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Category Archives: Col Drake Brockman

5 December 1914 – Ted to Ben

Ted to Ben

Ted to Ben

Dec 5th 1914

Dear Ben I got your parcel last night of mitts and Balaclava caps for the men. Thanks most awfully for them my dear, they are most acceptable and the fellows I gave em too are fearfully pleased. You see government issue them with a Balaclava cap each, but they lose them or tear them or something so one can always – or nearly always find a use for one or two of them. And the men seem to like those knitted wristlets too. I think I only wrote to you 2 days ago so you can imagine I have’nt much more to say.

We have got a lovely underground room, about as big as the Delaford dining room [their childhood home], only not so high of course. It is floored with doors from the ruined houses all round, & roofed in the same way, with earth and turf on the top. We have bagged chairs tables & crockery from the houses too (this is not looting, but quite fair, as the houses are mostly flat on the ground and you have to grovel about among ruins to find anything; and stray bullets keep on zipping about & hitting the walls with an awful smack, a most evil sound) so we are awful cosy; it is our mess, where the C.O & I live, also the officer of the company in support. We have a little charcoal fire, & cook our bacon & potatoes over it. All the other officers of course live in the trenches, but change about, & get their turn here.

It’s raining today, which makes the trenches in a beastly mess, feet deep in mud, & it’s awful walking about in them. You see the C.O [Drake-Brockman] & I make periodical tours of the trenches & have a general look round. They are at the present moment letting us have some “Black Marias” for some unknown reason, as their Maria battery is supposed to have gone away & they certainly have’nt been shelling us like they used to. 3 shrapnel also burst right over this dugout just now, but did no damage as we were safe inside. They know troops are here of course, & I fancy just give us a shell or so occasionally for luck.

I like this pencil I’m using, it’s called the “Eagle copying ink Pencil, No 1522”, it’s a short one, with a tin cover thing, do you think you couId manage to send me one a week, in an envelope as they are infernally useful. This is rather a good card you have sent, there’s such lots of room on it. I see accounts in the papers of officers getting 96 hours leave to England, so don’t be surprised if I turn up one day, only for goodness’ sake get some mufti [ie non-uniform clothes] ready for me, & a hot bath. Our guns are firing at the Maria battery now, & she’s stopped thank goodness, as you never quite know where she’s going to fall. Must end up now & get this censored. Thanks again & tons of love Ted

Then a postscript around the margin:

I think we are in for another whack of cold weather, as there’s a bitter wind today, & rain, which will turn to snow soon I expect. Hurry up my new khaki as this drill stuff is awful

Good news, a man in the 1st Batt has got the V.C the King gave it him yesterday

I think Fred Lumb will get something too

Am getting the weekly times regular, please thank Mother it’s awful interesting always


Drake-Brockman says:

The 1st Battalion …. was awarded one Victoria Cross to Naik Darwan Sing Negi, who led round each traverse. Captains Lumb and Lane each received the Military Cross for their gallantry in this action, and several men got other decorations.

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3 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 3rd! Sudden interruption 2 days ago and I have’nt been able to resume till today, out in the trenches again. How the story goes, or what I was going to say I have’nt the faintest idea! Anyhow, after being taken & retaken several times, the Germans at last established themselves, fairly strongly, & put machine guns. Our troops tried several times to retake them with no success, & then it was that our Brigade was called up, all except ourselves as I say whom the ADC could’nt find. So off they went, and our 1st Bn: covered themselves with glory, recapturing the trench, & getting a lot of prisoners, & capturing 2 machine guns, and they have made quite a name for Garhwalis, which is a good thing as they certainly deserve it.

After capturing this trench they stayed there one night, and then we came up and relieved them, as they had had a pretty hard time for 2 days. The trenches were in an awful state when we got into them, but that was after they had been cleaned up; what they must have been like when our 1st Batt: captured them after all that fighting I cant imagine; I heard some pretty ghastly descriptions. We went out, ostensibly for 24 hours, but stayed there eventually 3 days & nights! Another instance of elastic time. The enemy’s trenches were in parts on 20 yards off ours, & never more than 100, so you can imagine we had a lively time, & so did they. It was like this.

Map - Ted 1914 12 01

This is very rough, I’ll draw a proper one, & show you exactly, as it’s really most awfully interesting. And my dear in one part of the line the Germans & ourselves were actually occupying the same trench, with a barricade & a bit of empty trench between us! We spent the days throwing bombs at each other, nights too; bombs made of a bit of gun cotton inside an old jam tin, which you throw, & they go off with a huge bang. They did’nt shell us at all there thank goodness, as then our trenches were so close they would probably have hit them.

