After several days of ferocious fighting on 22nd/23rd July, the village of Pozières had been taken, largely due to the efforts of the Australian 1st Division. But the 8th Battalion – the one with which Will had enlisted in August 1914 – had suffered huge losses.
The battle was carried on by men of the 2nd Division, but meanwhile, with the rest of the 1st, Will and his machine gun section were retired well behind the lines, to recover from those terrific bombardments.
The official history of the AIF states that after the capture of Pozières [23rd-27th July 1916] the men of the 1st Division were “moved on in the next 3-4 days to villages near the Amiens-Doullens road where training was taken up.”
After a couple of weeks spent replenishing and retraining, they would be going back to that battle on the hill – but in the following entries, Will reveals his pleasure in the small things of life. The planes of the Royal Flying Corps; sunshine, woodland, and the joy of being able to bathe in a nearby river…
Saturday July 29th: At 3am awakened to move on again, get 14 minutes to drink tea, far too hot, and move off, passing through Vadencourt. We were behind the Brigade, and had rather a stiff march before we got a spell [break]. Pass many Aus [Australian troops] on way to front; finally arriving at a small town called La Vicogne. It was a very hot march. In evening I visit the 60th Squadron [Royal Flying Corps] of aeroplanes, seeing them come down, thoroughly enjoying myself, they being the latest in machines. Have to return to billet.
NB: The RFC 60 Squadron was formed at Gosport in April 1916, with French monoplanes, the Morane Saulnier type N. They were stationed at La Vicogne, also where Will & company were on 29th July.
Sunday July 30th: Get breakfast and pack up for another move, starting off at 9.30. We were behind many limbers, which made marching very unpleasant, for the most part we marched on a road cut through a paddock. We had a spell [break] of 20 mins in a wood, it was lovely as the sun shone making it very hot, and dusty too; and finally arriving at Canaples close to a place where we stayed before, Berteaucourt [almost 15 miles] A creek flowed by in the shade, where I stripped off and had a bath. The water was very cold but I did enjoy it.
Monday July 31st: Parade in morning and march to limbers and clean guns and refill belts and tidy up and repack the limbers. Have boiled potatoes and tea for dinner. I buy a tin of fish and in afternoon I wash socks and a shirt, also have another bath. In evening I take a walk round the village, in evening get some mail. I get a reg. parcel also Yorks paper, have a roll call at 9.0pm, get a blanket issued and turn in for night. Sleep under small fruit tree.
Tuesday August 1st: Parade at 9.0am and have a gas helmet inspection and at 10am go for a route march, return for dinner, get orders read out to us, and then dismiss. I go down to the creek for another bath, and spend rest of afternoon reading; after tea I spend time writing. Today was first time we had loaf between 2 men, lately we had a loaf between 7 men; worse still, we could not buy any bread.
Wednesday August 2nd: Parade 9.0am. Go for route march with drill order, return at 11am, then have a lecture on fire direction etc to 12.30pm. Dinner tea and boiled potatoes. In afternoon have stoppages of gun, include an insight on map reading till 4.30, in evening I take a walk around. Two of our corporals who put in a transfer to go back to 8th Batt Lewis gun, are up before C.O. and told he will not transfer them till after next stint. Also reduced them to ranks. Beautiful weather for past few days.
See my blog, The Diary, for how this little book with its tiny writing came into my hands. Years later, it became the inspiration for my novel, Liam’s Story. Originally published in 1991, it is now available again in both ebook and print.