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

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