Well, we had 3 days & nights of this, & just before we left we got orders to exhume all the bodies from the trenches, & bury them behind, which we began to do, & got 40 odd out before we left, but there were lots more, all buried in the bottom of the trench, in the walls & parapet, in fact it’s no exaggeration to say that in one part you could’nt put a spade into the ground without finding a body. Excuse this ghastly description, but I think it’s as well to tell you some of the things that happen.

After 3 days and nights of this we were relieved, & went back into billets, that was on a Saturday, & we stay- in billets till yesterday Wednesday, so had a good rest, except for me as I was fearfully busy with office work & writing up records etc & never got a minute to send you a line. I am afraid I have several letters of yours to answer- one I have here is dated 26th Nov, in which you say you see the Indians have captured some trenches; yes, that’s the show of our 1st Batt: I told you about in the beginning of the letter, but I wish they’d give the name of the rgt. But you see it was really a bad show at first, till our 1st Batt: came up & sloshed them, so I expect they don’t say much about it in the papers.

You seem to have large parties of soldiers in Guildford, but what a shame that big lot did’nt turn up when all preparations had been made for them. Yes I wonder what Dick is doing, & whether he is on his way home yet. ½ a mo, just going to have Breakfast, & will finish later. It’s a wet miserable day, just our luck as soon as we get into the trenches again! Now to fry some bacon for the Colonel [Drake-Brockman] & me-
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We are in the same trenches now as we first came into on 29th October, so this is our third whack in trenches. But then there’s nothing else doing of course, it’s all trench work nowadays. But I expect the great Russian success will make some difference this side, at least I hope so.

You say in one of your letters that you got a p.c. from me of 24th, & your letter is of 26th. That must be the one I sent by King’s Messenger, You see each Tuesday a certain number of F.S.P.C’s from each regiment are sent by King’s Messenger, who carries despatches home to the King I suppose, & he arrives in a few hours of course, and so the p.c.’s get home much quicker. But I have several letters of yours to answer I’m afraid. I wonder if you got my requests for uniform; I do hope he makes the coat nice & big, as one wears such a heap of things underneath; if you have’nt sent 2 coats yet, better send only one, at first, to see if it fits.

I should like another tin of Bivouac Cocoa, which is top hole stuff & very handy; also some Oxo cubes. The little extra Balaclava cap you sent out is most useful, & I always wear it as it’s so light and handy. I’ve just been reading again your letter written “behind the Bar”, what a sporting effort! Yes, is’nt Bob’s death sad, but what a gorgeous end; a wonderful man; if only the public had listened to him! And he was such a gentleman that when the crash came he never turned round and said “I told you so!”

By the way could you send out 2 more refills for “Torchers” as Ben used to call him in Lansdowne; he’s absolutely indispensable. [Presumably batteries for a pocket torch].

Weather much milder nowadays, & the snow has all gone, but the state of the roads round here is chronic, mud everywhere. I wonder if I ever wrote and thanked Aunt Nellie for some cigarettes she sent; will you thank her if you see or write to her, & explain things; they were most welcome.

Things seem fairly quiet here today, very little rifle fire, I suppose both sides are having breakfast! By the way address me now as “GARHWAL Brigade” & not “20th Bde”, rest of address as before-

I really must try and get some more correspondence off now. I hope my letters are interesting, but it’s rather hard to make ’em as most days are the same. Do you keep ’em, at all, as they might form a sort of diary of the show afterwards.

Lots of love to all, yr loving son

Ted

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25 November 1914 – D H Drake-Brockman Memoirs

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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3 September 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

3.9.14

Dear Mother

of course you have seen that 2 divisions are coming from India to help in this show, and you must have guessed by now from what Ben & I have already told you that we are coming. Anyhow, we have got as far as this, & embark in a day or two, & ought to land in Europe somewhere about the end of this month, where, I don’t know. But it’s all so secret, & we are not allowed to tell you anything, so I’m afraid you’ll have to go with little or no news of me for some time, except what you can get from the papers. I’ll write whenever I can of course, but I don’t know how often that’ll be, My address will be as under:

39 Garhwal Rifles
20th Infantry Brigade
VII Division
*Indian Expeditionary Force A
c/o Presidency postmaster
Bombay.

(* or you can shorten it by putting I.E.F.A) but ALWAYS put rgt, Brigade & division, to ensure arrival of letters.

And keep all press cuttings you can get about Indian troops in the war, & the Gloucester; I see she has already distinguished herself. I’m in an awful hurry, & in haste to catch the post. I expect I’ll be able to post you a letter somewhere en route, & I’ll try when we land, but it will be all hurry scurry I expect, & I’m a busy man as adjutant.

So wish me luck, & don’t worry about me please mother. You’ll be having Ben home soon I expect, she’ll have told you all the news. Lovely sea breeze here, & I’m as fit as a fiddle.

