30 May 1915

1st bn KOSB 87th Brigade 29th Division M.E.F. May 30th

Dearest Mrs P, I’m hard up for paper. Please send some. We’re still on the same spot, in broiling sun, dry and beautiful; sea to either side. […] Daily programme something like this: Get up a little before six. The men run by twelves for 10 mins over the heath and back. 7-8 fiddling with machine gun. Breakfast in ‘White Horse Cellar’. Go to my platoon (no. 8, all lovely Scots), look at rifles, talk about the need of leaving no rubbish about for flies. Grogan comes round and does the same; then Capt Stoney the [officer commanding the battalion] does it again. Then m.g. again in the shade of a tree; or in some Turkish trenches near here (deserted trenches). Then soon after noon all is rather drowsy: we sit at the back of ‘Cadogan Mansions’ under the little oak tree and read and write and talk, the Padre or another gazing all the time through the telescope which stands on a tripod (it is Stoney’s) looking at the firing line. Rifle firing is quietish there in the daytime. Our guns not far from here are sending up shells; they throw up big black clouds on the hill, in line. An aeroplane hums over, little pops and little white clouds mark the enemy’s shrapnel chasing it. Officers of neighbouring battalions wander by. […]

After lunch, a visit to Hogan, who sits, fatherly, under his shady peach tree in the midst of his little vineyard, with pits and clothes about him, nursing and examining a Turkish rifle with strange letters on the ironwork. Other officers drowse around him. I settle awhile to reading the m.g. book, looking at Hedley’s maps, learning a few Turkish words. Yesterday before tea I visited Tresidder’s camp half a mile forward from here: I found Ratcliff, a tall and most pleasant Scot, and one or two other Orsovans. A man near by said ‘Ah’m hit!’ with surprise and indignation; he was hit in the muscles beside the chest by a stray rifle shot aimed at the firing line. Ratcliff (who is 6 ft 2 in) nursed him and cosetted him; the wounded man (still surprised) said, ‘Why, I feel quite at home with you.’ They have a good many shells in that camp. Until today (which is Sunday) all we had were 3 or 4 at 7.30 two nights ago, when I was late for dinner. Today we have had about 80 in the camp or round it.

At 9 we had Church Parade all gathered sitting in a big group. First the old hundredth (all the service, prayers and song, was to be done sitting on the ground). Then the Padre improvised a long good prayer, and read Exodus 4. Then we sang ‘Jesus, Lover of my Soul’; then he began to preach on the symbolism of Moses’ rod (Ex. 4) and he had hardly begun when the shells began to fall so mightily close that we threw ourselves on the ground. But not at once. We had to remain sitting, looking as unconcerned as possible, while the men dispersed gently, a platoon at a time. There were about 20 of us trying to take cover behind one slim tree. The men went to their trenches; I and some officers to the Mess. The shelling has gone on, off and on, for a couple of hours. There are two men wounded, I think, and a horse or mule; no more. I keep diving into trenches.

Last night I was rather wakeful and heard a great noise of fighting, rifle and canon. It was one of the most beautiful nights I ever saw: a full moon shining on the waters to right and left of us; a clear starry sky; a landscape of hills and woods and distances like an early Victorian steel engraving. In the contrast of scene and war the scene far outweighs the war, which only plays an accompaniment. The pipers, save one taking a skirl at it, have not yet played. Our regimental tune is the Bonnets of Dundee. […] The shells are still flying and I am bobbing up and down like a moorhen as I write. Grogan, quite unconcerned, stands chatting 80 yards away. As I rise again from the bottom of my ditch I am glad to see him taking cover. […]

Poor Paterson, my servant in the Blues, sits on my conscience. The pound cheque I sent 3 months ago to Greave came back. I wish you would send another c/o Capt Fitzgerald, and a note explaining.

Our Padre (I don’t know his name) has a big church in Buchanan Street, Glasgow […]

My dearest love.

Your fond loving P.

[On back of envelope: P.S. Silence reigns.]

Clearly Kittie could send George letters and small parcels, but we never hear of any arriving. On the back of the envelope containing his previous letter he had written: ‘Please knit me marching socks. By mistake I left all but one pair in Egypt. P.’

Captain Grogan, aged 25, commanded B Company (in which George commanded Platoon No. 8), Captain Hogan commanded D Company. Trenches and features were commonly named after famous streets etc back in Blighty. Frederic and Catherine Lubbock’s London residence was 26 Cadogan Gardens.

‘Old hundredth’: the well-known hymn tune, most often associated at this time with Psalm 100, ‘O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands’.

For Captain Fitzgerald of the Blues, see my posts of 15-18 October and 24 October. George’s readiness to dive for cover is reminiscent of the character Vlang, who is a survivor, in the third of Tolstoy’s Sebastopol stories.

Kittie was temporarily back in Hampstead. She had not received a letter from George since 22 May at Emmetts.

Next entry: 31 May 1915


About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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