Private Charles Ross Francis
A Soldier's Diary - 1918
My Personal Experiences and Impressions of the Great European War
Name: Chas. R. Francis
Regimental Number: 186114
Battalion: 90th Can Inf. battalion.
Date of Enlistment: Oct.24, 1915
Where enlisted: Winnipeg
The new Year opens. I have just come back from a two weeks leave from blighty and am not feeling much inclined to work. The Division HQ is in Anchel and I have a billet with McVey McCleough and Bill Knoggs.
Moved from Anchel to Braquemont today and are in the chateau where we were in July 1917. Very comfortable.
Am billeted with Boordy [?] and Bill Knoggs
Heard tonight that Art McBeath was wounded and died of wounds in the [?] Braquement..
Attended the funeral of Art McBeath with R. McVey. Dave McB. Was there. He was buried in Cemetery at Fosse[?]
McCleough and Bill Knoggs left today for the R.F.C.
Weather rather cold with snow flurries.
Weather getting warmer
German Gotham[?] landed near Braquemont last night. Got a piece of his plane as souvenir..
Very glorious weather. Went for a long walk in the morning. Saw a lark the first of the season.
Another beautiful day. Reminds me of the lovely spring weather at home.
Great excitement as word comes in that the Germans are attacking in great force on the Somme
Moved today from Braquemont to Chateau de la Haie, after one of the longest stays we have had in one place since I joined D.H.D.
Left Chat. de la Haie about 12 midnight travelling in lorries, rather cold journey, passed through Marcouil, Doulleuse and landed in Cintrelle.. Just opened a few things as it is expected we will move again. Very wet morning.
Moved again to Gosseux and our office is in a Chateau in a very pretty estate, would be a lovely place to pass time. Sleeping in Nissan huts.
A clear night last night so Fritzie dropped a few bombs about, but nothing closer than about 300 yards.
Saw Winston Churchill today as he was in the office for a few minutes. He was in plain clothes and looked just like his pictures.
Arrived in ETRUN today 2;15 pm. Located in Nissan huts in a Chateau grounds. Pretty location.
Fritz very active with his artillery and puts a lot of H.E. and shrapnel around us.
Got so active that we had to take shelter in a morgue or vault. Sgt. Boardman and I decided that we would sleep there so took our blankets down and slept in a crypt.
Moved again today from Etrun to Chateau D'Acq
All on Dvn Hqrs must turn out on drill and so we had to get out and drill for an hour this morning. It is good exercise but rather disorganizing to the office work.
The drilling keeps up and we went to the ranges this morning. First time I have shot out of my rifle for over a year. Made a score of 20 out of 21 in 8 inch mig[?]
Rather exciting for a few minutes today as Fritz came over in an aeroplane, one[?] of our own. Had to fly very low on account of the clouds. All machine guns and AA opened up but he circled around 2 or 3 times and then beat it. Rather unusual as was about 8 miles behind the line.
Weather much improved, bright and warm. Some Fritzie planes over doing some bombing but not near us.
Rather an amusing thing in connections with F.G.C.M. came up today. The man was charged with having said to an officer "You're not Jesus Christ". His defence was that the officer had checked him up for having dirty ? and said he could clean them better himself and, to use the man's words "As that was beyond human power, I told him he was not J.C."
Moved from chateau D'Acq to Le CAUROY today and are located in a Chateau. The grounds are about as pretty as any I have seen in France. The chateau is built in a 3 sided square the opening being at the back, the back being the entrance for all traffic. Straight out from the back, a long avenue of sycamore trees runs out to the main Arences Le Comte Frevent road and at right angles to this another and similar avenue runs, meeting the same road when it curves. In the front is a park of beautiful trees not send out in any special order but dotted over a carpet of lovely green grass. Great spreading trees, sycamores, copper beeches etc. with most luscious foliage.
This morning I was off duty and cycled into Frevent, a distance of 8 kilos. It was a perfect May morning, the road clear and smooth, orchards in full bloom, meadows of lovely green grass, well cultivated farms bordered the road, with quiet little villages here and there. It is one of the prettiest roads I have ever seen.
