Alexandra,  Princess   of   Wales's   Own
The War Diary of 2364 Cpl Joseph Parker Howe. M.M. Page 5.

Sunday. June 27th. For the first time in Belgium I had an opportunity to attend a service conducted by our Wesleyan Chaplain and I enjoyed the service greatly. The service was held in the grounds of what was in Peace time an Asylum, a grand building and grounds now used by the authorities as a Hospital. A Service was also held in camp here for Church of England worshippers by the Army Chaplain. This here part is without doubt one of the finest we have yet seen since coming out of England, grand scenery etc.
Not having been spoiled by the Germans, the people are very industrious, but dirty, starting work 5.30 a.m. and going on some of them till 8 p.m. or even later, cultivating or gardening. God seems very near at present and War a long way off, when all is so beautiful in nature and country around us and guns almost silent here. We still hope for a speedy end.
Monday. All quiet. Physical drill and baths which were fully appreciated in quietness and peace. We bathed in round tubs about 2ft deep. 1 ft of water in, could just kneel in and stand, but all the same we enjoyed the bathe.
Tuesday. All quiet. Physical drill 7 o'clock morning and an inspection by General about 9,30 a.m. commanding Second Army Corps. [Sir Charles Ferguson.] This is the first inspection we have had in Belgium by one of our Generals. He exhorted us to do our best in fighting and killing the Germans whenever we had a chance and the sooner the War would end; to put the same spirit in little things such as digging and improving trenches, as we had proved to have in fighting when tried ! and especially to keep good discipline in little things. Both Officers and men in regard to dress, cleanliness and smartness in obeying commands and then the big things, he said, would take of themselves.
We expect to have a Route March this afternoon at 2 o'clock. We went about 8 miles or so.
Wednesday 30 June. We had a quiet day. Physical drill 7 o'clock. Inspection of rifles, ammunitions, bayonets and rifle drill 9.30 a.m. to 12 noon. Afternoon free.
Thursday. Same inspections and drill as previous day and a route march etc about 8 miles or and an inspection of gas helmets and resirators. We expect to go to trenches tomorrow night.
On the way today we have noticed a new way and novel to us of clover cut and tied together like corn and stooked to dry also in pikes in field and thatched like little stacks.
Wild flowers in plenty. All our varieties seen here, honeysuckle etc. There are also fields of beans and peas too growing fast and good crops in flower now. Also maize.
The roads are in places very soft and boggy. No bottom except sand, so on most roads there are little trenches cut and trees which have been split and cut fixed in to make a bottom to carry heavy traffic etc.
The principle main roads are all however paved with large "Winstone Setts", the width of about 6 yards or so and carry heavy traffic etc very well. Of course this is in the centre of the roads. Some roads near town the railway runs too and it would be a novel sight to see both engines and traffic and trains of the streets combined in peace times. No barriers between railways and streets, all joined together.

Several separate pages of the Diary show team sheets of 5 men in a side, including both Officers and Other Ranks. in some competition where scores could be 0, 1 or 3. The best suggestion from the Great War Forum is that they were playing quoits with heavy metal rings, which was popular in the villages of the North Riding of Yorkshire.
Friday. July 2nd. All quiet. Resting, just parades for helmets and respirators. Getting them dipped and sprayed ready for trenches. In the evening we started off for trenches about 7.30. It would be about a distance of 5 miles. We went most of way through fields and lanes. On either side were crops of corn and hay in cocks and other produce mentioned before in diary, all growing luxuriantly just 5 miles off trenches almost unbelievable. None of the crops were spoiled. The corn part of it was ready for cutting. It was almost like a walk in our country lanes at home and then when we got about 2 miles off trenches the desolation caused by war and shells was made apparent to us. Farms and buildings in ruins, corn sown itself awy from crops ungathered from previous harvest. Fields of uncut meadows etc. We reached trenches safely and found them quiet etc and dugouts were better than others we had occupied. But still the little mischief makers [lice] were there, had been left for souvenirs to make other lads scratch and grunt. They are simply an awful pest.
