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Title: Letters from France
Author: Mack, Isaac Alexander
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Letters from France" ***

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    | Transcriber's Note:                                          |
    |                                                              |
    | Inconsistent hyphenation and unusual spelling in the         |
    | original document has been preserved. The style used by the  |
    | author to record time is 6-0, rather than the modern 6:00.   |
    |                                                              |
    | A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected |
    | in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of     |
    | this document.                                               |
    |                                                              |
    +--------------------------------------------------------------+

       *       *       *       *       *



LETTERS FROM
FRANCE


WRITTEN BY


ISAAC ALEXANDER MACK
THE YOUNGER


LIEUTENANT OF THE
11TH SUFFOLK REGIMENT

AND LATER

CAPTAIN OF THE
101ST TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY


PRIVATELY PRINTED



LETTERS FROM FRANCE.


                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                   B.E.F., Monday, January 10th, 1916.

My darling Mother,--

This will probably be a long letter; I hope you will not get bored
with it. Please keep this letter and any that follow it, so that at
the end of the war I may perhaps achieve fame as the author of
"Drivellings of a young Officer at the Front." As I have not got used
to the routine out here I will describe all the last few days as they
strike me, because probably, when I have been out here a little,
everything will become such a matter of course that it will be
difficult to give you any idea of what our life is like unless I begin
with a good chapter one.



CHAPTER I.

"The young soldier's last day in England."


The last day or two was rather a rush. Thursday we frantically packed
valises and vainly attempted to reduce them to something near the
regulation 35lbs. At first one put in a wardrobe fit for Darius going
to conquer Greece, which, when put on the scale, gaily passed its
maximum of 55 pounds. Then out came slacks, shoes, scarves, all sorts
of things. The weighing was then repeated and further reductions
embarked upon, the final result being about 45 lbs. However, we packed
them up tight and they all passed all right. Friday was an awful day
spent in full marching field service order, inspections, and rumours
of absurd Divisional and Brigade operations, which were to take place
at night, although we were to rise at 4 a.m. to march to the station.
However, the operations were only for Company Commanders, and so we
were saved.

In the afternoon we bought all the things we thought we had forgotten.
As everything was packed up a group of half-a-dozen of us assembled
round the anti-room fire to attempt to obtain a little sleep. I had a
chair and a great coat to go over me. The others slept on the floor
with table clothes and such like things. We kept a huge fire burning
all night, and, unfortunately, instead of going to sleep one could not
help looking into its red depths and seeing the pictures of men and
horses you always see in fires. Personally, I did not sleep at all,
only rested and dozed. At 3-0 a.m. a man came in and announced in a
stentorian voice, "The Corporal of the Guards' compliments to Captain
Seddon, and it is 3 o'clock." Appreciation of the fact from Captain
Seddon, who had been sleeping, in unprintable language which finally
resolved itself in a complaint that he had not been introduced to the
Corporal of the Guard and he failed to see why he should bear him a
grudge.

    At 3-30 we got up,
    4-0 a hasty breakfast,
    4-45 I began to go to the lines to fall in,
    4-46 I came back for my glasses,
    4-48 I return for my identity disc,
    4-50 I return again for my day's rations,
    5-0 I fall in a quarter of an hour late.

At 5-15 we march off in the dark saying good-bye to those that remain
behind, and realising that at last our many months of training are
over, and we are soldiers at last, proud of the fact and beginning to
be proud of ourselves as we march down to the station. I was very much
struck by the great send-off given us by the women of the cottages we
passed who, despite the fact that they had seen thousands march out,
all turned out at that early hour, and from their doorsteps wished us
a very sincere and affecting God speed. At 7-0 we reach the station
and the train, uncertain from what port we sail, to what port we shall
go, and almost in entire ignorance of our destination, even the C.O.
knows nothing and our staff less.

But in three or four hours we reach our port of embarkation and go
straight from train to boat, and are soon out in the Channel. Before
we sail all the men put on lifebelts, in accordance with orders, much
to the amusement of two or three blasé Canadian Officers returning to
the Front, who, however, are soon unable to take any further interest
in our proceedings, and seem from their earnest studies of the sea to
be trying indelibly to impress upon their brains a distinct
remembrance not of the ship but of the Channel itself. As soon as we
started we all went in to the cabin and lunched, I, attempting to fill
myself so full that the pitching of the ship in a choppy sea shall not
affect me. It was all of no avail. I paid three shillings for my
lunch, and discovered afterwards that I had not bought it, only hired
it for a short while. I was greatly relieved when the voyage was over
and we backed into our port of debarkation.

There we had to fall in about half a mile from the landing place, and
Staff Colonels and Captains completely lost their heads trying to get
us to form up without telling us where to do so, or in what formation.
We did not know what we were to expect or what we should do for the
night. I expected to sleep on the ground and to eat cold
bully-beef--the remains of the rations we were carrying. It had been
impressed upon us by all the officers whom we had seen, who had
returned from the Front, that directly we arrived abroad all comfort
was gone, and that troops were rushed about here and there undergoing
frightful privations and fatigues, but not a bit of it. We marched up
about two miles to a rest camp, and arrived very tired to find a
beautiful dinner ready for us. Tents (two officers to a tent), beds,
spring mattresses, and as many blankets as we wanted. There we
received all sorts of orders and supplies. A day's ration, another gas
helmet (we already had one each), war rations (an emergency ration),
&c. The next day (Sunday) we marched down to the station to entrain,
marching off at 7-45. This was the only hard day we have had so far.
We had a tiring march to the station, carrying equipment weighing
about 60lbs.--an awful weight--we then waited at the station, and a
train came in with our transport on it, who had come over separately
by a different route, and spent four or five hours in the train, and
finally detrained at a very pretty village, where we could distinctly
hear the booming of the guns. There we waited for some time before
marching off, and were greeted with the sound of loud cheers from a
neighbouring field where the Artists were playing the H.A.C. at rugger
and were cheering their own sides. Then we set out, led by a French
guide, and marched about ten miles to reach our present abode. The
thing that struck me on the way was the flatness of the country, and
the roads, which were the typical roads one always sees in the
illustrated papers: long, straight and slightly raised, with avenues
of poplars along them all. The march was awful. The weight in my pack
almost dragged my shoulders off, and the men felt it terribly.
Finally, we arrived in the market place of the village near which we
are, and fell out on the grass immediately, only too glad to get our
packs off and rest, while the billeting officer led the Company
Commanders round and showed them where they were to be billeted.

After an hour or so they returned and we marched off to our billets.
We are billeted in a sort of irregular ring round the village, with
Battalion Headquarters in a small chateau. We are in farms. Most farms
take anything from 50 to 100 men, and all the farms are similar. There
is a central square with a sort of depression in the centre, which is
covered with dirty straw and filthy water; all the rubbish is thrown
into it, and pigs, hens, and cows, wander at will all over it. I asked
the doctor this morning if it was not very unhealthy, but he said that
fortunately such places became septic filters. I think he said they
breed all sorts of bacteria and they have a squabble among themselves,
and by fighting against each other keep things all right. If the
Austrian and German bacteria would only do the same it would save a
lot of trouble. Round the cesspits are barns and pig-houses, &c. A lot
of barns. Instead of stacking hay and straw as we do they seem to put
it in barns. The men sleep in the barns; they snuggle down into the
straw and enjoy themselves thoroughly. They are just like kittens and
quite as happy, playing round and hiding themselves in the straw. We
set out for our billets, and were halted when we came to our farms. I
was in the rear when word was passed down that I was needed in front,
and I went up and found a small farm on the left and a big one on the
right. I was told my platoon would be in the little one and the rest
of the company in the big one, so I was sent in to tackle the owner,
who did not know a word of English, and to settle my men. I did my
best, my French is just good enough to make myself understood at a
pinch, and I am getting on. The farmer showed me round and I put the
men into two barns. Then I asked him "Avez-vous de l'eau a boire?" and
he replied "Mais oui." Then he showed me a pump. We then drew some
water to make tea in the company's travelling cooker. The
Quartermaster-Sergeant asked me to come and listen to it. About ten
yards off my nose told me where it was; it was filthy, so we had to
try elsewhere.

The first night I slept very comfortably in an attic in the chateau
with Battalion Headquarters. Monsieur and his son and the old cook,
whose husband is a prisoner in Germany, still live in part of the
house, the other empty rooms we have, the Colonel having a toppingly
furnished room. Then we picniced quite happily the first night,
breakfasting off coffee and bully beef at about 10-0 the next morning.
The next day we spent in settling in and organising things. We are
about 24 miles from the firing line and sometimes hear the big guns
and see plenty of aeroplanes. Two Taubes flew over yesterday, were
shelled in the air, and chased away by our aeroplanes.

It was arranged that we would collect most of our company together,
and officers sleep together, so I came down to this farm. We have
three-quarters of the Company here, my platoon in the farm I told you
about, and the others in the big farm. The officers, the Company
Commander and three subalterns have a room in the house, with big
windows opening out into the yard of the big farm. The room is on the
second storey. We have a large bed with a feather mattress, two of us
have the mattress on the floor, and very comfortable it is. We
censored our men's letters and so to bed.

In the afternoon we went to the village and purchased eggs, candles,
bread, &c., and I scrambled the eggs for dinner and made chocolate, in
addition to our bully beef, which was stewed in the company's cooker
and made a very good stew. We then censored our men's letters and went
to bed.

The letters seem most meagre affairs. All they said was that they were
writing to send their addresses. They were much as follows:--

  My darling so and so,--

  Hoping this finds you well as it leaves me well. I am writing to
  send you my address. (Then follows an address hopelessly wrong,
  and most of which I had to censor). We travel first-class here--in
  bullock carts. (The men were put in vans in the train--you have
  probably seen pictures of them labelled: Hommes 40, Chevals 8. I
  would rather be one of the chevals myself; we had second-class
  carriages--the officers). Please send me some fags. The people
  here don't speak English. I can't put as many crosses in as I
  would like as the officers have to read them.

          Much love, &c.

This is not an actual letter, but a similar one to them all.

Interruption. A knock came in "Monsieur il y a un soldat qui vous
demande" "Merci madame est-il dehas" "O oui Monsieur," Merci Madame. I
go and see. B Company Officers' valises have gone astray, &c.

