Pridham Diary Volume #9

Company Sergeant Major Lawrence Pridham wrote ten diaries during the war with mostly daily entries. Our museum has three of those volumes which were donated to us with other related artifacts.

Below is a transcription of Volume #9 which covers the period from 30 January 1918 to 31 March 1918.

You can also read: 

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Diary of CSM Pridham Volume #9 02319
Diary of CSM Pridham Volume #9 02319

1918 – A “Lost” Chance

Vol. #9 – by Growler

HOUDAIN
France

My leave over and I reported to the train at Victoria Station, London at 5:30 AM on Jan 30/18. We arrived at Folkstone about 9 AM. The boat pulled out for Boulogne at 10 AM. We arrived at the latter place about noon and were marched to the camp on the Hill. That night about 1:30 midnight we got up, drew rations and got ready to pull out. We went down to the train and pulled out for our difference places.

Jan 31 – I was dumped off at St. Pal and was told I could not get another train till 7:30 AM the next morn. That did not suit me so I inquired the distance to Houdain and was told 16 miles or 19 odd kilometres. Taking my pack I stood on the road and was fortunate enough to get a French truck going through to Bruay (?) the next town to the one we came to. I got in at noon, finding my mess and dumping my pack off. I then reported in and was greeted by all hands. The place we are in is horrible. All the sgts [sergeants] sleeping in a back shed off the low house. An old man, 2 very sloppy women and a young boy occupy the house. We eat on their small table.

I was told on arriving that a nice young chap who was our cook had been run over by a truck and killed. Hard luck. The bn [battalion] has been here over a week from Hill 70. How long we stay here I don’t know but I guess next time up will tell, I got all kinds of letters from my darling and mother – everybody in fact. So I was kept quite busy writing. I mailed my picture to all the folds and thanked them for their pcls. #6 & 7 vols arrived ok and I sent #8 from London. I hope it gets there ok. It was a horrible feeling coming back I was very miserable and my mind went back to the sweetest girl in the world and made me wish I was dead or back with her. Back to the lice and cold and wet. Your life a grudge.

Today is Feb 3/18 and yesterday I was put down for 2 months to by an instructor at Ferfoy (?) again. I refused but again to-day was told I was picked for it as I was the only old man with the necessary qualifications. Two months may carry me through the last drive I wonder if I will get it and make good. Its “A-CHANCE” perhaps God is looking after me and I may be destined to live for my lovely wife again. The weather is nice but cold at night and in the morning and my fingers nearly freeze when I try to [?].

Feb 4/18 – Went to the ranges this morn. Afternoon the battalion has gone for a march. I am getting ready to go on guard in the morning. Darn the guards. It is a lnely day and makes me think of home and comfort. Nothing strange yet. Hope there is some mail for me today.

Feb 6/18 – Off guard and having an afternoon rest after the last very strenuous 24 hours. To start with yesterday morning the officers made fools of us while mounting the guard in front of the whole Bn. That passed alright. I found things in a pretty bad shape around the prisoners. I changed the sentries to suit myself. 6PM I called the roll and found one prisoner absent whereupon I put the sentry under arrest and sent for the police but a search did not find him and he is still absent. Later on in the evening someone must have stolen a barrel of wine as the whole Bn proceeded to get drunk and things got lively for me. All night they sang and raised hell in general. This morning we made several more arrests and had the measly clink full. It is a lovely day and makes be long for home.

6PM – I cannot help but remark on the beautiful evening that it is. February and it is just like a lovely spring day. And as I stood and gazed down the little narrow street with its stone floor and the meagre brick and low structures (we would call them slums in places I’ve come from) I looked away back across the ocean and pictured myself at home, perhaps saying to my darling Mary “Come out dear and see what a lovely evening it is.” But there again I was cheated in my longing heart and far away looking eyes would drop and I sigh once more for the tender affection such as you find in a loving wife, light my cigarette and shrug my shoulders and wonder just – wonder – that’s all. Perhaps you play a game of cards on the old table or perhaps two or 3 of us will discuss the war. “Well Bill when is this damn war going to end?”  “Well Prid to tell the truth I couldn’t express an opinion on it.” We try to dole it out to look favorable. Perhaps the States will help finish it, but when? Again conditions in England and Germany may cause a halt. And a man’s spirits rise and fall with his thoughts. I am writing in a French man’s house, an old miner and his wife. On the table a lamp with a very poor glass lights the room. Two other lads sit at the same table writing to God knows who. The old lady is getting some French fried potatoes for them and a couple of eggs that were laid in the ark.

It is too quiet – I must go to the mess and see what there rest are doing. Not much better in here – two were playing checkers on a board 6 inches square, but one man was evidently disgusted with the game so he left the C.S.M. to play with himself. The Ord Sgt [Orderly Sergeant] has started to chew the rag with him now. Re, the CSM’s batman is standing smoking a cigarette undecided as to what to do. The old woman is scraping a pot. Ah! The C.S.M. has a pack of cards now and is now trying to [?] a game with the Orderly Sgt.

Feb 9/18 – 9:40 AM – Had Bn parade this morn and were going on a manoeuvre but it is raining a nasty drizzle and the men were dismissed for further orders. Let it rain! I did not say that while on guard an officer crossed the parade ground and I said to myself that looks like Alex and after a few minutes I saw him coming towards me and lo and behold it was Allec. We shook hands and had a chat. He was looking fine but older. He is with the 1st CMR. I wrote him a long  time ago and recommended the 1st. Well dinner over and I was want to see the old people having given the old man a package of old chew and received a cup of coffee that would make your hair stand on end. No milk and the smallest spoon of sugar. I proceeded to do what I am now doing much to their mystery. It is still blowing with a fine drizzle and parades are cancelled for the day. No mail as yet from home. Hope I hear soon as I look for letters every day.

