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Category Archives: Mrs Stack

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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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 August 1914 – Benedicta to Gertrude

Benedicta's first letter of the war

Benedicta’s first letter of the war

August 5th 1914

Lansdowne U.P.

Dear Mother, Very many thanks for your long letter, I must get my mail all off today so as to make more or less sure of catching the train down below. The dress you have got for me sounds ripping thank you ever so much, I shall hear if you’ve sent the box to Calcutta or here but it doesn’t matter much. I can get King Hamilton to send it along if I should still be here as it seems I am for life, the dreadful war has & will upset most things I expect, one can’t make any sort of arrangements, and all leave from here is stopped unless within 48 hrs recall, so at present Ted will not get his for Shillong, but I expect I shall go at the end of Sept now & meet Dick & then go on to him till he is houseless, & if I can’t get home in November I shall go to the Nobles, they will always have me. We hear very little up here of course in a way of what is going on, but it seems pretty dreadfull & at home you must all be in a fuss. I don’t suppose any officer will go from here but there is a chance of course, & they are all of course dieing to be off & everlastingly grumble at being so poked away, it’s all very cheery for us poor females but at the most they’ll be ordered to stations down below to take places of other officers gone, Alix & I can see ourselves stranded but I shall go to Assam, I feel more at home there and & it won’t be too hot by the time anything does happen.

Thank you ever so much for the ninon coat, I’m sure to love it. Jane and Eric don’t seem to have been over successful at Broadwater, but they had fun I expect. Ripping wizzing over in the little car; Jane will be one up on me in driving by the time I get back, as I have forgotten all about it I’m sure. A good idea going to Holmwood I’d love to see it again, the girls won’t remember much at least of course Dreda ought, & I can hear Jane making wild shots & pretending she does! I suppose you did alter that part in our will (nice subject?) didnt you, but you certainly ought to make some sort of compensation for us girls & go on Grandmother’s scheme of the female being provided for! Glad Fay & Mamie have been down- You do seem to have been doing a lot with jam & pickle walnuts & I hope you do the cherries, I rather like brandy cherries. I don’t hear from Burdice, she owes me two letters too, yes Diana seems not on the robust side which is a pity, she’s such a well looking child at least she was, I wonder if Aunt Mary will send her to Margate again. I wish Aunt Nellie could have got the Rowans, it would be nice to have someone we knew there. I am surprised about the Masons, awfully sad for the family, I always thought Mrs Mason looked so sad, as you say they’ll probably be smarter than ever.

I’m glad my room is to be papered, I should like it a plain white if I can, but it will have been started on or rather finished by the time you get this & it doesn’t matter a bit really. I expect it’s the same as Dreda’s as there was some over wasn’t there, I suppose you’d better leave the pictures for me, but I feel I shall never have a moment once I get back! & may I please have the gass taken away & electric light put. I feel I used much more gass as I never turned it down hardly.

Ted is very well but has lectures etc today but I daresay he will write tomorrow, he’s very distressed he can’t be in this war & swears all day, well so does everyone at not being on the spot. What about Paul, I suppose he’ll get in for some of it. tho’ I suppose the Home & Channel Fleets will get most of anything there happens to be. The rains here never cease, I didn’t think it could be as bad as it is, really it’s awfully depressing it gets on your nerves after a bit & we’ve now had it for nearly 3 weeks, we just had two more or less fine days & that’s all, & more rain during July alone, than there is in England in a year. Nothing going on, I don’t see anyone but Alix & even we can’t get to each other some days tho’ we are so near, it means changing both times as no umbrella or coat keeps this rain out, & after a lesson or two one fights shy of chills. I have a fire going, you have to watch your things so carefully, all my shoes go mouldy in one day, I find my brand new soft leather today a mass of mildew!

I am sending off today the little book I got for you, some of the stories are rather nice I think & so quaintly written, its for your birthday & many happy returns of tomorrow Aug 6th your wedding day, I expect the girls won’t forget some flowers, Dreda generally remembers, the excitement of Selsey may have put it out of their head. I do hope you have a nice time. Everything has gone up in price I suppose, one doesn’t in any way realize how dreadfull a war can be, wish we heard more, we get only summaries in the Pioneer & they are never satisfactory somehow.

All leave has been stopped out of this country, I do pity the poor officers who were just sailing for home. We have some kids coming to tea this afternoon so I must make some cakes but I don’t suppose they’ll be able to turn up. Two babies born here last week, oh I told you this before, Mrs Stack is rather a friend of Ted’s & she writes yesterday to say she is going into the drawing & is ready to receive visitors, also Mrs Archie Grey in a rapid recovery!

I would love to be with you at Selsey, I cant say life is very enjoyable up here at present I shan’t be sorry for a change, & I shall be too disappointed if I can’t get home this year as it will also mean I sort of stay about as both Ted & Dick will be houseless! Something of course will turn up & I’ve plenty of friends to go to but I’d set my heart on November, but one can’t tell how bad things will be as yet. Well I must end.

Heaps of love your loving daughter

Ben.

go on addressing here for the present.

(On back of envelope)
I have addressed the book to Delaford it will take longer than this, B.


Benedicta, known as Ben, was staying with Ted in regimental station in India. As we shall see, she was getting over an unhappy romance and had plans to visit Richard in Assam, but when war broke out she decided to come straight home.

She seems incapable of using fullstops let alone paragraphs and her spelling is poor.  This has been split into paragraphs to make it easier to read, but some of her spelling has not been altered.

Holmwood, near Hartley Witney, was their mother Gertrude’s old family home. It had been let since her mother died, but several of the children had been born there, and it was not far from Laverstoke, where their father had been rector before going to Camberley.

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