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Felix’s War Diary: 11 November 1918

Monday 11th

It was a great civic reception “Poincare” got yesterday. it was fine weather and aeroplanes overhead dropped messages into the square. To-day just before marching out, we had the news read out to us that hostilities would cease at 11AM to-day. We left at 11AM. and marched 19 kilos to Quievy with full packs up. Everyone is smiling now the war is over. We go on in the morning to Beauvais.


ANZAC DAY – Felix’s War Diary

Some excerpts from the War Diaries of my great-grandfather Felix Rooney. This is close to the start of his surviving diary – he did keep a diary of Egypt, Gallipoli and early time in France but it was destroyed in the attack that injured him and sent him to England to recover. The surviving diary begins when he arrives at Codford Camp in England after this recovery period (Codford hosts many ANZAC graves, and the locals mark 25 April with a dawn ceremony every year). He arrives in camp October 27, 1916, and is assessed as class B3 – he falls into a routine of drilling and marching as his health and fitness improve.

Tuesday 5 [December]
Up 6-30AM. Washed and breakfast 7-30. Parade 8AM. Inspected by the general. Dinner 12 noon. Medical inspection 1-30PM. Some of us put on guard. I expect to go into signalling section to-morrow. I met an old mate here, Mac Brosnan. He is sergeant instructor to the signallers. So I will be all right while I am here, but I hope that won’t be long. I would sooner be back in France than chased around here at drill. It is devilish cold here now. Keen frost, and the doors of the hut are kept open all day long. Fire must not be lit until 5PM. 17th Reinforcements back from leave to-night. Draft expected to leave Friday.

Wednesday 6
Another freezer of a morning. taken out on parade and transferred to signallers under my old mate Sergt Brosnan. On telephone work this afternoon. The company are out on the march to-night but I am exempt. Going out for a stroll and home again to bed.

Thursday 7
Up bright and early. There is no chance of laying in here. Cold and frosty. Out on signalling. I don’t think I will be going with the draft which leaves in a few days. If not I may have Christmas here. I am having a good time with these sigs here as I am the only one here who has been on active service and they don’t interfere with me. Out on station work this afternoon. Came on light shower of sleet and misty. Usual nightly shave and off to bed. Had a letter from old Lizzie.

Friday 8th
Up usual time and out to drill. Just before dinner I got orders to go with the draft to France to-night. Went down and passed the doctor and went on parade where Bill Massy and Joe Ward inspected us. Busy packing up now. We leave somewhere about mid-night.

Saturday 9th
We paraded last night at 11PM and moved off at mid-night. The train left at 1AM. Raining all the time. Arrived Shorncliff 7AM and marched to camp where we had breakfast and lunch. Left there and marched into Folkestone where we went aboard the “Princess Louise” and left about 2PM. Arriving Boulogne abut 4PM. After waiting about an hour in the rain with full packs up we moved off to a rest camp for the night. Got there 6-30PM and later had some tea. I am going to turn in soon, as we will most likely continue our journey to-morrow. Weary and wet to the skin I am off to sleep, that is if I can, as it is on the boards and they are hard, and my greatcoat is wet.

Sunday 10th
Up, washed and shaved. Still raining. We are on the old bully beef now for tucker. Medicinal inspection 10AM. Raining of course. Fell in 3-30PM and marched off in the rain. Entrained 4-45 and reached Etaples Camp about 7PM. Were served out with rifles and bayonets. Had tea and blankets served out. Twelve men to a tent. Turned in and fairly comfortable only wet.

Monday 11th
Up at 6AM and oh but it is cold. Had a wash and breakfast. Another medical inspection. Alotted new tents. Still raining. Had a shave after tea. I suppose we will start drilling to-morrow. I hope we go up to the trenches soon and get amongst my mates again. This is a miserable time of the year to be here. Met a few old hands I knew. Turned in 9PM.

Felix returned to the trenches in late January.

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From Felix’s War Diaries

For ANZAC day – here is ANZAC day from 1918, in my great-grandfather Felix Rooney’s war diaries. He was in Somme, in France.

Tuesday 23
Got up about 9.A.M. Started bagging rations. Left at 3 P.M. with stores and hot stew for the line. When near Courcelles we ran into some heavy shelling and we had to move some across the paddock. Fritz was shelling all around. I got some of our Coy when we got up, to unload the limbers and get the stew dished out. I went up to H’qrs and delivered the rum. All going all right but this is going to be a warm show. Our transport moved out of the wood we were in, down behind Louvencourt. There are plenty of troops around here, both British and French. Turned in 9.P.M.

