Belgium [As part of the Second Army] October l7th, 1916 [Battalion detrained at Caestre and marched to Godewaerswelde and Boeschepe via Thie Ushough]. I've now got an opportunity to answer more fully your last few letters as I am sitting at a real table in a dear old farmhouse miles away from the sound of guns. Since we first started trekking, it has been proper campaigning - sleeping more often under canvas or hastily-erected shelters than under roofs, but now we are in a land of billets, or at any rate houses with roofs to them. Our meals too, were mostly hastily prepared, and we ate at all sorts of times and mostly from plates held on our knees, picnic-style, when we couldn't `win' boxes for tables. That is where our steel-helmets come in useful: if you grip them inverted between your knees a plate just fits on and remains steady enough.
The Transport Section, on the whole, had a very lucky time of it. The trekking was a bit stiff at times for them (the men and horses) but it made them hardy, so that when our Division was making history they were able to keep it (the Battalion) well supplied with bombs, ammunition, water, food and all such things. We all had to work very hard (mostly at night) and several times I arrived back to the horse-lines just at dawn. The roads were particularly bad owing to the heavy traffic, and very often we would be held up by motor-lorries stuck in the mud.
Before we left I managed to see most of the South African Brigade. I met Bom. Halstead again, and had a long chat with Cliff Raymond and Harry Tregarthen, and also saw young Lister, Hill Lyle and Dap Robb in the South African Scottish. Bom. had just been gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant and seemed very self-conscious. I have not heard from Harry Bird for ever so long, but met a fellow who was in the same troop as Harry in `C' Squadron and he promised to let him know my address.
I haven't heard anything of Dr. Allanson at all - are you sure he is in our regiment; The 7th (City of London) Battalion, London Regiment? By the way, please tell Kay that my address is not 3/7th London Regiment. I left the 3rd Battalion when I came to France (in January). I am now in the 1/7th. but `7th. London Regiment' is quite sufficient. Please thank her for the tobacco and her long newsy letter - I will answer it soon. A week or so ago I received a very useful parcel from the Ladies of Ladysmith. A bit of everything that was useful was included, even a pair of boot laces! About a photo of Delville Wood: the best ones are those published in the Press. The wood is just like a lot of broken posts and poles protruding from the ground. I must conclude now as I have no more news, and am tired after last night's train journey.
EDITOR'S NOTE: According to Planck (1946), on Monday 6th November, `at a football match, 2nd Lieut. C. V. Hosken dislocated his knee and eventually went down the line, as did Lieut. V.W. Mileman, M.C., who had some shrapnel splinters to be taken out of his hand.' (p. 95.)
B.E.F. l9th November, 1916. [Battalion in billets in Halifax Camp] It is Sunday today, and the Battalion has just returned from the trenches for a few days. As they are all still sleeping I can snatch a few moments to myself. Winter is now on top of us and we have had some bitterly cold nights but no snow as yet. My servant has fixed up a stove in our Mess. It is burning merrily but is filling the room with smuts; but that's a minor detail so long as we keep warm. I've just invested in some warm winter underwear and a Jaeger fleece-lining to my overcoat, so am able to keep fairly warm at nights when I go with my wagons up the line. I'm replying to your letters of 3rd, 10th, and 15th October and will try to answer some of your queries. I note that you want a badge or button. I have asked my sergeant to get me a man's badge, and I will also get you one of our (officers) badges and buttons when I go on leave - which should fall due by the end of the year.
Photos are hard to get as no one in the Army is allowed to have a camera. We sometimes however, manage to get a French civilian to take a few and I am enclosing a snap of the Quartermaster and me. I am shown holding a pipe in my fingers - quite a characteristic attitude of mine. It was taken in a little village on our march back from the Somme. I see Jack is thinking of marriage after the War. I'm afraid it will be years before I will be able to embark on such a venture as I shall have to start at the beginning again in the Mining World, unless I can persuade someone to give me a comfy billet on a mine somewhere in Africa! I might even transfer to the Royal Engineers if the prospects are good after the War. Another thing that I have rather overlooked too, is getting the right girl. A fellow can't do much on seven days leave, and I am not in favour of `War Brides'. One's outlook is changed, I think, in War time.
The Ladies of Ladysmith did send me a parcel. I fancy I told you (of this) in my last letter.
Our stables are fine now. I've got some tar for the roof when it is dry enough to apply. We have all horses and no motors. We are simply Battalion Transport, and do not carry wounded although sometimes we have given men a lift.
