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Daily Archives: 3 December, '14

3 December 1914 – Ted to Dreda and Jane

Dec 3rd/1914

Europe

Dear Dreda & Jane.

My dear girls, the letter from which I have extracted this paper is dated Nov 12th!! Would you say a long tirne answering it. Awful sorry really, but these dam Germans keep one on the go pretty well, & I have little time for correspondence. Since Nov 12 we’ve been knocking around, helping another Brigade out of a mess it got into, had 3 days rest (so called) and are now out in the trenches again.

Yes it was cold about 20th Nov but it thawed about 24th, & it’s been better since then, but all the same it is cold in the trenches. And we have’nt got our thick khaki yet, at least I believe it arrived yesterday, but we had to come out to these trenches & had’nt time to issue it, so we shan’t get it for at least a week, as they will probably keep us a week here. We spent 3 days & nights in some awful trenches, where there had been a lot of fighting for 2 days, & you never saw such a mess.

All the corpses had been buried – or ½ buried – in the trench itself, & the whole place was a mass of abandoned German kit, rifles, bayonets, haversacks, everything you could think of. You see the Germans captured the trench from some of our troops, and we sent two or three regiments to try and retake them, but suffered very heavily; they then sent for the 20th Bde to help, we were at the time marching off, after 3 weeks on end in the trenches, to rest; well they found the other 3 rgts of the Bde, but not us, so we never went; I wish we had, as it was a good show, and our 1st Bn retook the trench, captured 2 maxims & a mortar for throwing bombs, & took 100 prisoners; jolly good was’nt it; tell Ben Fred Lumb did most of it, & was in the thick of it all, & did very well I believe, & sloshed a German on the cocoanut with a rifle butt & laid him out as flat as a pancake, & shot several with his revolver. A great show, & we are all awfully bucked of course.

We went out next day & relieved them in the trench they had captured, which I say was in a beastly mess, but nothing to what it was when they captured it, which they tell me was 3 deep in dead & wounded. Jolly, is’nt it! Anyhow the Germans were only 100 yards off just here in a trench, & in 2 parts of our line were only 15 yards off: and if you please in another place were only 5 yards off! This sounds incredible but IS QUITE TRUE.

I’ll explain. From their trench 100 yards away they had dug a “sap”, that is a long trench running out from theirs toward ours; and from this sap they used to throw bombs into our trenches. Also when they had got into our trenches, before we drove them out again, at least our 1st Batt did, they dug long trenches linking up their trench and ours, see, called “communicating” trenches; so when our 1st Batt had ’em out of it, there were these trenches leading right into theirs! so of course we had to bung ’em up as best we could.

Again, on our left we were occupying the same trench as the Germans! They had never been turned out of a little bit on our left, which ended up in a road, so we were in the same trench divided only by about 50 yards of unoccupied trench, with our barricade one end, and the German barricade the other, each with loopholes in, & sniping at each other all day. A most extraordinary show all round, but this map will explain it better than words.

Dryden's map

Dryden’s map

Of course we threw Bombs back at them, & did a lot of damage, I expect, but we did’nt have bombs till too late to stop them sapping up. Altogether we had a most exciting time there & were very pleased to come away.

Now we are back in our old trenches once more, for a week they say, but I expect it will be longer. Anyhow this time I’ve brought out a toothbrush & some soap, as last time they shot us into these trenches without any warning. They’re much quieter in front of us now than they were when we were here before, and barring sniping which goes on incessantly all day, & is very trying as bullets whizz about & come from most unexpected quarters, we get no rifle fire at all, at least we’ve had some today. And the only guns I’ve heard today were ours this evening when they gave the enemy’s nearer trenches a few rounds of shrapnel just for luck I suppose. Of course we have’nt had the awful time those extraordinarily brave Britishers have had at Ypres, but we’ve done a good whack; and I expect we’ll see some more before we’ve done- Well so long girls, nothing much doing here.