Wednesday 24
Cold morning inclined to be drizzly. Just heard that after I left the boys last night, Fritz got on to them with some of his heavy shells. Young Sgt Higginbottom of Ch.Ch. got killed. He was only a boy and a good soldier. 12th Coy had four killed and a good few have been wounded. It is hard luck coming out of the front line and getting knocked about in the reserve trenches.

Thursday 25
Anzac Day. Got everything fixed up for the line. Very close and thundery. Heavy rain in afternoon. My storeman went up the line to-day with the rations.
Boys celebrating the anniversary of the ‘landing‘ to-night.

The soldier Felix reports as killed was Bruce Hickinbottom. His record in the NZ role of honour is here. He was 20 years old.

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From Felix’s War Diaries

(Felix Rooney is my great-grandfather. His diaries begin October 27th 1916. There is a short explanatory note at the front: “My original diary embracing the trip from N. Zealand to Egypt, Gallipoli & France was destroyed with all my effects when the Huns raided us in the mushroom at Armentiere in July 1916.”)

Anzac Day excerpt from April, 1917, a short slice of life away from the front:
Tuesday 24th
Have hurt my foot so had a day off. Harry and I had a good day together. Weather getting good now. Battalion went into St Omer to-day. A few rums and cafe and turned in.
Wednesday 25.
Had another day off. Taking it easy to give my foot a chance. Second anniversary of Anzac Day. A few rums and cognacs drunk to-night.
Thursday 26.
Feeling all right so went on parade this morning. We went out to where trenches have been dug to represent those at Messines, German and British. We made two attacks, taking the ridge, as we will soon have to do in reality. Got home about 4.P.M. Fine weather now.

The Battle of Messines in June went well, in part due to the extensive planning described here by Felix. I might post that diary entry another day.

Shackleton’s Hut

Google Streetview has put its cameras down on the ice at the bottom of the world. You can even explore inside Shackleton’s Hut, the base for the 1908 polar expedition.

My great grandad Felix, mentioned on this blog many times, helped build that hut. (He was Fireman on the ship that went down, the Nimrod.) Here’s a later entry from his account that makes mention of the build:

February 22nd [1908]
We now steamed up to near the Hut and put ashore Shackleton, Dr. Marshall, Lieut. Adams, and other members of the Shore Party, in the boat. When the boat returned we hove it up, said good-bye, hoisted our flag, and off we went for Lyttelton.
On leaving, looking back at Cape Royds I think of the time we helped to dig the foundations of the Hut. The big penguin rookery, where if you had the time you could be amused watching them; like the monkeys in the zoo they could always produce some new antics; you see them diving into the sea off an ice shelf, just like men, and then they would pop up out of the sea like a jack-in-the-box, or salmon jumping the weirs on their way up stream; they would then stand upright, looking round as if to say, “What do you thnk of that?” The fierce Skua gulls, swooping down over your head if you were too near their nests, getting closer each time until you had to duck or fend them off. While above, looking down on it all is snow-clad Erebus, smoking away. Or I think of those days int he tropics when I climbed into the foretop to get a cooler, looking down on the deck of our little ship; monarch of all I surveyed; or in the moonlight, sitting on the fo’castle head, looking back and up at the square sails billowing in Cynthia’s beam; and the phosphoresecent foam breaking away from the ship’s stem as she cut through the oily tropical swell. Those carefree, happy days!

(Like all my Felix documents, this was collected and annotated by Felix’s youngest daughter, Mary, sister of my grandmother Felice. She notes that this account was written in 1960; the typescript itself is undated but gives the address where it was written, which is directly over the road from where we live now.)


Want: Shackleton Whisky

Antarctic explorer Shackleton had some whisky stored in his hut. It has been recovered, and a blend created to match it. The blend is apparently quite close. Lots of details at the Whisky Exchange blog.

My great-grandfather Felix, about whom I’ve blogged before, went down to the ice with Shackleton. He was part of the team that built the hut. He might have answered the ad mentioned at the start of the Whisky Exchange article: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” He might have been the one who set down the crate of whisky that has been recovered. (He didn’t stay on the ice – he came back to New Zealand with the Nimrod after the hut was built, down there about a month all told.)

Felix used to live across the street from our new house. In his final years he used to sit on the step and chat to passers-by. I’d like to stand across from that step and lift this whisky in his honour. Genies, falling stars, and other miscellaneous wish-granters – please consider making it so.

(Note to my parents, my aunt, and others who have a filial interest in making me happy: this is a hundred-quid bottle. Don’t even think about it.)

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Oor Hoose, and ANZAC day.