I have not yet run across Harold Thorne - I hear he has got promoted to Lieutenant now. Kathleen's `Witnesses' roll up regularly. They are very interesting and useful - please thank her for me.
I can't imagine Maurice Knott as an officer - I still think of him as a kid, very much under the heel of his sisters, or shall we say a `Mother's Boy'.
Some more officers arrived from the 3rd Battalion today - nearly all South Africans, and they seem to be quite good sorts.
I'm looking forward to my leave now although it is a couple of months away. Wallace Mileman is in England with his wound but is having a good time as the wound was slight. Heaps of Love.
As Usual. 2nd December, 1916 [Dominion Camp, near Wynde, Bluff, King St.]. Sorry I have not written for so long. The reason is that I'm pretty busy as the Quartermaster (Lieut. G. D. Roche) is away in England on sick leave, and I am doing his work as well. I don't mind it a bit so long as it does not affect my leave which should arrive about January 2nd, - I hope. I will remember your wish about a large photo. I have managed to get a button for you, and I am now waiting for a badge and will send them both along by registered letter during the next few days.
I had no idea that Nelson and Tom had been in Hospital. I had been looking out for them but so far without success.
The cold weather is upon us now with a vengeance and we are all `sniffing'. I had rather a bad few days with a touch of `flu but am now O.K. Today all the horrible mud is frozen hard, and the Padre and I went for a good walk before dinner, and came back with warm, dry feet - quite a change in this district.
We have been busy fitting up an improvised stove in our `bivvy' this afternoon and are now beginning to feel the warm effect. Yesterday and the day before we lined it (the hut, not the stove) with hessian canvas and this made it more comfy, for in all probability we shall pass Christmas here.
I had a letter from Mrs Thorne yesterday and she said she was sending on your parcel - so I will thank you very much, in anticipation for it. I close with a big hug and kiss for Mother from her `Baby Boy'- Brian.
Same Place. - 6th December, 1916. [Dominion Camp, near Wynde, Bluff, King St.] I have at last been able to get a badge for you, and also a button of our Regiment. I am sending them on in the hope that they reach you about Christmas time, - but one can never tell!
Wallace Mileman's luck is greater than ever! I hear that he has been granted three months `sick leave' on account of his wound in his hand and is going back to South Africa for a holiday. Lucky fellow - I hope he calls on you.
My leave will soon be due now and it is quite probable that I shall be in England for the Festive Season. Kathleen, in her letters, complains that I am a bad correspondent. I am, I admit; nothing out here is interesting enough to stir one's enthusiasm except `leave', perhaps. Things go the same, day after day; we eat, sleep, drink, work, see the same faces, read the papers in the morning, and there is nothing in them worth reading. Also, nearly all the old friends in the Division have gone. Some are dead, others wounded and now in England, and the Battalions are full of new faces. Our chaps (officers) are nearly all South Africans and are good fellows from what I have seen of them. Still, they do not make up for those lost.
Well, cheer 0, Mother dear. May you all have the happiest of Christmases in Sleepy Hollow, - anyway I hope your Christmas will be as jolly as ours. I am buying a large pig for my men, and the Padre and I are going to give them a `spread'. Love to all.
As usual. December 16th, l916. [On 8th December, the Battalion HQ was at Bluff Tunnels, near Chateau Segard] Today is Dingaan's Day and I have just realised the fact. How differently we will both be observing the holiday back Home. All you dear people will be feeling hot and sleepy after a good dinner, and I and all the others over here, cold and miserable The frost has abated and my feet at present are tingling and feel damp. The mud outside is slushy and almost knee-deep if one steps off the trench-boards.
My brightest ray now is the thought of leave which should begin on the 21st December. I shall leave here on the afternoon of the 20th. and will travel down to the ship in a creeping French train, and will embark the following morning. I should be in England for Christmas, and am waiting to hear from Bedford in order to make arrangements. My main plans though, are concerned with what theatres I shall visit in London. I am also looking forward to meeting some of my pals who were wounded on the Somme and are now convalescent in Town.
We had a heavy fall of snow a couple of days ago, but it thawed immediately afterwards, so the slush and mud was almost indescribable. We have bought a pig for the New Year festivities and intend to have a spread for my men when I return from leave. My leave will be 10 clear days in England, a period not to be sneezed at, for it is six months since last I was on leave.
Mother dear, I wish you all the happiest of Christmases. May you spend it as happily as I hope to spend mine in England.
