Tuesday, 30 June 2015

'We've come to deliver the knockout blow to Fritz!'

We're in it together: American and British servicemen share a
muddy moment at Yate air base in 1919 (Yate Heritage Centre
When American GIs were stationed in Britain during the Second World War, their 'un-English' ways put a lot of noses out of joint. 'Overpaid, oversexed and over here!' was a complaint muttered fairly often by locals who were unaccustomed to what they considered brash behaviour.

Similar feelings may have been aroused during the First World War, too, when American servicemen began arriving in Britain on their way to the Front, for accounts written at the time reveal that the Americans announced themselves as a fairly ebullient bunch. Among them was Corporal Ned Steel of Kansas City, who spent two months at the Third Western Aero Repair Depot at Yate, north of Bristol, in 1918.

'Twas the afternoon of April 20th when we arrived there, the first American soldiers to set foot in these parts, and we created no small commotion...Wherever we went in the next two months of our visit, the hospitality was unabounded. Talk about appreciation! Those Englishmen saw in us the reserve strength of the Allies come to deliver the knockout blow to Fritz.'

The ocean liner Aquitania, which served as a troopship in WW1
Steel belonged to a squadron of airmen that had crossed the Atlantic aboard the Aquitania, formerly a Cunard ocean-liner which served as a troop-carrier and hospital ship during the conflict. Its sister ship, the Lusitania, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in 1915 with the loss of many American civilian lives. This catastrophe was one of the reasons that prompted the US to enter the war in 1917.

During the crossing, Steel and his friends had been amused at the differences between themselves and the British. They gently mocked the way everything the Brits said was littered with mild curses. Even when the Aquitania's history was being explained, wrote Steel, every other word seemed to be 'bloody': 'The ship had been in the hospital service between the bloody Dardanelles and England. This was her first bloody voyage as a bloody troop ship.' The Americans also smiled at the British penchant for keeping meals simple, with Steel mimicking: 'My Gosh! Fish for breakfast?'

But the ribbing stopped when the Americans stepped ashore, to be greeted by warm and enthusiastic crowds. Perhaps for the first time, they began to understand the high price the British had already paid for the war:

'April 11, 1918 we awoke at the wharves of Liverpool. Then began our welcome in England. Ferries plying the muddy Mersey were lined with people waving handkerchiefs at us. And when we had landed a little later and were marching to our train through the uptown district of Liverpool great crowds along the way watched us. Crowds, mostly of women, they were - and rosy-cheeked girls. Young men were conspicuous by their scarcity, in fact were almost a minus quantity. It came to us forcibly then that England was doing her utmost in manpower, and some of our prejudice vanished.'

Steel appears to have been charmed by his rail journey south to Bristol:

'With a squad to each compartment on our funny looking coaches we started across "Merry Old England". The dinky little engine quite surprised us with its speed. What a beautiful country it was...green green grass covering every inch of untilled ground...stone walls...everything clean and tidy...for once the Californians were mum.'

He noted how few level crossings there were, with the train more often going over bridges or under roads: 'Only once in England did we see a wagon road intersect the railroad's right of way and then strong gates of iron shut out the traffic and the watchman tended them as the train went by.' At Bristol the men changed trains for Yate ('a town with one street').

Men of the American Air Service form a 'propellor' at
Yate air base in August 1918 (Yate Heritage Centre)
Steel's description of his time in Blighty is in a book he wrote about the history of his unit, the 822nd (Repair) Squadron, a copy of which is held at Yate Heritage Centre. I discovered it while researching my own book Bristol in the the Great War, in which I included an entertaining account of the Bristol girls he met. In comparison with the ladies he had left behind they were much more forward, welcoming Steel and his friends with open arms, offering to buy them drinks, scrounging cigarettes and even asking for a goodnight kiss !

In the workplace, Steel observed the different manner in which the two nationalities set about their jobs: 'The common impression among us in regard to Tommy was that he was slow but thorough. "Swinging the lead" (taking it easy) was quite universal in the [work]shops when the flight sergeants and officers weren't around. When it came to turning out first class products, however, Tommy was there'.

Meanwhile: 'Tommy was penning his impressions of us: how Sam carried himself as tho' he owned the world, was free-and-easy and took no rough talk from his non-coms [non-commissioned officers].'

