Friday, February 28, 2014

In an age before children had rights.

This story from almost 100 years ago shows us a very different world and one can't help thinking that the parent and the child would get a very different hearing today. Of the three schools mentioned here, the Church of England school was at Stony Stratford of the High Street, the Council school was the building on the corner of the Wolverton Road and the Secondary School was the new County School on Moon Street. It is now Bushfield School. It was in those days a fee paying school.
At the Petty Sessions on Friday, December 1st 1916, with Mr. F.W. Woollard in the chair, Samuel Purser, a labourer of the town, was summoned for not sending his boy to school. Mr. Herbert Bentley, Chief School Attendance Officer, Aylesbury, represented the Bucks Education Authority, and representing the defendant was Mr. Charles Allinson, a solicitor of 89, High Street. Mr. Bentley said there had been no attendance since the summer holiday. The boy had answered a teacher at school which caused some laughter, and the schoolmaster reprimanded him for his conduct.  
The boy was said to have committed some breach of discipline and the teacher reported it to the headmaster. The parents had applied for the boy to be transferred from the Church of England School to the Council School, but having twice considered the case the school managers each time concluded that ‘it would be a breach of discipline and have great weight amongst other children.’ However, the parents would not send the child back, and he supposed that they were prepared to send him to the Council School provided the Committee gave him a transfer. Mr. Bentley then read a High Court of Justice decision on the matter, which he contended applied to this case. In cross examination he said the boy had been refused admission to the Council School, whilst as to the fact that the lad had attended for a fortnight, but was then ‘fetched away,’ he said he instructed the teacher that the pupil had been wrongly admitted. He had no authority to exclude a boy from school. 
In his questioning Mr. Allinson said that 103 attendances out of a possible 115 had been made up to March, and the boy’s conduct was fair. When asked if he knew that the boy suffered from mental aberration Mr. Bentley denied any knowledge. Then in the continued questioning, 
“He has never been punished in any shape or form?” 
“I had no knowledge of it.” 
“Has he ever had his head banged on the table or been hit on the head?” 
“I could not say.” 
“Has the lad ever been told by the teacher he was only fit to feed pigs?” 
“I am not aware of it.” 
“What is your power to refuse a transfer?” 
“So far as the legal obligation to a transfer there is such a thing as discipline.” 
“Did you lay my letter before the Committee?” 
“I did not.” 
“Don’t you think it was your duty to have done so?” 
“No, sir.” 
“You decided it on your own?” 
“No, sir.” 
“What did you do then?” 
“I consulted my chief, Mr. Watkins.” 
“Are you willing to give the boy a transfer to a school where he will have a different environment?” 
“The case would have to be considered by the Committee.” At this point the Magistrate’s Clerk, Mr. E.T. Worley, pointed out that in the Bye Laws not a single word was said about transfers. 
Mr. Bentley then said “For your enlightenment, I might say that the Government regulations were drawn up by the Board of Education. There is one observation which speaks of capricious removals which are not allowed. It is a matter of upholding the discipline of schools.” 
Mr. Allinson then said he was justified in the face of the doctor’s certificate in saying there was a reasonable excuse for not attending school as required by the Act. This was a case where the boy was made a butt of because he went to help in a piggery. He was bullied by other boys and the teacher ‘took it.’ Counsel further alleged that when it came to thumping the boy’s head it was time to intervene, and he thought the father was justified in respectfully asking for a transfer for the boy. The lad had put in full attendance at the Council School for a fortnight. There was no doubt he would still have done so, if an officer hadn’t told the teacher not to admit him. In order to get the boy educated, and save him any further misery, his father then went to the Secondary School at Wolverton, being quite prepared to forego luxuries and pay the high school fees there. However, they required ‘a two years character,’ which the headmaster on being applied to refused. Consequently Mr. Allinson’s client was glad to be in court that day to define his position. 
Evidently the County Council ‘in their wisdom’ would refuse the boy admission into any of their schools, despite the headmaster of the County Council School being perfectly willing to take him, as he was a quiet pupil. Mrs. Faith Ellen Purser, the wife of the defendant, then made a complaint about the children ‘calling’ him at school. He seemed very unhappy, and in the middle of a meal “he absolutely lost himself and was absent minded.” She said that one day there was a slight bruise on the boy’s head when he came home from school. 
When the chairman asked if she thought that the boy’s health and comfort was being interfered with by attending this school, she replied “I do, sir.” 
To this the chairman said “That’s the point. To my mind it is the greatest tyranny on the part of the school or the teacher to interfere in such circumstance.” 
For the defendant Mr. Allinson said that if the facts had come to their knowledge they would have granted a transfer, for which they had pressed. Lamenting that no master was present, the chairman said that in some 50 cases of this kind from these schools only once had a master taken any interest. Mrs. Purser stated that she had applied numerous times for a transfer on the grounds that the child suffered certain mental aberrations. She wrote some of the letters to the Committee and her husband had written some. She told the headmaster as soon as began to notice it, but when asked if she had made such a statement in any of the letters she said she hadn’t put it like that. “I told them he suffered from his head a lot.” Asked if she had any medical evidence previous to the certificate, which bore the current day’s date, she replied “No, because I took care of the child.” After a brief retirement the chairman announced that having considered all the evidence the Bench were unanimous in dismissing the case.

William Laurie Field's War - Part 13

“July 11th. … I am answering your two letters and parcel together, but I suppose it is all the same. The parcel was fine - thank you. We came out of the trenches to-night and I received it on arrival at our billet. It had the effect of making glad the heart of this man. You always send me everything I like, so do not worry. We generally go a little short of food in the trenches, living mostly on bread and jam, and perhaps a little bully beef. … We had an exciting time dodging bombs. The Germans are using a bomb now, about as big as a jam jar. … Someone shouts, “bomb,” left or right, as the case may be, and you have to run in the opposite direction. So long as you see the thing, you get plenty of time to dodge it, because they go right up into the air, but they make a deafening noise when exploding, and our fellows call them “nerve shakers.” … Last Sunday I went to a service at 6.30p.m., and I wondered if you were at Church at home at the same time; we had eight or nine hymns, and it was very nice indeed. Also in the morning we had an early service too, in the back room of a theatre fitted up with an altar by our own chaplain. He has made it into a little church which he intends to keep standing, so that we may be able to use it any time we are resting at the place. … My air pillow is done for - I think - so send me another. R---- tells me I am a lucky fellow to get standard bread - I would willingly change places with him - … Fancy we are in exactly the same houses that we were in last February, on the same duty. It seems strange to come back to the old place and find the houses more knocked about than ever. When we first came to them the furniture and belongings were all scattered about everywhere, but that has practically all been cleared away now, and of course new reserve trenches have sprung up and everything improved for defence; it is quite interesting to see it all again. We don’t seem to take any notice of ruined houses now they are such common sights.”

“July 19th. … I was glad to get your letter, which I received in the trenches. I always look forward to a letter and as it was Sunday night it was particularly nice to hear from home. … I may soon have the chance of a holiday as they are working out leave, and if my service in the Bucks counts, I shall be the next but two in our platoon. Anyhow, if the Germans don’t cut up rough and everything goes on as it should, I ought to get my turn at least within the next four or five weeks. … Do you know, I am writing this in exactly the same trench as I was in during February last, also we are in exactly the same billet when we go back. Of course, we have looked up a lot of our old French friends and they all seem glad to see us, but I should think that quite half of us, who were here before, are now either in England or have been killed, still of course, we have had many drafts to keep up our number. I found that one of my French friends, had been killed by a shell, when we got back here again; it seems hard luck for civilians to get killed, but there are hundreds within quite easy shelling distance: I suppose they hate leaving their homes, and after all, they can clear out into a field when shells come too close, or go right away if things become too hot. There are many more houses occupied now than there were in the winter, but of course some have been raised to the ground by the shell fire. The destruction to private property must have been tremendous, and along the present line it gets worse and worse. Each time we go back, we notice that such and such a house has been knocked down whilst we were in the trenches, and this goes on every day, and we have held this line for nine months, so you can form some idea of the enormous amount of damage that has been done. … There are some shells knocking about and I can’t concentrate my thoughts when shelling is going on, you would understand if you had been under shell fire.”