When we were finally in bed and almost asleep comes loud knocking.
Brown puts his head out of the window. "For the love of Heaven, come
and show us our billets." B and D Companies have just arrived a day
later than us and their guide is deficient in common sense. We are
quite old soldiers now and past such excitement; we could billet
ourselves in China if necessary. However, Brown goes to help. To-day
we rose early and breakfasted at 10-0 off bacon and eggs (fried by
me), bread and jam. We have a company orderly officer, and it is my
turn to-day, so I had to get up and put trousers, coat and boots over
my pyjamas and to mount a guard at 8 a.m. and to dress properly
afterwards. We have cold baths out of a hand basin and shave. One is
very particular about shaving and all small details. The men have to
be kept as smart as possible, and it is laid down that shaving is most
important. If left to themselves they soon grow long beards, long hair
and dirty clothes. All the morning we spent in cleaning up. We swept
out the yard. They hardly know themselves now. The farm has never been
so clean before. We built an incinerator to burn all our rubbish; we
organised a Company Store, a cobbler's shop, and we have a qualified
cobbler to do all our repairs. We organised our rations, and collected
remains to make stews for the men. Constructed scrapers for boots
outside each barn to keep them clean. At about 12-0 a.m. the doctor
and C.O. came round with me and inspected our billets and praised them
as the cleanest and best organised in the Battalion.

This afternoon ammunition drill, &c., to smarten the men up. At 4-30 I
mounted our guard. Each lot of billets has its own guard; and we mount
them with all the pomp and ceremony a guard should have, so that our
guard mounting is really as impressive as that at Buckingham Palace,
and it keeps the men smart. Tea time, visitors from other companies;
afterwards the others go shopping. I am cook and mess president of our
little lot, and I give them a housekeeping list of what to purchase.
Then having nothing else to do I sit down and write the largest and
most drivelling letter I have ever written in my life, I call it No.
35. The next ought to be No. 135. Please tell me if it is too long. If
it bores you, censor it and pass it on. I hope it does not; tell me if
it does. Now:--

Cigarettes. Please give someone an order to send me 150 cigarettes a
week. I will send you a cheque for them any time. They may be either
Matinee, Abdulla No. 5 or No. 4. Sullivan, Savoy, Nestor, Pera, or any
similar brand. They might send vain attempts, but please get them to
send them regularly then and I will send a cheque. Letters will be
very welcome. Please give my love to all, and thank May again for her
cigarette case, it is awfully useful and much admired. Please ask her
to excuse a letter. Give Amy my love and thank her for her letter I
received a little time ago. Also, if you could let Auntie Effie see
this bit, or tell her I will try and write, I should be very pleased.
I am very happy, as you may gather, and it is the first real holiday I
have had for 14 months. We have a theory out here similar to Miss
----to wit, that there is no war. We have come to the conclusion that
the whole thing is engineered by Heath Robinson, Horatio Bottomley and
the Archbishop of Canterbury. Heath Robinson because he thinks humour
is decadent, Horatio Bottomley to advertise "John Bull," and the
Archbishop to cause a religious revival. How it is worked is as
follows:--Heath Robinson bought a chateau in Flanders and a Crimean
war gun. Then Churchill and the Kaiser came into the show. They bring
troops up to within 20 miles of Heath Robinson, who fires off his gun
every half hour. The troops are quite happy; if anyone grumbles they
are sent up to the trenches, where George Graves and Sarah Bernhardt
let off crackers. The battalion snipers are put in the opposite trench
and told to snipe the trench opposite them. Occasionally they hit a
man, and then there is a casualty list, and some General gets sent
home in disgrace. Gallipoli is another chateau near here.

If you came out in pith helmets the corporation sand cart spreads sand
in front of you, and you are supposed to be in Egypt. To accomplish
The Great Practical Joke, Troops are trained to exercise their
imagination. They begin by being soldiers in blue, and imaginary
uniforms. Then they do arm drill and imagine they have rifles. Then
they do Brigade operations and have an imaginary enemy, get killed by
imaginary shells, shoot with imaginary rifles, fire imaginary
cartridges out of imaginary guns. In the end there is Heath Robinson
and his gun. I can't venture to read this letter over, and I am afraid
no one else will. But my imagination is now so good that I can almost
imagine my little Mother doing so, if no one else has the courage to
do so.

Well the others have returned and common sense is returning, so I must
shut up.

Good night, little Mother, and much love to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--I shall soon be home on leave as a lunatic.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                      B.E.F., Wednesday, January 12th.

My darling Mother,--

I am beginning letter No. 2, so that, although you will not get it for
a few days, I may add to it occasionally and despatch it to you when
it reaches a decent length, and before it reaches the colossal and
iniquitous verbosity of my former screed--a monologue on the Great
European War.

I finished letter 35 last night. To-day we again spent in improving
our billets. The sailor is always known as the handy man, but I doubt
if he would have a look in even with amateur Tommies like ourselves.
We made scrapers for each barn door out of nothing, mats to scrape our
boots on out of straw, roadways over muddy places out of brushwood and
tins, &c., and incinerators out of mud. We could easily make bricks
without straw.

The G.O.C. inspected our billets this morning and complimented our
arrangements, and seemed highly pleased with them. The men are
extremely smart at present; the easy time and change of circumstances
seems to have returned to them all the original keenness we had rather
lost during our rather boring time during the last few months.

We had our first shot fired in anger yesterday. A Taube flew over a
mile or two up and a long distance away, and a sentry, to show his
appreciation of its attentions, loosed off his rifle, much to his own
surprise and his neighbours.

To-night I invented a new dish--an omelette made of scrambled eggs and
minced bully beef. It was very good. To-day we route marched, and
inspected gas helmets and ammunition this afternoon. To-night we are
making a savoury--it is still in the making. Its ingredients
are:--Cheese, butter, eggs, mustard, pepper, and a little brandy to
act as vinegar. It is a recipe of our own and I hope it turns out
well.

To-night is a time of great excitement. A post has arrived--a letter
from you written last Thursday to Sutton Veney and from Father and one
from Win. Your parcel has not arrived yet. I did not get a tin box, as
we are not in Egypt. I have no new uniform.

I am keeping the knife, fork and spoon. I am enclosing a 10s. note to
pay for it and the knife (slight pause). The savoury was good.
(P.S.--Later, note not enclosed.) Please tell Father he is very
generous, but I have plenty money, as Miss Jennie would say. I think I
must be awfully extravagant. I spend a lot of money, but I always seem
to have plenty. I generally buy good things and few.

Can you send me a pound tin of solidified methylated spirits for
"Tommy's Cooker." (No substitutes.) Cost 1s. Yesterday I took a
fatigue party of 30 men over to a large town near here--(I wish I
could give you its name)--to unload stores for the division. We
marched there, and the men loaded and unloaded, while their officer
betook himself up to the town and purchased tinned fruit, potted meat,
&c., and executed all sorts of odd commissions for various people.

I went and lunched at a French Cafe. I got a great shock, when I
entered, the outside, as it seemed a common eating house, but then I
went through the kitchen into another room, where there were two large
tables round which were seated English and French officers mixed, and
they brought us our food without one having to commit oneself too much
in French. We did not know what we were eating, but it was very good.
I had a Trinity Hall man on my right and a Caius man on my left, both
of whom knew several friends of mine. One of them was a captain, and
in his battalion was Kenneth Rudd, a great friend of mine at Jesus.

We returned in waggons, big motor transport waggons. We finished
loading, and then I asked the A.S.C. officer which waggons to put my
men on, and he told us the empty ones in front. There were about seven
of them; they all go in a long train following each other, a few yards
between each one and the next. However, when we were nearly settled
the train moved off and left us behind, and I was then told that the
empty waggons were going in quite another direction. According I got
only one waggon and pushed the thirty men into it and rode in front
myself. We got stuck once or twice, and all had to help to pull it
out, and also had to help another waggon which was stuck; the road was
so narrow and muddy that we could not get it out, and so had to leave
it for the breakdown gang.

At night we had a practice alarm and got all the men out with all
their kit packed, and the officers with their valises packed up, all
in 20 minutes. At 11-0 at night the men were all asleep, and it took
them completely by surprise, but I am afraid some of the officers
cheated and had most of their things ready beforehand. My platoon was
the quickest in the battalion--14 minutes, though they were rather
hastily dressed and sleepy. To-day we route marched, and are now
awaiting a battalion alarm, time unknown, where I know of at least one
officer who has cheated again.

A new major, a regular, has just come to us--he is to command our
company. Any food would always be acceptable, especially good solid
cakes.

I am afraid this letter is almost as long and almost as boring as the
last. I will close it to-morrow. Tell me if they are too long, and
please tell everyone that the post is the real excitement of the day.
Good-night, little Mother, sleep tight and go to bed early and don't
get a headache. God bless you.

The new major is to be second in command of the Battalion, and Major
Morton is coming back to us.

To-day being Sunday we had very little work to do, only inspection of
men to see if they were clean and shaved, of rifles, ammunition, gas
helmets, emergency rations, &c.

I must close now, as I must go to bed. I will try and write
continuously, and send each letter off when it begins to get too
bulky.

Good-night, Mother, and love to all.

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                   B.E.F., Monday, January 17th, 1916.

My darling Mother,--

Chapter three now commences. It might be labelled "Reforms in the
Household." Major Morton, as I told you in the last letter, has
returned to our company. Before he returned we had one room for
officers, in which we slept, washed from one small basin, cooked, ate,
wrote and received our visitors. Now, we, Green, Parker and I sleep in
one room and Major Morton in another, and we eat in the family
kitchen, while two servants cook our food. To-day I arose with the
lark, which had unfortunately not been warned of my intentions, and so
failed to put in an appearance. Fuller, my servant, boiled me an egg
and made me some tea, which I ate at 7-0 o'clock, and then set out to
Divisional Headquarters to go on a one day's bombing course. We left
Headquarters in two motor 'buses and sailed along quite happily, as
peacefully as if we were in England, despite the fact that we were
some 15 miles or so from the firing line. On the way there we saw one
German aeroplane chased by four of our own, and I heard that they
finally had a battle near here, though I do not know the result. We
arrived there about 10 o'clock and spent the day bombing, throwing
live grenades, &c. We saw all the English bombs that are in use. I
knew most of what they told us before. They seemed a bit surprised at
what we knew; most divisions coming out have not done nearly as much
bombing--I have thrown about 20 live grenades myself already. Our
lunch we took with us. I had eggs, potted meat and marmalade
sandwiches I had made myself. We returned by 'bus, and had tea with D
Company on the way home. The men have just had tobacco served out to
them and are going to be paid to-day. It is very difficult to regulate
their pay, as they are paid in francs, and the rate of exchange makes
it difficult to pay them properly, especially as it changes from day
to day.