The old lady here is having washing day and her daughter of fourteen is washing the dishes from dinner. She has a face like a quarter moon and dressed like a scarecrow. As this moment I am trying to explain to the old man the old chew can be rolled into cigarettes as well as being used in the pipe. We all received a pcl from Ontario today with a packet of cigs. 2 [?], pair of gloves for trenches, chewing gum and chicklets and mints. I am very glad of the gloves, they help keep you warm when you are laying in the mud on watch.

Feb 8/18 – 2PM – Bn parade this morning but again cancelled on account of rain. The B.S.M. [Brigade Sergeant Major] gave the Sgts a lecture on discipline. He used to be my CSM. The man that escaped from the guard room was captured in Paris yesterday and an escort has been sent to get him.

6:45 PM – Well I must enter another tragedy of the war. This evening as usual I came into see the old people where I could have a cup of coffee and think. The only other person in here was an elderly soldier about 45 years age. I had seen him in here once before a couple of nights ago. he belonged to the Divisional train by his colors. When I entered we engaged in the usual conversation about the war and while he was waiting for the old lady to cook his chips and eggs he told me his sad story in the dim light of the lamp and my heart was gloom. At the time he started my mind was with a dear girl away back in Canada and I was not as happy as I might be. He started by saying he expected to go to Canada soon and was just waiting and by his look his eyes seemed lonely for to confide something to some one and being a Sgt, I guess he thought he could trust me. So he added, my wife has gone wrong on me. My interest was keen and I felt sorry right away. Yes his mother had written and told him. He himself had wondered for months what was wrong but could never figure it out. For months he had not heard from his wife and no one at home like to tell him what had happened except to through hints in letters and the two together had mystified him. He has a fine home and a lot at stake and has been in France for three years. Two weeks ago he had applied for leave to delve into things and at the same time had received a letter from his mother explaining the situation at last which had had been going on for months.

I listened in silence and as he produced a small picture which contained the portrait of a 4 small children and a very pleasant looking woman and he told in the words of a man with a broken heart how some man had come between his home and life. He said he was nearly frantical first but pulled himself together and made plans for departure. Poor devil I felt terrible for him. [?] what a wicked world and can a man trust his own brother let alone a girl that is sacred to him. He ate his meal and during this narration and happened to mention his name and I at once recognized him a chap I had not seen for 10 months about the time of Vimy Ridge scap. He knew me but I had forgotten his face. He had grown heavier and did not wear the Bn Badge. But when he spoke his name I remembered when I had met him months before like although he was not in my Coy [Company].

Finished with his meal he sighed, said good night and went out into the dark and gloomy street where no lights ever light the darkness of night while this war is on.

Feb 9/18 – 6:30PM – Saturday. Went out on manoeuvers this morning arriving back at 2PM. Got a pcl with two briar pipes from a very nice chap I had met in London. Also wrote and thanked him and wrote a letter to my darling wife also adding a postscript expressing my feeling towards a certain person but I will not enter it here. I am compelled to come over to the old ladies place for solitude. I get fed up with the false humour and I get morose. I feel better when my thoughts are down on paper. We will soon be going back up the like to our doom again. But I am waiting for word as to when I will go to Ferfay to instruct. You can never count on a thing till it actually happens. Well I think I will have a smoke.

Feb 10/18 – Well its Sunday 1:30 PM and I am again across the road and have been listening to the old French man talking about the Chinese. There are 1000’s here in France used for labour and they are a great looking lot. Heard a very good sermon by a Canadian Bishop and was very much impressed. It tried hard to rain this morning but it turned out fine by noon and the spring air is pleasant but makes me lonesome. I’ll bet the old man here would like to know what I write every day in this little book:

Tho far away to memory dear
However great the space from shore to shore
No distance can efface the days of yore.

Oh! Mary. Im a horrid man
of manners most contrary.
But I’d be like a little lamb
if you’d mint sauce me Mary.

These are verses for my own dear girlie.

Feb 11/18 – Monday. This morning general training and this afternoon I made a hit with my new Coy [Company] Commander. You see I transferred to another Coy and it was only till this afternoon that I had a chance with the men. Putting them through general battle formations and getting things going so fast that he used me for a demonstrating Sgt right there. Got a letter from dear mother and one from the Gov. I am very unhappy and sincerely wish I was with my darling Mary. Supper shall be ready any moment and I will write a letter after. I was also inoculated today and feel off colour.

Feb 12/18 – This morning we had a muster parade, pay parade this afternoon both parades. I guess we will soon be pulling out of here and on our weary way again. No word about drives and we dread perhaps what will come. I would like very much now to get back to Canada and home. I am fed up and tired of the whole thing. 6 PM Two letters from my darling, two from mother and two from Bee.

 Feb 13/18 – 1 PM – Just had dinner. Put the platoon thru a few formations this morning and after marched a bit to hear a lecture on economy which was very good. Wrote Mary last night.

Feb 15/18 – yesterday we had Field sports and I went in the 100 yd dash, the 5 legged race and the tug of war which made me very stiff today. I had a jolly time all though I was in the fat man’s crowd going in the mile race but had no shoes. Today we trained and had a night parade with gas helmets on and took a march into the country. Two more days and I will be up at the front line and at the old grind. We could hear the heavy guns roaring all day and it was not so pleasant. Tonight I had a present given to me in the shape of a rosary which I shall always prize. Tis late and night on midnight and I arise at 6 AM so I must say goodnight. Please excuse writing as it is on my knee.

