity" has always been and still is the watchword of the French: that and an altogether admirable economy which never descends to meagreness but becomes an agent of refinement. This economy running throughout the French nature not only governs her material life but her thought and is exhibited in all her intellectual products; brevity and justness of word; precision and sparingness of brush stroke; cleanness and decision of chisel work. As the exemplar of this fine human virtue she has always stood out and if she were to suffer the least eclipse nothing could replace it, for no other nation has made national economy a cardinal virtue. But she will have to make an exception to this rule when it comes to the punishing of those who wickedly and senselessly rave to destroy it and every other ideal but those of which they madly imagine they alone have the monopoly. Let her, when that day comes, take a holiday and make the punishment fit the crime; tho' it is doubtful if she can accomplish that almost impossible feat.
Ben didn't turn up yesterday. I suppose he found it hard to get a lorry to take him this way. I hope there's a letter for me tomorrow. This is just to keep me from breaking the resolve to write every day - next letter will be a decent one. Leist arrived yesterday but as yet I haven't seen him.
France, June 29-18.
The night before last Lieut. Deshon and I went for a stroll and as we were going along on the outskirts of the village we saw a 'plane disappear over a little rise of ground about 200 yds. away. We remarked that she seemed in trouble and decided to see what was the matter, but when we got over the rise we found a valley in front of us and away on the other slope of it, a mile off, we saw the 'plane lying still and tiny figures running to it. We made up our minds to go and have a look at her and on the way met the pilot and observer who were being taken by two English officers to the latters’ camp. Deshon spoke to the observer, a boy of about 19 or 20 and asked him if everything were all right. He replied, and it was evident he was very much keyed up, that they had been attacked at 20,000 ft. by 5 Huns, their engine knocked, and so they were forced to plane about 15 miles, every second expecting the engine to catch on fire and roast them. No wonder the poor kid was shaken up. When we got to the machine we found 200 or more Americans there who had come from a neighbouring camp. The machine was riddled with bullets and it's a marvel they were missed. From above, below and both sides the machine guns had been playing on them. The Americans were examining the machine all over like gulls
on a dead whale. Some of them came up on mule-back with Aussies double-banking on the same mule. They're as thick as thieves with our chaps - you can't imagine better pals. The reason is that they are on a par of intelligence and both therefore have little use for the poor Tommy, who hasn't had their chances. The attitude of the French towards us is very different from that displayed towards the English. We have a few American officers with us getting experience. They are very sore over the avariciousness of the French and so marvel at the generosity with which claims are granted. "I wouldn't give the god-damned skunks a cent - it's all they think about" said one of them. It's astonishing to see how flimsy their houses are - nothing but frame-and-mud walls - thin ones at that. Yesterday I went through the cathedral city but not right up to the cathedral. It has been hit 7 times but not materially damaged - three of the shells were duds and those that burst only smashed up pews and such truck. Of course the roof and ceiling suffered. The country round about is lovely. In form it's exactly like an upholstered seat but with a village on the top of every rise and another in the bottom of every pocket, and each has a little church set among trees. On inpsection the churches are all tawdry; as tawdry as the houses; and even the chateaux are of ridiculously poor material. Benno was over to-day. He hasn't yet got his material but was able to give me some information that I wanted very much. He was going to stay to see Leist, who left a message that he would soon be back, as he wanted to see me. Ben, however, wouldn't stay and it proved wise as L. hasn't come back yet. I am going over later to see him. We are supposed to have a conference here before long; I hope it's to be soon. I want to get all the outside painters working to give the less lucky army ones a better go. It's certain I can't go on with this roughing it indefinitely and at the same time do decent work. Under the best conditions it's none too good, but to one who hasn't worked for years and who isn't in good health, the present conditions are very hard and almost prohibitive of really good work. It's not fair and I hope it will be mended ere long. The good weather keeps up and I am making a sketch of a farrier's forge; the
quaintest one ever seen. I just mean to plod along gathering material until I strike a vein. That's all one can do.
Yesterday I borrowed a bicycle and with Lt. Deshon made for Dreuil on the other side of Amiens. We had a perfect morning to start on and with one or two stops for refreshment - grenadine at one place and strawberries at another - arrived at a little restaurant we had found on the day we went to the military competition. The woman who owns it is a good type of French -woman. She has a wounded husband at home - out of it for good; a son, whose portrait she showed us, with pride, still at the front, and - - Georgette. I’m not good in guessing ages but I should say that Georgette would be 18, a sweet wholesome type of the best French girl. She, and an almost as nice cousin, help maman, who, for those whom she knows, will get together nice little lunch. While we were lingering over our coffee three Aust. field Ambulance N. C. 0.’s. came in. They had a motor ambulance with them, and Desh - who is wonderfully ingratiating - persuaded them to take us for a run down South into French territory. It was a treat to get off the beaten track and enter untouched, rural France - so neat and fairy-like. The road was fairly good, the weather perfect and we bowled along its undulating surface at a great clip. Everything looked prosperous, sleek and very, very peaceful. The lawns were so velvety and the trees so shady I felt like getting out and lying under them forever.
’’Here will I lie while these long branches sway
And you sweet stars, that crown a happy day
Go in and out as if at merry play".
But if peace and rest were in my mind, speed and joyful noise were the objects of my friends. We passed one little village after another. The inhabitants just knew enough to say ’’Australians"! as we passed, until we pulled up at a somewhat larger one where a number of horizon blue clad men were "en permission". These grand fellows gave us the heartiest kind of welcome and from the jump, for the little while we were there, we were all good friends. With much handshaking we left
them and went on to another village, where we had a repetition of the first reception and at the third stop we were commandeered and taken to a sort of canteen where we were the guests of the mayor, about 100officers, N. C. 0’s. and poilus. They all shook hands with us and six drank our healths. Their democratic way won our hearts. A number had been to America, England, Canada and Australia and took a pride in airing their very good English; to the delight of all of us.
I tell you we left them with sincere regret. They all saw us off, more handshakings, blessings, jokes and directions. What great spirits and big hearts! We tore back to Dreuil where we left the A. M. C. men, had some dinner, and then as the dark was coming on mounted our "bikes" and silently pedalled home. Scarcely a word the whole way, and if we spoke it was "You remember that big captain with the medaille militaire and the black eyes? Well he was telling me - - - or "That bunch of five men are all that was left of the -th chasseurs - they act as shock troops, etc." "When I go to Paris, I've got an invitation from those two fellows: they're doctors. Oh, yes, I've got their addresses." And the last five miles in utter silence and darkness. It was a memorable day. We went about 60 kilometres S. of Amiens and if it were known might get into some trouble.
After writing my last letter I went to my friend Stapleton's tent and shortly after getting there Leist came along and we had a good long yarn over the situation. He agreed with me that it was unsatisfactory and told me of many arguments he had used to try and make those who had the ordering of affairs see things his way, one of which was the commission scheme. But they wouldn't have it. They were out to do it as cheaply as possible and they did. Nobody has any instructions as to what in the way of subjects it is required that he should paint, but the menace that, at any time, some feat of arms shall require depicting, all of a sudden, hangs always over our heads. Yesterday when I was at work he came along and we had another long pow-wow and
I think this may have been the cause of my being sent for to-day by one of the real heads here; an officer only just back from leave in England. This was an entirely different matter from seeing those other ones. This is a man of brains and ability, as was unavoidably evident, in about one minute, to me. In appearance he is like that film villain who rings the changes on Pearl White (is that her name?) in "The fatal Ring"; The Mexican-Japanese looking chap, who is such a good actor; only this Colonel is clean-shaven. Everything he said was to the point and he was very kind in his attitude toward me. I don't say that because he was kind for I am not so shallow; but, I was impressed by his rapid-moving mind. It was reminiscent of
H. R. B. the way in which, as soon as I had had my say, he had ready his solution and reply, having followed up my remarks in the same way as does a stenographer. I am to be given better chances of seeing things than hitherto and if there is to be found any room suitable as a studio I can have it. The camouflage is to be cut down to a perfunctory sufficiency to comply with orders, but mainly I am to have my own time to myself and am to apply to him whenever I want anything. All the same I feel used up and the life here is taking it out of me. I realise I'm different from these very much tougher men who can stand what saps my life.
St. Gratien, France
Last night I had a long talk with Leist and it proved to be as I had guessed that he had talked with the Colonel with whom I had the interview. If L. gets his way things will be much better for us, and I think he will, for he is a great persuader.
After I left him to go to bed he went for a further pursuit of the matter and if I can see him to-night I'll learn all about it.
To-day he has been up the line and I was rather sorry, for Billy Hughes was here with enough scarlet and gold braid accompanying him to outfit an army of beefeaters. Bean was of the party and if L. had been here he would have had a great chance to get in some of his fine work. Keith Murdoch who in England represents the Associated
Press of Australia "also ran" and I had a few minutes yam with him. He is an old Savage
and I kicked my inopportune self when I thought of my foolish neglect in not having, during the time I was in London, called on him. The Prime Minister was very cordial and everyone seemed pleased to see the wonderful little man - such a pocket edition of brains and energy. To-day I started a new thing, which should turn out well. I must confess I feel unpractised and would like to get down to a lot of graphic scales and five finger exercises, d'un facon de parler. Another thing is the amount of fatigue one can acquire on coming anew at the painting business.
I feel it particularly in the shoulders and feet - they fairly ache. Leist was telling me a yarn of the English sergeant-major who asked a soldier who complained of being ill where the pain was. "In the abdomen, sergeant-major", "Look 'ere young feller, me lad; it's only officers as 'as abdomens: soldiers 'as guts." Well. I'm a soldier and that's where the pain is. I'm glad you are beginning to get my letter, for I'm told the post is very irregular these times and letters in any case take a long time to get to their destination, I owe a lot of them to various people but don't feel inclined to write to them. I just save enough energy to get your's off and that’s all I can manage. I'll have to go now to find Leist."
I have very little to say to-day. Last night I went out looking for Leist, but couldn't find him, so I went back to my billet intending to go to bed. There I got yarning with one of the boys and as a big strafe started and interrupted our conversation we stopped talking and went out to have a look at it. The whole of the ridge that constituted the visible front was leaping with flashes and the bellowing never ceased for a second. We watched it for a time and then turned in. This morning I tried to paint it but it's one of those things to be described rather than pictured. At the mess at lunch time to-day I learned that I had been wanted at H.Q. but the message had never reached me; however I went along and found that something in the way of settled policy
is to be begun next Saturday. Anyway I am to meet Leist tonight and from him should learn something. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will be able to tell you something.
St Gratien, France
Last night after finishing my letter to you I went over to see Leist but found instead old Rentals Fullwood returned from Blighty. He said he was glad to get back and for part of the way had had as companions five very jolly American sisters who made that part of his trip, at least, a pleasure. He brought me some materials which he was kind enough to get for me and gave me various bits of news of different friends. Lambert he saw, back from Palestine, and of his work he couldn't say too much. He did a great deal out there, all small but full of detail and, according to Remus is extraordinarily intimate. I left them at about ten thirty and did a little reading before blowing out my candle. Before going to my billet the usual strafe was well in progress but a little while after blowing out the light the tremendous roaring and bellowing of the barrage which preceded the splendid success which you will have read of before this reaches you, broke out. It is quite impossible to describe but if you can imagine an orchestra made up of drums only all going for what they were worth in a closed room, you may have a slight idea. The strange part about the noise was the peculiar irregular rhythm of it and the way in which uncanny strains of sound threaded through the whole thing; as if a violin had been smuggled in among the drums. The same is to be heard in a big machine shop where a motif sings among the whirr and jangle and crash of the machinery. It reminded me of the march in the Tchaikowsky "Pathetic" Symphony only that it never reached a climax but ever kept droning away.