Weather remains beautiful and warm. Several of us went for a swim this afternoon. Our path leads through the park, along the edge of a meadow into a quiet shady lane with gardens on one side and an apple orchard on the other where cows were browsing under the trees on the green fresh grass. We went through a little village and down to the mill stream where we plunged into the mill pool, just above the old-fashioned wheel. It was glorious and makes one feel a new man afterwards.
Went in for a swim again today.
My birthday today but I was very busy and worked all day.
Swimming again this afternoon as the weather remains clear and warm, almost too hot. As the weather was so warm we slept outside under the trees. The moon was nearly full and the night was perfect.
Slept under the trees again. Went for a swim in the afternoon
Again we slept outside but did not have such a peaceful night as owing to the fact that the moon was so bright Fritz has been getting busy and last night there seemed to be dozens of planes over. He was bombing villages all around but only dropped one near, about 50 yards from the chateau, about 150 from where we slept. It was the first time I remember actually hearing a bomb coming through the air. About 4 am it started to rain and we had beat it inside and finish our sleep.
Raining and cold today, quite a change in weather. We move tomorrow.
Arrived in VILLERS-CHATEL and are located in very pretty grounds again with lovely trees, chestnuts, sycamores etc. Clerks office in a hut. We sleep in a tent.
Weather still keeps bright and clear and we have been enjoying a most delightful rest here in the chateau grounds where the trees and everything are so lovely
Played in a practice football match this evening and feel in pretty good shape.
Today is the 1st anniversary of the day DHQ was bombed. Weather clear and bright.
I was on night duty last night but nothing eventful happened. Fritz was bombing around us but nowhere very near. This morning being off duty, Joe Morrison and I got bicycles and went for a ride. We went to Mingoval then to Aubigny from there to Camblineul and back to Caucourt and then back to Villers-Chattel where we are.
Moon is clear again and Fritz buzzes around pretty steady at night. Has not dropped anything near us though.
Won the 2 games of Badminton in the tournament which put [SM] Sempell and I into the semi-finals.
The big Sports day of the Division came off very successfully today. Some very excellent vents were pulled off, including the 3 mile race won easily by Joe Keeper. We were all given a holiday and went down to TINQUES where they were held. I had a ride down in a Staff car and came back in a lorry. Spent the day with (Sgt} Jimmie Winsung [?] The day ended in a very heavy rain which cut short the baseball and the football.
Went for a long bicycle ride this morning, starting from Villers Chatel through Caucourt, Hermione Rauchecourt to Maecourt Aretz.
Moved from Villers Chatel to Etrun. Travelled in lorries, the trip was not bad and we were settled in the same hut as before by noon. Billeted in the basement of a large building.
News today of a German attack down south which seems to be on a large scale.
Wrote out the letter today for my promotion to Staff-Sergeant. Quite an advancement as it means confirmed rank and pay of $2.10 per day.
The German attack south seems to have made very little progress. The news is quite good from the south.
Confirmed in the rank of Staff-Sergeant in Post II orders to date back to 30-5-18.
Things quiet around here this trip. The shelling close though some overhead. Fritz very nearly every night but no bombs very close.
Got a parcel today from Headingly Home Economics Society, posted Feb. 14th, 1918 and it was in excellent condition.
Went to the 1st Clerk's Br O room to see Tom Laidlaw but found that he was down in Rouen at the Base.
A fellow from 12th Bn. C.R.T. came into the office this morning for a pass to Arras. He knows Russell so had a talk with him. Went in search of Norm McCausland at 9th Bdi but he went to England for commission a month ago so did not see him.
Got my old typewriter, which had been broken for about 6 months, back again and it helps a lot in the work.
Lot of bombs around last night., He dropped one on a bridge about 150 yards away blowing up the charge with which it was mined and blew it all to pieces.
Moved from ETRUN to LE CAUROY. Raining slightly enough to keep the dust down. Arrived Le Cauroy about 11 am. Very little work done as we move tomorrow. Boardman left to proceed to Canada today.
