We seem to have done very well at the front at Neuve Chapelle N. of La Bassée, a very important move which almost turns the impregnable La Bassée and tends to release Lille which we want very much. [pencilled note in margin: “Failure”] I went over to Sotteville to see some of the trains of German prisoners going through – they seem well fed well clothed and delighted to be prisoners – getting quite warm and springlike, walked with Fernie, strawberries and Veronica out.
Reached Abbeville at 7 a.m. Nearly 12 hours from Boulogne, about 75 kilometres – a 2 hours journey taking 12; The news from the front continues good.
So many bridges broken we have to go all round the country via Amiens, Montdidier and Beauvais, an awful long journey and very slow train. Arrived Sotteville, outside Rouen at 9 p.m. Such a fuss about sending me on and such a stupid R.T.O.* in the Staffords. Up most of the night arranging about shunting and getting the trains away.
*Rail Transport Officer? [guess]
A pouring wet morning and, of course, I have to be running about everywhere and one’s carriage gets so filthy. Left Sotteville at 2.40 p.m. an enormous train over 500 yards long. Such a grind taking truck numbers up and down. Got into Havre at 6.40.
Arrived Villeneuve 6.10 a.m. not much sleep at night. Sick and wounded and horses all over the place, tumbling down, one died and one jumped out of the train. I was three times thrown on to the floor by what felt like a collision, but it wasn’t. I asked the guard and he said “It is the fog, we can’t see the signals” which sounded rather uncomfortable. A dull depressing day and dead horses get on my nerves. Left Villeneuve at 3.20. The usual ovation everywhere and crowds of people at Versailles. Arrived Rouen 10.30 p.m. Reported to R.T.O. who said all right, go to bed, and I’ll come and see you at 9 a.m. No sooner gone to bed than off the train started and took us out 5 miles to Sotteville. So I got down the line to a place where I could telephone from and worried everybody for about an hour.
I shall be the last to leave Rouen as the advanced base has been transferred to Le Mans. The French look fearfully woe-begone, if we were not here they would have given in long ago. There is an awful feeling of panic and despair in the air that gets even on my steady nerves. The air is full of currents of deadly fear, just like electricity, and you can literally feel them emanating from these fleeing crowds, poor devils! I can quite imagine a French temperament becoming insane under the strain.
I saw what looked like old Palk’s mare from Bishopsteignton among the remounts. I wish horses could talk. The filthy War – there are some 5000 to 6000 men a day at the Rouen station and no W.C. Imagine it! Missed my train because it did not leave Rouen at all, but Sotteville, just outside. Got to Sotteville just too late and tried to catch up my train I started in a French troop train at 3.30 p.m. with a Dragoon Regt. a very nice fellow commanding, reached Creil at 12.45 a.m. on September 2nd. The Germans don’t seem to be pressing so hard as when I was last here, but all the same they are on to Creil now and I only arrived to help in the evacuation. We left at 3.40 a.m. I found 2 of our men asleep, lost from their regiments, would have been taken prisoners a few hours later by the Germans. Reached Pontoise 5.30 a.m. Achères at 9 a.m. Le Bourget 2.15 p.m. just in time to catch an empty supply train returning to Le Mans. Passing round Paris circular railway within view of the Eiffel Tower saw a German aeroplane dropping bombs, over Paris – Left Le Bourget 2.40 p.m. Saw a German aeroplane brought down outside Paris.