Other instruments there were too but they played minor parts and without a pause all night long, or at least at every waking interval. At times, owing to their nearness, our passing ‘planes drowned their song. It was magnificent and awful, and by the same token it has now, with a lot of daylight yet to go, started again. It, and the real, old indigestion kept me wakeful last night. This morning we got the good news which has grown
during the day and the Americans are pleased at our compliment to them. They and our chaps are sworn friends - it's most remarkable. This morning I made sketches of Hun prisoners, a woe begone, criminal looking lot. They were pleased as can be to be out of the brawl and wolfed their food like starved mongrels. The Americans who came to see them said "Guess you better turn 'em over to us, Aussies - we all've got otter-matics and all of us’re pretty good shots." One of the escort told me that the Huns told him they think a lot of our diggers and don't want to get into anyone else's hands. That may be, but I'll gamble they wouldn't want to get into the clutches of some of our regiments. An American machine-gunner surveying them said: "They aint soldiers. That son of a...... he's a minister - that god dam etcetera's a purfesser - that one's a school teacher and that one look like he's got wotter on the brain. Thay aint soldiers." That was after lunch; since then I've been on my back, hut feel better how and soon will go out to watch the big barrage that is now warming to its work .When it gets dark it ought to be worth seeing.
St Gratien, France
Last night, full of indigestion, I went to Fullwood's tent and we went to have a look at the Hun bombardment. It looked like a gigantic firefly display with summer lightning and a thunderstorm as background. It resulted badly for them and wound up with an air-raid for us with bombs a-plenty bursting round. One of their machines just skimming over the chateau was caught by the searchlights and looked like a monstrous silver locust, or a great shark, and presented a beautiful appearance, flying very, very low. Though a target for every archie and machine gun in the neighbourhood it got away and immediately after I went off to bed. With my indigestion and the racket that kept up all night I hardly had a wink of sleep so this morning after breakfast I lay down and from sheer fatigue went to sleep, not waking till nearly 2 o'clock. As it was past lunch time I went to the canteen and
got a tin of condensed milk, after which I went round to Fullwood and then back to the loft till tea-time. Since then I’ve been lying down. I'm hoping that the clouds will continue to pile up and keep the usual raid off, so that I can get some sleep.
Tomorrow I have an interview with a big gun, but what about I don't exactly known. It may be that I will get instructions which will prevent me writing tomorrow, but I hope not.
St Gratien, France.
Last Night, after finishing my letter, I went for a stroll with a couple of friends and then turned in early. In spite of a raid I got a fair night's sleep and this morning tried my hand at a nocturne - a night bombardment; they're wonderfully interesting things to do. At 2-30 to-day, I motored over to corps, where I found my 0.C. and Captain Bean. Bean is an extremely interesting man and altogether affable. In fact he seemed to me full of good qualities and I count it a pleasure and honour to have met him. Benno and Louis McC. were there too, and we had a quite extensive discussion as to the scope of our jobs. It developed that, for the present, at least, the more artistic side of the job will be, to a large extent, in abeyance and the part for which we went to school will take up most of our time. This was still further emphasized by the declarations of Major Casey who came along and gave a little disquisition as to our duties; from which we may safely anticipate a very busy time. But the appointments will be important ones, or should be, if we choose so to make them, and for apres la guerre the prospects are
BON. Our 0. C. predicts that we will get our starts in about a month from to-day; May 5th being the starting date of the probational three months. We had afternoon tea with Captain Bean, who proved to be a charming and most entertaining host and when all was finished, he drove us back to our several stations; Louis being the first to drop off. When we came to my village, we struck Murdoch and Gilmour, two journalists who come in Mr. Hughes' train and as I got off, they got in and went on to Ben's abode, where they would leave him and so back to Corps. The Chateau and grounds at Corps
belong to a French ultramarine-blue-blooded nobleman and they match well with his breeding; being noble and magnificent as can be. From so many points there are the finest, great avenues; converging on the chateau, or feeding or running at right angles to each other; avenues like the Observatoire, from the fountain to the Luxembourg; and no limit to the number of them. Where we sat down for our symposium, there were growing among the grass and weeds and wild flowers, quantities of "quat’ saisons" (strawberries) and as we listened to the talk we plucked and them. The old marquis and marquise, a dowdy old couple, came along. She was evidently very deaf, for he pulled her up and with his mouth close to her ear bawled "On m'a dit quil n'y a pas d’oeufs á Paris!!!" and on her making an interrogative sound and gesture he yelled: "Point d'oeufs!!!! --- á Pari!!!!!!"" "Ah, oui" said the marquise (who was of Lady Courtney's type); but I bet she didn't comprehend. Anyway she had the serenity of the deaf and probably didn't care if she missed what her lord had to say; and this time it wasn't much.
St Gratien, France
I have done very little to-day. Last night I had very bad sleep on account of the indigestion, so this morning I merely fooled round, beat my blankets, washed some things straightened up my ’'works" and material and read a little of Wells' "Mr. Polly'. which is good. After lunch your two welcome post-cards telling of having seen Lindsay and Dyson came along; for which many thanks. Later I got to work on an already started portrait of our D.A.Q.M.G. who is a man of great physical splendour, and though the day has been a languorous one and he sleepy and I washed out, I improved it considerably. After ten I went to see the M.0. and explained my condition. He proved very considerate and has prescribed for me and ordered special diet, so that I stand a good chance of getting on my legs again. Tonight I am going round to see Leist and after that to bed early; this time to sleep decently, I hope. I wrote to A to-day for some tips for I want to make a success of this camouflage job of mine. So much hangs to it. I hope he's able soon
to let me have his invaluable advice. Everybody here is in high feather; tails up and full of beans.
I have been eating chicken and rabbit to-day and taking medicine and feel a good bit better and in addition have had such a satisfactory interview with Lt. Col. Peck that though dead weary I am happier than I have been for some time. Tomorrow I will try to tell you something of it.
ST. GRATIEN, France.
Last night tho' 1 went to bed early the guns and the usual bombing raid made such a noise I couldn't go to sleep for a long time and every now and then some big fellow would roar and wake me up. As a result I have been pretty tired all day but, nevertheless, have worked well and have just now at 8-30 p.m. knocked off; and simultaneously the rain has come down solidly. My protector, the Lt. Col. I wrote of before, came to my rescue yesterday morning. I went to him and told him that pending the arrival of some matter for lectures which I'd asked A
lan to supply me with, I would like to paint a certain view, from which a picture of great historical interest could be made. He at once agreed, told me not to bothermy head abot the other matter and gave me a note to the engineers so that I could have some stretchers made of the size I wanted. He’s a trump. As soon as the stretchers are ready he will get me the transport to take me out, to where I cah overlook the field and perhaps get a good view of a stunt in full swing. On another matter, I this evening consulted my Major friend; the man of splendid proportions and good looks and he, like a gentleman, has put me down for a tour with the most important officer dealing with the matter, so, after all, things are not so bad as they might be.
But to get back to the picture. It is probable that I'll be out in the woods for 3 or 4 days, but I hope that the result will be to justify my being told off to do more of the same kind of thing; and, as my canvas is rather wrinkled, I want you, please, when you
next are in town, to get for me my canvas stretcher and charcoal holder. Don't forget as it is most import to me. And see they are securely packed and registered. Don't forget - most important! and a cup - an oil cup-too. I must go now about some business.
St Gratien, France
There is nothing of interest to report but I have to thank you for this good note paper, the envelopes, the cigarettes and the shoe polish, which is perfectly good enough. Last night I had another interview with Col. Peck and in the matter of the models that I wrote you of, he is going to give me fine help. I ought to be able to evolve a pretty good plan for the task assigned. It has rained to-day, so I finished three heads I had begun. One I gave to the sitter, an officer, who was very pleased with it; a good investment. My stretcher isn't here yet but when it comes, I'm off to the woods.
St Gratien, France
I did a rather cute thing last night. The officer whom I first met on arriving here, Corney’s friend Capt. Harrison, went on leave yesterday and I thought it a shame to let his nice bed go to waste, so I turned in and had the only decent sleep I’ve had since I’ve been here. Yet, to-day I have had pains enough to make me miserable. I’ve done no work to-day but drew up a scheme for the models I wrote about. Or, did I? Well, anyway they are models of war incidents and each one of us is to submit a scheme so that the best may be picked out and the winner is to have the job of executing or superintending the execution of the models. B
ean estimates that 18 months after the war will about see them finished but is of opinion that the Commonwealth will only stand for one man to do them: but, for that one, the job will be a good one. So I’m all out for it, as you can imagine. I have advantages over the others but I’m
doubtful if there is much use in telling the authorities that for ascertaining the best methods of making models, I am in a position to consult men who know more about it than anyone else, because they don't know these men: I might just as well be reciting fictitious names. It happens that
Sir Harris Conway C’s right hand man is a friend of strike>Fullwoods F and Oswald Birley B an old acquaintance of mine and a friend of Alan A’s while Poole P who is at Hyde Park is well known to me. These three are at the top of the tree and from them I could get such advice as would make me better equipped than any one of them singly. But I'm afraid the authorities would be ignorant of their names and I might just as well say Brown, Jones and Robinson. My stretcher is made and tomorrow I go out to the woods to do my painting. I hope the weather will clean up and give me a clear run. The Colonel fixed everything up and tomorrow Capt. Keys takes me out in a car. Later tonight I will try and see the Col. and ascertain if he approves of my plan for the models. If he does so I will send it off tonight and trust to luck. Many thanks for the photograph.
Here I am out at a little camp where Capt. Keys brought me in a motor car this morning. A marvellous chauffeur brought us out - I've never seen his like - he was extravagant of everything but space when passing other vehicles, which he'd skim by the thickness of a coat of varnish. When we got near to our destination Keys got out to look for the camp, while I went on to the engineer workshops to seek my stretcher. When I got there I found that the stretcher had been finished but had also been condemned, and the new one wouldn't be finished till noon. I left word that I would send for it after lunch, got back to where I'd left Keys and found a man waiting to conduct me to the camp. Arrived there I met the two officers in charge of the camp, one of whom I'd met before.
They gave me a right royal welcome and immediately made most considerate arrangements for my stay. I did a couple of sketches of two favorite horses which found favour and promised to do them later
in oils. After lunch my stretcher arrived but it proved not to be too cleverly made although they had a model. And they didn't return the model - cuss them'. This place isn't supposed to be in the zone, but because I have arrived Jerry sent over a fair number of shells this morning - the first time he's done so here. The old hands don't take much notice but the wretched things sound like next door to me and involuntarily I duck as they come whistling towards us. The view I spoke of is a beauty - a lovely valley full of historic villages now devoid of human being, beuaitful in colour and form; you would love to see it. I hope to make a most exhaustive drawing of the scene and a smaller color scheme sketch. From the drawing I'll then paint, depending for the color, on the small cnavas. These chaps out here are real diggers, giving me the kindest of welcomes, and if the high velocity shells don't pay us so much attention I'd much rather be here than at headquarters. One great gun near at hand shakes hell out of every thing within a mile of it; but it's all right, as we know it's ours.
France July 13th, 1918.