Boxing Day, 1916. (A letter to Mr Ford in London) Just a line to wish you a Merry Christmas, and more particularly a prosperous New Year. I have had quite a gay time, and am leaving tomorrow for Bedford where I will be staying at 18 Grove Place, Bedford until Saturday. I have been with my late Captain who was wounded on the Somme and have quite enjoyed myself. Please accept this box of smokes: may they bring you luck this new year when you sit worrying over your business affairs. I will conclude with once more wishing you and Mrs Ford the compliments of the Season. Sincerely, F. B. Wade.
P.S. I am expecting a parcel from my tailors to be sent to your address next Saturday. F.B.W.
10 Davenport Avenue, Durban, December 29th, 1916. (A letter from Lieut. Wallace Mileman to Mother written while enjoying his convalescence in Natal) Dear Mrs Wade, I am sorry I will not be able to come to you during the next few days as I am leaving for Johannesburg tomorrow evening and will not break my journey. I want to be in Johannesburg for New Year. I hope however, to stop at Pietermaritzburg. on my way back and will write to you from Johannesburg if you will put up with me for a day or two then. I expect to leave Johannesburg somewhere about the second week in January, 1917. I saw Mrs Palmer and Winnie at Warner Beach yesterday. Kind regards to all. Sincerely, Wallace.
January 11th, 1917. As Usual. [Hill 60 Sector] I've been busy lately and have had several late nights `up the Line', but today I'm letting work slide and am going to try to polish off some of my accumulated correspondence. I got back safely from leave on the 3rd January and didn't feel much like work again, but now I've got back into the old groove again and things are running smoothly once more. The weather hasn't improved much. Today it is pretty cold and snowing lightly.
I was awfully grieved to read of Winnie's sad loss. Your newspaper cutting was the first I had seen of it. I must write to her and to Mrs Palmer. I had hoped to run across Nelson while in London but didn't have the luck. I believe he is still in England. I haven't heard from him for a long time.
I expect by now you will have seen Wallace. He is sure to call and see either you or Dad. When I come back I'm afraid I will not know all my nephews and nieces, especially the new ones; of these I'm afraid I have lost count altogether. Please give Clara and her new baby my love. I had a letter from Bessie and also one from Dora Mac. wishing me New Year's greetings. I must thank you too for Birthday and Christmas wishes. Mrs Thorne's parcel arrived in due course and was excellent. You must all be proud of your efforts to make the War Market such a success. A profit of £17,000 seems enormous. It just shows the spirit of the Overseas British people. I had a letter from Nancy Parsons (Johannesburg). She has two brothers who are both over here. The eldest has been posted `missing', so they are selling up their home in Empire Road, Parktown, and Dad Parsons and Nancy are going to make munitions. There's spirit for you!, and they had such a nice home too!
I am enclosing the menu of our Transport Dinner at which I presided. It was a huge success. I made a couple of short speeches and the Major also spoke. The usual toasts were drunk and all that sort of thing. They sang `For he's a jolly good fellow' much to my embarrassment. Must stop now as it is time to take another convoy up to the chaps in the trenches.
January 13th, 1917. (A second letter from Wallace Mileman to Mother written from C/o L.W. Christopher, Ladysmith.) I wrote this morning saying I would be in Maritzburg on Monday, but if it is convenient to you, should like to make it Tuesday. An old friend of mine is to arrive here on Monday and if I leave then I shall miss him - hence the reason for delay. I saw Jack this morning and had a chat with him. If Tuesday is not convenient, let me know as I can arrange to go to Blackridge for a day or two and come to you later in the week. Sincerely, Wallace
As usual. January, 23rd, l917. [Hill 60 Sector] Just a hasty note to say that I am quite well and still going strong. I received your last letter of December 9th quite safely although a little late, but never the less very welcome. I wrote to Miss D. Rogers but didn't call on her when on leave as I was so busy doing nothing; besides it was Christmas time and everything was more or less upset.
Speaking of each one of us receiving ten shillings from South Africa - I fancy it only applies to men in the ranks, and God knows they need it more than we do. Last night was certainly the coldest night we have experienced. My moustache froze solidly while returning from the line about midnight, and this morning, the insides of the walls of our hut (tarred paper) were coated with ice. Today the sun is shining, but the ground and the mud are as hard as steel, which made it quite a treat to go walking this morning without getting one's boots wet. The whole countryside is covered in snow and looks very "Christmassy".
