Captain Alan MacKenzie Gammell
A Soldier's Diary
The diaries that follow were recorded in small booklets, which could be slipped into a breast pocket. Since many entries were written in the trenches, they are stained with mud and water. Many notations are perfunctory comments about the weather, but scattered here and there are references that taken together, provide a glimpse of what it was like to fight in the trenches in Flanders during World War I. The diaries were transcribed by Maria Darragh, with additional information in square brackets provided by historian Steve Newman.
Left Grand'mere for Montreal to join McGill Overseas Co.
Made out my attestation papers and received uniform. Remaining part of March and April spent in training around Montreal.
Left for Niagara on the Lake. On the 9th visited Niagara Falls.
Left Niagara Falls for Mtl. On the 29th sailed for Mtl. on Northland along with the 15th Art and 28th Btt of Winnipeg.
Arrived at Plymouth.
Arrived at Shorncliffe after fine ride through south of England. At St. Martins, continued our training and musketry.
Visited London. Some city. Saw M. Doig, D. Eaton, J. Lawlor.
Left Shorncliffe. Kept us standing for 5 hrs. in rain with wet packs on waiting for inspection which did not come off. Board mail packet at Folkestone at 10:30 pm. Very rough on Channel nearly sea sick. Arrived at Boulogne at 1 am. Marched 2 and half miles to camp. Hardest march I ever put in.
Left for Erquinghem. Passed thru St. Omer and Hazebrouck. There we had some good swimming in the R. Lys. It is near city of Armentieres once held by the Germans. It is almost destroyed by shell fire.
Left Erquinghem for our billets.
Out on work party carrying lumber, worked most of time with Lester. B. Lester was shot that night by stray bullet I think. [Private William Lester, age 18, was the first University Company soldier killed. He was hit in the chest by a German machine gun bullet and died about fifteen minutes later. He was working in the supply dump just behind the lines. He was buried in Houplines Communal Cemetery Extension.]
Went up to supports. Very quiet.
Had some excitement. German work party out. Opened fire on them. Star shells made it very bright. Huns sent over two shells, one coming very near me, throwing mud over me. Last few days have worked the hardest I ever did. Did not have more than 4 hrs sleep at a time.
Returned to billets
Letters from E.F.G.(C?), Mac, L.B.B., Norman [F. Gammell, his brother], Karl Forbes. Wrote a bunch of letters.
Did not do any work today except have a bath in an old brewery. Just learned of death of Lance Corp Ruff. [ L/Cpl Douglas Rough, 1st University Company, was buried at Houplines Communal Cemetery.]
Went on guard at noon for 24 hrs. Some wild prisoners under us. Nothing happened even though it was Fri. the 13.
Went up to trench #63 for second time. Did railway construction till 1:30 a.m. before going in. Bullets came very near us.
Got into dug out in supports at 1:30. Went on guard at 3 am. On guard for 4 days. I work 2 hrs on 4 hrs off. Am writing this from a dug out. A dug out is where we live at the front trenches. It is in off the main trench about 10 feet. The roof is about the level of the ground and 4 feet deep by 3 feet wide and 13 feet long. Supposed to hold 2 men but often more. We are real worms as we are beneath the surface most of the time. It rained very hard today made it very muddy.
Same round as usual. Received Mama's letter.
Mud, mud, mud everywhere. Had a few hrs rain and it makes very sticky mud. The Germans sent over a couple of whizz-bangs which landed near our battalion H.Q. Had bully beef for dinner again. We get it from all over the world, England, Canada, U.S.A., New Zealand, Australia, S. America and South Africa.
On sentry guard thought I saw a German climbing over parapet late at night. On going up to shoot him, he turned out to be an old cat walking around - one on me. Left trenches for billets where we arrived at 9:30 pm
Off digging all morning. Got back at 3:30 pm and wrote letters. The remaining part of the afternoon. Armentieres being shelled heavily and quite a few fires in the manufactures going. At 6 pm aeroplane duel took place overhead. Britain against German. They were bombarded heavily. Also they shot machine guns at each other. They came close together then parted shooting at each other, each going to their own lines. The German plane seemed to have one of the wings damaged.
Received pay of 15 francs which I needed badly as I was down to 1 and half francs. Just received Mac Gazette Aug 19 in which was a list of donations to Gazette Tobacco Fund. Grand'mere list is very interesting to me. Going out on digging party.
