War Diary

WAR DIARY

The War Diary of Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis, Chief of Clan Munro, is reproduced by kind permission of his widow, Mrs Eleanor Munro of Foulis, and his son, Hector W Munro of Foulis, current Chief of Clan Munro.

 

War Diary of Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis

Private Account of the period spent by me in France from end of January 1940 until the Battalion left Bailleul for the Saar just before active warfare started.

Patrick Munro


Laufen 27.9.40
Captain P G Munro, Rm17
POW No 1196 

Preface 


I have decided to write this account of our first few months in France, more with the object of filling in time and to give me some occupation during the long stretches of intense boredom (and very often depression!) thrust upon me by my enforced stay in Germany as a prisoner of war, than with the object of interesting anyone whom may pick it up and read possibly a page or two after I get back to home and peace again.

I would warn anyone before they start that much of it is only of real interest to myself, and as my descriptive powers are very limited, the reader will probably not get a true picture of some of the characters I introduce into the story.  I give it the title of "story" in preference to "account" or "diary" because as it all happened between six and eight months ago, and as so much has happened since then, many of the dates I cannot be certain of and many I am afraid will be inaccurate.  Again I repeat it is entirely person and is in no way intended to serve as an official record or to assist in the compiling of a Regimental Diary.

Finally, I would say, as an excuse for the many bad spelling and grammatical mistakes that are bound to appear on practically every page, I plead the fact that it is being written in a room approximately 24ft x 40ft x 10ft in which nine other officers eat, sleep and live!

Kriegsgefangenenlager
Offlag VIIC/H
Laufen
Bavaria
September 27th, 1940.

Embarkation 

I paraded my Company ('C' Company 4th Seaforth Highlanders) along with the rest of the Battalion on the cold and raw morning of January 25th, 1940.

I don't think many of us were sorry to see the last of Bordon where we had spent a pretty miserable and uncomfortable six weeks trying to complete our training under difficult conditions before receiving orders to embark for France.  The Jocks were all in good form as we marched to the station and the entraining arrangements went smoothly enough.

I travelled down to Southampton in a carriage with Brigadier Herbert Stewart, Harry Houldsworth (Commanding the Battalion) and R A A S Macrae (Battalion Adjutant) and Ronnie Haig (our Brigade Major).  After travelling at snails pace most of the way we reached Southampton Docks about midday, and managed to get the men on to the boat and settled down without delay.  An hour or two later, the rest of the Battalion and some 4th Camerons arrived and embarked on the same boat.

In the early afternoon we were off!  But not for France as we thought, as we only went down the coast a few miles and dropped our hook in the mud off Portland.

After seeing the Jocks fed and bedded down I went to bed early.  I remember waking up next morning and thinking what a wonderful crossing we had had, only to find we had not moved a yard but had lain off Portland all night.  We were lucky in having the boat to ourselves; as each new transport came up alongside and joined the convoy during the day we could see through glasses that they were packed like sardines, whil we certainly had enough room for comparative comfort and most of the officers had a cabin to themselves.  Our only grouse was that there was no alcohol on board of any sort.

Finally we  started, a convoy of about 16 ships with an escort of two destroyers;  and I saw the last of England. for longer than I ever dreamt I would at the time, through the mist and rain about midday on 26th January.

The journey was uneventful and except for the occasional dart across our bows by one of the destroyers nothing exciting happened.  By the evening the Jocks were all in really good form and the pipe band played for an hour or so on deck for them.  Finally they ended up the day by dancing reels and country dances in one of the saloons to the music of two "boxes" and a tenor drum which was tremendously popular!  I remember my Sergeant Major (Anderson) was the moving spirit and they were delighted when he and most of the Warrant Officers joined in with them.

I remember thinking at the time, how lucky I was to be privileged to go to war with such a fine Battalion with such fine spirit in it, where everyone was friends with everyone else, from the youngest private soldier to the Colonel himself, and yet where discipline was excellent.