Let's hope this is the last of the really cold weather this year for it must be Hellish for the lads on sentry-go in the trenches where they have to stand still all day and night (in 2 hour spells) peering through periscopes. The rough proofs of my photo arrived today. I am waiting for a line from Mrs Thorne before I make a choice.
As usual. February 11th, 1917. There has been no South African mail for a long time but things are just the same as usual here. We are still going strong in spite of the exceptional cold weather. The snow, now about three weeks old is still on the ground but today's sunshine has begun to melt it a little. As a result, the surface is becoming sloppy and the ice-covered ponds are beginning to sag in the middle owing to the underlying water being frozen too. The other day we had a big fire near here. A neighbouring farm barn caught alight and we could do nothing as all available water was solid ice. Similar fires have been quite common lately, for owing to the cold, men billeted in the farm buildings have brassieres all over the place and become careless. In the big fire about sixty men lost all their kit and private treasures, and worse than that, the adjacent farmhouse was also burnt out. Rough on the peasant farmers who had been there for over sixty years. I'm keeping very fit and well though troubled a little by the usual old cough which has reappeared this last week. It's nothing to worry about fortunately. I hope you and Dad, and Kay and Jack are all in the best of health and that it won't be long before I see you all again.
As usual. 11th March, 1917. Ever so many thanks for your two letters, the lovely photos of you and Dad and also the snaps taken in Durban. They all arrived together a couple of days ago. I'm sorry I missed writing to you last Sunday, but I had been laid up in my bunk with an attack of `flu or something, and have not been feeling up to much. I am thankful to say, however, that I am now as fit as ever, with no ill effects except a bit of a cough. I think the photos of you and Dad are `top hole'. You both look as young as ever, and Dad looks particularly cool in his thin Tussore silk suit. Good old Dad! - doesn't care a hang about convention or fashion. As a rule most people get into their `Sunday Best' for a photograph and then appear strained and unnatural, - but not so with Dad. I think `Comfort' must be his watchword. I can't think what can have happened to my photos that I had taken in Bedford as they haven't arrived yet although I ordered them at the end of January! I re-wrote to the photographers last week so we should hear something about them soon. I'm glad you saw quite a lot of Wallace as he will be able to give you a much better idea than I can in writing. He should be back here again soon and then I in my turn can cross-question him about you dear people over there. Hope Kay enjoys her holiday at the Coast. I wish I could be there too!
Somewhere. Sunday, March 17th. l917 [Dominion Camp near Houpoutre siding]. Haven't heard from you for a long time now, but I feel sure that everything is all right with you - the delay can only be due to the irregular mail service. Nor have I heard from Mrs Thorne lately. I believe she is away at Halesworth where I believe Granpa Kent is ill.
The end of the bitter weather seems near now and it did not freeze at all last night so that the mud is beginning to reappear. The days are beginning to lengthen perceptively, and in general I think we have seen the worst of Winter, 1917. I heard from Harry Bird the other week. He's still going strong. As for Nelson, he seems to have vanished altogether as we never hear either from him or of him. I had a letter from the Beards the other day. They all seem very cut up over poor Lewis's death still. My photos from Bedford should turn up any day now as I have already received the bill! I suppose by now you will have seen Wallace in Pietermaritzburg. He should be well on his way back by now. If so, he will be just in time for the final lap. I firmly think that this year (1917) will see the end of the tussle, and then for Home and Comfort! Well, Cheer-0, Mother, dear, and keep smiling. Heaps of love to all at Home.
As usual. March 20th, 1917 [Dominion Camp near Houpoutre siding]. Since I wrote last I have received both your letters of January 30th and February 6th. What do you think of the news of yesterday and the day before? It has bucked us up no end and I think the next fortnight or so will be full of excitement. We've had very changeable weather lately and now there is a high wind with cold sleety rain: very uncomfortable as we find ourselves at present. Last week I caught a touch of `flu or something similar and kept to my bed for three days. I am quite O.K. now but feel a wee bit stiff after taking part in a game of rugby last Sunday afternoon. We got all the Officers to turn out, whether they could play rugby or not, and, as many of them were new at the game, a lot of hard work resulted for us poor forwards. Nonetheless we all enjoyed the game and exercise it afforded and we went to sleep that night genuinely tired. We had arranged beforehand for our soldier-servants (batmen) to have cans of hot water and baths ready for us after the match, for the ground was very muddy. We certainly needed baths which we enjoyed; also the clean clothes afterwards. It was dubious which we enjoyed the more, the game or the `afters'.
