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

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