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.
Left Rouen at 1 a.m. and arrived Villeneuve at 10 a.m. Our last day in Villeneuve as everything is being altered. Left for Mont Notre Dame at 4.50 p.m.
Arrived Mont Notre Dame at 7 a.m. Very little gun-fire compared to what there used to be and it is further away. Only the 1st. Army Corps now here and I suppose the French will soon relieve them and they will be glad to get out after nearly a month in the trenches. Frightful toothache. Left at 2.30 p.m.
Arrived Villeneuve at 4 a.m. A lot of work rearranging trains as everything is now altered. I am taking stuff for the 1st Army only, to Mont Notre Dame and a few trucks to Fère-en-Tardenois and Neuilly gl. Front. The 2nd Army go to Abbeville, 3rd Army Crépy, 1st and 2nd Cav. at Amiens. G.H.Q. R.F.C.Q. Abbeville – all big and portentous moves. Saw 7 engines going North of the Belgian North line, which looks as if we were reopening Belgium but how can that be? Also I hear our Cavalry are in Belgium. I hear the real reason of the German swinging off S.E. from Paris was that they thought the English Army had been wiped out! and then they found that same beastly little army hitting them on the right shoulder, and so began the Débâcle. It was the contemptible little English Army that did the trick from first to last.
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