Monthly Archives: September 2015

29 September 1915

Ypres

I am very wet & cold & have been so almost continuously for the last seventy two hours.  The rain is very nearly continuous & the cold absolutely so.  I came up here prepared for fine weather which lasted quite a long time, but haven’t, nor could have, anything to cope with this sort of stuff.  There is however one good bit of news.  After three months of this most abominable place we are going to leave.  Where we are off to we don’t know, but everything points to a move of some distance & we all hope to get clear away.  One thing is certain & that is that wherever we go to it cannot possibly be as noisome as this place which is acknowledged by all to be the very worst spot in the whole line.  The mud alone for the past few days has been enough to drive one to desperation; thank goodness I have been able to raise a pair of rubber boots.  Without them I should now be just about dead of pneumonia.  I am afraid this letter sounds very pessimistic & hopeless, but we are really all feeling quite bucked up by the news of a move.  If nothing else comes of it we shall see some new country & may for a day or two escape from the never ending din of heavy gun-fire.  This, as you might imagine from a scrutiny of your paper, is as continuous as the bad weather.  So far we have not personally been subjected to anything very terrific, but people catch it on both sides of us & not so very far away.  This afternoon we were sitting down to tea when there came a terrific crash & everything shook.  A German mine had been blown up some way away on our left.  Well away from our trenches & did practically no damage as far as we can gather at present.  This of course was promptly followed by a fiercening of the shelling & funny little rifle bullets flying all over the place which were equally harmless as far as we were concerned.  Now, after about two hours, it’s beginning to be quieter again & the situation can once more be described as normal.  About two days hence when we have forgotten all about it we shall hear the cause of it all, or see it in the Daily Mail of the day before.

The move of course means that all leave has been stopped for the Division, but that will doubtless start again as soon as we are fairly comfortably settled in our new place.  I may not get mine for some little time to come, because besides being the I.O. I am now very unfortunately the Senior officer left in D Coy.  Mould as you know is away ill, & the night before last poor Jeffries stopped a stray bullet when going out of the trenches & died within an hour.  I do not know any details being still in the trenches & consequently cut off from the Regiment.  His loss will be very keenly felt both in the Company & in the mess, of which he was one of the oldest & cheeriest members.  I too loose a very good friend.  However such is war.  I am afraid it’s years & years since I wrote to either Tom or Mary, but tell them that though they don’t get any letters, I have still got their photographs which I look at very often, & wish I had the real person instead of only the picture. This last few days of battle & the constant observation that has to be kept of the enemy’s movements really has reduced me by the evening to a state of wreck absolutely incapable of consecutive thought, & consequently unfit to start on a letter.  A rest must come soon though & I shall deserve it.  This is my X1th day in the trenches.  By the way please do not think by the word battle that we are fighting.  We are still in stu quo here & likely to remain so.  Will write next from Brussels – n’est- ce -pas?

25 September 1915

(To H.G.H.) Ypres

Many thanks for your letter & its enclosure from Talbot, he has a very happy knack of saying things in a nice way.  Well so far I have survived.  The noise all day has been continuous & I hear there is real good news at last.  What that news is I cannot say, but doubtfully long before you get this you will have read all about it in the Daily Mail.  I am simply up to my eyes in work & tired out, but having a very good time in spite of the most appalling weather conditions possible.  So far my new dug-out is standing the weather very well, there is only a slight leak in one corner & that does not matter very much.  Colonel Martin’s mess has caved in.  In an effort to make it bullet-proof they put so much weight on the roof that the sides bulged & gave way – leaving a horrid gape & a very wet night to mend it too.  I am feeling very much fitter now that my teeth have gone & can honestly say that I never have felt better in my life.  This existence suits me & when I can get enough sleep I am “full of buck” as the Colonel would say.

24 September 1915

Ypres

I am afraid it is some years since you have had a letter but the weather has been glorious & simply priceless for observation purposes.  The result has been that I have been up at dawn, & by dusk have been too tired to do anything except sleep.  Now the rain has started & observation is no longer possible so I have time to write.  My new dug-out is quite a success though at present it is somewhat lacking in furniture.  Looting will probably make up for deficiencies if I can only get time to go & hunt around amongst some of the ruined cottages somewhere about.

