From the 9th to the 11th of September we remained in Bethune, a depressing town now, to those of us who had known it in its days of prosperity. We managed to have one very good concert in the Barracks and it was surprising how much really good talent we found, conjuror, humourists and sentimental singer were all ready to amuse us. At midnight 11/12th we fell in on the Parade Ground and marched to Chocques—the irrepressible Drums giving us one or two tunes on the way. It rained hard at the Station and there was a terrible shortage of accommodation. At length, with much shoving, swearing and puddle-splashing we got on board, and at 4-0 a.m. left the Bethune Area. We had been on the Lens-La Bassee Sector for seventeen months: we never saw it again.
14th Sept., 1918. 25th Sept., 1918.
Our journey Southwards was uncomfortable and uneventful. The only remarkable feature was the acrobatic skill displayed by the mess staff, transferring meals from the kitchen-cattle-truck to the officers mess-cattle-truck. Even at the usual speed of a French troop train, it is no easy task to drop off the train with a pile of plates in one hand, a dish of potatoes in the other, walk fast enough to catch up the carriage in front, and finally, in spite of signal wires, sleepers and other pitfalls, deliver all safely at the “Mess.” Yet this was done not once but often. We spent the whole day in the train passing St. Pol, Amiens, and Corbie, and finally towards evening reached Ribemont, where we found our billeting party waiting for us. Billets consisted of some distant dug-outs across a swampy moor, and the recent rains had made what few tracks there were too slippery for the horses. It was all very unpleasant, and we spent a cold and cheerless night. “A” Company, which had remained at Chocques doing loading duties, did not arrive until midnight—very wet and tired.
The next day was bright and warm, and we soon discovered that the two villages, Treux and Buire would hold Headquarters and half the Battalion, so moved into them without delay and evacuated all except the more sumptuous and easily approached dug-outs. We were now fairly comfortable, and our only grouse was the absence of any canteen or even French civilians for miles and miles, and the consequent lack of tobacco, beer and other little luxuries.
Our move had brought us into General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army, and, as we were apparently not needed at once for a battle, we started vigorous training. Route marches, and even “field-firing” practices were carried out, and there was one big Divisional Field day, which ended triumphantly with the Brigade and Battalion Staffs picking mushrooms on the final objective. Meanwhile the Second in Command’s Department under Major Burnett fixed up baths and other comforts for us and, by the 18th of September, we were really very comfortable. This same day we were ordered to move at short notice.