Thursday, February 20, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 5

January 6th “I received your parcel to-day, when we got back from trench digging, and thank you very much indeed for it. We are supposed to be resting, and we are in a straw loft, but between parades and what light there is left, I find little time for writing, so please thank Mrs. Power and Mrs. Adams for the whist drive parcel. Tell them that I am very thankful for their kind thoughtfulness; they have sent me just the right things, thank them very much indeed, and say how “parcels” do cheer us up, when we are feeling a little fed up with things, and we feel glad we are really doing something when one arrives. About our attack, was it in the “Daily ----?” It was not true, never believe what the “Daily ----” says about us. The attack on New Year’s Eve was quite near, but the Guards had it all, and ourselves none. Don’t worry about me. I almost wished that night it had been us; we could see the German maxims firing away, and every minute we were expecting a charge, but we did not get it. I have spoken to Story the other night in the trenches, and I also went visiting the Bucks. and Oxon. Outpost, and jumping down into a trench with two men, called out to know if there was anyone from Buckinghamshire there. One young soldier asked what part of Buckinghamshire? I said, Wolverton. Well, he answered, I come from that neighbourhood, Newport Pagnell; he proved to be young Daniels, who often gave me apples years ago, when I was a little boy at home. Tell Mr. Daniels I have seen his son, who is all right. He seemed quite pleased to see me, and I said I would write and tell you I had met him. We were in the trenches 9 days altogether, and the second day I had a cough, and have still got it, which keeps me awake at night. Yesterday it was so bad I saw the doctor, but he said he could not do anything for me; he had got nothing for coughs. I think it is a little better to-day, but can you wonder at anybody getting a cough. Re. parcel, the handkerchiefs are useful; my Bognor chums sent me 6 khaki ones, and the cocoa I am saving for the trenches, and also the candles. The cake was the best, I was so glad of that - really like Christmas. I ate about half dozen mince pies for tea, so that speaks for itself. I had lost my mittens, so I was glad of yours. I suppose it is not much good asking for Bromtons, as my cold, I hope, will be bettere, but I hope you will send the air pillow, and wish I had thought of that before; you would hardly believe what an important factor a pillow is, especially when we have to sleep in all our equipment. Our rest camp is not all rest. To-day we got up at 6a.m., and started at 7.45 marched 5½ miles, dug trenches until 4p.m., and got back at 6.30p.m., done up (and we were having a rest). It was hard work digging. I think there is no place like home. … Princess Mary’s pipe I smoked in the trenches on Christmas Day. On Monday, 4th, the day after we came out of the trenches, some of us got a hot bath, it was lovely. We were marched up to a brewery, and they had big tubs for two, and our clothes were ironed whilst we were in. This is my first for two months, and I never expected that; the water was hot and plenty of it, and I had a real good bath, a treat.”

January 7th. “This morning we had a communion service in a small room, as we depart for the trenches on Saturday; it was very nice and simple, and I am glad I got the chance before going back. Please don’t forget the little diary, because I want to take notes; and also I want to know the days, and we can’t without a diary. Please tell the Whist Committee I do not have time to write specially, but thank them very much. I am writing this lying on my back, so excuse writing.” Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 15th

“British Expeditionary Force, Jan. 8th. Thank you for your letter received to-day. The S-Tablets are so useful … To-day we have marched from our billet, about 4½ miles nearer the front, and we are now only a quarter of an hour from the trenches, where we remain in reserve until Sunday, so we shall be pretty comfortable, but I don’t like the idea of going in much. Who could, when you see the fellows come out, absolutely wet with mud up to their knees, and really after all these rains the trenches must be a foot deep in water. Still it has got to be done, so we must just make the best of it. If some people were out here they would not be so sure of an easy win. In my opinion it is an absolute standstill, neither side moving an inch to speak of. We are at a decent sized village, and the church here had the spire shelled, which took the top clean off, and it came down and stuck firmly into the road, and remains sticking out about the height of a man. The tombs, too, have been knocked about, and you can imagine the force of a shell when a solid piece of marble about 3in. thick, and a foot square, had been blown right up into the air and stuck in the roof of the church. One family vault had been blown to pieces, and a body, evidently only recently buried, exposed to view. It seems a pity they can’t leave the churches alone. One church we passed had been shelled, and all that was left was just the four wallsand the remains of a tower. There are all sorts of rumours about coming home soon, and I should love to see dear old England again, as I only call this “existence”; (sic) I suppose it is too good to be true, but it would be lovely, even if it were only for a fortnight’s furlough.”

January 9th. 7p.m. “I must tell you of a sumptuous “feast” we had to-night. A friend had two parcels come full of good things, so we went to a house and asked them if we could use the room, and like all the French people, they couldn’t do enough for us, and lit a fire - then all serene. We soon boiled some tea, and as the parcel contained “Nestle’s,” had milk in it for a treat. After that there were mince pies, birthday cake, small cakes, biscuits, figs, nuts, toffee-almonds, muscatelles, and sweets. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. Sitting at a table, it seemed just like home - lovely - but - trenches to-morrow night!”

Monday, Jan. 11th. “It always seems my luck to go through it on Sunday nights. We came up here and I had to go to an outpost, to reach which one had to pass 150 yds. along a trench - nothing in itself, but the whole of the way it was a foot deep in mud, and up to my middle in water, it was terrible. I had to wrench each foot out of the mud and it was all I could do to save myself from getting stuck, and as the affair took about 1½ hours, I was all that while, mostly swimming, and we were being potted at by the Germans all the time. One fellow was hit in the arm only two yards from me. You do feel wretched though, when you stand up to your waist in water … We were in a bit of a house for the night - the other part is not, (sic) the whole of the house front having been blown away by shells. And of course after I had scraped the worst of it off, I had to lie down in it, just as I was, and you need not wonder that I felt a bit cold about the legs. I hope I shall not have to go through it again. We hunted around today and made a soup. We had some tablets of Oxo, potatoes, turnips, and leeks. Of course it was not so substantial a meal, but we had it hot, and anything warm is a treat on this game … We have no sugar, so have used quite a lot of S Tablets, because we all go in together, and there is a great call on them. When you write again send some more.” Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 22nd

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