7th February 1916 Monday
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This month’s entries to Douglas’s diary are made it seems in between life in the camp at Mesplaux and the leisure time as it was spent in the delights of the nearby town of Béthune. He doesn’t mention actual dates during this time so we need to be a little imaginative as to the actual days.
Douglas was to spend the entire month at Mesplaux Farm. Duties at the farm as well as treating the sick and wounded were the usual mundane chores like censoring the men’s mail.
Varying degrees of discomfort would be experienced during February for Douglas. Apart from toothache, he would end up in a hospital bed for two of the weeks as he explains a little later.
The days were punctuated with trips to Béthune for shopping and trips to the cinema as well as relaxing in some bars and a plusher establishment of a Hotel that he seemed to struggle with the name of, calling it “Hotel de Pendre* or some such thing”.
The town of Béthune was the centre of British and Commonwealth activity in the area and was very busy servicing not only the army barracks in the town but the various units that were camped around the outskirts. Men of seemingly all nations would flock here including many Indians serving in the area with the British Army.
The journey into town from the farm was not too unpleasant. There was more than one route along the country lanes of around the same distance. In February 1916 they were well behind the front line so the rumble of artillery fire was at an almost safe distance.
The lane that follows the river La Lawe makes a pleasant walk, even in winter. As an officer that had recently learnt to ride, Douglas would have been able to ride into town with his compatriots or possibly got a lift in a motor or on a cart, but a horse ride would have been the more likely, not having to rely on a lift home.
At the Café du Globe in the Grand Place it was a common sight to see many horses tethered outside (see the 30 January diary entry for a picture) while the many allied officers sampled the delights on offer. The square was often extremely busy with the military from many different units including to two barracks in the town and business must have been very good. The innkeepers and hoteliers would have done well to make the most of it for it was not to last.
* We would welcome any further information as to the likely identity of this hotel.
Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here