Saturday, No 12 Platoon [a platoon comprised 4 Sections, each of 12 men under an NCO] took guards and sentry duties at dugouts, at the bottom of the Communications trench and manned Support trenches at stand to, and ration parties at night. No 11 Platoon took the same duties on Sunday as we had on Saturday while we had a bit of a rest etc.
Sunday. All quiet up to 4 o'clock in afternoon. Hardly know how long we are going to hold these trenches yet. May God still keep us and bless our side and speedily give us our hearts desire.
Monday. July 5th. Spent very quiet during day. At night on duty in trenches, a Party of 8 filling sandbags. After filling a hundred or two, the men were told off to carry bags to me to build up top of parapet of trench, facing trench. In front of trenches where I was working was growing almost ready and ripe for cutting a field of oats. These I hear had sown themselves away from harvest not garnered previous year. I doubt this time too it will be spoilt.
Tuesday. Fairly quiet all day. No 12 Platoon did duty in trenches, digging new fire trench through standing corn and few casualties here. Our side were throwing bombs and the enemy fired three back, two hitting sandbags and making a few holes in them on trench top. One came right over, about a dozen yards but failed to go off. I believe one of our Officers took it, perhaps to examine it. We left trenches tonight about 11 o'clock and reached huts at Locre about 2 o'clock in morning of Wednesday.
Wednesday. July 7th. We spent resting. Only odd parades.
Thursday. Spent doing odd parades, rifle inspections and baths and Pay day.
Friday. Spent quiet as previous day. Only a longish route march and ordinary parades.
Saturday. Today we had a few more parades and inspection and a short march to get us ready for trenches. Probably going there tonight. These trenches are near a village or the nearest near them called Wulvergham [Wulvergem].
[At this time Joe was given an unexpected 3 days leave back home and he continued the Diary on his return.]
I was awfully glad, though very much surprised to get leave home and the Captain of our Company, Captain Morn,
[this Officer would be Captain John Maughan, who would be killed, age 26, at Ypres, Hill 60 on the 17th Feb 1916.]
gave me rather a shock when he called me out of Company and said he had some bad news for me, but my face altered very much, when he told me that I was one of the first chosen to go on leave out of the Battalion to England, saying before the whole Company, that owing to only 3 being allowed home on leave, the Officers had picked out a few men and I was one of the lucky ones, who had done good work in the trenches and out too and good character.
This news was told to us just as we fell in to go to trenches and the Captain told me to fall out and get inside huts as I was proving too much attraction. This was Saturday night.
Sunday. July 11th. On the afternoon of the above day, I started my journey, walking from huts at Locre to Bailliul [Bailleul], a distance of about 4 miles, to catch the train there to Bologne [Boulogne] 4.30 in the afternoon. We got on board the ship Victoria and an awful crush there was too, to pass the Officer and to get passes for Folkestone. We did the crossing in about 1 hour and a half and had a pleasant ride. The train was waiting for us at Folkestone and we got to London, Victoria Station about 6 o'clock a.m. We took the tube to Kings Cross Station, catching the 8.15 train for Darlington, arriving there about 3.30 in the afternoon. I had sent two telegrams home and my mother and sister were waiting there when I got out. I got a good reception at Darlington by people who knew me well in my old trade, but the welcome home to Barton was one to be remembered by me all my life, being fit for a King.
The 3 days leave soon passed and on Thursday July 15th I was on my way back again. It was hard to part with loved ones but duties call, must be obeyed. I caught the 1.30 train in the afternoon and got to Victoria Station about 7 o'clock in time for train to Folkestone. We were on board ship again about 11.30 p.m for Boulogne and crossed over again safely to the landing stage, taking train from there back to Bailleul and then had the 4 miles to do back to Huts at Locre, landing there about Friday 8.15 a.m. This ended a nice though very short holiday.
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