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Benedicta Berryman; daughter of Gertrude and Charles

13 July 1916 – Ivan Bennett, Ben’s fiancé, is killed in Trônes Wood

Benedicta Berryman, the eldest of the Berryman sisters, was engaged Ivan Bennett who was killed in Trônes Wood, on the 13th day of the Somme.

Ivan Bennett (Wiggs) - © IWM (HU 113701)

Ivan Bennett (Wiggs) – © IWM (HU 113701)

Ivan’s childhood

Ivan Provis Wentworth Bennett was younger than Ben, 25 to her 30, and working for a law firm when war broke out. Ivan’s background was similar to the Berrymans’. He was the son of a retired army officer, and the grandson of a gentleman landowner on one side and a clergyman on the other. Ivan was the fourth of five children. However, there had been a scandal; Ivan’s mother Eleanor (née Senior) initiated divorce proceedings which were finalised in 1907.

Researcher and local historian Mary Alexander says very fairly:

[Ivan’s father Frederick was] guilty of adultery, assault and cruelty to his wife. Divorce was very unusual, difficult to achieve, and shameful. Perhaps Frederick was a particularly unpleasant man, or perhaps Eleanor was unusually determined. Frederick seems to have retired early from the army, and this, with the family’s frequent moves, might suggest an inability to settle down. … [Or perhaps] Eleanor was difficult to live with, sending Frederick into the arms of Mrs McTavish, with whom he was accused of committing adultery, and provoking him to strike his wife.

Divorce did not lead to closure. Epitaphs of the Great War says about Ivan:

[Eleanor] was … widowed in 1908 when her [former] husband committed suicide in Bournemouth. Following which, Ivan, who was 17 and in the Lower Sixth at Wellington College, left school and became articled to a firm of solicitors in Guildford.

So not only did Ivan suffer the emotional and social consequences of his parents’ divorce, but his professional opportunities were also curtailed by his father’s suicide.

As a child, Ivan sometimes stayed with his extended family. Epitaphs of the Great War also says:

In the 1901 census, ten-year-old Ivan is staying with his uncle and aunt and their five-year-old daughter Dorothy Joyce Husey-Hunt in Hove, Sussex. His parents and siblings were living in Bedford.

As we shall see, this family connection remained strong even after Ivan’s death.

Romance, and war

The Berrymans all called Ivan “Wiggie” or “Wiggs”, a naval nickname of unknown origin for someone called Bennett. The obvious question is whether Paul gave him the nickname.

Ben and Ivan probably met in Guildford between 1908 and 1913. Her mother, Gertrude, disapproved of the romance. Gertrude had strong but narrow convictions and there were so many things about Ivan for her to disapprove of: his parents’ divorce and his father’s suicide, his age and relatively junior position in a law firm, and a possible connection with spiritualism which Gertrude, deeply religious as she was, would have disliked. The Church of England was not without its feuds, and Gertrude may have disapproved of the churchmanship of Ivan’s grandfather the Revd Senior. And Ben mentioned that Ivan was “against soldiering” (perhaps he associated soldiers with his father’s domestic violence). Impossible now to know what Gertrude disliked so much about Ivan. Whatever it was, in 1913 Ben went (or was sent) to India to stay with her brother Ted and meet his much more eligible fellow officers. But war broke out, Ben came home and Ivan joined up.

In September 1914, Ben wrote

Wiggs tell  me he was inlisting (sic) into Kitchener’s 2nd Army, well it obvious the right thing to do, however much against soldiering one is. I do consider the civilians are fine all the same, as it’s not their job- after all one expects a soldier or sailor to live for a chance of active service, their whole training leads up to it, but with a civilian he has all the roughest part & none of the nice.

Within six weeks of Ben’s return, they were engaged and she wrote defensively to her mother:

I don’t know whether you’ll be pleased No I don’t suppose for a moment you will be I can’t quite expect it but Wiggs and I have decided that it’s best to be engaged. The unsatisfactory way in which we were going on was NO good, it isn’t all done on the spur of the moment, much thinking has been done & I’m sure it’s best. There are to be no great shoutings about it but anyone who wants to know can, you will I fancy think we are doing right, the other situation was rotten for me but I didn’t want to sort of rush Wiggs into anything so things had to wait.

Ben’s brothers mention Ivan occasionally in their letters. Their fondness for Ben led them to  accept the situation. The one photograph we have of him shows him with her brothers and looking as if he’s about to laugh, so maybe they came to like him for himself.