Arrived in HORNOY about 7:15 pm after a pleasant trip through Frevent- Abbeville-Auvrainnes, a pleasant little village with few troops and has never been molested by shells or bombs as it is almost 50 kilos back of the line. People are very friendly and are anxious to please and help when they can. We are located at a school house "Ecole des Garcons" and are fairly comfortable.
I sleep on the platform at the teacher's desk. The country around is mostly farming and the people in peace time would be fairly comfortable.
Weather remains changeable and showery. Our stay here has been very nice as I have not been busy and have been able to get out a lot.
Arose at 5:30 am expecting to leave at 9 am but we didn't get away until 11:30 and arrived in ST. FUSCIEN at about 2:30 pm. Passed about 1 mile from Amiens and saw the cathedral at that distance but could not tell much about how it looked from the distance. St Fuscien is almost empty of civilians.
Early this morning the Corps went "over the top" Very little preliminary bombardment. Tremendous preparations have been made and the roads have been lined with every sort of troops, including trucks, [?] etc. At this time, 4:00 pm reports are that all objectives have been gained and many prisoners taken. Later Reports state that all is going well with the attack. Our fellows have reached all their objectives and their losses are very light. Seems to have taken the enemy by surprise. Weather fine.
Attack still continuing successfully. We moved up to Gentilles wood today and are living in a deep dugout within 3 kilos of the old front line. A big battery of 9 v's are already out of range. The traffic on the road is a continuous stream forward, worse than a London street
Moved again today, following the attack and are now located in BEAUFORT about 8 kilo's from the front line. The Germans were in possession of this place yesterday afternoon and have left thins very hurriedly as shown by the material left in the dressing station and several dead Fritz left behind. Terrible sight along the roads and valleys and a few of our own men lie dead as well as a lot of horses. This place is not at all healthy at night as they do a great deal of bombing and machine gunning at night.
Slept in a dugout with McVey last night and had a much better sleep as I have not been able to get much sleep with the racket of our big 6" navals behind us and the bombing etc. Air fight above us this afternoon, one of our and one of the enemy's machines brought down. The enemy brought down one of our balloons in flames close here. The two men escaped in parachutes.
One of the most interesting air fights I have seen took place over our heads about 4 pm today 3 of ours against 3 of his. They started high up, almost out of sight, and came lower and lower, until they were only a few hundred feet up. They fought until it appeared that both sides ran out of ammunition and then the huns went off. No casualties.
The moon is getting brighter and the bombing at night is getting worse. He dropped a large number around us last night but no casualties that I know of. Mostly at the big guns behind us. Some shelling close up this am with s.g's causing casualties to a batt'n in the field close by, 57 being knocked out by one shell, 8 of them killed, nearly half as many as the whole batt'n suffered during the 1st two days attack.
To Le Quesnel today and I am rather glad to get out of Beaufort. Our office is in a big chateau where there is lots of room. The town is not very badly shot to pieces but there are no civilians in it.
After it grew dusk last night we moved down into the big tunnell. [stet] It is about 40 feet underground and has 7 entrances, the main one being an iron spiral staircase, 2 of the others leading into the shaft a different depths, the other 4 running in from various points at the ends of the tunnells. One shaft where the spiral staircase is, is round and is all bricked in, and so is the rotunda below. The place is said to have been built by the French in 1843. I saw a plate dated 1886. The various branches would probably total a length of 6 or 800 yards with about 25 rooms off them of various sizes.
Had a bath today at a German bath we captured and are using for our troops.
Saw the 8th Bn and they were at the baths. There has been a good many of the old boys knocked out but I found a good many I knew.
Cabled "Many Happy Returns" to Mother today.
Moved from Le Quesnel to St Fuscien today by lorry arriving in later about noon. No rain for over two weeks and roads are frightfully dusty. Battle field is very much cleared up since we passed over it last time though lots of German material still around.
Visited Amiens this afternoon. The big Cathedral very little damaged, and is sandbagged all around the base. The other buildings around the centre of the town are pretty badly smashed up.
