Mark's War        A transcription of a First World War diary

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The Diary

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the diary starts

1916

Pte Mark Foreman

Joined Army Oct. 14th Arrived at Sutton Veny Oct. 16th. Inoculated Oct. 17th. Vaccinated Oct. 23 Birthday Oct. 24. Received this book Oct. 24 as birthday present from Alma Harris. Inoculated Oct. 27th Left Sutton Very Jan. 20th 1917. Arrived Le Havre Jan. 21st Left Le Havre Jan. 22nd. In train for 30 hours. Arrived at Fairvont Jan. 23rd. Same day marched to our billets in Boinesses arriving there at 10 p.m. Wednesday 24th got up at 7 p.m. shivering with cold after an uncomfortable nights sleep in a

barn with a horse. To make things more inconvenient no water to be got for washing; and shaving was impossible because my hands were so terribly cold. Still there on Thursday [Jan. 25th]; managed to get a wash in a biscuit tin after a dozen others had washed in the same water; could not shave till after dinner because it got a little warmer then. Food rations were very small; tried hard to buy bread but without success; spent lots of money on biscuits, coffee, win, etc., the only place of any comfort being a cafe but in spite of all could not satisfy

my appetite. Friday [Jan. 25th]; on parade with or without a wash and managed to keep a little rudimentary marching and other training. Had to go to the cafe in the evening because there was no light in the barn and ever so cold. Spent my money rather freely but could get nothing decent to eat which I really wanted. Stayed at Boinesses till Sunday [Jan. 27th]. Monday [Jan.] 29th; parade with everything. I had for a nice long march to Somewhere. Well it was a 7 mile march and I was dead beat before I had gone 1 mile. Dozens of

fellows started falling out so I thought I might as well fall out because I found it impossible to go any further. I did not benefit much by falling out because I had to follow on at the back but of course I took my own time and even then I found it difficult because my feet were bad. After covering about two miles the first rest came but by the time I reached my platoon the ten minutes rest was over and I had to struggle on. I shall never forget that dreadful march; hundreds began to fall out. The

hedges were full of soldiers gasping. A good many were unconscious but god only knows how I managed to reach the place just after my platoon got there. It was 9 a.m. when were started I reached there about 12 and my feet were good for nothing when we got to this place Ivergny [ref 9 F2] and to my great disappointment the place was even worse than the last. Tuesday I reported sick with my feet got 2 days light duty which meant practically nothing to do. Stayed at Ivergny [ref 9 F2] for

nearly a fortnight doing the usual parades and washing about once a week still keeping hungry in spite of the grub I got at for the money I spent. Friday Feb. 9th parade with everything had a very uncomfortable ride in a charabanc for about 4 hours to la Cauchie [ref 10 A2]. Marched from there about 3 miles to billets in Basseux [ref 10 A2]. There we were attached to the Yorkshire Light Infantry and the food was not so bad with them. Saturday [Feb 10th] and Sunday [Feb. 11th] I was getting on fairly well.

Monday Feb. 12th. Parade with full kit for trenches 1 hour's march and we reached the front line trench on the Ransart Wood Front. Shells were bursting frequently and I had many narrow escapes. Passed a very miserable night on guard and working on repairing the trenches very little sleep and very uncomfortable. Had rum & tea at 6 a.m. which made me feel better. Tuesday [Feb. 13th] passed in the trenches without a casualty amongst

us and not a shot fired from us. Wed 14th marched out of the trenches to La Couchie and a very stiff march too my feet were good for nothing when I got there after a very hard struggle at la Cauchie [ref 10 A2]. motor buses and charabancs were waiting for us and I had a comfortable ride in a charabanc which lasted about 2 hours and then we arrived at Sus-Saint-Léger [ref 10 A2] and for the time we had a decent billet bit it was also a barn, Thursday I reported sick with bad feet

and got 2 days light duty and after having a long argument with the doctor. He told me to ask my company officer to find me something else to do where I need not march. I did that at my first opportunity and I was promised a job as soon as there was one available. Sunday Feb. 18th parade with full kit for other quarters 20 men from the batallion had a long but fairly easy march to Gaudion-pret we were put on the staff of the town major.