I have just been conversing with Madame. I believe she thought I
understood her, as I tried to look intelligent and to make suitable
remarks at proper intervals. Really, I only understood a little of it.
To-day it is drizzling, and I must go and lecture my platoon on the
use of gas helmets. I have just received May's letter (Tuesday,
January 18th, to-day, I think). Please let me know when you receive
mine so that I can know how long they take to go. Some of the people
are very difficult to understand, as they talk half Flemish and half
French, at least many of the farmers do. We are about 24 miles from
where Arthur was in the firing line, and the big train, where I went
with a fatigue party, is the headquarters of my friend, the general,
whom I was with in 1912. I can't tell you more than that. It will be
an interesting little puzzle for you to solve. I will despatch this
letter now. It is rumoured that we shall see Joffre in a few days or
so, but it is probably not so.

It seems very funny out here. We have no need to put our blinds down
at night, no trouble about lights on cars, while in London and
Cambridge one lives in inky blackness. The socks are very welcome.

                            Much love, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--My letters are getting short, because they are sent off at short
intervals.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                              B.E.F., Wednesday, 19th.

My darling Mother,--

I have just received a very welcome letter from you. I append a list
of things I want and would be very grateful for at times:--

    1. Powdered milk.
    2. Tea cubes.
    3. One tablet coal tar soap (Wright's).
    4. Mixed soups.
    5. A warm pair of bedroom slippers.

I did not enclose a note in my last letter, as I have only French
money. I will do so as soon as possible!

As a week has gone, I can tell you we crossed Folkestone to Boulogne
and passed through Calais on the way here. I don't think I can tell
you any more. Perhaps you can understand my reference in the last
letter, if you cannot no one else can.

Could you not get Finlay's to send cigarettes out of bond to me. Try,
at least, with a small quantity, and I will let you know if I receive
them--it is so much cheaper. I must have cigarettes, and Seddon says
his brother always received his all right.

The weather has been beautifully fine, if slightly cold, the last week
or so. I do hope Father is getting better now, I was awfully sorry to
hear he has been ill. Now that we live in more luxurious
circumstances, Graves, Major Morton's servant, does our cooking.
Foster came to dinner in order to play bridge afterwards, and we had a
pleasant meal, consisting of soup, roast beef, and apple fritters, and
had a rubber or two afterwards. To-day we have done a few parades and
practised for the inspection. I told you about it in my last letter
and it is coming off to-morrow (Thursday). We paid out this morning;
we each have to pay our own platoons in francs and to sign lots of
documents, and to get the men to sign is rather a job. We marched out
to-day and the whole division was drawn up along the road two deep,
and we had to wait two or three hours in a piercing wind, with squalls
of rain and sleet, to be inspected. Then we were inspected by General
Joffre and Sir Douglas Haigh, who went slowly past in a car, followed
by 13 other cars. You must remember that the division would stretch
for 12 or 15 miles along the road. We returned a little time ago to
our billets and have just had tea. Some of the French papers have a
German official communique in them saying that the 34th Division has
been badly cut up. Well, the 34th Division is ours, and we have not
even seen a German yet, nor even come within miles of one, so they
must have been very clever.

P.S.--I am starving for cigarettes, please get some sent out of bond.
I am sorry to ask for so many things and to cause you trouble, but I
hope you don't mind. Please give my especial love to the Aunts and
Aunt Polly and Francis if you get any opportunity, also Uncle Ted.
There was rather an amusing paragraph in the Cambridge evening paper
of January 14th about our departure. I think it is the "Cambridge
Daily News." You might like to write for it. Watch the first letters
of each sentence in my next letter on page 3. Yesterday I was
unfortunately slightly unwell and stayed in bed in the morning and got
up in the afternoon, and in the evening we had a brigade alarm and
were out from 7 till 12. I had only had six biscuits and some milk, so
I did not feel very strong.

To-day being Saturday we have done little, and we bicycled into the
same huge town to make some purchases. Don't send me cigarettes unless
I write again for them, as I find I can get them cheaper from the
Officers' Canteen out here. I must close now as we move to-morrow a
few miles nearer the firing line and billet again, but we shall still
be rather safer than we were in England. Well, write again as soon as
possible.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                           B.E.F., January 23rd, 1916.

My darling Mother,--

I have just received a parcel from you; I might almost say _the_
parcel. I never remembered ever having received a parcel which caused
me greater pleasure. I opened one end of it and took out each article
in turn and each article was simply delightful. It was really like an
unexpected Christmas, or a visit to the perfect grotto. There is only
one thing, mother, that you really must not do, it is simply spoiling
one as it is impossible to realise that one is supposed to be on
active service, when we are billeted in extremely comfortable billets,
and given all the luxuries one could possibly desire. I thought that
once we left England we should have to say good-bye to comfort, but
not a bit of it. I can say with perfect truth that nowhere in England
were we half so comfortable, or did have half so easy a time as here.
We sleep in absolute comfort and warmth, we are fed far better than in
any hotel outside London, and we are given just enough exercise to
keep us fit. Most people told us before we came out here that the
billets were not at all comfortable, and we expected to be in any old
cowshed. Our last billets were extremely comfortable and our new ones
are equally so. Rotten billets are usually only given to troops who
leave their billets untidy when they leave. Before we leave we are
always very careful to leave ours clean and so we get good ones. Early
this morning we moved our billets again and are now some 16 miles from
the firing line. Continuing from where I left off in my last letter.
Quite unexpectedly we had to move on Saturday night. Unfortunately
practice night alarms have been very frequent lately, and so we were
prepared to move quickly. Every other night last week, almost, we had
practices. We were warned that we were to be ready to move on Saturday
night any time after midnight, and, as a matter of fact, had two or
three hours to get our things ready. We went to bed and got the word
to move early this morning. We marched for about three hours and
arrived here in comfort in the morning, and found we only had one very
dirty and tumbledown farm for the company. Within about three hours we
had cleared every barn of old straw, clothes, boots, tins, &c., put
new straw in, and are now quite comfortable, the officers have a sort
of sitting room again, with one bed in it, two on the bed, two on the
mattress, and one on the floor, and I expect we shall be very
comfortable. As we did not seem to have any food for the officers the
farm people asked us if we would like some chickens. And we had soup,
the typical French pot-au-feu, which they keep on the fire and put all
scraps into it and which makes delicious soup, chickens, fruit salad,
and cafe noire, which all French people know how to make. To-morrow we
will spend in making the place like a palace. Don't send me any more
cigarettes. The ones I have just received will come in very handy as I
am short, but in future I can get them out here cheaper.

Much love to all, and especially to you, Mother dear.

                                            From your loving Son,
                                                                 ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                                 B.E.F., January 24th.

My darling Mother,--

To-day we were expecting to get up late, parade this morning 9-30,
but, unfortunately, we were wakened at 7-0 o'clock and told to parade
at 8-0 for inspection by our Corps Commander, and spent the whole
morning standing still while we were inspected. It is extremely tiring
to stand still for half an hour or more, more tiring than marching for
hours. The rest of the day we spent cleaning up everything. Now we are
sleeping in three different rooms. In here two sleep, and we all eat
in another room, six feet by eight feet, three of us have our mattress
on the floor and one more in a small room by himself. Most of the
rooms lead out of the kitchen. In the kitchen most of the servants and
a few other men hob-nob with Madame and her buxom daughter, who are
Belgian refugees, and who are very agreeable and don't seem to mind us
over-running the whole place, and soldiers coming in to their kitchen,
where they live, in all stages of dishabile, to buy huge bowls of
coffee at 1d. each. The General this morning was a cheery untidy old
soul, who reviewed the troops in an old mackintosh and gum boots and a
day's beard, or I should think the result of a bad razor. He addressed
us afterwards in an oration full of split infinitives and mixed
metaphors, welcoming us to France for a few month's holiday.

I perpetrated quite one of my best efforts to-night. I went into a
shop, where I hoped to get potted meat, and asked for "pâté en
bottine," which being interpreted is meat in boots, which was
unfortunate. Parker then entered another shop and asked "Je desire un
larabeau si vous l'avez," which means "I want a basin, if you have
one." But, unfortunately, the good lady thought he meant not "si vous
l'avez" if you have it, but "si you lavez" if you wash. I am afraid
that No. 36 was delayed, and so it arrived at the same time as No. 37,
I suppose. Read both very carefully together and you will perchance be
interested. To-day I had an inspiration. We could not get anywhere for
the men to bathe for the last week or two and this morning I was
desperate. I believe a lot of the little friends which are said to
dwell with the soldiers are due to troops in the same conditions not
having an inspiration and so starting badly. The idea was almost too
simple. I dug four holes in the ground and pegged a waterproof sheet
in it, and got four dixifuls of hot water, so that each section of my
platoon had a bath per platoon and water not quite cold. As there was
a gentle zephyr wind blowing and a nice warm sun it was very pleasing.
We have been having topping fine weather--hardly any rain so far.

                                    Good-night, Mother,
                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                                                B.E.F.

My darling Mother,

I hope you got my last letters all right and understood them. Since
writing them I have moved, but the battalion has not. Two of us and 71
men are on a course in trench mortars. We have moved some 12 miles
further, and are, I think, about three miles from where Arthur was. We
came right up here in 'busses, and arrived here no one seemed to know
anything about us, so we had to forage round and get billets for our
men and then for ourselves. When all was settled, an officer came and
told us he had orders from his brigade to have these billets for a
battalion just coming out of the trenches, so we started off again,
and finally fixed the men up and in the end ourselves in an estaminet
(whisper it softly--a pub.) in a wee room with one large bed. We both
then slept on the bed and used the rest of the room for storing our
clothes in. The men were roused up in the night by a false alarm from
the trenches, but they did not disturb us. To-day we breakfasted at
9-0 and were lectured to in the morning and afternoon by an officer,
who came out of the trenches yesterday afternoon. This evening we went
to a fairly large town near here and had tea and dinner. At tea we
found a large major leaving the cafe and vainly looking for his cap.
At length he got the services of a waitress. "I've lost my cap" ("ton
chapeau?") "Call it what you like as long as you find it." He was
rather amusing. Dinner we had in the usual French cafe I have
described before, and returned home to bed. The other man has gone to
another estaminet and so I am sleeping alone. The house is on a slight
rise, so from my window at night I can see a huge circle with lights
going up every minute here and there--star shells, they quite light up
the room, then flashes and a boom. They have just been quite bad
tempered a few miles north of us and have been making a dickens of a
row. I think it is a nuisance that ought to be stopped, it must be
quite annoying to the people round. Now they are getting distinctly
unfriendly to the south for a little. It looks like a fifth of
November show, rather long drawn-out.

Please excuse this writing, as I am lying down in bed.

                             Good-night, little Mother,
                                            Your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.


