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