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15.7.09

Leaving Nesle

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Drop off in Nesle to help the 28th Battalion. The constant shelling is irritating but, after the stuffiness of London society, the fresh air and activity definitely blows the cobwebs away. However, because there have been a lot of fatalities, everyone is miserable and worried, so I make sure barrels of Juan’s Special Reserve are distributed amongst the troops, to cheer them up. This works very well and, even under heavy bombardment, we have a wonderful party that continues until the morning, at which point we have to leave the cheery comfort of the trenches and run into machine-gun fire.

British troops sometimes sustain casualties because, when faced with overwhelming forces and impossible odds, rather than screaming and running away, they stay and fight. However, the soldiers have never experienced Juan’s Special Reserve before and, seeing that they are hopelessly befuddled and nursing terrible hangovers, it is obvious that they are going to be useless, so I decide to lead them away from danger. Unfortunately, British soldiers do not recognize the command ‘Retreat’ so, when the order comes to go over the top, I lead the troops, screaming, “Advance to the rear!” After charging along for a mile or two we are in safe territory and, except for a few cuts and bruises, nobody has been hurt.

Relaxing in the sun, everyone seems surprised, and pleased, to be out of range of the enemy’s guns, although young Private Gurney staggers up to me, shouting that we will be hung for desertion in the face of the enemy. Gurney is as crazy as a hatful of earwigs and I have to reassure him that I take full responsibility. Nonetheless, Gurney reminds me, although we are all alive and well, we have probably lost the battle, as we weren’t there. I think I have done a good job and I am delighted to have helped save soldier’s lives, but I know some senior people will be irritated at the collapse of the front line, and there will be a long, drawn-out enquiry. As I am injuriously behind schedule, I don’t have time for this sort of thing and, although it has been a lot of fun in the Somme, and I would have liked to see more of Nesle, I wish my troops the best of luck, leave them the remaining barrels of Juan’s Special Reserve, to keep them cheerful, and head back to London, as fast as I possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary