Alexandra,  Princess   of   Wales's   Own
The War Diary of 2364 Cpl Joseph Parker Howe. M.M. Page 6.

Ruins of Armentieres. La Mairie - Town Hall.

The lads came back from trenches on Friday night, July 16th, and were all anxious to hear of my journey to Blighty, otherwise England. They had a few casualties during the time spent in trenches, while I was away.
Saturday we spent quiet. We had to shift out of huts at Locre at night to march to Nieppe, a distance of about 10 miles, arriving there after a tiring march on the hard Winstone Setts in the early morning of Sunday, July 18th. I believe if it had been daylight and fine we would have seen and enjoyed many beauties of country we passed through, but as it was, we were in it too long and it was raining nasty. By the way we are only now about 20 minutes walk from the town of Armentieres.
We rested all day Sunday in a place that had formerly been used as a Picture Palace and Theatre, but all glass out of windows and top smashed and out. We were almost starved [frozen] to death during night after sweating hard through the march. Just hard bottom of soil to lie on.
We only had odd parades for Company and Bathing parade. We bathed in a Brewery in vats of wood, used formerly for brewing beer etc.
We had a speech from our Colonel, Col Bell. He said he was pleased by the good work done by the Battalion in last trenches. Also that the General commanding Division was too. He only hoped we would still uphold good name and tradition we had won in the past in the future also, wherever we were called on. He had every Faith we could do so and would do so whatever happened.
Tuesday, July 20th. We had today physical drill, 7 o'clock a.m. Also a Parade for rifle inspection and ammunition etc 10 o'clock a.m. Expect another Parade this afternoon 2 o'clock.
Wednesday. Just parades and route marches. Same duties as above on Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
Sunday. We had a Service conducted by a Church Chaplain. Owing to the rain we had to go in a building which had not long ago been used as a Picture House and Gymnasium. I enjoyed the service very much, for we knew we were going to the trenches same night.
We marched from Nieppe to Armentieres, a distance of about 4 miles to trenches, front line. We came through the Town, which even now is shelled occasionally every day. It seems to be a very large and beautiful town, full of noble buildings and churches, which is like Ypres, undergoing the spoilers hands. This part of the country from Nieppe to Armentieres is full of Industrial works, some of the the most beautiful works I have ever seen, Mills, Factories etc of all kinds. A lot of them now laid idle. The big chimneys, like ours in England, can be seen for miles, a fine river [the Lys] runs along side many of the big works. Motor boats, Steamers and Barges run even yet with occasional loads.
P.S During our stay in Nieppe the Officers and NCOs arranged a cricket match and we had a very nice and exciting game. I took 7 wickets for very few runs and the other men declared, so I got all the wickets, also scored 9 runs. Our side was beaten by a few runs. The Officers joined in and there were some good cricketers amongst them and they enjoyed the game too.
Monday, 26th July, to Thursday were spent in trenches, which were the worst we have been in and we had some hard work every day, repairing same, building bridges and parapets up and supports and dugouts. One of our Officers remarked that the trenches had never been touched or repaired since the flood, so they were pretty bad, you can guess. I was told off specially with working party every day, to carry out this work under a Sergeant. After this spell of 4 days, we got relieved and went to billets in a large Asylum in Armentieres for 4 days. A lot of us thought we were better off there, but we were not daft enough to be kept, of course this is only a joke.
This is one of the finest built Asylums I have yet seen, a very big and extensive lot of buildings, grounds and gardens. Even here shells come in occasionally. Some of the buildings have been blown up and destroyed already by shells. Although we came out of trenches there, expecting a rest, we had to go out at nights to work.
On Thursday night, 29th July. we were told off to carry wood-work and irons, cement and sand and others to dig trenches. The way we carried up was called Plank Avenue, getting its name from the fact of it being an ordinary beck or gully and being planked and boarded about 3 feet from the bottom, out of the water and being then out of sight and safe from rifle fire etc. This gully went right up to the trenches and from where we entered it at the start, up to trenches, proved to be a distance of about a mile and a half of nothing else but a couple of planks and bridging. By the time you got to trenches, both with loads and rations at night you had had about plenty of shiggshogging up planks to both tire you and almost make you dizzy.