I meant to send this letter off to-day, but I have not been able to.
This morning we breakfasted at the gentlemanly hour of 9-0 off
omelettes from the estaminet, bacon (a ration), coffee, marmalade and
bread and butter. We did a little work this morning, lunched off bread
and butter and marmalade and then a lecture, and then we went into the
town for tea and dinner. They have a very nice cafe place here--a
private house. Madam's husband is a prisoner, and her husband told her
to be "gaie," so she runs a cafe and enjoys herself. We had a very
good tea; they have some very nice cakes called gauffes (I don't quite
know how to spell it), like sweet pancakes, and afterwards a bath. The
division has some baths. There is a starch factory--I think it is--and
there are some large sort of square vats in it. They are used as baths
for officers; they have three big vats, one very big, and they are as
hot as you like, and are 8 feet by 4 by 4 feet deep, and you can have
a topping bath in them--you can just swim a stroke or two. Then
afterwards we had a cold plunge in a very big one. It was simply
delicious and cost us nothing. One of the best baths I have ever had.
I had one bath to myself and Bill Fiddian the other. Then we went to
dinner and enjoyed ourselves muchly. Soup, veal, chicken, coffee, all
for 3/9 or rather five francs--a franc equals about 9d now, as English
credit is very good--and then home to bed.

To-night the machine guns seem rather busy. I have just heard one let
off a few hundred rounds, but I don't think one round in a thousand
hits a man. There is one busy popping off now. It is funny being a
sort of spectator. Things are pretty quiet really at present, as I saw
in a captured German letter from a German soldier to his mother. "In
the spring the curtain will rise"--I wonder who will pull the string.
They are noisy to-night, a lot of waste of ammunition, both rifle and
machine guns going on. It is a calm night so the noise carried.

Well, good-night, Mother,

                                      Much love to all,
                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

There they go: rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat, a machine gun.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                       B.E.F., Saturday, January 29th.

My darling Mother,--

Do you send any of my letters on to Winnie? or anybody? After work
to-day we went into the town to have tea. After tea we met some of our
men and gave them some pay, pro. tem., as they have had no pay for two
weeks or so and were broke. Then I bought a Pearson's magazine (price
1s.) and we started for home and got a lift on a 3-ton A.S.C. lorry,
from which I dropped the magazine, unfortunately. I am billeted in an
estaminet by myself, and Bill Fiddian is with two other officers on
the same course in another estaminet in a large room with three beds,
out of which all the bedrooms open. Grandma groans in one small room,
Monsieur and Madame and about two dozen others in another small room
and two officers in two other small rooms. Grandma has just gone to
bed; she has attained to the small total of 97 years and seems able to
look after herself. We have just been having a long talk with Madame,
who brought us up our dinner, an omelette and coffee. We have been
reading and talking, and on Monday we shall return to the battalion.
The big candle you sent me is topping and is lasting for hours. The
guns are at it again--they have been busy all day. The Germans were
here once, but they are not here now. Since coming out here I have
come to be very proud of the battalion. I have seen no battalion with
their physique and few with their discipline. They sing a song about
the Suffolk boys being respected wherever they go, and I think they
are. In comparing them with other men, I have been struck, and so have
others, with how fair they are. Most of them have very fair hair,
often gold, and fair rosy cheeks. They seem a very Saxon type. I have
been wondering whether they are descendents of the Danes and Saxons,
who took refuge in the fens in Norman times, a memory of Hereward the
Wake. The fen men have always been a separate race; they must have
very little Norman blood in their veins. They have the Saxon stolidity
also. I am very glad I am not in a town battalion like the
Northumberlands and such regiments. They are not nearly so easy to
control or so well disciplined, and I am pleased to discern to-day
that our men seem much quicker in picking up new ideas, despite the
fact that they are not so educated. Well, I am afraid all this is very
boring. But, as I have suddenly developed into a writer of letters, I
must write either just what comes into my head or nothing at all. It
seems funny this long, stretching line of trenches, always busy even
in the quietest of times. By daytime guns and shells; by night, bombs,
flares, searchlights and machine guns. And a few miles behind it as we
are, perfectly safe as if there was no such thing as war, with only
the faint noises one notices, now faintly, now clearly, as the wind
varies to remind one of the struggle going on. It seems funny to lie
in a comfortable bed and watch it all through the window as on a
stage. Noises off.

Please send me big candles when you send a parcel. This one is lasting
beautifully. Yesterday (Sunday) we fired off the mortar in the
morning, and in the afternoon went into the town for dinner. I wanted
to go to a Catholic Church in the evening to see what it is like,
because, of course, there are no Protestant Churches here.

This afternoon we went to the Theatre of the Division we are attached
to. They have a cinematograph and a band, orchestra and concert party,
all composed of Tommies. They are at present in what I think must be
part of a disused factory, and it was a very good show. I went and one
of the other officers on the course, and two of the officers whose
battalion we are attached to. Then we had dinner with them in their
company mess, and a jolly good dinner, too, and after we talked. It
was very interesting, as they have been out over six months
continually, and not lost a single officer I think. They had some very
amusing yarns. I will tell you sometime.

When I returned to my billet I had an awful business. It was one of
the blackest nights I have ever seen. I have never before remembered a
night, when you literally could not see your hand six inches before
your nose. Last night you could not--I tried. Also the darkness was
misty as well, it simply got up and hit you in the face. I started
back once--it quite seemed as if someone was striking a blow.

To-day we did one of the most curious and typical things of modern
warfare. At 10-30 we went out for a walk--five of us--and our
destination was the trenches, just for a few hours' joy ride. We
walked about five miles along the road, and then about a mile across
open fields. The last mile, of course, was within rifle range of the
German trenches, but they could not see you, except from observation
posts, and if they could we were too far off to make the shot easy
enough to make it worth trying. The only disturbing thing was the
behaviour of our own artillery, who suddenly let off a gun, only a few
yards from the road on which we were walking, and made a horrid row.
The curious thing about this trench warfare is that a trench is such a
small thing to hit that the German and our own artillery have given up
trying to do any real damage, but they have come to a sort of
agreement to keep their faces up and to impress upon the infantry in
the trenches that there is some reason for an artilleryman being paid
more than the infantry. Accordingly, they plant their wretched guns
near a road, and when anyone goes along it they let off a round just
to see him jump. The shell probably falls in Holland or in our own
lines. Anyway, it does no damage, and the artillery enjoy their little
joke all right. It has become almost second nature with them. Of
course, the new batteries take some training--they lack humour. One
battery let one Brigadier-General, one Colonel and a transport mule go
past and each time forgot about loosing off a round. At the end of the
cross country jaunt we came across the beginning of the works of the
Cave-men. You may have seen some in England--they disguise themselves
as earth and then dig long narrow holes and live in them. The Cave-men
are strange creatures. We went up one of then funny long narrow
burrows, and occasionally they let off a funny toy which cracked
overhead. At length we came to the real caves where these men live. I
noticed that they were very vain men and were continually looking into
a sort of box thing, with a glass at the end, and admiring themselves
therein, and then so intoxicated were they with the sight that they
would put a stick to their shoulder and break forth into smoke and
flame. The name of this people is the Tribe of Tommizi.


And I noticed their gods visited them. Speckless mortals, clothed in
fine linen, wearing turbans or caps, as they call them, trimmed with
red and gold, and so appalling was their aspect that the Cave-men
were, as it were, turned to stone, and stood with their hand to their
hats as if to guard against a blow, or to ward off the evil eye. And
behold, a terrible dragon screamed across the sky, shouting out with
hate and roaring as the thunder, and fell and burst itself asunder,
and I fled, and the Cave-men laughed, for their gods in red were there
and they feared not. I expect the above gives you a good picture of
trench life. It is as given me by a friend of mine who visited these
men--my own experiences were different.

My own experiences I will call "An Idyll of Spring" in blank verse,
without the blanks and without the verse, and will be continued in our
next.

We wandered up the communication trench and nosed all along the firing
line, only 50 yards from the German trench--I thought it was topping.
I had a good look, with a periscope, while a sniper vainly tried to
hit it, and its owner became nervous of losing it. I enjoyed my visit
very much. Wednesday: The Brigade Major came to see me, and told me
that I am to command the Brigade Trench Mortar Battery, so I am now
one of the working members of the Brigade Staff, though I don't wear a
red hat. I was very pleased. He took me back to Brigade Headquarters
for tea and dinner and I had a very good time. But, unfortunately, I
had to come home in the dark. All the roads round here have ditches on
either side. It was pitch dark, I did not know the road, and it was
too dark to see the turnings oft. I missed my way and went miles. I
hated it. I don't mind a German, but I don't like the dark. Thursday:
We amused ourselves, and at 3-0 I went to see the Brigade Major of the
Brigade, to which we were attached for instruction, and he sent us to
the reserve billets, within a mile or so from the firing line, which
they have a stupid habit of shelling. It keeps waking you up in the
night. Then this morning we marched off and got two 'busses back to
the place we were in two weeks ago, after our first move, well back
about ten miles or so, to train the battery. It is a topping little
village on a slight hill, and we have topping billets. Fiddian is with
me at present. We have a room each, a feather bed with clean sheets
and a nice little sitting room. The men are in a topping loft with
plenty of straw and seem very happy. We are going to dinner with the
Colonel of the 16th Royal Scots. I command the battery and have the
powers of a Battalion Commander. I am absolutely on my own, no Company
Commander, no Battalion Commander, only the Brigade can give me
orders. Fiddian is second in command. We have four gun detachments. I
hope the war goes on for ever as far as myself is concerned; at
present I like it all, even including the trenches.

Much love to all, Mother dear,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.


P.S.--I have just received your letter dated January 30th. The reason
some of my letters are dated differently inside from out is that I
begin writing a new letter directly the old one goes off and they take
some days to write, and also posting is often delayed. I am very busy
organising the battery at present, and have a lot of work to do. I
have just got my guns (4) to-night. The first place we were in was
near St. Omer, and it was there we went to shop. I am allowed to tell
you now--it is some time since we left there.

Please send me my Sam Browne belt as soon as possible. I am awfully
sorry to hear that Father has been ill. Please give him my very best
love as always, and tell him I do not write to him separately as my
letters are always family affairs, and I cannot write more than one.
Does anyone else see my letters? If you see the Aunts please give them
my very best love too. Please thank Auntie Agnes for writing me such
an interesting letter. It was awfully nice of her to write, and I will
try to answer it. She asked if she could do anything for me--well, I
don't want to trouble her, but if she really would like to, a cake
sent any time she is making them would be very acceptable. You can get
no cakes out here. Also I should like you to take my letters to the
Aunts and Uncle Ted any time you go to see them, and read them any
bits that may interest them. You have no idea, but I know you have,
how I appreciate letters, especially the topping long one I have just
received from you. My letters are very much delayed at present as I am
detached from the battalion and being moved about. I have little time
to complete letters before there is more news to tell.