Last night, before it got dark, Lieut. Reid, one of my hosts, proposed a walk to show me the views to be seen from about this place. So we slung our respirators over our shoulders and set out. I very much regretted that the engineers had been so slow with my stretcher when I saw the wonderful panorama and all the points of interest stretched out in the most glorious amber light. The slopes, which were cropped, were a wonderful collection of greens, all impartially shot with gold and the worn-bare ones new copper or beaten gold. A small, but beautiful cathedral or abbey, embedded in empurpled trees, pushed up from them and was relieved against a screen of lavender, rising ground. In the clear light, matured by the lowness of the sun, the qualities of all local colours were enhanced and the cathedral, to me, looked as it glowed there, like a silver model dipped in Burgundy. Great balloons, like monstrous Chinese kites, floated, tethered against a marvel of
a sky, jonquil yellow at the horizon and grading through pale sea-green to sapphire. Over the horizon hung bales of cuttlefish pink clouds and under them like stars having a game of tag the shrapnel burst in countless twinkles. On our left, a road-strafe was in progress and Jerry had the range well, for the bursts ranged alongside each other like men falling in on parade. On the opposite side of the little valley on whose side we were standing, some batteries there were sparking away and giving Jerry trouble for soon he began to search for them, his heavy stuff, coming over regularly and with fair accuracy. There was some traffic on the road and a motor lorry which evidently was on urgent business took a chance, put on a spurt and got past the shelling place between two bursts. It didn’t dally any - b'lieve muh. Some well-aimed or lucky shot of ours hit one of Jerry’s flare dumps which at once began to give off white, pearly smoke in a column of great volume, garnished round the edges with a passementerie of exploding flares, which are pretty little star-like rockets.
Every now and then a catastrophic burst of sound behind me reminded me that a big gun in the woods behind us was still going strong. Unfortunately I would forget it between shots and so get a rotten shock each time. I duck each time; I confess, I can’t control myself. I’m not like these tough young veterans who don’t betray any sign of knowledge of the existence of such things until you say "Where did that one go to ’Erbert"? Then they say, "Oh, a hell of a bloody long way off". Then someone comes in and says "I think, perhaps, we better shift them horses; that last (wheelbarrow) didn’t go too (wheelbarrow) far off the (wheelbarrows) sir". But that is exceptional, for this is a quiet place.
All day long you can hear, as if it were the fall of rollers on a steep beach the never-ceasing crash of his and our guns. But at night this "break, break, break, gives place to booms, thuds, grunts, cracks, roarings, smashings, and bellowings, wailings, howlings, whinings and dronings. It’s all very wonderful and mysterious and awful. Jerry came over last night after those batteries, but I don't think he did much good, for after dropping
a dozen or so he went off. I lay awake for some time in my dug out, a snug little place, not because it wasn't bombproof (no more than a London house, for it is only tarpaulin over a shallow hole in the ground) but because a telephonist was installed in it and from time to time he had to light a candle to take down messages that were coming through. After a while I went off to sleep and had a fair night's rest. This morning I had breakfast in bed and then went out with my canvas to the position I had decided to work from. By bad luck the day was cloudy but as I only drew, that didn't so much matter. The place where I worked was an abandoned dug-out, once occupied by some Tommies who had been shelled out and it gave me a fine view of the scene I've already told you of. In the middle foreground is a camp of mules: beyond them, those batteries and still further beyond them a succession of gentle rounded rises all full of hidden batteries. I made, I think, the best landscape drawing I've ever made and on my way back met an orderly who had come out to look for me, for it was far past lunch time. I was very glad of the mug of hot tea which he brought and which was all I took until I got back to camp, when I had a proper lunch. My hosts Lieuts. Reid and Partis had gone out and won't be back until tea-time but the diggers, always appreciative, crowded round and approved. "God blime, there's old Corbie church and there's Villers Bret; and the saw mills; and Vaire wood" and so on. It's a great life. The diggers have just lined up at the double (the "toot" (tout-de-suite) they call it), the signal being the noise of a gas-rattle. They rush up in mock fear, dixies in hand and full of joyous obscenities, get their evening meal and duck off again. They're always singing and cursing merrily - the lightest hearted jokers in the world.
This morning Reid's batman, a very good natured chap but a great talker, carried my traps down to the abandoned dug-out I use as a studio. The air was fine and clear and
there was not much activity except for the shelling of poor, pretty little Corbie down in the valley. The town is deserted, our men are well ahead of it, and the reason for the strafe isn't apparent. I counted at one time eleven shell bursts in the air and all the time I was working the hanging, black smudges of smoke kept on accumulating. They hung in the air for quite a long time. Down in the valley and to the right, a very big French gun goes off at intervals. They tell me it's piqueted as it is a new, secret gun and no one is allowed to get near it. It's in a wood and from its deafening crack is, I should say, a naval gun. When our men first got to this town the inhabitants had just cleared out, leaving it almost intact - that is - they hadn't time to take any of their possessions and the shops and vegetable gardens and poultry yards were abandoned - as the owners thought - to the Huns. Our boys it was though, who got there first and they made their short stay there a holiday - a festa. During that time they acquired and wore evening dress - swallow tail coats and silk hats, such as French men getting married wear, for some; and low-necked, short sleeved frocks for others; the latter when they could get them wearing women's wigs and make up, elbow length gloves, silk stockings, stays, underwear etc. When they met the Hun, some of them only had on the underwear, but it was the real thing, frilled, with insertion and baby blue or pink ribbons in the proper places. I know of an officer who, missing his way, followed up the sound of a tinkling bell and it led him to a roofless house where, when he got near it, he could hear merry wassail going on. He looked through the door and saw a dozen Australians seated at a table dressed in the height of Picardian fashion and doing themselves remarkably well on turkey and champagne; a quart bottle at the right hand of each digger. A host was at one end and a hostess at the other with lady and gentleman guests on either side. The gentlemen and ladies were each acting their parts, in full evening rig, paying elaborate attention on one hand and simpering – all unshaven - on the other. A butler waited on them! The officer could see them and
they couldn't see him. After a while they tired of make believe and began to bawl a ribald song, "The one-eyed Reilly"; so he thought it time to ask his way. No sooner did he put his head in the door way than the host grabbed a hand-bell (the one the officer had heard and roared "Alfonso! set a place for the noo guest - 'nother bottle of grief and pain and a glass that aint cracked – at the tootl" The officer extended his visit till next day. On the slopes beyond the town there are a lot of batteries but this morning they were only registering, and talking of that, the great line of trenches that runs along where I am working has been registered in very business-like fashion by the Hun. The shell holes follow all along the tortuous course of the trench, which keeps pretty well at the same elevation. Their observation balloons are quite easily seen from here and from them their observers with glasses can probably see me very plainly. Immediately to my right and left are two of ours, and thereby hangs a tale. R's batman came along about one o'clock for me and when I got back my hosts were having their after-dinner smoke. I had only got half way through my meal when there was a commotion outside and we rushed out to the clearing to see what was on. Out of the blue, like a big black wasp a Hun 'plane had dashed like lightning and was bearing down on the balloon on our left. The two men in the balloon were out in their parachutes, quick and lively, before he got there and by the time he opened fire, were floating down looking like little cream coloured medusae. "Out with those Lewis guns!" yelled Reid and quick as a wink the boys had them chattering away and some Archies behind us began to bark. But the Hun utterly disregarded them and bore down, his machine gun squirting one continuous stream of fire at the balloon as he passed. He looked like a huge sword fish with a long, red hot snout. As he fired he swerved in a splendid quarter circle - we could see the pilot - and without the least halt in his roaring flight sped for the balloon on our right. He reached it in a flash but the men in it were well away, the little, champignon - like parachutes being half way down to earth. The first balloon by this time had gone up in smoke and flames
and down in charred debris. The one he now attacked did the same and the airman circling once round started leisurely to climb and soon was out of sight. It was all so rapid, except his contemptuous , slow exit. . A few minutes after an R.E.8 patrol 'plane came along. Our boys in chorus mocked it - hands to mouth, megaphone fashion, in semi crouching position.
R. E. 8 - ARE WE LATE?
" " " – " " "
with a lot of vivid imprecations to keep it company.
The mail man came so suddenly last night that I hadn't time to enclose J’s letter. We had a party of officers, but at half past eight the two remaining guests went and our two hosts went part of the way with them. I was rather glad when they left, for it gave me a chance to get to bed early, - to rest my body and have a read. But I was disappointed, for some enemy 'planes came over and began dropping bombs about and we had to douse the glim. The sergeant, the telephonist and I then yarned in the dark while the strafe went on and at last I went off to sleep. This morning it was dull and cloudy so I did a sketch of Reid. It wasn't a grand success. This morning Jerry was more active than usual, putting over some long distance stuff which wailed and whimpered overhead on it's way to the back areas. About noon he came over again and "did in" one of the balloons that replaced one of those he outed yesterday. He was just as business-like about it as he was yesterday - out of a cloud, like a streak of evil and off in a flash; the Archies and other guns going like blazes. At one time he nose-dived so suddenly and for such a distance that we thought he was hit, but he was only dodging and continued to climb and duck like a porpoise until he disappeared into a cloud. It got brighter after lunch, so I continued with my picture. The poor little town was being shelled all the time I was working. I could see the shells bursting in various parts of it. I had a look at
it through a telescope - it's only a mile or so away and I could see very plainly the huge gaping rents in the church roof. four Hun (planes came near to see the damage but got such a reception they ducked and dived to escape being hit; bobbing like dinghies after a liner has passed. All known and unknown curses on them!
Bois d'Escardonneuse 16/7/18.
Yesterday evening I got on with my picture and hope it will end as well as it has begun. We yarned a bit after dinner and then I turned in, fairly early. After reading a little, some Jerry 'planes came over and as usual out went the candles. The guns were fairly active, some of them being of a particularly noisy type and I couldn't sleep. It was a lovely clear night, but at last it began to cloud up a bit and out of one a schweinhund darted. They got the searchlight on him, but the guns did no good. I fell asleep but woke to a terrific bombardment. It proved to be thunder and guns.
The rain came down in a deluge and kept up till this morning. After breakfast I arranged for 3 new stretchers 4x3 and will get the first .tomorrow. This morning it was misty and swelteringly hot and I did a portrait and by the feeling in my head I think there'll be another storm this evening.
Yesterday was a blank for work. There was nothing exciting except listening to the barrage that was intended to non-plus the French, but which, as you know (a day before we do) took a disastrous turn for Jerry. The Americans also did splendidly and we are informed, unofficially, they inflicted mostly fatal casualties on the hellhounds, when they weren't taking prisoners. All the morning, pending the arrival of my stretcher, I devoted to portrait sketching, with slightly better results than yesterday. After noon an orderly arrived with a stretcher and for lack of pliers I stretched a canvas on it with my fingers with calamitous results to my knuckles. I regret that I took any notice of the clever people who told me that it was impracticable to take with me for use this and that tool of trade. In future, if I can have my way, I’m going to work on
fairly big canvases, making a careful drawing on one (or both) and painting on the other keeping the drawing for correcting reference, when working away from the subject. I think that thereby one gets, first of all, a good going over of the ground, which fixes the impression and in addition, one has a more or less correct topographical picture, a thing much to be desired in this type of record.
Yesterday on account of the noise I got such a racking headache that I had to take phenacetin. The rain at midnight silenced the hubbub somewhat.
Tonight I am going to make my second drawing so that tomorrow I can start painting. After that I shant be long here, tho’ I’m not anxious to go back – it’s good out here. The only thing against it is the dampness of the dug-out life - especially in a wood. I must stop now and get on to my work. Having been held back by the weather and other things I have to get a hustle o-n now.
