I think most of you will understand how I come to be writing from France. I have felt that in this great crisis of our nation’s history, everyone ought to do what he can to help. I have said this both publicly and privately, but it has been hard to tell people that they ought to leave their homes, to go out into strange and new surroundings, to endure discomforts and danger—perhaps to face death—it has been hard to tell people that this was their duty and then to remain comfortably at home myself. So that is why I have left you for an indefinite period.
I am proud, very proud of what Frittenden has done. I know how hard it has been for many of the soldiers to leave their homes and their families and occupations; but the harder it has been, the greater the credit and the greater the reward.
I need not tell you that Frittenden will be constantly in my thoughts and that it will make things easier for me here if I hear that everything is going on well in the Parish.
I ask for your prayers. I ask you to pray that I may be a help to those to whom I have to minister out here. That God will bless and keep you all, is the prayer of
Your Affectionate Rector,
(Signed) Rupert E. Inglis.
No. 23 General Hospital, Etaples. At last I am allowed to say where I am. I am Chaplain of this Hospital with 1,160 beds in it, but only 400 are occupied at present. I got here, after a good deal of traveling, at 11 p.m.—couldn’t get a bed anywhere, but an ambulance found us an empty hut
and then we shook down for the night. I slept in my valise on the floor, and though I found a good many more bones than I knew 1 had, I did not sleep badly. I was rather like the street Arab whose grace after a small meal was “I could have eaten more, but thank God for what I have had,” for I didn’t think I should sleep at all. I could write you miles but I have promised to go and write letters for men in the Hospital, so I am going to give you a few wants. For the Hospital I want a gramophone and as many tunes as you can get. Also I can do with any quantity of picture papers—they want them so badly…….
I have a little office in the main tin building where I am writing now, and have quite a nice little wood and canvas hut about 5ft. by 10ft…..I sleep on the floor, have got a mattress, I am very comfortable and sleep like a top…..The Commanding Officer is a Colonel Harrison, who was doctor to the Guards……After today there will be only one other English officer here——the rest are all Americans from Chicago . . . . the nurses are also American.
……..The objection to this place is that the camp is on sand. There has been a high wind and everything has just been full of sand—ink and everything else. One is a long way from the war, but one realizes it much more here. My hut is not fifty yards from where all Red Cross trains come in. Two big trains came in yesterday and we got 110 new cases into this hospital alone, and there are many more of them ……. I have 35 wards in my hospital and when full there will be 1,000 patients ….
The men are awfully good and plucky—-some of the wounds are awful. One boy showed me a bit of shrapnel nearly 2in. long that had been cut out of the middle of him. One boy had a bullet clean through his face and is not a bit the worse for it—no pain, nothing hurt, and he eats like a Trojan.
Though I am left pretty well to follow my own devices my day is pretty well filled up. I get up 7, breakfast 8, censor letters 9—1l (I am waiting for them now), Hospital 11—1. Lunch. Letters again 2—4, Hospital 4-5 tea. Hospital to dinner. After dinner read paper and go for a walk; I rather grudge giving four hours a day to censoring letters. Doctor has just been to say that a man in West Kent Rgt. was brought in last night very badly wounded in the leg - went up to see him --- asked his Rgt.——West Kent--asked his name --Jim Stone.
Isn’t it curious? He is a very nice chap and so grateful for the parcels you sent him. I am afraid he will lose his leg, but I haven’t told Mrs. Craddock yet, so don’t you, as it is not certain. They have taken three biggish bits of shrapnel out of his leg, but there is more to come. He was hit helping a wounded man to cover.
The boys want more cigarettes here than they are allowed. I got some yesterday at the Canteen and go into Hospital with my pockets full ….
I got no letter from you last night only the “Tatler,” which I read Last night and gave to Jim Stone this morning. The Doctor told me this morning that they thought they could save his leg. He has it in a most marvellous cradle. All the appliances are very good and quite up-to-date. We have a beautiful operating theatre, X-ray room, photographic studio, etc. I believe it is the best hospital in the place. My postman is a Yorkshire miner, we spend much time together as he has to lick down all the letters. This morning, having got very intimate, we exchanged photographs of our wives and families. Among other sundries he has been blessed with two pairs of twins ….
I have very little time to write to-night as I have to go and get things ready for services to-morrow. Our Chapel is a perfectly bare room, or was a few minutes ago, but I am hoping by now there is a trestle table there to act as an altar and some benches. That is all we shall have. We are to have services there at 5.15 a.m., 6.30 a.m., 10.30 a.m. and 6 p.m. The Romans have their services then at 7a.m.
and 9 a.m. I saw the Principal Chaplain here this morning and he told me he had heard to-day from H.Q. that I was to be attached to a Brigade. It is the work I shall like best and will give me a better chance of getting to know the men ….
1 have had quite a busy Sunday. Celebrations at 5.15 and 6.30 and at 10.30 a service for the patients. It was such a nice service. We expected 30 or 40 and had only got seats for that number, but we had over 150, and we had to go about collecting seats for them as most of them were not fit to stand. I started the hymns, they went with great gusto. You might tell Norris we shall hardly require the organ when I come back as I shall be able to do it myself! On second thoughts, perhaps my efforts were not so successful, and after the service one of the nurses came and offered me 20 dollars towards the purchase of a harmonium. We made the altar quite nice for the early celebration. The frontal was turkey twill of a patients’ screen and the candlesticks were lust bedroom candlesticks.
The flowers were “Dorothy Perkins.” They were put on the altar by the R.C. matron who was doing her own altar at the other end of the room. They did not agree very well with the Turkey twill, but we were not very particular over these things here. I have got my first gramophone working. I have sent it off to one of the wards which is far away from here, so that I shan’t be bothered with it. Jim Stone has been shaved to-day and looks much better.
….The men are so nice and say such funny things too. One man to-day said he was suffering from “Diagnosis” but had got better of that….
Nothing much to tell you to-day. I went out to Le Touquet at 4 yesterday afternoon and got back at 8. I had between 10 and 16 miles walk, which did me a lot of good. I don’t consider it at all an attractive place, but the sands are very good and Margie would love
it. It is not being looked after now and some of the walks and promenades are 3 or 4 feet under sand…..
Yesterday they had rather an extraordinary operation. They extracted a bullet from a man and there was something behind it, so they went on and took out a penny which had been driven in by
the bullet. It had really saved the man’s life, as it was pressing against an important artery which the bullet would otherwise have severed. There are really the most extraordinary wounds—its wonderful how they ever recover. One man was shot in the nose— the bullet went through his mouth--right through the tongue--down his throat and out at his shoulder. The man is really quite well now and able to smoke. I have not heard anything about my move; I rather hope I shall be here over Sunday, as I have got the camp carpenter on Friday and we are going to turn our Chapel into a regular Cathedral….
I am very sad to-day as poor Jim Stone died at 3. He was going on so well, but this morning the nurse came and told me gangrene had set in, and that he was to have his leg amputated at 10 o’clock. I went in and stayed with him till he went to the operating theatre
—he was very bright and wonderfully plucky. I went to see him as soon as he was brought back. He was partially conscious. I think he knew me, but he only lived an hour. He was a fine chap and I had got to like him. He seemed to be quite a link with home….. .
I took round some of the papers and puzzles. There was a frightful rush for the comic papers you sent, they were evidently appreciated; I could have done with a lot more. I want books, papers, puzzles and any games like draughts for the men, as there is nothing here….
I get very tired of reading other peoples letters and the principal Censor has asked me to read all the American ones, so I have to do it. They write at enormous length and very often the very greatest drivel. Their way of expressing themselves is often very good, but at the end of reading a few hundred I am so addled I remember nothing. One way of addressing your wife besides ‘‘Dear old sport” is ‘‘Little bit of ginger ’’—I am keeping it for Joanie as it will suit her!
I was very busy yesterday and quite enjoyed myself. I had rather a variety of services and congregations. Celebration 6.30— we had all sorts—morning service 10.30, all wounded-—morning
service 11.30 - about 700 soldiers drawn up in an open square. I took it from a balcony, and though I had the wind against me, they looked as if they heard me. The only failure was my organist (I mean pianist) was too ambitious. He wanted to sing the Venite and it didn’t go well—-I and the men in the distance seemed to be singing different tunes ….The rest of the day I was kept busy censoring letters—I had half an hour off to meet Field Marshal French. He came to visit the hospital….
An ambulance train (Princess Christian’s) came in last night or rather very early this morning. It arrived the same time as the telegram announcing its arrival. It brought us 100 patients, and most of them wounded, some of them terribly. I have only seen the bad cases at present. But I hear there are some West Kents in. I would like to condemn the German Emperor to spend the rest of his life going round a Hospital looking at the newly wounded, and to make him look at them. It is a pitiful sight, and with the really bad cases, one can do so little for them. The one blessing is, they are splendidly looked after and everything that can be done is done. One of the Surgeons have performed a wonderful operation—he has saved the man’s life—though his spinal cord was almost completely severed by a bullet, but the man must be an invalid to the end of his life.
I think I should have left the poor man alone, but everyone says it is marvellous. They are the saddest cases of all, they may live for years and will always be paralysed ….
The Gramophone arrived this morning and has quite upset the whole hospital. It was brought to the Office by the O.C.’s clerk. Both being as they said experts with the gramophone, asked if they might unpack it and put it together. They did that, and then began to play it, and continued to play it for at least an hour, neglecting all their other duties. It is now in ward 21, which is full of patients. You never saw anything like their delight with it. It is the neatest one I have ever seen …. it really was a delight to see their happy faces…..
I am writing quite early this morning. We had another convoy in the early hours this morning. They called me up about three. Some of the men had been in a Hospital near the front and the Germans had shelled it, and as far as I could make out, some had been wounded a second time and they had to empty the Hospital.
We had another convoy in last night. There was a train full but we only had 20 stretcher cases. The Red Cross trains come in about twenty yards from my hut, the train last night came in about 11-30 and I armed myself with a large box of cigarettes and went out to meet them. I think there were about 100 walking cases, the rest stretcher cases. It is really wonderful how quickly they transfer men from the trains to the ambulances, and they do it so smoothly. I never saw anything in the nature of a jolt, so the poor things are not made to suffer more than absolutely necessary. They had a terrible long journey, as some had been in the train for twelve hours. It didn’t niean there had been heavy fighting, as they had been collected from various places. Some of the men were just dog tired and laid down on the platform and waited for the motors. I managed to get rid of a great many cigarettes—at the end of the journey they hardly had one between them. The M.C.C. have sent me a splendid lot of cricket things. I think people forget the enormous number of R.A.M.C. that are required to run these Hospitals— we have over 200 here still 40 under strength——we have 35 doctors and 75 nurses….
I am awfully busy as I have such a lot of letters to write for other people,——they are such difficult letters as a rule. A boy who is desperately ill always tells you to write that he is going on splendidly. I have two of that kind waiting to be written now. One of the boys I am looking after is going to be 17 in a day or two. I was in when he was having his wound dressed and he hung on to my hand and didn’t cry, but he cried a bit when the others had gone and he told me he thought they were going to cut off his leg, so I had to collect the doctor and nurse again and they told him his leg was quite alright, and no chance of it having to be amputated. He promptly cheered up and smoked a cigarette. I have just
had to write a long letter to the Bishop of Winchester, as the man who was with his son Gilbert, when he was killed, was brought into this Hospital. As the man has both his arms wounded they asked me to send all particulars. I heard from the brother Neville Talbot who is a Chaplain at the front. He crept out after dark and found his brother’s body close up to the German Trenches. *
Have you realized what to-day is. It made me feel a little gun. sick and visions of Glanwye and Carradale came up. Well I suppose I shan’t do any shooting this year. I shan’t be home to shoot birds, and they won’t let me shoot Germans. Did I tell you a boy came in yesterday. He will be fifteen next month. He was out a long time and is now wounded. He does’nt want to go back to England but wants to have another go at the Germans. I asked him how he got on with the hard work and carrying his pack, he said splendidly as long as he had plenty to eat, but that he went to pieces whenever he was cut short of food, which is to be expected of a boy who is growing In our mental deficiency ward we have a very fine and large and fat nurse. Yesterday one of the patients looked at her steadily and in astonishment for a long time and then said “Am I dreaming or do my eyes magnify.”….
We have had a great many deaths this week, there is a boy I am very fond of, wounded in 27 places and as so often happens, one of the wounds showed signs of poisoning and I am afraid he cannot live. I find all the doctors and nurses very nice to me and they take quite a lot of trouble to let me know if any of the men are very ill…..
