(To Dini) Ypres
Many thanks for your letter & the accompanying photograph which I must say is jolly good. “It” was not in the wooood, unless “it” was a whizz-bang – or rather a queue of whizz-bangs. As a matter of fact we lost rather heavily in that wood though the above mentioned little things, & the members of my platoon are consequently very low. In the picking times of peace it would be rather a nice wood, plenty of blackberries nearly ripe, & plenty of nuts to come, though not of course ripe yet. The trees are tall & quite pretty except where they have been hopelessly battered by shells. As you probably know there are two kinds of shells, one shrapnel – full of round bullets, the shell usually bursts about 2ft above ground & scatters it’s contents. It is quite harmless in a trench, but in a wood, or in the open, a nasty dangerous thing. The other is high explosive which bursts on hitting anything. This is beastly if it hits a trench, but in the open its effects are not so wide, & in a wood it generally manages to hit a tree & go off before reaching the ground. It is not full of bullets, & unless one is hit by a bit of the case one is O.K.
This place is really in a most ghastly condition. The houses are mere piles of burnt bricks, with huge twisted iron girders sticking out here & there from amongst the ruins. In one or two streets parts of houses are left standing. Three or four rooms are still intact though of course the ceiling has long ago fallen in. Here & there the people have left in a tremendous hurry, property & furniture is scattered about all over the place. I picked up a little Flemish Prayer Book this afternoon & am going to send it along to you as a souvenir. There is nothing of any real interest about it, one or two engravings that is about all, except perhaps the cover. A notice at the end shows that it was printed in 1845, so that considering its seventy years old, it is still remarkably clean.
We are in what is left of some barracks – a square parade ground surrounded by a colonnade & two storied buildings. Just on one edge of the parade ground is a shell- hole made by a 17’’ crump which arrived two days ago – the hole is twenty two feet deep, & forty three feet across, & it has covered everything with muck & paving stones for a distance of about fifty yards all round. Part of the gallery round the square has been burnt out, & in several places the roof is no longer a roof. The room in which I was writing mother’s letter a short time ago has just thought fit to deposit a lot of its plaster ceiling on the floor, for no apparent reason whatever, so we have shifted here – a large white-washed sort of office with a roof that is, at present, entire. There are iron bedsteads galore, though some of them have been rather rudely chucked about by the shells. I believe I casually mentioned the other day that we had discovered & removed just about a ton of explosive underneath our trench. The feat was performed by one of our miners, who found that he was working into an enemy mine gallery, cut his way in, found the charge & then the fuse which he promptly cut. This was by no means a very safe thing to do because if the Germans, who were certain to have been listening down their mine, had heard the pick coming through, they would have simply blown the whole thing up. The fellow who did the whole thing was of course recommended for anything they would give him, & yesterday we had a wire to say that they had decided to give him a D.C.M. This will be the first in the Division in which case it is better still, but I expect the Sherwoods have got something for being cornered in the Hooge affair.
I have just had two quite large parcels from Miss Latter, containing cake, lemonade, cocoa, coffee, sardines, etc. etc., it is really very good of her to send so much when really I have no claim upon her. Your crème de menthe is or rather are delicious & I am afraid will not last long at my present rate of progress. I am almost always hungry, & my tremendous capacity for consuming all the odds & ends of everything, & odd potatoes here & there, has earned me the name of Swill-tub which if I remember rightly was once stuck on to me at H.H. Talking of H.H. reminds me of the fact that Dickenson went through here last night, & I just missed him by about 5 minutes which is a great pity. He is in the Queens Westminsters & Baker was there also but went home sick a few days ago. T.G. Wills regiment is there, but he, as you know, is wounded & expected back soon. The elder Hickman was also in the same regiment but he too is away sick, so I have not been able to see him.