War Diary

This is "Uncle Hec" (see this page) mentioned by Captain Munro.  The photograph does not feature in Captain Munro's diary but as an entry for Lt. Munro is included in the WW1 records of RCHS, it is felt appropriate to include it.

War Diary of Captain Patrick Munro of Foulis

Page 2

The Battalion were fairly widely scattered in this area, Ronnie Pelham-Burns' Company being at a village called Lespesses about three miles away and Rory Tarbat's at the next village down the road at Fouquenam.  Every morning the Company Commanders motored in their 8cwt trucks to Bn. HQ at a village called Equedeque and attended orderly room and passed the time of day and exchanged our news.  While on the subject of news I might say we had no letters at all for the first three weeks we were in France, and it was a great day when a large sack of mail arrived outside my office one morning.

Our days we spent chiefly in doing musketry and route marches as the weather at first didn't permit training of any kind outside.  I managed to borrow a small field from one of the farmers and the Jocks played football in the afternoons.  I also persuaded one of the local cafe proprietors to let me have the use of his cafe at certain hours during the day and this was used as a sort of recreation room where they could play darts, cards etc and have beer and bacon and eggs at night.  One the whole they were extraordinarily well behaved and in spite of their being no less than six cafes in this small village, all of which sold every imaginable kind of drink, I didn't have a single drunk case while we were there, in fact I don't think I had one in my Company the whole time we were in France.

To go back to my domestic life with the Mayor and his wife, they were kindness itself and couldn't do enough for me.  My French improved daily and we were able to converse more and more easily.  Every morning at midday I had to go in and have an aperitif with him, usually Monthazilac, a very pleasant white wine which he had in his cellar, and we talked about all kinds of things over a bottle before lunch.  He had a tremendous sense of humour and thoroughly enjoyed pulling my leg at every possible opportunity and loved making jokes.  He always spoke slowly for my benefit except when he was excited, then it came out in a positive stream.  He was a tremendous help in many ways and bought vegetables for me, for the men and fixed up contracts with the locals for doing their washing and arranged with the schoolmistress for us to have our Church parade services in the school, and many other things.  Madame Laversin was also very kind and was always making cakes etc for me.  They were both devoted to my batman Hugh Forsyth and took a delight in pulling his leg too and pretending to tick him off if he didn't clean my room properly or clean the staircase etc.  They were very mystified by the name Hugh and always called him "Hoog" (with a hard G)!  I was given the best parlour to do all my writing in and as they never used it except when they had friends in on Sundays, I had it entirely to myself.  But except when I was working or writing letters I always sat in the kitchen as M. le Maire liked company!  The more people who came in to see me the more delighted he was as they were drawn into the kitchen and immediately a bottle was opened!

The day after I arrived I was taken on a conducted tour (by both of them!) round the whole house and everything shown to me from top to bottom.  As I said before, they had only built it about two years before and were very proud of it.  He had more or less planned it all himself and told me the whole thing plus fittings of all kinds had cost him only £700 which was incredibly cheap for a house that size.  It had two bedrooms upstairs and one down, a bathroom, two sitting rooms and kitchen and scullery, and a large boxroom under the roof.  Outside there was a good garage which you could get to from a door leading off the kitchen, But the thing he was most proud of was his cellar - especially designed by himself.  This contained the hot water boiler, which I remember so well hearing him stoke for my bath every morning at ten to eight, which meant that I had to get up and be downstairs in ten minutes for my coffee and brandy!  The cellar was well stocked with practically every known wine and liqueur and Mme. Laversin kept all kinds of home made pates and jams both of which she was adept at making - especially hare pate which she gave me the recipe for, but alas is now in the hands of a Bosch!

In front and behind the house were flower beds, which were just beginning to show a mass of spring flowers coming up when we left.  At the back of the house there was a large orchard of pear, apples and plums in which she kept hens and ducks.

The Mayor was a retired brewer and had apparently made his money in the firm of Cabouch-Laversin beer, which must have been a fairly large firm as their beer is sold over a large area of France.  He was obviously very much respected and liked in the village and if there was any trouble over billeting or the Jocks - which very seldom happened - he always managed to smooth it out, and would tell me all about it afterwards and say that those particular people were always being difficult anyway and with a twinkle in his eye tell me that he was glad of an opportunity of putting them in their place!  He smoked innumerable cigarettes and had a liking for 'Gold Flake' and was pleased as Punch when I gave him a few hundred now and then!  Like me, he was especially fond of a Turkish cigarette with his coffee and brandy in the mornings.

On Sundays I was a sort of showpiece and they always asked friends over for the day to meet me.  They usually arrived about midday and sat down to a meal in the parlour immediately they had taken their coats and hats off and never rose from the table or stopped eating and drinking until the guest took their departure about 6pm.  I only attended the last lap and used to come in about 5 pm and was introduced all round and we then all sat down again and this was the signal for another burst of eating and drinking!  

One days two nieces of his came over to see him for the day, aged about 16 and 18 respectively.  One could speak a "vairy leetle" English of which she was very proud but very shy!  That evening we all sat down to cards and round games which continued until I retired to bed about 11.  To my astonishment I found both girls sitting in their dressing gowns with the Mayor in the kitchen when I came down (in my pyjamas!) for my normal moring coffee!  He had persuaded them to stay the night and they had enjoyed their stay so much that they were persuaded to stay the next night too!  They had the room next door to me and were delighted when I turned the wireless on to Carol Gibbons' band at the Savoy, as they could hear it through the wall.