“July 21st … We have just arrived here after a march, which we did with scarcely a halt, but being in perfect condition, I enjoyed it. … We often have things which require the section commanders to toss up for their sections, but lately we have discovered certain French pennies (deux sous) have two tails, so we usually resort to cards now. I had heard of two headed pennies, but not until I came out to France did I hear of the two tailed ones. … By the way, going up to the trenches the other night, I could hardly believe my eyes - for there behind a house and within quite easy shelling distance, was a real live English coffee stall. Well, I did have thoughts of home, and I felt that I wanted to fall out there and then, and indulge just for the very joy of the thing. A good many fellows were taking advantage of it, and to me it “almost” seemed homely. I believe it was run by the Motor Kitchen people, and it seems real good to see anything like that out here. … I told you we were in the same trenches as we were in last Feb. - but what a difference - hundreds of fresh trenches have been dug, and notices of direction all about, lots of bridges and new roads across fields, and bridges over streams, and hundreds of shrapnel proof “dug-outs,” have sprung up, or down, as the case may be. Of course the houses have suffered more from shells, and now in the trenches at the slightest sign of a light at night, or a spade or a pick, over comes a shell (which species we call “zip bangs”). The officers call them “pip squeaks.” They are so-called because the guns must be actually in the trenches, for you hear no shrill whistle of the shell as it is coming for you just ‘zip’ and then bang, all in a second or so. Rotten things they are though, and capable of doing a deal of damage. … The last day I was in the trenches I actually saw the missiles in the air, as they went by and burst about 50 yards to the rear of our trench, it is very seldom though, you can see a shell in the air.” Wolverton Express 1915 Aug. 6th

William Laurie Field's War - Part 14

“Aug. 24. … I don’t think I told you that, for convenience sake and other reasons, nearly all the fellows now have but two meals a day in the trenches, one about 9.30a.m., and the other about 5.30p.m., without any apparent reason, all the fellows seem to have adopted the two meals a day system, and it is now quite the rule. … The candles came in quite handy, as I have a little weakness for reading in bed every night, if I am not writing letters, and our billets are always barns without artificial light, so every night without exception we need a light. I and my two chums generally work together, and so usually one or the other has a candle. …This afternoon I had a swim in the canal and afterwards visited the flying station. It is most interesting to watch the aeroplanes ascending and descending (landing), they are beautifully made, and we seem to have a great number. They go up all ready for fighting, with machine guns, bombs, etc., the driver behind and the observer in front. … I should have liked to have been at the Fete (Red Cross). It is the lack of something like that now and again that makes things so dull, never being able to put on anything but one suit, and which we seldom take off. So I imagined I was at the fete when I tasted the chocolate … and wished I could have been there in reality. … About looking grey - well, you know, we can tell in an instant if a fellow has only just come out here. We saw some only this afternoon, and we all knew at once they had been out but three or four days. … There is a sort of worn expression on all who have been out here during the winter, to be discerned in an instant. But I expect it soon vanishes when a fellow sets foot on Albion again, on leave! One of my pals went to hospital a short time ago, and met a fellow there (in the Bucks.) who knew me well. Another of my pals who has come all through has now gone to hospital. He is a very strong fellow, too. Do you know, hardly one of our fellows who came out here at the first has not had a turn in Hospital. Some look on it as going for a short holiday, but not so this nigger. I always like to be with the boys, and haven’t missed one day in the trenches so far.”


“Sunday evening, Sept. 5 … I wish you could see me now; we have had plenty of rain lately, and the trenches are in a bit of a mess, and we got fairly wet marching here yesterday, but by a slice of luck we were able to get a “bon” dug-out, made of an old boiler sunk into the ground. It is about 8 feet in diameter, and of course the bottom is filled in flat, and a fireplace in one end. It was made by the French and jolly good they seem to be at that sort of thing. … To-night, when dusk came (about 7.30p.m.), we all sat round the fire and sang some hymns, and after that we told ghost stories. A little bit of fire makes so much comfort, and we dream of our homes and how nice it must be to live in peace and comfort again. … I was jolly sorry to learn about poor Gregory and Severn. I was in their Company only a short time ago, but your letter was the first information that anything had happened. It’s a cruel war. Since I last wrote, another of my chums has been killed. He was such a nice happy go lucky sort of fellow. Don’t forget to tell Rex about poor Gregory, as he knew him well when in the Wolverton Works. Ȃ I should like to see you all, but it seems leave is cancelled again for our Regiment., and I should not be surprised if it was not restarted until the winter. It seems years since I was in Wolverton - ten months to-day, I believe since we left your shore. … My pal has just exclaimed, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up and find the war finished!” Can’t hardly imagine what it would be like, but I often think I shall not relish going back to business, after so much open air and outdoor life. … To-day we saw a bit of a duel between a German and an English aeroplane. The English was a light Morane monoplane, which only carries the pilot, who observes as well. The German was a biplane which cut all sorts of figures about our machine, and we could hear its machine gun firing. The monoplane took to its heels, and I was surprised it got away all right. The German biplanes carry both an observer and a pilot. Strange to say, the pilot sits behind the observer. They are armed with six bombs and a Lewis machine gun. It is very rarely we do see a fight. Some of our machines are as white as paper, and you can hardly see them when the sky is clear and blue. We also see them all colours - black, brown etc.” Wolverton Express 1915 Sep. 17th

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 12


“Monday, June 28th. … We had rather a long and weary march back from the trenches last night (Sunday), and on my return I got the parcel which was jolly nice. … It rained very heavily whilst we were going to the trenches, so when we got there found the water over our boot-tops and I got thoroughly wet-footed, and I believe that accounted for the blisters which came on my heels. I did not fall out though, as as I have never given in during any march yet, in all my five years, soldiering, and I don’t mean to if I can help it. I saw the doctor this morning as I can only walk on my toes, and he gave me some tablets to use for bathing them, and I hope they will soon be better. … I am glad you sent the stuff for the insect bites. I had a mosquito bite on my leg and it was jolly uncomfortable while it lasted. Next time you send will you please include a tin case just large enough to take one box of matches. The thin boxes soon get crushed when we have to sleep in our tunics. … The trenches we were in were all chalk and we amused ourselves by carving. Some soldiers who were in the night before us, had carved out quite a little village with a church, houses, etc. Of course, hundreds of “crosses” were about, dedicated to the “Kiser.” I made one myself and took it for a souvenir to some French friends of mine. I know quite a number of families round here now, and when we go near enough and I am able to look them up, they are always glad to see me again. … I saw my old friend Gregory, with the Oxford and Bucks Regiment, last week. He is still well and has not been wounded. He brought in a wounded Wolverton fellow during the last attack, and probably saved his life. Of course hundreds of acts like this go unnoticed, so I don’t suppose he will get any award. … A short time ago we were billeted quite near a church which had escaped shelling except quite a little. The English notice inside took my fancy and was not at all bad, I thought. This is how it ran; “Nothing to the things of this church has been stolen since the beginning of the war. Every one is requested to respect the Sanctuary and to use the Organs when it is necessary only. By Order, The Mayor, 18th May.” … Speaking of marching, the R.A.M.C. people don’t carry a pack, but route marching in England is very different to ours out here, nobody can realise what it is like to be under shell fire unless they have been in a bombardment, you have a sort of feeling that the next minute you may have been blown off the face of the earth. … The rotten part is that you may hear them coming sometimes ten or fifteen seconds before they burst.”


“June 29th … Just while I think of it you did not enclose any health salt in the parcel. This is so useful and takes the place of tea in the trenches, and I find it very convenient. … I sent home a parcel today. … The clip of German cartridges is of the latest pattern, given to me by a French soldier from Lourette. … The top of the shell is by no means from a large shell but is interesting. The pieces fly about with some force when the shell explodes and would give one a nasty knock. The copper bullets are French and I send them for you to compare with the length of our own. The German bullets are the shortest, than ours and the longest are French. Now I must go to bed, at least lie down on the boards and try and think I am in a nice comfortable bed. - Guess I wish I was.” Wolverton Express 1915 July 9th

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 11

More letters as the weather gets warmer:
“May 24th ….. I have received your parcel, etc., and very nice too! We are away from things now for a little rest, after a strenuous time. Two of my Harpenden Bank chums, who were in my section, were killed. They were such nice fellowsand we often used to talk about “old bank times.” I had the sad, and unpleasant job too, of writing to the mother of one and the sweetheart of the other. Still perhaps the poor fellows are happier out of all this, and there have been times when things have been rotten … but when we get right away from the beastly shells we soon forget the horror of things. … I expect we saw a good many of the prisoners you mention as passing through Bletchley, etc. Things must be bad too, in England, but do be thankful you are not out here. … Things will come out after the war that people in England little dreamt of. … We wonder if Italy will speed things up a bit. … These strikes do make our men feel mad. … Here we often work 24 hours a day, for next to nothing, and risk everything, and people at home with no bullets and shells to risk are not content. We often say we would willingly change places for only our 1/- a day, and let them take ours (at their present pay). They don’t realise what war is. The experience of one or two shells would soon teach them a thing or two. I am so glad we had an unexpected Whitsuntide Communion Service, it was so opportune, especially after all we have gone through lately. … The prisoners I before mentioned were some specimens I felt I would not mind meeting anywhere with my bayonet, they all hung their heads and looked frightened to death, very different from how, I have learned, they behaved when they got to England where they are well treated. Out here they don’t get such gentle treatment I can tell you. The big page in the “Graphic” is interesting, as I know almost every inch of the country, and everything on the picture, and I want you to save it for (D.V.), when I come home.”