Steel concluded: 'When the history of this war is written, let it be remembered that the American Aviaition Squadrons stationed in England did their bit by strengthening the hearts and wills of their English cousins at an hour when the war looked darkest to them.'

Confident words indeed, but after a few weeks in France things would often look rather different to the fresh young men who arrived from America with bags of enthusiasm but little experience of trench warfare. Such a caution were sent home by George Swales, one of the first American soldiers to arrive in France whose his story is told in my book Letters from the Trenches. In a letter to his wife he wrote:

I hope the Yanks don’t think they are going to have a walkover for they are in for a surprise. I thought I had a pretty fair idea of what it was and I expected it to be rough but it’s worse than what Sherman [an American general] said war was. It will take some of the swank out of them before they are two weeks in the trenches.’

Monday, 15 June 2015

The dreaded knock at the door that signalled bad news

Vera Brittain

The terrible moment when families received bad news from the Front has often been written about and is one of the abiding images of the First World War. Vera Brittain's account of the day she learnt her brother was dead is particularly chilling: ‘There came the sudden loud clattering at the front-door knocker that always meant a telegram. For a moment I thought that my legs would not carry me, but they behaved quite normally as I got up and went to the door. I knew what was in the telegram.’

Whether it was a telegram (usually reserved for officers) or a letter, the bald facts could not be softened: a loved one had been killed far from home and life would never be the same again. It was a natural reaction to try and find out more about the circumstances of death, how exactly a father, husband, brother or friend had died, and many wrote back asking for more details.

Far from home: graves at the battlefront
Painful as they are, the replies were often kept by families and some can be read in my book Letters from the Trenches. Below is one written to the sister of Second Corporal Rockett, who was killed on the battlefield in the spring of 1918. It was written by an army captain whose tone is weary, his letter almost formulaic: first the facts, then an offer of further help, followed by an expression of sympathy and praise for the soldier's heroism.

16th April 1918

"Dear Miss Rockett,

I duly received your letter of 11th inst addressed to the chaplain.  As there is at present no chaplain for this company I am giving you a short account of what happened to your brother 2nd Cpl Rockett. From the accounts of various men who were present at the time, your brother was shot through the head with a bullet. He was in the act of bandaging a wounded man at the time and his death appears to have been instantaneous. As our men were forced to retire from their position at that time, your brother’s body had to be left behind.
If there are any further particulars you would like I shall do my best to obtain them for you.
I should like to take this opportunity of expressing to you and your relations my deepest sympathy with you all in your great loss.
I myself had formed the very highest opinion of your brother and when I heard the sad news of his death I was more than sorry.
I trust that it may be some small satisfaction and consolation to you at this time of sorrow to know the heroic manner in which your brother met his death and also to know that he was very highly thought of by all the officers and men of the company. He was so thoroughly reliable and willing at all times, that his death is a great loss to the company.
Once again I would assure you of my heartfelt sympathy at this time."

An ambulance at the Front desperately tries
to reach the dead and wounded
There is no reason to believe that this isn't an accurate account of what happened to Second Corporal Rockett. But history suggests that families were often given a sanitised version of the truth, without the gruesome details of a death that may have been far from heroic. Not only was this kinder for all concerned, it was also vital if support for the war at home was to be maintained.

Such 'glossing-over' was the subject of one of Siegried Sasson's most disturbing - and heartbreaking -

The Hero

Jack fell as he'd have wishes,' the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she'd read. 
'The Colonel writes so nicely.' Something broke
In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.
She half looked up. 'We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.' Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried 
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

In the chaos of war, who could know where the truth lay?

Copyright © 1915 Jacqueline Wadsworth

Friday, 29 May 2015

Can you help put names to these WW1 German faces?

Above and below are photos belonging to an unknown
German soldier, that were found in a wallet on the
Western Front - can you identify them?
Can anyone help identify the faces in the photographs on this page? They show the family and friends of a German soldier of the First World War and were found in a black leather wallet on the Western Front by a British artilleryman, Arthur Youell, who kept them as a ‘souvenir’. Nothing is known about those pictured, nor the soldier to whom the photos belonged, and for the last 100 years they have lain unidentified in the keeping of Arthur Youell’s nephew, John Sherwood.

Mr Sherwood, who allowed me to use his uncle's letters in my book Letters from the Trenches has always been very keen to discover more about the photos, so I am hoping that readers may be able to shed light on them. Here is what we know so far ... 

