Page:The Chartist Movement.djvu/45

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

In June 1916 Hovell was back with his battalion, now camped in Cannock Chase. On June 3 he married Miss Fanny Gatley of Sale, the Cheshire suburb in which his own family had lived in recent years. A little later he wrote: "We managed a whole week in the Lake District, where it rained all the time. Then I went back to my regiment and my wife came to stay two miles away." Then the attack on the Somme began, and "we heard rumours that officers were being exported by the hundred." On July 4 he received orders to embark, and crossed to France a week later. There were some vexatious delays on the other side, but at last he joined one of the regular battalions of his regiment in a small mining village. The battalion had been cruelly cut up in the recent fighting on the Somme, and the officers, old and new, were strangers to him. But by a curious accident he found an old friend in the chaplain, the Rev. T. Eaton McCormick, the vicar of his parish at home. He was now plunged into the real business of war, and did his modest bit in the reconstitution of the shattered battalion. "I blossomed out," he wrote, "as an expert in physical training, bayonet fighting, and map-reading to our company. All the available N.C.O.'s were handed over to my care, and they became enthusiastic topographers."

Before the end of the month the battalion was reorganised and moved back into the trenches. On August 1 he wrote to me in good spirits:

Behold me at last an officer of a line regiment, and in command of a small fortress, somewhere in France, with a platoon, a gun, stores, and two brother officers temporarily in my charge. I thus become owner of the best dug-out in the line, with a bed (four poles and a piece of stretched canvas), a table, and a ceiling ten feet thick. We are in the third line at present, so life is very quiet. Our worst enemies are rats, mice, beetles, and mosquitoes.

This first experience of trench life was uneventful, and the battalion went back for a short rest. The remainder of the story may best be told in the words of Mr. McCormick, writing to Hovell's mother to tell her the news of her son's death.

Mark and two other officers of the Sherwood Foresters dined with me on Wednesday last, August 9. We were a jolly party and