I am just writing in a few spare moments a letter to you from the trenches on behalf of the old boys. We have just been out here three weeks yesterday, and during our time here we have had some experiences of what war is like. Well our first was on the Friday after we landed, we were digging trenches under heavy shell and bullet fire, when one of the boys got wounded by shrapnel: it was Albert Markham. We, the boys, happened very lucky on Sunday 15th August, as we were on guard in the trenches when or battalion went into action and made a fine bayonet charge, when they captured a hill and drove the Turks a good distance back. We afterwards re-joined the battalion and helped them to hold the hill until the next Sunday, when we were relieved. The next week passed off rather quietly when we were on fatigue work at the base when we came across Sidney Sawyer and P C King late of St Neots. After this we moved back to the trenches again to a different position, where we still remain, and getting on comfortable, except the heat and the flies, they are enough to eat us: also it is very cold at night. All the boys are pretty fair excepting one or two of them who are a bit queer, being overtaken by the heat. W. Pope is with me while writing this letter. He had a narrow escape the other day whilst fetching water, as a shrapnel bullet entered his rifle and smashed all the wood where it hit.
We have had some lovely warm weather out here lately, and the farmers have got all the corn up all but a few beans, which are all ready to get up. They have also pulled a lot of the ground up for next year, but it is not like it is at home. It is only ploughed up a few inches and most of it is cultivated with a scuffle, such as is used in England on rough land. Everything out here is done the old fashioned style like you see in books, carts are drawn by chains, and are on three wheels and mules are used a lot. They have no shafts on the old farm carts or wagons. The light traps have nearly always a hood, and they nearly always have them up, but they are high on the wheels and built strong. One sees very few civilian cars knocking abut in this part although people would think there was no war on. People go about, taking no notice of anything. Women do most of the farm work, also carting and stacking. In some parts the soldiers have helped.
I am pleased to say I am quite well, and we are very busy with the wounded now. We are close to the line, and on Friday last had the pleasure of seeing a German airman brought down by two French airman. The guns are on the go night and day, and the noise at times is awful. I have also met Pte. Watson in our Unit from Little Stukeley. We have our hospital in an old mill partly, and part under canvas. Some very fine doctors with us too. Living is very good too, considering we are so far up country.
Before the War Private Cross was employed at Messrs Jordan and Addington’s Mills, in a letter says:
We arrived here on the 11th leaving some of our Battalion at —— we stayed the night and in the morning we were taken for a route march round the town, it is a bit different from our English towns, is it not? As soon as we arrived in the harbour here we were under shell fire and have been ever since. It made us duck our heads the first day but we are quite used to it now. We went into action on the 15th for the first time, and our Brigade were told off to take a very important hill. Getting in grips with the enemy about 2 pm our boys cleared everything before them and gained the top of the hill in about twelve hours. It was a splendid feat, as the hill is a mile long. I am sorry to say we lost very heavy. . . . . our Battalion, but you would have been proud had you seen how the boys died. Since that battle other Battalions have given us the name “The Yellow Devils ” on account of us wearing a little yellow badge on the back of our hats. Our machine guns did some good work, our officer getting recommended for D.S.O., but I am very sorry to tell you that two days ago
he got shot through the head by a sniper and died. It was a great blow to us as he was such a good and daring leader. The worst thing we have to put up with here is the water. We get such a small quantity that it is almost as big an enemy as the Turks. The Turks are no good whatever with the bayonet, as soon as they see the white steel they shriek and run like hares. It is really only their artillery that we are fighting against. They are not such bad people as you have no doubt heard they are, as I know several cases where they have bandaged our wounded up and either sent them back to our lines, or if too bad have left them with some water by their side. You may not believe this, but the other day two Turks found one of our boys badly wounded so they bandaged him up and themselves brought him back to our
lines, and of course we took them prisoners, as no doubt they wanted us to do. It is surprising what a number of snipers there are here, women as well as men, they seem to be everywhere; they have been found with their faces and hands painted green as well as wearing green clothes. I haven’t time to write more as we are going into action again tonight at 8 o clock, so please remember me to Mr. Bonham, and tell him I shall come back to the “Old Mill ” safe again and sound. So goodbye for the present, hoping soon to have a reply.
We are getting on very nicely now about here, and you needn’t worry over me being here. I also hope Fred will return home safe. You needn’t worry about us, we are only doing what a lot more are doing and what a lot ought to be doing who are staying at home. I am very pleased that I am in the Army, and taking my share, but when I hear and think of so many young fellows home who are hanging out of this terrible war it makes our blood run to think of them. I know there is hardship to put up with in the Army, but we are getting fed well out here, and nobody ought to grumble. We cannot expect everything as nice as at home, but we got plenty of food. I am as happy over here in some respects I was in England, because I am doing my duty, and also pleased that I have a brother who is doing his bit in another part of the fighting. You, mother and father, ought to be pleased that both your single sons are serving in the Defence of the homeland, and if we die in doing it you will know we have done our duty. Cheer up! let us hope to meet again in England. The enemy can visit England in airships, but will not land in England if England’s single young men turn out well.
We had a pretty fierce fight on Sunday, in fact I did not expect to some out alive, but I escaped it pretty well. I got a bullet through my left foot, and I left here on Sunday. We were put on a hospital ship and are now lying on an island for a time. I do not know how many there are of us left, when I was with them they were falling like ninepins. No mistake they are some good fighting chaps, they have made their name already. We were not sent out to take a hill and in less than four hours we had go it. If they can keep it I think it will soon be all over here, thank God for it.
At last I am writing to you. I hope it finds you well, as it leaves me and all my pals. We are having some grand weather, but very hot for our job. We are trench digging. We came up a week last Friday by motor bus, but the roads are very bad, and if you ride on top you have to hold on tight. Our home is a wood about a mile from the firing line, so we have a few German shells over. We got one of our men wounded last Wednesday, and on Thursday night we had just had our tea when they started shelling our wood. They kept on for nearly an hour. Four men and two officers were wounded, but none of the Beds. We have a battery of heavy RGA guns all round us, and while I am writing they are sending them over. May they find a good home! We get used to the guns. We get very little sleep when they start a bombardment. We are quite happy, but will be very pleased to see Old England again. We have been out here three months, and we have seen some sights. One village we came by was just a heap of ruins, and by the furniture which was left people had to leave in a great hurry. What would people think to see their homes ruined? My regards to all I know.
St Neots Museum
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