Feb 16/18 – This being our last day we had a church parade and this afternoon are preparing for our long hike near Vimy. I guess it will be back at Mariecourt where we were before. Heavy bombarding continued thru the night and is still rumbling. I heard we had made a slight advance.

Feb 17/18 – Estree Cauchie. We arrived here at noon and I found myself sitting in the same place that I sat in just one year ago when I was on course. The old people just barely remember me when I shook hands. But the memory was as yesterday to me. Tonight two or three of use are sleeping on the stone floor which is much better than the cold barn. Tomorrow we go on to Nouval St Vasst.

Feb 18/18 – Nouville St Vasst. Well we arreived here about 2 PM back to the ruins of the White City of the second to Monte Carlo. It’s some time since we were here before and the grass has grown over the ruins. It is now a reserve camp with Huts build on it. No one would ever think such a place had ever existed. My feet are blistered and sore from the long hike. We passed Villers aux Bain, Campblingneul, Cambline l’abbe  and Mont St Eloi and other small villages.

Feb 19/18 – 11:30 AM – Well am off on the advance party for the front line. In case of accident please send this and other letters and private effects to

Mrs L.D. Pridham
Tottenham
Ontario
Canada

Feb 20/18 – 6:30 PM. Hail Dugout, Front line. Well I arrived here yesterday afternoon about 3:00 PM and took over my Platoon front. The troops landed in after dark and we relieved the other Bn. About 9:30 PM old Fritz started a swell barrage on our right flank and gradually brought it to bear on us. Our S.O.S. went up twice on the right and then hell opened up. I tore off my breach cover and put on my bayonet the rifle already being loaded. In spite of the cold the blood ran to my face as things got hotter. But Fritz was coming over the right of us. So we waited saying nothing to one another as the shells broke all around us and very close. About ah hour after things quieted down, of course our guns had to have the last say. Today we heard that we got 6 prisoners but party our working had 40 casualties from the bombardment. Tonight it is raining and cold and the trenches are sliding in and are full of wet slime and mud. This evening we crawled out about 25 years to our wire and got the tail of one of Fritz’s overcoats that had got hung on our wire while in the act of placing a bar of explosive there, but had been chased off with machine gun fire. 2 AM Well here I am again Sgt S— just relieved me. And am in grand shape for one of Haig’s drives slithered with slimy mud from head to foot. It is a dark night and the sentries have to keep their eyes skinned for old Fritz in case he makes a raid which is not altogether a pleasant affair as it generally ends up in quite a bombardment.

Feb 21/18 – 9 PM. Just been relieved by Sgt S. It is a fine night with nearly a full moon. It has been fine all day and the trenches are trying hard to dry up. The mud is very sticky. There is considerable heavy straffing on the left in front of Lens and our planes have been over bombing Fritz and giving him a merry time which can be seen by the search lights, shrapnel and chain flares. One of our Ca Coy chaps by accident shot and killed one of his pals today. Had a pretty close call tonight from enemy machine gun fire but a miss is as good as a mile. I wonder how my little girl is back in good old Canada. My feet are pretty bad and I am in dire need for a dry pair of socks and it is very nasty and in these lousy dugouts. Poor old “Doc” perhaps he is better away from this damnable life although I feel sorry for his dear wife[1]. I go on trench duty again at 2 AM in the morning.

Woman from pipe smoke (page 35)
Woman from pipe smoke (page 35)

Feb 22/18 – 6:30 PM. Stand down and all is well. Have just been relieved by Sgt R. after having given over my orders on patrols for the night. This morning my officer, four men and myself made a daylight inspection of about a mile of blown in trench and after many hair raising times crawling in and through barbed wire, diving into shell holes and rolling in the mud, with Fritz front line only 300 yards away, waiting every moment to be riddled with machine guns, we arrived back to the more sheltering trenches, with several rifles and equipment that had been ditched when the bombardment had started the other night. I guess we are in for a long trip this time and that means many days without baths or clean clothes. May God be with us again.

Feb 23/18 – 3:30 AM. Just been relieved by Sgt R. The night has been fine except for a few clouds. No hostile movement except from machine guns. Four patrols have come in OK. Two letters from dear mother tonight dated Jan 25th and one from the Gov. both seem well outside of being anxious as to how I was. No acknowledgement from Mary yet for parcel sent in Dec/17. 11:30PM Just relieved by Sgt S. Had two very close calls with shells tonight and one of my machine gun crew got a nice Blighty in the leg and went out of the line. A funny thing when I came back into the dugout there was some mail and in it was a comic card for the chap that went out wounded. And on it was a picture of a soldier with a nice wound in the arm and below it said “Lucky Devil on the way to Blighty”. I also received two letters from dear mother dated Jan 14th and 20th and one from my darling of Jan 20th saying she had received my parcel with the cushion cover, etc. also stating that she was moving again. That girlie of mine is a great mover.

Feb 24/18 – 5:30 PM. Stand To: The day passed safely for us outside of four casualties. I had a couple of close calls this morning. Artillery was fairly active today and our planes were busy over Fritz’s line. Heavy barrages were fired at them but as far as I could see none were hurt or brought down. We are now waiting for our relief as we go back as far as Canada Trench. You will remember my trips in June and you might refer to Spasm #5 which will give you are position although we are a few 100 yards to the right it is practically the same old Front. We are a few 100 yards closer to the enemy.

