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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1917

[passage from Lieut. G. H. Strack]

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Lieut. G. H. Strack writes:—"We have been in billets for a few days after our return form the trenches. As I look out this Sunday evening (5 p.m almost drak) the old ruined church can be seen only 200 yards away; and there are many other ruins all round. The place receives attention from the enemy heavy guns; early this morning everyone was awakened by one, two, three, four loud, high-explosive bursts at 4 a.m Just imagine lying in slumber when to put one's nose out is fatal, when the building rocks, a distant report of a gun is heard, then a whistling rush and finally a rending burst. However, though pieces of shell and buildings falling are heard close by, we decided to risk it and lay abed listening for the next. Within a quarter of an hour, we had two dozen shells over us, six of which were "duds." They were 6-inch, or heavies, and fairly confined, so that many bricks and much earth were displaced. Altogether it spoilt an hour's valuable sleep."

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page 17

Lieut. C. F. Atmore writes:—Approaching the Equator:—

"Huge quantities of coal which had been railed down to the wharf at which both our transports lay, were being rapidly carried on board, partly by immense cranes, and partly by niggers who must have numbered at least 300. I have often heard the phrase "to work like niggers" but not until now has its meaning been so clearly brought home to me. They laboured unceasingly throughout the night, at the same time shouting and talking so loudly all together that one wonders as to whether they, like politicians, consider this naïve chattering as part of their work

Later in the day we visited a flower-show in the City Hall. I was greatly amused at the resource of one lady who asked me to buy a tiny button-hole, which, as she told me, would cost just as much as the purchaser chose to give. On my stating (truly) that a half sovereign was my smallest coin, she eagerly volunteered to get it changed, and returned with four half crowns. So my button-hole cost 2/6 : but I went away rejoicing in the fact that I had not given her £1 note to change, for then she would have surely returned with two half sovereigns.

In the afternoon I went for a sail with a party of the ship's engineers. We put ashore about 8 miles up the river and went "big-game hunting in Africa," armed with revolvers and one pea rifle. We followed a beaten track through very tall grass about 12 feet high, until we came on to a clearing where two niggers thinking us to be some unknown gods, took to their heels in such fright that they are probably still going, provided of course, their wind is good! We searched the surrounding bush for something to shoot, but found only the tracks of one animal (probably the family goat) which we soon tried of following . Thinking that all the lions, elephants, etc. must be having a Sunday service elsewhere, we eventually got back to the boat after losing our way several times. It was a long journey home as the wind was directly ahead and we all had to take turns at the oars; but we had spent a delightful afternoon and I enjoyed it immensely. Good news awaited our return, for orders had been received for the New Zealand transports to sail to-morrow. We have been at—for 9 days and had almost despaired of getting away. In fact arrangements page 18 had been made with the navy to play a cricket match on shore on Xmas Day !!! (3½ weeks ahead).

When we had been a day or two out, we received an urgent call to go back to "dear old 100 degree in the shade" where we had already spent so many days. We steamed away again under escort finally, 4 days later, and so far are still afloat.

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Extracts from Lieut. A. H. Bogle's letters:—

Jan. 16.—"Everything is covered with snow at present. I like it so long as there is no wind, but I think we shall have floods again when a thaw comes. Fuel is desperately scarce, and firewood hard to get. Luckily a few sticks in our oil drum warms the "whare" pretty well and very quickly. The old farmer here almost had apoplexy when he found a large barrel had been burnt. It was taken by an English artillery section and certainly they had no excuse. He was the most angry man I have ever seen, and finally threw the remains at the Tommies in sheer disgust.

Last night Cuthbert Taylor put in an appearance here. I was very glad to see him. To-night I am to meet him at a certain dark cross-roads not far away (I can't give you the map location, in case the Germans shelled it). He seemed fit and well.

Jan. 29.—For William's birthday they threw a lot of shells into our village at 4 a.m.; a nice hour to hear the whoo-oo-oo-oo ! Bang !! coming closer and closer.

That insult can only be wiped out in blood. Between our beds and the German guns there is half an inch of boarding so I hope they won't make a nightly practice of it.