That nice boy I told you about, died. Another boy, Crutchfield is a little better to—day——he is only 16. I was in his ward as the doctor was going to dress his wounds--he asked me to stay with him and as the doctor had no objection. I did. It took just one hour and five minutes. How the boy has lived I don’t know. The doctor said he was wounded in at least 50 places—most of course small—— but some quite big. The boy hung on to my hand and he just moaned now and then, but it must have hurt him like fun. I should have been glad to cry for him….
* NOTE. The Revd. Neville Talbot won the Military Cross on this occasion (at Hooge)
The boy Crutchfield is better. Yesterday I promised he should have an apple and sent down to the store for him. When I got in this morning I found he had never got it, as the supply had run out. He quietly insisted that 1 should fulfil my contract, much to the amusement of the other boys in the ward. I had to tramp into Etaples myself to get them, as the men are not allowed in Etaples owing to an epidemic of measles….
We had another convoy in last night. All our Tommies speak in a very kindly way of the Saxons. We have a wonderful man among our patients--a Corporal in R.F.A.—name Gore-Brown—his mother a Russian Princess. He speaks 23 different languages and writes 14 of them. He has fought in every war of modern times-—was a Major in Japanese Army. Till he became a private in the British Army he was Commander-in-Chief of Madero’s forces in Mexico. He was at Eton and he has a wonderful gift of speaking..
it’s a horrible day—-blowy and rainy, but not enough rain to stop the sand flying, and one’s eyes and nose and mouth are just clogged with it.
They say the sand is encroaching terribly in this country, and I certainly believe that if the hospital were left alone for a year it would disappear under the sand. The nurse asked me to go round while Crutchfield was having his wounds dressed this morning. The boy insisted on my making a minute examination of each wound and reporting on it. They are awful, but I really think they do look better. There is still a chance he might lose his arm and I doubt if he could stand that. They had a wonderful birthday party in ward 26 yesterday. The nurse had got them a wonderful spread
—cakes and grapes--and I had to have some cake, which was quite good. My contribution to the feast was Edinburgh Rock. Crutch-field has his birthday (17) on the 3rd, so there is quite an epidemic of them….
The dear old Colonel has just been in to help me finish the letters. The American letters are generally full of praise of him The doctors and nurses quarrel a good deal. I suppose it’s natural
as we are all sort of on board ship together, but 1 have never found anything but praise of the British Government, British Tommy and British Staff ….The Americans, while hoping that they will not have war generally, think that all diplomatic relations between Germany and America ought to be broken off. I tell them that that is equivalent to a declaration of war, but they say with them that it is not so….The puzzles arrived lunch time and are being done now.
Sept. 7 . ...
…. I have just done up a wonderful envelope for John--it contains several works of art by wounded Tommies. Whittaker is the brightest little chap you ever saw, with lovely hair and very bright eyes. He was wounded in the foot and he told me that whenever it hurt him he began to sing, I am just going to say goodbye to him as he is probably off to England this afternoon. He is going to write to me directly he gets to England and if he is in London would like someone to come and see him. I quite enjoy the hospital being so empty. I get to know the people much better. I don’t have less to do, in fact I seem to have more. The boys get into the way of coming in here for a talk …. We had 70 Tommies at one choir practice and intercession service last night, which meant nearly every Tommy that wasn’t in bed came. They did sing. I am going to have confirmation classes as the Bishop comes here next Sunday week. I had your parcels to-day—-people are awfully good about sending things and my room gets more and more like a general store. Now when I get the games from Hamley’s and picture puzzles, I shall be very well stocked. I want more of those nice little packets of chocolate. I try to give all the boys going to England a packet for the journey….
I have just received my marching orders and am off on Monday to 21 Casualty Clearing Station. I hoped when I went away from here I should go up with a Brigade. At a clearing station there will either be a great rush of work or no work at all. Here there is regular work and lots of it. But I am quite contented and it is nice to be told just what you have to do and not to feel any responsibility. I havn’t the remotest idea where 21 C.C.S. is, so I can’t tell
you; if I did know I shouldn’t be allowed to. I am glad to say nearly everything has come for my Chapel and I shall leave it looking quite nice. Thanks to you all, the hospital is splendidly set up with everything for the patients. I shall leave a great many books, games, sweets, etc., for my successor.
21 C.C.S ……..This Casualty Clearing Station is a great deal rougher than what I have been accustomed to at the base. It is quite unavoidable. We have to keep near the firing line and if the line moves we should move with it, so we can’t be cumbered with much stuff. Sometimes if there is a train we only keep the wounded long enough to have the wounds dressed—the great majority stay from 12 to 36 hours. As a rule the Casualty Clearing Stations are in tents. We are fortunate in having the greater part of ours in an old ruined bicycle factory, and they have made quite a good job of it. It all looks very uncomfortable after the beautiful beds and clean sheets of a base hospital, but all who come in seem to think it very luxurious. We may be called on to deal with 600 cases—if that happens it will mean day and night work for all of us …. I went to the operating theatre and saw two operations which were not very serious ones. I thought I had better accustom myself to this sort of thing. I have spent most of the day in the hospital and have done a good deal of letter writing. The patients are almost all on stretchers on the ground—they are very close together and of course one can never get to know them. Still one can do a bit for them. We have a wonderful scratch pack for a mess. The Colonel an Irishman. One doctor a West Indian, one a Canadian, one an Australian, the French Interpreter and myself, and two others who I think are English—a pretty good variety for a small number …. I saw the Matron to-day and asked her what was wanted. She wants bed socks. The Hospital is an old ruined factory, and it is draughty, so you might set to work on these. There are a good many other wants, but before writing to you I thought I would see what the Red Cross can supply us with at once. I am living in a very comfortable farm house—have a room to myself with a bed in it—no sheets — I expect I shall find it too soft to sleep in. There is a “Gloire de Dijon” just opposite my room, and there is a covey of
partridges in the field between us and the Hospital. I have put it up twice. I saw for the first time to-day three barge ambulances drawn by a small steam tug--they looked very nice. They have them now on all the rivers in France….
I had a letter from the Bishop this evening asking if I would like to go back at once to 23 General Hospital as permanent Chaplain to the end of the War. I was very happy there, but I would much sooner take my regular turn of work with all the other Chaplains. The regular thing is 2 or 3 months here, and 2 or 3 months with a Brigade and then back to a base Hospital, and so on.
…. If I break into a swear, its the midges. They are simply smothering me. I am writing under a big lamp and they are falling on me all the time. We had a lot of bad cases in yesterday and everyone was very busy, so I was able to make myself useful…..
To-day I have had a good deal to do. We sent Out 146 patients and there was an awful rush. I gave quite a lot of them their dinner and helped to dress them. I got quite cute at putting on their socks. One man I gave all his dinner to with a spoon, and in the intervals of feeding we discussed the shooting at Faccombe, as he always used to go out beating there. We have only 46 patients left in, and they are the very ill and very well ones. I was very glad to have all the papers along with the chocolate-—I was able to give out one a piece. One of our doctors went away ill to-day and another went last week, so we are two short, so if there is a rush of wounded to-morrow we shall have a bad time....
I started the day with a celebration in the attic at 6.45. It was very nice—-a huge great room with rafters and a peaked roof. To my surprise, 16 Tommies and a nurse came to the service. But there were about 50 Tommies lying in stretchers round the room. They were as quiet as mice. At 10 o’clock we had matins—we had it in the same room. There were much the same number on stretchers round the room, but of course a good many more at Service in the middle. I was amused to see how many of the stretchers could raise up when I started “God Save the King.” At
12 we had an evacuation and nearly emptied the Hospital. I heard to-day that the boy, Fred Crutchfield, who was so terribly wounded, has been sent to England and is very much better…..
We went through the place to-day where the Virgin Statue at the top of the Church was hit by a shell in January.* The statue was knocked over, but has never fallen, I sent you a picture of it. It really is a wonderful sight. It is incomprehensible how it can have stayed there, but I think it is now lower than when the photograph was taken, and no doubt will come down with the next gale. The Church and village are wrecked, there’s a huge hole made by a Jack Johnson just outside the west door of the Church.…
At 3.30, Percy and a friend turned up quite unexpectedly— I thought they were in the trenches, but it seems they started off to the trenches yesterday, having got 6 miles were sent back to billets. I gave them tea, and Percy had a bath in my big bath. In honour of guests we have tinned herrings as a second course for dinner. The tragedy is, they have used my only two clean towels. Percy and his friend are bicycling back….
It is 10 p.m., I have just got in from my last service…. There has been a wonderful variety in the places where I have held services to-day—-I started in our attic at 6.45. I had the next celebration at the hospital at 7.45. The Altar was the Magistrates desk. The next service was in the attic and the fourth back at the police court. At 4.45 I motored some miles to Headquarters for a service at 5.15, which was held in a wine shop—we had to be out at 5.45 as the wine shop began business at that hour. Then I motored another four miles, when I was met by the Flying Corps motor and motored another 12 to 14 miles to the aerodrome where we had a service in a very large barn. We stood all through the service all among the straw and there was just one bright light in the centre and the rest of the place all dim. They were such a nice lot of fellows. I have been invited to go and look at the German trenches from an aeroplane…..8 o’clock we had about 48 patients in to-day—-an aerial torpedo exploded in a dug-out. There were 30
* NOTE. Les Brebieres. Albert.
men in it——8 were killed and all the rest were burnt mostly in the face and hands. They were an awful sight coming in. The shell evidently contained liquid fire-—one or two will probably lose an eye. I went into the the operating room while one was having his face dressed, and then it did not look as bad as I expected, but they were very helpless—only their eyes and mouth could be seen. I and a nurse fed the 10 of them—beef-tea and milk had to be poured down their throats….. .
I am glad to say all the men with burns are going on very well to-day. I have written letters for them all and talked to them a good deal, but I don’t know one of them by sight. They have complete masks over their faces, I do not think any of them will lose an eye, yesterday it looked as if they might. Only two of the lot are wounded by the shell, the rest were all burnt with the contents…..
The nurses sleeping tent was burnt down this afternoon. I didn’t see it as I had left the hospital a few minutes before and the whole thing was done in about seven minutes. I am afraid three of the nurses have lost all their kit, bed, clothes, etc., it is an awful nuisance for them. Fortunately it was wet or the whole camp would have been burnt out. A boy who came into hospital to-day said that yesterday a German came over into out trenches and gave himself up, he said he was starving. The only thing handy was a pot of jam, the German eat it straight off neat. History does not relate if he was sick afterwards.
We get a great many head cases in from bombs and hand grenades. The French Infantry in the trenches now wear metal helmets. I wonder we don’t do the same. I fancy they would save a good many lives, as so many head cases die. We had our first case of frost bite in to-day, it seems very early to start, of course it is more the wet than the cold now…..I have asked for my leave to start on the 16th, if I get my permission in time I can leave early on the 15th and so should arrive in London about 4 a.m. on the 16th.
* * * * * * *
Here I am back again. Just after we got through Oakley Park last night the engine broke down and we sat there for over two hours, altogether we were four and a half hours getting to Southampton. When we got on board there wasn’t a seat to be had, and not much lying down room on the floor. I got on to a pile of luggage, in the middle of the night I stretched out my legs and kicked what I thought was a pile of luggage, but it happened to be a man, he expostulated rather vigorously, I am not surprised. I don’t think anything exciting has happened here since I have been away and I do not think there is any chance of our moving at present….
It certainly is a good thing getting away for a bit, I think I must have been very stale after doing just the same sort of thing for 41/2 months and having little or no recreation. I found everything much easier after the splendid week at home ….We have only forty in hospital, of course they were all strangers to me. This afternoon I was making arrangements about the recreation room. We hope to open it next Thursday. All the games from Harrods have arrived. We have got a piano, quite a good one. I have got to interview a General at Querrier about supplying us with chairs and tables and another at Head Quarters about coal and lights. And then I shall go into Amiens and buy cups and kettles. It is rather a business, and two of the Chaplains who have helped me have gone away.
………….Gordon Geddes called for me at 10 o’clock this morning, and I had a most interesting time with him. We went and visited several batteries—inspected dug-outs and went to an artillery observation point, from which we could see the German trenches—— in fact we looked right into them and could see the French shells bursting round and about the trenches. Unfortunately it was a poisonously wet day, and there was rather a mist, so we couldn’t see things very well, though we had very strong glasses with us…..