Best love to all

Yr loving son

Ted


Ted wrote on a piece of paper torn from a Field Service Pocket Book. The letter was delayed, possibly by censorship, and took a month to reach Gertrude, whereas Ben’s written on the same day from Lansdowne, arrived on the 25th September.

According to Drake-Brockman, they had arrived at Karachi the previous day. Drake-Brockman also says:

En route we had a minor accident which fortunately was not worse. Our engine went through a small low culvert, derailing a couple of carriages. As we were going dead slow at the time, being close to Lahore, no one was hurt. Another engine and carriages were soon obtained and we continued our journey.

It’s possible Ted wrote about this from Lahore and the letter was lost, or maybe he didn’t have time to write about it at all.

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28 August 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Camp

Aug 28th

Dear Mother

Just a line this week. We left Lansdowne a week ago, & have been sitting here at this railway ever since waiting to entrain. We go to Karachi, & embark there for an unknown destination, most people have their own ideas as to where we are going, but no one knows really I think. It’s awful hot & stuffy waiting here, but I hope we shall move off tomorrow, or next day at the latest. Of course we have had lots of rain here & one or two uncomfortable nights, and we are thoroughly sick of waiting & inaction.

Stirring times these are’nt they & very anxious ones, I wonder what will have happened by the time you get this. I’m afraid my letters will be erratic after this, as I don’t know where we are going or when I’ll be able to write next. So don’t worry about me, I’ll write whenever I get ½ a chance. Ben is applying for a free passage home, as I have been ordered off, & should easily get it, also a free rly fare from Lansdowne to Bombay. I have fixed her up all right, & she ought to be home soon. I expect she has told you all about it. Excuse a short scrawl, but I’m fairly busy & its fearfully hot

Love to all yr loving son

Ted


D H Drake-Brockman, Ted’s commanding officer who wrote a history of the Garhwal Rifles’ experiences during the Great War, was splendidly furious about the delay:

This delay at Kotdwara in the middle of the hot season and rains was unfortunate and quite unnecessary. It was a malarious place, and at this time of the year alive with mosquitos… Altogether we were nine days in this delightful spot and, considering the further long wait we had at Karachi, it was quite unnecessary for us to have been sent out of Lansdowne till practically three weeks later if just a little forethought and common sense had only been exercised by the authorities in Simla…. Why the authorities at Simla were in such a great hurry to get us out of Lansdowne it is difficult to imagine. One would have thought that nothing would have been easier for them than to have enquired first whether the transports were ready for us or not, and then sent us off just in time to embark on them and so avoided these long waits in tents during the monsoon. … At Karachi we were once again detained for fifteen days in camp, so there could not have been any real urgency to get us out of our station in such haste. We could have remained comfortably and with considerable advantage.

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About this Project: Cold pigs and the time-traveller’s paradox

With The royal Garhwal RiflesIt’s surely no surprise that I am acutely aware of the Time-Traveller’s Paradox – what happens if you go back in time and shoot your own grandfather?  I keep on thinking that if a particular bullet had hit a bit higher then my grandparents would never have met, my mother would not have been born, and neither I nor my siblings would be here today. It’s something we all know, of course, but it’s odd to think about so much. Some years ago I was in a building which had a mirrored floor and ceiling so you appeared to stand on top of an infinite precipice. Thinking about this feels a little like that.

In other news, I have bought a copy of the regimental history of the war, written by my grandfather’s commanding officer, D H Drake-Brockman.  It’s fascinating.  Writing after the war, Drake-Brockman has the time and the leisure for descriptions.

I kept our Battalion headquarters in the vicinity of the ruined farm in a sort of dugout. In reality it was one of those brick pits in which they store beetroots. [Oh, yes, of course, one of those brick pits]. … The farm house, or what remained of it, formed a too conspicuous object, and though the dug-out was shallow, it did us for the time very well. The cellar in the house had evidently been occupied by the headquarters signallers of the relieved regiment, and apparently a heavy howitzer had made a direct hit, for the walls were covered with the poor fellows’ brains and blood. There were still the owner’s cows and other live stock at the farm roaming about the ruins. The owner turned out to be a woman, who came daily to feed them. I had to get our interpreter to tell her to take them away and not come up again as the farm was only about 80 yards from the front line. One of her fine cows was lying dead in the stall, killed by a shell. She took the cows away at night, but left the pigs, which roamed about disconsolately. Eventually they were all killed one by one by shell and rifle fire. At night, even when it was bitterly cold and a heavy frost on, the pigs were happy as long as their snouts were covered up. They poked them under the straw at the bottom of a stack in the yard. they did not mind their bodies being exposed to the frost and cold!

 

 
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Posted by on 28 September, '13 in About, Col Drake Brockman