Tons of love from Ted

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Posted by on 3 December, '14 in Captain Fred Lumb

 

3 December 1914 – Ted to Ben

Dec 3rd

Dear Ben

I don’t seem to have written you a line for some time. Thanks most awfully for your letters, so nice and long & interesting. I’m afraid I have’nt much news to tell you. Yes it’s very sad about Glag [Captain A W Robertson-Glasgow] & Toc [probably Major G H Taylor]  is’nt it, we have’nt heard yet whats happened to them. It happened like this – one night [13th November 1914] Toc & 50 men made a most successful raid on a German trench 50 yards in front of our line, & rounded up 6 prisoners & lots of rifles etc. So successful was it that the Brigade determined to repeat the operation, only this time with more men- So 250 of the 2/3rd & 50 of us were told off for it. Well they crawled out, but were evidently spotted, for the Germans opened a heavy fire & maxims, & the whole line charged.

Well, on the right some of the 2/3 with Uncle Smash, Alexander, & McSwiney got into the trench, but the fire was too hot on the left and they were beaten back. Toc was on the left, & in the dark none of the men seemed to know what happened to him, though one of our wounded men say that Toc was hit the same time as he was, but I don’t know how much truth there is in this. In any case he has not been seen since. Meantime Alexander had been wounded in the foot, & was lying on the parapet of the enemy’s trench. Uncle Smash & McSwiney were actually in the trench, and some men too, & between them they managed to knock out 30-odd Germans.

They then came to a sort of barricade in the trench, & McSwiney lept on to this & was promptly bowled over, shot through the chest, & a big hole under his arm. (He is, you’ll be glad to hear, all right, at Osborne, & doing well & the bullet rnissed all vital parts.) So there was old Smash with 2 wounded British officers & about 5 men, & lord knows how many Germans!

So he came back (meanwhile the Germans had opened a heavy fire from their rear trenches) to our trench to take more men up; but he never got back to the German trench as they played a searchlight all along our line & though he tried to get across, every man with him was hit, an officer called Drummond (attached) killed, & he had 2 bullets through his hat. So he had to come back again. Meanwhile, when Smash started, for the 2nd time, we had sent out another party under Glasgow, to help Taylor on the left. He had 20 men with him, & only a few came back, & none can say what happened to him. There was a tremendously heavy fire going on all the time, & we had a lot of men hit.

So the whole thing was chucked, as nothing could possibly live in that fire under that searchlight, & we had no supports, so could’nt attack the trench, not enough men to do it- Meanwhile McSwiney & some wounded men shouted out to Alexander that as no one seemed to be coming they’d better clear out. It appears Macs sent some men to help Alec, & he would’nt let ’em, or something like that, anyway Mac & some wounded men crawled back to our trench. Not finding Alec there, Mac went back to the German trench, but could’nt find him anywhere in the dark, (our guns were all this time playing on the trench, as we were supposed to clear out at 12 midnight to let them do it, but they did’nt know we had failed) so came back & fainted from his wound in our trenches. Jolly plucky was’nt it.

From our trenches now (we are back in them once more) we think we can see poor Alec’s body lying there, but not a sign of Toc or Glag, so lets hope they are prisoners. This war is awful, especially here, sitting opposite each other like this, one can’t go out & bury the dead or find out who they are or anything, as the Germans are so inhuman they wont respect the Red Cross.

Maclean was wounded at the same time as all those fellows in the 8th were killed. Most of them were killed by shell fire I think. The poor 8th have had a rotten time; of all the officers who started from India or joined them from leave, only Buckland remains; he got a scratch from a bullet on the face, & a bullet through the heel of his boot. Is’nt it awful? Poor Maxwell is missing, but it is almost certain he is killed, in an attack on some trenches which the Germans had taken, & our troops had to retake, & which were finally retaken by our 1st Bn, led by Fred Lumb, who did awfully well I believe.

I have told Dryden [their sister, Etheldreda] all about that show in her letter. Old Wardell is missing, but there are many stories about him. He is known to have been wounded, & is supposed to have been treated in a Field Hospital, or may have lost his way & wandered into the German trenches & been captured (see Dryden’s map.) You see, the Germans bagged about 300 yards of our trenches, & they tried 3 times to turn them out by frontal attacks (in one of these the 8th lost so heavily, & one of the Baldwins was killed, H.L.C. his initials were I think) but each one failed, not surprising considering the enemy had 5 machine guns against us, & our troops had to advance over 600 yards of flat open ground, madness to send them.

