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.
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 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.
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 got the paper on Tuesday morning and while I was busy reading it the Germans sent a shell over and smothered it in dirt., so that I had to give it over. They won’t let you have a minute. We are going to get relieved on Sunday, so we shall get a rest. I don’t see anything of Walter Nutcher. George is not with us, he was left behind. We are over our shoe tops in mud and have to stand in that day and night. We don’t get clean things to put on, its three weeks since I had a clean shirt on. We are as cunning as bears and as happy as sand boys, it is no good to be any other. Tell Harry, Sergeant Crowley got killed on Sunday night. Thank you very much for the parcel. We have had no sleep since we have been in the trenches, we get tired we can’t sleep. I am just going to cook my dinner, as soon as they see the smoke they will send a shell over to fill my pot up.
My Dearest Mother and all – Sunday morning, but what a funny one for us out here, different from being in England. It is a lovely morning; the sun is quite hot. The last day or two have been much better. Now I must tell you that yesterday a lot of us were sent up to just behind the firing line to clear the ground where the last big battle was fought. No doubt you have seen the papers. A thousand of us from our Brigade came up. We left the village where our Regiment is yesterday at dinner time and came up to the line in motor buses. We got to the firing line about 4 0’clock, and then hid to wait till dark before we commenced work. I can tell you our job is not a nice one. I am glad you did not know what I was doing while you were in bed. My word, it is a sight on the battlefield. First of all came to the entanglements all broken up, the roads up, guns and carts and bicycles lying about broken up, and poor dead horses, terrible to see. No one has not stood on the field could realize what it is like. The worst sight of all was of course our poor dead comrades, I hope I will never see such sights again. Our work is to clear everything up. We all got in a long line and walked slowly across the ground; as we came to the dead bodies we collected all their personal belongings, books, etc. We took off equipment and when we came back called for the bodies ; and when we finished work this morning about 4 o’clock, we buried them all and the Chaplain read the service. Each grave is marked with a wooden cross. The little treasures of each one will be sent to his home and the Chaplain will write and say that he has had as decent burial as it is possible to give him. Of course, some of the dead were Germans. These were buried, but we did not trouble so much about them. You will say that it is nice job, but someone has to do it. Will Flint, Will Harvey and I are up here from our way. Our people have got a good advance here. We are living and sleeping today in were originally our line of trenches, but our fellows are three miles. We have been in the German trenches that were captured. It is a sight in them. The German dead are piled up all over the place, no end of them. I think we are burying them tonight. We shall be here about four or five days. We can only work at night as we are so close to the line, and the Germans keep sending shells very close to our trench as it is. A few minutes ago a piece of shrapnel fell within foot of me. One never knows. It is a dangerous job. We found a photo of a girl on one poor boy and a letter in which be asked the finder to send it to Miss Somebody, at Birmingham, and tell them. I could have got hold of plenty of shell cases and shrapnel. I have got some caps from German shells: also a German soldier’s cap and gloves. Did you read about a big air raid the other day on a supply stores? We were very close to a big aeroplane depot. We saw 30 of them start out on that job. We think nothing of seeing 12 to 20 in the air altogether. It is a sight to see the village, we are close to that we took from the Germans. All in pieces, not a good house left. I forgot to tell you that when we were rushed up to the firing line last week, we went through the infantry and joined a Battalion of the Guards. Well someone called out and Joe Whitmore says it was Fred Gilbert. I wonder if it was him: it was his Regiment. There is not much more that I can write this morning, will finish it tomorrow or Tuesday. – Monday 3.30pm. Another start. Have slept most of the day. We got in from some gruesome work 5 o’clock this morning and were very tired. It is a rough day. Germans shelling us something awful. Shells are falling in our trenches: three of our fellows wounded : none you know. The Regiment next us : one fellow killed : it is terrible really. We had it hot last night, while at work under shell fire, and we were also fired at by German snipers, bullets whizzing over our heads several times. I expect we will be in it again tonight – 5 o’clock. Just had orders we are going back tonight boys. Could not help laughing a few minutes ago. Three of us, Will Flint, Will Harvey and myself were in the trench when a shell burst on the parapet, bowled us clean over. I fell over backwards. I thought we were hit that time. We really have had some marvellous escapes since being up here – Tuesday 3 pm. Got back to the boys at 3 o’clock this morning : very pleased we were too. I shall never forget the experience we have had. It was a glorious night when the star shells lit up the battlefield at night. The infantry all tell us how they would rather go into the trenches a hundred times than do what we are doing, so you may know we have had an experience. We are likely to move back near the firing line at any minute. We did not have a wash from the time we left the boys on Saturday till this morning and very little to eat, as the Germans shelled the roads so much we could not get the supplies of water and food up. No one knows what it is like to rough it out here.
