Wednesday, February 12, 2014
William Laurie Field's War - Part 1
William Laurie Field was the second of four sons of William Field who was the chemist at 8 Church Street. Young William started work at McCorquodales but later found a job in a bank and was working at Harpenden when he volunteered. He was a Lance Corporal with the Royal Flying Corps and in 1915 became a Sergeant. He was commissioned in 1917 as lieutenant and survived the war,
His correspondence is remarkable and his parents passed n his letter to the Wolverton Express for publication, and taken together, they provide a running account of his war experiences.
The drums of war were beating long before hostilities were declared in 1914, so William Field, like many others, had joined the military well before that date. He was with the Wolverton Detachment of the Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry, but upon moving to Harpenden joined the 1st Herts. Regiment. This regiment left England the first week in November.
“British Expeditionary Force, Nov. 18th, 1914. - So far so good, but we are having a rough time. The weather is so abominable, it rains every day, and yesterday we had quite a decent fall of snow. We are getting a bit used to shells now, but whenever they come over you, you instinctively duck and feel you want to hide your nose in the ground. The ‘Jack Johnsons’ are the boys! They fall in the ground and burst in the earth, and blow all the stuff up all round. I was 200 yards from a spot where four fell at once, and some of the earth and stuff fell round me. It fairly makes one shiver, and yet we go out of our way at times to watch them, until they begin to get too close, then we exit hurriedly. The remarks, too are very funny at times, such as ‘Hullo, here we are again,’ or ‘Just to say good morning,’ if it is early. They always seem to do more shelling at night. We were under rifle fire last night, and that is not much better, especially as we were not allowed to fire, but only had fixed bayonets. The snipers are the boys though. They get right in our lines - goodness knows how - and pick off sundry and all that they get a chance. They must have some pluck, but they are rotters. I got some clogs to-day. I don’t know if they will ever reach you or not, but they will make decent souvenirs. Don’t know if the Major will allow me to send them or not. I expect not. We simply have to put up with the wet and lie down in it, in our wet things. I have not had my boots off once during the last four or five days; still a good many regulars have not seen their feet for six days, or yet had a wash or shave.”
“Nov. 20th 1914. - I am still all right, I am glad to say, but we have seen life this last week. I have not yet heard from you and don’t know if you have written or not. It is so cold out here, and snow has laid on the ground now three days. I must have some gloves if you have not yet sent them on. … We have fared roughly, in fact lived mostly on biscuits. … We have left the trenches to-day after a good dose. We had about eight or nine killed and about thirty wounded. One fellow was buried twice by a ‘Jack Johnson,’ and “Coldstreamers” dug him out, and actually he was not hurt in either case. You want to see one of these to realize what they look like and can do; they are much more terrifying than shrapnel. We went in one night about 7 o’clock and had nothing from dinner, and then biscuit. I have seen more --- this week than I have ever seen or hope to see; but I must tell you when I come home. We finished up at 4p.m. on Thursday, and retired about three miles behind the line. On Friday night we started at 11p.m. for a terrible march; we marched all night through -----. At 2 o’clock we had some hot tea, but neither sugar or milk, but we are used to that now, milk being an unknown quantity! It was an awful tramp, right through the night; the first part rather slow as we could not see, but this was worse as it tired us more going a few yards, and halting every few minutes. We were in our overcoats, and had full marching order on. I carried the clogs (don’t know if they will ever reach you or not) the whole of the way. I have never been through anything like it before. We marched right back over the border, about 20 miles, and should think 150 fell out. I stuck it, but felt nearly dead. We were so out of condition after living principally on biscuits and only getting tea when we made it ourselves. I could tell you yards, but perhaps it would only make you feel anxious, and at present we are quite away from anything. I have seen ---- and hope it will soon be over. We are now in billets, 17 of us in one house, and very comfortable we are; the people cannot do enough for us. Can you send me a pair of socks, because I can then throw away a pair. I can’t say how long we shall be here, but I fear not many days; still everyone out here is confident the war will be over by Christmas. P.s.: We don’t get any news out here, so I wish you would just let me know an item now and again.” Wolverton Express 1914 Dec. 4th