Don’t get worried over 5th Leicestershire Casualties appearing in the paper, we are not having any serious fighting & those men who are hit as often as not have themselves to blame. Personally I am possessed of much too high opinion of my own importance to go sticking my head over the parapet to see whether some German had a cast in his left eye. There is great news ! That one thing for which we have all longed – all hoped but never really expected – has at last come to pass. Kitchener’s have arrived – that is nothing – the real point is that they are coming to us – us the poor old Territorials — for instruction, & what is more we have got a battalion of the Great King’s Royal Rifle Corps. They have been heard to remark that it is pretty rotten being attached to this lot for instruction.
There is absolutely nothing doing – we are at rest & I spend a good deal of my time riding up glorious country lanes, through woods & leafy dells etc. The new army –they dislike being called K’s have just gone by – to the tune of – “Are we Downhearted? – No” “but you will soon be” was our answer from a B Company Chorus. By the way now that I am back with my company & not with H.Q. food is not such an easy matter. Bread we can get & eggs in addition of course to the ordinary ration of meat, jam, & biscuits – but vegetables & little things like potted meat would be a great blessing, if you could send them out occasionally.
(To Dini) – Kemmel
My platoon, no 14, is in a large barn, & three of us Mould, Vincent & I are in the farmhouse to which it is attached. Our only occupations during the hours of daylight are patience & chess. The latter I play with Mould whom I have, so far, managed to beat – not a very good player therefore as you might imagine. As soon as it is dark our work begins. The regimental transport can bring the food up as far as the Trench HQRS. That is to say about a mile & a half behind our line of trenches. As soon as it is dark enough the reserve company assembles at the cross roads & then sets off in parties along a gigantic communication trench – boarded & drained -twisting and tortuous. Up this we struggle heavily laden with sacks of bread or biscuits, meat of sorts, wither “bully “or “Machonichie”, tea, sugar, candles & occasionally tobacco & cigarettes. Here & there one comes across a shell hole, & the first man at once says “mind the hole” or “hole on the right”. The first few avoid it, then someone aimlessly says ”Mind the hole” & not seeing it falls smack in with a splash. This is repeated about three times down the line to the accompaniment of much chaff “Hello Bill there’s a hole there” is a favourite remark to some luckless wretch who is almost up to his neck in a Jack Johnson hole. As soon as the first journey is over we come back for the heavy stuff, ammunition, barbed wire, sheets of corrugated iron & floor boards. There are not nice to carry, especially on a dark night along a winding trench. The men however treat the whole thing as a huge joke. The usual question as soon as we reach the trenches is “Got any bread?” Sometimes there are only biscuits, large square hard doggy – ships biscuits which the men hate. By the way, Machonochie, in case you don’t know it , is a meat & vegetable ration, a fairly large tin which you hot up & then open; it contains large pieces of meat & potato, beans, carrots, onions & gravy, quite a good dish but rather rich, & too much is apt to give one indigestion.
Thank you very much indeed for your lovely letter, it came to me while I was in the trenches & I was very pleased indeed to get it. The country round here is very pretty now, lovely woods & trees & heaps & heaps of flowers of every kind. There are lots of bluebells & in some places the fields look quite blue with them. So far I have not seen any foxgloves. I don’t think there are any, so you must come out & pay me a visit one day & we will have tea in the woods. You must bring your own mug, I’ve only got one for myself, & that’s made of tin with most of the enamel knocked off it.
Very many thanks indeed for you exceedingly numerous letters, two of which found me in the Trenches, & gave me a new lease of life. I am afraid the last jaunt up there was rather spoilt for me by two things. First the weather was simply vile: secondly I was not at all well. I shivered all over & my head burned like a fire-engine in three fits. Quinine put me right in the end but left me with a somewhat painful head, which has but lately left me. Today I am quite fit again & have been for a very long ride in all pomp & ceremony with the C.O. There have been changes here which grieve me very much. Major Martin has got Command of the 4th Batt. – he was a real friend. A sort of school master, guardian, father–confessor, all round into one for me, & I like him very much. He thoroughly deserves the job & the 4th are jolly lucky to get such a good man – much better than they deserve. He himself is a bit sad to go – the last thing he said to me, before he went off today, was that I was to make a point of seeing him when the war was over & guide him on a “walk” in Wales or some other jaunt of that sort. By the way, a wounded man from my platoon by name S. Smith is in the V.A.D. Hosp. at Charing, Kent. If it is within reach I should be rather glad if Dad could get over & see him, perhaps he would borrow a car from some kind friend. The fellow was hit in the arm while shooting over the parapet rather a nasty wound but I expect it will heal up all round in the end.
I often wonder whether the spelling of my letters is excessively painful – they are often written at great speed & it is consequently quite possible. Mould, a Subaltern, sent in an official report yesterday which contained the word parapet three times, spelt as follows – (1) parrapit, (2) paraappet. (3) parapett –in that order.
We had a new bit of line just on the left of the 5th Lincs. instead of on the right as before. We were only about 25 yds from the Germans at one corner & got fired at from almost every possible point all round. Our 2nd in Command of D Coy. got shot through the brain but is still alive & doing well. I only lost one man & he was only shot through the finger, so nothing very bad. I had struck up a friendship with an R.E. Officer out here by name Gosling – he & I had been in a tight corner together, but yesterday the poor fellow got killed. It was in this wise. The Germans managed to blow up a section of Trench on our left – mined it – a total wreck & several men buried. An infantry Subaltern was collecting a rescue party when Gosling appeared with a few R.E. men. With a casual laugh he told the “Sub” it was much too dangerous for infantry so went himself with an R.E. rescue party. Five minutes later he was shot pulling a wounded man from under some sandbags – in full view of the German lines. His men are absolutely dazed – they worshipped him.