Out digging again behind R.B. lines. It rained again and made it awfully muddy: dirty to skin. While digging a trench we came across an old skeleton of a man, kind of gruesome. Big Meal. Finest meal in the trenches. We had tomato salad, lettuce, French fried potatoes, rice, canned peaches, coffee, olive oil, vinegar. Enjoyed this meal most of any since leaving home. I think salad made by Doc. H. Coates.
No fatigues for a wonder but we went to a Church of England service in the morning. Leave tonight for trenches. Corp. Cameron, Pte. Coates, Rennoldson, Gammell are in traverse #23.
Nothing much doing on firing line. Out in front of trenches today. Night work 1 hr on 2 hrs off besides stand to: Day 6 hours digging. Rumour of gas attack tonight the 24th.
Very easy day as we loafed all day and had a good sleep, though cold.
Did nothing in morning having it easy. Worked digging trenches in afternoon and night. Heavy bombardment by Germans on trench #62.
Digging morning and afternoon. It seems as if the winner of the war will be the party which can dig the most trenches. The pick and shovel seems to be more mighty than either the pen or sword. Going on ration party in a few minutes. A piece of aeroplane shrapnel fell near us today. We shot at a German plane which managed to get back to its own lines.
A new experience in stealing apples. In the orchard at #2, I went out and picked apples off the trees. We were in full sight of the Germans. Quite a few shots came over at us. Big day today. I am a real soldier now. Discovered a bunch of lice in my shirt. Going back to the billets to-night.
In billets again. Had church service this morning Presbyterian. Also had pay parade. Church of England had their common service in an estaminet (a bar) quite a peculiarity but many funny things happen at the front.
Did not do anything except dig trenches in the morning. At 7 pm left billets for rest camp just out of Erquinghem. The same place as we were before. Going there passed a lot of troops Scotch and Irish and English. The Irish were very enthusiastic, having a bunch of flags Irish. The Scots had their pipes. At rest camp we are in permanent tents -16 men to each.
Mess orderly today. Peeled spuds this morning. Just learned H. Bignell was in hospital at Boulogne with carbuncles. Rennie and Doc are down town on leave this afternoon expect to get down tomorrow.
Had company drill in the morning. Doc Coates left today to go to the stretcher bearers. 2nd Overseas arrived in camp. Saw a bunch that I knew.
Had company drill in the morning for a while. In the afternoon had a fine, hot bath which I enjoyed very much. Had a fine game of crib [cribbage] with Rennie. He beat me twice. A very heavy bombardment to the north of us.
We were told to have an all day digging party at Bois Grenier but rain interfered. Went out in pouring rain at 10:30 am out to 6 pm in pouring rain. Sopped to the skin. Received a parcel from Aunt Georgie- cakes went awfully good. We got our first issue of rum, on account of wet. It more than warmed us up. They only gave us about 2 spoonfuls.
Had a kit inspection in the morning am getting sort of dried by now. Muster parade in the afternoon. Also had bayonet drill for a while. Rain, rain, nearly all day. B. Brown came back from bomb school.
Had a church parade in the morning. Still damp. Was warm last night. Put my feet in a kit bag and tied it up. Wrote a letter home. Big game of English Rugby with 3rd K.R.R. They beat us 5-0 after a very interesting game.
Had a sham attack on German trenches. Out digging 6:15 pm to 1 am. Next morning at Bois Grenier.
Saw something very antiquated this morning. It was an old canal barge about 125 feet long being pulled along the River Lys by three men. They seemed to be working pretty hard. This is sports day, so we have no parades today. The weather was ideal for a field day. There was the usual field and running races. Also some specialties such as boat races on land, tug-of-war, water polo with R.B.'s. They won 5-0. The Divisional Band, also gave a concert. Quite a thing for 5 miles back of the firing line. Persistent rumours of big bombardment all along the line of artillery fire to come off this week.
Finished the sports today. Had no work at all. Big Canadian mail. Got socks, letters from home - Mrs. Small, Jim Small, Ethel [his future wife]. Received issue of tobacco from Gazette. Card from Mrs. A. Baptiste, 3 Rivers. [Trois-Rivières, Que.] Writing answer to above letters received.