Friday and Saturday nights we spent in digging Reserve trenches. We generally left the Asylum about 8.30 or 9 at night, returning about 4 in the morning to billets.
On Sunday 1st August. we had a Service conducted by an Army Chaplain in the Asylum grounds and at night we went to the trenches in another part of the line, near Armentieres. We had a few casualties both the first four days and up to now we keep getting shelled by Whizz Bangs and shrapnel every day.
Monday. We had trench duties.
Tuesday. The same. We had a Whizz Bang through part of trenches, wounded one or two men and knocked trench up a bit.
Wednesday. I was told off with a Party for building up stands for firing trench and supports with sandbags. I got off all night duties being on with job from about 2 until 7.30 p.m.. I was ready then for a bit of sleep and rest. We have had very nasty wet weather for a few days now, thunder hanging round and the trenches are very nasty and we get an awful night sometimes for dirt and mud. These notes up to date, Wednesday night, August 4th.
Thursday. We had a fairly quiet day, only a few Whizz Bangs from enemy and a few trench mortars from our side. I was on digging today a through trench to carry water away from a place where the Sappers [Royal Engineers] were pumping water from their Sap, to get it away so it didn't stand in trenches. My knowledge of draining again came in handy. I got excused night duties again.
Gods care and mercy still guards and keeps me in a most wonderful way and I am very thankful.
Friday 6th August. All fairly quiet. Only a little bombardment both sides. No damage to us though. I was busy again building up traverses with sandbags etc. Excused night duties.
Saturday. Same duties as previous day. Nothing startling. Expect to get relieved tonight. Hoping for a safe going out to billets. Expect to have a few miles to march.
Sunday. We got relieved about 10 p.m. and got safely to billets. This a time a Hospital in Armentieres. A find building, but even this has not escaped a few shells having gone through a few places and about all the glass about the place is broken. Today we had a service in the grounds conducted by a Church Chaplain. An odd parade for inspection too.
Monday. August 9th. We had two parades, inspection of arms, rifle drill. Our Captain today was inviting volunteers for singing, elecutionists etc for the winter months, so they are at least expecting a winter campaign. I was told off at night as one of the guard. 3 Privates and a Corporal to guard an Electric Power Station and Waterworks. A find lot of buildings, but even here some had caught odd shells etc.
Tuesday. 10th August As guard we had a quiet night and quiet day. Today all well. These works are in the town of Armentieres. Trenches three quarters of an hour walk away. There has been a fine market place and covered in market too and fine streets. A lot of them now deserted and grass growing in between the Winstone Setts. All the streets and roads etc paved with same. Tram lines in all the principal streets. It is a very large town and well laid out. Electric light and water laid on, but all lights in town now lamps and candles.
Wednesday. Ordinary parades today. Nothing startling.
Thursday. We had ordinary inspections etc and a short route march to baths in the Brewery at Nieppe which we enjoyed a treat.
Friday. Today we had ordinary duties and a long route march by the river side and back. A long way round to billets in Armentieres. It was a very hot day and we were tired at night about 8.30 p.m. We left these billets in the Hospital to go to others in Rue de Lille in Armentieres to be held in Reserve or readiness for any call, this being nearer to the trenches.
These billets here have formerly been used as a school and enclosed in grounds were trees etc. Here too there are holes in buildings and walls and glass where shells have left their trade mark.
Saturday 14th August. We had usual rifle and other inspections, also a lecture by our Lieut on wiring in front of trenches and trench making etc.
Sunday. Today we had the pleasure of attending Divine Services in billets conducted by our Wesleyan Chaplain. After Service was over, which I enjoyed very much, I and others partook of the Sacrament of the Lords supper. This is the first time for me since coming to France, first chance too.
At night we went out digging trenches etc. Just before going to trenches some mates and me were singing together sacred Hymns to the accompaniment of an organ in billets, when just outside in street a shell burst and injured several soldiers and 2 women severely, not hurting any of our Company. God's mercy again to us, for the place was only a dozen yards or so away.
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