Corporal Arthur Youell, a farmer's son from Malton in Yorkshire, arrived in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery in July 1916 – the earliest date the photographs could have been found.  He discovered them in a black leather wallet and the assumption is that Youell picked them up on the battlefield or in a captured German trench, and that their owner was already dead. It is not known exactly where on the Front they were found, but it was common for soldiers to send home 'souvenirs' of war.

The wallet contained 18 beautifully-kept photographs, among them were pictures of young boys posing proudly in military uniform, and a baby on a rug. Most were studio portraits but there were also pictures of soldiers in the field. One bore the postmark 'Feld-Art.-Regt. 27' and two had faint messages on the back (see below). Some were taken by studio photographers in the German town of Weinheim, and in March a story was published by the local Weinheim newspaper appealing for information, but sadly no answers were forthcoming. 

Arthur Youell wrote regularly to his family but there is no reference to the photographs in his letters. His correspondence was, however, full of vivid and well-observed description – ranging from the cacophony of battle to the everyday details of life as an artilleryman – and you can read extracts in my book Letters from theTrenches. Here, for example, he describes the awesome sight of Allied howitzers in action:

'Each time they flung their massive "iron rations" over the German lines we could see the projectile whirling away and growing smaller and smaller till it passed the culminating point and vanished from sight. These shells are so heavy that two men are required to lift one of them, so what enormous power must be concentrated in that small charge – power sufficient to throw one of those heavy missiles a distance of half a dozen miles and more.'

Corporal Youell, a gun layer with the 126 Siege Battery, survived the conflict and returned home at the end of the war to run his own farm. Like so many First World War veterans, he spoke little of his experiences on the battlefield, and certainly not about the mementoes he picked up.

So on Mr Sherwood’s behalf I am asking readers if they can help shed light on the photos, which obviously belonged to a soldier who came from a loving family. Sadly the soldier was probably dead when his wallet was found, but it's just possible that it fell from his pocket when he was alive and that he survived the war. To trace his family and discover what happened to him after 100 years would be wonderful, so please spread the word in any way you can - especially if you have contacts in Germany.

You can get in touch with me by leaving a message at the end of this post. Or via Twitter @soldiersletters. Or email me at jacwadsworth@hotmail.com.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Above, a message on the back of one
of the photos (can anyone translate it?)
and, below, the postmark on another

Some of the photographs with the black leather
wallet in which they were found on the Western Front

Friday, 8 May 2015

'You can never be sure at what hour you will be blown to atoms'

A post-war photo of Stanley Goodhead, second right,
one of Kitchener's more mature volunteers 
It's easy to imagine Kitchener's Army as full of young men in their teens or early twenties, inexperienced and still 'wet behind the ears' - but that wasn't the whole story at all. A large number of volunteers were mature men with commitments at home (careers, relationships, young families) who had weighed up the pros and cons and felt it was their duty to go and fight.

One such servicemen was Stanley Goodhead, a railway engineer from Manchester who was 26 and courting his sweetheart when war broke out. He joined Manchester's 19th 'Pals' battalion and was sent to serve on the Western Front. His experiences are described in letters he wrote to his father, several of which feature in my book Letters from the Trenches. All are articulate, considered, and written by a man who was well aware of the risks of war.

In the spring of 1916 Private Goodhead was in France preparing for the Battle of the Somme. This was the first big offensive that would rely on Britain's volunteers rather than the regular army, and tension was evident in his letters:

8th May 1916

'Do not think I have any doubt about not seeing you all again, that is not so, but to tell the truth, the part of the line we now occupy is a death trap and you cannot be sure at what hour you will have a bullet in the brain or be blown to atoms by a shell or rifle grenade. I have a number of friends laid low these last few days and one cannot help thinking things.  All the same I am trying not to get down-hearted and it is a good thing indeed that we have plenty of work to do as it takes our mind off things.'

28th May 1916

'There is one thing I want to mention particularly to you, that is, very shortly now I am going into very dangerous work and, of course, anything can happen. I am just telling you so as I do not want you to be taken by surprise if anything happens.'

'Over the top' in the Battle of the Somme' - 'The line
we occupy is a death trap,' wrote Stanley Goodhead
28th June 1916

'Very soon now I along with many others will be going into very great danger and I am taking this opportunity of letting you know so that you will not be surprised at whatever may happen. You will understand Dad that I am not allowed to say too much so I must leave it to you to read between the lines and use your own discretion as to how you tell them at home. We are all in splendid condition and in good spirits and to see the lads you would hardly believe there was a cloud hanging over them. We are at present getting plenty of food and good rest and our hard training is at an end for the present.