“May 29th … We are in a most lovely spot in ------, and yesterday we went into a wood, and I actually found lilies of the valley growing wild; and such beauties, too, they smell lovely, and I should love you to see them, a picnic here would be a treat. … I have enjoyed our little relaxation this time as it had been a long time previous since we had a decent rest. Of course, we do a lot of drilling, but it’s a treat to be away from the shells, and sets up again one’s nerves, and we all feel quite ready to have another smack at them, but of course, we like a little rest when we can get it; it came quite unexpected and so seems a better treat. I have had some lovely bathes, going before breakfast and after dinner too, but just at the present time I have a cold on me so cannot go. The weather, too, is not quite so hot.”

“May 30th - It seems more like Sunday, to-day, here, and the girls turned out in their finery, powder and paint, etc., to go to church. We had a route march in full pack this morning, and are going to have an open air service at 5p.m. tonight. I wish though, I could come with you, it seems ages since I was at home, and in truth nearly a year since last camp. … P.S. - Just a short line as I have just received your parcel. The Health Salts are good and come in very handy. We have had a lovely time lately, quite a treat, but we are afraid it will not last much longer. … One of my Bank Chums killed, is the one crossing the pontoon bridge, just in front of me, in the photo of three of us returning from shopping. My companion on my right has since been severely wounded.” Wolverton Express 1915 June 11th

“June 7th. … The fellow next to me has just woke up and says he has been sleeping all night with “bombs” for a pillow, we do get some shocks out here. … Yesterday, Sunday, I went to a Roman Catholic service and saw a realistic procession. It was very grand and gaudy, many different robes and much lace; also much swinging of incense. To hear the organ and singing seemed to be more like a Church service in England than anything I have witnessed in France as yet. But still, one of our own little services in a barn seems much more real to me than all this ceremony, especially if we happen to sing a hymn “For friends at home.” … We had a nice little march away from the place, and it seemed more like going for a walk in the cool evening at home, only we had a little more to carry. We got to our new billet just before midnight and this morning I was able to bathe in a little stream. We do seem to get callous of things. An engineer has just come in and says our company is to go in front of our first line trench and dig a new one, and this one is only 350 yards from the Germans. One of the fellows merely said: “Is that right, though - Whose trumps?”

“June 9th … In answer to your enquiry re. F.R. on the badge. I cannot say what it represents, but the badge itself was taken from a German helmet. A good many fellows don’t send things home, probably because they cause one a lot of inconvenience, but if I get home all right some day I shall be glad to have them. Don’t you think so. The penholder is an awfully nutty arrangement I think. … As you say war news is far-fetched in the papers, but I have read some jolly good articles in the “Daily Mail” lately, absolutely to the point, and they must have been written by one who has been out here and knows, and they appeal to us out here, but some of the trash fairly makes us laugh! One report speaking of a man just lighting his pipe , when a shell came and he just managed to step aside and miss it, but some of the bits caught him. … Then again, if we capture a trench the report says so definitely, but if we lose one it is always: “The Germans attacked but the line remained unbroken.” … I should have liked you to see their wire in the German trenches we captured from them, you would never believe it. The lot I saw was quite a dozen yards in width, and the barbs were an inch long and at intervals of one inch instead of about every four inches as is usual. … We had a gloriously hot day yesterday, and employed our time in building ourselves a “dugout.” Working hard from 9a.m. to 9.30p.m., and finished it in the one day. We put logs on the top nearly a foot in diameter. On these we put a covering of green foliage taken from trees and then a layer of filled sandbags on the top of that. Then we piled earth on the top of the whole and made a foot of extra head cover. It is about 4ft. 6in. deep and 8ft. square, has a little chimney for ventilation and altogether is a fine little place; with a small trench leading into it. We built it for protection from shell fire, there is room for about eight of us and it is most beautifully cool. … I have had three cold baths, as there is a small stream quite near us. We are quite safe too, as a rise in the ground hides us from the trenches, and altogether is one of the best little spots we have stuck as yet. We got flowers for our “dug out” from the deserted cottage gardens round here, and it’s a treat to smoke and read as it always smells so fresh. We had four working all day on it, and I don’t think we did badly. Part of the time we worked without even our shirts on, but an officer advised us to cover our backs, as if they blistered in the sun we should not be able to carry our packs. The perspiration rolled off me, still it’s nice to do a definite little piece of work and now it’s the pride of the platoon. Its name, “Shady Nook,” is quite appropriate and I should like you to see it.”


“June 13th (Sunday) … We have a fellow from Northampton in our platoon and we often have little talks about home. … They are making it more difficult to send souvenirs home now unless the parcel is under 4oz. as it was before it was sometimes a bit inconvenient to carry the things about, still, “there’s no place like home.” How true that is, after soldiering for nearly a year. … Hardly a house about here but shows signs of shelling and yet there are plenty of civilians living about round (sic). I suppose they are loath to leave their homes, although some of them have only four walls left. … I don’t think H ----’s Battery has been about here, but he will be more likely to see our regiment than for me to see his Battery, as of course, all Batteries look alike, but we have our titles. … We all have respirators ready for the gas, and we all have to carry them, I shall be glad when we start to gas them. I am going to see it experimented with when we do start. The best thing you know is to soak the respirators in Hypo.” Wolverton Express 1915 June 25th

Monday, February 24, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 10

“Our rest has again been rudely interrupted, but I suppose now the spring is at hand we must begin to expect “things lively.” I am glad to say we have given in our goatskin coats, and we have had waterproof mackintoshes issued instead. They are fine things, as light as a feather, and will go over full pack quite easily. They are after the cape style with just two slips for the arms. Three people could be got under one. We are only about ----- from the trenches, even here. During the night bullets whistle about, and we hear them thud in the ground close by. I shall be in the trenches again to-morrow night and again seeing more excitement, if you can call trench life exciting. I have thoroughly enjoyed our little rest; it has been a real treat, and they were lenient with regard to our walking out at night. Nearly every night I went into -----, which is quite a decent size and a busy place. I don’t feel a bit like writing to-day, and if I don’t feel like it I can never make a show. How is H getting on? I suppose you do not know here he is at all. We had some real sport yesterday. We were roused out from our billets at 3a.m., and marched off at 5a.m., and had to wait about all day in readiness. Some (censored) of the firing line. Of course we had to do something, so we made fishing lines and tied worms onto them. Most of the afternoon we were pulling little fish out of some water close by. It was grand and so exciting, as just as we got the bounders free from the water they would drop off. However, we landed quite a decent catch. An officer took a photograph of us, so if you see a picture of about a hundred or so fellows fishing, look out for your humble.”

March 19th

“Thanks so much for your nice parcel. I received it just as we came out of the trenches after a rather trying experience, as it had snowed and rained, and the nights were as black as ink. We have to keep watch night and day, and when you cannot see your hand in front of your face, it is very trying. I am so glad you sent a Standard loaf. One of our fellows has a loaf sent to him every week, so please send me one in your parcels in future if you can find room. I am glad you changed the style of the cocoa tin, as it is a much more handy shape for my pack. … I feel awfully tired, and I shall have a busy day again to-morrow, so this letter will be a short one. I had a very near turn to-day. The Germans were shelling our trench, and about six of us were standing quite close together. A shell dropped right into the middle of us. I had my back to it, and all I felt was a lob of mud and stuff which hit me in the back. One fellow was wounded a little, but it was a marvel we were not all put out of action, as it was not a yard from any one of us. I do hate shells when they begin to come so near. It was of the “Johnson” type, but of course much smaller. I found the nose afterwards, buried in the trench. It weighed quite 4lb. The other night, when we were out, our S.M. went on reconnoitring, and found a wounded man. Poor fellow, he had been out there five days and had not been able to crawl in. How he had lived between the two trenches is marvellous. I will furnish you with very much fuller details if I have the fortune to be spared to come home again. We were not in the Neuve Chapelle, but not so far away.”