When she saw this photograph, Ivan’s great-grand niece said:

I … couldn’t believe the family resemblance “Wiggs” has to my Father at the same age!

Ivan Bennett

Back L-R: Ivan Bennett, Ted Berryman, Richard Berryman
Front L-R: Topher Berryman, Jim Berryman
Spring 1915

The Wartime Memories Project provides context for Ivan’s military career:

7th Battalion, The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was raised at Guildford in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 55th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. The Division initially concentrated in the Colchester area but moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915. They proceeded to France in July and concentrated near Flesselles. In 1916 they were in action on The Somme …. including the capture of Trones Wood….

Mary Alexander gives us the specifics:

He became a 2nd Lieutenant on 12 September and a Lieutenant on 27 January 1915. Ivan went to France in July 1915 and was made a Captain on 12 November 1915.

Ivan’s last Leave

In May 1916, Ivan was home for 10 days’ Leave. It seems likely that he would have visited his cousins in Hove, his mother in St Leonards on Sea, and possibly Ben who had a job using “adding machinery” in a bank (presumably in Guildford). Richard gives contradictory information when he comments on letters from Ben. On 2nd June he says:

Bad luck on Ben not being able to get away, now Wiggs is home.

But perhaps they did see each other; a fortnight later, Richard says:

[Ben] seems to have enjoyed herself when Wiggs was home

However, Ted reports:

Ben tells me his nerves were all wrong, so I’ve no doubt a few days at home did him no end of good.

100 years on, it is tempting to assume Ivan had shell shock but he could have just been exhausted and jumpy. This all hints at difficult and possibly rather fraught final encounters in a star-crossed relationship cut short by war. Poor Ivan. Poor Ben.

The Battle of Trônes Wood

Mary Alexander continues:

[Ivan] was not there for the first day of the Somme in 1916, but took part in the attack on Trônes Wood on 13 July.

The Regimental diary for July describes the action in detail in an appendix; these pages can be read here, here, here and here. The diary says:

The situation in TRONES WOOD was not clear. Enemy were known to have received orders that it was to be held at all costs.

Nobody in the battalion has reconnoitred the area from & over which the attack was to be delivered, & time would not permit of any such reconnaissance being made. All orders … had … to be made from the map, which, it was afterwards found, does not give a very accurate representation of the ground.

Bombardments took place all day, and the Battalion went into action at 7:00pm:

The remainder of the Battalion was immediately met with a heavy Machine Gun and rifle fire….. The first line suffered immediate & heavy casualties. The second line reinforced at once but also suffered heavily, & in spite of very gallant leading by CPT. I.P.W.BENNETT & 2/Lt P.R. WOOLATT was unable to get within 100 yards of TRONES WOOD.

The bombardment recommenced from 8.45 to 9.15 over ground which the men had been sheltering in, and before and after the bombardment, the remaining men withdrew, the wounded being brought in under shell fire and rifle fire by “2/Lt. J.S. WALTER and 2 men ….. working continuously and most gallantly for 3 hours”.

Ivan is not mentioned in the report again, other than being included in the list of those killed.

Wikipedia describes the terrain thus:

The wood had dense undergrowth which … made it difficult to keep direction and during the battle the trees were brought down by shell-fire, becoming entangled with barbed-wire and strewn with German and British dead.

Mary Alexander says:

During gallant leadership he was shot in the head and killed. His batman, Private Courtman, helped him until he too was wounded.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

By …14–17 July… all the trees in Trônes Wood had been toppled, with only low stumps remaining. Tree trunks, barbed wire and human remains lay everywhere, the ground open and easily observed from German positions.

Writing home in August, Ted says to his mother:

Many thanks [for] the enclosures about Wiggs; pathetic reading but how splendidly he died, and what a general favourite he must have been. Thanks most awfully for sending them; I am so vastly relieved to hear he died quickly; I knew he must have died bravely.

“Crowned with the sunshine of eternal youth”

Ivan was initially buried on the battlefield, either near to where he was killed or possibly in the cemetery shown in this photograph.

Graves in Trones Wood just after the war: Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields

Graves in Trones Wood – Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields

Despite the amount of information available about his death, his grave wasn’t marked with his name and his body was not identified until it was moved to Thiepval Anglo-French cemetery in 1931.