BOIS d' ECARD0NNEUSE,
Last night I carried out my programme of redrawing on the second canvas the scene I already had on the first. I had just about done that when Lt. Reid suddenly remembered he had two letters for me. I took them and went off intending to go to bed, but lay down instead. All at once a barrage broke out and the Sgt. I asked me to come and watch it. It turned out to be not such a big one but big enough to be interesting to me. Great flashes as vivid but less intermittent than in a violent thunderstorm, and the sound, if less than thunder, a great deal more varied and punctuated. The general hub-bubbing rumble is variegated by the tattoo of machine gun fire and great sforzando crashes and stabs of the big hows, and naval guns. It was sublime and awful and the digs gave them a hiding, anyway. As you can probably guess, I've had very bad luck with the weather since I've been out here. It was fine when I wasn’t ready and now that I am prepared is very changeable. As it was almost fine this morning, after last night’s downpour, I took my things out and found
that not only the light was wrong (that I'd expected) hut the sun had drawn up such a haze that all my subject was mist silhouetted! I groaned and came back and did a little study of a field telephonist's post - the dug-out in which I lodge. This afternoon the men are out reaping - with sickles-and the sky is dull as ditchwater. If my work satisfies them enough by the middle of August I'll get my comm. I see the Americans have done well again; good luck to them. The frogs too, are giving Jerry "what for".
"Their souls shall learn the sadness of our might:
"And be among our cloudy trophies hung."
You know just as much as I do about the magnificent deeds of the French helped by the Yanks who persist in justifying our most sanguine propehcies as to their capabilities. It's possible that the Hun has never had a worse clout from the moral point of view, for to have his offensive turn out so disastrously is worse than if the defeat had come to him as the result of a French offensive. May this be the beginning of an interminable series of defeats until he is pulped into submission. All this morning I have been drawing on a new, big canvas, overlooking the wood where the big French gun is. The subject is a bit panoramic and I work from the yet unused system of trenches that I'm sure will never be used. The spot is 1/4 of a mile South of our camp and well clear of our wood. An officer told me that recently a Hun airman (probably disappointed in his day's efforts) swooped down on a solitary horseman and machine-gunned him. He made his way wounded into our camp, blessing all Huns with a ready and forcible tongue. It poured all the afternoon but cleared up enough by night for the Boche to come over and do his bombing. I had had indigestion so didn't get to sleep till after 2 a.m. Until then and later when I woke at 4 a.m. endless procession of tanks, and tractors, pulling heavy guns went clanking along the road. Let's hope that whatever it was it will result in bringing calamity to the Huns. This morning has been gusty and squally so I have been lying in my dug-out. If there's
the slightest sign of decent weather this afternoon I will be into my work. Lt. Reid is going away for four days and another Lieut. is relieving him, a rather interesting chap, though my hosts tell me he is a great chatterbox. He has promised me some decent souvenirs, but I'm not sure if they're exactly what War Records want. At sundown every night, those 'planes which have been out all day, come in just as the night flyers go out. Those going out fly high but the returning ones come home steeplechasing, just skimming the trees, and generally playing all kinds of aeronautical tricks. The flight commander, with pennant flying, will start to climb - all following in formation - and suddenly he will do a loop. Then it's "follow my leader". As soon as he has done this he will roll to the right. Then to the left; all following suit. Then he'll nose dive till your heart's in your mouth. Then he'll lead them in a climb, like a lot of fishes in an aquarium rising to the surface. When high enough up he heads them in a majestic plane that carries them down to the aerodrome. You can't imagine such buoyancy of spirits. Talk about "tails up"!
lan who goes to Italy on the 24th, sent me some information regarding camouflage that was of very great value. I asked for bread and he gave me a banquet. There isn't anything doing. The weather is close, windy and full of wild showers; but as soon as I've written this I will get out to my painting while there's a bit of sunshine and my luck is in. Our status as painters has so changed from what it promised, that it is impossible to say what is going to become of us. I had been hoping so much to have completed this canvas before now and to have made some other sketches to be worked up later that it seemed that I might be able to ask for a short spell in Blighty to carry them to completion. But the weather and other adverse conditions have worked against this and I couldn't possibly demand it without courting disaster. My time's up - the mailman's due to go. He goes irregularly these restless days.
Since yesterday - nothing doing owing to the weather, which is absolutely rotten. Last night had a 'phone call from Col. Peck who wanted to know how I was getting on. Fred Leist was evidently at his side, for he also spoke. Leist is coming out to see my stuff. In half an hour I am riding over on horseback to H.Q. to get my mail and a change of underclothing. That is the reason I’m writing now, tho' I have only just finished lunch. Isn't it magnificent the way the French and Yanks have done? Up to date our rumours have always been confirmed by the following day's official communiques (comic cuts" the digs call them) and as yesterday's was very good we’re all praying that to-day's "Comic Cuts" will confirm them. Last night, owing possibly to the rain and clouds, was a quiet one and every one had a good sleep. This morning (Sunday) I didn't get up till noon and feel 100% better for it. It may be that I will be able to see Leist to-day and get some "good oil" regarding the possibility of special leave - anyway I'll give it a fly, DONT'T BUILD ON IT! I've just finished a book on American life called "Queed" by a writer named Henry Sydnor Harrison. It struck me as being "real" good; very American, democratic and decently optimistic. I need to borrow some of the last commodity.
Yesterday I rode to H.Q. to get mail, money and fresh underclothes. Mr. Partis' batman accompanied me to try and get eatables for the mess. I rode a grey mare I'd had before; an old mule for stubborness but easy enough to manage. I succeeded in finding no one I went to see but transacted my business and got back just before supper. The Hun obligingly waited until we just got out of the last village before we reached camp - our nearest neighbour - before he shelled it. He generally does this at noon or about 7. This time he began earlier. To-day again he was back at his noon stunts. After supper, it being still cloudy and feeling very tired I took a rest, until an importunate relieving Lieut, got me
out for a stroll. I wish he had thought of it earlier, for then I would in time have seen that the clouds had blown off and a glorious late afternoon such as I'd been longing for, for a week, was in full swing. In the earlier afternoon, riding cross-country to H.Q. the view from the uplands, plus the horse's back, was fine enough. In some places, showers dropping from mother of pearl spheres, wind-driven across the woody valleys and sprinkled the parquetted arena of the vast amphitheatre; in other places, sun-searchlights turned the dark tapestry into pale Japanese gold-leaf; while above, were a series of blue sky gaps, graded, in their ascent, from turquoise green at the horizon to butterfly blue at the zenith. Pale opal clouds; black opal clouds; lilac clouds; silver clouds;, gold clouds: pale green crops; ivory crops; tan crops; sage green crops; old grey and dun walled houses, with faded red tiles, some of the roofs wet and reflecting the sky and appearing like blue enamel; pools mimicking them and framed in golden clay. All the slopes dotted with horse, transport and motor lines and dug-outs. Our boys stripped to the waist, brown as gipsies and muscled like athletes, busy at their various jobs or playing football; improving their dug-outs; mending; repairing; grooming; gambling; scrapping or yarning in groups. But in the evening, all the clouds, but a few to decorate the sky, were blown away. The air was lens clear and every local-colour patch at full chromatic value. High in the air, like amber pendants lying on Chinese blue silk, the stupid-looking, ram-faced balloons hung dead still, looking over the Hun lines.
Soon the guns, cunningly placed in well-chosen places, began to flash and we lay in the shade of a side of the wood and watched the effect. Then out came our raiding 'planes, in wild swan formation - scores of them. As fast as they emerged the Hun barrage developed, until the middle of the valley was one wavy line of little, smoke smudge-clouds; Shrapnel. We stayed until the balloons were hauled down. At that time the view had turned to all the different varieties of copper colour one can think off with two pink peony clouds resting in the eastern sky: a new coined, almost full, silver moon rose out of them and we got back. Jerry came over in
the night, but left us alone, intent, no doubt, on points further tack, though he was machine gunning fairly close at hand. This morning, tho’ not feeling too clever, I got to work on a new canvas and made a fair start. Just after lunch 5 Huns swooped for one of our balloons but a fine barrage sent them off. Then while everyone was watching them retire, a single Hun appeared from a cloud and darting on another balloon before the Archies got a line on him, shot it on fire and ducked off. The guns put up a rattling barrage - of barks - but he was home and dried.
Yesterday afternoon kept clear and I worked up till teatime; then again until dark. I managed to cover a fair amount of ground, but was handicapped by the extreme dampness which took all the spring out of my brushes but which didn't kill the heat, so that the paint very soon got tacky. However, the colour is fairly well in my mind and with the aid of the other canvas with the careful drawing on it, I believe I can satisfactorily complete the painting. I went to bed fairly early. Just after turning in the rain came down and the French artillery woke up to some order.
Later on, very early in the morning I woke up and it' was still going; an intense drum-fire; accentuated fairly regularly with the pounding of batteries of very big guns. When they talk, the French gunners always make them speak in a decorative way. A four gun battery goes 1,2’ – 1,2’. A six gun goes 1,2,3’, - 1,2,3’ - two separate, quick flourishes that give a finish to the performance. The rain increased as the morning wore on and whether the firing has died down or the tumultuous rain has dulled the sound, it appears to the ear (if such a thing can be said) to be much less. (Even while I wrote the above it has grown again to great volume, though torrents of rain are pouring down). I have just heard of a further success, but officially don't know anything. I am fairly down in the mouth to think I have done so little, but it's not my fault. I am afraid too that this camp won’t be here for very long and so my
plans may be broken up. However it doesn't much matter - there are other! There are two visitors from H.Q. here. I think that when they go back I may ride with them and get my mail. It’s a long ride and I don't like going alone. I feel I want company. A call has come .and I have to go.
July 24, 1918
Yesterday was a very wild and wet one. My friends Capt. Harrison and Lt. Bayliss came out to lunch and as they were riding to H. Q. after, I got a horse and went with them. The roads were very slippery and we were a long time getting there. I found only a letter from my 0. C., went to the mess and had something to eat. After that I went and had a satisfactory interview with the Colonel. I then rode home in time for a rather late dinner. This morning I have up till now (3-30) been writing up my war diary and sending in my report. In addition, with the help of A
lan's notes, I have written my paper on camouflage instructions, which is to be typewritten and circulated to those concerned. I leave here in a day or two without having accompli shed much tho' I've gained a lot which will come in very handy later on. I have had no letter from you for a few days and am anxious to hear about your plans. I am afraid, too, that my letters will reach you irregularly as tho' I haven't missed a day yet, the mails from here, owing to changes of station, are very likely to be thrown out of their usual course. If you will do me a service please keep all my letters in order - in date order. Not that I write with any arrière pensèe but they will come in useful for reminiscence. From now on, I'll keep a diary* but as up-to-date I haven’t done so those letters will be off sentimental value to me. I can write better to you than in a diary.
*Not carried out
Yesterday afternoon, though threatening, turned out better than could have been anticipated, for the rain held off until it began to get dark and tho’ work suffered by being hurried, yet I managed to
cover the ground - the main thing. I waited up just long enough to get the official news, which was good, and then turned in and read for a while. The night being dark and rainy was quiet and this morning I woke up fresh from a good sleep. After washing my brushes and cleaning my palette, which I neglected to do last night, I went out and made some sketches of shell holes and a big barrage which was in progress. The shells were bursting in a line and the barrage of black and white smoke columns, looked like a French road, with smoke for poplars. It was the same old rub-a-dub-dub rumble with crashes like great waves breaking - the English on our left getting to grips with the Boche. Yesterday one of our enterprising diggers shot a deer in the wood' and this morning we had venison for breakfast. There are more and more Americans about. Yesterday they were playing ‘'ball" and yelling in a way that made our fellows laugh. You’d have thought that something of great gravity was in the balance. They and our boys form a mutual admiration society - always together and our officers don't stint their praise of them. It would be difficult too, for they are splendid specimens of manhood; well behaved and mighty intelligent. Isn't it a pity that poor patient Tommy - a good, good chap really, who in our and the Canadian and even American army thrives, and who only suffers from the English "system" - is liked by no one. He's a joke - a hidebound slave with no ingenuity or initiative. He's not allowed them. It takes 7 of them to do what 2 of ours can do. They eat cheese till they look like one. Individualistic England is a pond with a few great pike and a lot of Minnows; the minnows being there for the pikes' use. Some change will have to come and I think only the Laborites can do it. The trouble is they nobble the Labor leaders with fine and dandy jobs. It's sunny one minute and darkness and downpour the next. If it decides to clear up I must get out, so this is all for to-day.
