Thursday, February 20, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 6

In this letter he discusses censorship. After a few months of war the War Office decided that the enemy could learn a lot from intercepted letters and all letters home were subjected to the censor's black pencil.

“The Censor says I must not write such long letters, and must not send any in shorthand, or I could put a good deal more in them, so now I have an excuse for writing shorter ones. … We just give our letters to the Corporal, who in turn gives them to the Officer, who censors them, ‘en route Angleterre.’ … Pleased to say the parcel arrived safely with my air pillow. I have been longing for it; thanks also for the pudding and cake, both are absolutely ripping. Do you know that the saccharine tablets are the most useful extras in this game. I started them in the company, and now nearly all the fellows have written home for them; they take up no room, and sugar is so necessary. We have just left the trenches after being ten days in and out. The trenches are in an awful state, and our last 24 hours we spent in one with no head cover, only sandbags in front and nothing behind; the Germans were about 300 yards (or less) from us. Of course sleep was certainly out of the question, and being quite open, we felt somewhat cold, especially as it was a frosty night; also a fall of snow made things more unpleasant. We were allowed a small fire, so at midnight out came the cocoa you sent, and with the saccharine tablets we were able to have a lovely cup of hot cocoa. It was a treat, and my six men were most thankful for a drop to warm them up. We were quite detached, and water lay on our right and left. We never feel so cold in our bodies, but our feet and legs seem to freeze, and you cannot run about in two inches of water. If ever I wished for dawn I did that night, but it did not bring much relief, as it snowed hard all day. We were all glad when we were relieved, and marching soon made us warm, for after half a mile we were perspiring all over. It is peculiar, but the weight we carry always makes us ‘boil’ all over when marching. One thing, we did march back to a jolly good barn for the night, with straw to lie down on, so I had a grand sleep. We often don’t care what we have to do during the day so long as we get a good sleep at night, but a few rough nights with little sleep soon knocks one up. At our last trenches I had quite a little scare. I was sent up a road to find the position of some reserve trenches. I knew the Germans held the road further on, but felt safe for some distance. Nothing happened for about 200 or 300 yards. It was pitch dark, when suddenly a gutteral voice sounded a few yards from me, in a language I could not understand. I quite thought I had run up against a German sentry, but I sung out “Hertfordshires.” The voice, however, called out again. I fairly shivered, as I knew there were no French in the district. A form approached, and then it struck me - “Gurkhas,” and I tell you I was a bit relieved. The fellow could not understand a word of English. I tried to explain I was going to find the position of some trenches, and that he must not shoot me! This life certainly has its excitements. That night the Germans tried a new dodge, sweeping the country with a powerful searchlight. It gives you a horrible sensation to feel yourself in the limelight, and to hear the shots whistle over your head all the time. There is no fade into obscurity after bursting shells, no limit as to what the bounders will do next. They now have a sort of parachute flares, which sail along in the air and remain alight for a minute or two. It is quite pretty at night, very much like a firework display, and they are starting colours, now blue and green. The 5th of November with flares etc. Still they make you feel jolly uncomfortable if you happen to be visiting another trench and suddenly find yourself in a glare of light. … I do wish I could come home for ten days, as I could write pages, only now the Censor will not let me. … It is jolly trying to tempers out here at times, but I feel happier after Christmas pudding and cake … Wolverton Express 1915 Jan. 29th

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