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Extracts from the Diary: 1917

From the Battle of Arras

April 1917

There is quite a lot of cavalry in the traffic, making for the front area which brings to mind a conversation I overheard between our General and the Cavalry Brigadier.  The Signal Office and the Staff Office are only separated by a thin wooden partition and we can hear every word.  The Generals were arranging for a cavalry attack after our infantry have taken Monchy.  The country beyond Monchy is clear of trenches and shell holes unless the Germans have dug another line of defence during this past few days. 

 

Another interesting conversation I overheard was between our General and the Brigadier of 111Brigade who are going over the top in the morning to take Monchy. It was a conversation by telephone.  As far as I could gather the Brigadier was protesting that the wire was not cut and the attack would most likely fail.  There was a heated argument ending with the General saying, ‘They must go over whether the wire is cut or not’. There was some further conversation which ended with the General saying, ‘My orders’.

From Arras (behind the lines)

June 1st 1917

The hot weather still continues and the narrow streets of the town are unbearably hot and stuffy. These hot days we go swimming in a pool on the other side of the town. There are two pools side by side, one as clear as crystal with a weedy bottom but the other muddy. The clear pool according to a notice is reserved for men of the 29th Division, the muddy one, presumably for the outsiders.‘Some ‘opes,’ I heard one lad say. A corporal runs around trying to separate the sheep from the goats but those not of the chosen simply undress alongside the muddy pool and jump into the clear one the moment the corporal’s back is turned, and who carries divisional marks on their birthday suits? 

Medal presentation at Fruges

June 21st 1917

Today I went to Fruges, a small market town some eight miles away from here to attend a medal presentation parade. The parade took place in the town square. Three sides were lined with troops and the fourth was occupied with ‘medalists’. General Gough [Commander of the Fifth Army] made the presentation and afterwards the troops marched past the heroes at the salute. In the evening we wet the medal in a small estaminet; I forget how many bottles of champagne we drank, but it cost me over sixty francs.

 

[The official diary of Albert’s Signal Company records that he and four other men were awarded the Military Medal ‘for gallantry in the Battle of Arras’. The Supplement to the London Gazette of 18th July 1917 records the award with the standard generic citation ‘for bravery in the Field’.]

Flemish farm girl

September 4th 1917

This morning I met Madelaine from the farm, leading a cow by a rope tied around its horns. She looked tired and dusty and by the way of a greeting I hailed her, ‘Hello Madelaine, been taking the old cow for a walk?’ She hesitated a second, then said ‘No Sergeant, I have been taking the cow to be married.’ Not a shadow of a smile on her face. The girl is an absolute heroine. She is not more than eighteen yet she does all the outside work of the farm, even the ploughing. She is built in the true Flemish style, fair, with very homely features but her face radiates good nature. When she smiles it almost hides her face, displaying a strong set of regular teeth. Her sister Laura is a great contrast in type and feature, being small and dark, typically French.

Further extracts to be added - watch this space!

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