I can now snatch a few minutes to write you a line and tell you all about it. First of all I really must tell you how much I appreciated that ripping parcel you sent. You remember I told you I got it in the trenches a long time ago, but I could’nt open it there, so sent it right back to our kit with the transport miles away. That was nearly 3 weeks ago and I managed to retrieve the parcel on the night of the 17th, when we came out of the trenches. It was a ripping parcel, & full of surprises. The Shetland woolly is topping, & I wear it all day, & could’nt do without it. All the little food things are lovely too, and I have them all carefully tucked away in my haversack to use when occasion demands, as doubtless it will all in good time.
At present we are feeding like fighting cocks so there is no point in using up little things like you sent, which will come in much more useful in an emergency. I like the little writing case awfully too, & have sent you a p.c. out of it, which I hope you got. The lamp has arrived too, & is most useful, in fact I am using it now. Please thank the fairy who knitted the Balaclava cap; it’s lovely, & one wants one badly this weather. Jane’s chocolate was ripping too and the dubbin, & the new batteries for the torch were just in time to replace my last exhausted one. The warm pants I have’nt got into yet, as I still have a pair I bagged from Bobby Reed, but I will be wearing them soon. The pillow I sleep on every night, lovely, & it’s so awfully neat the way it folds up. So you see the parcel was most acceptable, & thanks most awfully for it.
Before I forget, I will note down one or 2 things I want you to get for me; I’m afraid I am asking now for some rather expensive things, but I will arrange with Cox to send you the money if you will let me know what they cost.
(1) A small Flask, metal, curved shape, to carry in pocket to hold Rum etc… I have already asked for this in a p.c.
(2) A light chamois-leather waistcoat, if obtainable, to keep the wind out.
(3) A map case. These are made of leather, & have a talc slide inside through which you can read a map, & a leather cover over the talc slide, otherwise the sun glints on the slide & the enemy shoots you! Obtainable at A[rmy] & N[avy] Stores.
Also some uniform. They are issuing us with thick khaki sometime, but only Tommies coats, so please send me the following:-
2 officers F[ield].S[ervice]. jackets, regulation khaki pattern, Captain’s badges of rank.
1 pair Bedford cord Riding breeks, same colour as jacket.
As regards fit: I suppose I’m about the same size as Jim, anyhow I should think you could fairly judge, say 38″ chest & 34 waist, height 5-9, ordinary length of arm; I have put chest & waist measurements on the big side so as to allow
(1) making to fit if necessary
(2) wearing lots of warm clothes underneath,
Tell the man to sew no buttons on the jackets, but just to make holes to take moveable buttons, ones you fix in with a split ring & remove for washing, same like we have in our Indian khaki, Ben will know. You see we wear Black buttons, that’s why, & I have the buttons here with me & can stick em in myself. Breeches: I have rather a big calf, somewhere about 15 inches, so tell him to make them that size, with sufficient turn-in to allow to make larger if necessary: also allow to make larger round the knee if necessary. Finally, go to MOSS Covent Garden, he makes coats in 48 hours, & may even have some in stock, & send along 1 coat as soon as ready, & don’t make parcels too big.
Then all around the margin he added:
Tagany & Randall, 10 Simons St, Sloane Square, has my measurements. But do allow for warm clothes to be worn underneath!!! Ask them for my measurements & give them to Moss. Don’t forget to leave lots of room in the uniform for warm clothes; allow for a thick flannel shirt, a cardigan, & a shetland! I wear all 3!!
I’m afraid I’m asking an awful lot, but I’ll try and not ask for so much in future.
The second page of this letter was written on proper writing paper, probably from the writing case in the parcel.
Now for such news as I can give you. We have come out of the trenches after 20 days – just 3 weeks – in them, and quite long enough too. Every day was much the same, perpetually shelling us, and rifle fire all day, Some days they would give us more shelling than others, & some days were comparatively quiet. And how it all used to get on one’s nerves. We had a good many men killed and wounded, and it’s most awfully trying sitting in trenches and being shot at all day, & shooting back of course, but with no known results. Still there are so few troops here that we can only just hang on and not attempt anything else.
One night we sent a party of about 300 men out to try and rush one of the enemy’s trenches; it was a mixed party, some of our men and some of the 3rd Gurkhas. You see all along our front the Germans had sapped up and had trenches only 50 yards off in some places! Imagine it, only 50 yards away, & men sniping at you all day, so that you could’nt put a finger up above the trench without getting a bullet at it. Well, they trled to rush this trench, but the Germans spotted them, & I’m afraid we had very heavy casualties. They got a searchlight on to our position which lighted up the whole place like daylight, & it was impossible to move out into the open, the place simply hummed with bullets- Some of the party managed to get into the trench and accounted for about 30 Germans, but the whole show was very unsatisfactory. But I think it had a good effect on the whole, as the Germans have evidently had the Jabbers ever since, and fire wildly all day & night from that trench, in an awful funk evidently that they are going to be attacked again.
One day, as usual, they started giving us our daily ration of Jack Johnsons & shrapnel, & the shrapnel were bursting all round our headquarters where the Colonel and I were sitting in a little dug-out underground. All the shells burst quite close, & one knocked a huge branch of a tree down right on the top of our dug-out, busting in the roof a bit, and setting fire to a haystack just outside, so we stood a good chance of being roasted alive; so we cleared out into a neighbouring trench, but the poor old farm where we were living was burnt down, and for the next two nights the whole place was lit up, & of course one could’nt move about much then, as it was just like daylight. So we had lots of adventures you see, & no day or even hour passed without an exciting moment.
At last on the 17th we were relieved, and not too soon either. Work in the trenches is most frightfully trying & wearing; one gets little or no sleep, and the continual banging of shells & rifle fire all day gets on your nerves after a bit. On the night we were relieved, while the actual relief was being carried out, I mean while the regiment who was relieveing us were just coming into our trenches, the Germans started an attack, of course! But we were up to all their little games, and nothing much happened, & it did’nt last long, but the bullets were flying about pretty thick. We came out of the trenches weary & worn, & oh so dirty! And the poor men were very tired too, and had done awfully well, & we have been congratulated by 3 generals on our work.
We had a particularly hard section of trenches to defend, as it was very weak, so the Germans paid particular attention to it- But 3 weeks is a lot to do on end; we went back out of the firing line for 2 days, & on the second day we were sent up here in reserve, & have to remain in a “state of constant readiness” to support any part of the line in case of need, so don’t really get any rest now, Last night we got orders to stand by as the Germans were wearily attacking a French Brigade not far off, but we were’nt wanted in the end. However tomorrow we go back about 2 miles for a rest, which we badly need. I will write more fully from there. Meantime send along those things, especially the uniform, & theres something else, but I can’t remember it! I’m awfully well & don’t worry about me. Best love to all your loving son-
23rd Nov later [at La Couture]
Just posting this. All well. It looks like more snow today.
‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.