March 20th, Saturday morning;

“The articles you put in the parcel were quite a success, and I would like some more sometime, as I gave them to the fellows of my platoon, and they enjoyed them much. I will write more next time as my duties finish to-night, and I shall have more time. I am just finishing this, the first minute I have had to spare to-day, and I collect the letters in ten minutes time. Good-bye. … There are lots of dead in front of our trenches, poor fellows. (Quenchy, near Govenchy.” Wolverton Express 1915 Apr. 2nd


“March 27th … We are still hard at it in the trenches - one thing, they are very good ones, and fairly dry, except on the days when it has snowed or rained. We had quite a night of snow four days ago, and it was a bit rough, even to-day we have had snow. To-night, as I am writing we are out of the trenches, sleeping in an old farm which is a treat after many nights in the trenches; we get very little sleep, some during the day, but all of it is at odd times, and does not really rest one. … You would have envied our breakfast in the trenches yesterday - I have a fellow who looks after me generally and does most of the cooking. This morning we had fried bacon, two fried eggs, and also fried potatoes - it was a treat, and for trench life it was a wonderful dish. We are allowed fires in these trenches, and now we have our bacon issued raw, so that we can fry it ourselves. In the trenches, breakfast is our chief meal, and as everyone must be awake from half past four we generally have it about 6.30 to 7a.m. … It is Palm Sunday to-morrow, and the Sergeant has just announced a Holy Communion Service for to-morrow morning at 8a.m. … Have run out of Saccharine Tablets …”

“March 29th … Thank you for your letter and Saccharine Tablets. … Yesterday was quite a peculiar day (Sunday). I went to Holy Communion at 8a.m., quite near the trenches, fancy only about ---- yards behind the firing line, in the afternoon we had a service at 3p.m. in an old barn. Picture about 50 fellows standing around a clergyman, and five or six officers in front, all joining most heartily in singing the hymns; it seemed so simple and nice, and the Guards’ Chaplain, who generally takes our services, is such a nice man. At 5.30p.m. we had a concert, and really the songs, etc., were quite tip-top; we had a splendid pianist too, and he accompanied the songs without any music of course. At 7.30 we had to parade and had to go digging in front of our trenches, returning about 11p.m., had a cup of tea and got off to bed, that was our day of rest. … To-day we go into the trenches, and except for lack of sleep shall have (censored) much easier days. Have not seen “H” yet, can you tell me which battery he is attached to? Let me know when the Bucks and Oxon leave England. One thing, they have the best of the weather before them. It will be nice to see some of my old pals again, if we meet. … I believe troops are coming out in thousands now, but from what I can see of the matter, we shall want every man, and somehow, I don’t think we shall get much rest.”


“April 3rd - We had such a lovely service last night. The Bishop of London preached and he was a treat, I wish you could be here at one of these services; I should think five or six hundred soldiers were present and to hear them sing, it nearly raised the roof. That was Good Friday. Fancy, in another three months, we shall have been soldiering a year; it does seem a long time. Our regiment was honoured when we were sent out in November. Very few Territorial Regiments came out so soon, and we have made a good name out here, although I say it myself. The Guards won’t have it now we are Territorials. They say we are the 2nd Irish Guards. We are on splendid terms with all the Guards, but the Irish in particular, and woe betide any regiment running us down. The Irish will stick up for us through thick and thin.” Wolverton Express 1915 Apr. 9th

William Laurie Field's War - Part 9

The first signs of Spring.
“Thank you very much for the parcel which was very nice. It’s always a joy to receive parcels, and the milk is A1, as tea is not extra without milk. … What a treat it is to be in a large town. I seemed to enjoy myself to perfection, by merely walking about the streets, looking in the shops, and mixing with the crowd of people. It hardly seems possible the Germans are only (the next few lines have been censored). We went to a café this afternoon, and had a good meal. We had two eggs, bread and butter and cakes, just as in England, and I spent one of the happiest hours since I have been in France. … We are billeted in one of the best places we have struck as yet, we are in a girls’ school, but there are no girls here now. We are in what evidently is their sleeping quarters. Little divisions about 4 square yards, partitioned off and a curtain opposite the wall; we have four soldiers in each. We are on the bare floor; there is also a cupboard in each compartment, which we use for our day’s rations. I don’t expect we shall stay here long, too good to last any length of time.”


“March 5th I am glad to say we have given in our fur coats, as they are so heavy to carry all the while, and going through the trenches is awfully fatiguing - one gets caught up here and there. We used to have to go through a communication trench nearly a mile long before getting into the trenches proper. Previously we used to go round by the road, but one fellow was killed by a stray bullet, so we had to dig a trench after that, to save going round. Every day we were not in the trenches proper, we had to come right up and improve or dig deeper, and when we came away this communication trench was about eight feet deep, from the top of the parapet, and naturally as safe as a house - even from shrapnel shells, still I would often have rather risked going round by the road, because marching in full pack along a trench, is downright hard work. … I am glad we are resting, because I think we deserve it, but I expect things will become a little more exciting when the better weather comes. I hope we drive the bounders back, but when you are right away from shells, etc., and talk about it, everything seems quite O.K., and you feel quite brave, but get back again with shells bursting all around you - well, you soon begin to feel a little different. I am so glad you send cocoa always in your parcels, we can make our cocoa in the trenches, and the best of it is, it need not boil like making tea. You guessed about right where we had been. I have been out here four months now, and had not been home for a month before I came out. What a long time it seems.” Wolverton Express 1915 Mar. 12th

Saturday, February 22, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 8

The letters continue through the first winter.

“Thanks for the parcel which I received all right. The knife with the marlin spike is exactly what I wanted, and the eatables are always most acceptable. … We do get paid sometimes, but we are generally limited to 15 francs and only get paid occasionally: about four or five times since we landed. I spend most of mine in buying bread, as I can’t get on with the biscuit: - sort of goes against the grain. Our issue of bread is never very great … usually a loaf about equal to a small “Hovis” between three of us, but of course plenty of biscuit. For dinner, if we are not in the trenches, we have meat in a sort of soup, and it is very nice, except for the fact that it is always the same, but I never mind that we also have potatoes. If we are in the trenches we have tins of meat and vegetables, which are very nice warmed. We call them “Maconachies,” because, I believe a man of that name invented them. We also have plenty of jam, and an issue of cheese daily; sometimes we get tinned butter, and for breakfast we usually have a little cold bacon. I have charge of a section of nine men, and every night the next day’s rations are issued to me and I cut them up and issue them to the men, of course with the exception of a hot dinner; we all wish more bread could be issued, but I suppose it must be impossible. I am glad to say the trenches we are now occupying are fairly dry so far, but we are not allowed fires either night or day. Still I was not to be done for my hot cocoa, so I, with my pal, heated a dixie over a tin of vaseline. We put a piece of rag in it, screwed up the end and lit it, and this burns without smoke. We also managed to heat our “Maconachies” over the same fire. I wonder if people in England would feel very much hurt if they new the vaseline they sent for the soldiers’ poor tender feet was used to warm up their food in the trenches. I sometimes wish you could see how we live in the trenches. If I get cold during the night, I go for a ramble round, as where we are now, there is a perfect maze of trenches; one night I was lucky enough to get a “dug out,” but it’s quite a luxury to have one, that is worth calling a “dug out.” During the day we do odd jobs and dig to improve the trenches. I generally see that I am in the digging party because hanging about makes one cold, but after a quarter of an hour’s digging you are as warm as toast. Whilst it remains dry the trenches here are very good, but it is surprising how beastly muddy and wet they get with only quite a little rain; of course it is only natural, as they act as a sort of drain. At night we always talk about home, and think how lovely a nice cosy, warm bed must be - which does pass the time away. Of course a look-out is kept all day and night, either one in two or two in three. … The French have some fine “star shells” now; they are like rockets, and shoot up into the air with a trail of sparks behind, then burst and out comes a flare; I should imagine it acts on a kind of parachute arrangement, as they float in the air for two or three minutes, lighting up the country like day. We have had most exciting times lately, in fact we have had it thicker than at any time since we landed, but Mr. Censor won’t let me tell you for a month, so you will have to wait. … The tobacco you sent is good, we have some served out here but I do not like it, and we cannot buy much here, unless we go right back for a rest. Sunday, for a wonder, we are not to be in the trenches (that is tomorrow). Last Sunday things happened, so we were not so quiet.” Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 26th


