I am writing to let you know I am still alive behind our big guns. We keep letting the Germans have some shells. They were trying to find us the other day, they downed the farmhouse on the other side of the road to ours. We live in a farmhouse. We had to clear out of our billet sharp until things had baited down a bit, one chap killed and five injured, but none of our chaps. We have been busy making stables for our horses, because it is cold here at nights. Water and mud knee deep, and then it freezes at nights, but we have had such a lot of rain since I have been here. We have seen some sights since we came up; we had a German aeroplane over us – our guns were busy. I have heard from brother; he is about 20 miles from here. We came through that place when we came here. We are about 2 miles from a town: we go up and down for a bath and clean clothes. Well I have heard from my wife, and she has sent me one of my photos. My word its grand, the best I ever had taken. I have shown all our chaps it, and officers too, and they think it’s a grand photo. Its very funny here – the money is all franks (10d). We get mixed with it. Fancy bread 9d a loaf (they call it pain), candles 1d each (only small ones too). Well we shall soon have Christmas here. Well I really must close, as I don’t know what to put in as we are not allowed to tell you much. Kindly remember me to the family and Mrs Jennings and yourself. I beg to remain one of your old scholars. Kindly remember me to all the Choir. I wish I could hear some of Eynesbury Choir singing out here. We can see about eight churches from here, but they all being shelled and about down. People that are in England ought to be thankful that the Germans are not there.
It is Sunday night and the weather bitter cold, and I am wrapped up in my blanket trying to keep warm. I fell just in the right mood for writing, so I thought the best thing to do was to drop you a few lines. During the last few months there has been plenty of fighting about this quarter, and undoubtedly you have seen in the papers that our troops have done extraordinarily well. I am afraid I spoke too soon when I told you that I hadn’t had a taste of gas. It was only about a fortnight after that I had my first experience of it. They commenced sending gas shells over one morning, and it was rather exciting for the time being, but we soon got accustomed to it. It made my eyes smart badly, but otherwise it had no ill effects.
I am still dodging bullets and have just left the trenches where I have been employed in bomb throwing, and am well. I can assure you it is hell in them, but we are giving the Germ-Huns what for now and we are advancing every day trench by trench. You ought to see them when we make a charge. The worst of it is the gas. We lost a lot of men by Gas on Hill 70 when we charged, but we gave them what for I can tell you. We unfortunately lost our O.C. and our Company Officer. Our boys went up the Hill as though nothing was the matter, singing the blazes. When we got to the top there were a few Germans there who cried for mercy when we got in the trench. You ought to be here and see for yourself. You would not think there was a war on as our boys are singing from morning till night, and are always asking the officers when we are going over the top again as it is cold in our trenches. I can say there is nothing more certain than us wining as we have them beat all ends up. The other morning, we fired 10 rounds rapid, they put up the white flag, but we were not to be caught bending. Give my kind regards to all., from your old pal.
I am sending you a piece of Hill 70 that we made up in the trenches which I think is very good. If you consider it good enough to go into “The St Neots Advertiser” I should like you to put it in, and please send me one of the papers to show that the Guards are not all “feather bed” soldiers. I can assure you it was a bit hot, like all hell itself and shells burst in our trench and was myself buried twice by them. We shall not get anything so hot again. We lost 25 of our bombers out of 40 in less than 20 minutes. I am glad so many are turning up to answer the call, I think they will be wanted, but we have got them on the run I think. I am glad Mrs C and family are well. Remember me to all the Eaton folks and don’t forget the paper.
The Monday afternoon was well nigh spent,
When across to the trenches the Grenadiers went;
We started off in the grand old style
The Germans shelling us all the while.
Only five oclock ! it was not yet dark
And the German guns ne’er ceased to bark;
But we reached a trench and scrambled inside.
And there for a time we had to hide.
The shells were falling in a solid mass,
And they started using their deadly gas;
But the boys were fairly well equipped,
And over our heads our smoke helmets were slipped.
Then we advanced over an open field,
The shells were falling but we did not yield;
We reach the road we dug ourselves in,
Then for the shells we didn’t give a pin.
The worst of it was it began to rain
But the boys kept at it just the same;
We didn’t care a single toss
For any of the blooming cowardly Bosche.