Just a very hurried scrawl before once more going into the trenches which we do tonight. In all probability we shall stay in for six nights now as the weather is so much better. Our rest has been very much broken up this time & included a somewhat rough night. We left here just after tea in motor buses & went to Ypres —there marched for about three hours all over the place. We were supposed to be going to dig but took so long getting there that we only had about ½ hour when it became so light that we had to make off. It was, for Ypres, a quiet night but I cannot say I want any more like it just at present. There were quite a large number of bullets all over the place & one or two came very close. I stepped back a pace to look at something, & a bullet came slick where I had been standing & went into the man next to me, only his arm fortunately & not very bad at that. Fairly large Church parade this morning with a rather violent sermon by the Bp of Pretoria. Al least he began by being fairly violent – on the whole jolly good.
We are out of the trenches again after a stay of only three days duration. We are moving & are going to take a place just a little higher up the line, very good trenches I believe, if not we will soon make them so. These last three days were a trifle exciting at times. I was with my platoon again & we had a bit of trench to ourselves & a bit of bad luck too. One rotten bullet knocked out two of my section commanders & one man all at once. Fortunately none of them at all seriously wounded but still put out of action for the time being. The next morning I had another man hit in the knee & a fifth in the arm, while we were coming out last night. The men were very cheerful & behaved splendidly especially during a “mal quart d’heure” when we were somewhat heavily shelled. No one got touched, but they whizzed quite uncomfortably close over our heads, & one had the effrontery to burst just behind our trench, & cover us with mud. We also had some rifle grenades over, no casualties. But perhaps the really greatest thing of the whole lot was a sight we witnessed one afternoon. A German bi-plane came sailing over just reached our lines, one of ours hove in sight right above him, dropping down as hard as he could go. One of our new class with a light machine gun mounted in the bows. The Hun swerved, so did ours & then we saw the upper one turn right up, tail in air, nose downwards; a puff of smoke followed, the top one righted itself, the bottom one remained. Our people cheered like anything & it was only with the greatest difficulty that I could keep them from sticking their heads above the parapet. There were some rather exciting things happening on our left, & one or two little thing happened which I can tell you in about a month’s time. At the time of the “excitement” I was out on a “crawl” between our lines & theirs, & consider myself jolly lucky to have got back, because the above mentioned excitement naturally led to all manner of flares & fairly heavy fire. I must say I honestly believe if I had got shot the whole platoon would have sallied forth to pull me in, a more devoted lot I never struck. One fellow writing home the other day said he was glad he’d got the officer back in his platoon, he was a “chap who didn’t care a —- for anything “. Major Martin is back again with us, his wounds were not serious although his name got in the casualty list.
I am still very fit though my face has again been knocked about. This time it was a periscope rifle. You fire it down below & its absolutely “safe”. The German shattered the top glass first as I fired my first shot, & filled us all with glass, three quite large pieces going into Major Martin who is now in hospital. My own injuries were only a scratch here & there. Yesterday I improved matters by slipping on a wooden plank & pushing my cheek on to the corner of a corrugated iron roof — so you can imagine that I am becoming a regular pin cushion.
The Huns opposite us are very quiet, they daren’t try any tricks because they always get just double that they fire. If they fire a rifle grenade we fire two back, & whereas they generally miss we get in a good shot or two. In between our trenches & the Germans there are several old & disused French trenches & ditches. Into there the Germans at night send their patrols & so we have started to do the same thing. It’s the finest fun of all & I have twice led out a “crawl” — the grass is long & one can’t be seen. Last time we only missed the German “crawl” by twenty minutes which was a great shame because I have not yet seen a Hun & we should have managed to “bag” one or two I feel sure. Next time I shall not be able to indulge in the excitement I fear because we shall be in another part of the trenches where such things cannot be.
Just a line or two at the end of our four days rest, tonight we for our four days picnic. The “rest” is getting more & more curious. This time we had to “stand to” the whole of one night & poor old D Company was digging trenches the whole of the next, so that the men are beginning to talk of the four days “in” as the rest, & the four days in billets, as hard labour. My platoon keeps very cheerful & are very good humoured overall. I am going with my platoon this time as there is really nothing to do now with the telephones. I have got them all into very good working order, & have laid spare line everywhere. As a matter of fact, I shall be jolly glad to get back to command men instead of a few miles of wire & a dozen buzzing instruments. We have all been served out with what the men call “Aspirators” so the Hun can do his worst. I don’t think people in England have the slightest idea of the effects of the gas, which, so far, in the papers is merely called asphyxiating. It inflames the wind-pipe & causes a heavy discharge of fluid into the lungs, which become entirely stopped up. For 24 hours men have to go through all the agony of the first stages of drowning. In the hospitals they either fail to recover, or if they do they are left with acute bronchial pneumonia. The Doctors are simply overworked, with artificial respirations, & trying to make these poor fellows violently sick, which is their only hope. One old Colonel of doctors who has been through Ashanti, Zulus, everything says he has never seen anything to compare with the brutality of this. There can be no question of an early peace now, & if ever we do get a look in there or anywhere else there will be absolutely no stopping our people, I shall give them a graphic description of gas results before we start. However we are well protected now, & gasses even if they come which I think improbable, will have no effect on us. I have had some jolly rides, & one or two really great gallops across country, – the old nag goes along at quite a good pace at times in spite of the fact that it has to spend some of its time pulling the medical cart along.