I went into Corbie to-day, to get the club into order. Things were quite upsetting. In the first room the stove smoked
so badly we had to let it out. Then the windows, which ought to have been mended last week, were not mended, and the mantles for the gas which ought to have arrived last week had not arrived. In the course of the day things got more or less straightened out, and we had a big crowd this evening…….
I received my marching orders to-day and am off tomorrow. I think my address will be H.Q. 46th Division-—I am sorry to leave. . . . I have more interests here, than I had. I should very much liked to have gone all round this front with Gordon Geddes——he has been most awfully kind to me. It’s the sort of opportunity I shan’t be likely to get again ….
It’s a pity I cant tell you straight forwardedly all about things, I can only tell you that after my interview with the Officials to-day I am not going where I was sent up here to go, and that Syrian fever had something to do with it. I haven’t the remotest idea where I am going. I shall probably hear about Tuesday. I went for a long walk to-day to a fairly interesting place, and as I had no C. of E. service to go to I went to two R.C. ones….
No news for me yet, so I don’t know where I am going or what I am going to do. Yesterday was lovely, I went for a 20 mile walk. While lunching I was patted on the back by Eric Thesiger. He was busy in the afternoon, so I continued my walk to a place I wanted to see, and then got back at four and we had a very substantial tea together, which took more than Th hours. It is very nice meeting people out here. I had a very disturbed night, as the bed was only Sft. óin., which made it difficult for me to fit in. Then a battery of artillery lost its way in the dark, and one of the riders came and knocked at my window to see if I could help, which I could. Then a rat came and gnawed over my head for the rest of the night. I talked to it violently several times but it never stopped. My billet is in a very old house attached to a mill and is full of rats. I am feeling very dirty I haven’t had a bath for nearly a week and I haven’t had a change of clothes on since I don’t know when, all my things were at the wash when I left 21 C.C.S.
…..Taking my walk abroad yesterday afternoon the first person I came up against was Tom Jackson, its was his battery that disturbed my slumbers the night before. He is billetted in a farm about a mile from here. . . . I know no more about myself than I did yesterday, it is really a great nuisance being kept in this very uncertain state and I feel I might just as well have spent the time in England as there is nothing for me to do here…..
Unofficially I have heard I am going to the 6th Division.
I am just off on my travels again, I am only going about 30 miles but it will take me at least five hours. My address will be Headquarters, 16th Infantry Brigade 6th Division…. .
I had rather a day of it yesterday, I left 1/1 Field Ambulance at twelve, got to a place about twelve miles at three. Had to wait then nearly two hours. So telephoned to H.Q. to say I would arrive somewhere else at six, and asked them to meet me and take me out to my billet. Got an answer to say they would. Walked about the the town and got some postcards for the children. Arrived at my station at six, no transport for me. Got an answer to say transport was sent, it did not turn up till eight. It was a farm cart with an old horse that never got out of a walk. When we left the main road and got on to a farm it became perilous, the mud was up to the axle. You have never seen anything like it. Got to quite the wrong place on the telephone, there being several exchanges. Chaplain Inglis had got mixed up with Captain English of the transport, so I was taken to his billet. Found two of the Officers just sitting down to dinner, so had dinner with them and they proceeded to telephone for me. About ten o’clock an answer came through and I once more took to the farm cart. I had to finish on foot as the horse couldn’t pull us through the mud. Ended up in some tents and and huts in a wood near Vlamertinghe, found two Chaplains just going to bed, one is Talbot son of the Bishop of Winchester who is óft. 5. The other is 6ft. 4, I feel that I ought to join the Bantam Brigade….I feel very fit this morning. I should like the sun to shine, but I believe it never does shine in these parts.
I am really getting quite accustomed to the way in which
we live…..We have managed to get a little coal. Hitherto we have been breaking up boxes to make a fire—we can’t get any oil. We are living where transport is difficult. I am rather afraid Talbot has got influenza. I dosed him out of my Medicine chest. If he is bad I must get him away as there are no conveniences for being ill here…..You would love to see this hut--the untidiness of it beats anything I have ever seen. Am in rude health. This simple life and no washing seems to suit me….
Dec. 23 We had a very rough night with lots of rain. The trenches are in an awful state. it is of course, quite impossible to drain them, as everything is flat, but the men are wonderfully cheerful—look well, and there is not a great amount of sickness…..
Xmas I was busy with Services from 7 a.m. till 12. Then I lunched with K.R.R’s.—at the present time we are busy at the recreation hut.
It was packed 3—4 for a band concert. I have just come back from that, and then from 5—8 there is a concert. We are dining with the Leicesters. Talbot goes on leave to-morrow and I am being left as Senior Chaplain for this division. I have to start by taking over a club which the 14th division has been running as they are leaving this district. We run a great many recreation rooms for them—— They work splendidly, and are always crowded in the evening The 1st Buffs came out of the trenches last night and stayed here for twelve hours….
Dec. 26 Well we had a wonderful Xmas….. There was a concert 5—8. The place was packed. You couldn’t see from one end of the room to the other, because of the smoke. We sang “Auld Lang Syne” and other things. Then we had a very cheery dinner with the Leicesters…. I do not think you will read this year that there was any Xmas truce. The firing was not heavy but there was some going on all day....
This is really a ghastly country—very flat and ugly, and mud which beggars description, and is getting worse. We can’t go outside our hut except with high boots—soon it will be necessary to get boots which come up well above the knee. The roads are so tiring to the feet and in the dark one is always tumbling into holes.
….You have no idea what difficulty we have with transport here. We have a cart of our own, but it is in two bits at present. The York and Lancs. tell me that they want socks very badly. I hope to get the ones sent by you to-morrow, so that they may have some before they go away. We had an excellent concert to-night. I asked the Divisional Band to come and play for me for an hour, and they played what Tommy would call “toping things.” I and the old Bandmaster are becoming great friends. I am giving the band a tea next week if they can get a night off. To-morrow I am putting up a prize for a boxing competition for Yorks and Lancs. It is Harry Byass’ old Battalion….
This afternoon I had to go 8 miles to take a Confirmation Class for the Northants Yeomanry. Headquarters was going to send me over a car, but the car was smashed yesterday, so I had to walk and trust to luck. I have the same walk next Sunday evening in the dark. If I don’t stay permanently in the mud then I shall be surprised. . . . I really am quite pleasantly tired. They are building baths about ~ a mile from here. There are two for officers. They may be finished next week. It will be awfully funny getting into a bath again….
Just at present they are leaving the troops here such a very short time, that it is difficult to do anything for them. They are in one day and out the next. This is New Year’s Eve. I don’t know why, but I have felt more hopeful of things lately, though I am not expecting an immediate return to my cabbage patch--wish I did—we are all very sick of the war, but I believe its nothing compared with the German sickness of it. This year they are getting all that they give, and a little more, and it makes a vast difference to last year when they gave us 10 times as much as they got….
I started off at 8 o’clock this morning and walked 4 miles to take
a service at 9.30, at one of our huts. The 6th Corps sent a motor for me there and took me to their headquarters, about 6 miles away, where we had a very nice service at 11.45. The place was just thick with Generals, and in addition a French General and his staff. One of our Generals said to me, “By the end of this year we should have a very decent army, and that army ought to be able to finish the war by the end of 1917.” It’s a long way ahead, and I hope for better things, but still one can’t tell ….
Jan. 3 This morning I had one visitor after another. The first two came in order to take away what is known as the “Chaplain’s Cart.” It is in two pieces at present, so is difficult to take away. The next one came to tell me our servant had to rejoin his Regiment to-morrow. He is a useful servant, as when we can’t get any coal, he knows where to steal it. All my visitors, though they had come to be unpleasant were quite content to stay and smoke, and to sample my whisky This afternoon I paid a long visit to the Shropshires, who are in my Brigade, the Major who is in command, was out in Uganda with George Thesiger, and is the only regular Officer in the Regiment left. I saw them all start for the trenches. This evening the list Orpingtons came back here straight out of the trenches, the poor chaps were awfully tired, but I fed them up as well as I could. They didn’t have many casualties this time, but a good many trench feet ….
Jan 4 In the flicking light of three guttering candles, one planted on a candlestick, the others in two shell tops, I take up my Onoto pen and write a few lines on paper stolen from another Chaplain. I got an order from the General commanding the Division to go down to the recreation hut at 11 o’clock as the Commander-in-Chief was going to pay a visit to the Camp He didn’t turn up till nearly one. It was quite an imposing procession. All the “brass hats” of the Corps and division with their staffs, with an escort of Lancers—one of them carrying a Union Jack at the end of his lance. At the three camps which are round our recreation hut, the officers of the three regiments in the camps were assembled to meet the C.—in—C. I was a poor little pathetic figure all by myself at the
door of the Hut. I clicked my heels beautifully and gave an excellent salute, and he came and talked to me quite a time. He is very good looking and had a kindly and natural way with him….
I was talking for some time this morning while I was waiting with an officer of 1st Buffs. He was in 2nd Buffs for 23 years and was Quarter-master Sergeant. He was much pleased to hear I was Gus’s brother-in-law—I have met a great number of 1st Buffs who were in 2nd Buffs. * The 16th Infantry Brigade consists of Buffs, Bedfords, York and Lancasters, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, I’ve known something of them all before …. It is blowing a hurricane again to-night—they like a good wind here, as it does a certain amount of drying. They are going to give us a duck walk from the road to our hut, about two hundred yards—a duck walk is a little wooden footway about 2ft. broad, which goes in the top of the mud. It’s awfully difficult to get coal here-—our allowance is 11/2 lbs. per head per day. It isn’t much, to keep this and the kitchen fire going. I could have bought some in the town the other day, but I could not get it brought out here—you can’t hire a cart, and I did’nt like to ask for one. I have to beg for one every other day to bring our goods from the town to the Recreation Hut.
This is a great day——I have had a bath. I will tell you about it in it’s proper sequence. I had a longish walk this morning to find, an anti-aircraft battery about five miles from here …. On my way back I called for letters at H.Q., then we went to interview the Quarter-master, who supplies our rations, and told him he didn’t send us enough coal, and none of the oil to which we are entitled. He said he would see it was all right. Then I went and had my bath. The baths are in a huge great cellar. It was really like a Dante’s Inferno—smoke and steam, and hundreds of human bodies going about it. The officers baths were right the other side. So I had to pick my way through all these human bodies. I had quite a good bath—scrubbed myself all over, and certainly feel the better for it. Most of the tubs are beer vats cut in half. I had my tea for the band this evening, we managed to get a certain number of spoons and forks and plates together, and had a hot supper—pork and beef were the pieces de resistance, they gave me a huge helping,——about
Note. 1st Buffs, 6th Bedfords, 2nd Yorks and Lancs, 1st K.S.L.I
as much as I usually eat in a week. I had to say I dined in the middle of the day and hardly eat anything at night. They took away about half. It was very highly seasoned—the light was bad and the first thing I put in my mouth was a large bit of pork fat I wished I had never been born! We also had cheese cakes and peaches.
Jan. 7 The beautiful boots have arrived. I haven’t tried them on yet and it really seems wicked to put them on to walk straight into a foot of mud. The mud is certainly getting worse. My old Norwegian boots were nearly gone. I haven’t done much to-day— went into the town to arrange for services for Sunday, then went to the Recreation Hut for a concert for the Buffs— -had two excellent entertainers from the town, one a first-class violinist, and one an excellent comic singer. They belong to a troupe (all English Officers), called the “Fancies,” who amuse the troops out here. They give entertainments in the town every night. It is another fiendish night—-blowing great guns with squalls of rain….
Jan. 22 I did not get home till twelve last night, when I got to the Field Ambulance a man was just going to have a biggish bit of shrapnell taken out of his leg. It wasn’t far in, so he did not have an anesthetic—it must have hurt him like fun, but I talked as hard as I could, and kept his mind off, and he took it very well. It was the third time he had been wounded. ... One poor boy died just at he was brought in, and the man who was carrying him out of the trenches had a nasty wound in his back, though it touched the spine I think he will get alright, but he was in a good deal of pain, so I sat up with him till he was more comfortable, and left him smoking. He was a Yorkshire man, and told me he was married when he was fifteen….