That night I wrote a few letters and postcards before going to bed.  After a good night I was woken by my batman Hugh Forsyth at about 4 am who told me we were just getting into Harvre.  We tied up and had breakfast on board before disembarking just after it got light.  Guides led the Battalion down to a large goods shed about a mile from the quay where, after a considerable wait, a meal of sorts was produced by the cooks for the troops and blankets issued.  I had meanwhile sent my two subalterns, David Murray and Lamond, off to the Gare Maritime where they had a sort of buffet for officers.  When they came back I went off and had a meal of sorts myself, posted some letters, changed some money and bought a couple of bottles of brandy and a French conversation book!  By this time the Battalion had been marched back to the station again and entrained.  We said goodbye to David Fleming who had been left behind with a few men as first line reinforcements, and rattled off very slowly out of the station for Nointot.

First Fortnight in France 

The journey was even slower than that from Bordon to Southampton.  We were all feeling rather jaded after the boat and I think everyone was feeling a little depressed wondering what was in front of us.  I must admit I thought once or twice of our return - when it would be and how, who would come back and who would not.

We reacher Nointot Station late in the afternoon in pouring rain, and after a good deal of sorting out I set off at the head of my Company with two guides who had met us at the station for our billets.

We marched out of the station and almost immediately down the drive to the Chateau Beclair which was owned by M. le Baron Etchaygoym.

I can't really remember what my feelings were when we reached the men's billets as I was only too pleased to get out of the soaking rain!

My Company was billeted in the stables of the Chateau.  This was much the same as any other stables except that there were no loose boxes, and one would describe it more as a carriage house perhaps.  It had a stone flagged floor and just about held the hundred odd men in the Company and no more.  My Sergeant Major and most of the senior NCOs slept in the coachman's room above.  After a bit some straw arrived and I got the men a meal and settled down fairly happily.  I tried out my first French on the Baron's chauffeur-gardener, who appeared from nowhere, with not much success; however he was very helpful in spite of this!

Then David and Lamond and I went in search of our own billet;  this we found was a large room in the disused laundry of the Chateau, which was a separate building.  It was completely devoid of any furniture except three very derelict beds, being damp, very cold and very musty!  However, our batmen got things unpacked and made the best they could of it.  The next problem was food as we had not had any for hours.  We had no idea where the other Companies were or where Battalion HQ was or if there was any village near, so in the end we gave it up and fed on rations.  Hot tea and bully was very acceptable (and I would give anything for it now in this place!!).

Next morning early, Cecil Lake, our Padre, appeared and rescued us as far as food was concerned and took us down and showed us a cafe just outside the gates of the Chateau drive where we had a grand French breakfast of coffee and roll and butter.

After breakfast I motored in my truck to Battalion HQ which was about three miles from my Company billet.  Here we found Harry and several of the others.  This was also the first occasion I met Andre Jourde (our French Liaison Officer).  We became great friends afterwards so I will endeavour to describe him.  He was a schoolmaster in civil life and came from Lyons, and had taught French in England for some months, at Bristol I think. He was a most attractive personality, very dark hair (slightly thin on top!), jet black eyes and a row of very white and shining even teeth which were displayed to great advantage as he seldom had anything but a smile for everyone!  He was short and thickset and always very well dressed (sensibly but not immaculately like some French officers).  He spoke very fluent if not correct English.  I took to him, as we all did, straight away, and if you can be bothered to read on you will hear a lot more about Andre later in the story.

Battalion HQ was a fairly new uninhabited cottage in an orchard.  It had been pouring solidly since we arrived and the mud round the cottage was indescribable - an idea of how bad it was will be got from an incident I will relate later on.  From now onwards dates and days are not going to be accurate, if mentioned at all, and I intend to just give a general account of our doings without mentioning any particular days.