Out digging all day at Bois Grenier. Got letter from K. Forbes and Mrs. Ryan. Wrote Mrs. Small and Jim [of Grand-mere, Quebec].
Had a bath in the morning. In the afternoon had off so went with Bill Brown to find the Canadians. We went thru Nieppe, Romarin almost to Pug Street, saw lots of Canadians, but none I knew. Had dinner at Nieppe. Had a steak, chips and eggs and some grapes. Answered Ken's and Mrs. Ryan's letters.
Mess orderly today. Peeled spuds in the morning. Had concert in evening with a big bonfire. They brought on an old piano on a French dump cart. It was a queer piano with candle sticks in the front.
Had a church parade. There was a typical Scotch parson. He had some accent. Loafed around the rest of the day.
Had a morning battalion parade this morning. While on parade saw a very interesting duel between German and English bi-planes. Our anti-aircraft shelled at the German but quit when they saw the English one going to attack. They maneuvered for a while when they both opened up machine gun fire on each other. All of a sudden a spurt was seen to come from the German plane. Then she voliplaned right down, the English following in pretty spirals down after it. The German on nearing the ground seemed to right itself. When a party of K.R.R. opened fire on it, the German returned with machine gun fire. One Englishman was killed and 2 or 3 wounded. Both the Germans were killed. It seemed that the German engine and oil tank was injured and the pilot wounded when she came to the ground. Both of them were completely shot up by the K.R.R.'s Had a 7-mile route march as practice this morning. It was very hot. Fred Donald came over from the Canadians in the afternoon. Been heavy bombardment the last few nights.
Marched at 6:30 pm for some place unknown to us. Went thru Steenwerck, Merris at 1 am next day stopped at about 4 km outside of Hazebrouck still no idea where we are going. Very hard march.
On guard all day -nothing happened.
Off guard at 10 am. Tyhurst came over with a new draft of old soldiers. Pay parade. Big night by some of fellows.
Were reviewed by Sir George Allenby, Commander of the 3rd Army Corps, who wished us (24th Div.) good bye as we were going south to form a new corps with 2 new divisions from Kitchener's Army. Got off a few letters in a hurry today.
Saw some of the 22nd and 25th Bttn. passing thru. Left Pradelles at 1:30 pm walking about 4 miles to Hazebrouck. Helped entrain our transport. Saw some of the 24th of Montreal including Dave McGown, Arch McLeod, M. Laing and Eric McMurtry (Major now). We left Hazebrouck at 6:30 pm. We were given choice of seeing France in a box car 40 men in each or on board a flat car sleeping under the limbers. Rennie and I choose the latter. We managed to get some straw so it wasn't so bad, sort of reminded me of the ride of the C.N.R. Went thru Amiens to Guillaumcourt arriving at 6:45 am.
Were a bunch of French infantry men here - got a French bullet from one of them. Left about 8 am going 10 miles to Mericourt. We are travelling to the Somme Valley. Had a fine swim.
Moved off to Froissy on the Somme near Bray sur la Somme. Very pretty place, a row of trees along canal banks and huts under them. Very crowded in the huts which are full of lice and rats.
A bunch of French troops passed along by us this morning. The British navy is wonderful. There is one of their boats up this far inland. It is for carrying lumber etc., but she is flying the navy flag and is painted grey. Got a bunch of letters from Montreal today.
September 22 & 23
Nothing much happening except have about 1 drill a day. This is a poor place as we cannot buy anything to eat here.
September 24 & 25
Not much doing but still raining hard. We are moving somewhere tonight. Received a letter from Mr. L. Armstrong.
Arrived last night in Cappy. Slept in a barn with beds made of chicken wire made by the French. They were not much good. Class to some of the French soldiers, saw one wearing button boots and another with cloth top boots. A very funny looking church in this town. Left at 2:30 pm for bomb school. March about 12 miles through Mericourt and Dorcourt.
Still raining. Our first day at school. Made a fair bivouac, but don't know how long she will last. First news of English and French advance.
Still with our bomb course and it is still raining hard. Rennie, Corp. Bowyer of the Shrops a D.C.M. and I went over to Bayonneville. We managed to try some bread and sardines to help out the grub. Rain came through our bivouac, but we slept pretty well.
Turned very cold with rain. A bunch of us went over to Harbonniere where we got a steak and chips. Slept in the barn.