Jan. 23 I am off to the Field Ambulance in a few minutes, it has been quite a nice Sunday—bright and sunny. I had an early celebration at our Hut——a parade service at 10 o’clock, a second celebration at 10.30. Another celebration at 11. After luncheon I walked over to a service at the Field Ambulance at 3.30, I then walked on to the
anti-aircraft for service at 6, but the anti-aircraft had not come back from their work. So we didn’t get service till nearly 6. I gave out a notice such as I have never given before, viz.: “On the next really bad day there will be a celebration of the Holy Communion here’’—on all fine days they are busy….. I had a most perilous walk home from the anti-aircraft, it was pitch black, the road has trees on either side and there was lots of traffic and no lights. The side of the road is very muddy. I floundered along as near the edge as possible. Ammunition wagons and motor cars are all right——they make such a noise on the payee. It is bicycles that are the danger and there is a cyclist Corps that comes down about the time I was coming .... I thought I should have been starting for home tonight, but perhaps it will be nice to have a little more anticipation.
Writing from force of habit I suppose. Only heard I had got my leave at 3 this afternoon--was told I could go tomorrow morning. Made up my mind it was better to give notice and not come till Monday. Hurried off to H.Q. to get a letter sent off by the despatch rider. Went into the town and found a Subaltern who was crossing tomorrow and gave him a letter and a telegram. He will probably forget both. I leave Monday morning at 4 a.m, get Boulogne about 9 and ought to be at Folkestone at 12.
* * * * * * *
Here I am back in my little wooden hut. We got to the Station here about 1.30, and I walked out here. It was nice and fine. I got in about 2.30, so had quite a good night. It seemed cold after the warm houses at home, but I put my big coat on top of everything and was quite comfortable. The roads seem terribly muddy after Kent. It has been fairly fine up to to-day—we have had some very heavy rain this evening—I am afraid it will make the trenches bad again—they seem to have been getting much better….
Last night was the quietest night we have had at the Field Ambulance—no bad cases at all. I haven’t had a very hard day. I had four services before 12 o’clock, but my service at 2.30 was a
wash-out as the Engineers I was going to had the order of the bath and had all gone into the town to wash; then I went to another company of Engineers but that also was a wash-out, as all but two officers and twelve men had been sent off….
Feb. 14 I had a baddish night at the Field Ambulance last night. It is rather trying but it is nice to think one is a little bit useful and don’t suppose now that I have started I shall let anyone else do it. This morning I went fairly early to the Ambulance to see a man they couldn’t move last night. He was a little better and there is just a chance of his getting well. I had to write to his wife. They are hard letters to write…. I am thankful to say that I am keeping very well, in fact never felt better in my life….
Eeb.20 I have been over to my service at the anti-aircraft. We were very late as it was a fine afternoon and they are always out till dark. They sent me home in their car. They do drive fast in the dark with no lights. I prefer the pace at which we came up from Folkestone the other day. I don’t mind the ordinary risks of a campaign but I don’t like taking extra ones. When I came down from this place one of the boys said to the driver “Now see how fast you can go’’—little beast! I have also been to dinner with the Bedfords-—a very young lot. I have got three of the Shropshires coming to lunch with me tomorrow and three of the Bedfords coming to dinner. That will make five at each meal and we have only four glasses. To-night we drank stout and port out of enamel cups …. Thanks so much for all the parcels; I like having things out of the common so that 1 can have people into meals …..
Feb. 26 I had a very late night at the Ambulance. We didn’t have a great number of cases but there was a heavy snowstorm and the roads were terribly skiddy. I nearly tumbled over a dozen times going up to the Ambulance. I had a bath in our new baths before breakfast. I thought the water was rather dirty but I had a real good scrub. Colonel Halford and two other officers of the York and Lanes lunched with me and ate your excellent turkey. I can get you a “Percy” shell case and I had arranged with a man to take
it home, but now I am told all men carrying shells are made to throw them away before going on board ship…..
……My Field Ambulance is on the main road between two towns. Of course none of the cases are kept very long—-not more than twelve hours—as a Field Ambulance must be kept as empty as possible. It is a long wooden building divided into three parts—the first part is the office where men who are not very bad give their names, number, regiment, 6rc. The next part is the ward—we have no beds, all the patients are on stretchers on the floor. The third division is what they call the theatre, where men have their wounds dressed and attended to and an immediate operation if necessary. I generally see first of all that all the men in the ward have something to smoke, but I spend most of my time in the theatre. Our best surgeon is a very nice Irishman and he always takes the worst cases and I sort of work with him. The men have generally had morphia given to them, but they do not often give an anesthetic in a F. A., so it is very often very painful for the poor chaps having their wounds dressed and attended to …. A man often suffers a lot anticipating he is going to be hurt, and by talking to him and interesting him you can often take his mind off—about all sorts of things, cricket, football, boxing—Captain Moore always helps along and joins in. The other day we had a Welsh-man who had some very painful wounds. As a rule Welshmen do not stand pain very well, but this man was very keen on football, so he and I and Moore carried on a violent discussion about football and the man got through it splendidly, and I went off to another man. Then Moore found he had something more to do to the Welshman, so he came over and said “Come along—my local anesthetic—I want you to talk some more football.”
I got back here about 11 last night……I had two of the Buffs to lunch—we had a curious lunch—soup, then the remains of the turkey—then they had two boiled eggs apiece, and as a sweet, blackberry jam and Devonshire cream; the latter is perfectly fresh still. This afternoon I went 7 kilometres to take a service at a battery I often go to. I was rather late in starting owing to the large meal the Buffs ate, so when I got on to the main road I hailed the first good car I saw—-I didn’t realise until I got in that I had stopped a General. This isn’t the first time I have committed the offence, but he was very affable and took me to where I was going.
The Officer Commanding at the Battery had an aunt in the siege of Lucknow and was wrecked in the Ava* when Mother was wrecked……We had a service in the kitchen of a much wrecked farm house…..
I am entertaining to-night so I am writing between tea and dinner. I have just parted with five Sergeants of the York and Lanes; they had an excellent tea. Tea is made on these occasions in my washing jug as my teapot is much too small. We had your two cakes, strawberry jam, potted meat and rolls. They could only be away till 6-—they stayed till the very last minute. They were a very nice lot of chaps and all of them had been out since September 1914….
We had quite an early evening at the Field Ambulance and I was back here in very good time. I am really wrong in talking of this place here as the Field Ambulance. The F. A. itself is five miles away and this is really the Advanced Dressing Station of the Field Ambulance. I saw what I have often heard of but never seen, viz., a man’s life being saved by a New Testament in his pocket; in fact he had a New Testament and a service book right over his heart …. It cut out a bit of the cover of the book exactly its own shape and size and then made an awful mess of the inside of the book, but didn’t go through it. It would certainly have killed him as it was right over the heart; as it was he was only bruised and shocked and I expect is quite right to-day …. There are aeroplanes about in plenty every decent day——ours and the enemies. I very seldom worry to go out when I hear them being shelled—-it is such a common thing. From the sounds around I should say we have lots of ammunition and the German is having a very different time to what he had last year, when he could shell us and we hadn’t enough stuff to retaliate. Later. I wrote the above before tea. I had asked seven of the Field Ambulance to tea, eight being my total number of cups. Fancy, fourteen turned up, so we had to take it in turns-—they made great inroads into your cakes; I thought there was much too much cake, but I think my tea party tomorrow will see the end of them. It is no use sending me any more at
*Rupert’s mother was Lady Julia Inglis whose husband Maj Gen Sir John Inglis Commanded the Garrison during the siege of Lucknow, India. She survived being ship wrecked in the Ava on the way home.
present as I think I am certain to be off either Saturday or Monday.
………It must have snowed pretty well all the night. We have little home here. * It is just a nice little tunnel about 18 ft. long and 8 ft. wide. We get light and air through the door and we have a stove at the other end. Our beds are right and left of the stove—our beds are stretchers——they do for seats in the day time; we have a very good armchair, which is loot from somewhere. We have two tables and several other chairs. Our washing-stand is a chair and we are really very comfortable. The drawback is we are either too hot or too cold. When the fire is going it is like an oven and when it is out it is like an ice house….. You can’t do a great deal of work here. It is really a sort of rest cure …….
Our dug-out is at the end of about a mile of dug-outs-—outside there is a duck walk and then water, so everyone passes within 6 ft. of our door and a great many look in and pass the time of day…..I saw an air fight quite close, which I am sorry to say ended unfavorably for us--they can’t all end well I suppose. Our man maneuvered very well, but he had a faster machine against him…..
We hand over this dug-out in the morning and go back to my old billet for one night and then go a railway journey ….. I shan’t be sorry to have a bath as we are not allowed to take our clothes off up here and I have not had mine off for over a week. One really gets used to anything. It’s rather nice to get out of bed——shake yourself like a dog and go out….
For the next month my address will be 1st K.S.L.I.’s, B.E.F. Our camp is near the sea ** and I have got a little bell tent with the doctor. I have just been arranging for the other battalions of my Brigade to have the use of a football ground, which is really a Belgian aviation ground, so we can’t have it till they have done flying at 5 o’clock. My hair feels awfully funny—just like pig’s bristles. The Colonel is very keen, and rightly so, on the men and officers having their hair cut with clippers, so I have fallen into line
——it feels very nice and cool…..
* NOTE. On the Canal Bank near St. lean. Ypres.
General Sir H. Plumer came over to-day and wished to attend the Parade Service and wished all units to be there, so except for the Communion Service, all Services had to be changed and we had just one big Service-—about 2,000 men in the open. The band has not come down here and all I could raise was a piano, and the music was a distinct failure. The distance was too great——2,000 men in a square take a lot of room and you can’t keep the singing together. I quite enjoy camp life and we are really and truly a very happy family. We have all four battalions of my brigade within five minutes’ walk here. On the whole though, I prefer where I was last week, though it was a good bit noisier.
….. Colonel Luard, who is the Commanding Officer of this Battalion, came back yesterday after three months in England owing to having been gassed. So Murray is now second in command. I went into the town and had a bath, and then Luard, Murray and Captain Cole Hamilton dined with me …. We walked back here about four miles. When about a mile we saw a Tommy of another regiment lying fast asleep and drunk by the roadside. After much hitting and kicking, we woke him up and then Murray got on one side and I got on the other and we pulled him up, and then holding him up, marched him very quickly. By the time we got to the camp he was more or less sober and could march by himself. Then he realised he was being befriended by two Colonels, his gratitude was very great and he became quite sober. Of course, if he had been absent without leave the whole night the penalty would have been a very heavy one. Can you imagine two German Colonels doing the like? ….. It is wonderful good air here and one feels very well and the men are getting splendid. They are kept well exercised, but not given much hard work to do …. The tent here is a Y.M.C.A; there are two ladies and a certain number of men—civilians—who I don’t like seeing here. Some of them look as if they might be doing other things; they say they have all been passed as unfit. One of them was very anxious to play the piano for me at the Parade Service on Sunday; I couldn’t have anyone who was not in uniform. I should like to see all the huts run by wounded soldiers. The soldiers have no
respect for a young man who has got a soft job. We start to march back on Sunday—do 17 miles first day, 21 the second and 22 the third; the miles are probably kilometres. I am going to march with them and shall do it quite easily; I am really a great deal fitter for walking than most of these people, as they have been so much in the trenches …. On Saturday Lena Ashwell and her company are coming to amuse the soldiers ….
Well, here we are at the end of a three days march. I suppose, marching, we have done about 44 miles and I imagine I have walked something over 50 in the three days and have come in as fresh as paint. It was all quite interesting. We started at eight one day and at nine the other two. You do a day’s march straight off, but at ten minutes to each hour you have ten minutes rest——just time for a cigarette each hour. The Light Infantry take a very short step, and that was the only thing that bothered me …. We were very fortunate in the weather; the nights were vile, but I do not think it rained for more than 15 minutes during the whole time we were marching. Some of the country we went through was quite nice; parts of it reminded me of the Weald. It was nice to see the hedges coming out and there are quite a lot of flowers about. Here we are down on the flat again. I don’t know, and nobody else knows, how long we are likely to stay here….
It’s been a lovely day, so we had service in a field and afterwards had a celebration in the open. It’s the first time I have had a celebration in the open. After the service I went round some of the men’s billets and took them round some papers. The men are very happy here on the farms, and as most of them are farm hands, they give a hand with the work. Our farmer must be pretty well to do, he has a lot of stock and 27 milking cows….
We had quite a short march yesterday--only about three hours, the last half was in the pave roads which most people find very trying. This is rather a poor camp, and in wet weather must be awful—feet deep in mud. We are sleeping in huts but have our mess in a farm…..
I hope we get rid of the bad weather before we leave here (Vlamertinghe)--on Saturday we go
back to the wood where my old hut is, and on Sunday not very far from my old dug-out * I have another and similar desirable abode in a line with it but about half a mile away I fancy. The old one would be too far away from my battalion.