When the darkness began to fall,
They sent up star shells to reveal us all,
If we’d put up our hands over the parapet,
The snipers would have had us you can bet.
But we knew a trick worth two of that.
So in the bottom of the trench we sat,
Waiting for the daylight to appear,
Also reinforcements from the rear.
The morning passed midst a might roar,
As the Germans were dropping shells galore,
But as they were dropping well behind,
The lads in the trenches did not mind.
In the afternoon the battle begun,
And we soon had the Germans on the run,
Over Hill 70 the beggars we chased,
And the shells from the Artillery were all well placed.
No doubt the Germans are a dirty lot,
Because for our wounded they care not a jot;
They fired on the stretcher bearers carrying them in,
And the shots from the snipers went ping, ping ping.
On the Wednesday night we got relieved,
And the hot rum and tea for all the boys received:
It made us all fell extra bold,
As we had been shivering with the cold.
We marched along the road all night,
And the star shells revealed a terrible sight;
For on Saturday the Huns had held this line,
And our Artillery had caught them fine.
Dead horses and men lay along the trench,
And they created a terrible stench;
Some were buried others were not,
We were glad to get away from that awful spot.
Now we are back in billets for a rest,
And although our billets are not the best,
We sleep quite sound from the roar of the guns,
And the bullets and the gas and the cowardly Huns.
But in the days to come, that memorable day
When the Gaurds made the Germans run away,
Will always be talked about with pride,
When the boys are sitting round their own fireside.
And your children will ask in tones of awe,
What did you do, Daddy in this terrible war?
Then you can answer with perfect glee,
That you were the boys that took hill 70.
Just a few lines hoping this will find you quite well, as it leaves me, going on very nicely. Sorry to say that I never saw the fags Fred Walton and Charlie Chasty sent me. I suppose I was on the hospital ship when they sent them. The bullet has not hurt my ankle, it just missed. Sorry to hear that Ern Gowler is dead, when did he die? Last time I saw him he was very nearly in half, he did look bad. Sorry to hear that Lewis Pope has gone. Don’t fret about me, this is not like the Front, there are no bullets and shells flying about. We are looked after well and have everything we want. I am still in bed. I don’t think this war is going to last much longer. As a rule we don’t get longer than 10 days leave, but I don’t think I deserve longer than that. Don’t forget to send me the paper and my fags.
I think you have seen in the papers how the Bedfords have made a name for themselves out here. When we are out of the trenches there is plenty of work to be done. I have been in some very tight corners, but I get through all right, and hope to get home to England safe again. I have seen Mr Ramply from Little Paxton. They have got it about that I am wounded, but that is a lie, I am quite all right up to the present. There are plenty of shells and bullets flying about every day. I have not seen a house since I have been here.
You have heard of British victories,
And no doubt you have read,
How many of our brave comrades
Lie numbered with the dead.
To add to these great victories,
This one I’m going to tell
How us lads of the 7th Suffolks
Pulled through a living hell.
Many of our brave lads lie sleeping,
Still a few remain
To tell of this brave battle,
From ……. Up to ………,
It’s not of air raids on London,
Or any other town,
But the battle the 7th Suffolks won,
Near the Hohenzollen Redoubt.
It was on the ……
We lined up to attack
And not a man amongst us,
Would have thought of turning back.
At twelve o’clock that morning,
Our hearts were beating fast
As we stood firm with our bayonets fixed,
Waiting to carry out our task.
Twas opened by our artillery,
With many numerous guns,
Set to destroy the trenches.
Held by the German Huns,
After two hours stiff bombardment,
An order came soft and low,
To charge the line of trenches,
Held by the German foe.
Midst sounds of battle raging,
And the flash of bursting shell,
How we managed to advance,
I really cannot tell:
But when we reached their trenches,
The Germans turned and fled,
Leaving all behind them,
Their dying and the dead.
Several hours the brutes bombarded,
But we all of us confess,
That each and every one of us,
Hung on and did our best
There were other regiments in it,
Each man was proud we know,
To add such laurels to our flag,
We still and will uphold.
The Suffolks took the centre,
The ……. took the right,
The … was on our left
And held their own all right :
But there is one more regiment,
I have not mentioned yet,
The gallant 9th Essex,
That’s the name they get.
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.