Sunday, March 2, 2014

William Laurie Field's War - Part 15

“Sept. 12th - Your letter reached me in the trenches, but I could not write for a few days, we were not able to do anything like that, being only 70 yards from the Germans, we have had a very trying turn in continually dodging bombs, absolutely ??? our lives the whole of the time, and bombs now are very different from what they used to be at the first; they are like high explosive shells, and burst with such force that the concussion can be felt 40 or 50 yards away. We call them “Rum Jars,” because they are as big as rum jars; and very much like them in appearance. Of course, sleep at night, was out of the question, we have to be ready every minute to dodge the things. So when we left the trench, we all breathed most hearty sighs of relief, because to be on the continual alert, just expecting a bomb and knowing that not to dodge it, means walking into the next world, makes one very nervy. Ȃ Until to-night, I had not had my boots off for eight days and nights, and I feel dog tired, through having only three hours sleep in the 24 hours. … I wanted to write as I knew you would be anxious. You would be surprised to see how much fellows age, when they have been out here a few months. If ever I do have the luck to come home on leave, I dare say you will notice, that I look more than a year older than when you last saw me. … I will enclose a photo of Ypres (in ruins). I recognised the buildings, now mere shells, on it. We passed them, as we went right down the main road, which you can see in the photo. The Cloth hall had not been touched then, and only houses here and there shelled. The Cathedral, too, was quite sound. … I did not know about Pte. Miles. Is he at home yet? I knew a fellow was hit, as we had one wounded and one killed at the same time, but I had no idea it was Mr. Miles’ son. - Good night.”

Sept. 20th. “First of all, this letter must be short as I have very little time. I was jolly glad to receive your letter, but was very sorry for Mr. Gregory. I will do my best to have a look in the G------ little graveyard, for his son’s grave, if it is there. I might say the graves are kept so very nicely. It will be difficult, but I will do my best, however. I can’t tell when it will be. It will not be possible to send a photograph (even if I came across it) as all cameras have been sent home by special army order, long since. If it is where you think (and I feel sure it must be there as I have found out he was killed there), the graveyard is not a mile from the Germans, so it may be difficult to get permission, even if we are near. However, I will do my best, and as soon as I can. … I expect writing will be very difficult for some little time now, but I will send F.S. Post Cards just to let you know I am still well. … Please in future don’t tell me any home news. It is absolutely disheartening and we get all the news now, and discuss things at home; also the Zep raids. I always look for your letters to cheer me up and encourage me to stick things. We hate to read about these wretched unpatriotic strikes. I believe it discourages the soldiers out here more than anything - to think of all they are going through for their families and people at home, and those who have a nice easy job are striking for another extra shilling or two, we shall never win unless the people at home realize that we are at war. I wish the leaders could be put into the trenches during the cold weather and be in a bombardment, they might wish then that they had never been born, and I am sure would be glad enough to go back for half their salary. … Just where we are now I have my best friends in France, very nice people, I believe refugees from La Bassee, but of a better class, and their relations who live here. … My little Marie Therise and her brother Omer. … they have just put on their “nighties” for bed, and I guess you would love to see them, such nice little kids they are, but can’t understand my watch shining in the dark.”

“The enclosed verses were found in a trench we occupied a short time ago, evidently scribbled down by someone to pass the time.

“Dear Wife, while all my comrades sleep
And I, my two hours lonely vigil keep.
I think of you, and all across the foam.
Glad of no scenes like this at home.

Here Desolation reigns as King,
Where many happy homes have been:
And dotted round me where I stand
Some hero’s resting-place marks the land.

Just here the village school once stood,
The scene of childhood’s happy days;
But now, alas, all that remains
Is crumbling ruins, and sad Decay.

As through an orchard now I stray
I pass, what once had been the farm:
No Human Vengeance can repay
Vile Huns, who first raised War’s Alarm.

While slowly pacing to and fro
And silence reigns supreme:
What’s that? The star-shells’ brilliant glow:
The flash - the deadly sniper’s rifle gleams.

Perchance to find its bullet true,
The hissing bullet sped.
And crouching low, in front of you.
Your chum remarks, “It’s just gone overhead.

While Dawn arises in the East.
The fact on me is thricefold bourne
No truer words were ever said:-
“Man’s Inhumanity to Man, makes countless thousands mourn.

But when we lay ourselves to rest:
A smoke, a yarn, and we’re complete
We think of our dear ones at home.
Most sure of “Kaiser Bill’s” Defeat.


(Scribbled while on guard at 11p.m., “somewhere in France.”) Wolverton Express 1915 Oct. 8th

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