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8 November 1914 – Ted to Ben

08 Nov

I’ve put 1d stamp on, & enclose an envelope

Nov 8th

Dear Ben

Very many thanks for your nice long letter full of most interesting news. So glad you’ve got home at last, you must be thoroughly relieved too I should imagine. It must as you say be truly funny seeing all your friends dressed up as Tommies and going about with them all, Wiggs is an awful swell being an officer of course; no I had’nt heard it before, the others had’nt told me about it. Yes the “historic” voyage in the old Dil Dil, however unpleasant and trying at times, will surely live in your memory as quite a good show on the whole, and as you say you probably made some good friends on board & saw some new life. I expect you can put em all in their places when it comes to soldiers, eh, even Jim & Wiggy! Mother says Jim expects to be out here very soon, but he seems to have had very little training; I’m not crabbing the show, only I should imagine they’d want some more yet.

I expect those terriers & Gabbs & people are all going to Egypt, I don’t think they’d send em out to India; they may, of course.

It is most awfully cold here my dear as you can imagine. And we are still in thin khaki drill; what a contrast to that day at Karachi! You remember, in the first cabin you had on the Dilwara, when we simply bathed in good honest sweat. I don’t really think I’ve got enough on, but I cant get any more gear at present. You see we came out to occupy the trenches on 29th Oct, & are still here; that makes 10 days. Not very long under some circs, but devilish long to be in cold damp trenches with only the kit you stand up in! You see we left all our kit behind, & heaven knows when we shall see it again„ I hope we shall soon, as it’s very trying, this sort of work. You see we have’nt a a thing off for the whole tirne, boots, clothes or anything, nor a wash nor anything like that. We are all filthy, black grimy hands & faces, but we are all the same so it does’nt matter.

I read a glowing account in the “Standard” a day or two ago of life in the trenches, but it was very misleading. First of all it talked about “spade hewn, straw-spread” trenches; true in a way, but all our digging has to be done at night, as it would be impossible to dig by day, as the enemy’s trenches are only 300 yards off, & his little advanced trenches, in which snipers sit & pick you off if you show a finger, are only about 150 yards; so the digging is’nt very grand, though I must say our men have done wonders, & have made the trenches quite comfy- And there is some straw, but it’s mostly trodden into the mud. Again he says we do 3 days in the front trench, 3 days in the support, & 4 days rest. Divil a bit, this is our 10th day in the front trench, & no hope of relief yet awhile. Still it’s all part of the day’s work I suppose. These dam Germans seem to think the barn, where we have – or rather used to have – our Battalion headqrs is a most important place, because they persistently shell it. Every day for the last 4 days we had a whole lot of Jack Johnsons all round us, & they’ve knocked the farm buildings to hell. Such a pity, as “its a nice little farm”, & has a lovely orchard, & looks lovely in the evening sometimes. But of course it’s absolutely wrecked. I don’t think one can imagine these things unless you see them. One Jack Johnson wrecked the entire side of the house – it’s a sort of square with a courtyard in the middle – and all the rest is knocked to hell too. And all the furniture, crockery, clothes everything lying all over the shop anyhow. I dont know what the poor people will do when they come back after the war.

Last night, in fact all yesterday, the Germans were very active. For some reason or other they seem very anxious to break through our line just here, where we and the Seaforths are. Yesterday began by a furious shelling all the morning and then they attacked the Seaforths, and there was the hell of a battle, but they managed to keep ’em off, though the Seaforths had a lot of casualties. Our left joins up with the Seaforths, so we came in for it too. They again made a special effort against our Bn head quarters, & dropped shrapnel & howitzer all round, but we were quite safe in our trenches, though of course we had a few men hit. Poor Nain Sing was hit in the head by a piece of shell a few days ago & died shortly afterwards; I’m awful sorry as he was such a good chap, & had done me most awfully well on this show.

I dont know if you’ve seen any casualty lists, perhaps you have; I’m not supposed to mention them I believe, but I’m sure they must have been published by now. Poor Stack has been killed, I dont know what Mrs Stack will do; I’m most awfully sorry. Wright has been killed too, & Davidson & Hayes Saddler, & 2 more in the 8th; Maclean wounded (he’s gone home) & Col Morris, in fact they had a rotten time the 8th, though they did’nt lose many men. Awful is’nt it-

I got a huge parcel from Mother, it arrived up here in the trenches, but I could’nt possibly open it, as I’m sure I could’nt have kept all the kit. So I sent it back to the baggage, & am longing to get at my kit again & have a look at it, I want a balaclava cap, so if anyone wants to do anything say that; it’s bitter at night, sleeping in just one’s kit & no blanket or anything- I cover myself over with sacks and straw & so keep fairly warm. You remember that warm coat I had made; well I’ve had that on all the time & its ripping and warm; but I believe mother said she had put in a sweater in that parcel, & that will be lovely. She sent me a gorgeous silk muffler, much too good for these shows, but it’s been an absolute blessing & I could’nt have got on without it. And as for the blue jersey, well saved me life, & causes a great stir among the troops!

I have picked up several German helmets, rifles, uniform, shells etc, but I can’t sent them home as I should like too, so it’s no good. I must try & collect a few trophies of the campaign before we’re done.

We are just hanging on here while bigger developements take place elsewhere, & never a day passes without a furious shelling and an attack or two, & bullets go whizzing all over the shop; most exciting.

There are hundreds of Aeroplanes about, &, as you know, I’ve never seen one before. Col D[rake].B[rockman] & I were standing in a trench the other day quite still, as the orders are to do so when “hostile aircraft” (that’s good & will make your soldier friends sit up!) are about, & a German Taube was careering about overhead; you see it’s awful hard to spot people except by movement. Anyhow we suddenly heard a little shrill hissing sound and an explosion in the turnips in front; this happened 3 times; & the stinker had been dropping bombs! But they did’nt do any damage.

I am quite well, fit as seventy fiddles, filthy, & a 10 days beard, I shall be glad to be relieved from this trench work as it’s very trying & one gets little sleep. I hope these blighters keep quiet tonight! Write again soon. Tons of love

Ted

What I shd have done without “torchers” in the trenches I don’t know! He’s been absolutely invaluable and you shall have him back after the war as a trophy.


This letter was written in pencil on paper torn from a Field Service Pocket Book.

‘Terriers’ were members of the Territorial Army, ie part-time volunteers who were also reservists.

D H Drake-Brockman wrote a book With the Royal Garwhal Rifles in the Great War 1914-1917 which provides a lot of background information to Ted’s letters. Drake-Brockman also mentioned the difficulties of not being able to wash saying “The worst of a long period in the trenches without relief is that you cannot get clean and the men are apt to get verminous”.

‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

Wiggs was Ivan Bennet, whom Paul mentioned on 30th October and who seems to have been a special friend of Ben’s at that time.

Ben mentioned Mrs Stack as one of the new mothers in Lansdowne and it seems possible she was still there rather than risk the voyage with a new baby. It’s not clear whether she also lost the baby, assuming we’ve read Ben’s letter right and there was one. Either way, future letters show she was almost demented with grief.  

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