However our 1st Batt came along, & sneaked in one end of the trench, and by throwing bombs ahead of them, cleared the trench, captured 100 prisoners & 3 machine guns & generally covered themselves with glory. Sam Orton was slightly wounded, but not very bad I believe. We went into the trench the next night, & I’ve told Dryden what a state it was in; and the open ground over which the attacks were made is not a pleasant sight either, but one can’t get at these poor fellows (all dead of course) because the enemy are so close that its impossible to move out of one’s trench; we had 1 man killed & some wounded, burying corpses.

We are back in the trenches which we first occupied again now, but they are a good deal quieter than they were, and their Jack Johnsons & shrapnel are quieter – tap wood! You are all saying how cold it must be. Well it was awful just for those few days of frost and snow, but it thawed since then, & the roads are in an awful state. But it’s made the weather much warmer, & milder, though it is fairly cold with wind and rain. It’s awful sweet of you to send things out to the men, & we do appreciate it awfully, & they’ll come in awful useful, as they often lose their scarves, gloves etc, & are absolutely done without them. My syce [groom]  wants scarf & gloves too, badly, But I think a good thing to send would be common & garden coloured handkerchiefs, very cheap & any colour, as our men use them a lot for all sorts of purposes, “Jharans” as you know well; do you remember giving them out every morning at Lansdowne from the linen cupboard! I often think of those ripping days we had up there & what fun it was.

But Ben can you imagine Lansdowne after this. Think of the 8th, hardly one left, is’nt it awful. Poor Mrs Stack, I have had 2 letters from her, one you forwarded, addressed Guildford, she said she was glad to see I was at home, & would I come & see her. What on earth made her think I was at home I wonder- since then she has sent me one or two things, baccy & an air pillow- Poor woman, I am sorry, so I must write to her soon, but what am I to say. I hate it – you might just drop her a line of sympathy to

10 Prince of Wales Mansions
Battersea Park

I wonder what it all means, her letter was most extraordinary-

I got a parcel of cigarettes and matches from you, today, from that baccy man, will you thank him awfully, and say the men loved them. They also like peppermints & chocolate, By the way when you send chocolate to me, can you send milk choc: if poss: as I like it better, in small slabs. Also I should like some bull’s eyes! I don’t want any more tooth powder, or dubbin yet, but a piece of Carbolic Soap wd be welcome-

AII our kit we left at Marseilles when we landed has been sent to Southampton- Mine is in one of those little leather trunks you know. I’ll tell Cox or someone to send it home & you can open it up. I quite forget what’s inside; I know some flannel bags are there, which we never wore on board, also a spare pair boots, & some other kit. But you can open it up & spread it about. My dear we are paying 1s/9d a day for our food; is’nt it a shame, when we are risking our lives etc etc for the paternal government. The food has been good, very good, but is getting worse and less now. Never mind…

Well I’m afraid I asked for a lot of things last time I wrote, but I’ll try and not ask for any more, I’m fairly fixed up now I think.

So long Ben & keep smiling & don’t worry about me; write when you can won’t you, your letters are always interesting – & just note the date of last letter from me. Best love.

Ted


Drake-Brockman’s accounts of the actions Ted describes of the 13th November are surprisingly difficult to reconcile with Ted’s account despite the fact that Ted was Drake-Brockman’s Adjutant and with him much of the time. Ted of course is telling Ben what happened to people they both knew, and Drake-Brockman was reporting to his superiors and writing for posterity. They do both mention the searchlights and that the Germans weren’t allowing the Red Cross through.

‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

Here we see that Mrs Stack, widowed in the first weeks of the war, was back in England, but clearly not keeping up to date with where her husband’s colleagues were. 

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3 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 3rd! Sudden interruption 2 days ago and I have’nt been able to resume till today, out in the trenches again. How the story goes, or what I was going to say I have’nt the faintest idea! Anyhow, after being taken & retaken several times, the Germans at last established themselves, fairly strongly, & put machine guns. Our troops tried several times to retake them with no success, & then it was that our Brigade was called up, all except ourselves as I say whom the ADC could’nt find. So off they went, and our 1st Bn: covered themselves with glory, recapturing the trench, & getting a lot of prisoners, & capturing 2 machine guns, and they have made quite a name for Garhwalis, which is a good thing as they certainly deserve it.