We had not been there long before I met our host, M. Le Baron Etchaygoym.  He was a man of about 45 and quite charming.  He spoke good and fluent English and amongst other things was a member of the Turf Club which I think is rare for a foreigner.  The Baroness was also charming and spoke almost perfect English.  She was of French-Irish extraction and as far as I could make out was closely related to the Hennesys (Vi Hennesy being a cousin of hers).  They were both very kind to us all during our stay at Nointot and did everything they could to help us make the best of rather uncomfortable billets.  They had another estate, I believe, in Normandy, and usually at this time of year lived there, consequently a large part of the Chateau was shut up.  It was a large building, built I believe about the middle of the seventeenth century, and stood in a large open park with lawns and flower beds all round it.  There were some very fine Spruces and Wellingtonias in the park, many of which were spoilt in the great frost that was to come in a day or two.  They only had about five ancient retainers in the house who were very intrigued with the Jocks and were most kind, giving us hot water at the kitchen door and making me an omelette when I stayed in bed with a streaming cold one day!  The kitchen was interesting, a huge room with stone flagged floor and all round the walls were hung highly polished brass pots and pans, many of which must have been hundreds of years old.  The whole place was spotless, and the Jocks got a fearful telling off if they daredf cross the threshold with their dirty boots!

After we had been there a day or two we experienced the most amazing weather conditions I've ever seen.  One night it began to freeze and the frost got harder and harder and then on top of this a slow but steady drizzle began.  As the rain came down it froze solid on the trees, telephone poles and wires.  The branches of the trees carried tremendous weights of ice until the weight became so great that they came crashing down with a noise like thunder all over the place.  It was really dangerous to walk about near trees, so much so that Harry gave an order that everyone was to wear their tin hats during the daytime and this actually saved more than one Jock several hours unconsciousness!  Meanwhile there was nothing to employ our time with, as of course there were no training facilities and we were only too delighted to help.

Hayward Maclean (both of whom were killed later) lived in a small cafe about four miles away.  They all made great friends with the people who kept the cafe and said that they were extraordinarily kind and hospitable - we certainly dined very well that night.

An occasional drive into Bolbec, where Bde. HQ was, to get the men's pay relieved the monotony and always met a lot of Camerons and 6th Seaforth officers there doing the same job, and it was pleasant enough having a drink or two and a crack with them in the hotel where the Pay Office was situated.

Finally we said goodbye to the Chateau Beclair and Baron and Baroness on or about 5th February.  I think they were both genuinely sorry to see the last of us.  The Baroness spent most of the morning surrounded by a mob of Jocks outside the Chateau talking to them and taking photos!  Harry and RAAS and I dined that night in the Chateau and I had a grand bath, my first for about a fortnight!  I am sure they would have asked us in for a bath more often but owing to the hard frosts the water supply was very short.

We said goodbye to our hosts with many promises to come back and see them Apres la Guerre, motored to the station and left Nointot by train at midnight.

M. le Maire de Lieres

As far as I can remember the whole Bn. travelled in one train, that is all except one very unfortunate Jock who we had to bury at Nointot, an incident I forgot to relate in the last chapter.

This man, Forsyth by name (and a cousin of the grieve at Foulis Mains), went out one night with his pals, and mixed his drinks too much at a local cafe.  He managed to get home to Bn. HQ where he was billeted, but just as he arrived at the door of his billet he fell and, being by himself by now, was drowned in the mud which surrounded the building, which gives some idea of how appaling it was.  It must have been at least 2-3 feet deep in some places!  This was our first casualty.

After a fairly reasonable journey the first (but by no means the last!) for the Jocks in cattle trucks (Cheveux 8 Hommes 40 variety), we got to Lillers Station about 10 am next morning.  There we were met by Geordie Ross (Cromarty) who had been sent on to arrange our billets.  I put the Company in charge of David and got into a truck with Geordie and Hec and set off for Lieres.  The weather was still pretty miserable although a thaw had set in by now and the roads were inches deep in slush.  After about 20 minutes drive we reached Lieres and Geordie introduced me to M. and Mme. Laversin who were to be my hosts and in whose house I spent a very happy three weeks.  The Company were marching up behind us so I only had time to say how do you do, dump my luggage and dash off to see about our billets.  Hec and I set off to do a tour of the village and find out where we could get our two Companies in to.

