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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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5 November 1914 – Ted to Jinny (Jane)

Nov 5th

Dear Jinny. Thanks most awfully for the ripping box of cigarettes matches toothpaste etc & chocolate, they were most welcome, & the men loved the cigarettes – Lovely day today & very quiet at present, such a contrast to the usual banging that goes on all day and night; I wonder what’s up, they were particularly active yesterday and we had a merry time from 10 to 4, Jack Johnsons paying us particular attention & falling all round us. Tell Ben my orderly Nain Sing was killed by a shell yesterday; she’ll be awfully sorry I know, so am I, as he was such a good little chap. Aeroplanes buzzing all round today, making an awful noise. Hope you can read this. Thanks again. Ted.

Ted to Jane 14 11 05


And here we have an example of the paternal racism of the time. Ted and Ben clearly liked Nain Singh but from our perspective it is easy to see the patronising nature of their genuine affection for him.

‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

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3 November 1914 – Ted to Jinny (Jane)

Me having dinner when Jack Johnson is about

Me having dinner when Jack Johnson is about

Nov 3rd

Dear Jinny – sporting effort-

Thanks most awfully for your letter which I got last night. I am I should think the dirtiest man in Europe, filthy, have’nt washed or changed my clothes for a week, & probably won’t do so for another week! Thanks awfully far sending along some cigarettes, I’m sure they’ll be much appreciated. An enorm parcel arrived last night, but I could’nt possibly open it here, but hope to do so when we retrieve our baggage. We came into these trenches just as we stood, and are still in the same condition. My word it is cold at nights, last night we were expecting an attack, so had to keep awake, but I got fed up towards morning & went off to sleep, or tried to, but it was too darned cold. And the enemy never fired a shot, so I was had all round.

The first night we got here I was taking about 40 men from one trench to another smaller one, which we had to enlarge (you have to do most of the digging by night, as they spot you & pip you if they see you by day, snipers all over the place) when suddenly a furious fire opened on our right. We fairly flung ourselves down into this teeny little trench & the fun was fast & furious for about five minutes. Luckily we had no one hit, though they had maxims on us, which make a most horribly alarming noise. The colonel & I have our head quarters in a hole in the ground in a farm yard, supposed to be bomb proof, though nothing is proof against Black Maria, from whom we have had several visits, but she has’nt hit us yet, tap wood.

Tell Ben we are all still in thin Indian khaki, so I leave you to imagine the cold, especially as we have no kit at all, only what we have got on. I’m sorry I can’t tell you where we are, but it’s not allowed. You should see me staring at aeroplanes; Mr Stare has never seen one before, & the first one I saw just dropped a bomb on the station we detrained at, but missed luckily –

We have been congratulated – the 20th Bde I mean – by General Willcocks on our resistance, as these damned Germans have attacked us several times, but we have managed to keep them off so far; also Sir John French has sent his congrats & gratitude to the Indian troops as a whole. So let’s hope we keep it up. I’m doing the real heavy soldier, sitting on an ammunition box, & writing on the lid! Well Jinny I will write again when I can. No more now. Yr loving brother

Ted.


Written on a scrap of paper.

‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

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3 November 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Nov 3rd/14

Dear Mother

Thanks most awfully for your letter which I got in the middle of last night! Well, at last we have reached the front. We left [Orleans] on the 26th I think, did a 2 days train journey, marched 10 miles one day, billeted in a village on 28th, marched 8 miles on 29th & relieved a regiment here in the trenches in the night. And we’ve been in the trenches ever since, night & day. The Germans have made lots of attacks on us, & all along the line, but – tap wood – as far as we are concerned have not been successful. We have had few casualties. Anyhow I am all right. Being adjutant I have to be at Bn: Hd quarters with the CO, receive & write messages etc, & generally be in a central position so that all may know where we are & can communicate with us.

All day long incessant artillery & rifle fire goes on between the two forces, & the first 3 nights we were here we were attacked each night, one night we had 5 separate attacks! at 6, 9, 1, 3 & 5; but only two of them were heavy & we managed to keep them off. Lord what a noise goes on on these occasions. Banging & banging, bullets whisking about, & shells bursting, you never heard such a noise. It seems as if there were people firing all round you. Then the attack dies down, & only intermittent rifle fire goes on; but it is incessant. Some of these German heavy shells are real jam, “Black Maria” is a beauty, you can hear her coming for miles, & she falls with an enorm bang, & as the papers say makes a hole big enough to put 3 horses in! And planes buzz about all day; I of course am Mr Stare-Stare, as I’ve never seen one before!

Cold at all, I should think so, & we all dressed in thin khaki drill, Is’nt it wicked, I shiver all night. You see we came in here as I say on 29th (having left our kit & heavy baggage – if you can call 35 lbs heavy baggage! – behind as usual to come on later) in just what we stood up in, & thats what we’ve been in ever since, & are likely to be in for some time, as there seems no chance of getting our kit up. So we’ve all been eating drinking sleeping in our kit as we are, & I have’nt taken a single thing off for 6-7 days, and dirty, well, we are all black! Our headqrs are in a farm here, & the colonel & I live in a little funk-hole underground, out of the way of Maria & J. Johnson & Co. Today is a lovely day, & they are fairly quiet, so we are sitting out in the garden under a haystack out of sight, but the men are all in the trenches ready for anything.

Your parcel came last night too, but I could’nt possibly open it here, so sent it back to my kit; it sounds lovely, & I am longing to open it. All very well here, & things in general are going on all right. Our heavy guns have just started again. Tell Ben the blue jersey has saved my life, I’ve had it on continuously – there goes Maria again! – for a week now. I got a letter from her, postmarked 23rd. I must end now. Best love to all

Yr loving son

Ted


‘Jack Johnson’ was slang for artillery shells.

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