Feb 25/18 – 10:30 AM. Canada Trench. Vimy behind and old Mariecourt in front. You will remember last time I was in this support trench old Doc and I were together coming in and going out on working parties. #5 Spasm will come back to life. The front line we have just come from is the trench we were doing our working parties on at that time. There is a drizzling rain this morning and the wind is raw. I secured a cigarette tin full of muddy water out of a wheel rut and managed after many dexterious movements to erase six days beard and the dirt with it. Old Sgt Hancock is busy reading a racing story and every time he turns a page it is with the expression of a man that waits for his horse around the corner. He said if the horse did not win the next race he would be broke. Oh! Yes! The remainder are passing foolish remarks to kid themselves. 11 PM. All parties in safe. Stayed in myself tonight but will be out tomorrow night. Most of our men are down in a large dugout with 3 or four chambers. The one we are in is about 8ft x 12ft and there is 8 of us in it a cheerful family of Sgts. Generally arguing and chewing the rag. No mail tonight but I must write a letter or two tomorrow. How I miss Old Doc.

Feb 26/18 10 AM. Just had a shave and feel better but have a very bad cold in the head and coughed all night. Went out on the working party last night to our own company frontage fixing the trenches and who should be trench officer at that our up there but Alle. He is with the 1st CMRs and they took over our part of the line. I was watching the work of the men on the CT and my officer had wandered up the front line and told Allee that I was a few yards along which of course I was not aware of. All of a sudden an officer passed me in the dark. I looked hard and said is that you Allee? He say oh! I was just looking for you. So we shook hands. He did not know me when he first passed on account of my moustache which I do not wax up the line and of course it looks bushy. Who would have thought months ago that Allee’s platoon would relieve one of C. Coy but the world is small. Artillery and air work very active on our front.

Feb 27/18 – 10 PM. All parties in safely but it is one of those horrible nights that arouses memories which make you shudder. A night that is black and pouring rain when you cannot see your hand in front of you. You slip, fall and stumble under your heavy load, a heavy shell comes shrieking toward you and every man thinks it is coming true for him, he pictures it and its result. A cold sweat breaks out and you swallow your throat: Crash! It comes, perhaps 3 or 4 follows or maybe 50 or more in rapid succession. A piece of shrapnel shrieks by your head and buries itself in the trench with a sharp smack. You duck, curse low and yell move on for Christ’s sake. Then you may hear “Stretcher Bearer!!” On you go you know not where you are and you curse the guide you bring damnation on all perpetrators of war. I wrote to my darling tonight and sent a few cards. I am sitting cross legged on the dugout floor my rubber sheet on the hard floor and my great coat for a cover. During the night I wake with cramps and pains in my bones but why groan. We were truly made to suffer after this. We do not think of drives, we wait only for an attack from Fritz. The game changes, we play our cards. We depend on the brain of the high man, we act and suffer the result for better or worse. Goodnight.

Feb 28/18 – 10 PM. Last day in Feb all ends well up to the present moment although there is a little time before midnight. All parties in safe. Received a parcel from Allee that he had sent me two months ago for Xmas. A half dozen odd Sgts and myself had a hearty time consuming the contents. Allee this moment is in the front line. There is a slight rumour that his company is going to pull off a raid tonight but I am still waiting for the row to start. We are fairly comfortable in our dugout and are mighty thankful for it. Fritz may attack any time and we are all prepared for it. Let us hope that March sees a better month for us all perhaps a finish but we must not build up hopes to high for we will be doomed to disappointment.

March 1: 1918 – 6 PM. Night party away and down in our dugout should you happen to enter the scene would appear exceedingly crude. On entering the first thing to notice would be the one candle mounted on an old tin. The table covered with old cans, dirty utensils, a couple of empty bottles (pickle). I the gloom of one corner you would barely discern a Sgt reposing on a chicken wire bed. All around hangs equipment and fire arms. Perhaps at the small table a man sitting eating a chunk of meat and a morsel of bread, his jaws working on painfully as though it might be a boot he chewed. But what takes my notice most is a paper upon which I am writing. A picture of Miss Peace which I have copied on page 51 appears before my eyes. It causes me to think at this point the dugout grows tensely silent. How shall it end? Again the silence is rudely broken by some unsage remark and my reveries return to the old strain. One thing which I cannot help remarking about is a coincidence that is not to be laughed at. Sitting here down under the ground in a dugout, of eight Sgts there are four who in Toronto two years ago this month, were at a musketry course representing four different Bn’s and coming from different depots in Ontario. I myself being one of them. Today they all belong to one company of a different Bn in France and on account of their abilities have retained their ranks all coming to France at different times and gradually being grouped back to one crowd. Two of these same Sgts were at the same infantry course at the PSI Camp Borden. Seems as though the world was not as large after all. Selak!

Miss Peace (In the Wings) "I wonder if 1918 is my turn?" [Page 51]
Miss Peace (In the Wings) “I wonder if 1918 is my turn?” [Page 51]
Mar 3/18 – 10 AM. Dugout: Quebec Trench old front line of last summer. Yesterday seemed a turning point in the weather for it turned pretty cold and snowed the best part of the day. In the afternoon we came back to the front line area but several hundred yards to the left of our former dugout. We are a counter attacking platoon on the right flank (of a gap). We got here without casualties. There is a slight rumour of a warning to the Canadians to evacuate our position inside of 8 days which they claim Fritz sent over in a paper balloon. Sounds interesting although it may be one of his bluffs about a big offensive. Well I must have a sleep.