Very cold today but fine. Course coming on fine
Some excitement to day. Had a live bomb dropped amongst 10 of us. The corporal managed to throw it away about 15 yds. None of us were hurt, but a K.R.R. was wounded.
Had our theory test today got through O.K. They made us sleep outside today as someone threw a boot at the Frenchman.
Passed my throwing test. So am a bomb thrower now. Left for camp today. Slept with the transport. Some sleep. The barn was full of mice and rats. The rats were running all over us. One landed on my face.
Going up to the trenches tonight. Going over to Bray sur la Somme this afternoon. Marched thru Cappy and Excuslier and Frise. Went on listening post up all night. Sleep in the day time. Very funny trenches here. They cross the Somme, thru some marshes, thru village of Frise then up the hill. The Germans having the upper part of the hill. Trenches are dug in limestone and are deep. The dug outs are a lot bigger than the ones before. They hold over six men most of them. They have bunks of chicken wire. The Frenchmen nearly all have looking glasses and in officers' quarters curtains and leather mattresses. But they didn't do much trench digging.
Germans dropped over 5 or 6 whiz-bangs [3-inch shells]. Nobody hurt. Parke got a splinter from a bullet, but it is not serious and will be back in a few days. Raining heavy today. Between lines there are a wild pig and a black and white dog straying around.
Still wet -am very dirty and lousy. Went out of the trenches.
On guard in our billets. My post is down at the edge of the big marsh on the Somme. There are bunches of wild ducks in it. Wrote home and to Mr. Armstrong. Mosquitoes are terrible here on guard down at the marshes.
Loafed around the billets. Left billets for trenches at 6:30 p.m. Nothing happened. Henning, Ross, Syneder, Ford, McQuat, Benoit, Muir and myself all in same traverse and dug out. The dugouts are very good here. The trenches about 250 yds. at this point.
German dropped over a bunch of trench mortars. Going on ration party tonight.
Nothing happened during the day time. At night a German working party was out making a lot of noise. We put a bunch of shots into them.
Canadian Thanksgiving. Have a fine day to start with anyways. Germans sent over some aerial torpedoes today. Left trenches tonight for billet. Quite a fight in a marsh.
Gave myself a complete lousing. Hear there is an advance right near. Had a few casualties last night. Out on a digging party till midnight.
Received parcel from home with Mrs. Nairn's cake. Paid today. Digging party in marsh again.
Still in billets out digging party.
Going up to trenches tonight. Out on listening post job. Nothing doing. Got a little sleep between watches.
Got letters from Bruce, Miss L. McLeod and Southampton school girl. Had a long march of about 13 miles thru Cerisy to Morcourt to rest billets. Joined regiment today. Major Gault, Captain Molson, MacDonal, MacKenzie, Lieut. Currie. Got parcel from Jean [Alan's sister] and Miss McLeod.
October 17 & 18
Had a morning on road making. Gave Rutledge shell, German button, Shrop. hat badge.
Sent Mrs. Ryan 50 francs for raincoat, etc. Wrote Bruce. Ordered to stand to. I believe the whole division has been ordered the same. Was very cold last night, but had a fire which helped considerably.
Still here at Morcourt. Stand to off. Looks as if we were moving somewhere.
Had a battalion parade. First one that we had with Major Gault. Had a letter from Bill Bramour. Very cold last night with heavy frost.
Have not moved yet. Saw account of Pte. Richardson being wounded with bayonet in knee in battle. This really happened on sports day. Bieler got his commission for valour in field, in digging trenches, I guess.
Left Morcourt at about 8:15 am for unknown destination. Went thru Lamothe. Raining most of the time. Following the valley of the Somme. Went thru Villiers-Breteux. This road is very pretty as it is lined with tall trees. 9 miles from Amiens we branched off for Boves. Passed thru it and camped on a hill the other side. Back to tents. Arrived at about 2:30 p.m., covering around 13 miles. Got parcel from home, a bunch of magazines.
Left Boves at 8:20 am. Circled around Amiens and finished up at Ferriere at about 2 pm.
An observation balloon got away and passed over us here and landed in a valley. Occupants were unhurt. Got a pass to Amiens. Sutherland and Symonds, Potts and myself went down walked about 5 miles. Got on street car to centre of city. Some town - got big meal, bought some pies and cakes and then saw the crowds and shops. Hired a cab to get home. Had a job to get by the guard with cab.
