Blunden's War - Part 24: Booted Out
Mid February, 1917. If you have ever visited Ypres - the eighth wonder of the world now that Poperinghe has resumed its sleepy existence - you would find it difficult to envisage the 'sepulchral catacombed city'. Everything was below ground.
Planes fought in the winter sun, as sentries blew warning whistles, flights of shells 'slid' into the city past the flimsy red post-office, and a blue poster for Sunlight Zeep. But no-one was about. Blunden marvels that 'this city had been like St Omer, like Amiens. How obvious, and how impossible!'
But the Battalion still had its Colonel Harrison, it still entrained and de-trained at the Cheesemarket Station in Poperinghe. If you ever visit Poperinghe, stand in the station car park and let your mind wander back to 1917.
As the rain storms lashed the city, Blunden was to be seen around in a vast pair of wellington boots. He and Worley had been putting out wire to a plan they had devised themselves and were teaching new troops how to do it. The Divisional General rode by:
"Who are you? What's your age and service?" Clearly expecting the worst Blunden heard the rest of it from Colonel Harrison.
"He asked who was that subaltern in the extraordinary boots Harrison?...well, he got that wire very quick. We went down the street and there wasn't a yard of it: we came back and there was a real belt."
The story doesn't end there; Blunden received a pair of new jack-boots, but preferring his wellingtons, he presented them to his batman.
But the War won, and would keep on winning, as Blunden later said. The Battalion was sent to 'trenches' as exposed duckboards, as dangerous as any since Thiepval. And then the Army won, by removing Blunden from his Battalion to go as Brigade Intelligence Officer to some deep and dank section of Vauban's Ramparts, and removing Colonel Harrison to England.
"A fierce brief bout of shelling fell upon Valley Cottages, the foolish wreckage used as battalion headquarters, and among the victims our kind, witty and fearless Sergeant-Major Daniels."