Extract from the diary of Harrison Johnston, 15th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, 105th Infantry Brigade, 35th Division.
Paraded in line on Battalion Parade Ground at 10-45 a.m. Everybody in full kit with all our Christmas Tree Decorations on! As we are only allowed to take one valise, weighing 35lbs., we all took as much as possible on our persons! Luckily, being mounted, my pack was on my horse. The men’s total weight of stuff including clothing, rifle and ammunition (120 rounds per man) averaged 70 pounds – the men’s weight, stripped , averaged 120 pounds – we weighed several yesterday as a test. Everybody in camp turned out to see us march off. Unfortunately no Band for us, and we naturally marched slowly in full kit. The 4th Dragoon Guards were at Church, but they played the last train load down.
Arrived without mishap, and after 1 ½ hours in sheds on the Docks we went on board H.M.S “Caesarea” : small, but speedy. The two platoons of Y and all Z joined us very soon, and we sailed at 5-30 sharp, leaving behind a party of 12 men from my Company and 13 Transport under McArthur to load up the steamer which were to carry W Company and our Transport (the former an Isle of Man boat).
It was a beautiful evening and as calm as a mill pond.
Major Hills (Officer commanding Z Company) became Officer commanding ship, as he is senior to Shaw outside our Battalion. He called all Officers together and gave us instructions. We had some Artillery Officers together and gave us instructions. We had some Artillery Officers (three batteries), also R.E. Officers, on board.
Arrived about 11-30. We were tried up to the dock at Havre all night and did not disembark until 7-30 a.m. The last party having arrived, the whole Battalion formed up on a space lower down the Quay. Before disembarking we noticed the fine hospital on the Dock, and as I saw so many men wounded in the head I could not help wondering why our government does not provide steel helmets like the French, as so many shrapnel wounds are in the head.
The C.O. marched the Battalion through Havre and about three miles outside, all the way uphill, to a rest camp! A pretty name given to a number of tents in row in a wet, muddy field on the crest of a high, bleak hill. We told the man off to tents; the camp very dirty – mean, twelve to a tent. One tent to each Company’s Officers. I had Captain Brown, Lieuts. Wolstenholme, Kynaston, and Partington in my tent. When then men settled I walked along to the Y.M.C.A. and got a few field postcards, which are all we must send at present – no letter allowed. Having posted these I made love to the M.O. and borrowed a couple of stretchers for Billy and self to sleep on. They had hold one off the ground and are very comfy.
Major Shaw (Mess President) came along shortly afterwards to say that he made arrangement for Officers to have lunch at a Restaurant close by, kept by the Veuce Preevel, so as we had to go in two lots, I waited for the second. First lot included Commanding Officer Lieut. – Col F. W. M. Newell, Majors Shaw and Hills, Adjutant, &c., so I was senior Officer in camp. Unfortunately when they turned I had to report the first causalities. Corporal Green, “W” Company, smashed his arm trying to save a bicycle which was falling. L/C. Kelly and L/C Shea (both my Company had to go to Hospital – Former pleurisy, latter bad suppurating cyst in neck.
The French people don’t seem to understand their own language as some of us speak it (!) and we had great fun, but Billy got us all we wanted and we quite enjoyed the meal (in a sort of out – building off the little wine shop). Reminded me of the places built in Cheshire villages to cater for cyclists and picnic parties.