Good-night, little Mother, give them all a good-night kiss from me. I
hope Charlie is fit and well.

                                      Much love to all,
                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                         B.E.F., Monday, February 7th.

My darling Mother,--

I think my budget must be growing fast. Yesterday I spent in
organising my battery. I got some green and white paint from the
A.S.C. and painted all my guns, so that they look beautiful now. Most
of my time nowadays I spend in trying to get money for myself and for
my men, rifle oil, baths, boots mended, equipment for guns, and all
sorts of things. This morning I took the whole battery in battery
drill. Most of it's composed by myself, as there isn't a drill book
for trench mortar batteries. It is very interesting, as I have to
think out all my own tactics, and organisation. On every other,
infantry or cavalry or artillery, there are thousands of War Office
books, so that one needs to think very little for oneself.

We are just having dinner, Fiddian, Carroll, who is my second in
command, and myself--quite a nice dinner--while our servants make
merry in the kitchen. The house where I am billeted is owned by a
topping old man. Whenever I pass through their kitchen they all get up
and monsieur says: "Bon jour Monsieur L'Officier." He is a time-served
French soldier, and works in a big wood just near here. We had a
Taube--A German aeroplane--over here this morning. It dropped one
bomb, which did not go off, a few hundred yards from here. I did not
hear about it till afterwards. The battalion has just returned to-day
from the trenches for a week or so before we return to them to take
over part of the line. Where we are going is, I believe, a fairly nice
peaceful spot. I shall try and stir them up if I have half a chance.
What happens in trenches is: that if the Germans get nasty and shell
us, or send a few bombs from trench mortars, we try to make ourselves
nastier still and send over twice as many. Then the Germans get
nastier still, till both sides have got thoroughly bad tempered at
having their parapets spoiled and trenches messed about. Then it
gradually wears out. And as the Germans are using bad ammunition at
present they go to bed or wander off to get a drink, and we soon do
the same. I have just seen Brown. He says he was going up to the
trenches in rather a nervous state of mind when the Officer Commanding
the trenches into which we were going for instruction met him, told
him his sergeant-major, would look after our men and took him to have
a wash and then to have dinner in mess. They had soup, meat, sweet and
savoury, all to the strains of a gramophone. Not bad for the
much-abused trenches. The battalion was in about a week and lost
nobody. This morning we were to be inspected by our Divisional
General. But he spent so much time talking to the battalion that he
was unable to see us. He says he is going to save every life he can in
his division. He is going to improve any trenches we go into, to make
them absolutely safe, and so on. He is a fine man. He was in command
of a brigade at the beginning of the war, and saved his own brigade by
his calmness and bravery.

Tell May there is nothing I like so much as long letters, otherwise I
should not write such appalling long screeds about nothing at all.

I am going out to-night to mess with "D" Company of one of the Scots
Battalion. Now I am attached to Brigade Headquarters I see quite a lot
of Captain Creig, who is on it you know. He sometimes gives me news of
Uncle Fred.

I have just received a letter from May and one from Father. They have
been delayed, as I am away from the battalion. Remember that you can
say anything you like in your letters, as they are not censored at
all. I very rarely see a paper, so any news is valuable, especially
about such things as the last Zeppelin raid, &c. Please send me also
my slacks and shoes, and the Sam Brown belt as soon as possible. I
will enclose a cheque for all I owe you in this letter; I hope it will
cover it all. One of the Scots, Kitton, a friend of mine, came in to
dinner last night with us, Carroll and myself, or rather it was Bill
Fiddian and myself. Carroll was out.

Yesterday we spent in the usual way. I went to dinner in the evening
with "D" Company of the Scots, and had a very pleasant time.
Unfortunately, after dinner, I went to see Major Warden, of the Scots,
and, instead of going into his room, I stalked into Madame's bedroom,
and fled precipitately. This morning I took the men down, and we had a
bath in some temporary baths the R.E.'s have rigged up. I received a
very nice parcel from you to-day (Thursday) containing a cake,
powdered milk, tea, &c. It was very welcome. It had been delayed with
the battalion. I went along to the battalion and saw several of the
officers to-night. I was very glad to see them. Good-night, little
Mother, I am going to bed. Whenever it is raining you can be quite
certain that we are being inspected by some big General. It has been
pouring all this morning because we were being inspected by Lord
Kitchener. We have just returned and had lunch and changed, and I am
now spending a quiet afternoon, hoping that some of the battalion will
come in to tea with us.

The Colonel is in command of the Brigade, as our new Brigadier is away
on leave. Our Brigadier, General Fitton, was, as you may have seen in
the casualty lists, the first casualty in the Division. He was killed
by a stray bullet during a visit to the trenches. We are all extremely
sorry to lose him; he was such a priceless old man, although he made
us work. It was extremely bad luck for him.

I will finish this letter now, as I am just sending off a batch of my
men's letters, which I have just finished censoring.

Much love to all--

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                                       B.E.F., Sunday.

My darling Mother,--

I have just returned from taking the men to have a hot bath in some
baths the Engineers have rigged up. You asked about our padré. He is
at present at the base; he has been very ill for a little time, and we
have no padré at present. Yesterday afternoon I went down to see "C"
Company, and, whilst I was in a farm talking to Gillson, a Fokker came
and dropped two bombs a few hundred yards away. They did no damage as
they exploded in the middle of a large field. I am sorry that I have
not sent this letter before, but I have been rather busy lately, not
only with work, but with social business. Last night I had dinner with
the A.S.C., and the night before with Major Warder, of the Scots, and
the Signalling Officer of the Brigade had dinner with us. You will be
surprised at the menu:--Soup, lobster, roast beef and fried potatoes,
chocolate blancmange, welsh rarebit, coffee. Quite good for France.
Fuller, my servant, cooks for us, and he is turning out a genius as a
cook; he cooks toppingly. We have rather to try and make ourselves
pleasant to other people, when we are an independent unit, they can do
so much for us. A captain of the A.S.C. took me into the town I have
often mentioned before--20 miles from here. I wanted to buy a
gramophone, a lot of people have them in the dug-out. I am thinking of
getting one. Will you ask May to get me two catalogues, one of Decca
gramophones and one of Master's Voice. If I go on like this I expect
you will all be coming out here for a holiday. We fired off our guns
the other night and the Colonel in command of the R.E.'s came to see
us fire. I asked him to dinner, but he could not come.

I cannot write a long letter, but will write again soon. To-morrow we
go towards the trenches and will be in them in a day or so. Much love
to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                   11TH SUFFOLKS,
                                          A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                                B.E.F.

This letter is in two parts--this is No. 1.

My darling Mother,--

I have another letter half written to you, but the tablet it was
written on is left at my billet, and, as I rather forgot where I left
off, I hope I will not leave a gap. To-day is Monday, 22nd. As you
know, or will know when I finish the other letter, Friday and Saturday
we moved, and rather marched up, billeting Friday night and on
Saturday night--I won't go into details. On the march we saw an
aeroplane being shelled--a very pretty sight--white puffs of smoke
bursting all round it; one bit of shrapnel fell quite near us and made
one of the brigade sergeants quite excited. I am writing this in
comfort in bed in my dug-out, though my eyes keep trying to close; I
am a bit tired, but I shall get a good night's sleep, I hope. It is
now nearly eleven. On Sunday morning I came up early to prospect round
the trenches, and to take over from the battery we were relieving. I
prospected and then returned back to bring the battery up.

To get to the trenches we go first along the road up to a deserted
village the Germans shell when they have nothing better to do. They
were shelling it when I came out in the morning. I have often heard
shells described as sounding like express trains coming through the
air. They are almost as difficult to describe as the noise of the
bullet. It's a far quicker noise than an express train. It sounds like
a taxi going at about a hundred miles an hour and then bursting; a
bullet sounds like someone cracking a very loud whip just in your ear,
and a bit noisier than that when it is close to you. A machine
gun--there is one going now--sounds like a very noisy motor bike,
exactly like one, shells and bullets both whistle as well as they are
going on. Well, I must get on, I brought my men in in the afternoon.
After you get to the deserted village, you start up the communication
trench, twisting and turning for about 1,000 yards, you pass the
second line, and so on up to the firing line. The trenches we are in
are rather wet, but quite pleasant. Directly we arrived in I found
dug-outs for the men and myself, or rather pinched them, and put my
guns in position. I will carry on to-morrow, I hope; till then,
good-night. It's to-morrow now, and nearly the day after; in fact, it
is the day after. You will be glad to know that the trench mortar man
is the only one who gets a chance to sleep in the trenches; that is,
to have a decent sleep. This morning I got up at 11-0, when my servant
got me tea and a fire. Here is a plan of my dug-out:--

[Illustration]

It is quite a comfortable place, but rather cold now the brazier is
out. I will describe it. The whole is made of wood with a wooden
floor, just like our hut, only a smaller edition. It is about five
feet six inches high, and stands on the ground level in the firing
line, earth piled on top and all round it. The bed is made, I don't
quite know how, but it is wood with canvas stretched across it, like a
sort of hammock, and I have my valise, sleeping bag, blanket, fur
coat, &c. I sleep in everything except tunic and boots. The pictures
are post cards. It is lighted by your candle. It has been snowing the
last two days and everything is cased with snow. I mess with "D"
Company of the Scots--we have quite a nice dug-out.

The first night I arrived I climbed over the parapet with another
officer to examine our wire. It has to be repaired every night. The
German trenches are about 70 yards away in some places and as much as
400 in others. It is rather exciting wandering about in front of the
line, as lights go up every now and then and show a bright white light
in the air for a minute or two like a rocket. When one goes up you
fall flat and pretend you are a sandbag or a milk-can or a rat. You
may meet Fritz on the same job sometimes; I always have a bomb handy
to give him a brotherly welcome.