It is a perfectly lovely day and though the wood is not beautiful it is infinitely better than when I first knew it in December. I am magnificently housed in a Chateau—-quite the most spacious I have had since I have been out here. It is hardly knocked about at all, and as the owner of the place decamped to Holland, it is possible he was a German. That may account for it not being destroyed. There are a good many big guns of ours about, and most of the windows are broken, which makes it a bit draughty …. I intended this morning to go off and explore my dug-out further on, but I heard early that one of our Officers—a boy named Hamilton, and his Sergeant were wounded on their way up, so I went off to see him. He had been taken to a C.C.S., about 8 miles from here .... On the way down I heard that Jackson, Colonel of the Bedford’s, was wounded last night, and his leg broken by a bullet. I spent a good deal of time there and discovered three Buffs, 1 K.S.L.I., and I Bedford, all wounded last night …. We got up here about 8 last night--we then dined off your ham, sardines, and Buszard cake. Rather amusing. One of the Mess Sergeants brought in some papers last night. The Colonel asked who they were for. “They are all the Rectors” said the man. So apparently that is my name among the Tommmes….
Here I am back in the rabbit warren again, sooner than I expected. We came up last night. I am about * mile from my old dug-out in the same line. I was at the dressing station till nearly 3 this morning and was there again at 6 this morning. I am very dirty, as I haven’t washed or shaved or had my boots off. In place of my 25ft. bedroom which I had to myself in the Chateau I am sharing a lOft, square dug-out with the Adjutant, “ Jimmy.” …..
I can’t get this off to-night, but I may as well write it and get
* NOTE. Canal Bank near St. Jean.
it off when I can. . . . I had to go and take funerals in two places and wasn’t back till nearly two. It is a curious sort of life for a respectable old country Rector to be leading—wandering about a foreign country in the middle of the night …..
It’s two days since I wrote the above. I couldn’t finish it Good Friday night, as while I was writing the above, a tremendous bombardment was going on and I knew the Battalion I am with was in it, and I really could’nt collect my thoughts. There was a heavy bombardment here all Good Friday and there were a few casualties——not serious ones——here. My beautiful long boots were hanging up outside the dug-out to-day and they were completely spoilt by a piece of shell which went through them both--they were wounded in six places …. In the evening the Battalion went out, and I went up to the Dressing Station. It was a perfectly awful night. I intended to be back at the Dressing Station about 3, but I was very tired so the noise didn’t disturb me, and I overslept myself and didn’t get there till 3.45. A few had already been through then and I saw another 70 go through before it was too light to bring them down ….
I stayed at the Dressing Station till the last lot had gone off, about 7 o’clock. Two officers came, through, neither of them were badly hit. It seems that the Battalion had done very well indeed and in spite of the awful conditions had done almost all they were sent out to do. (It is confirmed this morning that they actually did a little more and they have been tremendously complimented), but I heard the Colonel is dangerously wounded, three officers killed, and several wounded. One of the killed was Jumbo Johnson * —Such a good chap and just engaged to be married. From what they said to me when they said good-bye, I think the Colonel and Johnson had a presentiment that they wouldn’t come back. …. While I was at the Dressing Station the faithful Williams found me out and brought tea in a Thermos, which was much appreciated by the wounded. They were in an awful state--wet through and mud from head to foot. One of the Battalion was smothered (dead) in the mud. I heard of another who was up to his neck and was being
*Note. Author of ‘‘At the front’’ weekly in Punch.
pulled out when the man I spoke to last saw him…..Saturday was an awful day—it never stopped raining for a second. I was out taking funerals most of the day and got rather wet. I went up to the Dressing Station somewhere about 9 p.m., and stayed till all had gone through--about 4 a.m. I missed the Colonel, as he was carried straight from the field to the motor Ambulance, and did not come to the Dressing Station, but he was still unconscious (General just come in to say he is still alive, but condition very grave). Got about five hours in bed and then had two celebrations in dug-out-—one at 10.15 and one at 11.15. Had lunch with the Machine Gunners and then went to see the Battalion—who had been relieved on Saturday night and had gone back to near my old hut in the wood. They were all very tired. Murray, who was in command when I first caine to the Battalion has come back to take command. He came to see me on Saturday, and before I saw him I had arranged for my kit to go down with the Battalion, but the General said he wanted me to stay here, or to be more military, told me to stay here. So I am now at Headquarters, 16th I.B. ….. They have given me a very comfortable dug-out, with gas (proper gas, not German gas), laid on. ….Went to the Dressing Station after dinner--—saw the remnant of the wounded, One officer——a nice boy who was wounded in the attack, was there. He lay in a shell hole with a broken leg from Friday night to Saturday night. He was then found and it took 8 men to carry him, the mud was so awful, and they couldn’t get him out before it was light, so they had to leave him in the trench, and he stayed there all Sunday, and they got him down Sunday night. He really didn’t seem much the worse, but was frightfully hungry. Now I must be off. It has been rather a strenuous time, but this has only been a small affair as things go nowadays ….
After writing yesterday I went off to the wood and a lunch with the Battalion. On Sunday when I was over there I had to wake the doctor. He was very fast asleep, as he had been up two days and two nights without any sleep. I had the very greatest difficulty in waking him at all, but he sat up and talked to me at least twenty minutes and told me everything. I met him yesterday and we
walked back to the wood together. He immediately began to tell me all he had told me before. I remarked on it——he said he had never seen me since Friday night. He had absolutely no recollection of me. I suppose he was so tired that he was never really awake. After lunch I went to the C.C.S. to see Luard. He wasn’t conscious. There was a telegram letter to say he was dead. He is to have a Military Funeral, and I am taking it to-morrow. He was a good chap and we have been a great deal together since he rejoined when we were at the sea.
It was a beautiful day yesterday. The officers and 150 men went in lorries to the cemetery for the Colonel’s funeral. It was a very impressive service. Our cemetery is beautifully Looked after, and is just a mass of daffodils now. At the end of the service it has always been the custom to sound the bugles. I asked that we might have the Reveille sounded after the Last Post, and Murray agreed. It was suggested to me by the Brigadier, and it is such a nice idea that I thought it was worth adopting….
Later. Had to leave this and go and take some funerals. It is not very cheerful. I looked in at the Dressing Station; there was a boy there, brought in early this morning who had been buried in a dug-out in tbe trenches for six days~ He had nothing to eat and only a little water to drink. He wasn’t wounded, and when I saw him two or three hours after he had been brought in, he really was extraordinary well. He had only been allowed to have a very little food, as it would not have been safe to give him much. He had his first cigarette while I was there. Another man was brought in last night who had been wounded, but not badly and could have walked back only he was embedded in a shell hole. They had the greatest difficulty in getting him out.
* * * * * * *
GALLANT SHROPSHIRES. By Philip Gibbs.
The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry have the names of many great battles on their colours, as those of Nieuport and Salamanca, and the Shropshire lads. country born and country bred, who have followed the plough down the big brown furrows of our great English soil, have fought on many fields of Europe before this war. The old stock has not weakened. A few days ago—on the night of April 21st—they proved themselves again to have very stout hearts and steady nerves, not afraid of obstacles which would have spoilt the fighting spirit of men less brave.
It was not a great action in which they were engaged. It was nothing more than the retaking of a captured trench, and in this war such incidents will hardly find a record. But the marvel of it was first the courage of the men, a courage which made them stick to a job almost hopeless in its difficulties, and carry it through to success by sheer willpower. Imagine what it was like to assault that position which had been taken from us by the enemy on April 19th along the Ypres-Langemarck road. When the Shropshires left their own trenches in the night there was a heavy downpour of rain, and they had in front of them a great quagmire, through which they would have to wade in order to reach the enemy s wire.
The ground had been churned up by shell-fire. High explosives had dug out craters everywhere, very deep and filled to the brim with mud and water. Old communication trenches had been smashed up, and become a welter of earth, with rained—filled gullies. The day of storm had flooded all this bit of country and made the soil beneath a soft bog, in which men sank here and there actually up to their arm-pits. Well might their hearts have sunk when they began to flounder in this Slough of Despond in front of the enemy’s guns. But the Shropshire lads struggled
on. To prevent themselves from sinking they lay flat on the mud, and pushed themselves along with hands and knees, throwing their rifles in front as they gained each yard, or using them as poles to support them in the slime. A few fell into shell craters, and were drowned. Some were so caught and stuck by the mud that they could not get free nor move a yard. The assaulting companies all struggling like this lost touch with each other in the darkness, but pressed forward independently to their objectives. The men on the right, or as many as could keep together, rushed the enemy’s trench at about half-past one in the morning, and took possession of a portion of it in spite of heavy rifle, grenade, and machine-gun fire from the enemy’s support trenches. Bombing parties worked up further and established posts, but could find no sign of the men who had advanced with them on the left, At first it seemed as though the men here were alone in the enemy’s lines, but later cheering was heard, which showed that the centre of the assault had reached the goal through the quagmire behind. These Shropshire lads in the centre had been through
fire and water. As soon as they left their position they became exposed to a hail of, rifle bullets, and their Captain fell wounded. Several men dropped. Through the darkness came cries for help from men up to their waists in shell craters, hurt. But the others pressed and jumped into the trench. A few Germans attempted resistance, and were bayoneted or shot, and others fled.
The place was hardly a trench. It had been shelled out of all shape. but very coolly and methodically the Shropshires began to “consolidate” the shell holes, and succeeded in building some cover and digging in before the first gleam of dawn came across the flood. A young officer with one Lewis gun and a party of men attacked a point still held by the enemy and took it without loss, having killed all the Germans. At five a.m., when the sky was lightening, and there was a twitter of birds in spite of all the guns, the enemy massed for a counter-attack by a ruined cottage behind our old trench, which was now back in our hands, but when they advanced a quarter of an hour later they were caught under the fire of our rifles and machine guns, and broke. On the way back they suffered heavily in the barrage of our artillery. In this early hour of the new day about thirty Germans with a machine gun were seen in a trench to the right, and a party of Shropshires organised a bombing attack and drove them out towards the ruins of a little “estaminet” or inn, on the right of the position. Here they were raked by the rifle fire of the company facing that point, and few of them reached their own lines. The machine gun is now a trophy of the Shropshires, with another taken in a sap later in the day. The men who attacked on the left had similar adventures at first in the flood, and then through sharp bursts of rifle fire and then in the recaptured trench, where they killed some of the enemy, and chased out about thirty more The German counter-attack at dawn arrived within about thirty yards of this position, but it seemed disorganised, and was quickly repulsed. The Shropshires gained and held the lost line.
This is the general narrative of the action, but individual acts of courage and self-sacrifice come very clear and shining out of that night of darkness, when masses of men struggled through a bog to another quagmire. There was a lance-corporal who was shot badly in the shoulder, but toiled under heavy fire to bring back a wounded comrade to safety. It took him some hours to cover that 600 yards with the stricken man. Another Shropshire lad held an isolated sap single-handed, and armed with bombs against the German counter-attacks. One of these country boys was severely wounded in the first assault, but crawled into the German trench and stayed there for thirty-six hours, during which he helped to repulse two counter-attacks. One of the Shropshire officers led his men to the assault while one of his arms was hanging by a thread after a piece of shrapnell had struck him. A private in the Royal Army Medical Corps organised rescue parties for the wounded who lay out in the open under heavy shell fire and though hit in the head by a shell-
splinter or shrapnel bullet, continued his work and helped to save about fifty men. A sergeant went back twice for support over open ground which was being fiercely shelled, and though he sank up to his armpits in the bog, struggled out and fulfilled his task. Another sergeant worked for two hours in the zone of fire digging out men who had fallen into the quagmire and were too weak to rise. The colonel of the battalion was killed by a shell-splinter towards the end of the assault and before he had the happiness of knowing that his Shropshires had gained the day. The officer who then took command, was, he tells me, “born in the regiment’~ which was commanded by his father before him in years gone by. It is a long way from Flanders to that little county of Shropshire, where the orchards must be white with blossom now, but not too far, I think, for the story I have told to thrill many hearts in the old farmsteads there. The Shropshire lads have done well, and England will be proud of them for that night’s work.
Reprinted from “The Daily Telegraph.”
…. .It is very interesting being here, as one hears a good deal of information first hand, but I am afraid it doesn’t make my letters more interesting as I cannot pass the information on. One thing I have learnt from personal knowledge, and that is, that the German communiqués are guilty of direct lying. Just been interrupted by Sigs (the Signalling Officer)—-a nice boy who looks about fifteen. He wanted me to go out and hear the Cuckoo-—it is the first time I have heard it this year, and it made me quite homesick. I also saw my first pair of swallows to-day….
