(To H.G.G.) Ypres
The fact that you are not at home will gradually get tricklets of news second hand does not prevent my writing to you direct. I wrote home yesterday & will write home again tomorrow telling them everything.
After sitting in the beastly wood while in support against German attacks on Hooge, we then went up into our trenches & spent seven days there. We got a large number of whiz-bangs but D. Coy. has no casualties the whole time, & we got quite a lot of “stuff” over during the successful counter attack on Hooge. I have told Mother all about this attack & doubtless it will come on to you in time. We have now been relieved & are spending the next six days in support. Two Companies are well up towards the line. The other two “D” is one, are back in the town in so-called billets. The place is of course simply a ruin, but we are considerably more comfortable that we should be in dug-outs because the particular establishment that we are occupying has crowds of bed-steads, & enough roof in places to afford plenty of cover. I was looking at the Spectator the other day & an advertisement of a “Plas” to let” caught my eye. It professed to be Merionethshire – 5mi Harlech, 4m Aberglaslyn – 1/2 m railway & 2 mi from the sea – large place with terrific gardens & walks & fountains & things. What & where is it? I cannot place it at all. I must say I wish I was there with you now – I can remember every little inch of the road round to Maentwrog & over the hills at the back & the B.M. at Caerwych Farm. As for Tan-y –Bwlch the very name makes one think of woods, lakes & above all hills & mountains. Here all is flat as can be, an artificial lake, all kinds of trees in absolutely straight rows, a few dotted farms, each with its pond surrounded by half a dozen pollard willows, & above all a general air of ruin & deadness. If you do get to the abode of bliss just see whether they still sell seed-cake – whether there is still a weighing-machine in the “Duffws” side platform – & if a bicycle cape is hanging on it – we left one there some time ago.
This existence is having one curious effect on me; I am becoming a sort of Ancient Briton-a throw back. (Mere nerves!)
While in the wood when they started shelling, instead of making for a dug-out like everybody else, I could not bring myself to enter one, they seemed like a trap. In fact the whole time my one desire is to get into the open so that I can hear exactly what is happening, which way the shells are going or coming etc. Until this morning things were pretty quiet but at 6.30 am they started, & carried on with one shell every quarter of an hour until mid-day. They were not 17’’ crumps, but were certainly very heavy stuff, fired not from a howitzer, as are the 17’’ers, but from a naval gun. The result was that we never could hear them “crawling” over they just came almost as fast as a whizz-bang. They must have been 12’’ or 15’’ & were fitted with a patent armour-piercing cap. The result of this was that with the exception of two which hit high up on some building, they all ploughed deep down into the ground for 8 or 10 feet & then went off. The noise down there was not very great but the shock was terrific. They were quite a long distance away from us, as yet it is no exaggeration to say that we actually saw the ground heave all round us, while buildings were positively unsafe, especially where they had already been knocked about a bit. The two that hit the buildings were of course burst above ground & the detonation was ear-splitting. The general effect was demoralizing more than anything else & yet the men were highly amused. We soon knew when to expect them & all made for door-ways & other strong places. I shaved between two, & had my bath between the next two. Now that K’s army are getting into the thick of it, the casualty lists are full of names that one knows – Colebrook, Boosey & Talbot all within a few days, & quite a number of wounded. We were in the wood for four days at least & I never had a dug-out:- a little wall of sandbags gave me enough cover to keep off shrapnel & I just lay down behind it. For the rest I slept, ate & had my being in the open. I feel sure that when the show is over I shall need a most tremendous lot of training before I can settle down to a civilized state of existence. Certainly I am enjoying myself & having a very good time, eating well & living under the sky, in shirt-sleeves all day, rolled in a Mackintosh cape at night.