Never was a Division so lucky in its visitors. A certain young prince of high lineage arrived. Everybody saluted at the same time. He was, I think, duly impressed by the atmosphere of the tavern, the sight of the Staff’s maps, the inundated dug-outs, the noise of the guns and the funny balls of smoke that the shells made when they exploded over the German lines.
What gave this battle a humorous twist for all time was the delectable visit of a Cabinet Minister. He came in a car and brought with him his own knife and fork and a loaf of bread as his contribution to the Divisional Lunch. When he entered the tavern he smelt among other smells the delicious odour of rabbit-pie. With hurried but charming condescension he left his loaf on the stove, where it dried for a day or two until the landlady had the temerity to appropriate it. He was fed, so far as I remember on—
Rabbit-pie. Potatoes. Cabbage.
Fruit. Coffee. Liqueurs.
and after lunch, I am told, showed a marked disinclination to ascend the hill and watch the shells bursting. He was only a “civvy."
The battle lasted about ten days. Each morning the Staff, like lazy men who are “something in the city,” arrived a little later at the tavern. Each afternoon they departed a little earlier. The rabbits decreased in number, and finally, when two days running the A.D.C. had been able to shoot nothing at all, the Division returned for good to the Chateau at St Jans Cappel.
For this mercy the despatch riders were truly grateful. Sitting the whole day in the tavern, we had all contracted bad headaches. Even chess, the ‘Red Magazine,’ and the writing of letters, could do nothing to dissipate our unutterable boredom. Never did we pass that tavern afterwards without a shudder of disgust. With joyous content we heard a month or two later that it had been closed for providing drinks after hours.
Officially the grand attack had taken this course. The French to the north had been held up by the unexpected strength of the German defence. The 3rd Division on our immediate left had advanced a trifle, for the Gordons had made a perilous charge into the Petit Bois, a wood at the bottom of the Wytschaete Heights. And the Royal Scots had put in some magnificent work, for which they were afterwards very properly congratulated. The Germans in front of our Division were so cowed by our magniloquent display of gunnery that they have remained moderately quiet ever since.
After these December manoeuvres nothing of importance happened on our front until the spring, when the Germans, whom we had tickled with intermittent gunnery right through the winter, began to retaliate with a certain energy.