GWL 6th June 1917

Monstrous hot day; blowing like the devil, dust half way up to heaven.  In fact about as beastly as anybody could want.  Thank goodness we have something to drink.  We had some new potatoes to-day.  Quite good they were. No mail for some little time;  we have hopes that to-morrow may bring something.  Boche planes over nearly every day.  Flying very high & dropping an occasional bomb.  They seem to have done in Ostend pretty well.

It is an awful job to prevent milk going sour now.  The small cats don’t seem to mind though.  One dashed off into the office the other day with a fly paper lapped firmly round her stern.  We washed her in methylated spirits and got most of it off.  Poor cat was rather depressed for the rest of the day.  To-day has been rather like those dust storms in Tientsin. Up in the hills here, it is quite moderately all right, but down on the road you can hardly see a hundred yards.  Wen are very pleased with our hut.  It is quite cool and wind-proof.”

This letter refers to action at Ostend.  The main bombardment of Ostend occurred on June 5th with a number of shells landing in the harbour with damage to a small number of German ships.

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The probable site of the Divisional HQ in the hills behind Salonica where George’s Machine Gun School was located, taken May 2017 by RP.

{next post 8th June}

GWL 3rd June 1917

We shall have new potatoes in a week or so now.  The ants ran away with nearly all the carrots; but the vegetable marrows are growing well.  If we are here this time next year we may get a marrow.  There are also about a dozen celery plants that are not yet dead.  This morning we had the devil of a mouse hunt in the kitchen.  This was the second in two days and honestly I think we must have killed nearly fifty.  Alas the small cats are too small for mice yet;  though mama ate three for tiffin.”

On this day Italy declared a Protectorate over an independent Albania.

{next post 6th June}

GWL 1st June 1917 (Letters between May 22nd & June 1st are missing, M.H.P.)

Monstrous warm, and a jolly old storm coming up all round.  We have had no rain for a long time, so a drop or two will be welcomed in the garden.  No news at all.  I am very glad only two letters were sunk.  I am afraid that it is almost too much to expect letters to turn up regularly.  Ships get hung up in odd places for days.  Your papa I suppose was just pushing around looking for fish at Zeebrugge, wasn’t he?

A gent from the local anti-air battery is coming to dinner to-night.  I see he has just arrived in a very wonderful car and Lord knows what.  He is an awfully nice fellow.  The flies are having a rotten time.  We catch hundreds every day.  The adjutant squirts them with some smelly stuff and they expire in heaps on the floor”

This letter refers to the bombardement of Zeebrugge on 12 May.  Marion’s father, Sir Ion Hamilton Benn commanded a flotilla of the Dover Patrol for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.  The aim of the action was to destroy the lock gates of Zeebrugge harbour, thereby making it unusable by the German Navy.  Although there was some damage to the harbour itself, the lock gates remained intact.

{next post 3rd June}

GWL 22nd May 1917

I am glad to say that we have, I think, put the squasher on the bugs.  Our sleep has not been troubled since the first night and only stray ones have been seen walking about.  Nothing to matter.  We are busy now, amongst other things, building new stables for the beasts.  Their winter residence was nearly worn out.  The wind is blowing the paper all over the place and makes writing rather hard.  The small cats are ingrate form.  They crawl all over the place in imminent peril of being stepped on.  Just now it looks like thunder.  We have not had a storm for sometime.  I had a most amusing morning with the Frenchmen yesterday.  They dod all sorts of comical things quite seriously.  Bower bank, the engaged lad, is fitting up a small sitting room at one end of the hut.  It has a distinctly feminine touch about it.  He is a charming fellow and works awfully hard – He rejoices in the name of ‘the Tank’ – being very large indeed.”

On this day the series of engagements known as Battle of the Crna Bend (also known as Battle of the Vardar) 1917 came to an end.  This was a series of actions aimed at making a breakthrough towards Monastir.  The British Doiran offensive was designed to happen at the same time to tie up predominantly Bulgarian troops.  The main Allied forces were French with support form the Italians and Russians.  The central Powers forces were predominantly Bulgarian but with significant German support.  Although there were some initial Allied gains, these positions were retaken by Bulgarian counter-attacks.  Ultimately there was little gain with significant casualties on both sides.

{next post 1st June}

GWL 20th May 1917

A most windy day & rather cold.  Your letters have now come up to the 25th.  They are awfully welcome and I only wish that mine arrived half as well.  It is a very long time since we had a ‘makee pray’ – I think about last July was the last one I can remember.  A padre came and called on us the other day – very glad to see him.  He was an interesting man and had done a lot of lion hunting at one time or another.  You must be glad the winter is over.  It is almost 2 years to the day since I went on leave first.  I should like to meet Baraldi – If all goes well at then of this bally show I hope I will.  England must be very pleasant now.  Trees & things coming out.  Yesterday we had the devil of a disinfecting again.  It seems to have done some good.  Nobody has been attacked since that first night.  My word how they went for us.  To-morrow I am going to visit a spot in the hills, where the French have an establishment.”

On this day the Serbian government moved from Corfu to Salonika.  This probably facilitated greater involvement of Serbian forces with the Allies in later actions.

{next post 22nd May}

GWL Undated probably 17th/18th May 1917

Last night was our first night in the new house.  I don’t think anyone of us is likely to forget it in a hurry.  Not one atom of sleep did we get.  Bugs!  They found the adjutant at 10.30 p.m. they found me at 11 P.M.  We fought them and scratched all night.  At 2.30 A.M. we had a tin of biscuits and a pipe.  To-day we had an enormous clean out.  Cresol and the Lord knows what poured in gallons all over the place.  They drop from the roof and appear from every crack.  To-morrow the sanitary section has undertaken to get rid of them.  Their great stunt is to drop on your head from the roof!  I have rigged an awning over my bed with a fly paper fringe, Also put a magic circle of Cresol round my bed, so theoretically they cannot get at me.  The other officers in the hut have fled.  I will keep this open & let you know to-morrow how we got on!

A perfectly good night.  One got through the Cresol barrage but died just on the other side.”

The Battle of Bullecourt, part of the Arras offensive, comes to its conclusion.

{next post 20th May}

GWL 15h May 1917

The carrots continue to be sneaked by the ants.  All the same some have begun to grow.  Otherwise there is no news whatever – Your letter of the 23rd arrived to-day.  The parcel you are sending out by the Colonel will be awfully useful.  There is no doubt about it, it is getting very warm.  What is master frank doing now?

We are busy now with the interior of our house.  It is 53′ long and 20′ wide and seems chiefly to consist of windows.  At one end is to be the orderly room, at the other end a small sitting room for the officers of the Staff, and between are four bedrooms.  It is a truly remarkable abode…… All the partitions are made of matting.  It is raised up on piles, so the space below the floor will make an ideal summer retreat for the dogs.  “Plenty small kit” over again.  To-morrow we begin experimenting again.  My dogs are very charming – Getting very big.”

At the top of the French Command general Petain took command of the French Northern and Northeastern Armies and he is in turn succeeded as Chief of the General Staff by General Foch.

{next post 17th May}

The First World War seen through the letters of George Power