I don’t think I have any news for you, as one does much the same thing every day, and the only variety comes from the way in which the enemy behaves. For example, this morning he amused himself by throwing gas shells over us for about an hour. They have a nasty sickly smell and rather spoilt the taste of my breakfast. They are the first I have smelt since December 19th, while the Germans was bombarding little “Sigs” came and sat on my bed and smoked my cigarettes to cheer me up. They didn’t do much damage here, but they did a good deal about 50 yards back, on the bank I was living on last week. It is extraordinary considering the amount of stuff they throw over how little damage they do. They
tell me the shells they threw over this morning (they are throwing some over now) were pretty bad ones (I mean badly made) and there wasn’t a heavy charge in them. We give him more stuff here then he gives us—bigger stuff and better stuff. They say our shrapnel is infinitely superior and does more damage which I can quite believe. Last night they were sending over quite a lot of shrapnel and it was all of it bursting about 100 yards up, which is of course no good at all. Its a lovely evening and there are a good number of aeroplanes about of all sorts. I certainly think the German aeroplane doesn’t have nearly as much his own way as he did, when I was up before, which is satisfactory. We were to have gone away from here to-night, but it has been changed I hear, it is possible we may not leave here at all. We still get very little news of what is happening in Ireland. One hopes it will be put down with a firm hand if there is such a thing about. I don’t see how they can avoid hanging or shooting Casement….
I walked down to the town yesterday, or rather I walked part the way and was picked up by a pleasant old General who took us the rest of the way. We are near my old hut in the wood. Have got a very comfortable hut with electric light. This morning I sent Williams over early to get a change of clothes from my old hut. It seems that two days ago two shells dropped close to it and all the inhabitants fled. It seems they managed to get all their own things away, but they left mine and Reeds and others. The Belgians broke in and stole the lot. I was a little bit cross—all my spare clothes have gone. I have only got the shirts and pants that I stand up in. It’s no good sending out things as I ought to be home before they arrive. Murray has supplied me with a shirt and underclothes.
….. I had a bath this afternoon. The water was rather dirty, but I feel cleaner for it. I hope my next bath will be at home Monday night. Now that we are out on rest we are a most lively mess—only five of us—the four of us play bridge and “Sigs” has to work the Gramophone. Will you send me at once the enclosed list of seeds. I suppose from Suttons. They are for the K.S.L.I. transport--we are going to have a garden competition ….
* * * * * * *
Had a very good passage. Could see you all for a long way up by the Lighthouse….
Had quite a busy day doing nothing particular. We were quite a large party in the train—-a long and rather wearisome journey. It was a beautiful morning and we had a nice but bumpy drive. I got to bed at 4, our time, at 5 by this time (no change in the clock over here.) This morning I wrote some letters and went to see Reed, who lives about ten minutes from here. It took just two hours to get there, as I met so many friends on the road. It is like going round Lords on an Oxford and Cambridge day. After lunch, at which we had the salmon, which was beautifully fresh and very much appreciated. I had an hour’s sleep and then walked to see the Shropshires at a Château about two miles off. Ten new officers have arrived since I went on leave, so it is like getting to know them all over again. I think there are only about eight left of the original lot—I mean of those who were here when I came to the Brigade. Since I have been away the Commanding Officer of the York and Lancs. has been killed-—a very good soldier—-quite young, only 29. I had seen a lot of him of late. The Colonel of the Bedfords has been wounded, he succeeded Jackson, so he has only been here a short time. Ingram—the doctor, has just got the D.S.O ….
I have been out almost all day. I met Colonel Gathorne Hardy this morning, the one in the Guards, he was in charge of rather an exalted person who looked a perfect child. * Everyone is agreed that he ought not to be allowed up here, but it was very quiet and he has now gone. It has been a lovely day. I am sending home for two sets of Badminton to play down in the wood. It will be rather a good game to play now, and will shake our livers up… . .
Tell Margie I and Clouting brought back a little black and white kitten from the Château on Tuesday. It lives in the kitchen, but often comes and pays me a visit-—we haven’t given it a name yet. ….
· NOTE. The Prince of Wales.
Joan Clara Thesiger Inglis health was drunk last night by the General and all the Staff of the 16th I.B., including the Chaplin. As I hope it will never be again drank in a dug-out, it had better be placed on record. ….
This morning I have been seeing about my canteen. The Brigade have given me quite a good dug-out. It is being disinfected this afternoon, and we shall move into it late to-night. On Sundays it will become a Chapel. It won’t hold more than about twenty people and that would be rather a crowd. The difficulty is getting the stuff up here …. The seeds arrived alright they are delighted with them. They are all planted, and the gardens are beautifully tidy. I hope they will see the results of their labours ….
Very depressed all day as the first news we got of the sea fight was deplorable. The news (got by wireless) which I have been going about with to-day, was that we had lost 17 ships and the Germans only one. That was pretty depressing wasn’t it. The gunners have given me the latest wireless and it seems we did very well and that the German losses were rather greater than ours and they can’t afford it as well as we can ….
I am afraid you got a very scrappy letter yesterday, but I really was dog tired when I got in last night. Was up till three Saturday night or rather Sunday morning and had to be up early Sunday. On Saturday midnight I had to go and check all the stock in the canteen. Our turnover at the canteen is from 800 to a 1,000 Francs a day. It seems a lot doesn’t it for a little dug-out at the front. I have got three men to work it. One man is back in the town buying and one man spends a good deal of his time in the town collecting and bringing the stuff in a waggon every night at 11 o’clock and one man is selling. There’s always a risk of the whole lot being destroyed by shell fire. Yesterday I had an early celebration at the Chateau where I had over 50 Communicants …. We are all very anxious to get some more definite news of the sea fight. It is all rather confused at present, and it is hard to make out whether our losses were heavier than theirs…….The M.C.C. have sent me a
splendid lot of things for the Brigade. I don’t suppose we shall use them till we go out on rest, which will be pretty soon again now. We live a funny sort of life up here——rather like bats——out most of the night and sleeping during the day, so one only tumbles across the men along the duck walks at night…..
This is rotten weather——it has hardly stopped raining for the last 20 hours. I went down to the Chateau to see Murray and the K.S.L.I. They were all looking very weary as they had been up all night, having been very heavily shelled. I only stayed at the Dressing Station till about twelve and on my way home got pretty well wet through. As I slushed through the mud I thought how nice a flea bag would be, but when I got to my dug-out I found “Sigs” juggling with two basins and trying to catch all the water that was pouring into my bed; he caught most of it, but not all, but I managed to find dry spots and emptied the basins and arranged them so that they would catch the water. On a small bunk I and the two basins made rather a full house, but I managed to sleep very well and, strange to say, didn’t upset the basins. We are expecting a move shortly and to have a nice quiet time right away from here. We are to live in a Chateau where we shall have sheets. The French have adopted a Daylight Saving Bill, and we have changed our watches from 11 to 12 last night ….
I was writing very late last night as there was a big bombardment on and we were all watching it from the top of the bank. It was on a little bit of the front. We hear this morning that it didn’t mean anything and that nothing particular happened. The beasts let off gas, but it didn’t get as far as us and we didn’t have to put our helmets on. This morning I went round trying to arrange services, but most people are on the move. This afternoon I handed over my canteen to the next corners. Crawley was going to take it over if the Guards’ Brigade didn’t take it over, but the Brigade have taken it over. I told them they were to leave the Brigade at least 800 francs worth of stock, but we had a big crowd in last night and all we left was 64 francs worth. My first effort as a shopkeeper has been most successful ….
Got the pineapples to-day, also a box of cigars from V. When I get home I shall miss all these little attentions …. I was shewn to-day a very interesting document which was taken off a wounded German one day this week. It was a German General’s order. It began by saying their losses had been very heavy in taking certain trenches. It went on to say that these trenches were very important and must be held at all costs (those trenches have now been taken back by us); then it went on to say that all English equipment was to be very carefully collected, boots, leather belts, etc. It specially mentioned, further on, that the English dead are to be stripped of their boots and all woollen garments, as these it said “are essential to our success. It rather looks as if there was some shortage ….
Had a worrying night last night. Had some funerals and ~then went to two Dressing Stations, as they had been split up. There we waited some considerable time till the other people came in to take our place, and we didn’t get away till nearly 12.45. Motored down here and arrived via a roundabout way—-at 1.30. It was rather a nice night—pretty well a full moon-—and it was quite quiet. We arrived then and found that none of our kit had arrived. It had left at 11.30 and ought to have arrived before us. The K.S.L.I. had kindly sent down some sandwiches and whisky, so we had something to eat and drink. We waited and waited for our kit and at last got word it had taken the wrong turning and driven into a bog. All the kit had to be taken off and the wagon dragged out. It eventually arrived here. All of us very cross——at 3.30 a.m. We shall only be here for a couple of days and shall then go further off. I have half of a very nice little hut to myself.
…. The little exalted person was here again to-day. He came into our mess room, but I was in my own hut at the time. He looked very nice—the steel helmet which he was wearing last time didn’t at all suit him…..
Everything points to my coming home for special leave at the earliest possible date now. It is better for me to be at borne when the Brigade is resting than when they are in the line. I shouldn’t
like them to be back in the line and me not with them. It is much warmer to-day, sultry but not bright. I am looking forward to seeing the roses—they ought to be good in another fortnight…..
Here I am living in the greatest luxury in a Chateau. I have a large bedroom to myself on the second floor, with a bed and sheets and we have a linen tablecloth and a garden. I haven’t heard a gun for more than 24 hours.
(During this short leave the guns of our big offensive could be heard day and night at Frittenden.)
* * * * * * *
Finch Hatton * has got a Brigade and leaves to-day. It is extraordinary what a lot of changes there are. You no sooner get to know people than they disappear. In a Brigade there are 140 officers, but I must have seen between 3 and 400 in seven months. His regiment is wonderfully fine—very much over strength and a fine lot of men. I think all the regiments of this Brigade are up to strength now. Rather different to what they were when I first knew them …..
Only a line to-day as we are marching. We breakfasted at 7 and most of their men went off at 8.15. I didn’t get off till 9 as I had to take a funeral of a man who was killed in an accident yesterday. I walked the ten miles and was here nearly as soon as the others. We are all scattered about in the village—- the days of sheets are gone for some time. We march again tomorrow night and I expect we shall be back in our old haunts ….
Our domicile is a peculiar one. In our bedroom there is absolutely no light and very little air as we are right underground. There is a very venomous kind of mosquito about and some wonderful rats—so I am told——as large as elephants they say. I heard them but didn’t see them. I hope I shall get a canteen going
*NOTE. Colonel commanding 1st Buffs.
tomorrow. I have quite a decent little cellar for it. It will be a great blessing up here as there is nothing of the sort about ….
We have had a great blow to-day as the General * has been promoted and leaves tomorrow. He will be an awful loss to the Brigade.
I am sending off to-day a skull cap and I want two or three hundred (to start with). They are for the Buffs——they go inside the steel helmet and make it quite comfortable and to speak plainly absorb the sweat. The K.S.L.I. have got them now for the whole regiment and find them a great blessing. The rats were terribly noisy again last night ….
I think I shall probably send a bag of things home, as we shall be travelling light for a time. The General ** has asked me to be Mess President and I shall be starting tomorrow. The best thing is to feed them all well and keep them all in a good temper. After I have felt my way a bit I may get you to send me things out from England—it is often cheaper ….
We had a very hot journey yesterday . . . . we didn’t get here till nearly 9, and were beginning to feel pretty hungry, so I began to learn something of the sorrows of a Mess President. I began, with the help of an interpreter, to collect some food. There were no shops, but at the end of the village we found a place where they had been baking and bought a big loaf. Then I went to a farm where I bought 18 eggs and a very little butter. That was all we could get, and it wasn’t much for seven hungry mortals. We got the woman at the farm to make us an omelette; it was excellent, and just as we had finished that the Mess cart came up and we were able to get hold of a ham to fill up the crevices ….
We remember this day two years ago. We hardly thought then it would go on for two years.
We had another move yesterday—only about six miles. I started off a little after 9, with a limber and two men for the canteen, and I have got a small Brigade canteen running. Murray supplied the limber and Scott the two men. My shop is set up
* NOTE, Brigadier General Nicholson.