Well, I arose at 11-0, washed myself, and messed about, sent down for
rations and sandbags, &c. The German artillery is just firing, or
perhaps it is our own. You hear a bang and then a buzz over your head
a long way up. They are probably firing at something a good way back.
Rather bad form to fire at night time, I think; I hope no one sends
for me to do a little straffing. Having arisen at the early hour I
mentioned I nosed round and noticed some of the wretched Germans were
having the cheek to work by day time, throwing earth out of their
trenches. You could see on the snow on the parapet, so I sent them
four rounds with my compliments and they then saw their mistake and
stopped. I then watched their return of compliments with a battery of
field guns; they were quite cruel to a small bush a hundred yards
behind our line. I thought it rather a funny object to vent their
spleen on. Yesterday I inspected the whole of the brigade trenches to
see where I could make myself unpleasant to Fritz, and to-day we
started making a beautiful emplacement in the salient. I messed as a
visitor with "B" Company to-night, and so to bed. To-day it is
Thursday, I think. Yesterday I had a very exciting day, rather too
exciting in parts. I got up at 8-30 in time for breakfast, and went
down to see the second in command of the Scots, and stayed at
headquarters for lunch. In the afternoon we worked on another
emplacement and got it nearly finished. We have to be continually
working on the trenches--that is, the Infantry have to. My men do some
work every day making emplacements, as those already in the trench do
not come up to my standard at all, and we need a lot more to move the
guns about. The life is either rather too exciting or ideal. It is
usually a sort of picnic; at least, for the battery. We can't do any
firing as I have not got my own ammunition at present. The men get up
at any old time, they brew tea most of the day. In the morning they
don't do much. Then they cook their dinner. In the afternoon they work
on emplacements and some go down for rations; they have to carry it
all a mile or two, and it takes a long time, mostly through trenches.
Then they brew tea again. At night one is always on duty as a sentry
over the guns. In the ordinary course of events their life and mine is
just a picnic. Well, yesterday after lunch we worked, and then I had
tea with the company I mess with, after which, at about 6-30, Kitton
and I started out. By the way, the men all have to stand to arms for
an hour or more at dawn and dusk. After stand-to in the morning, they
get rum. I think I am the only man in the trenches who does not
stand-to. Kitton and I went to see the Brigade Major, and they made us
stay for dinner; we did not want to, as headquarters mess are all nice
and clean and we were simply filthy, I had not shaved and was filthy
dirty. I will tell you what I wear. Starting at the extremities:--Long
pair of gum boots--they are an Army issue, and come up to the thighs,
one pair socks, trousers (more intimate details censored), sweater,
tunic, fur coat, what skin I don't know, it is something like squirrel
in colour, grey--also an Army issue; and either a waterproof cape,
coming down to the calves, Army issue (free) or my Thresher and
Glenny.

After dinner, and a talk with the Brigade Major about instructions,
&c., for the battery, we set off down the road back to the trenches.
When we got to the village you can either go up the communication
trench or miss the first 500 yards or so of it and go up the road
taking your chance of machine guns. Being rather late we chose the
road. But, unfortunately, we had not gone 200 yards up it when
tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut (say that as fast as you can and then say it
faster and get father to sneeze it) a wretched machine gun got right
on to the road. With our usual politeness we gave the road up to
someone who seemed to want it more than ourselves, and dived into some
R.E. stores at the side, while the wretched gun went on for 2 minutes,
the bullets ricocheting off the road and ripping into the wood in
which we were hiding. The only thing you could see of me were: (1)
That upon which I sit down, and (2) my legs. I didn't mind about them,
as a wound in them would only have meant a few months leave. At last
the thing stopped, and we, strange to say, returned to the village and
went along to the communication trench when plop, bang, smash (four
sneezes from father, the new housemaid dropping the dinner tray and
the chapel-keeper dropping the plate, will give you some idea--get
them to try), four shells fell 50 yards away on our left. We were then
halted by a sentry, one of my own battalion. Meanwhile, I saw the
whole sky lit up as all our heavy guns were letting themselves go a
bit; I suppose they knew the machine guns had been unkind to us and
were trying to show their sympathy. The sentry challenged, I replied
with our names and ranks. He glibly replied "Pass friends, all's
well." As we were passing him to go to the C.T. (communication trench)
I noticed something funny about his face, so I asked him what was the
matter with it. He answered that he was wearing a gas helmet. I asked
him if it was for amusement, or because he thought his face would
frighten the passers-by. He answered that there was a gas attack on.
Then an infernal din broke out, artillery, rifles, machine guns, &c.,
Very lights. I can tell you we got our helmets on pretty slick. Of
course, Kitty (that's Kitton) had forgotten his (he's getting the
other battery in the brigade, a Scot--a topping chap), but as I had
two I lent him one of mine, keeping the prettiest, a blue and white
striped one, for myself. Then we proceeded up the C.T. Well, you have
never worn a gas helmet. It smells like ten hospitals and nearly
suffocates you. I could not breathe out of mine at first and the
windows got misty, but it got all right soon. You can imagine what it
was like, nearly suffocated, hardly able to see or hear, and
slithering about in army rubber boots on the ice in the bottom of the
C.T., catching my cloak in everything, never knowing who was coming
towards us, whether it was a fat, greasy Fritz or what it was, not
having the faintest idea what was happening in the front and the
firing line we were making for, unarmed except for the moral effect
our gas helmets would create by their hideousness.

However, I soon managed to breathe out and to see a bit. Then I
noticed the position of the Very lights and saw we still held the
front line, so we felt reassured, especially as we could hear the
topping sound of our own shells whizzing over our heads, about the
most comforting sound I have ever heard. When we came to Battalion
Headquarters we found that the gas was off and gladly took off our
helmets and tried to push on to the firing line. But we had awful
difficulty, as about 800 men, who had been in working parties working
on the trenches, were coming down, and the whole way up the C.T. we
were sniped and shelled, the shells bursting all round us within a few
yards, but, thank goodness, none going into the trench. The men coming
down seemed to think the end of the world had come were almost on
their hands and knees. We tried to encourage them a bit, but they did
not like to stand up, though they were not likely to be hit unless a
shell came into the trench. At length we arrived at the safety of the
firing line; really it is quite the safest place unless you are
several miles back. They practically never shell the trenches unless
there is an attack coming off, because they can do so little damage
without shooting off hundreds of rounds. In the firing line we found
things quieted down, no attack being made against us and things
generally normal. The alarm had come from our right. There was an
attack away up North, and probably the alarm had been passed right
down the line. I think we were successful in the attack I mention. At
about 3-0 a.m. I got to bed.

I arose this morning at about 11-0. Fuller fried my breakfast on the
brazier and I had it in bed. Then I washed my feet, rubbed them with
anti-frost bite, had a good wash and shave, brushed my teeth and hair
and went to lunch feeling very fit.

Had tea this afternoon at our Battalion Headquarters and am now going
to bed at 1-10 a.m., having been scrawling this rubbish for about an
hour; breakfast in bed in the morning, I think.

I am afraid this letter has been a long time coming, but somehow I
always seem to have something to do. There are two noises I can hear
now, one the squeak of a rat, but I know he won't come in (at least, I
hope not), and two, the crack of a sniper's bullet, which I know has
no chance of coming in. As the papers would say, "Situation normal on
the Western Front." We get absolutely no news, you know more of what
is going on in France than I do. We heard that the division on our
right were in action the other night, but, although it was four nights
ago, we don't know whether it is true.

Father's and May's letters to hand, for which many thanks. Father
gives me a lot of news. I had not heard of the fall of the place he
speaks of, I suppose the Russians took it--good work. I do hope Lovel
comes home, don't tell him too much of what I say about the artillery.

There are two things of which we absolutely cannot get too much--1,
candles; 2, cake. I have about one and a half of ordinary candles a
day.

Much love to all,

                        From your sleepy and loquacious Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--Don't believe all I say.



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.

My darling Mother,--

I received yesterday a letter from you and one from Win. I am sorry to
hear you had not heard from me for some time. How long was it? as I
have never been a week yet without sending off a letter. Only once has
there been more than five or six days between letters. My last was
sent off on Friday night and the previous one the Friday before. By
the time you receive this you will be glad to know that I am out of
the trenches (D.V.) for 16 days, and shall have a nice rest. Yesterday
we fired some ranging shots and were unsuccessful, as there was a
strong head wind. I was firing obliquely thus:

[Illustration]

and the first shot got blown right back into our wire and put me in a
fearful funk. To-day I had my usual breakfast at 10-0 in bed, washed,
shaved, and then went along to see "A" Company Commander to arrange
about firing. On the way to his headquarters I saw a captain of the
R.H.A., and found out he had come to be in command of a heavy trench
mortar battery in our brigade. While talking, he mentioned the name of
a man's father whom I knew at Jesus, and then I found out he had been
at Jesus; he was in his third year when I was in my first, I had met
him and knew his name well and he knew mine. I was extremely pleased
to have him in the brigade. This afternoon a major in command asked me
to get on to a dug-out in the German lines, the roof of which was
showing over the parapet and from where a sniper had killed one of his
men. I did so. We fired four shots, all landed in the trench, the
fourth blowing up the dug-out. That sniper snipes no more. The
infantry were awfully bucked and several men have spoken to me as I
wander along the trenches about our good shooting. It was a long-range
and there was a difficult wind. I was very pleased. The Germans
retaliated with mortars, but fell short of our front line. Then I went
and had tea, having done a good day's work. To-night the company I
mess with kindly invited Lloyd-Barrow, the Jesus man, to dinner, and I
am just going to bed now. I will send this letter off to-morrow night
when we arrive in billets. I am afraid that it is rather short, but
one has very little time on one's hands in the trenches, I find.

Yesterday we came out of the trenches. In the morning I got up early
and was cleaned for the fray at 10-0 o'clock when with his and I with
my guns we played havoc for an hour or so. The men were very pleased
when I removed what they declared to be a cookhouse. This war becomes
quite incomprehensible to you once you have seen the real thing; no
tactics, no strategy, just men turned moles. I believe in time we
should become sort of Cave-men; our eyes would have developed into
sorts of periscopes, our feet would have become web-footed to help us
to stand up on wet duck boards; there would be a new type of man. As
it is, it is quite haphazard and pointless. Just somebody makes
himself disagreeable when he has nothing better to do. It is so
difficult to hurt anyone actually in trenches; I think a mortar is the
only thing that can do so. With dozens of shells sent over in the last
ten days or so (40 yesterday morning) there has not been a single man
in the brigade wounded by shell fire, and rifles and machine guns are
the same. The casualties occur only in a push when one goes over the
parapet, and that is not war, only a big field day. I was talking to a
sergeant-major who had been through Neuve Chapelle, and said that it
was just like a field day in Salisbury Plain, men marching in fours in
all sorts of formations. His battalion halted after a little, ate its
lunch, and then went on, got a bit too far forward, returned and dug
themselves in, and trenches again. It is a hole and corner affair. We
were all very cheered yesterday morning by the official news of the
French successes at Verdun, and we all got obstreperous and terrorised
poor Fritz. The men say they infinitely prefer the front line trenches
to training at home. They have more comfortable sleeping
accommodation, better food and less work. I like it better myself.
Then what seems funny is to come out of the trenches and to be in
perfect safety two and three miles back. I went on a course to-day;
demonstration in mortars.