Monday Feb. 19th. Started work at 8.30 cleaning latrines and other odd jobs found the work very dirty indeed but gradually got used to it and preferred it to being in the batallion and doing route marches. Food was better and the bed was the best I had since I'd been in France. Finished at 12 in the morning had the usual stew dinner and started work again at 2 and finished at 4 for the day carried on the same each day and found the job a real easy one with plenty of time to myself and

found it the best time I had since I'd been in the army. Feb. 21st received first parcel from Alma and enjoyed it very much. The job was getting easier each day but I was getting very much annoyed because I received no letters for a long time. March 6th received 3 parcels one from mother and 2 from Alma with 2/- [2 shillings (10p)] which came handy because I was broke. The parcels were all made good use of and I was very pleased to receive them. Thursday March 8th

Order to pack up as we are going back to the batallion we were all sorry to go back but it had to be done. Force marched off about 11 a.m. reached the batallion at La Couchie about 1 p.m. and did nothing for the rest of the day because the company was away working. Friday [Mar. 9th] morning parade at 6.45 no time for breakfast and march 11/2 hours to the works. Started work straight away digging a railway no means easy work. Lunch at 11.30 til

12.30 and work on till 3.30. I could not stick the march home so I fell out and went on in my own time. I did not like it a bit after having an easy time for 2 weeks and no marching. Dinner at 5 and tea at 8 p.m. Saturday [Mar. 10th] same thing occurred. I fell out going to the work and marched there in my own time. Coming home I asked permission to go home alone as I could not keep up the pace. This I was granted and I was accompanied by a corporal, we walked

very slowly and chatted together and took rest in one of the cafes in a village we passed. We had a lovely cup of coffee and cake and we chatted with the woman there in French and we managed to understand each other somehow. We reached home rather late and nearly missed our dinner but I did not mind in the least because we took it very easy and we did not feel too tired when we got back. Sunday March 11th. Just as I was parading to go to work

I was ordered to stop back and get all my things packed up and report to the Quarter Master's stores in the next village. I reached the place about 9 a.m. (Ballimant) [Bailleulmont ref 10 A2] and was put on making myself useful to the Quarter Master and help with the masks. Monday [Mar. 12th] had a very easy day and getting to like the job. As time went on I found the job getting harder because there was a lot of lifting to do and I was kept going all day with

very little rest. Wed 14th. [Mar] left Ballimant and marched alone to / from biraomop a journey of about 4 miles. Had a hard day's work in unloading but found the new quarter's not too bad. The following day was occupied in putting things straight and then things were going fairly well but work was very hard. Sat 17th March to bed as usual but we were called on to 12 o'clock to fill about 70 petrol tins with water

to send up to the trenches on account of the advance in case the water should be poisoned. It was a nasty job and we had to go through much up to our ankles to get this water but we did not mind it much because we thought of the poor boys in the trenches. Up in the morning [18th March] as usual after having about 5 hours sleep and felt very sleepy. Sunday night we made up our minds to turn in early and have a

good night's sleep. No sooner had we got into bed than we were ordered out to load up some wagons. That lasted up to 12 o'clock and then we went back to bed but were ordered not to take our clothes off. At 3 o'clock [we] were ordered to pack up and get ready to move off by 4. This we did and when we were about to move off I and two others were ordered to stop behind. Things got quiet after that we were about to move every day but we did not and we

were leading quite a lazy life for a few days. It seemed as if we were forgotten by the batallion and we found the rations getting scarce but thanks to the stores next door to us we managed to get food and lived fairly well. I could not send letters when I wanted to although I had plenty of time to write and pay was out of the question I had none for 7 weeks but I kept up on what I got from home so I did not mind. This thing went on for quite a few weeks expecting to move each day we did

not mind stopping there at all but when the stores next door moved things looked black about rations because our batallion did not seem to trouble very much about us. We got onto the Town Major to supply us with food and this we were promised but when we asked for them the sad news came that they had none for themselves. Luckily our corporal was in hospital so it was suggested to take a note up there and ask if they could give us rations for them. On the previous

day that was Thursday April 5th I got 2 parcels and a bunch of letters. The parcels were a godsend and because there was nothing to eat but bully beef and no bread or biscuits Good Friday we were very happy to eat some food from the hospital which was quite enough for Saturday [April 7th]. Same day the Town Major sent us bully and small biscuits and bread for tea. Sunday April 8th No tea for the morning so I made some coffee which I had in the parcel and another chap has some cocoa and

we made enough for 4 because that was all left of us 3 men and 1 sergeant. We got some tea and sugar in the evening from the Town Major and also biscuits but no bread. Easter Monday [April 7th] there was no bread for breakfast so we made biscuits do and in the evening we had some rations from the T.M. [Town Major] and after we had gone to bed a man came from the batallion with some bread and other stuff so things are looking bright once again. A week passed very well and then to my

disappointment and regret we were moved out last Tuesday April 17th. Two motor lorries arrived and we packed up and rode on the lorries to Bus. There we left all the stuff except the blankets which came in a lorry with us to the batallion at Achiet le Grand [ref: 10 B2]. I was upset to hear that I was to rejoin the company especially when I saw those tents and a muddy ground to sleep on. The tents were very inconvenient you could not sit or stand you had to crawl

[taking up a whole page in the diary and in another's handwriting, the following poem was probably copied into the diary by Alma for Mark to discover as a surprise when he got to that page]

When you marry him - Study him;

After you marry him - Love him

When he is sad - Cheer him;

When he is talkative - Listen to him

When he is quarrelsome - Ignore him;

When he is noble - Praise him

When he is confidential - Encourage him;

And, when he deserves it - Kiss him.