Raining today. Had small route march in afternoon. Got lost as per usual.
Very cold today along with rain. Received raincoat, candy, toothpaste from Mrs. Ryan. Also box of cigarettes from Smed Bull. On guard tonight. Raincoat came just in time.
Nothing doing today.
Had a sham attack in the morning. Afternoon there was a court martial parade. Bremner was condemned to be shot for desertion but sentence was reprimanded to 10 years imprisonment.
No parades today as it was Sunday. Cold again. Got my underwear from last night. Had church service in old barn tonight.
Big sham attack called off on account of rain. I guess that we are in for rainy season now as it rains nearly everyday. Had a partial bath in a pail this morning.
Still raining. Had another sham attack. Raincoat came in very useful. Lights of Amiens very bright tonight.
Still another sham attack. Looks as if something was in rumour that we are going south to the Balkans or somewhere. Had bomb class in afternoon. Received Canadian mail.
Fine day for a change. Had battalion parade in the afternoon. Letter from Aunt Georgie [MacKenzie].
Taught a squad something about #5 Mills Bomb also throwing. Had a pay day. Received 15 francs.
Am mess orderly today. Still rumours that we are going to Serbia, Egypt, India and the Canadians [meaning unclear]. [This refers to joining the Canadian Corps. Their old Imperial 27th Division was sent to Salonica, and the Patricia's joined the Canadian Corps, forming part of the new 3rd Canadian Division on Dec. 1915, near Kemmel, Belgium.)
Nothing of importance. Sunday night had a little service. Was also notified that we were to move Monday.
This is an important day in the history of the Pats. We had a battalion parade where Brig. Gen. Smith of the 80th brigade 27th Div. said a few words of farewell to us. He was very sorry to see us leave, but mentioned some of big actions the Pats had been in and complimented us on them. Maj. Gault answered in a nice little speech. Then we gave 3 cheers for the Gen. But now we knew that were not likely going to Serbia but had no idea what was to become of us. We marched off the parade ground for unknown destination. Followed along the valley of the Somme. Up and down hills running into the river. The whole landscape was beautiful with the small woods here and there, part evergreen, others with the leaves in various colours by the autumn frost. Started at 9 pm went thru Picquigny where there was lots of Indian cavalry, all of whom had beards and turbans and looked ferocious. They were Sikhs, I think. We landed at our stopping place, Flixecourt, a town of about 4,000. The main industry being Saint Freres, a cloth manufacturer, now making sand bags for the French army. Had a welcome surprise in our billets, as were put in a large house. Corp H. Rittenhouse and I were put in a small room and very comfortable. Our first billet in a house since Armentieres. There is a nice garden in rear with some fine trees in it. Some of which are trained to grow on the wall fence. Went to see the Ch‚teau a wonderful building with very beautiful grounds. A fine pine wood on one side thru which the road ran; also there were stables. Behind the stables were peach trees. Polished brass in abundance. At one end of the stable yard were the kennels. There were some fine setters and other kinds of dogs. The view from the front of the mansion looked over the valley of Somme onto the hills behind.
This morning we learned that we were here indefinitely as we were to be a battalion of instruction, whatever that is. Maj. Gault said it was an honour. Wonderful news. We are to have a hot bath. Everybody is happy and singing heartily as we go down to the mill, as it is months since we had a hot bath. We are lead to the dyeing dept. where there are vats of steaming hot water for us. A terrible rush to get undressed and into it. My, but it was good and I just soaked myself. I felt a new person after coming out. Lucky for me, I had my clean underwear from home. In the afternoon we had a battalion parade where Maj. Gault said a few words to us and then some drill.
Having parade 2 daily. Received Miss L. McLeod's parcel. Letters from Jean and Ethel. Had a company concert tonight which was a great success. The feature was the "Mulligan Minstrels" by Lilley Ballet. Chief comedians were Lilley and Rennie Rennoldson who kept us in roars of laughter. The scene was based on "On the Firing line," with many parodies of popular songs. The concert was held in a former dance hall and estaminet combined. I can imagine it was the scenes of some high revelry in former days. It was a typical French hall such as we read about.
Still raining. Moved out of our fine billets to the outskirts of the town. Billets here are not nearly as good.