It is the kind of weather and conditions that would be extremely unhappy for a man who was "out of sorts," but is not worth mentioning by people who enjoy the rude health and hearty appetites that we do.

Jan. 31.—I was on my "survey" again to-day. It is a most important piece of work, of course, second only to Sir Douglas Haig's. But with ploughed ground frozen a foot deep and covered with four inches of snow it is not very accurate. To-morrow our lads are playing the drivers of our company at football. I was originally page 19 selected as third emergency (oh shades of departed heroes !) but now I am told I am required to play on the wing. It is very pleasant in this cold weather.

There was a rather large raid just before we left our last quarters. Captain King, (an old V.C. student) had just reached our line again, on the return, and shook hands with someone when a whiz-bang fixed him up very suddenly—the only officer killed. Always returning they suffer badly—no chance of anything else because old Fritz has his artillery well going by that stage of the performance. One of our wounded lads was sitting in the ambulance van with five Germans. They all looked pretty miserable, poor devils. Each sapper had a revolver for the stunt and by some chance this chap was seated beside a young German whom he had shot in the arm over in the German lines. He pointed out his prey to me very proudly with a wounded arm and was very funny to see, showing everyone his "bag." The "bag" didn't seem to care much about anything—they are so jolly pleased to be out of it for good.

One of our sappers—a big Scot lad of the 12th—was provided with explosive like the rest to demolish dugouts and he found a dug-out alright with six or seven Germans in it. It trued out that he said "Come oot," and they wouldna come oot even after repetition and being called awfu' names—So he "didna ken whit tae dae." They were all boys, he said, crying and holding up their hands and calling "Kamerad," and he hadn't the heart to blow them up. However some infantry came along and dug them out with the bayonet and he brought the batch across."

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Extracts from letters from Lieut.. G. H. Nicholls:—

"At Freetown boats and canoes, the latter most flimsy, unsubstantial things, came out with fruit. The vendors were all full-blooded negroes, some clad in conventional but dirty garments just like Maoris, but others were more picturesquely garbed in such things as feminine hats, large flowing pinafores, or a sort of kilt. They had not much English, but a very keen appreciation of the value of silver money, and no scruples about selling their wares at as high a price as they could persuade the customer to pay, and in the matter of change they cheated so, that page 20 more than once an application of cold water, or a shower of raw potatoes, and onions, was required to bring them to their senses."

"One of the things that struck me in England was that every little garden plot and backyard was a carefully tended vegetable garden, and even narrow strips of land alongside the railway were cultivated. . . . . I'm now in No 7 camp, which is well placed on rising ground and there are good concrete paths and roads in the camp itself. Our cubicles are in huts quite different from the Trentham patent. A passage runs down the whole of one side and the cubicle doors open off this. There are eight to a hut, big lofty rooms and very comfortable . . . . . . Yesterday I saw Norman Hogg, who came back from the front in January, and is now doing duty as a Quartermaster-sergeant; Will is still over in France, hard at it. This afternoon I saw Ken, Saxon, who was wearing his Military Cross Ribbon, and had a yarn with him. He is instructor in bayonet fighting. Charlie Gamble is here too in charge of the Pay Office for the New Zealand Camp."

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Writing from Dunstable Signal Depot in September last, S. I. Jones says : "After a few days at the New Zealand camp on the plain we were drafted to Hitchen, eleven miles from here. Then came a big division and we were scattered to different training depots round about. Dall is at one a few miles away, but is trying to get a transfer here. Prof. Marsden is at Hitchen but we're very pleased to see him every fortnight when he arrives with the much needed cash. . . . . . Last week I had a letter from W. B. Busby who is in Mesopotamia, his regiment then being quartered near the site of Sodom."

