I got the paper on Tuesday morning and while I was busy reading it the Germans sent a shell over and smothered it in dirt., so that I had to give it over. They won’t let you have a minute. We are going to get relieved on Sunday, so we shall get a rest. I don’t see anything of Walter Nutcher. George is not with us, he was left behind. We are over our shoe tops in mud and have to stand in that day and night. We don’t get clean things to put on, its three weeks since I had a clean shirt on. We are as cunning as bears and as happy as sand boys, it is no good to be any other. Tell Harry, Sergeant Crowley got killed on Sunday night. Thank you very much for the parcel. We have had no sleep since we have been in the trenches, we get tired we can’t sleep. I am just going to cook my dinner, as soon as they see the smoke they will send a shell over to fill my pot up.
We have been through a living hell since I wrote you before, and many of our brave lads we shall never see again. But we went at it man to man, we fought midst shot and shell, and seeing our mates falling fast was serious to witness, they lay up the trenches wounded, groaning with pain. We couldn’t stop to help them. But when we got the Germans out we had a search and found just what most of us needed, chocolates, cakes and other luxuries, but drink we needed most. We held the trench until next morning before we got relieved, then we went back into another trench for a rest. Then again they made counter attacks at them and we went again and they got a reward for that, we gave them counter attacks. Our bombers did excellent work to keep them back, they bombed them with their heads cut and bleeding, but they stuck fast until the last. We have got the pluck, we have got the men, and we hold an excellent reputation which I hope we will try to still uphold. I have never seen such sights before in my life, I hope I never may again, but thank God I am alive still, and I only wish the rest of my mates were the same. I must now close again with kind regards to all.
My Dearest Mother and all – Sunday morning, but what a funny one for us out here, different from being in England. It is a lovely morning; the sun is quite hot. The last day or two have been much better. Now I must tell you that yesterday a lot of us were sent up to just behind the firing line to clear the ground where the last big battle was fought. No doubt you have seen the papers. A thousand of us from our Brigade came up. We left the village where our Regiment is yesterday at dinner time and came up to the line in motor buses. We got to the firing line about 4 0’clock, and then hid to wait till dark before we commenced work. I can tell you our job is not a nice one. I am glad you did not know what I was doing while you were in bed. My word, it is a sight on the battlefield. First of all came to the entanglements all broken up, the roads up, guns and carts and bicycles lying about broken up, and poor dead horses, terrible to see. No one has not stood on the field could realize what it is like. The worst sight of all was of course our poor dead comrades, I hope I will never see such sights again. Our work is to clear everything up. We all got in a long line and walked slowly across the ground; as we came to the dead bodies we collected all their personal belongings, books, etc. We took off equipment and when we came back called for the bodies ; and when we finished work this morning about 4 o’clock, we buried them all and the Chaplain read the service. Each grave is marked with a wooden cross. The little treasures of each one will be sent to his home and the Chaplain will write and say that he has had as decent burial as it is possible to give him. Of course, some of the dead were Germans. These were buried, but we did not trouble so much about them. You will say that it is nice job, but someone has to do it. Will Flint, Will Harvey and I are up here from our way. Our people have got a good advance here. We are living and sleeping today in were originally our line of trenches, but our fellows are three miles. We have been in the German trenches that were captured. It is a sight in them. The German dead are piled up all over the place, no end of them. I think we are burying them tonight. We shall be here about four or five days. We can only work at night as we are so close to the line, and the Germans keep sending shells very close to our trench as it is. A few minutes ago a piece of shrapnel fell within foot of me. One never knows. It is a dangerous job. We found a photo of a girl on one poor boy and a letter in which be asked the finder to send it to Miss Somebody, at Birmingham, and tell them. I could have got hold of plenty of shell cases and shrapnel. I have got some caps from German shells: also a German soldier’s cap and gloves. Did you read about a big air raid the other day on a supply stores? We were very close to a big aeroplane depot. We saw 30 of them start out on that job. We think nothing of seeing 12 to 20 in the air altogether. It is a sight to see the village, we are close to that we took from the Germans. All in pieces, not a good house left. I forgot to tell you that when we were rushed up to the firing line last week, we went through the infantry and joined a Battalion of the Guards. Well someone called out and Joe Whitmore says it was Fred Gilbert. I wonder if it was him: it was his Regiment. There is not much more that I can write this morning, will finish it tomorrow or Tuesday. – Monday 3.30pm. Another start. Have slept most of the day. We got in from some gruesome work 5 o’clock this morning and were very tired. It is a rough day. Germans shelling us something awful. Shells are falling in our trenches: three of our fellows wounded : none you know. The Regiment next us : one fellow killed : it is terrible really. We had it hot last night, while at work under shell fire, and we were also fired at by German snipers, bullets whizzing over our heads several times. I expect we will be in it again tonight – 5 o’clock. Just had orders we are going back tonight boys. Could not help laughing a few minutes ago. Three of us, Will Flint, Will Harvey and myself were in the trench when a shell burst on the parapet, bowled us clean over. I fell over backwards. I thought we were hit that time. We really have had some marvellous escapes since being up here – Tuesday 3 pm. Got back to the boys at 3 o’clock this morning : very pleased we were too. I shall never forget the experience we have had. It was a glorious night when the star shells lit up the battlefield at night. The infantry all tell us how they would rather go into the trenches a hundred times than do what we are doing, so you may know we have had an experience. We are likely to move back near the firing line at any minute. We did not have a wash from the time we left the boys on Saturday till this morning and very little to eat, as the Germans shelled the roads so much we could not get the supplies of water and food up. No one knows what it is like to rough it out here.