Our usual rain in the morning but it cleared up later. Had a church parade in front of Chateau. Later there was a pay parade when we got 15 francs.
The weather took a change and it snowed during the night. About 1 inch fell but it covered everything, by noon it was pretty slushy. Practised a new advance under artillery fire.
A big mail in today after a long time without.
Had to wash this morning in ice water as everything had frozen up tight last night.
Got a bunch of parcels last night.
Had a church parade this morning in a stable yard.
A young refugee: Georges Revele. He is only 13 years and his home was in Nancy. His mother is prisoner and his sister was killed by Germans, one hand and an ear cut off. He was at the trenches with the French for 3 months. The General wouldn't let him stay; since then he has been wandering around. He is very bright youngster.
First learnt that we were to move up north.
Up at 3 am. Sorry to leave young Georges who was very sorry also. Started 5:30 am, arrived at Point Renry 10:30. Entrained at 12, passed thru Etaples, Boulogne Calais Hazelbrouck. Got off train at Caestre marched to Fletre 3 miles off. It was a hard day of a piece of bacon and bread we didn't have our rations issued thru some mistake.
Very cold but not raining. Have been down to Fletre a couple of times. A bunch of Australians transport in town. Christmas has started early as I received my first Christmas present today.
It is very cold this morning-everything frozen up tight. Had pay parade this morning. Went to a church service in a R.C. Church in Fletre. The service was in Flemish.
A sleet storm in progress this morning. Went into town and had a shave. Sort of unique. A Flemish girl lathered you. Bought some Flemish lace last night made by refugee from Ypres.
We were reviewed by Gen. Alderson, Commander of Canadian Army Corps who welcomed us to his corps. Had a good meal tonight in a Flemish farmer's house. Salad, chicken, French bread, potatoes. Sent home some Flemish lace.
December 1 & 2
No parade for us as we were getting our boots repaired. Had a short route march today.
Nothing doing today. Received 3 letters from home.
Received Mrs. Allen and Ken's [Barwick, school friend from Montreal] parcel.
Got Mama's parcel of cakes and candy. Got a pass down to Bailleul. Went thru Meteren. Bailleul seems to be a big transport centre. Meteren is the place where a German up in the church tower with a machine gun held up and nearly killed the whole of 2 battalions of English early in the war.
Received another parcel from home. Also a few letters. A draft from the 3rd University Co. came up. Hilroy Bignell rejoined us after a long absence.
Mess orderly today. My unlucky day. Gave my finger a bad smash -broke a tooth and a filling came out. Got my pants covered with grease and suet. Received another Xmas parcel from home. Read an account of W. Patrick in the McGill Daily about the trenches. One string of lies as he never was in the trenches.
Had a route march today.
Raining today. Other companies changing billets. I wonder when we will go up to the trenches. Col. Buller has rejoined us again.
A big day today. We marched to Bailleul where we had a bath. We have had baths in many kinds of baths but this was the best. They led us into an insane asylum. Marching thru many fine buildings we came to a big building. Inside was a small swimming pool where we had a peach of a time.
On guard today. Only 9 in the guard room. All the prisoners were very quiet. The rest of the battalion were having their pictures taken for the movies. Innes (?) big box arrived. Ethel's parcel and Mrs. [Maude] and Jim Small's [relatives of Ethel] gifts also came.
Pay parade again. Received my vest and mitts from Mary.
Had a long route march in the morning but as it was a fine day nobody minded it. A shell exploded down at the Australian transport killing one and wounding 2 others. He was working on the shell when it went off. Sutherland and I were 75 yards away when it went off. A piece of the shell struck the building beside us. Had tea with Sutherland, Rittenhouse, Kirby and Laddie Millen.
December 14 &15
Nothing but the usual run of affairs.
Received the Innite's [?] other big box.
Had a 10 mile route march this morning going thru Caestre outskirts of Hazelbrouck, Praddelle. Had our band out part of the way. Their first appearance in France.
Left FlÍtre at 9 am passed thru Meteren, Bailleul, Locre to a place a few miles outside Locre arriving about 1:30. Going through Locre saw Fred Leach, Arch McLeod Hurley and P. Bowie, D. Skinner. Going was very hard on account of cobbles.
Terrible heavy bombardment going on. Up at 6 am. Left 7:20 going thru Kemmel arrived at 9 am. Working in a wood on 3 lines of trenches chopping up stakes from fallen trees by shell fire. Got back at 5 pm.