Yesterday after all I managed to get out at the fag-end of the day and do some work on my picture. The road to my position
was incredibly muddy and slippery, and I noted when I got there how much in two days the scene, by reason of the ripening of the crops, had changed. The sun was playing hide and seek behind fast-moving water-burdened clouds and the effect was as changeable as a "movie". For that reason, more than the waning light, I knocked off sooner that would ordinarily have been necessary and went to see the American boys play baseball; but, when I got to the ground, they had ceased play and were very intently watching our chaps playing Australian football; a game strange to them.
Our fellows, most of them wearing only boots and a pair of abbreviated knickers, were bogging in for all they were worth and the Americans were very seriously trying to get the hang of the game; asking all sorts of questions: "What’s that for, now? What‘re they doin’ that for?" and, getting a reply would answer: "Uh-huh", which means, when translated – "I see". I turned in fairly early and began to read when to my surprise I was handed two letters. I hadn’t known that anyone had been in for the mail so it was all the more pleasing. We are getting out of here soon and headquarters are also on the move so, in a couple of days, I'll be some miles further back. There I hope to get a room to work in to finish my studies. I have been thinking hard over the matter of your return and my leave. As matters stand I have not yet made good
and the things attendant on my success have not been made secure. I have to make a display sufficient to ensure my being thought valuable enough to retain a good job after the war. It is evident that it will be only while the weather is warm enough to work (apart from the rain) that, I will be able to turn out the stuff but it is certain I haven’t enough yet. Furthermore, I believe and hope that there will be an end of things before next summer and unless I can get in the work now it will never be got in. It is possible that, in the Winter, I may be able to get leave and if, as I think, I can show cause, it may be that then I can tell you that I can return after the war for a few months, to make sketches of the deserted scenes of battles. That’s what I hope; it may not for a minute be entertained by the powers that be. But, in any case, now is the
only time I have to make good and it would be suicidal to ask for leave now and spoil all. As you see, my time for collecting data is comparatively short and I must use it to the limit.
so as to substantiate any claim I may put in for post-bellum preference. I cannot see, unless some person elects to back me, that I can do better than try for something that should give me a living after the war. Actually I don't altogether look forward with intense delight to the prospect, for it will mean, if I succeed, painting things I don't enthuse over; but it may prove to be a living.
I believe that with private support to work as I would like, and the practise it would afford, I could turn out work that would give me a standing before long, and I feel I have something to say and with the requisite freedom from shrivelling worry about existence, I could say it; but that's only a fond dream and the naked and somewhat angular Truth must be looked at. I prefer her rounded and rosy and young, but she never was anything but an old maid and bony at that. It isn't a case of likes and dislikes but one of glum and snarling necessity and I know of no Maecenas or Endymion Porter who is dead keen to give me a chance to make a name for myself. I think that, if I could do it, I'd rather go to America and paint some of those places I've seen, but the question of finance ever crops up. Those Colorado mesas have never dimmed: in my memory and I am as enthusiastic for the American point of view as most of those born there and as capable of enthusiasm for her natural beauties. Then again with a mother, wife and children born there, and a sister married there, I am very strongly drawn. That’s how one gets one’s feelings torn. The rain here is enough to give you the Joe Morgans - everything drenched and dripping and damp and all I can do is to hang around and wait for it to clear. Things on the front seem to be going well, but the "Justicia" was a nasty knock.
There has been no let-up in the weather, and from a dead and grey sky, occasionally varied by a sickly glare, which shows
vaguely .here the sun is, the rain beats down, rattling on the dug-out roof like a kettledrum roll, which increases when a gust of wind swishes the trees. It's enough to blow your hat into the gutter. Work is out of the question and to get out and walk worse than foolish, for the roads and tracks are mere bogs of treacherously slippery mud. Yet the guns are booming away and, not so far off, the great battle must still be in full swing. I’ve just had lunch which included some good old sweet corn, and if I had any news am free to write for the whole of the afternoon. Alas! I have nothing to write about. Partis, to whom I gave your message, is a dear old chap, a Yorkshireman from Hull, with plenty of shrewd brains and a big warm heart. He has been out in Australia for 9 years and is a fruitgrower from Shepparton, where I narrowly missed being born. He has 55 acres of fruit trees there. He is much attached to Australia and would never return to England. He is very considerate and kind in many little ways and as far as is in his power has made my, stay most agreeable. At lunch I remarked on a nice twill shirt he was wearing and he told me that it was one of two Ghoorka [Ghurka] shirts he had come upon on the peninsula. It made me think of the East generally,
and in particular of duck drill suits and white-green- lined umbrellas and curries and the brilliant colors of flowers and natives' clothes and bazaars, and how fine it would be now if you and I were there instead of you in Blighty and me in France, with misery stricken, weeping skies all round and muck underfoot. I often think of a description I read, in an old Cornhill magazine, by an Englishman who went into a less known part of India, up towards the Himalayas, where the range was not perhaps so high as it is in some other places, but where the transition from the plains to the hills proper, owing to the absence of systems of foothills, is more abrupt, or apparently so, than usual. In this country he found, within a small compass, a number of quaint clans, each different from its neighbour and each with its own garb, customs, religion and rites. Racially they were different too and temperamentally. Some were the essence of peacefulness and others at times enjoyed a bit of a
brawl. He saw some of them celebrating a religious fete, which lasted a few days and from his description it was not unlike some of the old Hellenic festivals. It ended in a decent sort of revel, which must have been very interesting. Within a few miles he saw many different ways of living and dying, each unique and uninfluenced by those of the races next door. The part he favored most was inhabited by a tribe of a kind of lowland Ghoorkas and in the evening, with one of them, in a primitive boat, he would push off among the reeds of a shallow lake and wait for the wild duck. To the North-east of him were the giant heights of the Himalayas and long after the sun had gone down and the lowlands were full of bloom colored duskiness, the hills would still flame, their snows lit with salmon colored light and burning against a jade green sky. And he was only a duck hunting sportsman telling of his shooting. Imagine a person going there to paint - what a banquet! Merely to see their pottery and copper ware, their ways of dressing and their means of living; and in such a setting. That's what I wish we could do. To go to such a place and be curious - to note by brush stroke and written words these and other wonderful things of the world. Nobody has ever done it and - all it needs is economic independence. That’s all - and what a little; yet, what a lot it is'. Like Nicolai Adossides' old Turks I could sit cross-legged and just simply absorb it; but to report it in words and paint: what a privilege!. Our anticipated move has been cancelled for the time being, so I am not yet going back to H.Q. It's as bad there as here, for I have no place there in which to work, until they move into another chateau. The one into which we are going to move ought to have plenty of spare rooms and I hope to get one where I can both sleep and work. There, too, are a lot of incidental subjects that I want to get and which should be of interest to the outsider.
There's still a scarcity of news. After yarning awhile last night, I went to bed, read a bit and then went to sleep. Somewhere about one this morning I was wakened up by 'planes
dropping bombs round and Archies cracking. The 'planes passed over us flying very low, and if they hadn't evidently had some special object in view I don't see how they could have missed our camp, as the dark cloud had been blown away and the moon was shining brightly. They hung round for a long while and I think were after a camp of Yanks near-by. As they approached on their return journey to their lines I got up to have a look and lo! one was getting along not far above the trees. After he had got a bit away I saw a funny light on him and what looked like a shower of sparks come from him, but whether he was on fire or not I don't know. This morning I lay in bed till 12-30, it being Sunday and feeling not very well. After lunch Partis and Raphael, a Lieut, from South Africa who has, temporarily at least, taken Reid's place, got on horseback and rode to H. Q. I stayed at home in the hope that it would turn out fine, did some work and then, as I had not been out for a while, went to see the Yanks at "ball". They are as good as a circus to our boys, for they're much more excitable and voluble than French men - yelling and throwing their hats about, jumping and hitting the palm of one hand with the other fist as if the greatest thing in the world were at stake. I came back soon and put in some more work, but though the sun is shining, a gale of wind blows and all the men are out and I don’t feel well enough to carry a big canvas, easel and box to my coign of vantage. I am going to take a rest as I am getting up at 3 a.m. to see a stunt. I hope that Partis will bring me back some mail a fat letter from you - I don't care what the rest is. In a couple of days I'll be leaving here, and hope to get some of my sketches worked up. I think also that some other more purely War Records work will come my way. I've had no reply yet to letters that I've sent to others than you.
FRANCE, 30/7/17. 
I intimated to H.Q. that I would like to go back to-day and I am now waiting for a car. The wet has left us and to-day is quite hot, but hazy. Tomorrow, or the day after, we change our location, as I believe I told you, and I think there should be something there of interest. Everything is very quiet. This morning I heard the Tommy guns going, but they stopped suddenly and since then there's
been nothing doing. Our American neighbours have folded their tents like the Arabs and our chaps miss them. When they were together, laughing seemed to be the order of the day. To me their affinity is the most remarkable thing
in the war - always together and (proof positive of friendliness), adopting each other’s oaths. When they get under way the Kaiser will need all of his junior partner’s help. A lot of them carry knives and revolvers, and they’re more averse, even than Aussies, to being burdened with prisoners. They argue that prisoners make good practice targets; kept prisoners mean more to feed. They take prisoners but don’t believe in keeping prisoners: unless they’re out of cartridges. I am anxious to get back as, owing to changes, no mail has been brought from H.Q. for 2 or 3 days and consequently I am without news of you. Hang the car, I wish it would come: I’m in suspense till it does.
My expected move back to H.Q. didn’t come off yesterday. Something happened to the telephone wire and it was late before I could send an orderly to the nearest ’phone to ask if I had been overlooked. Answer came back that a car would come for me as soon as possible, but it didn’t come and I went to bed so nervous I couldn’t sleep. Luckily the Sergeant of the unit, with whom I share the dug- out, was in reminiscent mood and told me a lot of his adverntures, and other things I didn’t know. His name is Mick Maguire and he is a farmer on the Victorian coast, a real Mick too, good hearted and a born story teller.