Epitaphs of the Great War  says:

If Ivan Bennett had not had such distinctive initials his body would probably never have been identified. … his body was not recovered from the battlefield until it was discovered in December 1931. There was no identity disc on the body, which was wearing an officer’s tunic with the buttons of The Queen’s West Surrey Regiment, but among the effects discovered with it was a whistle, a cigarette holder and a pencil case engraved with the initials I.P.W.B.

Mary Alexander says:

When he died his address was in Hove. Administration of his will was granted to his mother. He is listed on the parish memorial in Holy Trinity, Guildford, and on the Merrow war memorial, where he was living before the war.

His mother administered his will, but in January 1917 Ted says

I do hope Wiggy’s things have been settled amicably by now, it seems strange that it can’t be done somehow & poor Ben must feel it frightfully.

This suggests that Gertrude wasn’t the only one who had qualms about the relationship, but that Ivan’s mother may have disliked it too. His short life was clearly full of complexity and it is interesting that he recorded his address as Hove. Did he see home as being with his aunt, uncle and cousins rather than with his mother in St Leonards on Sea?

In 1931, it was his cousin, Mrs Dorothy Joyce Bousted (nee Husey-Hunt) who chose his epitaph “Crowned by the sunshine of eternal youth”.

Epitaphs of the Great War says:

The lines come from ‘Rupert Brooke’, a poem by Alfred Dodd published in 1918 [which] outlines Dodd’s belief in the survival of the spirit after death, not as in the Christian belief in eternal life but as in the world of Spiritualism.

Thanks

Ivan is just one of the hundreds of thousands of young men who died without children or grand-children; the great-uncles whose names are forgotten. My mother did not know who the “Wiggs” in Ben’s letters was, and my thanks are due to the many people who helped me piece together his story. Chris Miller identified that “Wiggs” was Ivan Bennett. Rebecca Aubert confirmed his photograph. Mary Alexander and Charlie Eve sent me most of the biographical details here. Sarah Wearne curates the Epitaphs of the Great War website giving other biographical details and information about his epitaph. The photographs of Ivan’s grave and Thiepval come from the War Graves Photographic Project at twgpp.org. Additional information is from Wikipedia, WW1 Battlefields, and The Wartime Memories Project.

 

 
 

2 February 1916 – Richard to Gertrude

80 Indian General Hospital

June ate this block [ie this pad of writing paper]

Feb 2.

 

My dear Mother.

Many thanks for your letter Jan 12, also the enclosure. So Wiggs at last got home, I expect Ben was too busy to write and tell me all about her adventures. I hope I shall hear soon. Letters seem to come at all times & there must be a bit of a muddle in the various P.O.s. I would suggest Jane goes on the stage, why does’nt she write to Evelyn & get her advice. She knows her address & it’s quite a good profession.

Paul is lucky to get the Malaya, it must be a good job as she’s a big ship. Chubbie has recovered I suppose form her measles and is touring around again. Wonder how she is getting on. Jim expected to be kept in France did’nt he?

The Coat has’nt come from the Aquascutum yet but it rains so little here that I shan’t really want it. Yes write & hurry up Dutton & Thoroughgood. June’s very fit, only an order has come round saying no one of any rank may keep a dog, but as we are not sure of being fixtures here it does not affect me yet. It’s a nuisance though I expect Susan does enjoy a basket, very nice of you to give it to her.

Yes I took those shirts & have sent them to Ted. I was over for 2 nights staying with him & enjoyed it awfully. Their camp is much nicer than ours, much cleaner & so nice having trees about. I went for a long ride all down by the Gulf & picked up some lovely shells that I must try & send you.

We also went from here the other day 4 of us on mules, quite amusing. Otherwise we do nothing much. We’ve had one or two games of hockey & football against neighbouring hospitals, so far we’ve been successful. I met a Peak here the other day, a cousin of the Ashtead lot.

I will cable you when we hear any news.

Best love to all

yr loving son

Richard.


 

The phrase “Jim expected to be kept in France” suggests he’d finally been posted outside Britain, if not to the front.

Wiggs, or Ivan Bennett, was Ben’s fiancé. 

 

20 January 1915 – Paul to Gertrude

H.M.S. Gloucester

20.1.15

Dear Mother,

Just got your Sunday’s letter- very many thanks for it. I am so glad you like the gramaphone records. I somehow knew you’d like the organ ones.

It’s most awfully kind of you to say you’ll give me ½ my Burberry- I should like it very much. The Burberry has just arrived – lovely.