At present the fifth are in the trenches & I am feeding at their Headquarters.  The Colonel is in just as great form as ever & it is very nice to have him back again.  Toller is at home on leave & so is Hastings whose brother, as you may have seen, has just died of enteric at Wimereux.  Col. Martin has his Headquarters close by, & I have seen a good deal of him lately, he really is a most wonderful fellow.  I see the people at home are talking about having a strike against Conscription; I wish some of them would come out here & have a few days in the salient.  Perhaps they would then alter their views & be shouting for more men.   By the way the photos were very excellent I thought, especially the one of Dad in Uniform, he looks very well, & I must confess that put next to a photo of myself might pass for my son.  He does not look more than 25 at most.

20 September 1915

Ypres

Having at last got a minute or two to myself I will try & scribble you a letter.  I am at present in the trenches & have been there two days, so far with very good weather.  My teeth, or rather the vacant spaces caused by their extraction are now fast becoming agreeable, & I can eat almost with comfort.  Soon also I expect to find an improvement in health; once these abscesses have given over there ought to be no more poisoning, & no more violent aches.  The Bosches are not this time providing me with much amusement.  They seem to work very hard but do not appear to me to be doing anything out of the ordinary.  I spent a very large portion of the day looking at him through my telescope, in fact got up at 5 a.m. in order to make every possible use of the sun.  When the sun is over the enemies lines it is both hard to see him, & comparatively easy to be seen by him.  Harvey, of the 4th, with whom I take turns at Hun observing, has at present gone on leave, & will not be back for at least nine days – that is not all spent on leave, worse luck.

Meanwhile I shall have to remain up here, so hope for good weather, & not too many shells.  I don’t mind a few, but when in one hour they send over a thousand howitzer “crumps” as many as ten at a time, & mix up a dozen whizz-bangs with every batch, well – that is a bit too thick.  They actually did that the other day on quite a small frontage indeed, in one part of the line.  It was in reply to a rather heavy “strafing” that we had given them earlier in the day – but considering the number of projectiles the damage & casualties were absurdly slight.  A disused trench was knocked about a bit, & three men were wounded, otherwise nothin’ doin’.  At present I am half homeless.  A new dug-out, very sumptuous, is in the course of construction & very nearly finished.  I hope by tomorrow to finish & furnish it, but may be prevented by other work.  Several red-hats are coming up & will want convoying round which is always rather a trying business, & makes me very bad tempered.  They usually potter about – don’t stay long enough in any one place to make a really thorough survey of the Germans, & at the same time stay too long for the mere cursory glance which is all that they are prepared to give.  Also most of them talk a tremendous & colossal amount of hopeless nonsense, which is of course rather boring.  I hope you have not been worried in any way by the night-raiding Zeppelin.  It really is a bore having such things to disturb one’s peaceful slumber, but I don’t suppose they came near you.  We rely for information on the various fortunate returning from leave.

16 September 1915

Here is another little ditty, I will write you out a copy if it interests you.  So here goes –


Grousin’ Grousin’ Grousin’

Always bloomin;’ well grousin’

Its all very well in the trenches so long as the weather is dry

We can manage the flies & the stenches, while the sun keeps alive in the sky;

But if ever the sun stops shinnin’ an yer in for a rainy spell,

You’ll wish you were back in Blighty & the Kaiser were down in H—


Chorus


For its squelch, squelch, squelch, an’ the mud lies shoe top deep,

An’ its drip, drip, drip, down yer neck, when  you’re tryin’ to sleep

You’re soaked to the skin an’ it still pours in, where yer water-proof sheet got torn:

Yes ! Its ‘ard to be bright, when on sentry at night, an ‘it rains every minute till dawn.