And so it is.

A week in, and we’re sorted at last – the internets and phone lines were the last things to get connected up. Boxes are now stacked empty in the garage and the rooms themselves are full of stuff. It feels comfortable, already. I think we’ll come to love living here.

Here’s a funny thing, though. If you stand at the front door and look out, you see directly across the way the house where my mother grew up. We knew was there was a family place somewhere on the street, but we didn’t know it was so close until after making an offer. I’ve since learned that my great-grandfather Felix used to sit on the steps outside the front door there and watch the passers-by. It was a railways street so I expect he knew most everyone who passed. I like the idea that our new house was one of the ones he watched over in the late days of his life.

The last few ANZAC days I’ve excerpted from Felix’s war diaries. Here’s 29 September, 1918:

3.30am. Away went a very poor barrage and over we went. Took Welsh Ridge and four lines of trenches and hundreds of prisoners and village of Vacquerie. Got to our objective and consolidated. Casualties very light. Got a lot of officer prisoners and our boys have loads of souvenirs, glasses, [?], matches etc. A very successful stunt. Especially as it was pitch dark until we got up to our objective and Fritz had a lot of wire in front. The Boache seemed to me to surrender very easily. One of our Companies got too far ahead and lost two platoons. The Huns only took the fit men, dressing our wounded and leaving them until we came along.

The action at Welsh Ridge was near the end of hostilities, part of the “Hundred Days Offensive” that broke through the Western front. It was also an important experience for Felix. John H. Gray’s Quid Non Pro Patria: The Short Distinguished Military Life of Henry James Nicholas VC MM relies on Felix’s diaries for detail and colour, for Felix and VC-winner Henry Nicholas were in many of the same places. It includes some words from Felix’s daughter Mary (my grandmother’s sister) on something that happened at Welsh Ridge when he found a bugle:

He told us that during the battle he was pinned down and took shelter where he could. In so doing he found himself alongside the body of a German soldier. On his back was an unusual article covered in scrim. It was the bugle, so covered presumably to prevent reflection from its shiny surface.

He turned the body over and was struck by its youth and by its beauty. An olive-skinned young man of fine features, little more than a child. Killed he presumed by blast as he was unmarked.

Her father had said more than once over the years, that the sight of that dead boy encapsulated for him the futility of war, and picking up the bugle he had said, at least to himself – “I’ll take this and keep it for you.”

Felix kept the bugle, and every night thereafter he prayed for that young German.

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Felix Rooney, my great-grandfather, served in the first world war. He saw many of the most gruelling battles of that war. ANZAC Day, today, commemorates New Zealand and Australian soldiers, particularly those who served in and never returned from the Great War.
Felix kept detailed war diaries, which I have been privileged to read (and want to read again). Although I don’t have copies, I do have with me a monograph on a Cantabrian Victoria Cross winner which quotes Felix’s diaries extensively. So, from that source, the part of Felix’s war diaries that most bears repeating:

Monday 11th: It was a great civic reception [French President] Poincare got yesterday. It was fine weather and aeroplanes overhead dropped messages into the Square. Today, just before marching out we had the news read out to us that hostilities would cease at 11 A.M. today. We left at 11 A.M. and marched 19 kilos to Quievy with full packs. Everyone is smiling now the war is over.

Golf, Ghosts, God

I played golf this evening. Midsummer madness. I was terrible, which was pleasing, because on all indications prior I was so far beyond terrible the English language runs out of descriptive power. My team came 7th out of 8 teams. I was given a can of Belhaven Best and a bag of Smarties as a prize. Fantastic.
And Most Haunted Live is on. Yvette got scared by a weird raspy voice. Cool. Richard Felix, the dude I met in Derby at the Gaol sleepover, is doing some table tipping. Wahey! I still don’t believe in ghosts, but I am more and more convinced they should exist just for the coolness of it.
And I’m frikkin’ exhausted and don’t really know what’s going on. The long sunlight hours are screwing up already hazy sleeping patterns.
Yesterday, at scenic North Berwick, Malcolm and I got in trouble for balancing. I ate some kanafe or however it’s spelt, an insanely sweet middle eastern thing, and it gave me a deeply unpleasant sugar rush that is still playing out. Yah.
And Leon (of ‘Leon is a god’ fame) is in town with his lovely gf Laura. Tomorrow night I will seee them, yah!
All of this to say: I have several blog posts about the rapidly-approaching G8 event and protests here in Edinburgh. But I am in no state whatsoever to write them now.
Most Haunted Live is back on! Be careful Yvette! THE TABLE IS MOVING!