Later – Allonville,
I broke off here on account of something or other which I’ve now forgotten and am only now again able to continue to write. I was already packed up when word came to say that the car wasn't yet available and I had to make arrangements to pack my things on a half limber and move to Partis' new camp, which was to be in the woods, a mile away from our new H. Q. All this was very annoying and it set my nerves a’jangling, especially as I hadn't had much sleep the night before. On the night of the 31st I was a bit overtired and couldn't get to
sleep and I said to Partis -"Jerry will be over tonight as sure as fate". Some artillery had come to camp near us and their horses were wandering over the sky-line, about a hundred of them, and they had not only broken our telephone ground - wire - but were easily to be seen from Jerry’s balloons. At about 11 o'clock I said to the telephone boy: "Jack, you’d better blow out that light, I can hear a ’plane." "It’s not a Schmidt" said Jack, but no sooner had he said it than Brrrrapp! brrrapp! went the bombs. Out went the light and in a second we realised that many Hun ’planes were overhead. The first crumps we heard were not, as usual, in the valley a few hundred yards off but on the very edge of our little wood; and it was evident to me he was searching the wood. And how he did search it! He was looking for those horses. He didn’t get them, but he got others belonging to a bunch that hadn’t anything to do with attracting him. Six of poor old Partis’ hags went and that bomb cleared a space 70 ft. in diameter - razed the trees as would a pair of giant hair clippers and covered everything round with dirt and leaves which were all torn to about confetti size - no - say perhaps the largest would be about the size of a postage stamp. Anyway
it they was lying round next morning banked up like green cornflakes. He laid about a hundred of these eggs. Eighteen poor Tommies' fragments were littering one spot and in another, 33 nags’ guts - bones - blood, and hair added touches of gruesome colour to the environment. These were the work of big fellows but there were plenty of smaller ones and even grenades, and in addition, he raked the place with gusts of machine gun fire - ! I can tell you I had the wind up. When, coming our way, he started to drop the first of a dozen of ' em, it was some suspense to wait and see where any one of them, up to the 12th, would land. The nearest we got was in between two and the blast shook us and smothered the canvas covers of the dug-outs with lumps of dirt. The emptying of one bomb after another is quick, but he travels at such a rate that the spaces between each are bigger than might be thought - say 30 yards. From 11 till 3-30 a.m. this suspense kept up and by the morning everyone was frazzled. To hear these awful things coming rushing down thro’ the air with a terrifying "whrooooo" is a thing to freeze one. Never again
will I willingly patronize forward areas. I thought every minute was the last one. A worm is a large and valiant creature compared to what one feels with one of these engines of death descending with its paralyzing rush to earth; and the explosion rocks everything round about. Breakfast was at six and at eight, with limbers packed, we were just ready to start, when the Colonel's car arrived for me. I let most of my traps remain on the half-limber but took some along and went to our old Headquarters, reported and came on here, picking up Fullwood and Stapleton. I got established in a little room - to myself-and in in the afternoon, with a half-limber, went to look for Partis and the rest of my luggage. After a lot of enquiry I found the camp. Partis was out and we carted the stuff back. I felt dead tired and went to bed fairly early, Every noise I heard was a potential Jerry plane but at last I fell asleep and though I didn't get too good a rest, feel better this morning. Just before turning in a chap named Dawson and I were listening to a little H. Q. orchestra and got into talk with a couple of Yanks - good fellows - who are camped nearby. They were interesting chaps and gave us some enlightening information, I got the canvas stretcher, (thank you), and used it profitably this morning. No letters arrived on Thursday, but I am expecting some to-day. The frames haven't arrived yet. I must get out and look for some boxes to take the place of a studio easel.
Altonville. [Probably Allonville]
Fullwood and Leist went back to Blighty yesterday, so I got F. to take a letter along to save time. I’m sorry they're going - they’re two of the best. I believe we are going to shift again shortly and that means further holding up of work on account of wet or sticky canvases. Hang it! They let you know nothing and only for the tip I got I would have been plunging into new work. This morning I went six miles on foot to recover some washing and studies I’d left behind in the old place. It was drizzle all the time, and on the way back I dropped a pair of pyjama trousers in
the mud - curse the cards!! This place is rotten, but I hear that the place we go to is much worse. I've been debating in my mind whether to apply for 6 months leave or not. I am anxious to get that commission, but, it's a long time overdue and having it will entail duties and responsibilities which may fetter me for longer than I want. Also it might look bad if immediately after getting it I applied for leave. On the other hand, if I get it and stay over here collecting material before the bad weather sets in, I could then apply and perhaps get it. If I succeeded I think I could go home via N.Y. I then would continue out to Aust. and there get into touch with some one worth while; return by the same route and get some more work done next spring and summer. I agree with Fullwood that the work is in its infancy and that as the Hun is pushed back we will follow up, recording the battle-fields. That being the case, I feel sure that a statement of my ideas to some responsible authority in Aus. would put me on a good footing. There is any amount of activity about here particularly as regards vehicles, and the roads are as a result distressingly muddy. The heavy traffic makes an emulsion of mud that is a thing on its own, and as the soil is impartially colored red, yellow or black one's boots are prettily camouflaged with disruptive color designs. There are swarms of sticky flies too, tho’ not thank Heaven the millions of able-bodied mosquitoes that were out in the forward area.
BLANGY TROUVILLE [Tronville]
Aug. 5, 1919 
Hardly had I begun work in my little room, than orders came that we were to pack up and leave for a new place. Tho' friendly with the staff, they are all out for themselves and as I have no weight, I cannot demand anything and, at a great disadvantage must forage for instructions as to time of leaving, transport to and accommodation at our destination. I'm lucky if I get any of these, for they leave me altogether out of their calculations. By the skin of my teeth I scrambled on an already loaded lorry and we bumped away to this place, where I found a "doss" on the floor of a broken down stable. I found that the staff officers had moved
up to what is known as the advanced base, so my guardian angel isn't about for me to appeal to. Headquarters has been here before and on that occasion a shell hit the clock tower of a lodge at the gate entrance. The lodge was in use at the time as the sergeants' mess and several of them were killed. The tower is lopsided and battered but manages to keep from falling down. They bomb a lot over here and last night hummed and buzzed round for a considerable time. Just opposite the chateau woods is a little wood and two tanks there give me a good chance to make a close study of them. Straight out of the chateau gates one looks along an avenue of lovely tall beeches, and half way along it, the arch of a railway bridge cuts it in half. Between the trees that form this avenue are piles and piles of boxes of ammunition. Our ammunition column boys, bare to the waist, load up the limbers like bakers packing a delivery cart, and they do it well, in two movements, one to the stack of shells and one to the limber, with a fine, statuesque swing and rhythm. There is a continuous procession of rattling wagons of every military description along this road, though it's only a branch of the great Amiens road which is ¾ of a mile south of here. They use this one to divert the traffic and relieve congestion. Some French poilus were busy last night digging a cutting for a switch line of the railway. As soon as they had gone down a few feet they had painted canvas - a great area of it — over their work and a relief has been working on the cutting all day - under cover. From above no one would know the ground was disturbed.
BLANGY TROUVILLE, 6/8/18._
No news. I took a walk up the line to see my Colonel this morning. He showed me a letter from A.I.F. Headquarters calling for my work, to see if, on the strength of it, I was to get my com. He was as usual, sympathetic and said they couldn't expect much for the short time and in the circs. "Anyhow", he said, "we'll fight 'em." He at once rang up H.Q. and ordered a room for me and I am going to get as busy as I can, so as to finish a few more sketches, though this hurry up is the worst thing for work. Apart from the let down it
will be, I wouldn't care to lose the job only; I would hate more to be an "also ran". Everything is quiet here but the roads are carrying all the traffic they can bear. I had a good swim this morning* - it's very bracing. I don't pretend that this is a letter, for I have to go to lunch almost right away and begin work immediately after.
Letters evidently take longer now, for your letter of the 2nd only got here to-day. It was very welcome and I thank you for it. I have been hard at it all to-day, trying to finish some sketches and enjoyed doing them, except that the obligation to get them out in a hurry makes me too anxious. Owing to Jerry being over last night I got little sleep, for after that experience in the wood, bombs "put the wind up" me. It has been a beautiful day and if I could have had my wish I would have been out of doors working, but, this sudden call for finished things, at a time when I should be getting sketch matter for pictures later to be finished, kept me out in. It just happens too, that, here, there are more things of more interest, than at any place I've yet seen. From the window of the room I've had assigned me to work in, is a most lovely view. About a mile away the horizon is formed by the ridge of a round-backed hill running dead level high across the view that the window frames. Part of it is topped by a wood of trees of even height. Immediately below the window is what once was a lawn, about 75 yards wide, flanked on either side by trees and this avenue’d lawn runs downhill for about 150 yards to a sheet of water covered with lily pads and its marge thick with tall reeds. The lawn continues on the far side of the river (which is here 100 yds. wide) for about 300 yds. and there it stops against a wall of tall, graceful trees whose tops just allow the hill to be seen - a mile away. It is all silvery grey-green now, with the sun gone down. A few naked Aussies are drying themselves on the bank of the lake and three clothed ones are enjoying themselves in a sort of gondola, which at one time belonged to the chatelain. In the middle distance a camp of horses and wagons is spread out on what was once the once lawn. Some planes are coming home to roost and out on the road, which I can’t see, is the noise of endless wagons
*In the Somme
A band practises in some far off wood. All sound carries wonderfully and speaking voices range from megaphone calibre to gramphone, or the telephone that the other fellow's listening to. A little while ago I went to have a look at a monster gun - some baby - the one best bet. Our diggers were thick as flies round it, sizing it up. The projectiles of course were enormous and one of our sad things gave them a disgusted look and said: "And they dish us out ---- tin hats to stop them blightersl" This is the gun for which the switch was made. I told you of it in yesterday's letter. Well, they finished this evening. The big creature just came up an hour ago. They say she is sixty feet long and throws a 13". something shell 40 kilometres (our fellows always call them "kilos". I don't know what they call a kilo), Well, to me she looks every bit of her reputed length. Her name neatly painted on her is "Mireille" reminding me of the little French baby at St. Gratien and she is in the hands of a most ingenious, capable-looking crew who, with their officer live in neat tunnels they've made in the cutting. They'll need them, for as soon as Jerry feels Mireille's might, his night bombers will be over very quickly, in swarms. The officer of this crew is a most fascinating looking chap. Imagine the head of a young Napoleon but with good colour, set on the figure of Marechal Ney. He wears a red and gold kepi, a black, well cut tunic, very neat corduroy riding breeches and one-piece top boots. His hair is like a black spaniel’s, he's clean shaven but for little side boards, olive skin and ruddy cheeks and lips. I've never seen a finer looking chap. He might have stepped from a Goya picture. And he's so absorbed in his work that he takes no notice of anybody or any thing. The shells are as tall as a boy but 40 inches in girth! It's a clear night and the Hun will be over as sure as as anything can be. It's the only time he dare come. However this is an extraordinaryily interesting time and one day I'll tell you all about it, - intense in every sense. If when you go to town you see Frank Crozier tell him to tell Captain Treloar that, the probation has turned out, for me at any rate, to be just the thing to inhibit good work, not only because such a period inevitably tends to make a man nervous, from anxiety to do his best, but on account of the many changes and the consequent reluctance to begin work that cannot
be completed; the lack of accommodation; the looking after traps; the want of help and the insignificance of one's non-commissioned self all of which tend to limit production: both as to quality and quantity. Not knowing how much those in authority require of one, one tries to do too much and makes a bungle of things which ordinarily one would easily do well. As, if successful, we are on for the duration, it would be by far the best plan to let us pick and choose carefully and bank on quality, I have tried to do both and I'm afraid as the flying men say that I've "come a thud".
It is shameful to think that one I know should have a path of gold for the exploitation of his kind of art just because his rank differs from mine. The one I think of is wildly enthusiastic and complacently boastful of the deference paid to him by those in authority, and, so would I be.. But, even after getting the com, (if I do) I will have little prestige in the unit where everyone, from batman up, knows me as "Mac" and most of them think me a sort of assistant or understrapper to Fullwood and Leist.
France, Villers Brettonneux, 8/8/18.