Yesterday I wrote to Mrs Thorne and addressed the letter to Halesworth, for I suppose she will still be there helping poor old grandma Kent. Please tell Kay that I will answer her long newsy letter soon.
Wallace should be with us soon. I'm longing to see him and to find out all about you dear people at Home. Well, Cheer O, I don't think the War will last very long now.
As usual. March 22nd. 1917. [Dominion Camp near Houpoutre siding.] (Letter to sister Kay.) I really am getting too bad with my correspondence, and it was only the sight of so many unanswered letters before me that forced me to write tonight. I get absolutely bored stiff with censoring my men's effusions that I find it difficult to settle down to write at all. Another thing is that I have only every second evening to myself when the Battalion is in the trenches, and then I am generally too tired.
At present they are out of the front line so we have our evenings more or less free. You see, when they are in the forward zone, seven miles away by road, the Quartermaster and I have to take up their rations, mail, ammunition etc., and sometimes these fail to arrive early from the Divisional Stores camp a long way back, brought here in Army Service Corps four-wheeled wagons. When this happens it makes us late in starting so that occasionally we get back here only at about 2 or 3 am. and even 5 am. if there has been much shelling en route.
The present Q.M. (acting) takes charge of the convoy every second night and this relieves me a little. He is a very nice chap, Webster by name, and comes from near George Teesdale's farm at Lidgetton. He knows Burt Campbell well, and also a lot of our friends. We get along very well together and help one another in performing both our duties. He is very knowledgeable about horses, whilst I know something about Quartermastering as well as the care of army horses.
My photos have not yet arrived from Bedford. I cannot make it out. Perhaps they do not trust me and are waiting for my cheque to be honoured. A nasty idea, isn't it? What a nice time you must have had at the beach. Webster and I often sit around the fire smoking our pipes and talking of old times both in Durban and in Pietermaritzburg. and we often long to get back again, especially when the thermometer is low and it is cold, muddy and wet.
Well, I must dry up now as our news is very limited. I could tell you of heaps of things, but the Censor would strafe them, so what's the use? Moreover, we would be reprimanded by the C.O. and that's not so good. Give my regards to all old friends, especially those who take the trouble to enquire after my health. Also, convey heaps of love to Mother and Dad, and not forgetting your own self.
AS USUAL 26th March 1917[Dominion Camp near Houpoutre siding] Just a line to let you know that I am still going strong. We are still doing the same old things in the same old way, but the weather is gradually improving. I have about as much news to tell you as usual, and you know how little that is. I had a letter from Nelson at last: he is now back in France and seems as `full of beans' as ever.
Today we have been making improvements to our huts. We knocked in the side of our mess hut and sleeping quarters and made one large `apartment' out of the two, but screened off the bunks with an old blanket. It proves to be quite an improvement as both parts now get warmth from the one fire. It also gives us much more room to move about, and this is a blessing, for the cramped-up Mess wasn't improving my temper, especially when the Chaplain, who lives with us, used to leave his things all over the place so that one could hardly sit down without damaging something or other.
You've no idea how tidy I have become since I joined the Army over two years ago. It was the training in K.E.H. that did it as we were very strictly ruled there, and were constantly being jumped upon for having `dirty' stables or billets. Of course they were only `dirty' in the military sense. Actually they were usually beyond reasonable complaint. A loose straw in the stable, or a used match-stick out of place was enough to make the place `dirty'.
B.E.F. 28 March 1917 [Dominion Camp near Houpoutre siding] At last here are my long-promised photographs. One for you, one for Dad and one for Kay. I hope you recognise your `baby boy', Mother.
IN THE FIELD 2nd April 1917. [Dominion Camp near Reninghelst] Just the usual note to let you know that I'm still going strong. Last week I received two letters from you, the latest one telling me of Jack's probable departure for England. I hope he writes to me to tell me where he is, and what he intends to do, as I can give him some useful tips even if I do not have the pleasure of meeting him on arrival in England.
Things are going on much the same as usual here, and to make things worse, the weather has turned abominable again since April made its appearance. It is blowing half a gale outside, and is snowing like anything. Our dwelling is very draughty but the fire is bright, and that is a blessing. What a thin time the troops in the evacuated areas will be experiencing with all the villages and habitations destroyed by the hateful Bosche.
It was bad enough when we were on the Somme last year, but then it was Summer time - it must be something terrible now if they are having the same gusty weather as we are getting. I am sending out my photos by degrees and wish to send one to Clara, but do not know her address so I will send it C/o yourself. Please re-direct it for me.