I have got wounded in the left leg, but it is going on very nicely, nothing to worry about. I got it on the 26th Sept, and have been brought to Malta. We had a very nice voyage. I hope Bob and Jim are quite well. Tell them that I have stopped one, but if I don’t get any worse I shall not hurt. I am sending a photo of the hospital ship I came on. I suppose you now that Ern, Gowler and Charlie Knight are sick in hospital. I don’t know if I shall see them. I hope to come across some of my old pals. Remember me to all friends. Keep the old flag flying – Are we down hearted? No Don’t worry about me.
I hope you do not think I have forgotten you live at Eynesbury as I have not written you a letter for some considerable time. But I know you will excuse me for that as I am taking this chance of writing you one. I hope you are well, as this leaves me the best of health and happiness although up to our necks in mud, and our horses covered also. We have moved from the farm where we have been for so long, but we have had awful weather for being on the march. We left the old farm eight days ago, and it’s rained every day and night except two; and by gum ! where we are now it’s the picture of a mud heap or mud road. George Baker is with me, but the rest of “the boys” are some distance up with the Regiment, but hear that they are worse off than we are, so I can’t tell you what hey are like, we are bad enough. But never mind, we shall get over it, its no use getting down hearted is it? I’m not going to. We move from one place to another in the night and rest in the day. By moving at night the airman of our enemy cannot see us, it does not do to let them see too much. They say “ One above sees all:” those fellows are are high enough to see too much. I have seen many a one of their (the Germans) aeroplanes shelled by our guns. We were having a Church Parade one Sunday morning about three weeks ago, and in the distance we could see the shells bursting around one of their planes. The Zeppa have been paying England a few more visits I hear. We have never seen any of them over here. Geo. Baker wishes to be remembered to you, he is quite well. All the other boys are well as far as I know. I heard from my friend Albert Storey a few days ago. He often writes to me: he is quite well and tells me that that they are very busy letting them have it for all they are worth. I have been amongst several batteries of his Regiment, but have never been lucky enough to get among the No 2 Siege Battery that he is in; I would like to see him. In one of the letters he told me that he walked over 1 1/2 miles to where some Cavalry were lying in hopes of finding the Beds Yeomanry there, but we were not there and he was very sorry. He said it was rather rough luck. I suppose that by the time you get this our Harvest Festival will be over at the Parish Church, as I was told in one letter from home that it was to be on Oct 3rd and that is next Sunday. I would like to be there and hear it. It would be a treat to be at one of the Services again. How is the choir getting on? I hope it is still keeping up its good singing. The last Service I was at in our Parish Church was on May 23rd (Whit Sunday). If you remember I went to St Neots Station with you after the Service. That is more than four months ago, how time does seem to fly doesn’t it? Well I must now close this letter, as it is getting late and we shall soon have “lights out”. My very best wishes and “good luck to the choir and the school”.
It has been very wet lately and very cold at nights. We have had one Christmas in the Trenches and it looks a great deal like having another, but never mind we can stick it. I think we have made a great improvement in the line, and I think it is right what Lord Kitchener says that Germany has shot her last bolt. I am very sorry to hear of the death of Captain Smythe from the wounds he got doing his bit for his King and Country. Remember me to the old boys. I always remember the old motto at School: “Whatever you do, do it with your might”. And if we do that we will see this war to a victorious end.
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.