'Everything is being done to make things a success and nothing is being left to chance and I am confident after what I have witnessed that good results will be obtained and the lads will not be found wanting when called on. Now Dad I have said as much as I dare in this line but I want to impress on you that anything may happen so don’t be surprised. I am not quite sure yet whether my work will be with the signallers or with the platoon but you may be quite sure that whatever I am told to do I will do it at once and cheerfully and my one hope is that my nerve will hold out that I may go on and not halt once till our objective is reached.

'I will bring my letter to a close now Dad reminding you that I am prepared for anything and fully aware of all the difficulties and dangers that are in front but full of hope for the best. I wish to thank you Dad for the way you have looked after me whilst our here also when at home and you have my very best wishes. If this should be my last letter you will find everything in order and it is my wish that Mother and Jinny [his sister] have every care and attention. Watch the papers.'

Three weeks after the offensive was launched, Goodhead wrote to his father on 28 July:

'I am very well and keeping up through all this turmoil and your letters cheer me up, however do not be alarmed if you do not hear from me for some time. Things are lively here and do not get alarmed at huge casualty lists.'

Belgian civilians celebrate liberation in 1918
The Battle of the Somme dragged on for five long months, but thankfully Goodhead survived - not just the battle but the war too. At some point during the conflict he was wounded and sent to Endell Street Military Hospital in Covent Garden, London, which was run and staffed soley by women and specialised in treating head injuries and femoral fractures. Later in the war Goodhead was transferred to the Royal Engineers, promoted to lance corporal, and was one of the first to enter newly-liberated Belgium in 1918. And here, a happier and more relaxed tone coloured the letters he wrote to his father:

 'I shall never forget the day we landed in Ostend from Calais, on our arrival the people went mad with joy, kissing us, shaking hands, hugging us, and in every manner possible they showered their thanks on the "English Gentlemen" as they called us.'

You can read more of Private Stanley Goodhead's letters from the Front, and those of his fellow volunteer soldiers, in my book Letters from the Trenches.

Copyright © 1915 Jacqueline Wadsworth and Barbara Rosser

Thursday, 23 April 2015

In memory of those who died on the rocky Mediterranean peninsula

GALLIPOLI 1915 ...

‘Things were awful, dead and wounded men for our companions at all times. I saw so much suffering and death that it appeared to me to be the only thing to look forward to and expect at any minute.'
My word, our chaps are savage when they are fighting. I think the Gurkhas are ladies compared with Australians in a charge with their blood up.’

‘We live in dugouts cut in the side of the hill just like rabbits.'

'We are giving the Turks all the fight they want. They are very frightened of the bayonet. They squeal like blue hell when they get a touch.’

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings and above are extracts from letters written by men who fought there, taken from my book Letters from the Trenches. Much will be written about the barbaric fighting on that rocky peninsula, the merciless Turkish enemy, and the huge toll levied by heat and disease during the campaign. So below are two letters from my book that reflect upon aspects of Gallipoli that are perhaps less talked about. One defends the Turks as honest, clean fighters - an opinion voiced by other soldiers too. The second reveals that the Mediterranean winter weather was every bit as severe as the scorching summer.

Private Ernest Hough
Australian Private Ernest Hough was a tram driver from New South Wales who enlisted at the beginning of the war when he was 30 and served as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli. In a letter home, he poured scorn on reports in Australian newspapers that the Turkish enemy was committing atrocities, and suggested such reports came from men who had experienced little of the fighting: 'Most of them were written by chaps that were on the shore from six to 24 hours before being wounded,' wrote Hough, adding sarcastically 'and they saw more than we, that have been now four months continually fighting.' He continued:

'We often read, for instance, of how our wounded have been mutilated by the Turks, and that is all rot, I can tell you in all sincerity, and I am sure the men of the battalion to which I belong will tell you the same, that is, the members that have been right through [the fighting]. The Turks have fought a good clean fight and are still fighting that way. I know of several instances wherein our wounded have been treated kindly by the Turks, and in no case to my knowledge has one case been proved where they have done anything offside. I think in justice to our enemies, that this should be said of them. Of course, I know what the Turk is capable of, but I do not think he is game to start, for he realises as well as we do that he will  receive just as much as he sends with compound interest added.'