So glad to hear Ben is all right again – I had a letter from her yesterday – which I must answer soon.

I went over & saw Digby again yesterday & had a long talk with him, he was ever so interested to hear of all our doings- & he is writing to you.

How sad about Charlie Moodie. I wonder whether he was at the front or not. He was only 24 too. Poor Charlie. I am sorry – always such a great friend of all of us.

Yes. I got Ruth’s sox all right & have written thanking her. I really am fitted out now. So you are all busy doing Hospital work at last-.

How perfectly extraordinary about that servant Beatrice- what a little rotter she must have been- & then bringing back those parcels next day. I can imagine how infused with laughter you must have all been.

Where is Topher stationed – I don’t think you have told me – only his Regt.

We are still waiting – very dull & monotonous it is too – & our spirits not vastly improved by the weather – which is fairly rotten – always blows & rains fat hailstones.

With ever so much love to you all-

from your ever loving son

Paul

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21 December 1914 – Paul to Gertrude

Monday. [21 December 1914? Received on the 27th December.]

Dear Mother.

Thanks very much for your letter and also I got a letter dated about Nov 5th from you. I suppose it’s been right out to Malta & back- Oh how we have laughed in the mess over my floating waistcoat – anything so vast – I can’t even join the two edges of my coat together when it is on – so I propose wearing it outside – Lovely and warm it is which is one thing. I must write & thank old Daddy Yanow – but I must say it’s a most ridiculous garment to be always wearing – very nice to put on just before you fall in the water. Our new job up here ought to be rather interesting and really & truly the weather is’nt half so cold as yet – as you might imagine – but there’s nothing like being prepared.

The Town & county of Gloucester have been fine – they have sent us 20 cases various things- Plum Puddings – apples – warm clothes etc all for the men and officers; a representative of the Mayor came onboard while we were at [censored]  the other day & brought them all down. I had a letter from Bee [Ben?] today saying she had sent me some cyder apple jelly – but I have’nt got it yet – it apparently just missed me before we left – but I am sending for the case or whatever it is-

How are your officers getting on. Hope they are fitting into the Delaford methods- and are a success.

You can’t realize how backward I am with my letters; I have had absolutely no time since we left. We’ve been on the hop all the time.

Well I wish you a very happy Christmas & New Year under the circumstances.

My very best love to you all
Your ever loving son
Paul.

Dont forget to send me a piece of the family Plum Pudding.

 

20 December 1914 – Ted to Ben

Dec 20th

Dear Ben

Thanks most awfully for the parcel of mitts etc; they are lovely, and much appreciated and quickly found takers. That’s the best of those small parcels, you can dispose of them easily and they are most frightfully useful to fill up losses and things which have got torn or worn out-

Nothing much doing at present. The weather is fairly miserable, very damp and raw, & it keeps on raining on and off. However, tap wood, the men are keeping wonderfully fit, & they’ve certainly got enough clothes on. Bobby Reed went in to officiate for poor Young – I told you he had died of his wounds, did’nt I? – for a day or two at Brigade H.Q., and while there managed to get his parcel of uniform, & now sides about in it! He says it’s so much nicer than this thin stuff, as being warm, you dont have to wear such tons of stuff underneath.

Poor Young you know was just standing on the road by our 1st Bn Head qrs, behind the trenches about 1/4 mile or so, & a bullet came along & hit him. It’s the same road that Nobby has to come up every night with our rations, & it is very unsafe altogether, a lot of chance shots, which miss the trenches & come over & some aimed shots too, as I’m sure they can see the road in places. Was’nt it rotten luck, & we are all most awfully sorry, as I’m sure you will be.

My dear “Torchers” won’t work, so I am sending him in tonight to Major Stewart to see if he can do anything as I can find nothing very wrong. We have had disturbed nights these last 2 nights, a devil of a lot of firing & searchlights all over the place. My dear Guy Mainwaring has got mumps! and has I hear gone home, but whether the latter part is true or not I don’t know. Archie is doing Adjutant now. Stewart has got brigade major in Young’s place.

A fearful heavy fire suddenly broken out down on our right now, but all seems fairly quiet in front of us at present, & I trust it will remain so; heavy guns & shrapnel going off too, a most awful din! Thank goodness I’m in the dugout! Last night there was a lot of artillery fire to the north of us, & the whole sky was continually lighted up by flashes of the guns, & bursting shells, but it was a long way off, as the sound took a long time to reach us. Two of our aeroplanes have been very busy today; it was quite a clear morning, blue sky & all, & there mono planes looked gorgeous; the Germans fired one or two shrapnel at them too, which looks awfully pretty, little puffs of smoke against the blue sky. I’m frightfully keen on flying now. I hear Mac is going into the flying corps, lucky devil.

