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Category Archives: Naik Darwan Sing Negi VC

20 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 20th

Dear Mother  I got your little parcel of peppermints and stuff 2 days ago, I seem to remember having told someone in a letter that I had received them. They are most acceptable, and all the little oxos & cocoas I have put in my haversack as an emergency ration. Our Government rations still continue as good as ever. Bobby Reed & I have great cooking every morning here, frying bacon & mashing potatoes. He’s an awful good cook, & this morning he had a tin of sausages sent him which we fried with great skill! I got 2 lovely boxes of Biscuits from a friend of the Dudmans for whom I got a Derby sweep ticket last year; very nice of her was’nt it, Bee’s or Katie’s nurse I think it was. Just got 2 Daily Sketches & a Daily Mail, please thank Dreda for them, & for the one which contains a picture of Darwan Sing’s V.C. especially.

Still damp & raw here with lots of rain at intervals. Somebody swore they saw snow this afternoon but I don’t think so; but I suppose we are bound to get it soon. Vanity Set
By the way, can you get me something of this sort, a little pocket mirror & comb, sort of thing one wd never dream of using in peace, but in this show, where one is days without one’s kit, it would be most useful. If you could do this:- get the above, & a tiny toothbrush, (ordinary size with handle cut off will do) & a small size tube of tooth paste, & put the whole in a small, tin box about the size of one of those of one of those bivouac cocoa tins if possible, nice & handy to “slip in the pocket!” The Col: [Drake-Brockman?] had an awful nice little case, about 2½ inches square, folding flat like an envelope, containing a little glass, tiny comb, & a toothpick I think! But it does’nt matter about the latter. I should think Boots wd have one-

Could you do that for me please, as I like to do a little toilet when I can- [ie wash and tidy up]
I hope the cake rolls up soon, thanks awfully for it, it will be most acceptable, & disappear in no time I expect. Tons of love to all your loving son Ted

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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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10 December 1914 – Ted to Gertrude

Dec 10th

Dear Mother I got a ripping parcel from you today, with some cigarettes from Aunt Edward in it, some dubbin & some ripping milk chocolate, Thanks most awfully for it, especially the cigarettes, of which I have just run out. I also got a letter from the Dudmans, sending me a Christmas card, & saying they were sending some socks and mitts for the men. It’s very raw weather nowadays, cloudy & cold, & a cutting wind. But we are living underground a good deal so manage to keep fairly warm. I see by some papers we got today that our 1st Bn: man was not the first man to get the V.C. in the Indian Army, but another man got one on the 31st October apparently. Jolly sporting of the King to come out here was’nt it; I see great stories of his going into the trenches, but I wonder if they are true or not, as it would be very risky with all these odd bullets flying about.

We have got a Iittle bomb gun now in our trenches, which throws a biscuit tin bomb about 200 yards & goes off with a tremendous bang. We landed a bomb on the roof of one of the German dug-outs a few days ago & it exploded there, and huge beams & planks were thrown all over the place. I fancy it must have been very uncomfortable for the people inside!

I see French’s despatches in last week’s weekly times, which arrived yesterday. What splendid reading they make- I saw the othor day that they had been published in book form, his first ones, & I should rather like a copy if you could raise one. It’s been too bad weather for aeroplanes lately so they have’nt been about much. They are most awfully pretty sights in the air, especially against a blue sky with little puffs of smoke from bursting shells all round them; very pretty to look at, but not so nice for the people in the aeroplane! A man called Parkin has been attached to us for duty; I think he must be a Parkin of the lot who used to live up the avenue? He’s dark, & red in the face.

No news here; it’s fairly quiet except for this incessant sniping and bombing, which gets on one’s nerves. So glad to hear the uniform etc is coming- It will he ripping to have it. I see Sonnie Gabb’s rgt, the Worcesters, got specially mentioned by Sir John French. Dinner time.

Love to all

yr loving son

Ted


One of the things I found fascinating when I got the chance to look at the original letters was the sheer variety of stationery. This is a letter and envelope in one.

Ted to Gertrude

Ted to Gertrude


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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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9 December 1914 – Ted to Ben

9/12/14

Dear Ben Is’nt it top hole a man of the 1st Batt getting a V.C. simply splendid, and the 1st one too ever won by the Indian Army; you’ll be awfully pleased I know, so I thought I must write & tell you, though I expect you have seen it in the papers by now. But I hope they say Garhwalis & not Gurkhas- So you can tell old Garin-Fitz that even if we are only imitations, we can give a dam good lead anytime he likes, so there.

You may think you know what mud is, but you don’t till you’ve been in these trenches. It’s the most remarkable stuff in the world. You walk along the trench and grow about 12 feet higher as you proceed, with thick glutinous extra soles to one’s feet. And my kit, the clothes we stand up in, plastered in mud off the side of the trenches.

We’ve been a week here now, things fairly quiet, but thank goodness that awful shell fire has stopped, as least they give us a few shrapnel for lunch, but nothing to what it was when we were here before with J.J.’s all day [‘Jack Jonhnson’ was slang for artillery shells] – Some cavalry are coming to “be broken in to trench work” as the orders were, & we are doing some of the breaking, starting on a squadron of Billy’s push, 9th Hodsons Horse– You see there’s no use for cavalry in their true rôle, so they shove ’em in trenches to help the poor old footsloggers. So they send up squadrons to learn how it’s done-

Sat up till all hours of last night bucking to Nobby, about marriage! How’s the child. Nobby has got a rotten job, qr:mr,[quarter-master] & has to fix up all rations etc, which have to be cooked right back behind & sent up into the trenches to the men. Well every night Nobby has to come up the road, quite a mile of which is always swept by bullets & lots of people have been hit on it. So he has a pretty warm time, though few realise it, & I think people should known, as otherwise people might think he, not being in the trenches, was quite safe. Divil a bit. Tons of love

Ted

Send me some paper like this, it’s awful good for daily chits


The 9th Hodson’s Horse was also known as the Bengal Lancers.

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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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