I had an awful time on Sunday night. We were seven miles back at rest camp, having come out of the trenches only two days before, and being due a rest. At 5 o’clock they called out and told us we were badly needed at once, and in twelve minutes we had packed our kit and on the move. It was awful when we got up. The shelling caused a never-ending cloud in each direction. The Bosches had tried to break our front, and had taken five lines of trenches from the …… Reserves were hurried up to drive back. I received my first experience in weeping shells, which was terrible. Chaps say Loos and Hill 60 were not as bad nearly. The shelling was awful too. We were not more than five minutes when our Captain came along, fixes his monocle and says “Boys, our chance has come, let us take advantage of it, and show the Bosches that’s the …. Company know how to use the bayonette, pass the word to charge, magazines and fix.” We go over in just under five minutes. I don’t know why but I didn’t seem to funk it at all, once I was over the top and tearing across the open in the face of hell. Men dropped all round, still I wasn’t hit. I felt a tingle in my chest, and find afterwards that the bullet had gone through my top left pocket, right through the papers and books there, but deflected and only scratched me. At last they nobbled me, and I went down hit with a bit of shell. The Prussian Guard in front of us ran like kittens, so as to leave room for their artillery to play on us. I crept into a shell hole, and until Wednesday I existed there on no food, and half a bottle full of water. I had a terrible dread of my water running out, so in the darkness I managed to crawl 250 yards back to our lines, as we have been forced to retire again. It took me four hours. They got me back here, and I’ve had two operations. The piece of shell had gone through my side pockets first, and taking part of the corkscrew and a box of matches through my leg, entering at the fly I’m coming out neither groin. I have two rubber tubes through my leg now. In three weeks also, when I get stronger and a bit better, I shall be back in Blighty, and they say I shan’t come out again. This is a grand hospital, the doctors are splendid, and the nurses are angels. I was operated on yesterday, but feel it easier today. Don’t worry about me, as I shall be all right soon, and back in Blighty, and then you can come and see me. I hear only one officer and eight men in our Company (180 men) got through unhurt. The Captain is still over the top dead, along with the company Sergeant Major.
When you parcel arrived I had been out all day digging, and incidentally got caught in about seven beautiful storms, which resulted in my getting “some” wet through. I wrung my clothes out and my pants and shirts are now drying. I hope it has drowned some of the inhabitants, and then I shan’t begrudge the drenching. We are still a ……, and I don’t move up for about 2 days, so I suppose I shall just be going up when you receive this. We are anticipating a very lively time as this front is very hot just now, although the face of the line has been altered considerably owing to the great mining activity, which mines when blown up of course generally make a mess of the part of the line overhead, and of course send the occupants to some sort of ….. glory. When I tell you that a mine sprung recently, and which I saw go up from a half mile distance, measures about 100ft by a width of between 40 and 70 feet, you will understand that the bombers fight hard for the possession of the same as a place of no small importance. It is a sight to see a mine sprung from anywhere close by. The column of fire as it were shoots up into the air over 70 feet, and the earth literally belches forth huge stones, earth, parts of the trench, revetting, etc. The rival bombers then scrap of course for possession and you can hear the good old Mill’s (our grenades) cracking away. Perhaps the artillery will then go mad and the bursting shells mingled with the red, green and luminous star shells makes a grand, if awful, spectacle. I have had several exciting incidents on this stunt, and hope I’m never nearer to copping out than I was one night. We were laying a cable from the Signal Service. We were working in the open digging a trench for the cable when the Boches started flinging over a hail of rifle grenades , trench mortars and catapult bombs. We were all flat in a moment and soon under some sort of cover. They slowed down a bit and we returned. Suddenly I heard a “plonk” as a bit of bursting grenade or “summat” hit the ground near me and the chap next to me, less than two yards off, goes down like a log and rolls over. He hadn’t caught it as hard as he might I suppose, as his shrapnel helmet saved his head, where he had a slight wound. He had a nasty piece in his back however. We had all got into a bunch near him, like fools, and but for the sheer out and out good luck we should all have all been blown to bits, for a trench mortar fell right amongst us; but by some stroke of Providence it was a dud. Soon afterward we marched back as it became a bit too hot to work. The next time we had to do a short shift, as we had a lot of souvenirs chucked over, and as we were carrying sacks of …… for blowing up mines it was deemed dangerous. Three nights ago I had another good (?) time. We had been up near the support line working on a cable trench, and the Battalion was just returning when two men