** NOTE. Brigadier General Osborn.
under a tree in an orchard. It is rather difficult to manage these things when you are never more than 48 hours in the same place, but they all make it as easy as possible, and it is a great boon to the men. When I got back from the canteen I heard a lot of Australian wounded were being brought into the C.C.S. about 500 yards away. So went to see them. They did very well last night, and got what they went after. They got about 400 unwounded prisoners, who are going through the village now. There were 40 wounded prisoners in the C.C.S. One of the Australian officers is in the Sugar Company. . . . His name is Andrews, and I have just written to his son, who is a Corporal in the same regiment as his father. We used to come to his place last October, and I remember Percy Ashton was billeted there ….
After writing last night I went up to see Murray, and there met the Provost Marshal of this Army. He was just going down to see the latest batch of German prisoners, and suggested we should go with him. It’s the first time I have been to look at them, though I have had many chances. There were 400 of them altogether. They were not a bad looking lot of men and mostly Bavarians and Jaegers. They are not going to be sent away, but kept to work on the railways here. They are terrified at the thought of being sent to England, as they are confident they will be submarined on the way over. I think it would be a good idea to put a few of them on all boats that cross the Channel ….
The weather has been beautiful, and the country is delightful after what we have been accustomed to for so many months, I remember I thought it very poor after Kent, but comparing it with where I have been, I think differently. I have been living above ground for ten days, but we go back to dug-outs to-night ….
Our days seem to be very full, there is little time for writing ….
We could do with a great many Skull Caps, the number I could do with now is 1,500. I am hoping some will arrive to-night. I have not had a hard day, but done a good deal of tramping. I had a service at my canteen here at 10, and then had a long walk for service for some gunners. We had our service right by the guns in case
they were ordered to fire. They were not. You will be amused to hear that the new trench which is being dug here has been named Rector Trench. When it is put on the maps, which it will be in a day or two, I will try and get you a copy. I have to-day been asked to organise rather a large tea and Bovril stall. All the water, fuel, and oil has to be carried about 2~ miles, and I may not be able to get the labour, as everyone is very busy, and I may not be able to get a water cart. I am going to try……
We are on the move again to-morrow. I hoped we were going to stay here a bit. This afternoon I walked over to the place we are going to, and arranged with the Town Mayor for a cellar in which I can have my canteen, if I can have one, which is doubtful, as they may not be able to let me have any transport for a bit. All this moving uses it up. Quite a lot of rain to-day and the ground is very sticky and slippery……
It is rather like you knitting in the middle of a game of Bridge. I am writing in the middle of a game of picquet, while my opponent is discussing military matters …. This morning I and “Sigs” climbed up in the church tower, from which we got quite a good view of the surrounding country and could look into the German trenches. Then we explored the bottom of the Church. When we first came to that village (which we have now left), someone hit a stone near the door, and it sounded hollow, so they pulled it up, and found a passage going down about 200 feet. winding round and round. The air was very foul, and they could not get in for some time, but now it is all right. When you get down the 200ft. there are a lot of biggish caves — big enough to hold a battalion. It is now used as a dug-out if the village is being shelled …. Our mess is in a public house, right on the main road, and is quite as noisy as Piccadilly at its worst. Our sleeping apartments are in the bank opposite. They are quite good dug-outs, and Williams has “scrounged,” otherwise acquired all necessary articles. . . . The General who was in there last night tells me it was full of rats. . . Now, having finished my picquet, and won four francs from the General, I am going to dive into my dug-out. It is raining like fun……
I have taken the parcels of caps to the Buffs this afternoon, they are very much pleased with them. I went to the Field Ambulance about 12, there was not a great number of wounded. but several who had a great number of wounds. One man was cut clean through the neck but was not badly hurt. He has been wounded twice before--once through the foot and once through the stomach. I think they might keep him at home for the remainder of the war. I was shown the map with “Rector Trench” marked on it —it goes right up to the German lines…..
I went up to the Field Ambulance last night; there were two men suffering from shell shock. They were quite unconscious but Moore said they would be all right. They belonged to a Battery which had been heavily shelled all day. It had had 180 shells thrown at it and they didn’t have a single casualty. Then in the evening they went and played football and one shell came which wounded three and the other two….
Aug. 29 We moved again early this morning ….
I had a very large parade service in the morning — about 2,000 men, at which I had to lift up my voice very high, and I had a celebration, at which there were a good many, immediately afterwards. At 2.30 I had a service for all the transport in a very pretty little valley near here. The men were all on the bank right above me. Then at 5.40 I had a service for some Engineers at a village near here.
We are moving off early tomorrow and have a longish march, and I shall probably finish by going to visit my old C.C.S.* which I hear is still there.
Most of them started off early, but I waited behind to see that everything went off all right. Then I toddled off by myself and took a different road to the Brigade as I find it very difficult marching. They take such short steps. It was just 20 kilometres. When I got there I found a lot coming into the Casualty Clearing Station (it isn’t my old one) which is exactly next door to us. So I
· NOTE. 21 Casualty Clearing Station.
got 1,000 cigarettes and I think they blessed me. Then I went down to my old C.C.S.—-only four of the old lot were there—the Colonel, the little French interpreter, the dentist and the Quartermaster. The C.C.S. has been very much enlarged since I was there, and it was pretty full. I have got quite a nice room here. The inhabitants have gone to bed and have sent me an enormous key--I hope I shall find the door and the keyhole as I am quite tired ….
We are rather in a desert here, and although it is just the place where a canteen would be useful, it is impossible to have one. I managed to get up 2,500 cigarettes yesterday and divided them between the battalions to-day. Had a worrying sort of Sunday. I have been trying all day to find quiet spots and have services. As there are thousands of soldiers all round—no permanent buildings and only a few tents——it has been rather difficult and rather impossible. I have had my services in the wood. Had the first at 8 a.m., and the last at 6 p.m. They were quite nice services, but what would you think of the respectable old Rector of Frittenden taking a celebration at 6 o’clock in the evening attired just in his ordinary clothes — his Altar an upturned munition box. We couldn’t have any services after 9 o’clock as the troops were all training and the vast majority can’t come before 2 o’clock ….
Here I am camped in a bare hill. I thought I should sleep on the bare ground with the open canopy of the Heavens for a roof, but they have rigged up a tarpaulin so we have something above us, which is a good thing as it looks like rain …. We, or rather I,
—for I left long after the others—started off at 9, walked till 12, when I picked up our transport, then went and had a scratch lunch with the General and Pender. Then I walked across country with them
——a wonderful country, all shell holes and trenches——trenches which till recently were German ….I shall not be living at Brigade Head Quarters for a few days as there is only room for four, and we are seven. I shall have to do the censoring for a bit and I shall also have to be at the Field Ambulance a good deal. I think my letters will probably be irregular for a bit ….
It mercifully didn’t rain last night, though the ground was rather
bumpy I slept very well. I have had a little hole dug in the ground under my valise--your hip falls into that and makes you much more comfortable. It’s just splendid the way our guns keep going. It’s lust a roar all the time. The Germans give us in 24 hours about as much as we give them in every hour. I was close to two French 75 Batteries to-day when they were in action. It’s wonderful the pace at which they get them off …..
Ingram wanted to find the various Aid Posts and Dressing Stations and so did I, so we had a long walk round. It was the battlefield of a few days ago and the whole place was churned up with shell fire and littered with debris —— German, French and English. It is absolutely indescribable …. We sat down for some time at what had been a large farm. It was absolutely level with the ground —destroyed by shell fire. There wasn’t a foot of it or its outbuildings standing. 100 yards off you couldn’t have told it had been there. I have seen a good deal of the results of shell fire, but nothing compared to this…..
I think it is quite possible you may get this letter late and may have to wait a long time for others. I know I can’t write to-morrow as we are on the move …. We had a stormy north wind to-day, but I am glad to say it has dried everything up wonderfully and transport can get along, which is a great thing. We do want fine weather now with these mud roads. …. I went over a good deal of the ground we took from the Germans. Their losses in this offensive have, from ocular demonstration, been very heavy. I went round to-day with Ingram, Moore and Trist (three doctors), and then with the General, and I hadn’t seen him for the last three days as he has been very busy and I have kept out of the way ….
Have just got up (12.30) having had my breakfast in bed. It sounds very dissipated, but I had had a strenuous day. I was up yesterday morning at 5 and on the move by 5.45. I had two hours walk and took up my abode in a crater of a German mine where we had a very rough dressing Station. I was there and thereabouts all day, and we were very busy. It was awful getting the wounded down--over a very rough country full of shell holes. Some of them
must have been four or five hours on the journey. We had at least ten men hit bringing them down, and that means some pain for the wounded. I intended to stay up there last night, but by5 a.m. I was wet through and tired out and as there was another parson there who was quite dry I thought it was better for me not to sleep on the floor in my wet clotbes but to come home and get a bit dry. I got back about 9 a.m. and slept like a top for three hours-—I have collected a little food and am going back again. I may be away to-night or two nights or may get back to-night, so you won’t be surprised if you don’t hear ….
This is Sunday, I believe, but I haven’t realised it at all and have no services and have arranged none for other people, which I ought to have done, as I am acting Senior Chaplain, Ponsonby having been wounded on Friday. I did not get back to my Dressing Station in the crater till 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon. Things were very quiet and I was sorry I hadn’t taken a little more sleep. I went up to the K.S.L.I. and arranged for the evening’s work. We are trying to clear a battlefield. Being very antique I always have a soft job. I was in charge of the stretcher bearers from K.S.L.I.
H. Q. to the Dressing Station. Ingram was collecting with the stretcher bearers and bringing to me. We had rather a disastrous evening. I got two lots down and got back to K.S.L.I. Head Quarters at 10. Ingram had just gone off again leaving word I was to keep all his stretcher bearers who came in till he returned. About 10.45 the Corporal with his party came and reported that Ingram had crawled off by himself and had not returned. Murray sent off an officer and one man and Ingram’s Corporal to see if they could find out anything. They got right up to the German lines and could see the Germans and they were rather afraid in the dark Ingram went right into the German lines. One of the K.S.L.I have just been in to say nothing has been heard of him at all this morning. I do hope he is all right and at worst a prisoner. He is such a good chap and a great many people have got the V.C. for a great deal less than he has done. I didn’t get back till 6.30 this morning. I had a good three hours sleep. In a few minutes will be off to the Dressing Station. I shall probably be back early to-day….
From the Revd. Neville Talbot, S.C.F.
Headquarters, XIV Corps
Wednesday, 20th September, 1916.
On Monday afternoon, about 3.15, whilst searching for wounded who had been lying out for several days, he was hit by a shell and killed instantly.
You would have heard before had the Brigade to which he was attached clearly known what had become of him. But whilst his Brigade (and Division) has been in the big fight he has been acting rather as a free lance—making his quarters back at the Transport lines and going up for longish spells to help with the wounded at the Advanced Dressing Stations near the line. One attack which his Brigade and others in the Division made last Friday was unsuccessful, with the result that at nightfall our line was behind the ground over which the troops had tried to advance.
This meant that many wounded had to be left out—some of them at any rate— until on Monday morning the ground was won by a successful attack. I think that your husband joined in efforts that were made previous to the successful attack, to rescue wounded by night. Others, I hope, will tell you about that. What I do know, that on Monday he joined a party of stretcher bearers under Captain Moir, R.A.M.C., which went out after the successful attack, and therefore behind our front line, to search for wounded. I will ask Captain Moir to write to you himself. He got his leg torn by barbed wire and came down through my Dressing Station (Some five or six miles back) and asked rue whether I knew anything about your husband. It seems Moir and he got separated, that Moir lost his way and never rejoined your husband. All this made me very anxious, for I had had a vague report passed on to me on Tuesday morning by another Chaplain from a wounded officer (this proved to be Lieut. Mellor) that some padre had been killed This rumour reached me on Tuesday morning, I at once wired to the different Brigades to enquire about their Chaplains, but got no answer. It was on Tuesday evening that Moir increased my anxiety by his enquiries about your husband. I should add that the Senior Chaplain of the Division, Maurice Ponsonby, had been wounded in the thigh on Friday last. If he had been about to supervise the Chaplain’s work right up to the front, enquiries about your husband would, I think, have been made earlier. As it was it fell to me as Corps Chaplain to find out about it all. What made it easy for things to remain uncertain was that on Monday night the Division was relieved in the trenches by another Division. Both the Headquarters of the Brigade and the Battalions in the Brigade assumed in the absence of information that all was well.
As soon as I had seen Moir on Tuesday night I got into touch with the Division on the telephone and learnt that an unofficial This is what happened.