I have just had the pleasure of walking on ground that this morning was occupied by the Hun. This is the day of a vast success and out matchless boys have taken a glorious part in it. The enemy has been taken by surprise and towelled up in masterly fashion. The prisoners have been coming in in thousands. They were swooped on and swept up, unable to offer any resistance – "driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing". The cages were too few and small to hold them and they were put in charge of drovers and pushed off down the road in a never-ending column. All day long there has been unprecedented air activity, the sky dotted with an unbelievable number of machines, while the roads were crammed with wagons, armoured cars, tanks, lorries and motor cars. The day has been one great crescendo of success. Every goal aimed at has been won and with, on our side, few casualties. An immense number of vehicles of all kinds were pulled up on either side of the main
route and already the men who a few hours ago were in the thick of the fight were making their toilet; mirrors and shaving gear out. By the time you get this you will know much more than I do now, so, I won’t bother you with more reports especially as they won’t be too accurate; but I’m glad to be here for Aug. 8. ‘18. Our men are in splendid spirits and the Australian flag is planted many miles east of where the Hun lines were early this morning. The diggers are busy now, trading souvenirs; for the booty in that direction was huge. They want to finish him right off. What about stereotyped discipline now? Ours was so bad that, we had some spare time to consolidate. It's a case of "if whisky is bad for business; give up business". Anyway our brand of discipline suits Foch and what suits him will do the Australians. What a day. What glory!! It is said that a bunch of armoured cars was told to make for a headquarters and get it, or kill it, or something; but the little trinket that fires the 13 in. shells and is run by the handsome Goya like young French officer, got in first and dispersed, disintegrated, dissipated, pulverised, precipitated and annihilated the vile brood. How it shook this place! But it's lost its job now - its mark has been pushed back so far. "And that ain't the end of this terrible tale." I venture to gamble he's going to get a worse canning than to-day's. The air work was to me the most wonderful thing. These multitudes of planes were simply Carter, Patersons on wings; carrying ammunition, wire and rations to the forward lines; and as many were coming back as were going forward; all day long. Coming home the road was full of a never-ending stream of English cavalry going up to put on finishing touches. They were splendid men and splendidly horsed. They'll do great deeds. But you already know more than I do. We will be on the move again shortly. Much chance there is for calculating when canvases will have the chance to dry, or, whether it is safe to start new work!
Most of to-day I was out having a look at things. I first went and saw a great mob of Boches being taken out of a cage and marched down the road. They were a big brand of Hun, a good many being well
over 6 ft. in height and most of them in new clobber. They were very well content to be taken and didn’t care which horse won the boat race. They were a Canadian capture, I was accompanied by an old 5th Bn, mate, Dick Wardle, and we had a guessing competition, before they moved out of the cage, as to the number of prisoners in it. Dick said a battalion; my guess was half a battalion. The N. C. 0. in charge decided for us, 550, so I won. There were only four mounted men in charge of them as they moved off- but these were armed with swords and revolvers. My companion and I hopped a lorry and got carried part of the way, until the lorry turned off our road. We then struck a bunch of armoured car drivers, the chaps who did such splendid work. They were working the cranks of little machines, filling belts for their Hotchkisses and were anxious to know what the Aussies thought of their work and were very pleased when I told them - "splendid". They told us of many most interesting and stirring things they'd been through. They said they'd been told about our prowess by the French, with whom up till now they'd been, and had been anxious to see for themselves if it were true, I asked them, did our boys come up to expectations? "Come up? We've never seen anything like it in the war. They're marvels; the dizzy limit!" They're some limit themselves. They drove into a village filled with Huns and on the first turn they took into the main street, found the guard being relieved. They turned their Hotchkisses on them and hotch-kissed them to death - guard and relief. Going on they caught sight, through the window of a restaurant, of a bunch of Hun staff officers lunching. They pulled up and through the window gave them some lead savouries. On they went and turning into a street found it full of horse transports. These, no doubt, under the impression that the armoured cars were their own, for the driver and crew are invisible, actually gave them right of way. The first of the armoured cars went ahead and did nothing so as not to disturb them. The second trained on them as it went past and shooting from the back aperture laid 'em all away. That gave the alarm and all in the street made for the door of a church they'd turned into a hospital. But, they jammed at the door and the car boys turned on the tap and hosed them down to Hell. They got a crate of homing pigeons and presented it to our gallant
corps commander, who will send them back to Germany with messages on them. It was they who planted our flag farthest east for our toys to rally to; which of course they did and are now beyond it. The Hun got a fearful artillery strafe before he could get away or surrender and the craters mostly impinge on and even overlap each other. In one place I saw four Hun machine-gunners and their gun in a shell crater. A tank had gone over it and them - exeunt omnes [all gone]. The cavalry did wonderful feats - capturing trains and transports, guns, prisoners. Our men, of course, are peerless. They always go one better than the next best. So exact, so dashing, so gallant. Half an hour after the barrage stopped our 18 pdrs, were in their new positions - a record. No hampering time-limit, laid down in bow and arrow days, was foisted on them and they romped into the brawl and gained their objectives in jig time, beating all previous records. Ah, but they're the bonnie fechters! [fighters] Even some of the English admit it - The French, Americans, Scotch and Huns did so long ago. I saw a bunch of them, on bikes, loaded up like pack horses, fags and pipes in their mouths, in sleeveless shirts and WITH DRUMS, TRUMPETS, TROMBONES, etc., up, going up to the front line; so as to have some music up there! Life size band instruments, if you please. In a dug out under a crudely scratched portrait of our general I saw scrawled up:- Gen. Sir Wm. Birdwood. K.C.S.I., K.C.B., K.C.M.G., etc.,
ALSO ENTITLED TO WEAR AN AUSSIE HAT.
They are full of booty. At one cage of newly brought in Huns an almost equal number of "diggers" were bargaining for souvenirs on the barter system. It was bread, bully beef, cheese or cigarettes for photographs, belts, caps, watches, pistols, or any trinkets the Huns might have remaining to them. The trade was brisk, the chief difficulty was the passing through the swathes of barbed wire of the exchanged articles. I got a Mauser for little son and some other souvenirs.
Since yesterday the good news has been steadily coming in. My impression is chiefly of a very long and very straight
road flanked by dust-laden trees and carrying two opposite-moving, endless streams of war vehicles - almost no ambulances - a column of dust, opaque and almost white in the distance - everyone a dusty miller and cheerful. Lorries, cars, armoured cars, in fact every kind of wheeled thing drawn up under the trees - piles of beams, bricks and mortar and broken walls representing what used to be villages; and in the air planes, thick as a flight of Leonids - or rather two flights, one east and t'other west. Shell-craters, bomb-holes, trenches dug-outs, millions of loose cartridges, belts of cartridges, water bottles, shells, shell-cases, rifles, packs, every conceivable kind of munitions and equipment - captured guns - flocks, herds and mobs of ruffian looking Hun prisoners - smirking blackguards. One lot of them was told to move off, but the movement was held up for a minute by an arrogant Hun officer who declared that a horse should be provided for him - he wasn't going to walk. "Not walk'." said the corporal - the other blokes has got to walk - why not you?" "Discipline" said the Hun, "if I walk it will have a bad effect on my men" "Oh, will it? Well in the first place they ain't your men no more and as for b----y discipline you and them won't have no more use for it from now on, except what I give yer, Get a wriggle on or yer'll feel this (wheelbarrow) baynit. On the return journey I saw them, officer and all, padding the hoof, miles back. Vast energy, vast destruction and a great dust! I can't begin to paint, in case of a possible quick move. This takes it out of me as much as anything. To-day I am done up; muscle sore and dilated. A good chap has just brought me the mail, I came on (Lt. Col) Norman Marshall on a motor-bike looking very fit. He pulled up and said right away "Hullo! Jim! how's she going? Know anything about motor-bikes?" I referred him to the general's chauffeur who was near at hand and in two minutes that gentleman was N.'s willing slave. With successful results too, for I later saw Norman careering along at a great rate. That's what it is to have a way wid yer.* On the way back we saw our ordnance boys, overflowing with work re-rifling captured guns. They are packed in great quantities all along the Amiens road - hundreds of them.
*He's a great chap
I went out again this morning to look at the sights. The impression is just as I told you before. The prisoners' cages keep filling up as the last lot are emptied out, and put to work. They are given picks and spades and set to repairing the roads and railways; or mending their own cages! On the front, now far out, the brawl still rages, we being top dog. Without cessation our supplies and men are being rushed up and the traffic is prodigious. So is the dust. The lorry I hopped this morning was full of great big gun shells. The men on the lorry were a fine type of English artilleryman, kind and full of information. Their babies, these big shells, are their pride. The big 3 ton lorry can only carry 8 of them. They fly 22 miles through the air, rise 18000 feet burst on graze, "and only made a hole in the ground as big as a tin hat." They bragged, with loving pride, of their major, who, they said, was a marvel. He didn't need to make calculations, bracket his shots or do any of the ordinary things. By some uncanny magic he pin-pointed on whatever he set out to hit. Their admiration was good to hear. For three days and nights these fine chaps had been working without any sleep but what they snatched - half an hour at a time; but they were full of jokes. But then everybody is in high spirits. We hear rumours of success up N. and also of a great naval fight.* This afternoon, with intervals for a swim and tea I have been painting. I've just stopped on account of the failing light. We are told of great success on the part of the French down south. We, for once are having splendid weather. Gott is mit uns for a change. I can hear a Jerry plane, well loaded, approaching, so I'll stop for to-night.
As soon as I can, I am going to apply for a board to get my discharge. I will, if this turns out successful, go to the base and then to England for more boards. The whole thing is very perplexing but I have come to the conclusion that it is foolish in the extreme to hang on. Were I well I should most certainly stick
to my present job as it is full of promise but I feel that I am not only going steadily back, but that, I am not in condition to do myself justice. To have gone right through the war too, would have been something; but, that sort of vain-glory doesn't pay.
I missed writing yesterday as everything was unsettled on account of a move. We made the move and then I moved back to the old place as, where I was before was a good place to work and the new was not. But in new hands the old place had no food to give me so I had to hop a lorry and get out to the camp again for a meal. During the earlier part of the day I went to see the M. 0. but he was too busy - in fact wasn't on the scene. After my meal in the woods I went to the salvage and from Captain Viner got a brand new Hun uniform. I got it for illustration purposes, but I hope I don't need to use it. Disappointment has turned this job into a hateful one. This morning, in order to rectify my meal-less state I thought of going to Corps and seeing if an old acquaintance there - now a Captain - could do anything for me. The way in which he told me what I ought to do would have made me laugh outright but for his 3 stars and scarlet patches. It was a case for saying "What the deuce do you think you're talking about anyway?" But as it was I just carefully explained my position to him. He then agreed to do what I at first had asked of him - adding that, a little sketch for him, etc.... The fraudulency of it all! The opportunity this militarism presents for putting pressure on one! The war won't be of any use unless it discredits it, I notice the growth of Prussianism in the army all along - a state of affairs foreign to the very principle of Australia. I don't want any commission on these terms, but want to get out and collect the tag ends of my health together and get back to you and our children. As soon as I can I'll see the M. 0. and put forward my application. We've still got the weather and thought Jerry is putting up a stiffer resistance, I don't believe the push has yet stopped. However this is only guesswork, as I hear nothing and moreover don't want to hear anything.
Don’t write any more to me. To-day I saw the doc. man and in a day or SO I will be on my way to the Base and thence to England for discharge. I told the doctor that I had at first thought of trying for the six months leave, but had decided at last to make a shot at discharge. He said "I’m very glad that you’ve decided as you have; it’s much the best – I’ll fix my end of it up right away - you’d better get your things packed - you'll be off in a day or so." There’s no doubt I’m too seedy to do any good. When I get over we can discuss the next step to be taken. I don’t care a cuss for the commission side of it, all I feel, like now is getting free to get well and be with you and the children. I hope this news will buck you up and that you will not worry about anything else till I come over. Then, I’ll do the worrying for you. How I long for the time to fly so that I can be with you again. The weather is magnificent and all goes well here. The King and Sir Douglas were up to-day - but I missed seeing them. At any rate I can say I’ve been on deck when the tide turned and it won’t be too long before it’ll be a tidal wave.
AUSTRALIAN BASE DEPOTS
France, Aug. 18th, 1913.
Since my last letter I have been continuously on the move. H. Q. moved from the camp in the wood to some dug-outs in a quarry. I stayed behind at the chateau in order to deliver my work to my 0. C. who on Friday afternoon turned up with Ben, in a car. On the Friday morning I had tried to find him at his museum dump at Longueval just out of Amiens, but he was away. I had a good look at this Museum in embryo and they undoubtedly have a vast quantity of most interesting, trophies; tank guns (enormous rifles mounted on a bipod), field electricity generators (a tandem, stationary cycle on which a couple of men can pedal away making "juice" for wireless apparatus) surgical outfits, etc., etc., etc. But you don’t want an Inventory of them. One thing; their latest booty shows inferior material. They must be getting mighty short of things. They’re resorting to poor substitutes. It turned out that there wasn’t enough room in the car
so I had to put in another day of waiting. Besides, my movement order to take me down here hadn't arrived. Next day Ben came over to see me and say Goodbye. He sympathised with me in having to relinquish the imminent commission but said that he too, was fed up and intended to apply for the 6 months leave that is being given to 1914 men. I don't know whether I told you that I told the A. D. M. S. that I had thought of that but, that he said discharge was the only thing for me. Well I hung round and nothing happened and next morning a motor-cleaner at the chateau told me that the evening before, a motor had come for me from Headquarters to take me to the station, 20 kilometres away, but that I wasn't to be found. I was hopping mad, as I hadn't left the premises, but I could do nothing. After lunch Gullett's driver arrived and I gave him the goods and as he was going fairly near Headquarters I got a lift from him, as far as he went. This was to Corbie and while waiting there for Gullett I had a look round. The fine little Abbey was well slathered, the S. rose window hanging down, outside held by the leads; like the head of a turkey from a poulterer's counter. Great holes were in the roof; and outside, huge chunks of masonry clipped off. Of course the dwellings and other buildings are very badly knocked about, but it's the damage to the Abbey that hurts me. It must have been a most enchanting little place in pre-war days, nestling among its trees on its pretty site. It's a pretty sight now. The infamy of it! From there without much difficulty I got to H. Q. and there explained the fiasco to the camp commandant, who ordered a car to take me to the main road to hop a lorry. The driver however, took me to the chateau at Blangy where I got my things, and a good-natured corps colonel took me in his car to the main road. There, a young Kanuck [slang for Canadian] gave me a lift as far as Amiens. It isn't much damaged. I then hopped another Canadian motor and got to the station at Ailly-sur-Somme where I found that the train which ordinarily left at 6.13 now goes at 9.30!, which meant a six hours wait. As I felt mighty ill, the time seemed all the longer. Whilst moping on the platform a monster Hun railway gun with its ammunition cars, rolled in — a shade smaller than "Mireille". On her side was daubed "captured by ----Div. Aust. Engineers" but this had been blotted out by "captured by 29th Battalion 8th Brigade A.I.F."
or words to that effect. The men on the platform were fairly apathetic but the French people were buzzing with "Ahs" and "Ohs'. "Quelle monstre"! "Oh, "Mon Dieu" Quelle salle type de canon Allermand". It had been to Amiens and was on its way to Abbeville and after that to Paris. I forgot to tell you that before I left I saw a long Hun train with "Hamburg" "Dresden" "Dusseldorf ", "Essen" "Mulhouse", etc. marked on the trucks. It and its engine with all its steamtubes smashed and boiler cover ripped, tom and bent, were drawn by an English Engine. When our train arrived, it consisted only of horse boxes, and we lay on the floor, covered with chaff and dust, for 14- mortal hours. Arriving here I was too weak to carry my kit-bag to the depot, so came along and left it at Harfleur station. On reporting, I was told I must report to the British authorities a mile and a half away, which I did, cursing the army and its ways. How they're loathed! I head some Canadians last night, on the subject - they didn't open out a little bit. To-morrow I go before the Base M. 0. and on Wednesday before a board. - That's on the 20th. Unless it flies in the face of the verdict of the A. D. M. S. I should go by the next draft after that date, i.e., the 25th. In any case I should be in London before the 30th. That's as near as I can get to anything. I only hope I don't get worse, for then they may put me in hospital here.
France, Aug. 23, ‘18
I missed writing on account of two things; inoculation and little Mary. From the two of them I had a bad time all Wednesday and felt too ill to do anything but lie on the bed my old pal Lionel Thomas provided me with, in the adjoining camp, of which he is quartermaster sergeant. He has looked after me like a father. Yesterday I went before the Medical Board, and they marked me B3, which means England and another board. There's no difficulty in my case except that, just as in everyone else's, the records have to be made and the forms made and passed from one person to another. And then one has to take one's turn. If I have luck I may get a boat this coming Monday. If not, I will have to wait another week! I am as impatient as can be to get over.
LE HAVRE, Aug. 24, ‘18.
Yesterday I was taken to see some of the great ordnance stores - such stores as you never saw in your life. Miles of eatables and wearables and destructive articles. Acres of them - forests of them - mountains of them - a small city of food, weapons, clothes and implements. Guns of all calibres were lying round like bundles of cigars. The docks, were full of dazzled ships and the unloading where it wasn’t done by electric or hydraulic cranes was done by coons and chows*. The chows were a cheerful lot; full of jokes. As usual there are swarms of Yanks. Last night "Tom" took me into town to dinner and with us was a chap from Vic., a former schoolteacher who plays the piano well. At the very nice restaurant where we went and where they were well known, there was a piano in a room near the dining room and Rowe, the pianist, got busy while we awaited dinner. Pretty soon a very good-looking young American sergeant put his head in the; door and asked for a piece he liked and shortly after 4 officers, friends of his, came in. They were very jolly chaps and when we went into the dining room, they told us to be sure to come back. We promised, but twice before we'd finished one of them came in and reminded us of the agreement. We did so at last and had various songs. The chap next me turned out to come from 151st St. New York so I asked him if he knew of Coogan's bluff and St. Nicholas Ave. and told him how and why I did. He turned to the others and said "Say fellers. Why! Look at here!! This boy comes right from where I do."** We exhausted talk about that locality and we all talked a blue streak and had a most enjoyable time. They wanted us to meet them again, but I don't see it coming off, unfortunately. I don’t feel much like going about and it's a long way from the depot into town and the trains and trams are unfamiliar to me. This morning I went on a parade, the object of which, for me, consisted in ascertaining when I enlisted; and for that I was kept waiting an hour. I can learn nothing of when the boat goes and am not likely to. One is kept entirely in the dark. When I get to England it won't be to London; but if I can't get up at once you can come down to me. Of course I will do my best to get there with all speed, see Col. Evans and through him try to get out via Americas so as to see the kiddies en route [Approval was given to return to Australia at his own expense]. That may not be possible, but in any case it won't be long before we are together. The news is still very good
**I lived in N.Y. City for a while.
*Negroes & Chinese
and to-day’s paper gives our boys the sort of praise they deserve. I've just learned I leave to-morrow. "Home John!"
Allonville is about 10kms NE of Amiens.
A.M.L.O – Assistant Military Landing Officer.
Archies – anti-aircraft guns or anti-aircraft gunners.
Blanchisseuse – laundress
Blangy-Tronville is on the Somme about 7kms SSE of Allonville and 12kms E of Amiens.
Bois d'Escardonneuse is about 20kms ENE of Amiens and about 5kms N of Corbie.
Carter, Patersons – a British road haulage firm.
Coogan’s Bluff and 151st St are in Upper Manhattan.
Corbie is 20kms E of Amiens.
Estaminet – a tavern or cafe.
fardels – A fardel is a bundle (from Arabic).
Foden road engines – Foden Trucks was a British truck and bus manufacturing company which has its origins in Cheshire in 1856. PACCAR an American company (which also acquired Leyland) bought the company in 1980, and ceased to use the name in 2006.
Fullwood –Rentals Fullwood is Albert Fullwood an artist aged 55, who had been made an Honorary Lieutenant.
Gravelled means annoyed or angry.
Grenadine – primarily pomegranate juice and sugar boiled into a syrup.
Havre is Le Havre about 250 kms SW of Boulogne and also on the coast.
Harfleur is a NE suburb of Le Havre.
Hotchkisses -The Hotchkiss M1909 machine gun was a French designed light machine gun developed and built by Hotchkiss et Cie.
khan – this is an inn or hostel.
Laodicea – This means lukewarm or indifferent. Laodicea was a city in Turkey where the Christian Church was considered self-satisfied and arrogant and the members complacent towards Christianity.
Leonids-Macdonald is probably referring to the Leonid meteor shower which has produced some of the most spectacular meteor displays in history. About every 33 years, the Leonids enter a phase of enhanced activity that accompanies the return of its parent comet. During these periods, rates can amount to hundreds and even thousands of meteors per hour. The last such enhanced period occurred during the period of 1998-2002.
Limber – this is a two wheeled cart used for supporting an artillery piece in transit. The back of the artillery piece is attached to the limber so that the gun is pulled along on its two wheels and the limber’s two.
Longueval is about 40kms ENE of Amiens.
Ludendorff - Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general who from August 1916 was joint head (with Paul von Hindenburg), and chief engineer behind the management of Germany’s war effort in WW1 until his resignation in October 1918. On 8 August 1918, Ludendorff concluded the war had to be ended and ordered his men to hold their positions while a ceasefire was negotiated. Unfortunately for Ludendorff, the German troops could not stop advances in the west by the Allies. During the next three months Australian and Allied troops achieved territorial gains that had been unheard of since the start of the war.
Merovignian kings –The Merovignians ruled the franks in a region known as Francia for 300 years from the middle of the 5th century AD, their territory largely corresponding to ancient Gaul (Western Europe) as well as some Roman provinces and parts of Germania.
N.C. rank – non-commissioned rank i.e. not an officer.
Marshall Michel Ney was one of Napoleon’s trusted commanders.
Nissen Huts are made of a prefabricated steel structure, made from a half-cylindrical skin of corrugated iron. They look like large corrugated pipes about four metres in diameter with one third appearing to be under the ground.
Nous verrons – "we shall see".
Poilu’s promise – Poilu is an informal term for a French soldier. So Macdonald is saying that Mireille’s birth was the result of a promise of marriage by French soldier.
Quidnunc – a person who is a gossip or busybody, from the Latin meaning "what now"
Ravitaillment – Refuelling.
ROD Engines – possibly engines using piston rods.
Savage – This might refer to the Savages Club in Melbourne (which still exists)
Streeton is Sir Arthur Ernest Streeton (8 April 1867 – 1 September 1943)
St. Gratien is a northern suburb of Paris. Although this does not seem to be where Macdonald is as he refers to seeing Morlancourt, Corbie and Villers-Brettoneux from St Gratien and they are about 150kms N of Paris. It seems that he is located a little east of Amiens.
V.A.D. -The Voluntary Aid Detachment was a voluntary organisation providing field nursing services, mainly in hospitals, in the UK other countries in the British Empire. The organisation's most important periods of operation were during WW1 and WW2.
Villers-Bretonneux is about 8kms E of Blangy-Tronville and 5kms S of Corbie.
W.A.A.C - The UK's Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (1917–1918) was later named Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (1918–1920). Over 57000 women served between January 1917 and November 1918.
W.O. – Warrant officer ie not an officer so did not have pips, such as a sergeant-major.
[This transcription was made using OCR software and may contain typographical errors. Edited by Miles Harvey for the State Library of NSW]