Yer cartridge jams in the chamber, yer clip in the charger guide;

Yer magazine’s not workin’, an’ the muck’s all got inside:

The rust lays red on yer baynit, an the blighter won’t unfix;

An yer bloomin’ officer comes along with “Rifle inspection at six”


Chorus


Yer right leg‘s lost in a sump hole, yer left’s makin’ off down a drain,

Yer shoves yer face in a sandbag wot’s soaked up six gallons of rain,

Yer tries to grab at the side of the trench, to save yerself from a fall,

But the sodden sand comes away in yer ‘and, an’ you’re buried with tons of it all


Chorus


The language I am afraid is somewhat crude but it is practically word for word for word what I once heard from two saturated Tommies in a front line Ypres trench.  I was originally to have gone up to the trenches again today; but Harvey who takes my job at times is shortly going on leave so I am letting him stay a bit longer, & am spending the next two days here with the battalion in rest.

11 September 1915

Mont des Cats

After yesterday’s somewhat surprising efforts today has been quite a success.  This morning I was gassed.  Two big uppers & a lower on my left side were fetched away, leaving only a small portion which was comparatively painlessly removed this afternoon.  The only trouble now is that my left cheek shows distinct signs of caving in, so I am having a few out on my right side tomorrow, to make matters more or less even.  The dentist fellow is an amusing little chap & quite a first rate man at his job I believe.  His idea is to pull out all that are absolutely useless & beyond repair, then shift one or two, & level one or two down for crowning purposes.  This should make comparative comfort certain until the end of the war when I can go to the expense of having a plate.  He says, & I should imagine that it is quite true, that out here a plate is a thorough nuisance.  It is therefore unadvisable to try & get one made, even supposing I could get long enough leave to have it done, which is improbable.  This morning there were scenes of disorder in the dormitory.  Mould began to sing.  This was too much for me, so he received two puttees & the bath sponge followed by a box (of matches) on the nose.  At once all these so-called sick officers forgot their aforementioned stomachs & joined in.  Great fun while it lasted.  The result is that everyone has cheered up immensely, & most of them are not at all bad.  Here they are.

  1. Major – T.F. commanding a battalion, a fact which he never lets one forget.  Rather boring
  2. Captain – regular – a signaller on the staff of the Vth Corps – knows Whishaw – quite mad but very amusing
  3. Captain – regular. Sprained ankle – very fierce & dying to get back
  4. Lieut – Yeomanry – served as a trooper through Boer War – Ladysmith – quiet & very interesting, dysentery there & here – first rate man
  5. Lieut – Gunner nonentity
  6. Lieut — A.V.C. – not much catch
  7. Lieut -T.F.- good little chap on the whole, by no means gloomy, & knows many games of patience – cheerful at all events

There you have them all, summed up concisely if perhaps rudely.  The only other person of interest is the Dentist’s orderly who stands & grins at the poor wretched victim – complete with note-book & pencil & ready to take down anything said under gas.  In my case I was so quiet that the gag remained in place all the time & I said nothing.  Tea is now ready & after tea I am going for a walk with the man from S.A.

10 September 1915

Mont Des Cats

Just a line or two to say that the General has appointed someone to help me in my job & I have at last left the trenches.  Pen & ink for the first time since I came to France, today!  These do not mean a rise in pay or that a fortune has been suddenly left me; merely that I have come to the Mont des Cats Hospital as intended & that these small luxuries are here provided. Dental operations started this afternoon but were somewhat rudely interrupted.  House-breaking efforts were progressing quite well with the aid of a boring machine when quite suddenly I fainted !  Think of it –fainted !!!  A large dinner, followed immediately by the somewhat curious position of the dentist’s chair where one gapes at the ceiling must have caused some kind of acute indigestion.  At all events the show had to be postponed.  Tomorrow I am to be gassed – a pleasing prospect – two extractions, followed, I believe, by a little more housebreaking.  There are altogether seven officers up here, all sick.  Mould is one of them, suffering from what he is pleased to describe in a letter as a high temperature.  With the exception of one man who has sprained his ankle they are all suffering from some complaint that requires rest & quiet, they discuss their stomachs etc. & look scandalised at my somewhat rude health & boisterous methods.  One great piece of news — The Colonel has come back.  On leaving the trenches I went to the transport lines & found that he had just arrived.  He spent last night there in a tent, I too in the same tent – he goes to the trenches today.  This means that Toller will at last be able to get leave.  After 6 months during 3 of which he has been in command of the battalion.  I think he just about deserves a holiday.  In my last letter I spoke of an embarrass de richesse in jobs.  I accepted the Adjutant of course & Toller went to the General about it. To no avail.  “Oh dear no” said the General, “he is doing much too well at intelligence.”  So at this Brigade business I must stay.  If only the Brigadier does not get removed or anything, & so long as the Bosch goes on doing things for me to observe all will be well.  But if there is nought to see & nothing to report then my job becomes rather a failure & things may be in a parlous condition however hope for the best, obviously luck is on my side.  A 5” shell missed my Knut by 15 yards the other day & I was quite untouched – only however to faint at the sight of the dentist!!!!