Unknown to the Headquarters of his Brigade and to the Battalions in the Brigade, your husband went out on Monday afternoon with a party of stretcher bearers headed by Captain Moir. Moir and your husband somehow got separated and your husband fell in with another party which had been sent out by the Sherwood Foresters under Lieut. Mellor. Your husband got the latter party to come and fetch some wounded men whom he had discovered. Whilst they were doing this shelling began and your husband was hit in the leg.
He and Lieut Mellor and a stretcher bearer called Stretton, of the Sherwood Foresters, got into a shell hole and the latter began to bandage the wound. Then another shell landed in the shell hole and killed your husband and Stretton and wounded Mellor dangerously. I got this information from Sgt. Rodgers * of the Sherwood Foresters who report had reached Divisional Headquarters that your husband had been killed. In the course of the evening this turned out to come from the Sherwood Foresters, a Battalion in a Brigade other than that to which your husband was attached. To-day (Wednesday) I investigated the whole matter—saw the Brigade authorities and went to the Sherwood Foresters.
This is what happened.
Unknown to the Headquarters of his Brigade and to the Battalions in the Brigade, your husband went out on Monday afternoon with a party of stretcher bearers headed by Captain Moir. Moir and your husband somehow got separated and your husband fell in with another party which had been sent out by the Sherwood Foresters under Lieut. Mellor. Your husband got the latter party to come and fetch some wounded men whom he had discovered. Whilst they were doing this shelling began and your husband was hit in the leg.
He and Lieut Mellor and a stretcher bearer called Stretton, of the Sherwood Foresters, got into a shell hole and the latter began to bandage the wound. Then another shell landed in the shell hole and killed your husband and Stretton and wounded Mellor dangerously. I got this information from Sgt. Rodgers * of the Sherwood Foresters who was with Lieut. Mellor’s party. He had got into a neighbouring shell hole and came over and saw that your husband had been instantaneously killed. He and the rest of the party carried Lieut. Mellor down, and later on he passed through this Dressing Station and is home by now I expect.**. . . . I have got the spot marked on the map and have reported it to the Brigade. A big burial party was at work all over the ground last night consisting of a Battalion of Divisional Pioneers. I think it is fairly certain they will have carried out the burial. I could not find them this evening, so that I am not sure. I shall find them tomorrow morning. If there is any doubt I and the Brigade staff will not rest till we have seen to the burial. It is not an easy place to get to as it is often shelled, but it shall be managed.
That is my story—I am afraid it is too long and involved, but I have felt that you would like to know all I know …. He has evidently been working rather as a free lance and has helped with the finding of wounded belonging not only to his own Battalion but to others in the Division. I cannot overstate the sorrow there is to-day in his Brigade. “They simply loved him,” so said several officers and men in the Shropshires to me to-day.
He has fallen doing gallant work for others. …. you will, I believe, feel the glory of such a death——simply met in saving others. Yours, ours, is the loss, not his. He has passed on as the faithful friend and servant of others. He is loved and mourned throughout the Division. I was much with him further north and we were great friends …. You must not blame anyone The Brigadier and staff were absorbed in the fighting. They and one of the Battalion Commanders, Colonel Murray of the Shropshires, had tried to restrain him, but the need of those poor lads lying out wounded hour after hour could not be denied. He has glorified his profession and his Master ….
I hope to be able to find out where the Cheshires made the grave and to mark it with a cross—but I am sure you will understand that the conditions of this awful battlefield are such that it is very difficult to do all that ought to be done to honour those who have fallen …..
* NOTE. Since killed in action.
** NOTE. Lieut. Mellor died of wounds two days later.
…..I have been up to-day to the spot where on Tuesday last some of the 1st Cheshires buried the rector’s body. It is quite close to the strong point which recently gave a good deal of trouble in the taking of it, called the Quadrilateral. It is an exposed position at present and lam afraid it is very likely it will be shelled again. But I have driven in a good strong cross with metal lettering on it, deep into the ground. I could not be sure that I got the absolutely exact spot, but it is near to it as the exactest information which I could or anyone cou~d procure permitted. The whole locality is an indescribable desolation of shell holes. After driving in the cross I said a prayer commending the soul of my brother into Our Father’s Hands, asking for his prayers for us—for all the lads arrived and still in this intense conflict …. So I came away telling those whom I met in that body-strewn tract to hold by that great word “Fear not him that can kill the body.” The spot on the map is thus described, “near, but 50 yards north of the junction of the Ginchy—Combles Railway with the road running east of Ginchy and west of the trench running north of the junction.” The map reference is France, Sheet 57e S. W. T. 14. d. 8.9 …. Some day perhaps I may be able to show you that bit of this “field of honour” on which he fell ….
From Colonel Murray, Commanding 1st K.S.L.I.
……None knew his worth more than we did, as he had lived with us for so long. One of the bravest men I had ever met and we see many here, he gave his life to help others. I fear that one of the reasons that took him to that part of the field was that he was looking for my Doctor, * whom he was very fond of, as he had previously wanted to go out and I had stopped him, but the day on which he met his end I did not see him. He always was much upset about wounded having to lie out any time, and he had worked night and day to help them ….
From Colonel Lord Henry Scott,
Commanding 8th Bedfords, 16th I.B.
….. Please excuse me writing, as possibly you don’t know who I am, but I got command of above four months ago in 16th L.B. I met your husband there, and we at once became great friends. He was one of those whom it was only necessary to meet and then to love. He was always so kind to me, and we had much in common, nearer of an age, Oxford and cricket, and he alone in this Brigade bad many friends, who were also friends of mine He also knew and shot on our moors at home …. You know how splendid he was in gathering up the wounded on the battlefield. I said to one of the Medical Officers that I thought he was taking too much risk. The M.O. answered, “anyhow, if he had not gone up, many of your wounded men would not have been brought in.” . . . He was a true nerve ….
* Note. Captain Thomas Lewis Ingram. D.S.O.,M.C., R.A.M.C., attached 1st Shropshire Light Infantry, was killed on or about the night of September 16 while searching for wounded in front of the enemy wire.
From General L. Nicholson.
……He was a man in a million, and very many of us in the 16th Brigade, owe him more than we can say, Personally I am proud to have had him for a friend, even for that short time we lived together, and his death is a great grief to me. You have probably heard of the circumstances of his death. Of him it can be truly said, “Greater love bath no man than this, that be gave his life for his friends.”
From General W. L. Osborn.
…. Your brave husband did untold good work in removing the wounded out of danger while fighting was in progress. He was so well known to all the men that his. presence with the wounded was of great help to them. It was a real grief to us that we were unable to bury him ourselves. He was killed on the ground where the Brigade on our left were fighting. The fighting continued until we moved elsewhere and since then the Brigade has been moving and fighting continuously ….
From General C. Ross,
Major-General Commanding 6th Division.
……….He was killed while bravely attending the wounded under heavy shell fire. He had already been recommended for the Military Cross for gallantry, and had he lived, his name would again have been sent in. His loss is a personal one to all ofiicers and men of the 16th Infantry Brigade, and indeed of the whole Division. He died nobly, doing his duty and setting a striking example to others ….
From Private F. Edridge, 1st Buffs.
…. I have been with this regiment at the front for twelve months, and I can vouch for what I say, as I saw it all myself, and I should like to say that he is a great favourite of the men and we are all very proud of him, and now I will try to explain things a little to you, in the first place, on the night before the battle, at much inconvenience to himself, Mr. Ingliss was around the trenches with a word of comfort for all, which nerved us for the dangers we knew awaited us. The next time I saw him was after the fight, he was with a party of R A.M.C. men and although the shells and bullets of the enemy were still tearing up the earth all around, and it was pouring hard with rain, he was helping to attend the wounded, and getting them back to cover and safety, working as hard as any man on the field that day, I only hope that his grand work was seen by someone in authority, who will give him his honour and credit he so well deserves; I cannot say more, beyond that it was most noble and grand of him, and may it please our Lord and Master in Heaven to bless and reward him accordingly.
From the Rev. L. Reed, S.C.F., M.C.
……Looking back, it is a fact that I was never so happy out here as when the Rector came and shared my dug-out. I knew he was quite fearless, and always glad to rough it in a way that put to shame some younger men, and I know also that he would be with the men he was devoted to when they were in for a rough time. He saved many a man’s life on the day when he played the last and greatest game of his life, and the men he loved and died for, can never forget his happy and unselfish life and death out here ….
From the Rev. J. Dwyer Keily, C.F., Wesleyan.
…. ‘‘ The Rector,” as we all called him endeared himself to us all by his Christian brotherliness and genial comradeship. We all—no matter what our particular religious denomination, feel we have lost a true friend ….
He was a wonderful fellow, and I, and every officer and man in the whole Brigade have lost a dear friend. Personally, I will miss him awfully. He was very good to me all the time I knew him …. I’m sure he died in the manner he would have liked best, doing his duty amongst the wounded. The whole army, and especially the Brigade have lost a real friend and a very good comrade ….
…. May the Spirit of the dear old Rector live in the hearts of his children and make them great. For he was a very gentleman, always careless of himself, and thoughtful of others, and so I have never met a man so universally loved and respected in the Brigade as be was, and as he passed along I think people felt kinder and better.
From Brother Officers in his Brigade.
…. I, like many more in this Brigade, loved your husband, he was such a real white man, always cheery, and ever ready to help his fellow-man. I saw him about 11 p.m. on the night before he was killed and did my best to persuade him not to expose himself to unnecessary danger, but he would go …. One great consolation is to feel I shall meet him again some day, and that he has only gone forward in advance ….
…. He was one of the men we can really ill afford to lose, but he must have had a glorious death, helping to bring in the wounded. All the time I knew him in France he was always so cheerful and always seemed to be thinking of others. I shall never forget when I was wounded and taken to the Dressing Station on the Canal bank, how wonderful he was, cheering up all the men and handing cigarettes round, and he had been two days without any rest. All the time I was in France I have never met a Chaplain anything like him ….
The following extract is taken from “Battles of The Somme” by Philip Gibbs, who on 4th March, 1917, in answer to an enquiry writes: “The passages marked referred to the 6th Division. They were held up in the Quadriliteral by wire and machine gun fire on the right of the Guards and suffered heavily. The 14th Division were on their left and my remarks refer to both these Divisions. It was a tragic day for the 6th Division, but all the men fought with great courage and endurance in a position of extreme difficulty.”
Page 279. “Battles of the Somme.”
Our troops made another attempt to reach Guedecourt in co-operation with the men on their right, but they were unable to get the whole distance in spite of a most heroic assault after two days of heavy fighting. The force attacking on the right of Flers on Friday morning, 15th Sept., had similar experiences and more difficulties. They are men who know all there is to know about the Ypres Salient, where I met them first nearly a year ago. They are all men who have old scores to wipe off against the enemy in the way of poison gas and flame jets, and they went very fiercely into battle. To start with, they had to clean out a place known as Mystery Corner, to the right of Deville Wood, where they captured fifty-one prisoners, and afterwards a trench a little to the north of that, thrust down as a wedge between their left flank and the right of the troops who had started out for Fluers. This second strong point was wiped out by the Tanks, which came and sat down upon it and by a small body of North-country men working with the Tanks. Their particular job was done, but seeing the long waves of their comrades streaming forward to the main attack, they could not hold back, but followed on, all through the fight, keeping touch in a most orderly way with the men ahead of them and doing as they put it, odd jobs, such as knocking out machine guns and killing snipers. It was so with other men. Having done their allotted task they would not stand and hold, but steamed after the tide, which went through and past them, determined to be in at the death. In the attacks upon Guedecourt that day and on the evening of the next they had a hard bad time, like the men on their left. They were under enfilade fire from machine guns, which chattered hour after hour, never silent. “The air was stiff with bullets,” says one of the officers. Men finding their only cover in shell-craters could not put their heads up, so close did the bullets slash the earth. And in other shell craters not far away, were many German riflemen picking off any man who appeared for a moment out of the tumbled earth. It was a hellish neighbourhood, yet when the moment for the second attack came, mixed companies of men from regiments who had mingled in the inevitable confusion of such a place and time (it was now thirty-six hours since the dawn of Friday), rose out of their holes in the earth, and formed up as on parade and went forward in fine gallant style. It was impossible in the face of all those bullets about them and they fell back to the original line of advance, well to the north of Flers. which was good enough for that day after such heroic work.
There was no Division in our Armies who could have done better, nor who did better, on a great day when all did well.
* My Dear John
I had a few of these done as a ? for the children – you may like one.
With my love