Still raining heavy - much worse than ever if possible. Went out to dig but it was too wet and would spoil trenches. The Huns bombarded Kemmel where we were working last night. Will not be able to answer letters till we get back to billets.
Went out digging but returned early on account of the rain. We found our camp had been moved away up the road. A great mix-up to get our kits, etc.
Still raining hard, no party today. Went down to Locre. Saw F. Leach, A. McLeod
For Christmas Eve, they had us out on a working party, but we came in early.
Christmas Day. No work today. Just loafed around. As usual it rained some. Had canned sausages, stew, peas, plum pudding for dinner. Mitch Doig came over with Bignell to see me. Received magazine, socks and muffler from home.
December 26 & 27
Nothing much doing except out on digging party both nights.
Out working again last night. A German plane came over our village in the morning. Our anti-aircraft guns tried to get him but were unable. A little later saw a fleet of 21 of our planes go over the German lines. The Germans shelled our village heavily in the afternoon. Luckily for us we are a little way out of the village.
My birthday. Did not work as we were moving the next day.
Left La Clyte about 9 am going thru Westhutts [Westoutre] and Mont des Cats to our old billets at Fletre.
[Alan Gammell's description of the trenches written on the back pages of his diary of 1915]
Trenches at Armentieres
The billets of the reserve of these trenches were back in the outskirts of the city of Armientieres, were very comfortable. About 6 of us were in each house. We all slept in one room on a tile floor. The mesdames of the houses were very good to us. On going up to the firing line, we went thru part of the town which was shelled off and on. Passing thru Chapple d'Armentieres, we turned along the railway track. Here all singing, talking, and smoking had to be stopped. Crossing over the track we now formed single file. Crossing a couple of fields, we come to a much shelled farm house, there was a observation post in it and one in the trees near by. We are now at the dumping ground. The distance we have come from the billets is about 2 miles. Now we enter the communication trench. It winds itself in and out like a snake for a quarter of a mile or more. This one is very deep and very safe. Now we pass the dressing station, next a sentry and then we are at Head Quarters. This is hidden in an apple orchard. About 200 yards of more ins and outs and we arrive at the support trenches. Another 50 yards and we come to the firing line itself. We are separated from the Germans by about 35 yds of clear but rough ground. Our trenches were more of breast works then trenches as they were only a few feet under the level of the surrounding country. Were once German trenches. Our part of the line was at the very head of the salient. At night star shells were to be seen almost all around us. In the supports the main thing was digging. Out dug outs were fairly comfortable in back of the trenches. In the first firing line, we had 1 hr or 2 off during night. Then stand to, and during day about 6 hrs fatigue. The dug outs were under the parapet but we did not have much time to use them. While in these trenches were very comfortable and had very few casualties.
Trenches at Frise on the Somme
Marching up the Somme River and canal bank from Cappy to Exclusier where the reserve are billeted. Some billets nothing like the comfortable ones at Armentieres. All the inhabitants of Exclusier had left except about 2 or 3. The billets was an old barn and house which was falling to pieces. The trip to the firing line was about 2 and a half miles. We would go off 2 deep up the canal bank under the shelter of a high hill which was between us and the trenches. On the opposite side of the canal itself was lined with stately trees and reminded me of pictures of boulevards etc. It was really beautiful. On coming to a bend in the river, we arrive at the dumping ground in lee of the hill. Here we branch off the canal bank. On going a short way, we come to the communication trench. It was soon we arrived at the firing line. To all appearances it looked as if the Frenchmen had no support trench, if there was, it was not much to go on. These trenches were held by the French before we came. The Germans had the best locations as they were on the top of the hill and we started at the bottom, ran up the side until we reach the summit further down the line. Our trenches were dug out of the limestone which is prevalent around here. Our part of the line here was very peculiar. Starting from our left we had no trenches out in the marsh but outposts here and there. Then there was a short trench running through an old farm. Over the river, we had wire entanglements. They ran thru the village of Frise. Here we were almost 300 yards apart. Then the trench took a sharp turn up the hill and towards the Huns to within 40 yds of them where again they ran parallel. From the top of the hill, you could see the trenches running up to the canal, and then in the distance, our line and the German's was visible. The trenches here were in a very poor condition.