No doubt you will be surprised to hear I have been wounded in the back, but I am going on nicely. I should never have been alive to tell the tale if it hadn’t been for the parcel you sent me in the wooden box. We were going in the trenches to relieve another battalion when all of a sudden a shell from the Germans burst within a short distance of us. I was hit in the back by a piece. I had got the wooden box tied to my back and it was smashed to pieces and all the contents. The tin with the Oxo cubes was bent all shapes. I have only the parcel to thank for my life. I happened on a St Neots boy this afternoon at the Dressing Station, his name is Bill Gilbert. He was sick but I am glad to say was not wounded. I am quite happy and well looked after and in a few weeks will be fit again.
Thank you very much for the “Advertiser” and letter, which I received safely. No doubt you saw in the papers about the charge of our regiment on Oct 14th. Well, that is not all. We were in the big advance last week. In the mist I got lost but I got where I had orders to go. We advanced nearly a mile deep, and took a lot of prisoners. I got several myself and it was great sport poking them out of dug-outs with our bayonets. Lance-corp Day, who was in the St Neots Post Office, was killed in the attack by a sniper who happened to get left behind in the mist. Tell his people he won’t snipe again, a pal of mine blew half his head off first shot. Day was shot through the heart and suffered no pain. We only had about 63 casualties, so we did pretty well. I saw Frank Riseley after he was hit, but I didn’t think he would be sent to England. I also saw Alix Childerley, but I never spoke to him, so I didn’t know it was him until I passed him. It was pretty rough when he got hit I can tell you. We are now out on rest, after being in the thick of the fighting on the Somme for three months without getting a rest. I think there is a chance of getting home again before long, as we have all been promised leave. I am A1. Don’t forget Christmas puddings.
Now for a few lines to let you know I am still well, under the present weather conditions, and our houses are shell holes now, and the other night we got flooded out with 18 inches of water, everything wet through and no dry ones to put on, but still we keep on smiling. The ground we are on is all like ploughed land and mud and water. One has to be very careful walking about here at night, or else you would soon get a good bath, as the shell holes are nearly full of water, which is 8 and 10 feet deep. I have been busy today, it has been my wash day. The usual shirt, socks and towel, water from shell holes, muddy, but it has to do. I went out the other day to go and find my brother, and I had a great surprise to meet Tom Sharman, he looks well. only covered in mud the same as myself. I had a good chat with him, his Division is now with ours. We have been in action for 17 weeks, and only 2 days’ rest, but we have the honour of being in action the longest here of any Division, which is a lot to say, and we have been mentioned for our grand work. I am real proud of being in a Division like that, but no doubt I shall be able to give you a good lecture when I do come home, which no doubt will be very interesting, as I can tell you since July 4th I have seen some sights and towns – well I may say heaps of bricks where towns and villages have been – but still we keep going. The Bosche don’t like us artillery boys, we are hot stuff. The prisoners often want to know if we have gone mad, which is very interesting to us, as we like to know we annoy him as much as we ever can. Aeroplanes have been very active lately. Well, I expect we must rest content to have another Christmas dinner out here. George is not far from here. I have seen young Judd, of the Beds., but they were the digging party. Give my love to Mrs — , and Family, and kindly remember me to all friends and the Choir – well, what you have left of it, I expect you haven’t many. What has Jon Bass gone in? Well I really must close. Oh, I forget to tell you I have been promoted to full Bombardier, which makes eight shilling a week more money to me. I am still showing them what we can do if only we try. Well I have a parade at 9 pm to fall the boys in for a run which they like.
It is with very much pleasure that I write these few lines to you, hoping you are quite well, as I am pleased to say I am the same. We have been having some lovely weather here just lately, it’s been very hot, but has now changed to cold and wet. I am in the trenches now, after having about three weeks rest, and have been through some of the hottest firing I have been into. The Germans are entrenched on a ridge, from which they can see all that goes on in our lines in the daytime, and they can also observe from stationary balloons. During this time we have been in reserve or Company has had to carry other Companies’ rations to them to the front line as well as carrying trench boards and wire to the Engineers. This job is dangerous, as on a moonlight night the Germans can see us and put machine guns on to us, and we have some work cut out to miss the bullets. On Sunday night I was on a ration party and we had to into the open – something like going across the Common – in single file when Fritz saw us, and I had the warmest time of my life out here –he played hell with us, several machine guns being put in us, some bullets hitting the ground where we lay, and others going through the air. Well, we had to lay there several minutes, and in that time two men were severely wounded in the legs whilst lying down, and to get to the front line we had to crawl the best we could a distance of 200 yards. I had a sack of bread and two petrol tins of water and rifle, and the fear of being hit any moment. Well, we reached the line all right without any more casualties, but like the others trembling all over. On Wednesday night we were on Engineers Fatigue and carrying boards and were caught the same way on a road, some bullets hitting the road and glancing off two of our men, one being hit twice in the leg, and the other man in the joint of the right arm, this being his first time in the trenches. We were shelled as well by whiz-bangs, these shell are small, but can’t be heard coming, they give you no time to get out of the way, as they burst before you hear the report of the gun. That night we had trench mortars set on us, but we can see them coming, they come like a spark in the air and give you no time to get out of the way.
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.
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.