Tons of love Ted

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18 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 18/14

Dear Mother I got a tiny parcel from you today containing some curiously strong peppermints, & some oxo & bivouac cocoa, most acceptable & thanks awfully for them. I’m waiting for the Colonel to go to bed, & then I’m going to eat one! It seems colder today, but it was quite fine. Our aeroplanes were very busy all morning. Tell Ben I’m keener than ever to take up flying now, & tell Jane I’m not so much Mr Stare-Stare as I used to be! Have you read about these small steel arrows they are supposed to drop from aeroplanes? We have heard that both we and the Germans have them; they drop about 500 or so at a time, & they come whizzing down point first; jolly is’nt it!

Biplane dropping steel arrows onto troopsYes we’ve heard all about the oId Kaiser being ill, & he’s dead, & better, & worse, & everything. I wonder which is true. I got a letter from Jim today, he seems very cheery; tell him I’ll write when I have time. He tells me the Gloucester is the Buzz of the fleet, which is a good thing. The enemy have been very noisy today, making a beastly noise shooting, & all last night too; very trying to the nerves. One of our scouts got right up to the enemy’s trenches the other night, & heard them laughing & talking; then he peeped over the parapet & saw them all sitting round a fire, & they never saw him! And 2 nights ago one of the 1st Bn scouts got onto the enemy’s parapet, but they suddenly got frightened, & started firing, & he lay flat between 2 loopholes till they finished & then crawled back to his own lines unhurt.

The pencil I asked for has never rolled up, the one I’m using now is nearly used up, I can only just hold it. Got a long letter from Mabel yesterday, she seems very full up with Red Cross work. What have you done with Topher? Is he going to the RMC, & going to take up soldiering as a career? It’s worth considering I think.

Mabel said in her letter that Christmas letters for us had to be posted on the 13th, but I got hers yesterday, so they only take 3 or 4 days- I must write to the Dudmans, but I have no paper. A few things like this or some notepaper & envelopes all in one wd be very acceptable, something small & handy. I’ll send you an F.S.[Field Service] post card tonight, just to see which gets home quickest. Glad you like my letters, but I’m afraid my last one or two have been very dull, but nothing much has happened. No news of being relieved from these trenches, this is our 15th day now- only a week to Christmas, it does’nt seem like it somehow. I have’nt spent Christmas in Europe since 1903! when I was a spotty cadet! Best love to all & again many thanks for the parceI. Send along the pencil & notepaper sometime.

Yr loving son

Ted

I meant to send the Davids a p.c. [post card] for Xmas but I can’t remember their address!!!

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16 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 17

Dear Mother Very many thanks for your letter of the 13th, arrived today, but as this won’t be posted till tomorrow I have put 17th on it. Your letter was full of ripping news, especially the old war being over by the New Year! The story of guessing the amount in the purse is truly convincing. Of course the Stock Exchange betting is on the war being over by Christmas, so we hear, & they generally know what’s going on, quite apart from military point of view. I still say by Easter, but it’s of course useless speculating- Anyhow I hope they hurry up now & send out K’s [Kitchener?] army & push things along a bit on this front; I’m fed up with sitting in trenches. From your letters you seem to think I was in that recapturing trench show, when Derwan Sing got the V.C., but alas! I was’nt. Well I can say is that we were supposed to be there, but in the muddle of war couId’nt be found at the time.

We went in a day later, & even then the situation was fairly exciting. There has been a bit more rifle & machine gun fire here these last 2 days, I dunno why, & it’s not very safe exposing yourself too much, at all in fact, above ground. I’m rapidly turning into a mole! Thanks awfully for sending on the cakes, I hope they arrive all right; I have sent Dryden a secret code whereby I hope to ensure the safe arrival of cakes etc. I should like some cigarettes occasionally, Abdullas will do, in tins, as cardboard boxes break so.