6 September 1915

Ypres

The new job is, as far as I know, only temporary, but while it lasts it means that I have to spend all my time in the trenches.  As the last few days have been amongst the wettest I have ever seen, the trenches are not very pleasant but that cannot be helped.  Yesterday the sun appeared again, & today too has so far proved most excellent & bright.  My job is to squint through telescopes & periscopes, & glasses, & loop-holes & watch the Hun at work & play.  I have in this way seen an enormous number of Bosches.  Most of them are engaged like ourselves in trying to drain, dry, revett, & where necessary rebuild their trenches, ruined as they are by the first heavy rain.  One Hun I saw is most certainly a barber in Aldusgate Street, while another reminds me of a butcher I have met somewhere. Today I watched one remove his shirt & start patiently looking for small inhabitants.  It’s a great comfort to think that they are having as bad a time from the wet as we are.   A rather curious thing has happened, causing me quite a little worry.  Having had no opening for new work for the past many months I am now faced with several.

  1. This Brigade job. It may lead to better things, Division or something of that sort. On the other hand it may last a time & then I shall be returned to my regiment where I shall be out of touch with everything & quite useless.
  2. My promotion & the 2nd in command of D. Coy which has been promised if I want it.
  3. Adjutant – which has been offered & which I have accepted, provided no1 does not stand in the way.

Of these I have cut out no 2 though it is a job I should very much like & might do quite well — Cut it out because It would mean that I should be directly over Mould who is at present my senior, & would resent it very much indeed.  Between Nos 1 & 3 I cannot decide.  3 is permanent & a jolly good job.  It might lead to something far better than 3 but at the same time might suddenly end in nothing at all, as it depends very largely at present on the whim of one General.  What I shall finally decide to do I don’t know but it will probably be no. 3 unless I can extract a definite promise of permanency about no. 1. No time for more now.  The Huns are shelling our rear a long way off & I must go & try & catch some Bosch looking over his trench to see where the shells are bursting.

3 September 1915

Ypres

Good news will I hope make up for the lateness of this letter.  I have got the job from the Brigade that I spoke of in my last letter, & am arranging to live in the trenches with whatever battalion is up there at the time.  It is quite a good job, very interesting, I have already seen quite a lot of Huns playing about in their trenches & working in various ways.  I sent my first report in to the general today, & he was most complimentary, so much so that he really quite compensated for the most appalling weather with which we have had to put up for the last day or two.  It has simply deluged & I have been wet through hour after hour, & look like getting wet through for the next several hours unless things improve.  This afternoon while riding on a pony through terrible showers & over terrible ground, I very nearly got drowned.  My pony stumbled & ducked his head into several feet of water.  I shot forward & only just managed to recover my saddle: it was a very near squeak & I was lucky to escape a complete & total immersion.  At present as a matter of fact I am not in the trenches.  My job cannot be carried on in the wet weather, & so I am spending tonight back with my own battalion.  Tomorrow I shall go up & carry on work.  So long as I can survive these innumerable wettings all will be well, but sitting in wet clothes is not very pleasant & the dangers of catching a chill are always rather imminent.  The post is going very soon so I must stop.  When I get really settled down I hope to be able to write more often.