No doubt you will be greatly surprised to hear from me, but being one of the boys from St Neots, and seeing some of their letters in the Advertiser, I thought I would like to write one to you and see if you could get it put in the paper as well for me. I am with P Milton, of Abbotsley, and also E. Brace of Croxton, they are both in the pink of health, also myself. Well, I am a stretcher bearer, and I can assure you we see some awful sites sometimes. I was on the spot when Albert Saywell of Croxton was wounded, but I did not help to carry him out of the trenches, as some of the other stretcher bearers took him while I was tending to some more fellows he got wounded by the same shell. I saw in the paper it was a gunshot, but it wasn’t, it is a shell, as there were three others got hit with the same one. It seems by the papers that they are giving the old Bochers some stick now, on land and sea, so let’s hope the war will soon be finished. I had the pleasure of having a long chat with a fellow from St Neots, he is in the R.A.M.C., the other week, he was in the best of health. Well, we are in a pretty hot quarter now, the Germans continually shelling us all the time, and our Artillery is the same with them. But still I have managed to pull through so far, and hope to till the finish of it; but if I am not able to I shall know I have done my duty as far as I could, and if everybody had stepped forward about twenty months ago as well, my idea is the wall would have been finished long before now. But one thing I can say, and also a lot more boys of the town and surrounding villages, is that they volunteered. Pte J F Jacques of Weald also wishes to be remembered to you all. I think this is about all, so we’ll now draw to a close, trusting these few lines will find you in good health; also wishing the good old Advertiser every success.
Being constant reader of your valuable paper, I thought you would like to know how one of the boys of the old town is getting on. I am writing this under the doubtful shelter although mansion, somewhere in France, but we’re thankful to be under any kind of shelter here, as the weather at present has a decidedly Blighty touch about it. At present our Company has been very lucky in escaping the Jack Johnsons, etc, whereas some of our other boys have had it rather the hot just lately. We don’t know whether to be amused or disgusted at some of the so-called reasons of the “ hope to be exempted” who appear before the Tribunals. They must be apologies for Britishers, perhaps they have not finished teething yet and are afraid to tackle bully and biscuits! If they were to appeal to the chaps out here they would get a warm reception. Wishing your paper every success that it deserves.
I just sit down to write a few lines to you in answer to your most kind and welcome letter, and also papers. I am very pleased to hear Uncle Jim was a bit better, tell him if he was over here I would get him more tobacco than he could smoke. I am in the best of health at present and am all right. Tell Grandfather that this week I pulled a ticket off the trusses of hay and I saw where it came from: Mr Warrington’s farm at Offord Station. It did remind me of my old life at Buckden. I am sending the ticket.
I am writing a few lines to tell you how pleased we are to get the Advertiser. I see young Shaw got wounded. I am very sorry, and hope he will be restored to good health again. I always read the soldiers’ letters but of course we can’t tell you much news. It is very interesting out here to hear news of people one knows, as it’s lively to be in trenches and dug-outs for weeks at a time. By what I read of young Shaws letter I guess we were in the same lot. Those gas shells are cruel; your eyes are as bad as if someone had thrown lime in them. I shan’t forget it I can tell you. We are now at rest in a large wood close to a nice town, where we go for a good swim in some grand baths. Last night I went to the picture house – fancy, not far behind the line and going to the pictures. One afternoon when I was walking down the trenches I met a Bombardier, and he wanted to find our Brigade Headquarters. We got talking and he told me the Brigade he was in was at the other side of the road, and it was the Highland Brigade that was in training at St Neots. Of course we had a good old chat about the common and people he knew. He lodged up Avenue Road, it was most interesting. I was where a young lady at Eaton had received a piece of a German aeroplane. I sent a piece home to Eynesbury. I was at the plane and it was a sight to watch one come down, but I think about seven came down on this front. We are having some very nice weather, some nice showers, which makes things grow. The corn out here looks nice. Well I have been reading a paper we got today and I see Lord Kitchener has got drowned. All the troops out here are very upset about it, it’s very sad. The naval battle we know was a good victory. Sometimes we get a paper six and seven days old when we are up the line. I really must close with kindest regards to you and your staff.