Colder again today, but no snow yet. My uniform has rolled up I believe, but I can’t get at it very well in the trenches. Wish I could as it wd be warrner than this. We have been in these trenches 15 days now, & since we first arrived here on 29th October we’ve had 35 days in trenches & only about 10 out, out of which were 5 in reserve and so we have only had 5 days’ so called rest, & were busy the whole of that. However it’s all part of the show. Tell people to write to me a whole lot, as I love getting letters, but the only drawback is I cannot guarantee to answer them, though I do my best. It’s a good thing to enclose a letter card or a folding up envelope thing which you can write inside, & then I can answer them easier- Tell Ben poor Major Young has died of his wounds. She will be awfully sorry I know, so are we all. What a beastly war this is. He was standing in the road, a long way from the firing line & a stray bullet hit him; most awful bad luck was’nt it.

Mud is still as bad as ever, chronic. No chance of leave just at present. I’m awful keen to know what Topher’s doing- Don’t send too many warm clothes, except mitts & socks, & gloves & hankies, in small quantities, as one can dispose of such things fairly easily – Looking forward to your parcel of cakes etc, most welcome.

No more news just now. What awful ROT the papers talk about the Indian troops’ “stealthy forms” “panther springs” & all that absolute tosh. It makes us all look such idiots. We’re no better than anyone else after all, & not nearly as good as some. Why can’t the papers be reasonable, & treat Indians as ordinary human beings

Really the nonsense in the papers about the Indian troops is making us all awful angry; we’ve done no more than was asked of us, and all that appalling balderdash about Gurkhas & Kukris, & “grinning faces” – oh law, it makes me SICK!

(unsigned)

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12 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 12 1914

Dear Mother Just a line to say all’s O.K. Nothing much doing here, same old game, all day and every day the same. I got that ripping parcel of things yesterday. The waistcoat is too priceless, & I can hardly imagine myself wearing it in this filthy weather, besides it’s hardly cold enough yet. But then the snow comes and those biting winds, that’ll be the time and it will be gorgeous then. The map case is top hole & the exact thing I wanted, & is now in use & the envy of the Brigade. Had I chosen the flask myself, I couId’nt have chosen one more to my liking. Such a pity it has got an awful bash in it on one side, I don’t know how, as it came in a cardboard box, which was not smashed, wrapped up in the waistcoat; but I think I’ll be able to get it beaten out, I’ll give it to someone going back to civilisation for a bit- But it’s a ripping flask, and will do me splendidly.

We’ve had beastly weather these last few days, a tremendous lot of rain which has made the trenches a mass of mud. And the mess you get in walking round them, awful, You see the trenches are very narrow for the most part, only just broad enough to walk front ways, & one’s clothes get plastered all over. It’s quite miId really now – tap wood! – but I’m jolly glad my new uniform has rolled up as it will be coId enough soon. I have’nt got it yet, but keeping it till we get out of the trenches- We’ve been in them 10 days this time now, & should by rights be relieved in a day or 2, but you never know your luck.

If you are thinking of sending a plum pudding, perhaps mince pies would be better, being easier & more quickly eaten, & not requiring cooking. Had a letter from Ben yesterday, sending a Christmas card, & saying she was sending a present along at Christmas. Can you send me something of this sort, kind of little toe socks, I think I’ve seen them advertised somewhere; I fancy they wd be a great boon. No more now, hope I hear from you soon. I may get home on a few day’s leave sooner or later – how amusing, just as I write this, there comes an order cancelling all leave! I wonder what it means, but it’s typical of the army. Was’nt it sporting of the King to come out.

Love to all

yr loving son

Ted

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Posted by on 12 December, '14 in Benedicta Berryman

 

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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7 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

-Monday-
Dec.7. Trenches

Just a line to say all’s well. A beastly day today, wet and windy and trenches in an awful state in consequence. Very good of Dudman’s to ask what I want, I will let them know when I’ve made up my mind, I can think of nothing at present. Have got a letter from you of 29th, so must answer it when I have time.

Not much chance of home leave just at present, but I’ll seize the first opportunity. I hope Ben & Jim fixed up my uniform all right. It’s ever so much warmer today, but I s’pose this rain will turn to snow soon. I’ve thought of a good thing the D.’s might give me; but I won’t tell you on here, the censor might’nt like it! Let me know the dates of my letters & p.c’s you get.

Love to all

Ted


The D’s were the Dudmans. The right to appoint a clergyman as parish priest did not always lie with the church authorities, in many parishes it lay with a local landowner. The Dudmans were patrons of the living of Pitney in Somerset. and had given Ted’s father, Charles Berryman, his first appointment as Rector there.