Dear Governess – A last I am writing you the letter I promised when I came away from home. I have all day to myself now, so I spend a lot of time writing. We have not been out of the trenches long, but when we came out for a rest I was picked with some more to go and patrol the frontier. It is easy work and we are in a good billet, but what I don’t like is being away from my regiment. I can hear the guns here, and I know they are under fire while I am right way from it, and the only chance we get of seeing a German is when one or two try and cross the frontier, which is not very often. I should like to tell you what we were doing when the great charge was made, but of course I must not. It was a grand sight. The Huns did not wait to see who was coming, they scrambled out of their trenches and made off behind the town, where they are safe (for a short time though). I went in some of their dugouts, and they were beautiful inside, they had chairs, tables, gas stoves, beds and everything one could wish for, but the men had no heart and gave themselves up rather than fight. In my opinion our village is worth the whole of France put together. I remain one of your boys.
I have got wounded in the left leg, but it is going on very nicely, nothing to worry about. I got it on the 26th Sept, and have been brought to Malta. We had a very nice voyage. I hope Bob and Jim are quite well. Tell them that I have stopped one, but if I don’t get any worse I shall not hurt. I am sending a photo of the hospital ship I came on. I suppose you now that Ern, Gowler and Charlie Knight are sick in hospital. I don’t know if I shall see them. I hope to come across some of my old pals. Remember me to all friends. Keep the old flag flying – Are we down hearted? No Don’t worry about me.
We are out of the trenches now for a rest, which we can all do with, as we have been working day and night in the last fortnight. We have been on what they call the flying column; go wherever they want us to be in the reserve for them when they do a charge. We did a bit in attack on Sunday morning, the 3rd, about 7 just as it was getting light. I shall never forget it as long as I live. We had been in reserve for over a week. We have been close to —–, as you will know it is a hot shop, only eight yards away from the Germans. It wasn’t half a sight the dead and the wounded lying all over the place. You could nor move without treading on them. I thought my time had come then, but I wasn’t to be hit. I though I should never be able to see you all again, but the Lord spared me once more. I thought you would like to know the reason why you did not hear from me before, but don’t worry about me, as I shall try to pull through somehow or other, but it is a great strain on anybody out here now. We have been 48 hours without anything to eat or drink only what we found lying in the trenches., and then when we did get anything it was eight loaves between 45 men, so we never got much of a blow out on that. That is the best food I have had lately. I got your letter just after dinner, and the parcel about 4 o’clock, so I am enjoying myself once more, but I wish I was under the table again. When we did get so that we could have a sleep it was out in the open, and it has been raining a lot out here lately, but that did not matter. As soon as you get asleep you would wake up frozen with cold. We only had our overcoats to keep us warm. It would be a change now to have nice bed to sleep in, so that you could take your clothes off, as I have not had mine off since I left England. How are all the other fellows getting on out here away from Caxton? I never hear from any of them. I should like to run against someone I know out here, but I don’t think it will be over yet from what I can see of it. We are in an old barn now, lying on a bit of straw where there are plenty of rats and mice running about. Thanks very much for the parcel and the fags I got all right. Send me a few matches next time.