Moved from St. Fuscien to Hermanville by lorry through Amiens and Doullens, very dusty and hot but not a bad journey. Located in a large but near the chateau. Hermonville is a small place like the rest of the farm villages.
As Fritz has been pushed back from Arras, DHQ is going into the city, Advance HQ went up today about 5:30 pm leaving myself in charge of the Rear, with 4 other clerks and 2 orderlies.
Were supposed to have gone up today but no accommodation in wagons so we are waiting (noon). Paddy Doyle (orderly) and Stucke (clerk) had a great blow out last night and crawled in about 3:30 am. We are not doing anything in the way of work. Later Arrived Etrun, 4:00 pm. Walked.
Am settled in Chateau at Etrun. Our correspondence for attention comes down by DR.L.S. Good news of the advances coming in. Things very quiet here as guns are all out of range.
Proceeded to Arras with the rear HQ without mishap and reached there as Forward HQ were just going on again. Some shelling of Arras with H.V. gun. Our office in old building, apparently large residence Arras badly smashed about though not anything like Ypres.
H.V. gun firing this morning again, hit bldg 2 doors from us and killed S.M. Goodman [Shamator]. About 7 am. Started up again at 10:30 am and we all to come in the deep cellars where we sleep.
Much quieter today, little and no shelling in the vicinity. Went for a bath, which is in an old garage in the Square of the City. Weather warm but changeable, rain and sunshine.
Quiet today. Weather fine
Moved up to Advance H.Q. about 7 kilos from Arras. Seems to have been terrific shelling in all the ground. I have never seen such an extent of ground so badly shelled. Neuville Vitasse is absolutely wiped off the earth. It was on the firing line when the assault began.
Moved back to Arras this morning. Slept in deep dugout last night and was quite comfortable. Are now in the same place. Saw Tom Laidlaw today.
Moved out of Arras to WARLUS and I was glad to get out as it was getting hot around HQ. Capt. Carsen, the Paymaster, was hit in the hand and lost 3 of his fingers just before we pulled out. There were several other casualties with same shell. Warlus is quite pretty little place and we are quite comfortable her. 2 years today since I landed in France.
Days passing quietly. Very busy. Rains every day.
Weather wet yet. Good feed of mushrooms these days.
Weather clear and warm today. No rain so far (9:30 pm), the first day no rain for 11 days.
Weather still fine. Had a good feed of mushroom for breakfast as they have come out with the warm weather.
Sgt. Stevens and I left today at 4:00 pm, got a lorry to Dainville, another one to Densen and another to Aubigny where we had supper. Got another one to St. Pol where we got in a billet with some traffic control men and staid overnight
Up about 6 am and got a ride with a H.A.F. man to Maroni, went about 30 miles. Road great and fine country, travelled very fast. Bummed breakfast from some G.H.Q. troops and waited for another lorry on which we travelled to Boulogne. We had a clean up and had our dinner. Went to see Bessie, the little dog of [?]. Tried to get across on the afternoon boat but were turned down and had to go to the rest camp in the quay. Got a pass into the town where we went to the picture show, had supper and came back to camp. Got the first boat in the morning and landed in Folkestone about 11:00 am. Had dinner with Betty French and then went over to Dover to see Aunt Emily where I spent the night. Came back to Folkestone where I went to a show with B.F. and stayed at the Family Hotel, although no air raids for a long time, Folkestone is kept dark. Search lights along channel look very pretty.
Went over to Hastings. Walked from station to 38 West Hill (about 1 _ miles) spent a quiet Sunday as it was raining.
Went to see some old caves with Maude, they were very interesting as they had been inhabited many hundred years ago by smugglers and later by the dissenters. Went to a picture show in the afternoon and spent a quite enjoyable evening.
Left Hastings today for London and reached there about 12:30 noon. Went out and saw Ted and had lunch with him and went out to his house later in the afternoon.
Emily and I went to the Bay.