When last I heard Harry Bird was still going strong in King Edward's Horse. Regarding our gardening efforts to assist in the food economy drive (mentioned earlier), the C.O. has promised a prize for the best allotment, judging to take place later on, (we hope).
I hope your headache has abated by now. God Bless.
AS USUAL, 8 April 1917 [Dominion Camp near Reninghelst] The weather is improving, and things are beginning to buzz (in a military sense). I'm glad America has come in at last. It will probably mean that I (and all of us) will get home the sooner, though who can say when that will be? No one here can see any real evidence of a quick ending to the War.
Have I told you of our Gardening ventures? The Army has ordered all vacant ground around stationary camps and wagon lines to be cultivated, planted with vegetables and foodstuffs. I divided some suitable ground here into allotments and have given one to each man. They have all finished the digging and are now waiting for the seeds to arrive from the Army. I wish the seeds could arrive soon, for the men's enthusiasm might forsake them. They are fairly keen at present but only two of then know anything about gardening (being city-dwellers), so it is rather quaint to watch some of their efforts.
Today, being Easter Sunday we arranged a church parade for the men of the Brigade (total 4 Transport Sections, in all about 240 men). I was able to take about 20 of my men and most of the other three Transport Officers did the same, so we put up quite a fair show. Some of my chaps had not been on Church Parade for over two years because troops who are in charge of horses can find very little time for other things: they can only be absent in small batches, and then their work must be done by others.
This afternoon our football team (7th Transport) played against another Transport team and won 2 to 1 goal. Our chaps were highly delighted as there had always been a bit of rivalry between the two Regiments. I encourage their football efforts as it takes their minds away from the monotony of this rather stale job as things are at present. I hope to receive some `baccy' etc. from you soon as my supply is getting low.
AS USUAL, 19th April 1917 [Dominion Camp near Reninghelst] Just a hasty scribble to let you know that I am quite well and still at the same old job. Things haven't altered a bit where we are. The enclosed are two programmes of our Battalion concert held on 17th March to commemorate our second year in France. The other is a programme of a neighbouring Divisional Concert Party. I received two of your last letters on the same day. News is very scarce.
AS USUAL, 26th April 1917 [Dominion Camp near Reninghelst] I have just received two letters from you dated 21st and 27th March : just a month ago. I also had a letter from Wallace who is with our reserve Battalion in England, so I expect to see him again shortly. I am sorry that I have not written lately.
Now that the Spring weather is upon us at last, I have been particularly busy having the Transport lines and wagons cleaned up now that the mud has begun to dry a little. My wagons and harnesses are beginning to look more spick-and-span and the horses are beginning to improve physically after the hard Winter and its shortage of oats and hay feeds.
Wallace says he has had a letter from Jack but does not say much else. As I have heaps of letters to censor I must switch off now. I'm as fit as ever and send heaps of love.
SOMEWHERE IN BELGIUM, 22nd May 1917 [Zudausques near Moringhem] Since I last wrote we have moved from our old place (with its allotment gardens) and are now away from War's alarms and are billeted in a pretty farm-land district fairly near to a fair-sized town. I sleep in a bell-tent pitched in a meadow carpeted with white daisies lying between old fruit trees in full blossom - an ideal place for a camp if only the times were not so out of joint.
My horses are looking better and are in better condition after the strenuous Winter campaign. The pickings of grazing they snatch along the country lanes and from the hedges, are doing them the world of good. My own riding horse `Electric' is having the time of his life. I have just come back from a cross-country ride and he was not content with an ordinary canter, but broke into a wild gallop which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This morning I had a touch of tooth-ache which I am pleased to say has now ceased. Owing to our movements I have not had a letter from you but I expect a pile when the ship comes in. Things are going strong out here and we will finish the War one of these days.
SUNDAY, June 10th, 1917 [Battalion HQ at Battle Wood] Just a short note. As you have seen by now we have been busy lately and have done very well considering the magnitude of the task. Our fellows have pushed the Bosche well over the ridge (Messines) and it makes all the different to us. One has quite a strange feeling when taking rations and supplies up in daylight over ground that before it would have been impossible to walk, even alone, without being either sniped or shelled.
It has been rather strenuous work for us all but of course no work is too much to perform when we know we are pushing Fritz back into his kennel. Several of our officers have been hit but none killed; among the ranks most of the wounds were fairly light.