Mar 4/18 – 2 PM. Woke up a few minutes ago by a shout. It proved to be the stew and up the stair we flew. Last night passed generally quiet but very dark. Don’t forget “quiet” would sound terrible to one that has never heard the noise and it simply means nothing more or less that the everyday shelling and bombing which never ceases. But this morning about half an hour after “stand to” a terrific bombardment started on or about Hill “70” or “Lens”. The straff lasted about an hour. It sounded uncommonly like a drive but we have no official word yet as to what happened. It is rather wet and raw out and I expect we will have lots of dark night. You cannot see your hand before you and you slip and stumble many times in a few yards. No mail from home lately.

Mar 5/18 – 3:30 PM. Quarries: Mariecourt. Well here we are back in the old quarries. I guess you will remember this place in my other chronicles. We swapped places with our other platoon they taking our place up the front. Last night was a dark one again. Had a close call about 4:30 AM this morning. I was standing at my dugout door just finishing a cigarette preparing to make my rounds to the posts when Fritz salvoed over about twelve all around the entrance. I did the vanishing act in a speedy manner till he got it off his chest. None of my men touched so it was alright. 5:30 AM. I called a “stand to” a few minutes later two of our offices and two of our scouts went out to prowl around. Incidentally they ran into a patrol of Germans eight in number. A few bombs and revolver shots barked and it was not 20 minutes from the time that the four of them went out till they came back, a prisoner with them. They killed one and the other six escaped. This all occurred in broad daylight. The quarries is a chalk pit about 100 feet in diameter and about 60 feet deep. The French have hewn the chalk for building purposes. All kinds of dug outs and tunnels run into the chalk from the bottom of the pit to the trenches. Old Fritz’ delight is to fill the crater with shells and when a man goes out he has to scurry like a rat from one point to another. Well tonight will see me on a patrol in no-man’s land or working party.

Mar 6/18 – 2:30 PM. Well 1 AM this morning saw us on our way to patrol duty – 16 of us all told with the officer. It was dark but the sky was clear and the stars helped quite a bit. About 2 AM as we neared our point my eye was taken by a red blur that looked like a Chinese lantern on the sky line. Closer observation proved it to be the moon, a goodly half and I was really delighted to see the old chap as he had not appeared for a week. When we reached our flank each man picked up bombs and fondled his rifle to make sure he could use it in a hurry. But we were doomed to have a few anxious moments before we rambled into no-man’s land. A straff opened up on the left and things go lively, guns started to cross fire on us as we moved up the communication trench (CT). We arrived at the front line and while the rest waited at the junction of the CT till the officer and myself when in search of the officer in charge of the platoon to warn him of our plans. In the meantime the shells started to shriek in like the mill tales of hell. Believe me I missed my old tin lid: we do not wear them on patrols as they light shines on them and the enemies [sic] flares show them up to quick. We stopped and spoke to one officer for a moment, I cursed the straff on we dangled again and had not gone 25 yards when crash! went a shell about 5 feet from the officer and myself. I thought our time had come and I spoke to my partner who seemed bathed in smoke and the earth rained down in buckets. I’m OK said he through the smoke and taking out his flask he gave me a stiff swig of rum to give me back my nerves. “To hell with this” say I let’s get back – we can’t go out while this is on anyway. So we went back and told the men to lay low. About 3 AM we decided to move so into no-man’s land we snaked our way through wire, soon we were lost in the gloom as we went deeper into the gap on our right flank. Our objective was to get out and lay in wit for the enemies patrol in case he repeated on his performance of the other morning. The gap is a long stretch of our front line that has been blown in by the enemies fire. Being low ground he had too good a look on us. So that part of the trench was left and wire blocks put all along in the disused trench. We placed the men at intervals and the machine gun in a convenient place. Then the officer and myself made a tour, we found Fritz had cut all the wire in the trench clean from the Achaille Road to the block on our own flank. Heavy bombardments were in action on our right and left. We scouted around till after 5 AM by then the moon was bright and we made our way back, no hostile parties being met. Back to the quarries, a wash and 5 days beard off I felt better, a can of tea and I rolled in.

Night patrol into no-man's land [page 65]
Night patrol into no-man’s land [page 65]
10 PM. Just back from a trip back to the ration dump. On arriving was informed that one of our patrols ran into a very large party of the enemy around where we were last night. The old beggar will be pulling off a raid if we are not careful. No mail tonight. I wonder how my darling is tonight? The game is playing on my nerves how. My God I wish it was over.

Mar 7/18 – 3:30 PM. Ord Sgt today, busy getting parties out all day. Our patrols had a very interesting time last night and caused a few Hienies to squeal.

The Quarries Mar-8-1918 [page 76]
The Quarries Mar-8-1918 [page 76]
Mar 8/18 – Midnight 1:30 AM. Strong battle patrol just away. Have just made a scetch [sic] on page 76 of the quarries looking from our corner. 7PM. Well we are back to old Canada trench again. The Sgts together once more in our dugout. Midnight: Two more parties away and all the rest snoring soundly. I myself have not had very much sleep lately and I feel pretty well faged. Life seems dead and the only gleam of hope is presented by the flicker from the candle on the small shell casing which adorns the old wooden table. Outside the stars alone light the darkened skies mingled with the flash of guns. The moon has yet to rise and light the way for weary troops who trudge their weary way throughout the night and patiently wait for the light of day.

Mar 9/18 – 9 PM. ON awakening this morn my ears were greeted by the familiar barrage that indicates someone is getting hell on the Western Front. Was also informed that our patrol clashed with a hostile patrol we go two Fritz and put his raiders to route. We have old Fritz baffled on the Western Front. I think he would be out of luck if he tried a push around here.