Will I go far wrong

Alma

into them. After a day or two we smashed up 4 small tents and made one large which I found much more convenient. The weather was getting fine and we were getting quite comfortable. We went on working parties nearly every day sometimes on the roads and sometimes on the railway and some days we were on field training. Things were none too bad food was satisfactory and we were having plenty of sports and amusement. Then came the bad times. Sat May 12th. Pack up full marching order for the trenches we marched off at 12 noon it was a very hot day and the weight soon told on us dozens were falling out some

unconscious. Finally we came to a large open field where our field kitchens were waiting for us. It was 4 o'clock when we got there and we had dinner and tea at 7 took our packs off our equipment and left 'em there. We did not move off from there till 9 o'clock because we were not very far from the line and it was a bit risky to move in broad daylight. We reached the reserve line about midnight and after a while were shown some dug outs to sleep in. It was very uncomfortable so I did not sleep much and was glad when it was light. This brought some terrible sights wounded were being brought in at steady pace without a stop

most of the wounded belonged to our brigade and we had only been in a few hours. Shells were coming over very frequently and one actually fell in our recess and I saw a few chaps fall down in the explosion. The result was 2 killed, 4 wounded by that shell all of our batallion. In the evening we had to take rations up to the support line two petrol cans full of tea was my lot slung over the shoulder by a strap the weight was almost cutting through the communication trench we went mud up to our knees and we were being heavily shelled all the time and had to keep our heads very low. The bombardment was so

great that we were ordered to leave the stuff and get back all through thick and hot fire dead bodies were being trodden on and after a few hours we managed to get back but not all of us the next day passed all night still bringing in plenty of wounded and plenty of shells coming over. In the evening we started out to take our rations again the same thing occurred we could not get them through and I came back while the rain was pouring hard and lightning was flashing and you could not walk an inch without slipping and stumbling. When we got to the

dug out it was full of water and we spent the night in misery. The next night was worst of all about a dozen of us started out and when we had gone a little way the shells were coming over thickly suddenly two of us found ourselves alone in darkness and we shouted for the others. The bombardment was stronger than ever and earth was flying about us and shells bursting a few yards from us. We heard somebody saying hello and recognised his voice as one of us so we followed and found him stuck in a bit of a dugout and he told us to get in there and there was barely

room for one. Anyway we had to get in for fear of shells and we stayed there in the most uncomfortable position getting cramped up while the shells seemed to be bursting in on the parapet. We waited there till daylight and the bombardment was quiet and then started back. All that miserable night was spent with nothing done and it was not till about 10 a.m. when we got back and some of the boys thought we were wounded. As far as I can remember that was the worst night of my life and then things seemed to go better we got the rations through

all right. We are getting used to the shells and casualties. I must mention that this was the neighbourhood of Busselcourt and a very hot front too. We were all grateful to hear on the following Sunday that we were going out of that terrible place. Sunday May 20th 9 p.m. Fell in ready to move off which we did in the dark and got away without being shelled when we got a few miles away shells were coming over but they were not near enough to hurt us and then we came to a camp where they had supper ready for us and spent the night there till the next

afternoon [May 21st]. Then we moved off about 3 miles down to Bithcourt. The place seemed quite alright with good little tents. We had it very easy that day and the next [May 22nd]. It was in the evening that I felt ill and went for the medical hut the M.O. [medical officer] was not there but the man took my temp and gave me a couple of pills and advised me to get to bed and report to the M.O. in the morning. I felt a little better in the morning [May 23rd] but I reported sick and as he found I had a high temp he sent me to hospital. I went in the same day

Tuesday and was ordered to bed when I got there and was fed on milk for 3 days [to May 26th] was getting better everyday and on Saturday [May 27th] I was recommended for a rest camp where I went on the next day [May 28th]. It was just down the road and was the same kind of place on a larger scale. I seemed to be quite well in a day or two [May 30th] but my temp was high and I was ordered to bed and stayed in two days [June 2nd] I was getting on splendidly after that getting good food and I told the M.O. that I felt allright but he did not discharge me [no full stop]

 

the diary ends