Feb. 19th “To Censor, a description of bath only … Things are still all right, and we still occasionally have excitements, but of course, familiarity breeds contempt, to a great extent, but it takes a tremendous amount of shell fire before contempt is bred in that direction … We had quite a different sort of adventure this morning. We were all marched to B ----, and there we indulged in a bath. It was fine, and the system absolutely perfect. First of all, we (60 of us) went into a large room and discarded , great coat, boots, hat; next we were rushed along a passage and into another room, where we left our tunics, trousers and cardigans, in charge of an orderly, next we were rushed into another room and took off all our underclothing, and then we were dashed down another passage (with only Nature’s clothing) to the baths. Here we indulged in an exquisite hot shower bath, but I wsas lucky enough to have a good long ordinary bath to myself. At the end of 10 minutes a whistle blows, and everybody dashes down another passage where an attendant stands at the door throwing towels, which hit you quite unexpectedly, but which you just manage to catch as you dash into a room at the end. Here a complete change of underclothing awaited everyone, and after a hurried dry, with a few remarks from the sergeant in charge, such as: “Now then, bust about, ten more fellows standing naked, waiting to come in.” You rush down another passage, and into another room. Here you find your tunic and trousers under your number, which have been ironed during your absence, then after going to the first room and putting on overcoat and boots, you pass downstairs and find a nice basin of hot bovril, also cigarettes and tobacco awaiting you. It was a real treat, and I still have visions of white figures rushing down passages from one place to another, as though it were the “Garden of Eden.” The arrangement was perfect, and a “Red” man told me they get through five and six hundred a day, and I believe they only have ten baths. I seem to remember, rushing at one end, and being rushed and pushed about, from one place to another, until finally, I was kicked out at the end and given a cup of “Bovril.” Have missed all war news this time, as we are not resting yet, still I feel like a new man … One of the letters sent to me out here was returned marked “Hospital,” and I found another letter, mud-stained and marked similarly, so I imagine, the other fellow in the Battalion named Field, has been wounded, so don’t be alarmed if you hear anything or have a letter. Glad to say, so far, am still alive and kicking, and enjoying life, as far as possible under the circumstances. I have seen loads of French soldiers, and we generally give our too strong tobacco to them. I believe the people at home think we are all the “Woodbine sort,” but your little gift of “Chairman,” was so welcome as I never get anything half so good.” “We had quite an interesting hour with a French soldier to-day, he had lived in America, and could speak English quite well. I tried on his pack and also unpacked it. They take a blanket into the trenches (we don’t), and he told me they have hot soups twice a day. We generally get what we are able to warm up ourselves; they get plenty of bread too, in fact more than they can eat, lucky bounders. Did I tell you, we had some German bread? It was like brown bread, but very close - quite palatable, but with a slight “twang.” The French don’t like our tea, but they generally have coffee beans and carry a grinder between 9 or 10 men, and if they rest for quarter of an hour, it is not long before they have some hot coffee ready. There is one difference, you never see young sporty boys, like our soldiers. When the French hear us sing, they seem to get quite excited, and don’t seem to understand our singing when on the march, they usually march along in silence.”

Feb. 21st “The parcel reached me safely and I was glad of the saccharine tablets, my own were almost used up. The underclothing also is beautifully warm. We go into the trenches again to-morrow night, when I hope to feel the benefit of them … Do you know, I receive on an average, three letters a day, which I reckon to answer, and I often give up a lot of time, I might spend enjoying myself and seeing things, in order to write my letters … I am sorry so much of my letters are cut out. I often wish you could “guess” things in your letters to me, because I am convinced you know where we are … I believe we are getting hardened a little. We came through a trench the night before last, up to our knees in mud, owing to the rain, but we went up next day and cleared it out. We were supposed to be relieved at 9.30p.m., but owing to something going wrong, we finally got to billet about 2a.m., and in a fine, wet, and muddy state. However, we soon got happy, although at the time, a few remarks were made about foreign service, etc. It does make us wish some of the stay-at-homes had to endure the same. I believe this life either makes or breaks a man. Yesterday I met a fellow in the Irish Guards, related to Mr. Hodgson, of the “Loco,” Old Wolverton. He said his people had told him to enquire after me … We are not allowed to keep diaries, so last Sunday was a lovely day, bright, warm, and just lovely for a walk. I did wish myself miles away from this abominable war. The shells were bursting, and rifles banging all around us, whilst we were digging trenches, and war seemed a positive sin, on so peaceful a Sunday afternoon. Could you please send me a strong leather belt? I wore a German belt some days, and I miss the support, but I did not want to be captured by the enemy wearing a German belt.”


Feb. 26th I am still all right. The weather has been bad just lately, we have had frost and snow, and are still doing time in the trenches. The Sergeant O’Leary who so greatly distinguished himself, is in our brigade (4th Guards). Of course a Brigade always keeps together, so you will understand what we have been in. I shall be glad when we have a rest as we have had it thick since Christmas. When our Colour Sergeant went home, he took a souvenir for me, let me know when you receive it, I hope you will like it too, it is German. We have done an enormous amount of trench-digging lately, I enjoy digging now I am used to it. I can keep on two or three hours without getting too tired, and it keeps one warm, which is no small matter out here. I shall try and get work as a navvy when I get home, after serving such a good apprenticeship. What makes my blood boil sometimes, is when we see accounts of Temperance Societies, trying to stop our issue of rum. I wish those same people had to stand in a trench all night, especially when it rains, and it is not as if we have a pint of the stuff, it is generally about a couple of tablespoonsful (sic) per man; that sort of people only want one night in the trenches, and I guess they would soon dry up, but our fellows have to stick it for weeks, they don’t know what they are talking about. Well, I am tired, so good night.” Wolverton Express 1915 Mar. 5th

Thursday, February 20, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 7

On January 24th he writes;

“Have just received your parcel and letter. Rumour has it we are not to go into action again for some time, and we are to be let off home for seven days’ leave, but of course it is only rumour, and if it is true, my turn will be a long while in about two months’ time, so I don’t place much faith in it. … What fine fellows the Sikhs are! Quite as tall as our own Guardsmen, with fine jet black beards, and for the most part really good looking men. They are so amiable, too. One offered me his ration to try, but I know they have none too much, so I resisted a temptation to try it. They have a sort of toffee which they eat with it, and, as I told you before, the bread is every bit like a small pancake. They look very fine when mounted on horses. This morning I got up early and went for a walk before breakfast - fancy, the energy!!! But we called at a farmhouse and had some coffee, but the people would not hear of us paying for it. To-day (Sunday) we had a march. It is a most unusual thing when resting to drill on Sunday. On Friday we had a very severe frost, but another fellow and myself went into a field, and when we had stripped to the waist, had a jolly good wash. Fancy my doing that in England, in the depths of winter! … Yesterday we had some top-boots issued to us, coming up to the knees, and fine things they are. Every morning I put mine on, and go and stand in the middle of a flowing stream, and have a good comfortable wash. It’s a treat to be able to wash every day, the water is lovely and ‘fresh’ as you may imagine! Yesterday we had a small service in our barn, conducted by one of the Guards’ chaplains (our Regiment has not got a chaplain). It was fine, and we sang the hymns for all we were worth. The fellows do put their whole hearts into a service, and are always as quiet as possible. It is much more impressive than at a service in a church at home, and each time we meet together like this we are one or two short - either killed or wounded. We had such a nice officer killed, unfortunately, by a stray bullet down a road where we used to walk about, ab lib, at night. We are now much smaller than when we landed, but I believe we are to have a draft out in a day or two. … Now good-bye, and thanks so much for the parcel you sent. It is trying out here at times, but a parcel always makes you feel happy again.” Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 5th 
Extracts from letters from Lance Corporal W.L. Field, formerly of the Wolverton Detachment of the Bucks Territorials, but now of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment (Territorials), serving with the 4th Guards Brigade;