We are billeted in a topping farm, and I have a huge great room with a
big bed and a fire. They are nice clean people in the farm. The men
have a loft, and use of kitchen for sitting in. We are within
shelling distance, but the people in the farm have been living in the
farm, carrying-on their ordinary work, without the young men right
through everything, and the farm is absolutely undamaged. Well, I must
go to bed, little Mother. Did you receive my letters asking May to get
me gramophone catalogues of Decca and Master's Voice gramophones as
soon as possible? Parcel received. Slacks, shoes, candle, biscuits,
&c., very welcome indeed. Stir Ellen up to make another cake, larger;
I will write to her. Also can you send me Mars oil for boots.

Much love to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                            March 2nd.

My darling Mother,--

Please note address. Don't put in my battalion, if you like you can
put in O.C. before the name of the battery officer commanding, as a
bit of swank. This letter is a joint one to you and May. Many thanks,
May dear, for the simply topping parcel; it is ripping. Thank you,
Mother mine, also for the letter and the papers. The parcel had been
delayed a little by going to the battalion. The Aunts also sent me a
delightful parcel. I have been having a sort of little private
Christmas on my own, with a letter from Win also, and two free papers
from the King. At least, the Post Office gave us them, free to the
B.E.F. Consequently, I am very pleased to-night. I don't want my gum
boots, nor my Burberry, British warm or rug, as you know I have my
Thresher and Glenny and a fleece lining, also a fur coat, a mackintosh
cape, and a pair of thigh gum boots, all the last three presents from
the King, or rather from Father as a taxpayer. Please thank Father
very much for them. Also for the guns, which were bought out of the
taxes he pays. Several people have asked me where to get candles like
the ones you send me, and I tell them to see that when their father
marries he marries a wife with brains, as that is the only way. Then,
Mother, about the cheque: it is intended to pay for the cigarettes and
my knife, fork and spoon, and such things, I would much rather you
used it, as you are all practising war economy and I am living in
luxury; at least, do please me by buying a new hat with it, or
something as a little gift from me. I know it will not go far towards
a hat, but Father will give you the rest, and then it will be from the
two Alexanders. I am quite rich, I have nearly £30 in the bank, and I
am intending to be absolutely extravagant and buy a gramophone, and
even then I shall have a nice balance. I don't spend nearly all my
pay, and I am sure I don't earn my pay, because already I have
introduced economic reforms in Germany by cutting down the personnel
of their Army, and so saving them expense.

I wish I had seen Norman Smith in St. Omer. At present in billets we
are doing little: we draw our rations and eat them, go for our letters
and read them, get new clothes and wear them, take rations up to the
dump for those in the trenches, and then go to bed. To-morrow is a
red-letter day. We are going to have a bath. I am getting quite good
at having a bath in a tin hand-basin, but to-morrow I shall soak in a
great vat, which was once used for washing clothes. You will be glad
to hear that we have had no single case in the brigade yet of a man
sharing his clothes with anything else of the type in the dog's diary:
"Bad attack of eczema, caught one."

The rats in the trenches are delightful animals, about as large as an
overgrown horse, but you get quite friendly towards them in a little
while; after all, I suppose they are fighting for their country like
some of us. I expect the papers in ratland are like ours: "In the
western hole there is nothing to report, the situation was normal, in
Rotten Row Alley gnawing was heard, and it is thought that the enemy
are sapping towards us." Then they have articles about the bad
conditions of their trenches, and write home to say that the human
vermin simply swarm there, and are swollen to a huge size and have all
become furry.

Much love to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--We had an official message sent by the French line brigade to
say that the French had won back all ground lost at Verdun and taken
thousands of prisoners.



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                               Monday.

My darling Mother,--

I have not written for the last day or two; that is, my writing has
not been continuous as it usually is, because in billets we do little,
and have little we can do. All the guns are in the trenches, so we
have nothing to amuse ourselves with; half the battery is in with my
second in command. We have only had three killed in the battalion so
far, two men and one officer, and about half a dozen slightly wounded,
almost all on working parties, on which trench mortar batteries do not
go. If you are with the battalions you come out for four days rest,
but it is a very deceptive rest; you usually have to send large
working parties up at night-time to work on the trenches. Our rest,
fortunately, is really rest. The only things we have to do is to take
rations up to the dump for the rest of the battery, draw our own
rations, and get our mails from the Field Post Office. I have a fair
amount to do. There is a sort of Will o' the Wisp person called the
field cashier, from him a whole army corps draws the pay for its men,
and he goes to various places. His best game is to hide himself in a
wood miles away from anyone, and, then just before you succeed in
reaching him, he flits away to the other end of France; it takes about
a week to catch him, if you are lucky--I have been trying for six days
now. Another way I manage to fill up my time: Suppose I want some
rifle oil I send an indent in marked urgent. Then the indent goes to
the Practical Joke Department of the Division, and the indent is
returned to you, telling you to apply elsewhere. You apply elsewhere,
and are told to apply to the cheese department. If you are persevering
you get the right department at last, and your indent is returned to
you again with either a demand for the authority for the issue of what
you require--and by then you have forgotten what you wanted, and have
"borrowed" someone else's--or telling you that what you want is not
one trouser button, but button, trouser, one, and you let it go at
that. So the rest of my time is spent indenting and receiving indents,
and finally bearding some divisional authority in his den, and discern
him trying to find some way out of supplying you with the article. I
then smile in my most charming manner, and treat the matter firmly.
It's like answering Margaret's questions, or getting her to go to
sleep. The last "Tatler" you sent me has a large picture that will
cover a lot of boards in my dug-out. I am becoming very careful now.
When I first got in the trenches I used to get bored with a periscope,
and put my head and shoulders up and have a good look round. The
Bosches opposite us are rather sleepy. But now I am becoming quite
careful; No Man's Land isn't very interesting, so a periscope is good
enough. I take good care of myself nowadays since the little machine
episode on the road. I expected when I first went up to the trenches
to find them smelling of dead men, and to find No Man's Land a sort of
quagmire covered with dead bodies, but in front of us it is a nice
green field with no dead bodies on it; the only excitement is right on
the right of our line, where there is one dead German in the middle. I
believe a small charge is made for looking at him through the
periscope there.

There's something I notice, and that is that there are certain
magnificent gentlemen, you will have seen, who wear red round their
hats--the Staff. In England you see the red about 60 miles off. Behind
the lines here there is no mistake about seeing it. But in the
trenches, the red is carefully covered over with a nice khaki band.

The Aunts sent me a topping parcel the other night, a pair of socks,
worked by Auntie Lil, that I have on now, a cake, made by Auntie
Agnes, I have in me now, and a book and some chocolate, the last has
been censored and the other is being so. I wrote and thanked them. If
you see them please thank them again and give them my love. Fancy I
have been out here about nine weeks and I am still writing long
letters about nothing at all, and I see no chance of my falling off in
this respect, mother mine, because I know that you like to receive,
even the most ridiculous letters I send. I received letters this week
from David Smythe, who, after being rejected several times, has at
last managed to get into the Black Watch in the ranks. From Eric
Davies, who has now got a commission. From Jasper Holmes and Kenneth
Rudd. I was very pleased to receive them. Roly, I hear, has been
wounded. Pat I have not heard from for some time. I also had a letter
from Miss Crocker from Paris. Ask May to write to Miss Smyth some time
and give her my love, and ask her to write to me and send me her
address. I am thinking of you all to-night, Father in the dining
room, Charlie not in yet; you and May having your supper before you go
to bed, and Amy, probably in bed already, at Ripon. I hope Arthur is
all right again, and Lovel is enjoying himself. Good-night, little
mother; God bless you. I should like to walk in and surprise you all;
perhaps in two or three months I may do so, and find you all out at a
meeting or some other thing.

With much love to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

March 7th (Tuesday).



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.

My darling Mother,--

I have just received your letter and a parcel with a topping
waistcoat; I don't think I could ever be cold with it on. Thank you
very much indeed for it. I received the slacks, &c., in the trenches.
I have got enough clothes now to keep me warm at the North-Pole. I
would be very glad indeed of socks for my men--I have 23 men if you
can send for all. I got the papers last week; they are not due yet
this week. I have two Tommy's cookers. I have got rid of my camera;
they are very strict about not having them out here, so I got rid of
mine directly I came out, and, of course, had no opportunity to take
any photos. We all got rid of them the first day out here. Please tell
Ellen that I will never forgive her if she is not at home to welcome
me back when I come. I don't know where the Pals are. Winnie ought to
know exactly where I am. If not mention a few places S. of 5 if you
can remember. We got into rest a few miles behind the firing line. We
are also S. of 1 S of 2 and 3.

I am going into the trenches to-night for two or three nights and then
for about a week's rest. I have just had a week's rest. I cannot tell
you the exact number of days, as I should have to censor it myself if
I did.

I must stop now.

                     Much love to all, From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.

My darling Mother,--

It is Sunday afternoon, 2-30, and I am just finishing dressing. We
came out of the trenches yesterday; we were only in three or four
days, as the brigade has to hold these trenches for longer than was
first intended--my second in command is in now. I shall have about 11
days rest now. We arrived at our billet at about 11 o'clock last night
tired and hungry, and found everyone in bed; however, one of the girls
got up and made me an omelette, consisting of five eggs, and some
coffee, and the men had beer and coffee. Then I read some letters from
Father, Amy and Roly Wait, and then to bed. I have got an awfully
comfortable bed. I will write later; this is only to let you know that
I am safe and happy.

Much love to all. In haste,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC



                                     A/101 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                               Sunday.

