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1 January 1915 – Ted to Jane – Christmas Truce 1914

Jan 1st/15

Find I’ve used two bits of
paper by mistake! Sorry

Dear Jinny

Thanks most awfully for your 2 or 3 letters you have written lately. So sorry old thing, I have written but have had very little time. We are out of the trenches now after 25 days on end, & the whole corps is now resting, & we are all – as many as can – getting LEAVE. Is’nt it ripping & all being well I’ll be home today week, on the 8th, sometime during the evening. So anything I don’t tell you in this letter I can tell you then. Your concerts seem to be a great success; if you get any up while I’m at home I’ll help you like a shot. I’ll be home in the evening of the 8th, & leave again on the morning of the 14th, just 5 full days at home.

I’ve got my uniform now & have had a bath – in an old dustbin – but still it was a bath, & I feel so clean & smart, you would’nt know me. Of course I grew a beard in the trenches, & did’nt shave for just a month, but it was’nt exactly a success, & it looked exactly as if I was’nt shaving & not as if I was trying to grow a beard!

I’ve got new news to tell you I think. We are billeted in a little village, very dirty & muddy & fairly comfy; but we were in better billets before. We took 3 days to march here from the trenches, about 5 miles a day, as after standing in water & mud all that time you can’t imagine the state your feet get into, soft & swollen & no good for walking on, just good enough to stand upon & no more.

Going into the trenches.... coming out

Going into the trenches   coming out

Told Mother about our palling up with the Germans on Christmas day. It was most amusing & so utterly out of keeping with the rest of the show that one can hardly realize it happened.

Christmas Day Truce 1914

The above is – liar [sic]  – what happened; but I’ll tell you all about it when I see you. I have’nt seen anything in the papers about it yet. I’m afraid this is a very dull letter but I really can find nothing to say, & I may’nt say it anyhow.

It’s a real miserable day today, cold and wet and miserable, thank goodness we are in houses and not out in those bally old trenches still. I suppose this will all turn to snow soon, & I wish it would freeze or something & dry up the roads a bit; at present the mud is awful, but we are fairly used to that now. I hope you’ll have a nice hot bath waiting for me, as I don’t think I shall have another before I come home, it’s so cold washing in bits. And don’t send anything more out just at present as I shall be starting home before it arrives.

I got a long letter from Paul, he seems very cheery & cold & hints darkly at great goings on in the North Sea. He’s in the middle of the show now anyhow. There has been a lot of heavy fighting lately round here, & some of the Indian troops have suffered very heavily, but we were’nt in it, so are all right, at least fairly so. Tons of love & keep smiling

yr loving brother  Ted

According to Drake-Brockman, the Garhwalis were in billets at Hurionville near Lillers which was the Indian Army Corps Commander’s headquarters at the time as well as their railhead. They arrived there at 2:30pm on December 30th.

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This is Ted’s second mention of the famous Christmas Day Truce of 1914; his first description is in his letter to Gertrude of 31st December 1914.  

The original of this letter is in the Archive of the the Imperial War Museum: Private Papers of Lieutenant Colonel E R P Berryman DSO –  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030021700

 

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31 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude – Christmas Day Truce

Dec 31 / 1914

Dear Mother

Thanks most awfully for your last few letters. I’m afraid I’ve been very remiss in answering them, but I have’nt had a moment really. We came out of those old trenches on the night of the 27th, after doing 25 days & nights there, pretty long time was’nt it. We were glad to be relieved as you may imagine, the men were all absolutely doggo, as they had to work day & night to keep the trenches for from falling in, because the weather was so wet & beastly that the earthy all got sodden & soaked & had to be simply propped up, & our trenches were simply lined with boards & old doors & anything we could get hold of. I am writing this in nice comfortable billets miles away from the firing line where the whole Indian Army Corps has come for a rest for 3 weeks or so.

I have’nt much news to tell you except an extraordinary thing which happened on Christmas day. To begin with on Christmas eve all the German trenches were lined with little lights, which we afterwards discovered were Christmas trees. Well next morning we heard them singing & shouting in their trenches, and about midday they began lifting up hats on sticks and shewing them above the trenches, then they shewed their heads, & then bodies & finally they climbed out of their trenches into the open! Of course one could’nt shoot them in cold blood like that, tho’ one or two shots were fired; and after a bit we also scrambled out of our trenches, & for an hour both sides walked about in the space between the two lines of trenches, talking & laughing, swapping baccy & cigarettes, biscuits etc. They were quite friendly & genuine, & our Col: who talks German had a long conversation with them, & asked them how they were & everything, & you would never believe that we had been fighting for weeks. After about an hour their officers shooed them back to their trenches, and we came back to ours, but for the rest of Christmas day & night, & all next day, 26th, I dont suppose 2 shots were fired hardly by either side! Was’nt it weird?