After we had been at Lieres some days Simon Fraser turned up from England.  He had been on a Senior Officers' course at Sheerness and was in good form when he arrived. I helped him get settled into his billet which was a room at the top of a windey wooden stairs in a large old farmhouse.  At one time the building must have been part of a big chateau as it was obviously very old and had amongst other things a big walled garden with some very ancient fruit trees in it and an old fashioned fish pond in the grounds. While the Jocks were digging a rubbish pit there one day they came across all sorts of relics from the last war - old mess tins, waterbottles, bayonets etc, so it must have been used by our predecessors of 1914-18.  This reminds me of a curious coincidence that happened in the village one day.  Raigie Macleod (from Ullapool), Simon's Sgt. Major, walked into one of the village cafes and saw a woman who he recognised to be someone he had known in a neighbouring village while serving with the 4th Seaforths in 1916 - and the odd thing was she recognised him too!

The days went past pleasantly enough and I was seldome bored during our stay in Lieres.  The weather was mostly good and I remember particularly one glorious warm spring day when Harry (C.O.) came over and lunched in our Mess with us and he and I went for a long walk afterwards.  Although very flat it was rather attractive agricultural country with lots to amuse one on a walk in the way of partridges, hares and various different kinds of birds in the woods and fields.

Simon or Hector used to come in and see the Mayor most evenings after supper and he and his wife were very impressed with Simon's height.  "O il est gros" they always said whenever he left!  I found the one snag about the village was its church bell, which seemed to ring from dawn till dark and as the church was only a stone's throw from my bedroom window it used to nearly drive me mad sometimes.

As the days went by the Jocks became more and more popular in the village and many of them used to share the family meals in their billets while practically all of them were given coffee and rolls in the morning by their temporary hosts for nothing.  At the same time a great many of them helped the farmers with their work whenever they got a chance and it was a common sight to see two of them loading turnips or potatoes with the farmer, neither of them being able to speak a word of the other's language!  And one often heard remarks such as "Come away in for your coffee Maggie" shouted across the yard to the daughter of the house who appeared to understand perfectly!  I remember one Jock used to ride an old mare cart horse across the village green outside my window every evening about 5 o' clock after he had finished work with a small boy sitting in front of him, and it was a comic sight watching him go by sitting bareback and wearing a balmoral bonnet and battledress!

I asked Harry if the pipes and drums could come over to the village and play Retreat one evening.  The Mayor was thrilled when they turned up and still more so when he was asked to stand on his front steps and take the salute!  He then said a few words to the Pipe Major at the finish - neither understanding the other!  However, it was a great success.  This was of course an excuse for another party, and Harry and RAAS and Rory and Duncan Macrae and I and various others were all drawn in to the kitchen for drinks and cakes afterwards.  They took a tremendous fancy to Harry and were much amused at his French which was a mixture of French and English, and when he was completely stuck he always said "Well, anyway, Vive La France!" which was greeted by peals of mirth!

Soon after our arrival the thaw came, and caused a terrific flood in the village.  The small stream running through the middle of the village became a raging torrent in about three-quarters of an hour, about six times its normal size, and the whole village was flooded to the depth of two or three feet everywhere.  The Mayor asked me if I would get the Jocks to do rescue work with our Company trucks, and we set about collecting stranded old women and children and carting them back and fore.  The Jocks loved it and so did the kids.  One Jock drove the truck while another sat in the back and held on to the kids and prevented them falling out!

Philip Mitford and Jack Walford came over from the 2nd Bn. at Roubaix one Sunday and had lunch with us, and another day Duncan Macrae (our MO) and RAAS and I motored over to Lille and dined with Philip there.

Eventually the order came for us to move.  We had been expecting it for a long time as we were only held up while the thaw precautions were in operation.  These precautions were very necessary as most of the roads were in an appalling state when the frost came out of them and many had to be closed.

I forgot to say earlier that one afternoon Harry turned up with a French Captain who wanted to speak to some of the men.  This turned out to be Andre Maurois, the author. He was a dapper little man of about 55, I should say, and interesting to talk to, although his English, though fluent, wasn't as good as one would have expected of a man who had written so many books in English.  He spoke to a lot of men and seemed interested in what they told him.  Funnily enough, he was accompanied by an English Captain (from GHQ) whose name I can't remember who was at Winchester and Sandhurst with Uncle Hec. (Captain H C S Munro, MC, 2nd Bn. Seaforth Highlanders, killed in action near Cambrai, France, 22nd October 1918, aged 23 years) and who was very astonished at my resemblance of him when I was introduced to him.

Colin McNab turned up one day too in a large staff car to see me from GHQ.  We hadn't met for a year or so and it was grand seeing his cheerful face again - he was looking very well and had put on a lot of weight!

There are many other incidents I could write about but most of them are trivial and only of real interest to myself so I won't bore anyone who has managed to wade through as far as this.

Eventually, after various orders and counter-orders and false starts, the final order for the Battalion tom move to our next billeting area arrived as I said before.  I got all my kit packed up the night before and spent most of our last day at Lieres going round paying for the billets, light, straw etc.  It was extraordinary how grateful, yet how ungrasping, all of the villagers were over payment, and although the rates were very small, many of them said they thought it was too much and some didn't expect to be paid at all.  They all with one accord said how well the men had behaved and how sorry they were to see us go.

Next morning, about 7 o'clock, I said goodbye to the Mayor and his wife.  I was made to promise to come back and see them again soon and to come over and stay "Apres la Guerre" and was given a large packet of hare pate sandwiches and some chocolate for the journey!  I was really sorry to say goodbye to them;  they had been so extraordinarily kind and I felt quite depressed at leaving.  The Company fell in on the village green, and as the Jocks came out of their billets I saw one embrace two old women standing on their doorstep who then threw their aprons over their faces and wept at his departure. We marched a couple of miles to our embussing point and set off on Mechanical Transport for Wingles

Hand drawn map of Lieres.

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