The world seems very small!! On October 15th 1914, I wrote in my diary in France: “Braisne is being shelled, where I was on Sept. 18th and Oct. 3rd, and two old ladies have fled from there, I am taking them down with me to Paris.” To-day I get a letter from Captain Elliott. from North Wales and he says: “They had a most interesting old French lady with them, Mademoiselle Menesson…. in this War she was at Braisne on the Aisne, and had French, German and British alternately billeted on her, finally they started bombarding and she fled to England, this was on Oct. 15th 1914, she says that at 7 p.m. that evening at Mont Notre Dame, she was assisted by an Indian Army Colonel, “bel homme, distingué, d’une grande taille,” [good-looking man, distinguished, very tall] who was “chef de train”, could it have been yourself? Anyhow she quite fell in love with him and tells everyone she meets of her wonderful Colonel who had come all the way from India to be a train conductor – the said Colonel was most attractive, fed her on the best bully beef, opening the tin with his own fair hands, etc. etc.” It is very interesting.
Arrived Mont Notre Dame at 7 a.m. I see that Aldridge of the Royal Sussex who travelled with me exactly a month ago has been killed. Such a fine fellow and married, with one child – it brings it home to one. A nasty wet day and I had lots to do, but kept fairly dry and no twinge of rheumatics, but plenty of toothache. To-day we are just finishing extricating our 1st. Army Corps from the Aisne by here, and the French should now be taking up our line where I was the other day. – The Germans are evidently aware of this by spies and are now, 5 p.m. pushing a fierce attack here. The shelling is tremendous though we are just out of range. Braisne is being shelled where I was on Sept 18th and Oct 3rd and two old ladies have fled from Braisne and I am taking them down with me to Paris.
Arrived Fère-en-Tardenois 2.m. Big guns booming, but further away. Frightful toothache. I dined last night off a chunk of bread that a lady put in at the window at one of the stations. I had plenty of other food but no light and it is beastly eating in the dark, so I gnawed the bread and enjoyed it very much. Had a very interesting morning. Col. Mac.Innes, R.E. had to go out to the front in a car, so he took me. We drove through Mont Notre Dame and Braisne over the pontoon bridge on the Aisne beside the bridge the Germans had destroyed, and into Bourg [?? Place unlocated]. Passed within 20 yards of 2 of our 60 pounder guns very well concealed. Under shell fire all the last part of the way, but nobody fired at a single car. Not worth it. Saw the big crates that the Black Marias dig out – all over the place, two on the road itself. Lots of trenches and graves and dead horses. Left F.T. at , 3.30 p.m.
Arrived Mont-Notre-Dame, 12.15 p.m. Such a pretty little place, I should like to bring Daisie here. Went up into the Church and prayed. The boom of the guns is inspiring. I hear the Cameron Highlanders had a sad loss yesterday*. The Colonel, Adjutant, 2 other officers and 29 men took shelter from the firing in a big cave. The cave fell in and they were all killed. In the quiet old Church which is half a ruin the thunder of the guns vibrated among the ancient pillars as I knelt there alone and it was quite weird. From the churchyard afterwards I could see the shells bursting on the high ground beyond the Aisne.
*First Battalion, Cameron Highlanders – read a little here
Villeneuve at 10.30 a.m. left at 4 p.m. Beautiful weather, but cold nights. When will this interminable battle of the Aisne come to an end? It is terribly long and makes one very anxious though I am never doubtful as to the final result and, please God, it will be decisive. Events have proved what a fine great sledge hammer machine the German Army was. It was quite able to take on France and Russia and defeat both if only England had not joined in and Austria had not proved so weak.
Nobody can say I have not been within sound of the guns! Train pulled up in doubt this morning at 5.30 a.m. outside Fère-en-Tardenois, all supply lorries and vehicles halted on road and an appalling thunder of big guns – must be a huge battle in progress and sounds like our left being turned, but I prefer to hope it is the German right. They are all concentrated between Laon and Reims and we ought to get them in the end, but they are very strong on the line of the river Aisne. Arrived 6.45 a.m. Our wounded pour in looking ghastly. Collected 2 acorns from a very pretty wood near here because I think this will be a historic battle and the oaks in England may commemorate it. Walked around the country and found the Aeroplane H.Q. After a bit Bay came down out of the sky and we passed the time of day. He was looking well and cheery. Col. Mackinnis R.E. is railhead officer here and General French is here. Left at 4 p.m. to go at last beyond railhead to Braisne* which is really on the battle-field to pick up wounded. Arrived 6.30 p.m. just behind the firing line. Everything later in pitch darkness as all the gear, telegraph lines etc., has been destroyed by the Germans. It was rather weird in the dark at night with the constant booming of the guns. Took in 296 wounded. Left at 10.15 p.m. How soon one gets accustomed to big figures like 300 wounded – seems a very small affair. The hospital at Braisne* have sent down 1120 in these last 24 hours. Thank goodness I got the in dry, later it poured and poured.
*Possibly Braisnes-sur-Aronde, a short distance to the north-west of Compiègne