Floods and deluges of rain – servants’ houses all flooded out and one washed right down. I am so pleased at having my proper pay of Rs.2100 a month that life seems quite different. My arrears are also Rs.1200 which enables me to pay all my debts at the shops. What a huge war this is. Bay writes from Belgium, others from France, Watts from Mesopotamia and Egypt, Irwin from East Africa, Cunliffe in West Africa, Bob and Wattie are in Salonica and here are we on the Afghan frontier. Bennett writes from Persia.
*Rs = Rupees
Bay is in London to get his D.S.O. for the King and Connie is very proud of him – Triss and Lou and Con and Bay all dined with us at the Hotel York.
Arrived Fère-en-Tardenois 6 a.m. Went out to see Bay* and found him among all the aeroplanes. He afterwards came over to my carriage and had lunch with me. While in the Aeroplane camp a German Aeroplane came and we fired at it with a maxim, but it got away.
The French 5th Army Corps are marching through here towards the German right and the German was able to go off with this important information. Left F.T. at 3.30. p.m. Such a mixed crowd on board – wounded, sick, prisoners, kits of dead officers, lances, rifles, disabled guns, one which had been hit right on the nose and the whole shield and I suppose the whole gun detachment carried right away.
*For an explanation of who Bay is, see here.
For a very illuminating article about the use of aviation in World War 1, go here.
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
What a journey that was from Ryde! – so hot and the train so crowded and I got the sunny seat and we stopped everywhere. Reached here all right in the end in this beautiful old Christopher Wren house. Captain and the Hon. Mrs. A. Thorne – 3rd Grenadier Guards. It is extremely kind of them to put me up and mount me. My charger is a weight carrying polo pony “Sparrow” and is a good willing goer. Gen. Maxse commands the Brigade which is composed of Coldstream Gds, Scots Guards, Black Watch and Munster Fusiliers – a very keen and highly-trained lot. Yesterday the Maxim gun officer, Captain Payne-Gallwey of the Grenadier Guards, gave me 1½ hours exhibition of the Coldstream team and I have never seen anything better. The heat is awful and I am burnt to bits – shall really be quite glad when it is over. No news yet of Bay turning up to take me for a flight in his machine. Night operations last night. Rather stiff from riding, not been on a horse since January. 7.p.m. out on the range all day watching tactical competitions. Black Watch very good, also Coldstream Guards – Munster Fusiliers and Scot Guards very bad.
I am now numbered among those few individuals who have flown in the air! Bay* arrived and took me for a splendid flight all over the country about half an hour, sensation splendid, but you feel death at your elbow. No notion of sickness or giddiness. As I had implicit confidence in my pilot Hubert Harvey-Kelly*, my gallant nephew, it was just unalloyed pleasure to me. One of the eventful days of my life.
*Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly, son of Stalky’s sister Constance. Known as Bay.
Heckfield. Such peace and repose after turmoil in this sweet little spot. I arrived from Farnborough via Winchfield yesterday at lunch and found my beloved looking very well and happy. Triss, Henry and Lucy all cheerful. Friday was a really hard day for me and I was surprised myself that at nearly 50 I could do so much without tiring. I was up on Friday morning at 7.30 a.m. and left at 8.a.m., rode 10 miles to the 6th Brigade rendez-vous near Hankley Common – did the day’s work with the 1st Batt, 60th Rifles – raining windy and very cold, was wet through twice and dried again. From there rode 10 miles back in time for the 1st Brigade Rendez-vous at 4.30 p.m. west of Aldershot. Fought a retiring action with them till 9 p.m. I got a fresh pony at 4.30 thank goodness (and Thorne), marched by night the whole Brigade to Bisley. Lay down in the heather, rather cold and wet, from 11.30 to 1.30. Night march again, 6 miles to get the enemy’s flank. A great battle 6.30, then a pow-wow and ride home 6 miles, breakfast, bath and then to catch the train. I certainly enjoyed my bed and sleep last night. I have learnt a lot from the Guards’ Brigade as to how excellently things can be done.
[British Pathé video of British Army manoeuvres at Aldershot]
We came to Kidlington from Heckford yesterday. Susanna [daughter, b 14 Jul 1911] has been very ill, but looks quite jolly now, has no appetite and will not put on weight.