Met Stuitt in Regent St. had lunch together with another fellow named Williams and went up to Argylle to see Jeff. Met Siddell's [sp?] fiancé, Ivy Shadbolt. Theo and Ted and I went to see Going Up at the Gaiety.
Emily and I went to Freedom of the Sea in the evening. Seats in the stalls supplied by Percy. Very good play.
Theo and I went to a picture show in the Alhambra in the afternoon and in the evening Ted and I went to the Box A' Tricks. It wasn't very good.
Church near Streatham with the Peacock family in the morning. In the afternoon Ted and I went to Oxshott. Tram service not good so went to and walked from there about 5 miles. Returned to Streatham in the evening.
Went to the coliseum with Theo and Emily in the evening. Had photo taken.
Emily and I went into the city in the afternoon. Tried to get into Tower of London and the Monument but were to late as they close at 4 pm.
Went to Argylle House and then to Records office where I got extension of leave for 3 days. Met Norm McCausland on the Strand and we had dinner together. Took Ivy Shadbolt to the Lilac Domino in the evening. She caught the last train from Paddington and I caught the last train from Victoria to Streatham Hill
Met Norm at Hanells. Lunch at the Strand Palace and we went out to Streatham Got tickets for 'The Man from Toronto' and Norm and I went. Very good. Staid with Norm overnight.
Lunch at Cheshire Cheese with Emily and to Tower of London afterwards. Both very interesting. Cheshire Cheese is an old place where Dr. Johnson used to patronize. Spent the evening at the house after the Tower of London we had tea and went home.
Went into the City in the morning and said goodbye to them at Argylle House. Strolled round to Haxell Hotel to see if Norm McCausland and found him waiting for me as he sent me a wire to meet him at noon but I hadn't got it. Had dinner with Norm. Back to the house and came in again with Theo and Emily. Dinner at Victoria and to Shaftesbury where we met Ted and Norm. Taxis both ways. Norm and I had photo taken.
Went to St. Margaret's church, Westminster with Emily in the morning. Had dinner at Ted's. Walk with the two families in the afternoon. Caught the 5:55 to Folkestone. Ted came to Charing Cross to see me off. Put up at family Hotel, Folkestone.
Reveille 6:30 am, lined up 7:45 and proceeded to train, travelled all day and reached Beaucel about 6:30 pm. This was too far so another fellow and I walked back (10 km)to Adincourt and stayed with Bath Sgt. overnight.
Up at 6:30 am and came up to Ferin reaching there about noon. DHQ in nissan huts in old chalk quarry.
Am settling down to work but it's rotten after leave. Got 18 letters when I got back.
Moved today from DURY to FERIN . This town not so badly damaged. The building we are in hardly touched.
Moved to LEWARDE to a big chateau which is undamaged. Town not badly broken up though there are large mine craters in the street. Have not been to DOUAI but they say it is not so badly broken, about the same as Amiens. Weather dry but very misty.
Located in the chateau for the day. Raining.
S.M. Norton left this morning on leave. Moved to Masuy today. Lorries were expected at 7:30 but did not turn up at all and we moved by horse transport.
Very fine chateau here, surrounded by moat. Siddell, Howes and I in room in the basement, have a stove, carpet on the floor and very comfortable.
Things going fairly well in spite of the fact that the s.m. is away on leave.
The officers entertained at a dinner and a little dance tonight, the Prince of Wales being the honoured guest. Several nurses from Boulogne were asked up and a French Princess. The Prince danced and ragged with the nurses and appeared to enjoy it all very much.
3rd and 4th Cdn Divs attacked today and took Valencennes. Heavy scrapping.
At 7:45 am word came through that hostilities were to cease at 11 am. At 11 am we all collected together in the office and gave 3 cheers. Not much work was done as everyone was more or less excited. Everyone smiled at one another as they passed. The civvies can hardly contain themselves.
Moved to Gimopps (near Mons) today. Town scarcely damaged. Office in outbuilding of "Chateaus Porte Royale" . Billet with very kindly people in small house, bed in same room with man and his son, a returned prisoner. Mess in a larger institution bldg. Kept by a brotherhood of monks of some kind. /very large range for cooking on. Everybody very glad to see us.
