Thursday, February 20, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 7

On January 24th he writes;

“Have just received your parcel and letter. Rumour has it we are not to go into action again for some time, and we are to be let off home for seven days’ leave, but of course it is only rumour, and if it is true, my turn will be a long while in about two months’ time, so I don’t place much faith in it. … What fine fellows the Sikhs are! Quite as tall as our own Guardsmen, with fine jet black beards, and for the most part really good looking men. They are so amiable, too. One offered me his ration to try, but I know they have none too much, so I resisted a temptation to try it. They have a sort of toffee which they eat with it, and, as I told you before, the bread is every bit like a small pancake. They look very fine when mounted on horses. This morning I got up early and went for a walk before breakfast - fancy, the energy!!! But we called at a farmhouse and had some coffee, but the people would not hear of us paying for it. To-day (Sunday) we had a march. It is a most unusual thing when resting to drill on Sunday. On Friday we had a very severe frost, but another fellow and myself went into a field, and when we had stripped to the waist, had a jolly good wash. Fancy my doing that in England, in the depths of winter! … Yesterday we had some top-boots issued to us, coming up to the knees, and fine things they are. Every morning I put mine on, and go and stand in the middle of a flowing stream, and have a good comfortable wash. It’s a treat to be able to wash every day, the water is lovely and ‘fresh’ as you may imagine! Yesterday we had a small service in our barn, conducted by one of the Guards’ chaplains (our Regiment has not got a chaplain). It was fine, and we sang the hymns for all we were worth. The fellows do put their whole hearts into a service, and are always as quiet as possible. It is much more impressive than at a service in a church at home, and each time we meet together like this we are one or two short - either killed or wounded. We had such a nice officer killed, unfortunately, by a stray bullet down a road where we used to walk about, ab lib, at night. We are now much smaller than when we landed, but I believe we are to have a draft out in a day or two. … Now good-bye, and thanks so much for the parcel you sent. It is trying out here at times, but a parcel always makes you feel happy again.” Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 5th 
Extracts from letters from Lance Corporal W.L. Field, formerly of the Wolverton Detachment of the Bucks Territorials, but now of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment (Territorials), serving with the 4th Guards Brigade;

“It has just turned very cold out here and we have had sharp frosts; still they are much preferable to wet, and if we have a nice barn to sleep in, as we have at the present time, we have nothing to grumble for. We are still in reserve, but expect to go trenchwise to-morrow. Twice this week we have had to pack up and move nearer the firing line. Yesterday we were aroused at 4, breakfasted at 4.30 and started at 5 a.m., marched about 5 miles, turned into a field and stayed all day. As it happened we were quite near the Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry, and a fellow named Gregory, who knew Rex well, looked me up. He thought I was Rex, but I soon put matters right, and he conducted me to his billet, and I found some fellows who worked in McCorquodale’s Printing Works, at Wolverton - Jones, I. McMillan, and W. Severne. It is interesting to see someone you know out here, and be able to talk of home, etc. They all seemed quite happy and were enjoying their biscuits and jam, as though they had been used to them all their lives. They came out at the end of November, and because I beat them by two or three weeks, I felt quite pleased with myself, and no end of an old soldier. To-day we went out on physical drill and (here about 20 lines have been blotted out by the censor). The Indian soldiers are fine fellows, and keep their rifles so clean, that they look like brand new ones. They do not like the cold, but say they are waiting for April, when they hope to give the Germans the point of their lances. We have had some stiff marches lately; to-day we were up at 4 a.m. (after being out all the day before, and not turning in until 11.30p.m.) and you can tell how I perspired, when the dye came out of the envelope containing the saccharine tablets I carried in my pocket, and the tablets were all stuck together in a mass. We always march in our overcoats and carrying something like fifty pounds naturally makes us warm. Still this life has its charm. This morning (Sunday) we washed in water which had ½ an inch of ice on it, it was fine and made me feel beautifully fresh. … Have not received a letter from you for some time, so please take this one in answer to the one I hope to receive to-day. I give up a lot of time to letter writing when other fellows go out to see the place, etc., and really letter writing is not at all easy when you have to sit on the ground or the floor, and I often have to keep a letter several days , because they do not collect them when we are on the move, only when we stay at a place a couple of days or more.”

Feb. 3rd.
“We moved last night, and we are now not far from the trenches. … The place we have just left was one of the best we have struck as yet, and seemed quite lovely with people about as usual, it is such a welcome change to see people about and shops open. … As I write shells are bursting not many hundred yards off. I have been out watching them this morning, and one has just burst a short distance down the road. Yet the French people here seem to take as ittle notice as our own fellows do. … The night before we left B ----, we had a small concert, and some really good talent turned up. It was held in a theatrical building, and I quite enjoyed it, but we had to cut it short as we all had to be in by 7 p.m. … Things have been happening lately round here, and last night we had to send a party up to bury German dead but am glad that I was not chosen for this very gruesome task. They had mostly been killed by our artillery, who have done some very fine work, and it is greatly due to them (remainder blotted out by censor). Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 12th
Further extracts from letters sent by Lance Corporal W.L. Field, 1st Herts. Regiment, attached to Guards Brigade. (Formerly of the Wolverton Detachment, Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry;

“British Expeditionary Force, Feb. 5th. I wrote you such a nice long letter, as I thought, in the trenches yesterday, but apparently I had put in too much information and the Censor had to destroy it, but I am doing another so that you shall not be disappointed … Before going into the trenches, we had it pretty hot, with bullets flying about but no one was hit. I am pleased to say the trenches were dry as they had only been dug a day or two, but it was a cold night and sleep was out of the question; I tried to snatch a little, but we had to sit in such a cramped position and my feet got so jolly cold that I gave it up, and went along and had a chat with a fellow who used to be in Barclay’s Bank, at Harpenden, and we talked about old times, and two hours soon went by. We were not allowed fires, but I felt I would love a cup of cocoa, about 1a.m., so I just paid a visit to the Coldstreamers. They are jolly fine fellows, and had fires, and it didn’t take me long to nip back and get the cocoa and sugar you sent me, and we soon had a mess tin of lovely hot cocoa which they enjoyed as much as I did. It does seem to warm you up in the middle of a cold night. We always seem glad to see the first ray of morning light, because day brings warmth and you can also see where you are and it enables you to make yourself as comfortable as trench life permits … Am so glad you sent the candles as I had not one left, and candles are so necessary.”

“Feb. 9th … I am still all right and we came out of the trenches last night for a couple of days or so. Things have been hot this last week or two, in fact yesterday and the day before, we had the thickest time since we came out here. Shells came over thicker than rifle shots, in fact it was deafening whilst it lasted. But I am glad to say our fellows behaved splendidly … (Here, about 8 lines have been deleted by the censor). I have seen some sights this last week, both interesting and ghastly, but I can’t tell you, as I know it will only be censored. I know that (here, about 12 lines are blotted out) I suppose but it did give us heart, and I felt proud that I belonged to the Hertfordshire Regiment - but things were hot, and there’s something very terribly awful about shell fire, the noise is deafening, and earth is thrown up into the air, and clatters down into the trench, and the ground fairly shakes. If you can imagine this, with shells bursting as quickly as you can count, you have some idea of an artillery bombardment. We were not sorry to get out safely I can tell you … I don’t know if the parcel will reach you, but I have sent some German, English and French bullets. The thick bullets are French … The fork and spoon combined, are German. Some of our fellows have got sword bayonets, most wicked looking things. Do you remember me describing a church spire stuck into the ground?” Wolverton Express 1915 Feb. 19th

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