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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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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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4 October 1914 – Benedicta to Gertrude

Suez Canal.

Posted Port Said

Nov 4th 1914

Dear Mother.

We get to Port Said today sometime I believe so I am going to post this, as the mail will get home before we do I fancy, if we hang about as we are now.

I hope I may see Ted at Port Said, after that I think we may leave the convoy & go on, on our own. Anyway I hope so because it seems to be endless this voyage, I’m dreading the part after this too because it’s all the worst; I was ill the 1st go off tho’ it wasn’t really rough, & in the Red Sea we had it like a mill pond.

At Aden Alix & I went ashore but it was boiling hot; now at last it is cooler, & soon we shall feel it awfully not being used to it. We are about 50 transport going along together, we have been quite near Ted’s ship once or twice & at Suez yesterday, we were in harbour together but no one was alowed off. After Port Said we get to Malta & then Gib, they say we shan’t be back till almost the end of the month but you can expect me any time after this.

We’ve heard very little news but I see in one list of casualties that Laurence Russell is wounded. I did not find anyone else I knew, but that was some time ago of course. I want to get back quickly now, once we leave the convoy as they will be in France fairly soon. I don’t suppose our people will go straight into it, they are sure to let them climatize at first. I shall hear from Ted at Port Said anyway even if I don’t see him.

The Irish Rifles are an awfully nice lot, Alix & I are having a very good time; they have a band too on board which plays twice a day, & we dance in the evenings. The Irish Rifles are only going home to get some warm clothes & then straight to France, so of course they are in good spirits. There was a Tommies concert last last night, there was quite a good deal of talent.

This is my last time of peace I fear, for the Mediterranean is so rough, Alix had a bad go of fever after we left Karachi. Our cabin was a sort of hospital, but everyone was awfully kind.   I had my rotten Lansdowne inside once again to add to the comfort of things, & I lived on Alen & Hanberries food for 3 days but have been eating again now, tho’ the food is frightfull & not getable mostly as they have so few waiters, but we are all getting used to the discomfort & are more or less cheerfull, under all the hopeless circumstances. I really wonder that we are, because of course there’s not one single person on this ship who has not a husband at the war, bar Alix & I & we’ve brothers & her fiancé.

I’m going through the canal, it’s so peacefull;  I hope we are able to land at Port Said. I want to get one or two things there, though now we are to pay for our messing & they are keeping us so long on this voyage. I shall have to be carefull with my money

I do hope you are allright. I’m longing to get back to you again. I hope you are doing that press clipping scheme for Ted. I live in hopes of seeing the Gloucester somewhere, there may be a chance perhaps.

Did I tell you in my other letter which I think will arrive the same mail as this, to post me a letter when you get this c/o Cox Southampton S.S. Dilwara to wait arrival. I shall get it allright I expect when I arrive. Heaps of love to all

Your loving

Ben


Although this is dated November,we know that Ben was in Port Said in October, she must have got the date wrong when writing her letter.

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2 Aug 1914 – Paul to Gertrude

Paul's first letter of the war

Paul’s first letter of the war

H.M.S. Gloucester. Malta

Sunday, 2nd Aug

Well Mother as these times are very critical and perhaps there may be no more mails for some time, I suppose I ought to sit down and write a sort of farewell letter – of course we are all awfully excited over these rumours of wars etc, but I cannot tell you any thing about it at all, however much I know, and it makes it all the harder to write really.

If anything happens – my monetary affairs are quite settled- I have a Banker – all the same as Cox – called Stilwell & Sons- 42 Pall Mall – who hold a life Insurance of mine for £100 & I am sending them all my bills, receipts etc- & they will see to all that – the £100 will easily cover everything, & what’s left over they will send to you. Of course Mother, we all hope & pray this will not have to happen yet- I want to see you all again, naturally- & one feels so far away out here. But all this is put to one side when anything happens in earnest, a momentary homesick feeling & then King & Country-

Well Goodbye Mother – I hope & pray I shall be able to write to you for years & years to come – and that all this will finish up with everybody happy-

My very best love to you all and God bless you –
always your loving son
Paul


Paul’s writing looks like a scrawl but it is probably the most legible of all the brothers’. Of course, he was frequently writing on board ship.

There is more information about each of the brothers on their pages; see the menu at the top of the site (if you are reading on a Mac or PC) or at the side of the site (if you are using a mobile device).

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