12 March 1916

Extract from the diary of Harrison Johnston, the 15th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, 105th Infantry Brigade, 35th Division

It is now 10 a.m. and we’ve been on the job since 4 a.m.  Nothing like having a good long lie in bed on a Sunday! We paraded at 5-30 and marched to Brigade H.Q. where ‘buses’ again took us to Lestram.  We marched from there and arrived here, about two miles behind the firing line, at 7-15.  We soon got to work on the job we started yesterday – putting up barbed wire entanglements.  I’ve been round the two jobs we are at and roundly “ticked off” all N.C.O.s and most of the men for slackness, but on the whole they are working well, and just need a good stir up – we all do sometimes.

A Corporal has just come here and he tells me that our anti-aircraft guns have just brought a German aeroplane down about a mile up the road.  Pilot and Observer both killed.  That’s a good job.

I am surprised to find that all the land, even up here, is cultivated.  One never sees a grass field.  Most of the land is sown with wheat and coming up nicely.  I don’t know where they got the labour.

All the roads are in a terrible condition and these trips by motor ‘bus are one of the things that we will not easily forget.  The ‘buses have been out here since the beginning of the War and stand the rough usage wonderfully well.  I travelled on the front of one this morning and had an interesting conversation with the driver, a Cockney, who was a chauffeur in London.  He came out with the ‘buses and has been on all the time.

The man gave me a story – a typically English story of last Spring, when troops were being hurried from one bit of front to another.  The Highland Light infantry were coming out of the trenches where they had been for eight days.  They were done.  Another lot of men going in turned out their pockets and gave all they had to the men coming out – cigarettes, food, etc. – although they knew what they were going to themselves.  So it is throughout One is always proud out here to be British.  We muddle, blunder, and do things late, but the character is there, and we’ll get there – late perhaps – but we’ll get there.

The boys’ great song now is “I want to go home” – but they don’t mean it.

As we came along to-day we could not help noticing again the amounts of crape about.  All the natives are in mourning.  One meets them all going to Mass early each Sunday morning,

7 p.m.  We got back nearly 5-30 p.m., as the ‘buses turned up punctually at Lestram, and so did we!  “Yes, I think so.”  Glad to get back – very tired, but the boys worked well to-day.  Some of them have torn their clothes very badly climbing over the wires in broad daylight.  Old Fritz will get his tail scratched if he ever gets this far and tries a night attack.

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