Friday, February 28, 2014

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

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