Mar 10/18 – Noon. This morning we had a working party up Teddy Gerard Trench. The few months since I was along there has made quite a difference in the shape of the old trench. The old funk holes all washed away and dismal. But it was a beautiful morning and not much straffing, and the twitter of birds would tend to make you blue.

Mar 11/18 – Noon. Another beautiful morning with a lovely spring air. Last night gas was active last night and we were all warned to be ready in case we were attached in the morning. But the day broke without any trouble. We have had a long trip and it looks as if we were going to stay while longer in case Frtiz makes or tries to make an advance. Perhaps he would get our first two lines but never would he make Vimy Ridge, he would also be smartly chased out of our lines. The front line is merely a sacrifice position when attached. A big Canadian mail is expected tonight – let us hope it comes.

Midnight. During the evening Fritz shelled our lines and batteries considerable, probably retaliation for some straff he got from us. I see by the papers that the Portuguese pulled off a successful raid, also the Imperials after being driven out of their first counter attacked penetrating Fritz first two lines with gains. Russia has shown herself up as a bunch of rotters. Wrote to Hal night but hadn’t much news for him.

Mar 12/18 – 2 PM. Once more the day broke the sun shining and the air full of spring and again the full joy of it is spoiled by the roar of war. We expect to do six more days up the front before we pull out of the forward area. We will be very, very filthy and lousy but who cares what we suffer. This will then be the longest trip the Bn has made since we made that 24 day trip last summer. No mail in yet but rumours of a large Canadian mail so let’s hope something comes.

Mar 13/18 – 9 AM. Last night I was out with a working [party] behind the lines digging an emergency trench. Both sides had had artillery duels all through the day and I was a little afraid our party would get some hell. A very brilliant display opened up somewhere in the vicinity of Lens just to the left of us. They kept that bombardment up for an indefinite period. A few 60 pounders were hurled close to us, but our sector was quiet just then and we were in luck. We got back safely. It was 4 AM before I crawled into my rubber sheet and was rudely awakened again a little after six AM. This front is turning into a regular “Hell” and we are being held up here to get it. God only knows when we will ever get back to reserves. Thing will break loose around here some day and they will call the rolls. There will be a good many that will not say “here”.

6 PM. Heard today that Fritz had prepared an attack on a 30 mile front and that our artillery has got wise and shelled his reserves so that he could not pull the attack. Last night’s bombardment which lasted till morning. They say was another [?] off our front. About noon ola Fritz sent over a red paper balloon of course we could not determine what the message was as it is immediately taken to higher authority.

Mar 15/18 – 4 PM. Front Line. Came up yesterday afternoon and took over line. Troops arrived safely a little later. Midnight I received 3 letters from my darling Mary Feb 1st, 4th and 7th also four from dear mother Jan 28th, Feb 1st, 3rd and 10th. One from Hal Feb 6th, one from Gov Feb 7th and a valentine from the sweet one. 5 AM This morning a pretty little show opened up. We got several prisoners but had conservable casualties. This line is a real hell hole now and a man is lucky if he gets out alive. Continuous shelling from all calibres. Am mailing whiz bangs in answer to my letters. Well here’s hope for another safe night.

Mar 16/18 – 1 AM. Just been relieved and came down stairs, finished a letter to my darling and let the runners take it when I had the chance. Tonight is an ideal night – but with only a quarter moon which disappears about 9 PM. Artillery active but up till now he has not straffed our front line. We put quite a bit over during the day. I go on again at 4 AM, a bad hour if any attacks are coming off. I guess the title of this book does not suit the contents but at the same time I’ll call it a Hell of a big chance if I get out safe this trip. But it may be a fighting chance in the real sense of the word. The right flank on “The Gap” which we are holding will win an Historical name like other Hell corners. 6 PM a fine day and everything in fair shape. Fritz had two balloons up today and while I was having a sun bath on the firing step of one of the posts, when old Fritz started to register. It was pretty warm for a minute. He made one direct hit in the trench – no casualties. The remainder landed as usual on the parapet and paradoes. 10 PM – Just finished a letter to Hal. Rather chilly in the dugout. 10:30 PM – Terrific bombardment on a few hundred yards to our right on the other side of our gap. Old Fritz is getting hell. I go on at 12 AM so I guess I will be in time for the odd shell which Heinie spites the front line with after a straff.

Sleeping in a dugout during shelling [page 79]. Note the gas alarm - likely a shell casing hanging from a rope and sounded with a clanger inside.
Sleeping in a dugout during shelling [page 79]. Note the gas alarm – likely a shell casing hanging from a rope and sounded with a clanger inside.
Mar 17/18  – 2 AM. Just in and am delighted to say got two more letters from my queen dated  Feb 15th and 18th saying that she had received #8 Spasm [his previous diary] and my picture. Thinks I looked very changed and austere. Says she is hearing from Mrs. R.M. [his mother] I am very glad that they correspond with each other. Also got a letter from mother dated Feb 11/18. Poor ma she worries quite a bit about the war – don’t blame her in the least. Just before I came in old Fritz [?] a salvo over our trench [?] was [?] and sacred the listening post stiff the remainder of the [?] rations slide somewhere to the rear.

8 PM. Back in the quarries without casualties. One of our platoons had a few wounded this morning when Fritz blew in the entrance or two entrances of their dugout. We expect a couple of raids tonight [?] at 11 PM on the regular front and one later on the left front. General shelling is often now.