My French was still very rusty but Hec refused point blank to speak the language at all - so I had to do the arranging for both Companies!  We caused intense interest amongst the inhabitants, all of which, almost without exception, were people who owned small farms or small holdings.  We did a complete tour of the whole village and most of them were very helpful and offered to house as many men as we wished.  I remember the thing that intrigued them most about us was that we both had moustaches!  For some unknown reason they had an idea that all the English were clean shaven - they were astonished when later they saw that many of the Jocks had moustaches too!

Finally, after rather an exhausting (both physically and mentally) two hours I managed to find billets for the 200 odd men we had in our Companies.  Just as we had finished the Companies marched in. 

The rest of the day was spent in feeding the men and sorting them out and putting them into their billets.  These ranged from a straw barn to a room with a large double bed in it and some were luckier than others.  We decided to split the village into two areas and Hec's company had one end and mine the other.  We were lucky being together as they were both West Coast Companies (Ullapool and Lochcarron Districts).  Having got them all settled down I returned to my billet and renewed my rather hurried first acquaintance with M. and Mme. Laversin.

The Mayor was a typical Frenchman.  Very small, about 5ft. 3, very round, fat, little man with twinkling black eyes and an enormous fierce looking black moustache;  what was left of his hair (which one seldom saw as he nearly always wore his hat both indoors and out!) was black.  Madame was large and plump with fair hair and a very kind, good-natured face and must have been very good looking in her youth.  The house, of which they were both tremendously proud, was practically brand new, it only having been completed about eighteen months before.  I was shown my bedroom which was a nice light room with a large French window overlooking the village green across a small stream on the other side of which was the church.  I had a large and very comfortable double bed, and to my joy I found a radiator in the room!  To my greater still joy I was shown the bathroom with a real bath with hot and cold water laid on!  A most unexpected luxury!  After unpacking some things I went off to our Mess which was a few hundred yards down the village street and which we shared with 'B' Company officers.  It was a small farmhouse owned by a woman whose name I have forgotten, who lived there with her small son aged 7 and daughter 9, her husband being away on military service.  We managed to persuade her to do the cooking for us while we bought the food and drink, assisted by the Mayor who often bought provisions for us whenever he went to Lillers.  On the whole this worked very satisfactorily and we fed quite well. Incidentally, I improved my French a lot as I always had to order the meals each morning with Madame as she appeared quite devoid of any ideas of her own - which was odd for a French womaqn - but she was a good cook.  We produced two batmen to help her, one to wash up and wait and the other to peel potatoes and do odd jobs.  I was lucky in having Hugh Forsyth as my batman as he learned French in Dingwall Academy and although his Ross-shire French accent was a bit difficult sometimes he invariably made himself understood and in fact very soon could carry on long conversations in French!

After supper that night I went back to the Mayor's house, where we sat down to two bottles of excellent wine - this was later to become a nightly performance - and told each other our life histories!  He told me he had been a Prisoner of War during the last war from September 1914 until the end - little did I think then that I should be in his shoes now!  Madame had lived all her life in Lieres and curiously enough had looked after Haig's GHQ Mess, which had been in the very house where we had ours, for some weeks in 1917.  After the wine we started off on liqueurs of various kinds and sweet cakes, and after a very pleasant evening retired to bed about 11 pm.

Next morning I was woken by a loud tapping on my door about 8 am.  This was the Mayor in his pyjamas!  After a lot of explanation I gathered he wanted me to go down and have a cup of coffee.  I shaved and dressed as quickly as I could and went down to find him sitting in the kitchen (still in his pyjamas!) waiting for me.  He seemed rather surprised that I had taken so long.  And he eventually explained that it was quite unnecessary to dress.  So from then onwards every morning that I was there I always went down to the kitchen in my pyjamas where we each had two huge cups of black coffee laced with brandy (Biscuit Brand) and cigarettes and passed the time of day and talked about what we were going to do that day, Mme. Laversin meanwhile hovering round keeping the coffee pot hot on their kind of French Aga cooker.  Then I went upstairs and had my bath and dressed and walked round to the Mess for breakfast.  I remember I never left the house before a meal or left it after a meal without the Major saying "Mangez bien" or "Avez-vous bien MangĂ©?!

Continued on Page 2

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