I hope you do not think I have forgotten you live at Eynesbury as I have not written you a letter for some considerable time. But I know you will excuse me for that as I am taking this chance of writing you one. I hope you are well, as this leaves me the best of health and happiness although up to our necks in mud, and our horses covered also. We have moved from the farm where we have been for so long, but we have had awful weather for being on the march. We left the old farm eight days ago, and it’s rained every day and night except two; and by gum ! where we are now it’s the picture of a mud heap or mud road. George Baker is with me, but the rest of “the boys” are some distance up with the Regiment, but hear that they are worse off than we are, so I can’t tell you what hey are like, we are bad enough. But never mind, we shall get over it, its no use getting down hearted is it? I’m not going to. We move from one place to another in the night and rest in the day. By moving at night the airman of our enemy cannot see us, it does not do to let them see too much. They say “ One above sees all:” those fellows are are high enough to see too much. I have seen many a one of their (the Germans) aeroplanes shelled by our guns. We were having a Church Parade one Sunday morning about three weeks ago, and in the distance we could see the shells bursting around one of their planes. The Zeppa have been paying England a few more visits I hear. We have never seen any of them over here. Geo. Baker wishes to be remembered to you, he is quite well. All the other boys are well as far as I know. I heard from my friend Albert Storey a few days ago. He often writes to me: he is quite well and tells me that that they are very busy letting them have it for all they are worth. I have been amongst several batteries of his Regiment, but have never been lucky enough to get among the No 2 Siege Battery that he is in; I would like to see him. In one of the letters he told me that he walked over 1 1/2 miles to where some Cavalry were lying in hopes of finding the Beds Yeomanry there, but we were not there and he was very sorry. He said it was rather rough luck. I suppose that by the time you get this our Harvest Festival will be over at the Parish Church, as I was told in one letter from home that it was to be on Oct 3rd and that is next Sunday. I would like to be there and hear it. It would be a treat to be at one of the Services again. How is the choir getting on? I hope it is still keeping up its good singing. The last Service I was at in our Parish Church was on May 23rd (Whit Sunday). If you remember I went to St Neots Station with you after the Service. That is more than four months ago, how time does seem to fly doesn’t it? Well I must now close this letter, as it is getting late and we shall soon have “lights out”. My very best wishes and “good luck to the choir and the school”.
Just a few hasty lines (from Alexandria) to you in answer to your letter and parcel which I was so pleased with and I can assure you so were all the boys in the tent in which I sleep. I was pleased to hear that you received the souvenirs quite safe. I registered them to make sure. Well I am under the same impression as yourself about a few more of the young fellows in the village, not only to take my example but of those who are under Military age and have had pluck to say they are because their looks do not betray them. There is just one small illustration I should like every one of these single men who have not had the pluck to come up. There was a man came in the Hospital the other week, he was recommended for the Victoria Cross and I think he had earned it, as he had got his right arm blown clean off from the elbow, he had several smaller wounds all over him and I am sorry to say he will never see his mother again as both eyes had to be taken out, and as I am in the operating theatre at present I can assure you it was no pleasant sight to see him, and just before the doctors were going to put him under he said he would like to know how many fire-side warriors had got what he had. I am pleased to say he is still living and cheerful. He can sing like I nightingale. He has a fine voice and can use it. I daresay Eaton Socon is rather quiet just now. Pleased to hear the harvest is in. Well we don’t get much cold weather here, but it is quite as cold at night as it is in England just at present I would say. I am pleased to say we are under a lot better conditions than we were when we first landed, although still have to lie on the ground. We don’t mind that so long as we get plenty of food. Well I think I have told you about all this time so I will close once again thanking you for your tin of cigarettes, which were much appreciated by the boys as well as myself. I should like you to see some of them jumping for joy, as they had been making cigarettes out of the paper off the jam tins and newspaper. So I will close with best respects to all at home.
Dear Brother and Sister – Just a line to let you know that I have arrived in Hospital in Aberdeen, but don’t know how long I shall be here. I have been wounded in my left hand, and the bullet passing through the bottom of the thumb and coming out just below my finger. I don’t know if I shall be able to use it anymore after it has healed, but it is very painful and swollen at present. I think I am very lucky being alive. I was in the big charge on Sat, Sep 25th (in the morning), and you can bet that we gave the Germans a great surprise. We used everything we possibly could against them. As I belong to the bombing section I had to carry bombs in a Bandolier in the front of me, and it is owing to this that I am alive as a bullet struck one of the bombs and glided off. We had to charge a distance of 700 yards, in short rushes. After doing about 500 yards we had just got to make another rush when a shower of bullets came along and I received my wound. There was a lot of prisoners taken and they looked as if they were fairly done up. I know that they hadn’t had any rest for some days as our artillery had kept them awake, especially the day before the attack, they poured shells into the German trench, and the noise of the guns was just like one long roll of thunder, lasting all day long. I think we will now close as I don’t feel up to the mark to write any more. Hoping to hear from you soon.
It has been very wet lately and very cold at nights. We have had one Christmas in the Trenches and it looks a great deal like having another, but never mind we can stick it. I think we have made a great improvement in the line, and I think it is right what Lord Kitchener says that Germany has shot her last bolt. I am very sorry to hear of the death of Captain Smythe from the wounds he got doing his bit for his King and Country. Remember me to the old boys. I always remember the old motto at School: “Whatever you do, do it with your might”. And if we do that we will see this war to a victorious end.
St Neots Museum
The Old Court
8 New Street
St Neots PE19 1AE
Opening and admission
We’re open Tuesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm.
Free entry to the museum for local residents. Non-residents: Adults £3, seniors £2 and children £1.
Fees apply for some events.