Mar 18/18 – 8:30 AM. Just in off patrol no casualties. Got letter from dear Ma dated Feb 14th and one from Hal dated Feb 18/18. Must have a sleep. Noon – just wrote dear mother. A fine day and the Hun is straffing our line heavily. Must write a letter to Hal. We got 5 more prisoners last night by reports. 9 PM – Have been down to Canada dump to see the rations up. Had a safe trip but just as I got back Fritz started putting over gas. Some mail in – hope I get some.

Mar 19/18 – 6 PM. Well this morning we were welcomed by a cooling rain and has been going gently all day and it is getting kind of slippery. We hope if God permits to go back aways tomorrow night. In the meantime we are running the gauntlet every time we go out on parties passing through shelling and just by providence not getting hit. I go out at 2:30 AM tonight to patrol no- man’s land, so that is not yet begun. 9:40 PM – Just wrote to Mary.

"Tickets Please" La Gare du Chemin de fer du Nord [page 87]
“Tickets Please” La Gare du Chemin de fer du Nord [page 87]
Mar 20/18 – 6:30 AM. Just in off patrol. We went out about 2 AM. It was raining steady and very slippery. We were supposed to rebury about a 1/4 of a mile from where we went out but we lost direction and the funny part of it [is we’d] gone pretty nearly to the German front line and then turned back, for we landed in our own wire about the same place as we went out. Covered with slimy mud from head to foot. 7 PM – Well here we are waiting to be relieved. I take out #9 platoon back as far as Neuville-St-Vaast and tomorrow I think we move back again as far as Vimy. One month under shell fire and that does not satisfy them. I guess it will be a 50 day trip and no bath yet. Heinie put a few shells into the quarries here about 6 PM about 20 yards from our door wounding the scout officer. Gee! I wish I had been there and got the nice one that he just got – a piece in the leg and a funny thing our doctor was standing beside him at the time. If you turn back to the picture of the quarries you will see by the x where the shells struck tonight.

Soldier and women (possibly meant to be Lawrence and Mary) [page 89]
Soldier and women (possibly meant to be Lawrence and Mary) [page 89]
Mar 21/18 – Midnight 1:50 AM. Neuvelle-St-Vaast. Huts. Well here we are again. Had a long but good trip out and passed the battery lines safely. Tomorrow two of our four platoons go back as far as Vimy town for seven days working parties which will take us up the front line every night and under shell fire. Well for the few hours we are back here I guess we had better sleep so goodnight! Please do not efface any of my sketches as they are only made for the sake of practice! Well this morning about 4 AM a terrific bombardment started and was still raging at 10 AM this morning. First thing I did this morning was to get a bath and by tipping the bath’s corporal I got some underwear that was not as itchy as the usual run. A shave and a little wax. It is getting warm now a day and I shall start to suffer. It looks like another month up the line so I will try and get this away as soon as possible.

6 PM. All packed up ready to go up to Vimy and other working parties ready when the order came in to cancel all parties. Whether it is on account of the bombardment this morn and that we have to go back up to the front line or what we don’t know but here we are. 9 PM – Well we had a walk around and heard all kinds of rumours. Some say we are going up to [?] tomorrow as Fritz had gassed so many men and that it was necessary for us to go forward. But on getting back we find no orders. 10:10 PM – orders came through to be warned to move up the line tomorrow night. A few minutes later we got the order two days later. Anyway we’re ready for the rough stuff. The heavy guns are roaring and slinging stuff over to Fritz. Well good night.

Mar 22/18 – 9 AM. Company paraded this morning for inspection. Rather misty morning but fairly decent. 9 PM – guns are still banging away. Heard today Fritz made a drive on a 50 mile font and that we cut up about 40 of his divisions. Tonight the orders are again changed. God only knows where we will land before the next 24 hours.

Taken from the front piece of Saturday Evening Post Han 19/1918 Full page size [page 91]
Taken from the front piece of Saturday Evening Post Han 19/1918 Full page size [page 91]
Mar 23/18 – 9 AM. Well in an hour we have a church parade and up the line we go for another dose of hell. After doing 30 days we get 2 days rest with our time all taken with the usual polishing and red tape. The guns have been roaring this last 3 days as hard as they can go. Ah! If they can’t kill us one way they try another. I will try and get tis away if possible. Anyway in the meantime we will take our pill. Advance parties off and we move at 3 PM once again to carry on always on the go. I guess you observe the many shades of ink that comes forth from my pen.  6:40 PM Railway Dugouts. Well after a long hot march we landed here right amongst the batteries. There is a 4 inch gun right over our heads. I will try and give you a picture of the little point on the ridge.

1:45 AM – beautiful night and a fine moon. Artillery activities are great. Have just come down from duty with the officer. The enemy is driving all along the line and we await any moment for attack. He has already a push on a large scale to the right of us. Both sides having large casualties. I have drawn what you would see ongoing over one part of the ridge coming up the Neuville-St-Vaast Road. The dug out on the corner is protection for the traffic control man. The main road in front is called the Lens Arras Road. The other ways leading to Vimy and Thelus.

Woman in Negligee [page 95]
Mar 24/18 – 3:40 AM stand to: Attack expected. Received a small parcel from Ma. The Borsh did not attack on our front this morning. How we will ever stand this damnable pressure I don’t know. We are all in and need a rest after our other long trip and here we are thrown into the line again to withstand an attack which will be ferocious when started and which is sure to come.