The second letter was written in December 1915 by Private Sydney Town, a British soldier of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He describes to his brother the atrocious winter weather that troops endured at Gallipoli at the end of 1915, shortly before the peninsula was evacuated. A heavy rainstorm struck on 26 November and lasted three days, flooding trenches, drowning soldiers, and washing unburied corpses into the lines. It was followed by a blizzard at Suvla in early December, during which more men died from exposure. Like so many Great War soldiers, Town put a brave face on things:

4 December 1915

'Dear Brother, a line or two just to say your parcel arrived here the last day of Nov ... The apples had gone soft but not bad and had a spirity taste. The other cakes were hard but toasted all right. I am glad to say that I am keeping well. We had a bad storm here last weekend. The rain came down in torrents and the trenches were running with water 7 or 8 inches deep. Next day we had frost and snow and for three nights the weather was very severe.'

Private Town talked of men suffering from frost-bitten feet and rheumatism, and continued:

'They say this is only a taste of what we are going to get but at all events it won't be as sudden. We were enjoying almost summer weather during the week, cold only being noticed after sunset. The fly ointment arrived with the death of about the last fly on the peninsula. I hope you are all in good health at Wakefield and that you like you new house. With love and kisses to the children and with my best wishes to you.'

Although Town survived the horrors of Gallipoli, he was killed in France in September 1916 during Battle of the Somme. Private Ernest Hough survived the war and returned home to Australia. This post is written in memory of all those who fought and died at Gallipoli during the First World War.

Copyright © 2015 Jacqueline  Wadsworth / Sharon Fewings / Valerie Gilbert

Monday, 13 April 2015

Let's not forget the poignant pleas of desperate mothers

Exhausted Anzac troops take a rest at Gallipoli
The First World War Centenary, which made such an impact last summer, is beginning to stir again in readiness for the 100th anniversary of the Battle for Gallipoli. This ill-fated Allied campaign was launched in the Mediterranean on 25 April 1915, but ended in humiliating defeat just nine months later.

It is still commemorated with reverence, however, and nowhere more so than in Australia and New Zealand where the anniversary is known as Anzac Day (after the abbreviation given to the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). In 1915 both countries were cutting their teeth as new nations and, according to one historian, 'Gallipoli was the crucible from which the Anzac legend was forged'.

The fighting on the rocky peninsula of Gallipoli was ferocious and the Turkish enemy proved tough and dogged. Disease also thrived in the stultifying heat and claimed huge numbers of lives. Descriptions of the horror of battle are plentiful, with many gruesome accounts sent home to families, like this one written by Australian Private Henry Wright:

'We saw a poor chap staggering towards us ... A machine gun had made a horrible sight of him. The bullets entering his mouth, cutting away the bottom teeth then passing through his neck breaking the collarbone and making a nasty gash in his shoulder. He could not speak but wrote down on a piece of paper that he was not downhearted and that he was satisfied when he saw our boys had taken the position.'

Susan Butters and son Les
How unimaginably awful it must have been for the recipients of such letters, especially for families who lived on the other side of the world. While researching my book Letters from the Trenches, many Australians got in touch with me to share correspondence that reflected just how helpless those in the Southern Hemisphere felt during the Great War - particularly mothers. Many were not well educated, but they wrote polite and poignant letters to army officials in Melbourne begging to know what had become of their sons.

Below is one written by Mrs Susan Butters, of Lismore, Victoria, whose two sons, Les and Jack, both fought in the war. Les had been taken ill in Egypt, and would eventually died of dysentery in 1918, just after the Armistice had been signed. Jack Butters had been captured in France and was being held prisoner in Germany. Desperate to find out what had happened to them, Susan wrote this letter to the Melbourne Records Office in October 1917:

Dear Sir, I wish to trouble you once again to answer me a question: can Australian Prisoners of War in Germany still receive letters from their relations in Australia and their letters be forwarded from them to Australia. I noticed a paragraph in the ‘Age’ [an Australian newspaper] about a week ago where all mail through Switzerland to Germany was to be stopped ... Could you also inform me if there has been any further word come through concerning my other son who was reported ill in Egypt ... we are very anxious about him. If any other bad news should have the misfortune to have come through concerning either of my boy’s [sic] ...would you be kind enough to forward it c/o The Church of England Clergy or to Dr Paton Lismore, Victoria, as I have had a few shocks already, and urgent wires and telegrams are handed here to me as ordinary letters. Sorry for troubling you so much. 