“It has just turned very cold out here and we have had sharp frosts; still they are much preferable to wet, and if we have a nice barn to sleep in, as we have at the present time, we have nothing to grumble for. We are still in reserve, but expect to go trenchwise to-morrow. Twice this week we have had to pack up and move nearer the firing line. Yesterday we were aroused at 4, breakfasted at 4.30 and started at 5 a.m., marched about 5 miles, turned into a field and stayed all day. As it happened we were quite near the Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry, and a fellow named Gregory, who knew Rex well, looked me up. He thought I was Rex, but I soon put matters right, and he conducted me to his billet, and I found some fellows who worked in McCorquodale’s Printing Works, at Wolverton - Jones, I. McMillan, and W. Severne. It is interesting to see someone you know out here, and be able to talk of home, etc. They all seemed quite happy and were enjoying their biscuits and jam, as though they had been used to them all their lives. They came out at the end of November, and because I beat them by two or three weeks, I felt quite pleased with myself, and no end of an old soldier. To-day we went out on physical drill and (here about 20 lines have been blotted out by the censor). The Indian soldiers are fine fellows, and keep their rifles so clean, that they look like brand new ones. They do not like the cold, but say they are waiting for April, when they hope to give the Germans the point of their lances. We have had some stiff marches lately; to-day we were up at 4 a.m. (after being out all the day before, and not turning in until 11.30p.m.) and you can tell how I perspired, when the dye came out of the envelope containing the saccharine tablets I carried in my pocket, and the tablets were all stuck together in a mass. We always march in our overcoats and carrying something like fifty pounds naturally makes us warm. Still this life has its charm. This morning (Sunday) we washed in water which had ½ an inch of ice on it, it was fine and made me feel beautifully fresh. … Have not received a letter from you for some time, so please take this one in answer to the one I hope to receive to-day. I give up a lot of time to letter writing when other fellows go out to see the place, etc., and really letter writing is not at all easy when you have to sit on the ground or the floor, and I often have to keep a letter several days , because they do not collect them when we are on the move, only when we stay at a place a couple of days or more.”

Feb. 3rd.
“We moved last night, and we are now not far from the trenches. … The place we have just left was one of the best we have struck as yet, and seemed quite lovely with people about as usual, it is such a welcome change to see people about and shops open. … As I write shells are bursting not many hundred yards off. I have been out watching them this morning, and one has just burst a short distance down the road. Yet the French people here seem to take as ittle notice as our own fellows do. … The night before we left B ----, we had a small concert, and some really good talent turned up. It was held in a theatrical building, and I quite enjoyed it, but we had to cut it short as we all had to be in by 7 p.m. … Things have been happening lately round here, and last night we had to send a party up to bury German dead but am glad that I was not chosen for this very gruesome task. They had mostly been killed by our artillery, who have done some very fine work, and it is greatly due to them (remainder blotted out by censor). Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 12th
Further extracts from letters sent by Lance Corporal W.L. Field, 1st Herts. Regiment, attached to Guards Brigade. (Formerly of the Wolverton Detachment, Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry;

“British Expeditionary Force, Feb. 5th. I wrote you such a nice long letter, as I thought, in the trenches yesterday, but apparently I had put in too much information and the Censor had to destroy it, but I am doing another so that you shall not be disappointed … Before going into the trenches, we had it pretty hot, with bullets flying about but no one was hit. I am pleased to say the trenches were dry as they had only been dug a day or two, but it was a cold night and sleep was out of the question; I tried to snatch a little, but we had to sit in such a cramped position and my feet got so jolly cold that I gave it up, and went along and had a chat with a fellow who used to be in Barclay’s Bank, at Harpenden, and we talked about old times, and two hours soon went by. We were not allowed fires, but I felt I would love a cup of cocoa, about 1a.m., so I just paid a visit to the Coldstreamers. They are jolly fine fellows, and had fires, and it didn’t take me long to nip back and get the cocoa and sugar you sent me, and we soon had a mess tin of lovely hot cocoa which they enjoyed as much as I did. It does seem to warm you up in the middle of a cold night. We always seem glad to see the first ray of morning light, because day brings warmth and you can also see where you are and it enables you to make yourself as comfortable as trench life permits … Am so glad you sent the candles as I had not one left, and candles are so necessary.”


“Feb. 9th … I am still all right and we came out of the trenches last night for a couple of days or so. Things have been hot this last week or two, in fact yesterday and the day before, we had the thickest time since we came out here. Shells came over thicker than rifle shots, in fact it was deafening whilst it lasted. But I am glad to say our fellows behaved splendidly … (Here, about 8 lines have been deleted by the censor). I have seen some sights this last week, both interesting and ghastly, but I can’t tell you, as I know it will only be censored. I know that (here, about 12 lines are blotted out) I suppose but it did give us heart, and I felt proud that I belonged to the Hertfordshire Regiment - but things were hot, and there’s something very terribly awful about shell fire, the noise is deafening, and earth is thrown up into the air, and clatters down into the trench, and the ground fairly shakes. If you can imagine this, with shells bursting as quickly as you can count, you have some idea of an artillery bombardment. We were not sorry to get out safely I can tell you … I don’t know if the parcel will reach you, but I have sent some German, English and French bullets. The thick bullets are French … The fork and spoon combined, are German. Some of our fellows have got sword bayonets, most wicked looking things. Do you remember me describing a church spire stuck into the ground?” Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 19th

William Laurie Field's War - Part 6

In this letter he discusses censorship. After a few months of war the War Office decided that the enemy could learn a lot from intercepted letters and all letters home were subjected to the censor's black pencil.

“The Censor says I must not write such long letters, and must not send any in shorthand, or I could put a good deal more in them, so now I have an excuse for writing shorter ones. … We just give our letters to the Corporal, who in turn gives them to the Officer, who censors them, ‘en route Angleterre.’ … Pleased to say the parcel arrived safely with my air pillow. I have been longing for it; thanks also for the pudding and cake, both are absolutely ripping. Do you know that the saccharine tablets are the most useful extras in this game. I started them in the company, and now nearly all the fellows have written home for them; they take up no room, and sugar is so necessary. We have just left the trenches after being ten days in and out. The trenches are in an awful state, and our last 24 hours we spent in one with no head cover, only sandbags in front and nothing behind; the Germans were about 300 yards (or less) from us. Of course sleep was certainly out of the question, and being quite open, we felt somewhat cold, especially as it was a frosty night; also a fall of snow made things more unpleasant. We were allowed a small fire, so at midnight out came the cocoa you sent, and with the saccharine tablets we were able to have a lovely cup of hot cocoa. It was a treat, and my six men were most thankful for a drop to warm them up. We were quite detached, and water lay on our right and left. We never feel so cold in our bodies, but our feet and legs seem to freeze, and you cannot run about in two inches of water. If ever I wished for dawn I did that night, but it did not bring much relief, as it snowed hard all day. We were all glad when we were relieved, and marching soon made us warm, for after half a mile we were perspiring all over. It is peculiar, but the weight we carry always makes us ‘boil’ all over when marching. One thing, we did march back to a jolly good barn for the night, with straw to lie down on, so I had a grand sleep. We often don’t care what we have to do during the day so long as we get a good sleep at night, but a few rough nights with little sleep soon knocks one up. At our last trenches I had quite a little scare. I was sent up a road to find the position of some reserve trenches. I knew the Germans held the road further on, but felt safe for some distance. Nothing happened for about 200 or 300 yards. It was pitch dark, when suddenly a gutteral voice sounded a few yards from me, in a language I could not understand. I quite thought I had run up against a German sentry, but I sung out “Hertfordshires.” The voice, however, called out again. I fairly shivered, as I knew there were no French in the district. A form approached, and then it struck me - “Gurkhas,” and I tell you I was a bit relieved. The fellow could not understand a word of English. I tried to explain I was going to find the position of some trenches, and that he must not shoot me! This life certainly has its excitements. That night the Germans tried a new dodge, sweeping the country with a powerful searchlight. It gives you a horrible sensation to feel yourself in the limelight, and to hear the shots whistle over your head all the time. There is no fade into obscurity after bursting shells, no limit as to what the bounders will do next. They now have a sort of parachute flares, which sail along in the air and remain alight for a minute or two. It is quite pretty at night, very much like a firework display, and they are starting colours, now blue and green. The 5th of November with flares etc. Still they make you feel jolly uncomfortable if you happen to be visiting another trench and suddenly find yourself in a glare of light. … I do wish I could come home for ten days, as I could write pages, only now the Censor will not let me. … It is jolly trying to tempers out here at times, but I feel happier after Christmas pudding and cake … Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 29th

