I expect you will be surprised to hear from me, especially as I have not written to you since being on active service. You will perhaps remember me as a policeman at St. Neots. I enlisted as perhaps you know, at Huntingdon in September1914, in the above regiment and was sent to Bedford. From thence only being two hours in the barracks there, I was packed off to Fermoy, in Ireland. After six months training there we moved to Basingstoke to finish our Divisional training. After two months there, the whole Division (the 10th Irish Division) were embarked for the Sulva Bay Expedition in the Dardanelles, and, my goodness, what an expedition it was. For perhaps the first time in my life I knew what hardship was. We were on the Island on Lemnos. On August 6th last year we received the order to move. No one seemed to know where we were going, although of course we had a good idea. We embarked that night in patrol boats, and at about 5 o’clock the next morning we were roused by big gun fire. Looking over the side I saw two or three battleships blazing away for all they were worth. As we gradually neared Sulva Bay the firing became more intense. We eventually got right into the Bay. What a sight. A number of battleships firing without ceasing. A great number of transports with troops. They were landed in small steam lighters, each holding about 500 infantry men. The advance from the shore was just commencing. What it cost us in killed and wounded I don’t know, but it was a terrible price. As our infantry landed they extended in fighting order, but the enemy shrapnel was working great havoc among them. But still everything was carried out in perfect order, and the advance was sustained until nightfall. All that night we were digging trenches. Of the subsequent events I daresay you have read in the papers. After two months being under continual shell fire, the 10th once more embarked. We all wondered what was coming off, but could only guess. After a few days rest at Lemnos we found ourselves once more abroad, destination still unknown, until we finally landed in Salonica, in Greece. We then heard for the first time of the Bulgarian raid into Serbia. After a short rest there we moved up to where the Germans are now concentrating, viz, Givghilli. My company went on detachment road-making, bridge building etc. This Division were the only British troops taking part in this expedition. For a few weeks nothing was done but outpost duty; but after a time the Bulgarians advanced. You have no doubt read in the papers at home of the Division’s great retirement. Not a man, from C.O.’s down to privates, escaped the hardship. Snow, fog and frost, bitter winds and damp, made our lot an unenviable one ; but luckily we won through. We are now a sadly depleted Division. But I am pleased to say the spirit of the troops is fine. Personally I am very fit, a bit thinner than of yore, but undoubtedly harder and stronger. Please God I am spared to return to St Neots for which I have a very strong attachment.
We have left our horses behind and are acting as Infantry, which seems rather trying to us after being in first class horsemen out here so long. With the ***** and ***** Hussars we went into the first line of trenches for the first time on Jan 5. We are in four days, and then come back for 6 days rest, which we are greatly appreciated as we cannot get any sleep up there. We went up again for two days on working parties, such as carrying rations to other regiments in the front line, and making up the trenches that were broken down. We went in the front line again and came out on the 21st. Tomorrow we go up again. We have been very lucky all the time as we only had four casualties, and those were slight. We had none killed. The Germans sent us over bullets, hand-grenades, bombs, rifle-grenades, arial torpedoes, trench mortar shrapnel, whiz-bangs, Jack Johnsons and Coal Boxes, but luckily for us none of them found their mark. All the boys are well and very cheerful, but of course, like the rest long to see it all ended. There is a beautiful Cinema where we are going tonight at ******, so you see we have some life, although we are hearing the roll of the guns. Its fighting one minute and fun the next. I should like some of the folks at home to see the beautiful places all broken down to the ground. ******* has been taken and retaken seven times, so you can guess there is not much left of it. There is a lovely cemetery there for British Soldiers. At the head of each grave is a wooden cross with the name and number of the soldier and his regiment marked on it. I had a good look round, but did not see the grave of anyone I knew. There are still a lot of dead lying on the ground. There are thousands of rats in the trenches, they come out at night to eat up in the oddments of food. The stench is very bad too, but not so bad as might be expected. The fighting is pretty quiet, apart from the artillery duels and plenty of aeroplanes hovering round for observation. I wish to thank all at home for their kindness to the boys at the Front. All of the St Neots and Eynesbury boys are well. Tell all the boys at home we want them out here to help us win. We shall win, but nothing but men and shells will do it. – P.S. – Since I wrote the last paragraph we have been in the trenches again for the last time for a while, and we are now back to our horses. The Beds Yeomanry won the highest praise for the work they did, and were complimented by all the Generals and Colonels of every regiment.
We are not having an exceedingly hard time here now, although it gets a bit monotonous at times. We have reveille at 6.30, and, at 7.30, breakfast with the usual diet of bacon. We are not allowed to do much ‘outdoor’ work during the day, that is if it is clear owing to the activity of the German aircraft. Talking about our aeroplanes: I saw a good ‘scrap’ in the air the other day between a British biplane and a German scout. The German machine seemed to tilt all of a sudden, at an awful angle, and looked to me as if it dropped just in its own lines, but whether or no, I could not say for certain: this happened immediately above our heads. We do not lack ammunition, not by a long way; but on the enemy’s side it is doubtful, as not many months ago the Germans used to retaliate with about three shots to our one. But now, where we are it is a great event if we hear a shell let alone see one. We have had it a bit hard with the firing lately, as I can tell you it is no weaklings job to handle 36lb shells especially when you have had about a dozen rounds as fast as you can. The climate out here is suiting me to a ‘T’, nice and sharp in the mornings which gives me a good appetite for breakfast. I was pleased to hear ‘Jimmy’ Skinner was still well. Kindly remember me to all the boys in the office.
By the time you get this letter we shall be in the trenches once again. It seems so nice for us, when we can get out and have a wash and have our night’s sleep as when you are in the trenches you cannot get much, for the shells are flying over your dug-out all the time. But I think most of the boys have got used to it. We are all proud to be able to serve our country and save it from the tyranny of the Huns and their outrageous tricks, and we know our friends at home are doing their best to keep us comfortable since we have been in the trenches. We have had a rough time of it with the wet and the Germans and we are only about ten yards off them at times. We often have to dodge the Huns’ shells etc., but we send them more than they send us and I know our do more damage. We give them some hot times and they will have it hotter still before we have done with them, but we are certain to finish our job and be victorious, so keep smiling. It seems a long time since I saw you all last but hope to get home before long.
I am thankful that up to present I have managed to keep clear of the German Shells and am in the best of health. You need not be surprised to see me popping in one of these days, as there are rumours going round that our battery starts leave on Sunday. Anyhow, we must ‘wait and see.’ One thing to be thankful for we have good sleeping accommodation out here now, possessing fine dugouts. As I write this some of the boys are gathered round the fire making toast and singing and enjoying themselves. The weather does not change much in fact I think it gets colder. But roll on the spring when we can get going. Things are pretty quiet in this quarter just now, or as ‘Pat’ used to say ‘nothing doing.’
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.