Jack Butters (third left) pictured in German prison camp
This year, when we remember those who lost their lives at Gallipoli, let's also spare a thought for the mothers (and fathers) who had no choice but to wait at home, dreading the arrival of bad news with no idea what had become of their sons. You can read more of their moving correspondence in Letters from the Trenches.

Copyright © 2015 Jacqueline Wadsworth, Ken Wright & Helen Lang

Thursday, 2 April 2015

'We're tired of being crumped in the trenches day and night'

In some ways the spring of 1915 was not dissimilar to ours today - at least in Britain. The Meteorological Office's report for April told the same old story: 'During the first ten days of the month the weather was unsettled and the wind blew with considerable force at times.' Easter Sunday fell fairly early that year too, on 4th April. And then, as now, newspapers were always on the lookout for fresh ways to present long-running stories. With this in mind, the Sunday Post (right) had lined up some new ideas for its coverage of the Great War, which were revealed to readers on Easter Day 1915:

'For next week's issue you will be interested to know further new features are in store, arrangements having been made with more popular writers of the day to contribute to its columns. In addition to all the very latest news from the seats of war, our military and naval correspondents will again present their illuminating comments on the progress of the war. Then, you will get a splendid up-to-date Map of the Near East. This Map gives a clear outline of the scenes of war-like operations in that part of the world including the Dardanelles, Bosphorous, Smyrna, and the Aegean Sea. It will enable you to follow with thorough understanding the movements of the Allied Fleets in the great enterprise in which they are at present engaged.

'There will be another deeply interesting article on the subject of 'Germany from Within'. These articles supply that information which is now eagerly sought by the British public. Cartoons will again be a feature. A selection is made from all the best caricatures of the war published throughout the world. A Special Article of absorbing interest will be contributed by Constance Elizabeth Maud. It is entitled 'Our French Friends' and illustrates a phase of the war upon which, in the past, little light has been thrown.'

Newspapers like The Post endeavoured to entertain as well as inform, with interesting and colourful items that readers could follow while tucking into toast and marmalade at the breakfast table. But everything would change when the post thumped down on the front door mat, for letters from the Front told a rather less glossy tale. Soldiers like Private Philip Luxton, of Abertillery in South Wales, were tired of living cooped up in trench dugouts. He wrote about boredom, exhaustion, fear, discomfort; he yearned for tasty food, and to be able to take off his boots that were stiff with mud. And he longed to know for sure that he would see his wife and two young daughters again...

2 April 1915 (Good Friday)

'You said on your last letter for me to look out for a parcel of cakes. I can promise you I will do that for it will be a rare treat to have some cakes, for even bread and butter is a luxury here among we soldiers.
Dear Wife, this is my eighth day for me not to have my boots and socks off my feet and I cannot tell you when I will have them off and I tell you we are all beginning to feel the effects of tiredness for it is very tiring being crumped [sic] in the trenches day and night. Now I must close having no more to say at present.'

A scene from the Western Front: 'We are all beginning to
feel the effects of tiredness,' wrote Private Luxton
5 April 1915 (Easter Monday)

'Just a line in answer to your parcel of cakes and ham I received on Easter Monday morning so I had cakes for breakfast and I am going to have ham for tea and I know I will enjoy it. Dear Wife, I had the pleasure to take off my boots last night for we have come out of the trenches at last after eleven days and nights and I can tell you we were very thankful to get anywhere for a rest but they have not took us very far, but they intend to take [us] further away in two days time. Dear Wife, I should like it if you could see me now for you would never forget we are like rabbits buried in holes in the ground. Me and Fry is in one by ourselves for they will only hold 2 or 3 men and we must not come out from there in day light for fear of being shelled ... Dear Wife we had a very busy time on Easter Saturday morning at 4 o'clock and I am glad to tell you I came out of that scrummage [a reference to his pre-war days as a rugby coach ] safe and sound thank God, but cheer [up] and I am sure we will meet again for my spirits are very well considering the time we are having. Now I must close for I feel like having a rest, from your loving Husband Phil.'

Private Luxton, who served with the Welsh Regiment, was killed in action in October 1915.

Copyright ©1915 Jacqueline Wadsworth / Anne Holland