Up at 3.30 to go out on a Patrol with [Sergeant] Mackintosh, to see that the country was clear of Germans for the Regiment to move. Out (with a little cocoa inside) between misty grey fields; very keen eyed at first, searching horizons for picketed Uhlan horses or remains of campfires. Less lynx-eyed as the sun came up. Villages rushed to the road to see us.
All through the night cars, taxicabs and London omnibuses had been passing their billet, full of Belgian and probably some Royal Naval Division troops making for Ostend, as well as refugees. Now the patrol was met by ‘masses of wagons going in still another direction; the transport of a whole division’. In fact five divisions of the Belgian army were fleeing Antwerp westwards, partly via Ghent, to take up defensive positions along the Yser canal that ran down to Ypres.
The Blues were looking to move southwestwards today along the road to Torhout (ten miles distant). As it happened, the German 4th Cavalry Corps had been active for five days over a wide area thirty miles south of there, but were now withdrawing. Calderon and Mackintosh (who dubbed him ‘The Professor’) seem to have ridden almost as far as Torhout, found no sign of the enemy, and got back to base by 9.00 a.m., where they had ‘a bite and nap’. At noon the brigade moved off.
George was beginning to experience the almost ‘comic’ contrasts, as he put it, that the war was throwing up. That evening they emerged from ‘pitch black woods’ into ‘a park with a Château’. It was ‘quite like a thing in […] a novel about a war’:
A real château, with a handsome young proprietor, in riding breeches and his father-in-law in patriarchal style. The men bivouacked in the park just outside; we slept on the floors of a group of 3 boudoirs with glass chandeliers, with a log blazing in the chimney, on the soft piled carpet. Dinner with piled fruits and long-stemmed wineglasses. I dined with wise ones in the kitchen, near the base of supplies. […] The squire’s mother avers that the Germans are only ten miles away and begs us to induce her son to fly.
The beautifully stilted phrases of the last sentence indeed make it sound like romantic fiction!
Judging by Dick Sutton’s diary, this château was a couple of miles south of the village of Ruddervoorde; i.e. they had not actually reached Torhout this evening.
Next entry: Pause and enigma