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
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.
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.