December 1915 found the 9th Devons in billets at Ailly-sur-Somme, getting to know a new area and a new (and unwelcome) role as the Divisional Pioneer Battalion. The order for this was given a few days after their arrival by train from the north and it meant a new phase of training in mining, road and railway construction and other heavy labouring work – all essential to the Army’s progress but not what they had imagined doing when they joined.
It was hard and depressing work so Christmas came as a really welcome break. Hodgson was one of the old hands now, so many had been killed or injured at Loos. He had taken or been given a whole catalogue of responsibilities, as mess president, bombing officer, scout officer, officer in charge of athletics and OC Headquarters Company. His family sent a case of Christmas treats for the battalion which was opened on Christmas Day, and he told his sister the cake and the tin trumpets were especially popular. ‘When I went round dinners I was greeted with ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ played on cornets and lustily sung, and one gentleman in a voice husky with beer and emotion assured me that if ever I wanted a man to follow me into a tight place, 11132 Private Harry Gay was the man in question.’