By the way, leave is now open, & 3 of our fellows have gone on leave. I am, I hope, arriving in London about 3 o’clock on the 8th, if all goes well, as my turn is next; so you can expect me home, with a fair amount of certainty, on evening of the 8th, probably by a train leaving Waterloo about 5-6 o’clock. So if anyone likes to hang about Waterloo anytime about then they are fairly sure to meet me. Is’nt it GORGEOUS!!

Happy New Year to all

yr loving son

Ted


Ted described the truce again to Jane the following day, this time illustrating his letter.

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The original of this letter is in the Archive of the the Imperial War Museum: Private Papers of Lieutenant Colonel E R P Berryman DSO –  http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030021700 

 

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9 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 9th

Dear Mother, better start here on 2nd thoughts, though I’ve put the date t’other way up. Is’nt it simply splendid, & you must have seen it by now, a man in our 1st Battn: has been given a V.C. the first ever won by a native in the Indian army What a gorgeous thing for the regiment, and it will make people know us now, & no one can say “oh, yes 39th, never heard of them, who are they-” We are all, as you may imagine, most fearfully pleased. The King pinned it on himself, & said “Let’s see, this is the first one in the Indian Army, is’nt it.” You see, the V.C. was only allowed to be won by natives after the Durbar, it was one of the Durbar concessions to India; and to be the first to win it is indeed an honour.

I enclose two cuttings from papers which you have doubtless seen, but it will tell you where we are, or whereabouts, anyhow! It was at F—–t [Festubert] that the man got the V.C. From what I hear it was as follows: after 2 frontal attacks had been made on some trenches captured from us by the Germans (I told Ben all about this) the 1/39th came in from the flank and fought their way yard by yard down the trench. You must remember a trench is only a narrow little thing, 3 feet broad, so anything you do fighting down one you’ve got to do alone, or nearly so, as there’s no room for anyone else. Well trenches are made with things called “traverses” in them, that is, pieces of the ground, in which the trench is dug, left there, & the trench runs round it, so:-

ERPB to GFB 1913 12 09

in this plan the dots being men in the trench. The idea of these traverses is that if a shell bursts in the trench, it’s effect is only local, & only hurts the men in that part of the trench, as the traverses stop the flying bits from going into other parts of the trench, see? F’instance: a shell bursting in trench A might kill all the men there, but men in B would be saved by the traverse; & vice versa of course. Well, fighting down a trench, the enemy can of course hide behind these and it’s exciting work running round them.

That’s what the chap got a V.C. for, for being in front all the time, and running round each traverse as he came to it & bayonetting the Germans in the next bit of trench; does’nt sound much, but it’s jolly plucky and 16 men were killed like this before the trench was taken. Still in these muddy trenches, mud is simply awfuI. Tell the Dudmans I should like a waistcoat pocket Kodak for Christmas, & please send some films. No news much, but I thought I must tell you about the V.C. Ben will be fearfully interested.

Love to all

Ted

Send me any papers or pictures you can about this V.C.

I hear the Stock Exchange are betting the war will be over before Christmas


A Durbar was a ceremonial occasion. Ted is probably referring to the 1911 Durbar which celebrated the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary.

A Naik was the equivalent of a Corporal in the Indian Army. Naik Darwan Sing Negi was the first Indian to be awarded the VC, though the action for which Khudadad Khan was received his VC took place earlier, and Khudadad Khan, who came from what is now Pakistan, is recognised as the first member of the Indian Army to win the VC. 

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

Naik Darwan Sing Negi Clearing the Trench

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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-
___________________________

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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1 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

1st Dec/1914

Dear Mother

I have’nt written for so long, but really and truly I have’nt had a minute. In fact I quite forget when I last wrote, I think it was about the 20th or so, when we were in reserve. Well we came out of reserve for a week’s rest, into some very cornfortable billets here. We arrived one night, and next day got orders to go out into the trenches again to relieve another brigade which had a rotten time and had got rather badly mauled. So much for our week’s rest! which we badly needed, as the men were really tired after all that long time on end. So off we started and got out into the trenches again on the night of the 25th. The trenches we went into were some round which there had been some very heavy fighting on the 23rd & 24th, and you can’t imagine the state they were in.