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A. E. Caddick writes:—

"We have been ten days in our present position, and during that time a big advance has been made by the British troops, the New Zealand Division taking part It was the hottest fighting our fellows have yet been in and they acquitted themselves right yeomanly, gaining the point for which they went. To me it seemed that we lost fairly heavily, but according to the English papers which have just arrived, the losses are small in page 21 comparison with other attacks and with the nature and extent of the ground gained. The Main Dressing Station to which "C" Section tent sub-division is attached receives practically all the stretcher cases and for three days and three nights we were working hard. Our fellows have had a number of casualties, but the hardest knock we received was the loss of Dr. Martin. He was a fair and just officer, liked and respected by all. A word from the Major was worth more than a dozen from and of the others.

During our stay at an historic little town some miles back from this front, I met Frank West, who had just come to France from England and rejoined. I spent the evening with him and Joe Mawson, (who was on the College Staff with me). West told me that Allan MacDougall had been killed.

The artillery fire here exceeds in intensity all that we heard at our first place in the line. Take to-night for an example. It is 5 a.m. Thursdays as I write, and the whole front is one continuous roar and rumble, which has been going on since early on Tuesday evening—presage evidently of another attack. I shall not forget last Friday morning. We came off duty an hour early—6 a.m.—in time to witness a beautiful sunrise over the ridge at the head of the valley. While we were admiring it, a hellish din broke out all round us, guns of all calibers speaking at once; and we knew that the Second Push had commenced and that our fellows were over the top. I felt sick at heart to think that we were compelled to be away from them and know my feelings were shared by all the other New Zealanders here with me. A few hours later the wounded began to come in and by afternoon they simply poured in.

One of the first I saw was ken. Clayton (the young V.C. tennis player) as happy as a king, though wounded in arm and leg.

Batches of German prisoners were marched past us during the day. We were told that the captures exceeded 3,000. The general opinion of the wounded officers was that the attack had been a complete success. Our fellows captured three lines of trenches and held them.

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page 22

Extracts from letters from Lieut. H. H. Daniell:—. . . . . .Just back from "Blighty" where I spent Xmas. I had Christmas dinner with Sir James Carroll, Lord Plunket, Lord Ranfurly and about five hundred "other ranks" at a place just near the Abbey.

One thing that struck me in the restaurants was the way the sugar was watched. Owing, I believe, to the practice of fair customers taking the sugar lumps away in their muffs, the waitress brings you two lumps per cup—if you don't want sugar she takes them away. I had supper one night at the Savoy Hotel, as all the people in the English magazines seem to eat there. Can't say I was particularly impressed with the others who ate there (I suppose they thought the same of us), but I was impressed with the gentlemen in livery who waited on us. An earl in court costume opened the door for us; the late Duke of Wellington I met in the cloak room. He took my hat, coat, stick and sixpence, while many "indispensable Swiss" were scattered down the hall—one guided us to table—about three more served us." . . . . . . .

I am living at a farm of the early Bairnsfather pattern in a vary quiet part of the line. Human ingenuity has been brought into play to make the place comparatively habitable—sandbags play a very large part in this—either full or ones for a protective wall—the empty ones as a protection to keep out the draughts—we have a fairly plentiful supply of braziers—Let me refer to Bairnsfather again for these—Round about the house is a sort of duck pond which is at present very much frozen over and is used by the men for skating. Talking of skating I see by the papers that this is the hardest frost in England for the last 22 years—they seem bent on establishing records for our benefit, as when I was in London at Xmas they were having the worst fogs for 20 years. I've read about these glorious winters—the beautiful tingling feeling of the air in the mornings and all that sort of thing—but I guess the whole of the New Zealand Division would change the picture they are contributing to at present for a dirty old Wellington southerly buster. The country certainly looks very pretty—You'll probably see photos of the New Zealanders throwing snowballs at one another—"Happy Anzacs in page 23 France" or words to that effect. But the frost came and since then we have lost much of our earlier admiration for the view. The ground is as hard as iron—digging is a labour of years—water for drinking is obtained by going out with a pick and cracking the ice and then boiling it —the pumps are of course all frozen. The water carts freeze in about quarter of an hour. Water will freeze in the sun at 11 o 'clock in the morning. Of course this state of affairs has its advantages as the hard state of the ground is infinitely preferable to the mud but I'd like another week's leave when the thaw comes."