4:30 PM – Just back from forward line with officers and Sgts taking reconnaissance in case of a right flank attack. Sun was very warm and my feet in a clean but tender state. 10:30 PM – Being unable to sleep after so many hours on the go, I went up to the level and while the moon shone on the earth, I listened to and watched the flash of our guns as they carried out their work of destruction for the right. God be with us these long anxious days. Goodness knows whether this chronicle will ever get home. As leave are cancelled mail and every communication while the critical times are upon us.

At the Cross Road [page 99]
At the Cross Road [page 99]
Mar 25/18 – 3:15 AM. Just been relieved by Sgt N. Lovely night out but much cooler. Guns barking like hell but what we call generally quiet. You can see by the hours I ring in on my book that we don’t get much sleep. Fourteen months now in France and am still subject to daily punishment. 7 AM – Breakfast and all’s well.

8 PM – Just back from the line after 6 hours real hard reconnaissance and when we land back we hear old Fritz had taken the Somme again is and is shelling Paris. And are told we will be in again for another scheme and that we all stand-to at 3 AM. God help us!

Mar 26/18 – 2 AM. Just been relieved. A very chilly but bright night, our guns are banging away at Fritz at a pretty good clip. Must lie down for an hour. 8 AM – Alls well and no Bosch attack. 11 PM – Just in from working party all ok.

Mar 27/18 – 11 AM. Just got orders we were going out. Saw Daily Mail printed in Paris which speaks of a new gun that fires 74 miles into Paris.[2] [Officially named the Wilhelmgeschütz in the Kaiser’s honor.] The enemy sure is going some.

4:30 PM – Orders changed, no more than a couple of hours later we were told to pack up again. We don’t know where we go yet. We got a rumour that the French and Imperials out flanked the enemy and got 107,000 prisoners and 1,200 guns but it’s not official yet. Fritz claims 30,000 of our fellows and 600 guns on the attack the other day.

Mar 28/18 – 3:30 AM. Just in to Neuville-St-Vaast. Fine day but a little cloudy. About 2:45 AM a terrific bombardment started  – it sounded just like a push straff. I was told that all troops were out of the front line and our dugouts filled with aminol explosive and that the enemy was expected over this morning. 4:00 AM – Fritz over and dropped a bunch of bombs also sending heavy shells over to us here. If he attacks, his 2nd barrage should be in soon now and he on the way to us over no-man’s land. We just got back of the lines in time.

9:00 PM – Back up in the trenches. The trench is Fritz’s old front line that he held before the Vimy scrap. It is filled with grass and disused but tonight it is full of men ready for Battle. This morn after 6 hours out of the line, we were again ordered out in battle order and after a long tramp through shells, etc. we arrived here away over on the left of Arras front. We have been in the line for 36 days and here we are yet. Started out twice and turned back. Tonight it is raining and the trench is a river of mud. The only difference from last year at this was that we were just a few years back in our own front lines and Fritz was in this little wooden structure under the parapet. What we intend to do here or how long we stay I know only we may be in the scrap in a few hours ourselves. We are to counter attack in case of his drive farther in.

Mar 30/18 – 7:45 AM. Neuville-St-Vaast. Back again. We now away orders to move forward to attack. It may be a couple of days but I guess it will be the Canadians last drive if it is on a very larger scale. 6:30 PM – Just been speaking to the BSM – he has urged me to put in for my commission. Financially I don’t know how I could make out. All the troops have been called in on account of hostilities or I would have my CSM’s job. I stand well with the staff and it’s not their fault the opening is not ready.

Mar 31/18 – 5 PM. Easter Sunday Church parade at 1 PM. Muster parade this afternoon. Went over to the 1st CMR Rs [Reserve] Bn and had a talk with Allee re commission. Figures it would be alright. Was writing to Hal when I called on him. We expect to go up the line tomorrow again. We don’t know just what is coming off but I guess it will be a little hot. All kinds of rumours are about and no-one knows what to believe. We have not gone back farther than reserves for 40 days but at the same time the line is so irregular that it is hard to know what is going on on your immediate flanks. They say the Germans are laying dead in piles along the line. We contemplate a drive ourselves at once. Troop are all up to strength, leaves stopped and troops all back to units from jobs and schools all over France. All standing-to in England. This I figure will be the greatest conflict and perhaps the finishing one of the war. Let us hope so for everybody’s sake. How many of us will come through we cannot say. [?] we have been on the fly day and night from one point of the line to another. The morale of the men is really wonderful although it will soon begin to tell on the older boys. The new men do not feel so much and are fresher, therefore keeping those under longer strain more confident. May these books live long after me and if I have to call my hand and “Go West” I can do so and say that I have done what I could in the months of strife and suffering. God bless my wife and children. For them I hope to live. I must leave this behind so I won’t lose it in the rough stuff. Perhaps Vol 10 will tell a better tale, but that is for a future day to say. In the meantime we place our trust in the Man above and carry on with the hope that we are on the right side.

Thank you dear reader,

A Soldier

The Empty Hope (page 109)
The Empty Hope (page 109)

Percy Anderson 3-19-18 [page 110]
Percy Anderson 3-19-18 [page 110]
Front Lines Under Shelling [last page]
Front Lines Under Shelling [last page]
 

[1] It would seem that Doc had been killed since Volume #4 although we have no details of who he actually so we could confirm this.
[2] Referred to as Pariskanone but officially named the Wilhelmgeschütz in the Kaiser’s honor, they actually fired 68 miles from the Forest of St Gobain into Paris. They caused more psychological than actual damage.

One thought on “Pridham Diary Volume #9”

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"In Pace Paratus – In Peace Prepared"