After capturing this trench they stayed there one night, and then we came up and relieved them, as they had had a pretty hard time for 2 days. The trenches were in an awful state when we got into them, but that was after they had been cleaned up; what they must have been like when our 1st Batt: captured them after all that fighting I cant imagine; I heard some pretty ghastly descriptions. We went out, ostensibly for 24 hours, but stayed there eventually 3 days & nights! Another instance of elastic time. The enemy’s trenches were in parts on 20 yards off ours, & never more than 100, so you can imagine we had a lively time, & so did they. It was like this.

Map - Ted 1914 12 01

This is very rough, I’ll draw a proper one, & show you exactly, as it’s really most awfully interesting. And my dear in one part of the line the Germans & ourselves were actually occupying the same trench, with a barricade & a bit of empty trench between us! We spent the days throwing bombs at each other, nights too; bombs made of a bit of gun cotton inside an old jam tin, which you throw, & they go off with a huge bang. They did’nt shell us at all there thank goodness, as then our trenches were so close they would probably have hit them.

Well, we had 3 days & nights of this, & just before we left we got orders to exhume all the bodies from the trenches, & bury them behind, which we began to do, & got 40 odd out before we left, but there were lots more, all buried in the bottom of the trench, in the walls & parapet, in fact it’s no exaggeration to say that in one part you could’nt put a spade into the ground without finding a body. Excuse this ghastly description, but I think it’s as well to tell you some of the things that happen.

After 3 days and nights of this we were relieved, & went back into billets, that was on a Saturday, & we stay- in billets till yesterday Wednesday, so had a good rest, except for me as I was fearfully busy with office work & writing up records etc & never got a minute to send you a line. I am afraid I have several letters of yours to answer- one I have here is dated 26th Nov, in which you say you see the Indians have captured some trenches; yes, that’s the show of our 1st Batt: I told you about in the beginning of the letter, but I wish they’d give the name of the rgt. But you see it was really a bad show at first, till our 1st Batt: came up & sloshed them, so I expect they don’t say much about it in the papers.

You seem to have large parties of soldiers in Guildford, but what a shame that big lot did’nt turn up when all preparations had been made for them. Yes I wonder what Dick is doing, & whether he is on his way home yet. ½ a mo, just going to have Breakfast, & will finish later. It’s a wet miserable day, just our luck as soon as we get into the trenches again! Now to fry some bacon for the Colonel [Drake-Brockman] & me-
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We are in the same trenches now as we first came into on 29th October, so this is our third whack in trenches. But then there’s nothing else doing of course, it’s all trench work nowadays. But I expect the great Russian success will make some difference this side, at least I hope so.

You say in one of your letters that you got a p.c. from me of 24th, & your letter is of 26th. That must be the one I sent by King’s Messenger, You see each Tuesday a certain number of F.S.P.C’s from each regiment are sent by King’s Messenger, who carries despatches home to the King I suppose, & he arrives in a few hours of course, and so the p.c.’s get home much quicker. But I have several letters of yours to answer I’m afraid. I wonder if you got my requests for uniform; I do hope he makes the coat nice & big, as one wears such a heap of things underneath; if you have’nt sent 2 coats yet, better send only one, at first, to see if it fits.

I should like another tin of Bivouac Cocoa, which is top hole stuff & very handy; also some Oxo cubes. The little extra Balaclava cap you sent out is most useful, & I always wear it as it’s so light and handy. I’ve just been reading again your letter written “behind the Bar”, what a sporting effort! Yes, is’nt Bob’s death sad, but what a gorgeous end; a wonderful man; if only the public had listened to him! And he was such a gentleman that when the crash came he never turned round and said “I told you so!”

By the way could you send out 2 more refills for “Torchers” as Ben used to call him in Lansdowne; he’s absolutely indispensable. [Presumably batteries for a pocket torch].

Weather much milder nowadays, & the snow has all gone, but the state of the roads round here is chronic, mud everywhere. I wonder if I ever wrote and thanked Aunt Nellie for some cigarettes she sent; will you thank her if you see or write to her, & explain things; they were most welcome.

Things seem fairly quiet here today, very little rifle fire, I suppose both sides are having breakfast! By the way address me now as “GARHWAL Brigade” & not “20th Bde”, rest of address as before-

I really must try and get some more correspondence off now. I hope my letters are interesting, but it’s rather hard to make ’em as most days are the same. Do you keep ’em, at all, as they might form a sort of diary of the show afterwards.

Lots of love to all, yr loving son

Ted

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