were asked for. It turned out we had to go to the dump and fetch more cable for nearer the front line. It was then about 2 o’clock. Well we got to this dump all right with a Signals officer as a guide, through about 2 ½ miles of trench, and along half a mile of machine gun swept road. If you know what a coil of cable weighs, when one is wearing full equipment less pack only, you will guess what a lively time we had. The officer left us to find our way, which we thought we could do. Well, we got along the road and down on the communication trench all right, except that it was absolutely necessary to dump the cable every 40 or 50 yards, as it wasn’t a light weight. We carried on to wear the trenches divided several times, took the wrong turning, and after going along 400 yards or so, one met by a lovely little HUN M.G., which made us lay quiet for a quarter of an hour. Then we concluded we were wrong, retraced our steps, and finally reached the point all right, but absolutely done. It was broad daylight now, and we hobbled back here just as the others were up for breakfast. Next night we carried barbed wire and chevaux de frise up to the front line, and lost three men, sniped. The boys out here seem very mild about the Irish Rebellion, and everywhere the soger says: “ If they want scrapping let’em come out here to get it.” By the way, if you happen to meet Mr Harvey ( re-elected I see) of the UDC, tell him I saw his son is here and spent a jolly enjoyable evening with him at an entertainment, Chatting about our experiences. He’s in the Yeomanry. I have also met chat named Riddeford I knew at Brampton, who worked at Hinchinbrooke.
Just a few hasty lines. I dare say you will have already received my last letter by the time this reaches you. I am still quite well and fit. Hope you are all quite well and cheerful. We had a heavy fall of snow here on Thursday, but it has been grand today. Well by the time you receive this I shall be up at the Front. We are expecting to go up during the next day or two. I will send you the new address as soon as possible. If there is anything on the way for me I shall get it all right, as it will be sent straight up the line to us. I am not allowed to tell you what point of the line we are going to but we have got a very long train ride. I can only tell you that it will be ‘somewhere in France’. I shall write as often as possible but the letters may be a little longer in reaching you. Thanks for the Advertiser enclosed in the parcel; it is nice to read a little news of St Neots. Will you please send it every week, as I like to see news from the old place. Mr ‘Bobby’ Smith is certainly doing his bit in the War by having four sons in service.
Later – We are quite near the firing line now. The guns are roaring night and day. I have seen some splendid air duels, and also seen a few aircraft brought down. It is quite a big competition in air fighting around this district. We had our tobacco issue today; we are well off for smokes out here. This morning too, we had open air Church Parade and I enjoyed the service very much. The band took part in the hymns.
I should have liked to see you all before coming abroad, but as I have said before I could not get away; and as I am now out here I am willing to do my bit with the boys, whatever happens. I will write again when I come out of the trenches.
Thank you very much for parcel, everything was lovely. I expect you saw in the paper we had been to visit the German trenches, we were lucky to get all our fellow back. If you had heard the guns you would have been frightened. I was in the front line, some of my mates got killed poor things, a shell burst close against them and buried them. I went to help to get them out. I did not think about the shell fire time I was helping to get them out, my one thought was to get them out. We got them down to the dressing station, but they have since died. We are a long way from the firing line now, having a rest. The French do make us a laugh, some of them can speak English pretty good. We spend a lot of our spare time fishing, as we are close to a canal and there is plenty of fish.
Allow me a small space in your valuable paper for a few lines, just to let the old boys know I am getting on fine and in the pink. We have had a lot of missiles to dodge since I wrote last, such as rifle grenades, aerial torpedoes, which are terrible things to have dropping close to us: they are a sort of bomb, weighing something like 60lbs, with wings to propel them through the air, but we don’t mind them when we can see them coming, when we can dodge in somewhere, if it is only to get our heads under cover. In times as these it makes us creep in rats’ holes as you might say. We get a fair supply of Jack Johnsons from Krupps, and they (the Germans) get a good supply of Lloyd Georgers (6 in. Shells) straight from Blighty. We are having lovely weather now, the nightingale singing at night and the cuckoo in the day, it reminds us of peaceful days gone by, but we all hope we shall peace again before the cuckoo comes again next year. We have heard of General Townshend’s surrendering, but we all think he stuck it well. Better days are in store and everything comes to them that wait. I read ‘R Evans’ letter in your paper and perhaps he will read this one, he will see that I am still somewhere in France. Wishing you and all your paper the best of luck.
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.