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

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