First of all our troops had occupied them, then on the night of the 22nd the Germans had bombed them out of it and finally captured the trench; then on the 23rd our troops tried all day to recapture them, and failed, losing very heavily. This was on the day we were marched off for our weeks rest. On our way here the general sent an ADC to catch our brigade & take them off to all this fighting over the old trench as a reinforcement. Well the A.D.C found the other 3 regiments of the Brigade, but missed us, & that’s how we managed to get one night’s rest anyhow & were’nt hauled out till next day.  Well, the story goes –


Ted was interrupted here.

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Posted by on 1 December, '14 in France, La Couture

 

25 November 1914 – D H Drake-Brockman Memoirs

D H Drake-Brockman, Ted’s Colonel, mentions him when describing an incident in the official history “With the Royal Garhwal Rifles in the Great War 1914 – 1917”.

The next day, 25th November, we received orders to proceed to Festubert, presumably to relieve the 1st Battalion. We were directed to rendezvous at Gorre Church, where we would get orders. We arrived there at 1.45 p.m., and naturally expected to be met by some staff officer to give us orders. After waiting some time, and no one turning up, I set out with my adjutant, Captain Berryman, to search for the missing staff officer. After inquiries, we eventually ran the Brigadier and his Staff to earth, ensconced in a comfortable brewery with warm fires. Nobody then deigned to take any notice of us, and after waiting some time, we got orders what to do. We then went to the front line to see the situation and arrange matters, leaving the Battalion resting at the rear under cover of a large farm. At dusk we moved up and relieved our 1st Battalion in the same trench that they had recaptured, with three Companies, the fourth Company remaining behind at La Couture, under Major Stewart.

The brewery, the fires and the dinner clearly rankled Drake Brockman who had the line officer’s impatience with the staff officers’ willingness to send others into danger from positions of relative safety and comfort.  Earlier in the book he seethes:

The situation could not have been properly appreciated by the Brigadier of that Brigade …. It is very easy to say that “the trenches must be retaken at all costs,” and that “the attack must be carried out immediately,” and so forth, from a comfortable brewery well in the rear, with warm fires and a good dinner. These were favourite expressions of the Higher Command at that period of the War. A personal reconnaissance by the Brigadier is very necessary, as well as by any Commander, before he launches his troops into an attack. Their strength also has to be considered.

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Posted by on 25 November, '14 in Col Drake Brockman, Festubert, Ted Berryman

 

22 November 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Nov 22/1914

Dear Mother

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.

xxxx

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,

xxxx

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-

Ted

23rd Nov later [at La Couture]

Just posting this. All well. It looks like more snow today.

Ted


‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

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21 November 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Ted and the Garhwalis had been relieved some days before this, and were in billets behind the front line. 

21st Nov/14

I have got your letters and parcels all correct to date. Thanks awfully, the parcel was ripping & full of surprises, and just what I wanted. Am very busy just now, so no time to write, but am writing you a long letter today or tomorrow. Gorgeous weather, heavy snow 2 days ago, and now bright cold days, frost at night. Just like a Christmas card! All well here, & I’m as strong as a horse.

I am writing to ask you for several things today, including a small metal flask to carry rum in, not glass, but quite small to carry in the pocket, a map case, a waistcoat, & something else which I have forgotten, but will let you know in letter. Meanwhile please send flask, & other things when I describe them in more detail. I rather fancy a curved shaped flat flask, the smallest in stock, electro or prince’s plate or anything like that. Best love to all, & will write when I can.

Ted.

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Posted by on 21 November, '14 in Le Touret

 

11 November 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Nov 11th

Dear Mother

Very many thanks for your last letter. We are still in these trenches and no sign of being relieved yet, and we are all very tired and weary as the continual strain takes it out of one a lot. Shell & rifle fire goes on all day, and one has to be very wary walking about the trenches by day, as the Germans have special picked shots posted in houses, trees etc who poop off at anything they see moving about. So it does to exercise a certain amount of caution, even if it involves a hands & knees crawl for a few yards over any bad place. But as we have now been 13 days & nights in the trenches we have of course burrowed about and made quite a rabbit warren of them. Still if one does get careless & show oneself a bit too much, as sure as fat ‘zip’! comes a bullet whizzing along from somewhere. We sent out 50 men the other night under Major Taylor (Ben knows him) to round up some Germans in a trench close to us. We cleared them out of the trench, & bagged six prisoners; they seemed quite cheery & not at all downhearted at being captured.