SUNDAY, June 17th, 1917 [Lynde near Ebblinghem] We are now back again in the country in the same district where we were a month ago. We took part in the great successful battle of Messines Ridge that no doubt you have already read about in the newspapers. As a Division we did well, and our chaps in the Battalion did their usual good work. We, the transport had a pretty hot time before the attack and I lost a horse which was killed. A gas-shell burst almost beneath the poor brute and so damaged him that I had to shoot him. Luckily for the Battalion he was pulling the last wagon in my convoy so that I managed to get the best part of it safely through the shell-struck area but had to return afterwards to recover the abandoned wagon.
After the `push', the Transport Section had a comparatively soft time although on two occasions we ran into some stray shelling which caused us (my groom and I) to take cover in old shell-holes. Luckily he had only one pack-pony at the time so we escaped scot-free.
We are now far away from war and its noise and worry, being billeted in a nice old-fashioned farmhouse where we can get plenty of milk and cream, and also their local brew of beer. The weather is very warm now, and yesterday on the march home we felt it somewhat but arrived safely without mishap on the road. There is no more news to tell you at present and we are all looking forward to a comparatively easy time while we prepare for the next lot of activity against the Bosche.
P.S. I have not heard from Home for nearly a month. - Brian.
SOMEWHERE IN BELGIUM, Sunday 24th June, 1917 [Lynde near Ebblinghem] We are still in the same peaceful place on the nice farm. The farm is a nice peaceful spot, and from a farming point of view is very interesting. Milk and cream and garden produce are abundant, e.g. lettuce and eschallots. Before we abandoned our old Winter quarters, we had some lettuce and radishes almost ready to eat - I suppose, however, that someone else is enjoying them if a shell has not already dropped and blown them to bits.
This afternoon we are taking part in a competition at a nearby village in a kind of military show. We are entering a limber-wagon and pair, a pack-pony and harness, and also five riding-horses (or "chargers" as they are termed in the Army). My men have put their backs into the work of preparing the entries, and unless other units are exceptionally good, we should stand a fair chance of winning a prize or two.
Leave of absence is continuing strongly and if all goes well I should be in England within the month. The Colonel took his allocation of leave yesterday, leaving the Major in command during his absence.
I haven't received a letter from Home for over a month. I suppose the submarines are the cause. No more news now. With fondest love, - Brian.
AS USUAL, Sunday July 8th, 1917 [Battalion moved from bivouacs at Ridgewood to Alberta Camp, near Ridgewood, Abeele] Since I last wrote I have received a batch of five letters from you! Also a parcel containing socks and tobacco, for which very many thanks. I have heard from Jack, too, and have written to him giving him all the advice I can muster, and I hope he accepts and finds it useful.
Affairs here are going along nicely, and recently the King and Prince of Wales visited the area. I got two good glimpses of them both.
Yesterday I received a note from Mrs Thorne. She had been on a visit to London (from Bedford). Harold has had four days leave in Paris, and expects to get home-leave soon. There are still five others in front of me on the leave-roster when it re-opens. Recently I heard from Harry Bird who is in good fettle.
In one of your letters you asked me to tell you all the news. I should dearly like to do so, but of course we are not allowed to do so, and, as we are our own censors, we must be as strict (if not stricter) with our own letters as with our men's letters.
It rained last night and left the ground in its old muddy condition. Give my love to Dad and to Kay. I hope his cold is better. Also, please remember me to all relations and friendly inquirers. - Brian.
BOULOGNE, July 22nd, 1917 This address will no doubt come as a surprise to you. At present I am on a course of instruction at a base camp. I travelled all day last Sunday and eventually located the Veterinary Hospital to which I am at present attached. There are four of us Infantry Transport Officers and we are enjoying ourselves in this "metropolis" of military activity.
The Major in charge does not worry us much, and apart from one lecture a day, we do as we please. We visit the sick-horse lines with different Veterinary Officers and ask them questions about things that happen to horses on active service. We also watch operations being performed on wounded horses in a well-fitted-up operating theatre. Horses and mules are chloroformed and thrown upon the padded `arena' and their wounds are opened up and bits of shell or bullets are extracted. The wounds are suitably dressed, and when the `patient' recovers conscious he staggers up upon his four hooves and is led away to his stall. In the "Mange" ward, too, they are very thorough. They have shown us examples of all the mange-germs and have taught us how to detect them and to treat them afterwards.
We are in camp on a tram route into Boulogne about 3 kilometers away, and we take advantage of this facility to visit the town fairly often. At present I am writing this at the Officers Club - hence the nice paper and ink. This club is staffed by girls of the Women's Auxiliary Army and we find them nice, and a pleasing change from seeing only French or Belgian people.