Moved to Neufville and had a good trip though a long one. Passed through Mons. Neufville very small place. Office in house with a branch across road and officers in house adjacent. Young lad in house speaks English, French, Belgian and German.
Moved to Nivelles today and got a tremendous reception. The people were overjoyed to see us and turned out with their bands and with our band they paraded the streets in great crowds, the population of the place is about 12000 and it is a thriving place (or was). They danced in the Grand Place, grabbing the soldiers and making circles chased round and round and kept it up for a long time.
People were not over their enthusiasm. This afternoon they had a great fete and parade in the streets. They danced again in circles and joining hands danced up and down the street. I got into it and danced with them for about two hours.
Moved today to GEMBLOUX. The people very quiet as they have been so ill treated and cowed by the Germans for four years. They have some terrible tales to tell of the German cruelty to the civilians and to the prisoners of war. All the brass has been taken from the town. People fined if any brass found by Germans. Billeted in very nice house with kindly people who would not take anything for the room.
Again a move to Ben AHIN . Passed through Niemus and saw the great forts. The country up the valley of the Meuse is some of the finest I have ever seen. Great rugged hills on either side of the valley with little towns nestling at the foot of them. Ay Huy within 2 km of us there is a great fort on the top of the cliff built in the 17th century.
Journey on today to OCHAIN, another small village. Office in skool house run by nuns, near large chateau. Sleep in same building. Passed out of the Meuse valley on the way, country not so interesting as it is mostly farming and rather bare, though rolling.
Proceeded to GRANDES HALLEUX today: country changed again as it is very hilly and great forests, most evergreens. Not very well settled. Town is small and not interesting. Office in empty house. Billet on floor in house. People very friendly and kind. Weather wet and cold.
Norm. McCausland posted to 1st div. and came to see me in my billet.
Left Grandes Halleux about 9 am today and crossed the frontier into GERMANY at 7 minutes to ten. Country is much the as Belgium. Office in Hotel Dumoulin in the little town of Rigneuville. Inhabitants rather indifferent though some inclined to be friendly. No sign of hostility.
Moved to Enikirchen. Good sized town, good shops etc. Billeted in No 19 Asenstrausse. People obliging and willing to make things comfortable.
Office in Municipal Building, one long room for all clerks. Were in school house first but moved as officer did not like it.
The lorries reported as usual today and after loading sid. And I proceeded by tram to BRUHL. Good trams and a level track. Office in a fully furnished house. Young fellow in the house speaks a little English. The town is not very large and appears to be the residential district of Cologne. The Clown Prince has a palace here but I did not get a chance to go and visit it, and we move tomorrow.
Today is the official crossing of the Rhine for the Canadians. Did not move today as we expected.
Visited Crown Prince palace here. It was built in 1725, owned by the Kaiser and given the Prince for a wedding present. It has not been used for about 50 years. Very beautiful stairway in it. One room has ceiling trimmed with real gold.
To Marienburg, just south of Cologne. Went into Cologne, saw the cathedral, and walked around town for a while. Everything going strong even though it was Sunday.
Our office in a beautiful house. We have the dining room for our office, the officers have an adjoining place. Am in a very nice billet with Sid, 2 rooms adjoining with single beds. People are kindly enough. Frau does my washing and mending.
Sunday. The young chap from the café where we have our meals arranged to have a launch ride, so some of us went in the afternoon. We only got about a mile up the river, as the river is so swift that it took us an hour to do that, but it only took us about 10 minutes to come back again.
This evening we had a big dinner. Everything from soup to nuts, except turkey as they did not turn up. We had a Christmas tree with little toys, and appropriate verses for each one. The fun lasted from 7:30 pm till midnight.
We had our New Year's dinner this evening. Not as elaborate as the Christmas one but still very good. About 10:00 pm we gathered together and had some more to eat and drink and sang songs and had some recitations until midnight when we all joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne.