Bert's Diary 13 - 30 March 1917
Tuesday: Fell in to move overseas 11.30 pm Mon night & marched off shortly after 12 midnight. Left Amesbury about 2.30am. arriving at Folkstone about 9 am. Put up in barracks till 1.50 & then fell in marched to boat & embarked. Arrived at Boulougne at 5pm and at our camp about 7.30 where we were put in tents & given a glorious meal of bully & biscuit.
Wednesday 14th: Left Boulougne for Etaples about 2.30 but owing to delay in departure of the train didn't arrive until 7.30 pm.
Thursday 15th: Etaples camp is a pretty big joint where quite a lot of divisions both Austn & British have their base depots & men from Eng to their units pass throu this camp to be finished off. It didn’t take then long to find me something to do for they’ve stuck me on guard. Fairly soft cop tho … the Klink is a barbed wire enclosure with a sentry at each corner, so there is no great chance of any one escaping. No sign of pay yet.
Friday 16th: Learn to my disgust that I’ve to go throu the "Bull ring". Came off guard this arvo about 4.30 p.m. Got to go to the Bullring tmw. Wrote to Mrs. M. EVS. & CB.
[Bullring: British army training establishment such as those base camps at Rouen, Harfleur, Havre and Etaples. Men were posted here from the front line for refresher training, and to "inculcate the offensive spirit". The Bull Ring at Etaples was infamous for its severe discipline.]
Saty 17th: Went to the Bullring early this morning about 3 miles, returning about 11.30. Went out again in the afternoon at 3 & did a bit of trench routine working, getting back at 8.30 p.m. The powers that be took pity on our condition & paid us at 9pm. Got 20 francs.
Sunday 18th: Went to church this morning & heard a splendid & powerful sermon. The preacher was very good indeed. – One of the best I’ve heard. Splendid news from the front. Our boys are pushing on fine.
Monday 19th: Went out and did a bit of shooting today. My rifle throws 1 inch left in 30 yards. In the afternoon went for a route march.
Tuesday 20th: Bullring today with a vengeance. Had a very strenuous day of it, mostly Bayonet fighting. More good news from the front. Rec’d a letter from Mrs. M. dated the day left Blighty.
Wednesday 21st: EM. EG. KD. Bumped into a picket job today. Streak of rare luck this arvo, a letter from Elsie dated 31/12/16 the last one was 5/12/16 which came to light some considerable time ago. Funny how ones mail is messed about. Bill Howitt who was in the Sig school at A group Hqrs turned up bright and smiling. He will probably get away about the same time as I do.
Thursday 22nd: No Bullring for me today as I’ve to go on guard this arvo. Had a lazy time of it during the day. Didn’t leave my warm & comfy couch until brecker was nearly over. Rec’d one English letter during the day – from Brumm. Was congratulated on the fact that I could not get to France for 3 months _ _ _. & here I’m in it the day it was written. Mounted guard at 5 pm. Reproved cos my brass wasn’t polished. (Contrary to AIF orders, they want the brass work polished in this joint, & even go to the extent of supplying the guard with a tin of Brasso). Congratulated on my pack. Only two "birds" in the Klink & they are fairly safe with a sentry on each four corners of the compound. The blanky orderly officer didn’t come round until about 11.30 bust him but otherwise things OK. Wrote to EM and TP.
Friday 23rd: Dull day for the most part, but a little diversion introduced throu an officer marching an armed party past the guard without saluting us & the same officer on coming back gave the command "Eyes right" instead of "Eyes left" & then when the men looked away from the guard instead of towards us roared out "Don’t be a lot of
_ _ _ fools cos I’m one". Relieved OK about 5 pm. Bed early – nowhere to go & and no passes to go there.
Saturday 24th: Bullring this morning. Blasted Company drill all the morning. The platoon officers rather shaky on their drill. Lewis gun lecture in the afternoon. Lecturing officer knows his job I suppose but he cant lecture. To bed early again, only place one can keep warm in. The mess is dopey – the dopiest I’ve ever struck, no comforts of any sort. Tucker up to putty too. Stew.. Stew.. stew.. _ _ _. What’s the use of worrying? PES. [wrote to Percy]
Sunday 25th: Been having a glorious loaf during the day. Intended to write letters but had no writing paper & the canteens were closed to 5 pip emma [pm] so couldn’t get any. Have been warned for guard tomorrow. By jingo they are slinging it into me pretty hot. However guard is better than the Bullring. I can sleep in till 8 tomorrow. Laziness – I’m the super essence of it. Have pratted my frame in for a pass to Etaples on Tuesday night. Have to be out by 8. Guard doesn’t finish till 5 so Ill have quite a long time in there. By jingo the military is hot. They have the infernal hide to offer a miserable 5% leave to Etaples from after parade until 8 pm. Which gives about 3 hours in town? I'll bet the gentlemen who made those restrictions go oftener than once in 20 days & stay away longer than three hours. Went to bed very early – only place where one can keep warm. Wrote letters N & EG. Mrs. M.KD.
Monday 26th: Mounted guard at 5 pm. Blanky orderly officer didn’t come round until 11.30 & half the men were dopey in turning out. One chap who doesn’t seem quite right in his top piece has to be brought to the C.O.
Tuesday 27th: Off guard about 5 pm. got paid during the day & as soon as we had tea Bill Howitt and I mizzled into Etaples on pass. It’s a deadly hole. Only went in to get a few things that were not procurable in the camp canteens.
Wednesday 28th: Bullring again today. Lewis gun lecture in the morning & a bit of a scheme of attack in the afternoon. Tired when I got back. Went to a picture show and saw a decent picture. Have been warned for guard on Thursday. This putting me on guard seems to have become a habit with them. Wrote to P. & sent him 10 francs – he’s sure to be a bit short. It won’t come amiss even if he isn’t. Also wrote to HMC. No sign of any mail.
Thursday 29th: Have a nasty toose-ache - the blanky thing objected to me indulging in my passion for sweets. Mounted guard OK about 5. Four birds in the cage. Received a letter from Elsie dated early November. Although it was plainly addressed to the 3rd, it has been all over the place but not the 3rd. It was refused with thanks by Sig Engrs & the 22 Bn plastered all over it "NOT 22nd BN" _ _ _. By Jingo no wonder ones mail doesn’t turn up when letters plainly addressed to the 3rd go to Sig Engs & the 22nd.
Friday 30th: Complimented by CO on having the smartest & best turned out guard that had ever been mounted here. Warned that I'm on draft leaving the following morning. Relieved off guard at 3.30 so that I could get equipped. Relieved so suddenly that I had no warning & so things were not as tidy as they might have been. Got straffed. Got every thing fixed up to leave. Gee my pack is heavy. I'll dump something before I lump it many miles.
Sat 31st: Left early this morning. Pack too heavy to carry far. Loaded into luggage truck. Placed i/c [in charge] rations with 4 men. Went through my pack & dumped my boot polishing gear. Couldn’t dump anything else. Drank a tin of unsweetened milk. Train moved off about 8 am. Arr’d at some ungodly hole about 4.30 & after unloading rations joined my mob. Marched off for Albert an hour later & fixed up in tents. Got a bit wet marching. Coat & cape in my pack & didn’t get a chance to get them out. Fixed up comfy for night. Raining like H [hell]. Great if we were sleeping out.