At the Hospital lines we sleep in tents from which we have a gorgeous view across the Channel in the early morning. Our soldier-servants too, are enjoying themselves and they say they wish the course would continue `for the duration', instead of for only ten short days! Good-bye Mother dear. I am enjoying life, and I hope you all at Home are likewise. - Brian.
AS USUAL, August 7th, 1917 At present, I am as "Tommy" puts it, "sweating on leave". That means that I shall be going in a few days - Thursday, 9th I hope. I do not think I shall visit Bedford this time as Harold and Sybil are no longer there, and I find London much more fascinating. I shall see Jack at Romford and shall probably go up the Thames a bit. Yesterday I received a bunch of letters from Home: two from you and one each from Bessie and Clara. In one of your letters you have asked for war-news. As a matter of fact we ourselves get to know very little of what is happening outside our own sector and we are only too eager to buy the London Newspapers to learn how the war is going on. Of course the Colonel receives the official communiques and passes them round in the Mess when we are together as a Unit, but more than not I and the Quartermaster, being detached and on our own, do not see them at first hand. Our Division was in reserve during the last crack at the Hun in Flanders on July 31st, and we did not even leave camp as everything went off so smoothly. Of course there will be several more big shows before Winter, and it looks as though we will be here in Flanders for another miserable muddy spell. I do not mind the prospect so much as I think it cannot be worse than last Winter for cold and discomfort.
At present we are in a recognised camp, and the Transport, my command, is picketed in a near-by open field, so I see much more of the other Officers of our Battalion. My batman, Reid by name, has been rather unlucky since we returned from Boulogne. He contracted scarlet fever with the result that the Medical Officer packed him off to hospital and isolated our Mess and the other servants, but we found an empty iron shed near by and fixed up a little Mess on our own and are quite comfy. I am rather excited at the prospect of Leave (in capital letters) and hope to drop you a line next Sunday from London.
Love, - Brian.
BACK IN BELGIUM, August 21st, 1917 [Longueness: Company training on Brigade training area] No doubt you will think I have forgotten you as I missed writing last Sunday. The reason is that I had such a good time while on leave in London that I really hadn't a moment to spare.
I spent one weekend with Jack in town. We went to a couple of shows, and up the river on Sunday and enjoyed quite a long talk about old times, and also speculated about the future. Jack is, as usual, very enthusiastic with his new undertaking and looks as though the life is agreeing with him. He is quite brown and healthy-looking, and I think he will put on flesh after a while when he gets used to the strange life we lead.
I stayed at the South African Officers' Club all the time and found it top-hole in every respect. I met dozens of old pals and there was always some form of entertainment laid on for us `Colonials'. I went to the Zoo with some Society Ladies as guides, and enjoyed tea twice at the Countess of Harrowby's, and we were privileged to be shown over the House of Lords and the House of Commons by Lord Harrowby. We listened to an interesting debate there and heard Lord Cecil choke off Ramsay Macdonald, the Socialist. I left London early on Sunday morning (19th), spent a day in Dover, a night in Calais, and arrived back at Battalion headquarters last night.
The Battalion is out of the battle zone near a big town that you know of, and as the weather is good we are enjoying ourselves immensely. The Transport Section is still going strong, and my horse `Electric' is full of vim.
Since I have been away, Wallace has joined us. I had a good chat about you dear people at home. I did not see Mrs Thorne as I stayed in London all the time. I did not meet Nelson in town, but hope to do so one of these days. Love to all at Home. - Brian.
SUNDAY, August 26th, 1917 [Longueness] Another Sunday and we find ourselves in the battle zone once more. We were moved up suddenly, the Transport Section by road, taking two days to do the Journey, and the Battalion were conveyed in motor-buses.
We are at present billeted in rest-huts that we used all last Winter and we expect to get busy very shortly. The Q.M., Padre and I are billeted in a farmhouse that has escaped being shelled although the barn nearby has been practically demolished.
We are now fairly well out-of-range of the enemy's big guns, but instead nearly every night his planes come and lay their eggs. We have suffered very, very few causalities from their attentions but have experienced plenty of noise. The Bosche is certainly putting up a stiff resistance on this front, and some people think that the War will be finished before the Winter. Personally I fail to see how it can. In my opinion, next Summer may see the end, but not before.
Mother, Dear, you will be glad to know that I am in excellent health, and I sincerely hope that all at Home are the same. - Brian.
Published: 1 October 2007.
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