I expect everyone is most curious about last week’s “scrap.” It was a fine show. Unhappily there are so many pessimists ashore that by the tone of the papers we lost. Don’t believe it. We won in both number of ships lost and relative value to sea power. It is obvious to anyone who knows anything about it, that it is far easier to estimate one’s own losses than the enemies’. One never knows how badly his ships were and a lot might sink on the flight back. I’ve underlined “flight,” as I have never seen anything more literal in my life. We personally went into action, and did good slaughter; they didn’t hit us but landed some shots short and some over the ship. I had a splendid view of the whole thing, and their shooting was rotten. We could only see five miles, so they fled in the mist, but not before they got it hot. Saw jolly old Zepp and drove him off with a flea in his ear. Also drove off a torpedo boat destroyer attack with great success. I see by this morning’s list we lost 300 officers odd. I had tons of pals among them too worse luck. Dixon Wright, the Padre who was at Dartmouth with me, was killed. It’s bad loosing those battle cruisers, but it took the whole enemy’s fleet to keep them waiting for us, and when we came they got away in the fog. But they lost heavily in ships and men. It was the sight of a life-time, and we wait again. More details I’m not allowed to give you, but after the war I can.
Allow me a small space in your paper just to let the boys know I am still in the land of the living. I have been away from the Regt, and while I was away “Fritz” cut up rough (as we put it) and blew some mines up, and some of the Germans came over and brought their tools with them as if they came to stop, but they soon found out that their trenches were the safest and beat a hasty retreat. Of course “Fritz”’ got his artillery into action, and a new sort of trench bomb somewhat bigger than before, three feet long, one foot across, and 210 pounds, shaking the ground like an earthquake. What would a few conscientious objectors think to having them dropping behind their heels? I think most of them are afraid they would get “trench fever.” Corpl. Bellamy is right. He is reading a bit about the naval battle. Wishing you and your paper the best of luck.
Will you kindly allow me space in your valuable paper, of which I am a reader every week. I have met one of my old friends out here, Pte H Gilbert, who do doubt you have heard from before. We have just been having a chat together. It is about 14 months since I met him. He is attached to the Machine Gun Corps, so I shall not be able to see him very often. I saw in the paper that our 8th Battn. have had it pretty hot lately. We send our deepest sympathy to the relatives and friends of those who have fallen. We also regret to hear that the Vicar, the Rev. W J Wickins, of Abbotsley is leaving, as he was very interesting to us when we were at home, he being connected so many years with the forces. Wishing your paper every success.
I was sitting in my dugout somewhere in France reading in your “Advertiser” news of the dear old home, and a thought struck me I should like to write a letter to the old town. I came out of the trenches yesterday for a few days’ rest from a week of sniping and other jobs on the front line. While I was staying in Egypt I was made a marksman for firing, so I was put in the Sniping Corps when I landed in France a few weeks ago. Now this life of sniping is not so bad as I thought it would be. I told one of my mates it was a good job, popping the Germans off as they show their heads. All the week I was lying behind a row of sandbags waiting for them to show their heads so I could knock it off for them. When I got back to the Company for a rest they all wanted to know if I had made a cricket score with the Germans. I have not run across any of the boys from St. Neots yet, but I am always on the lookout for them, you can bet, to have a good talk about the old town. I should just like a pull up the old river now in one of the Rowing Club boats.
The part where we are now fighting is much more hilly than the last place, all great chalky hills, and we are under the ground about 20 or 30 feet in places. Our front line is about 200 yards from the Germans, and in some places saps run forward so as we pretty well meet them. In one part of the line a communication trench runs from our front line to the Huns, and this is still held by our bombers. We get hundreds of shells every day and night, but thank god I have managed to dodge them so far. They now send us large tin canisters, which are filled up with old pieces of iron, razor blades and scissors which do awful damage. Last night they gave us a pretty stiff time of it. One large shell came right through our parapet in our second line and killed two men and wounded seven, but this morning our artillery are paying them back with interest. Yes, it will be a good job when it’s all over but the end seems a long way off at present. All the Croxton boys are well, also Bunny and Pte. Milton from Abbotsley.
Just a few lines hoping they find you quite well. Pleased to say I am feeling fine myself, after getting over that short time at Blighty. I suppose you heard that E Croot was wounded. I did not know myself for about three days after it was done. I went round to give them all some cake, but everything was in hospital. According to land his just a nice little Blighty one, nothing serious, so I hope he will get away with it all right. Enclosed with this letter you will see the name we got from the strafe on April 19th, this is from Divisional Orders:
The G.O.C —-Division visited —– Regiment Headquarters today, and personally congratulated the Commanding Officer on the Battalion’s coolness and steadiness on the evening of the 19th inst. under the fierce bombardment of two hours duration.
From information obtained from prisoners taken last night, it has been discovered that about a thousand Germans were launched to the attack immediately after the bombardment on 19th inst, and that our men who were then alive and able to fight accounted for 50 of these. The Germans state that 57 of the Regiment were taken prisoners.
The GOC —— Division wishes all ranks to be informed that the Division are proud to have such a splendid Battalion serving with them as the —- Regiment has proved itself during the operations of the past few days in withstanding after heavy bombardment an attack with the odds against them.
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.