While this was going on, all the rest of the enemy let us have it very hot, & we had a very hot ½ hour, but were fairly safe in our trenches & did’nt suffer much; I don’t know what the German loss was, but I fancy we did some damage. Last night all our heavy guns bombarded for 3/4 hour a little village in front of our position where the enemy are very fond of collecting and annoying us. So we turned all our guns on to it and you never heard such a din. The whole sky was lit up with bursting shells, & an appalling noise, & heavy rifle fire going on at the same time. This morning the village is just a blackened heap of ruins, & the trees (you can see through your glasses) are all bust & stripped of branches. Does’nt it seem an awful shame that a ripping little village like that should be so ruined, and a French village too, as we are still on French soil; but I suppose such things are necessary in war.

We are all very fit up to date, though tired & sleepy. But every day they try and attack us to break through, & every night too, in fact one is always on the alert, & one simply longs to get out of these trenches & go for somebody; but our orders are just to sit tight here and hang on till all’s blue while bigger things develope elsewhere. We are much too weak a force to advance, & only just able to keep off these attacks; our line is appalling thin in parts, and we can only hang on with difficulty. Old sportsman Bobs is out here, & has sent for 3 men from each regiment in the trenches to see & talk to them; jolly sporting of the old man is’nt it.

I have had several papers from Rosamond I think, & some cigarettes from Aunt Nellie; please thank her, & I will write when I have time; her gift was much appreciated by the men.

So glad old Ben’s arrived home safely. I had a long letter from her a day or 2 ago. Can you send me a weekly newspaper, say the weekly times, as we never hear any news of the outer world here, & I don’t know in the least what’s going on, I wish they would relieve us; the regiment we relieved in these trenches were here 12 days & said they never wanted to see a trench again; it’s this awful waiting, doing nothing but sit still & get shelled daily as regularly as clockwork that palls so; if we could only advance or get a move on of sorts it would be an improvement. The farm we are round about is full of apples potatoes cabbages etc, so we go round at night & loot the garden for our meals, as we get no fresh vegetables from the commissariat, only tinned meat, jam, bread & cheese, so one wants a little green food occasionally.

It’s awfully cold here, especially in this thin Indian khaki. But thank goodness we are going to get the warm kit soon, at least we have been told to apply for it, but when we shall get it I don’t know. I wish I could get at my kit to get that sweater out; I want another warm thing to wear, especially at nights. I have got a lovely Jaeger Balaclava cap, just like the man in the picture in the Stores list! So tell Ben I shan’t want one now. The gloves you sent are gorgeously warm; you see it’s so raw nowadays, & very damp living underground such a lot. But on the whole we have been very lucky in the weather, we had all our worst time before we came here, & heavy rain in these trenches would be awful. ‘Jack Johnson’ just beginning his daily visits; yesterday they shelled us all the morning but without much result except noise. Very heavy firing going on up north, so I expect there’s a big battle going on up there, but we never got any news. Matches are always welcome, as there is an appalling slump on them just now. Love to all your loving son

Ted

Just had a top hole breakfast bacon cabbages & ‘tatoes all fixed up together & some lovely slices of French Bread & butter. I don’t quite know what I should do without your lovely silk scarf. So glad Jim is so fit, I wish he wd hurry up & come out. I wonder if we shall meet, hope so.


Written in indelible pencil on leaves torn from a signal pad.

Major G. H Taylor was killed two days later on the 13th November 1914.

‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

“Old Bobs” was Lord Roberts, a retired general who had launched the Comfort Fund for Indian soldiers. His visit was to prove fatal: seeing that the Indian troops did not have great coats, he took off his own. The visit took place on the 12th November (the day after Ted’s letter) and the next day Lord Roberts contracted pneumonia, dying on the 14th a few miles from the Front. 

Ted to Gertrude - written on leaves torn from a field signals pad

Ted to Gertrude – written on leaves torn from a field signals pad

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8 November 1914 – Ted to Ben

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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