William Laurie Field's War - Part 5

January 6th “I received your parcel to-day, when we got back from trench digging, and thank you very much indeed for it. We are supposed to be resting, and we are in a straw loft, but between parades and what light there is left, I find little time for writing, so please thank Mrs. Power and Mrs. Adams for the whist drive parcel. Tell them that I am very thankful for their kind thoughtfulness; they have sent me just the right things, thank them very much indeed, and say how “parcels” do cheer us up, when we are feeling a little fed up with things, and we feel glad we are really doing something when one arrives. About our attack, was it in the “Daily ----?” It was not true, never believe what the “Daily ----” says about us. The attack on New Year’s Eve was quite near, but the Guards had it all, and ourselves none. Don’t worry about me. I almost wished that night it had been us; we could see the German maxims firing away, and every minute we were expecting a charge, but we did not get it. I have spoken to Story the other night in the trenches, and I also went visiting the Bucks. and Oxon. Outpost, and jumping down into a trench with two men, called out to know if there was anyone from Buckinghamshire there. One young soldier asked what part of Buckinghamshire? I said, Wolverton. Well, he answered, I come from that neighbourhood, Newport Pagnell; he proved to be young Daniels, who often gave me apples years ago, when I was a little boy at home. Tell Mr. Daniels I have seen his son, who is all right. He seemed quite pleased to see me, and I said I would write and tell you I had met him. We were in the trenches 9 days altogether, and the second day I had a cough, and have still got it, which keeps me awake at night. Yesterday it was so bad I saw the doctor, but he said he could not do anything for me; he had got nothing for coughs. I think it is a little better to-day, but can you wonder at anybody getting a cough. Re. parcel, the handkerchiefs are useful; my Bognor chums sent me 6 khaki ones, and the cocoa I am saving for the trenches, and also the candles. The cake was the best, I was so glad of that - really like Christmas. I ate about half dozen mince pies for tea, so that speaks for itself. I had lost my mittens, so I was glad of yours. I suppose it is not much good asking for Bromtons, as my cold, I hope, will be bettere, but I hope you will send the air pillow, and wish I had thought of that before; you would hardly believe what an important factor a pillow is, especially when we have to sleep in all our equipment. Our rest camp is not all rest. To-day we got up at 6a.m., and started at 7.45 marched 5½ miles, dug trenches until 4p.m., and got back at 6.30p.m., done up (and we were having a rest). It was hard work digging. I think there is no place like home. … Princess Mary’s pipe I smoked in the trenches on Christmas Day. On Monday, 4th, the day after we came out of the trenches, some of us got a hot bath, it was lovely. We were marched up to a brewery, and they had big tubs for two, and our clothes were ironed whilst we were in. This is my first for two months, and I never expected that; the water was hot and plenty of it, and I had a real good bath, a treat.”

January 7th. “This morning we had a communion service in a small room, as we depart for the trenches on Saturday; it was very nice and simple, and I am glad I got the chance before going back. Please don’t forget the little diary, because I want to take notes; and also I want to know the days, and we can’t without a diary. Please tell the Whist Committee I do not have time to write specially, but thank them very much. I am writing this lying on my back, so excuse writing.” Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 15th

“British Expeditionary Force, Jan. 8th. Thank you for your letter received to-day. The S-Tablets are so useful … To-day we have marched from our billet, about 4½ miles nearer the front, and we are now only a quarter of an hour from the trenches, where we remain in reserve until Sunday, so we shall be pretty comfortable, but I don’t like the idea of going in much. Who could, when you see the fellows come out, absolutely wet with mud up to their knees, and really after all these rains the trenches must be a foot deep in water. Still it has got to be done, so we must just make the best of it. If some people were out here they would not be so sure of an easy win. In my opinion it is an absolute standstill, neither side moving an inch to speak of. We are at a decent sized village, and the church here had the spire shelled, which took the top clean off, and it came down and stuck firmly into the road, and remains sticking out about the height of a man. The tombs, too, have been knocked about, and you can imagine the force of a shell when a solid piece of marble about 3in. thick, and a foot square, had been blown right up into the air and stuck in the roof of the church. One family vault had been blown to pieces, and a body, evidently only recently buried, exposed to view. It seems a pity they can’t leave the churches alone. One church we passed had been shelled, and all that was left was just the four wallsand the remains of a tower. There are all sorts of rumours about coming home soon, and I should love to see dear old England again, as I only call this “existence”; (sic) I suppose it is too good to be true, but it would be lovely, even if it were only for a fortnight’s furlough.”

January 9th. 7p.m. “I must tell you of a sumptuous “feast” we had to-night. A friend had two parcels come full of good things, so we went to a house and asked them if we could use the room, and like all the French people, they couldn’t do enough for us, and lit a fire - then all serene. We soon boiled some tea, and as the parcel contained “Nestle’s,” had milk in it for a treat. After that there were mince pies, birthday cake, small cakes, biscuits, figs, nuts, toffee-almonds, muscatelles, and sweets. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. Sitting at a table, it seemed just like home - lovely - but - trenches to-morrow night!”


Monday, Jan. 11th. “It always seems my luck to go through it on Sunday nights. We came up here and I had to go to an outpost, to reach which one had to pass 150 yds. along a trench - nothing in itself, but the whole of the way it was a foot deep in mud, and up to my middle in water, it was terrible. I had to wrench each foot out of the mud and it was all I could do to save myself from getting stuck, and as the affair took about 1½ hours, I was all that while, mostly swimming, and we were being potted at by the Germans all the time. One fellow was hit in the arm only two yards from me. You do feel wretched though, when you stand up to your waist in water … We were in a bit of a house for the night - the other part is not, (sic) the whole of the house front having been blown away by shells. And of course after I had scraped the worst of it off, I had to lie down in it, just as I was, and you need not wonder that I felt a bit cold about the legs. I hope I shall not have to go through it again. We hunted around today and made a soup. We had some tablets of Oxo, potatoes, turnips, and leeks. Of course it was not so substantial a meal, but we had it hot, and anything warm is a treat on this game … We have no sugar, so have used quite a lot of S Tablets, because we all go in together, and there is a great call on them. When you write again send some more.” Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 22nd

Sunday, February 16, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 4


These letters describe the Christmas period.

“We had another terrible march from (you know), about 20 miles I should think, the way we came. It took us eleven hours including two hours off for dinner and we had the extra weight of our fur jackets and the remains of parcels kept for reserve and also we had not had much exercise. Twenty miles does not sound much to a walker and you know I never minded a good stroll, but get trussed up with all the weight we have to carry, it takes all the spirit in you to keep going. 150 rounds of ammunition is no light weight and marching in our great coats and valise crammed tight with tackle makes the game beyond a joke. When we arrived at B ….. I was boiling, and on taking out letters from my breast pocket, they were as though they had been dipped wholesale in water and I could wipe the wet off my pocket book. We dossed down for the night in a partly ruined tobacco factory and saw lots of black troops. Fine fellows they are too, they smile and look quite happy - but trench work is too slow for them, one of them told us by signs - he had thrown his knife and cut off the heads of 5 Germans.” “I got to sleep on the boards about 8 o’clock and missed a war dance held outside by the Indians. I must have slept like a log as the fellows said they kicked up a most unearthly noise. WE were up again at 5a.m. and ready to march at 7. I was very stiff still we only had a four-mile march, then laid out in a field all day and spent the night at a farm. On Christmas Eve we moved into the trenches, it was a fine starlight night with a lovely moon and we sang carols until the order (no noise and no smoking). We got into the trenches alright and the frost set in quite severely. I sat up nearly all night thinking of the dear old home and log fires, and how I should just be seeing you after a short absence; if there had been no war, it was a strange feeling to be in the trenches on that of all nights, and it was so cold that I only had about an hour’s dose. Everywhere was hard as iron and the frost made Christmas a typical one. We had a few carols just to show the “Herts” were not downhearted - even though they were in the trenches on Christmas Day. The next day however, the frost broke and naturally turned to rain, since then, “things have happened.” “Last night there was a deluge. I had another trip up to some other trenches and got wet through. I had to crawl and walk over to a lot not connected with us, it was creepy with snipers shooting at us and bullets whistling around us all the time, had one go near, but it is all in the game. In the morning we found some fellows further up, had narrowly escaped being buried. In parts our trenches are nearly a foot in water, we have been at work to-day with planks, but I guess you would laugh if you could see how muddy I am. I can now understand what, “Up to your neck in mud” means and think the phrase must have originally come from trench life. We hope to be out again in three weeks and are now about 500 hundred yards from the Germans but, they don’t show themselves much. … Now don’t worry about me - we are getting fairly decent food now, and hot tea late at night and early in the morning, not as we were before, and although we don’t exactly enjoy it, we have our jokes.”

A letter on Boxing Day, 6.30p.m.; “We have just come out of the trenches for 24 hours and I have been given your letter, we actually had a delivery of letters in the trenches. I had four letters and two parcels. They came in the nick of time; in the trenches we do not get much food, and I was saving a scrap of bread for tea, about equal to half a slice off a tin loaf. We had a loaf equal in size to a 1½d one, between three men, so you may guess what a treat the parcel was, and how as there were only four of us in the “dug out.” Well, we thoroughly enjoyed our feed of mince pies, etc. We can sleep to-night and I actually have a bed to lie down on, first time since we landed …”

Letter written on Sunday morning; After my two previous sleepless nights, I slept like a log until 5.45a.m., when I was called out to take charge of two men carrying tea and provisions to our men in the trenches. I was tired even then and said a few things - to myself - that is why the Col. Sergt. was surprised I did not grouse. Of course the poor fellows in the trenches need something hot. To-day I actually had a wash … I have just been for a tour around the houses, and to see how they are ruined is pitiful, it is quite true about the wine drinking, as there are empty bottles in all the houses…. It was quite funny to see our cooker on Christmas Eve, decorated up with a cabbage, a Christmas stocking and various decorations from sundry parcels.”

Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 8th

Friday, February 14, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 3

The letters continue

Dec. 10th 1914 “It was kind of ---- to send me addressed envelopes, but we went a route march the other day when it was quite warm, had on our over-coats, full marching order, valises, extras and besides our fur jackets, and we came back to say the least of it, “warm,” and the envelopes in my pocket were, “stuck up.” The fur coats are splendid things, they are worth £3 a piece. Thick fur and full sleeves, we look like “Teddy Bears,” in them. The fur is long, about four inches and makes one look a foot bigger, so you can tell what fine things they are. I have never seen anything like them in England, unless it be on chauffeurs. They come down just below the tunic; I wish we could bring them home to England, but they are sure not to let us keep them. The fur they are made of is not common, some of them look lovely. Mine is grey and white, but some have dark brown, we could not possibly be cold in them, the only thing, will be carrying them. There have been no mails for two days, so have not heard from you for quite a long time. We are still here - but the weather, although muggy, seems to be getting cooler. Cannot send you a photograph of self in fur coat as there does not seem to be any photographers about here. I had a letter from “A,” she said that “B” was quite upset because the “Herts” had been chosen, and he supposed the War Office had forgotten that there was such a regiment as the Bucks and Oxon Territorials, but judging from what we have been through he need not be so keen, until the Spring. This game is not so bad in fine weather. I was speaking to a soldier to-day who had just left the trenches, and he told me they were up to their waists in water - they only came out last night and had been in a line captured from the Germans. One thing, they had only been in three days and then came back here. I believe that is the only possible way troops will be able to stand it at all, give them three or four days and then back in the warm and dry for a week or two. I believe we have got the troops and that is how we are going to beat the Germans, but of all the trying times out here, our two weeks in the trenches have been the most severe as regards weather. I expect we shall soon be “carol singing.” Most of our officers have had a few days leave to home, wish we had the chance. Would not home seem a treat, after roughing it for five months. We went on a small march to ---- two miles away, and I met a fellow in the Oxford and Bucks, from Wolverton, named Henson, they used to live lower down Church Street. He saw me first, and I wondered who it was calling out “Hullo Laurie,” we were pals directly with a vengeance, he said he had been out here since second week in August. We only had a quarter of an hour, so I could not say much but it seemed jolly nice. I expect by the time this arrives the “clogs” will have landed, if ever they do, they are Belgian, I got them from some ruins.”


“December 14th - I received your parcel this morning also letter and very nice too, we had an alarm this morning to get packed up at once and ready to move at any moment, of course, a lot of parcels arrived for our company and we had to demolish right and left because with our fur coats which take up a lot of room we cannot carry a stick more than we are able to pack. I put some chocs in my valise, but we had to eat the pudding and everything being upside down we had to eat it cold, it was very nice indeed but I wish we could have had it hot, but here we never know two minutes before hand when we shall be off. We are expecting the order any moment, as I write this. … Could you send me a few ---- tablets, we do miss sugar in our tea, and as it is always rank and having no sugar or milk, it is almost undrinkable. … Your letter made me feel quite happy and I did wish I was back with you all. … I have received all your letters and parcels and a letter from “R” in Canada. One thing, I have plenty of chocs to take with me into the trenches this time, when we go. We had nothing last time, nothing to eat, no smokes or anything, please send me some “Chairman” periodically, as I like that and although they issue tobacco, it is too rank for most of us. Matches too are wonderfully welcomed out here, French matches are not worth calling matches. … P.S. - We did not move after all. I had a fair sized piece of pudding left (in case), and had it hot, it was delicious, it (almost) made me feel I was at home. I don’t mind so much if we do not spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day in the trenches, but some poor fellows will have to, and it is as likely to be our Brigade as well as any other.” Wolverton Express 1914 Dec. 25th

Thursday, February 13, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 2

Continuing the letters of W L Field

“November 29th - We are still in comparative safety, being merely in reserve to be ready if required, all sorts of rumours are afloat as to our movements in a day or two, but I expect we are fairly settled for several days. We are doing jolly well for food but we have been short, and had it very rough, still when you are away you soon forget all your hardships. I am looking forward to receiving your Xmas Box and a piece of your dear old puddings, leave the Christmas decorations up as long as possible so that if by any chance peace is declared you can keep it up. You would be surprised at the number of shrines out here. There are hundreds, in fields, at corners of roads, and even in houses designs are worked in the bricks. I have no more news, this is just to let you know I am A1. So many of our fellows have bad feet, through frost bites, am glad to say I have been alright. … This morning we have been to an English service in a French church conducted by a Chaplain. I have never been so affected before, when they struck up with the hymn “Oft in Danger,” every word seemed so real and we had not had a service before since leaving England. We also had “Onward Christian Soldiers.”


“December 5th - Nothing much has happened since I last wrote, and we are still at ---- except that we went out this morning, and about 10 minutes after we started it rained snowed and hailed alternately, but we have now got a chance of drying our clothes so it is not so bad as the trenches. … I found out yesterday, that my clogs had not left here yet, but I hope to get them off to-morrow. I wish I could bring an unexploded “Jack Johnson” - but what I have seen of them, I would sooner be a few miles away from one. We saw a hole quite near the farm in which we spent two nights, which I should say was 20 feet deep, and about as wide as Church Street. They don’t use many of that kind, but we used to see the smaller sort, which always drop in fours, one beside the other and throw up dense black smoke and rubbish about as high as our house. I have watched them drop, two or three hundred yards away from where I stood. In the trenches you sleep when you can - the same with eating and drinking - I shan’t forget rushing down to a small stream after we had been 24 hours without water, it tasted heavenly. Did I tell you a little incident that impressed me at the time? The first time we were making for the trenches; walking in single file, at night in the dark, and it was quite quiet except for cannon, etc., as we got nearer the actual front - we were told to move quietly. That was when we were “wading” in mud and as we were passing a house not so far from the actual front, a piano struck up. I have never heard anything so weird, you could hardly imagine it was real. That was the night we nearly walked into the German trenches, or might have done. The sergeant and six of us were detached to direct the remainder of the Battalion along a certain road, the mud made walking so difficult, that it took about an hour for them to pass and we stood in it all the time, then we joined on at the end and when we got to the trenches all the companies were split up. Our own company had settled down some time ago, as of course they had gone on ahead. We were ordered to find our own company and go to them, and we started (to me it seemed funny that we relieved the Bucks and Oxon. Regt. that night) we went here and there, and of course being dark, could not find them and were just about to go up a road when a soldier stepped out and said, “You hadn’t better go down there, as you will be walking into the German trenches,” so we very soon turned around - but if he had not seen us, I don’t know what would have happened as we were only seven or eight hundred yards from the Germans. We did not find our company that night but tacked onto another, but found our own next day. That night was the most miserably cold night, I have ever spent. … They have strange customs out here, on lots of the houses we saw a big wooden wheel about as high as one storey and a foot wide, we could not think what they were for, but the other day we went to a farm to buy some milk and, “lo and behold, “ a dog was walking round this wheel and when we went inside, we saw the machinery working the churn, and making butter. We have seen several decent sized carts drawn by dogs, and the dogs seem to pull for all they are worth. … The other day a fellow had a Christmas pudding sent him, and he cut it into pieces so that we could all have a taste, it came to a piece about 1½ inches square by ½ an inch thick, and tasted absolutely the best luxury I had ever had. I had to eat it slowly so that I might imagine it was a fair sized piece and to make it last longer. There was only one fault with it - it was beastly morish. …” Wolverton Express 1914 Dec. 18th