My darling Mother,--

My letter this morning was interrupted by a message from the War
Office, brought per Second-Lieutenant Lake, of the gunners, that I had
to go to get some tea at the officer's tea room at ----. Now for
enlightenment. You have one son younger than myself, take the first
two letters of his name. Then think of the opposite of a woman crying.
If you cannot understand this take it to Uncle Ted, or some detective,
and you will find out something you are very anxious to know. It is a
good conundrum. Tell me if you get it. To resume. At about 10-0 this
morning Fuller came in and started lighting fires, cleaning up the
room, and cooking my breakfast. At 10-45 five officers came to see
me--I was where? Two guesses allowed. Still in bed. 10-46 message from
Brigade Headquarters asking for a return. I daresay you have seen a
picture taken from the "Bystander" of a scene at Loos during the
September offensive. Colonel Fitz Shrapnel in his dug-out with a
telephone at Battalion Headquarters, his dug-out being blown to
pieces, a shell bursting on the top of it. He received an urgent
message from G.H.Q. "Hello, hello! Please let us know, as soon as
possible, the number of tins of raspberry jam issued to you last
Friday." Just like the staff. They will stand up in the middle of an
attack to know when your return of trained farriers will be in. I am
afraid I forgot most of my returns. I should get, if I were you,
"Fragments from France," by Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather, price 1s.; it is
very interesting and amusing and very true. To continue:--From 11-0
till about 12-30 I ate my breakfast and talked to these two, and then
shaved, washed, &c., and other such details, dressed and lunched off
some potatoes at 2-0, being all I wanted when Lake called for me. We
had a pleasant tea in a farm about one mile from here (see riddle),
and bought some books and things and so back home. I went out to
dinner immediately with another battery in another brigade in our
division, and we were just enjoying our coffee when we were disturbed
by a divisional test alarm. I rushed back, but was thankful to find we
were not included in the amusement. To-day the papers would describe
as "Artillery active on the Western front." They have been putting a
lot of shrapnel over into the front trenches, and did some damage
with one shell to my battalion, who are in at present. They always
seem to shell when I am out (touch wood). I am beginning to hope I am
a safe mascot against shells. I will write about the last few days in
the trenches to-morrow. We had one awful attack on my dug-out--by
mice--I hated it. I can sleep through machine gun fire (I mean the
noise of it) and shells as long as they are not too close, but mice,
ugh! they wake me up at once and I hurl the nearest thing I have at
the noise. Fuller came in the other morning to find my dug-out strewn
with Very pistol cartridges; I found they were useful not only for
sending up lights but also for frightening mice. The rats are more
gentlemanly, so far, they keep themselves to themselves, they have
their own dug-out and have left mine alone so far.

By the way, the "Tatler" and "Punch" have not arrived this week, or
rather last week; I have only had one copy of each so far. It must be
the fault of the bookseller who is sending them, as if posted they
would come through all right. I have just had three days in, and I did
not enjoy the first two, as I had a sort of chill, and only ate a
plate of porridge each day, and, added to that, there was one of our
battalions of our brigade in which I do not like. The last day I was
all right, and the Scots were in, so I enjoyed myself. I usually
attach myself to the nearest company mess, as I have told you, and
mess with them, but with the battalion that I was in with for two of
the three days I preferred to mess alone, and it is not nearly so
nice. To-morrow we go into Divisional Reserve for about a week or a
little more. I shall have a topping billet in the town just close to
here; a nice mess-room with a piano, and a good bedroom. I am thinking
of turning Presbyterian (not seriously) because the padré--Black--is
such an absolutely tophole chap, I see a good deal of him. He is
attached to the 16th Scots, of whom also I see a lot. Padre Black was
offered R.J. Campbell's Church after Campbell, but refused it. His
brother, Hugh Black, is rather famous I think. Anyway, the Padre's a
topper. He is like a ray of sunshine in the trenches. He come striding
along, head up, not stooping as all those who don't live in the
trenches (and some of those who do) do, with a cheery word for
everyone, and a memory for anyone he knows. A curious thing is that,
as you may know, dotted all over the roads in France, are crosses and
_prie dieu_, and I have seen scarcely one touched; you can see
villages in ruins and in the middle of it all a shrine untouched, not
a flower, not a piece of tinsel, not a bit of gold paint damaged. You
become sort of superstitious sometimes out here, and when there are
shells I always try to get behind the nearest one, and I know I am
safe. I have seen no Wesleyan Padres out here at all. We have in our
brigade one Church of England, one Catholic, and a Presbyterian for
the Scots.

To-day I had company, one Northumberland Fusilier and one 15th Scots,
to lunch, three men to tea, and I have just had dinner with our
quartermaster and our interpreter, a Frenchman--roast duck. _Bon._

This is rather a mixture of a letter. The next time I am in the
trenches I will describe it in detail if you like, but it is all just
the same, sometimes you long to get out and over the parapet and have
a go at the blighters and settle the matter, instead of potting at
each other from behind mud heaps, especially when you see a man killed
by a stray bullet; we have only had a few, thank goodness. Well, I
must to bed.

Much love to all,

                                       From your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--We are now changed to 101/1 T.M.B. not A/101 any longer.



                                     101/1 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.

My darling Mother,--

As you see, the name of our battery is changed. We are in billets at
present, in divisional rest, none of the Brigade is in the trenches.
We do not do very much. This afternoon we fired about 30 rounds for
practice. Rest is chiefly a social and bathing time. We had a good
wash yesterday. Two visitors came to lunch to-day and two are coming
to dinner. Will you look in the papers every day at the "Gazette" and
tell me when I become a First Lieutenant; my name went in a month ago.
I never see the papers. Again this week, I have not received "Punch"
or the "Tatler." I am afraid this will be a short letter, as I have
little news, and I don't want to write just for the sake of filling
pages; when I have news it is easy to write, and to you is, I know,
interesting reading. But, as you know, the happy and the righteous are
generally uninteresting, and we are very contented at present. We fire
most of the day for practice, and, as I say, entertain a lot of
officers, and go out to meals. I know almost all the officers in three
Battalions in the Brigade now. It's been beautiful and warm this last
week. If things go on as they are doing at present I should not like
the war to stop. It is very nice being out, and I really enjoy the
trenches.

We went into ---- (do you know where now?) the day before yesterday,
and went to the Divisional Pierrot Troupe, a sort of Follies. They are
quite good, and have a sort of theatre, in a disused college--College
des beaux Arts. It is always crowded with officers and men.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                     101/1 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                               Sunday.

My darling Mother,--

I am afraid that I have rather fallen off in the writing line lately,
but we have been leading a very pleasant but humdrum life, and the
evenings have been rather busy; at present, five rowdy young
subalterns profane the air with discordant music and facetious
witticisms, so it is difficult to write ("Mack, you will never write a
letter," "Do lend me a hundred sandbags," "Orders from Brigade," &c.).

We are at present in a very pleasant billet just a few miles south of
where we were before; we ought to be in the trenches, but as there are
no dug-outs for us yet we are building them before we go in, or rather
we are talking of making them at present. For eight days or so we were
in divisional rest, during which time we fired for practice most days,
entertained people to meals, and went in to the town near to see the
divisional pierrot show. Two or three days ago we suddenly had orders
to move to the section on our right, so Greig, Uncle Fred's friend,
told me to ride his second horse, and to come and look round with him
at the billets, &c. We had a very pleasant ride. The next day we came
along, bringing our things on handcarts, and one big horse waggon; we
came to take over this billet--it is a huge, big farm, square with a
long courtyard, and a long tower at the gateway. The men sleep in huts
round and in barns; we have a large mess-room, with a sort of camp
beds on which we sleep. We have a huge fire, which we keep going, and
we have piles of crockery and tableclothes, &c., which we have
"borrowed." The first night there was an officer of the Company we
relieved who had apparently a little too much to drink, and,
unfortunately, got thrown from his horse three times and was found
unconscious in a ditch, and has quite wrongly been charged with being
drunk, and is going to be court martialled. I am a witness for the
defence; we have with us at present two officers of his company who
have to stay behind for the court martial. The first day we were in we
slept in huts, but it was so terribly cold that the night after we
shifted our beds into the mess-room. The first day, Carroll and I went
a tour of the trenches; they are topping trenches, we sought and
found many things to devour and destroy. Finally, we came to a road,
where we asked the way, and were directed to go up it. We went up it
until we came to a low barricade, and looking over it, to find our
trenches just below and the Bosche trenches about 200 yards peeping at
us. Crack, crack; we returned to try again, only to find ourselves up
in the firing line. Finally, we succeeded in getting home all right
rather tired. We had a pleasant dinner, and got a large wood fire made
with ammunition boxes. The next day being Sunday we had breakfast at
10-0 in pyjamas and fur coats, and went a walk in the afternoon.

To-day we went up to the trenches and worked hard (?) all day
emplacing guns, and making dug-outs, &c. I lunched and tea'd with the
Scots, and returned in the pouring rain.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                     101/1 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                    Sunday, April 2nd.

My darling Mother,--

I am afraid that in the last week or two I have not been writing so
well, but as you know when you become used to a life, and nothing
exciting is happening, there is little news, and there is not much
that strikes me as interesting to tell. When you begin to accept
things in the ordinary course of things, it is difficult to feel that
trivial occurrences of every day will be of interest to others. One
consolation you can have is that the more uninteresting and the fewer
my letters are the more harmless my life. If there was anything doing
I should become as verbose again as ever. However, I will try to give
you what news I have.

In the first place the weather is beautifully hot. I got up this
morning, much to my disgust, to see the Brigade Major at 9-30, and
since then I have been sitting in the large yard in the sun reading "A
Knight on Wheels," by Ian Hay, with only two interruptions--to inspect
my men, and to pull our ambulance, which had broken down, back to the
billet. It is glorious weather; you can hear the birds and the faint
hum of an aeroplane, with occasionally the noise of anti-aircraft
shells bursting round one, just a faint crump and tiny little fleecy
white clouds clustering round a black speck in the sky. It is a
perfect almost summer day. There is one point about shell fire that
may interest you. A battery of guns fires on a target, say a farm
house. The guns are a long way back, and, of course, cannot see their
target. An officer or some observer will be well forward up a big
tree, in a church steeple, or a ruined farm house, or, perhaps, in an
aeroplane, and will direct the battery. Consequently, once a battery
gets on to a point, that point alone is the dangerous one; you can
stand on a road, about 200 yards away and watch the whole show quite
safely. The other afternoon we were coming down the road and the
Bosche was shelling a point about 200 yards beyond. His shells came
over the road and always sounded to be going to drop on the road. Of
course, they never did. A shell is awfully deceptive; you see a large
black cloud of smoke arise from the ground and bits fly, while you
still hear the shell in the air, so often you try to get out of the
way of a shell that has already burst somewhere else, until you know
what happens. It is rather funny to see the explosion of a shell,
while you apparently hear the shell just going over your head. Our
mess at present, commonly known as the Anarchists, consists of those
who take and those who give life--three Trench Mortar Batteries and
one Field Ambulance. We have a very pleasant mess. Although the
Brigade is in the trenches at present we are not sleeping in the front
line. There are no dug-outs for us, and we have a lot of work to do,
so we go up every day and make emplacements and sleep in comfort at
our billet; we have a pleasant life, because we get pleasant sleep in
pyjamas, and plenty of exercise to keep us fit. We have just had
lunch, and are lying out in the field in the sun--it is rather
pleasant. There are only about two things we want, and they are a
gramophone, which Winnie is getting for us, and a tennis court, which
does not seem probable at present. We are very impatient for the
gramophone to arrive. Kitton is with me at present; he is a topping
chap, and is in command of the other battery in the Brigade.

Last night I had to take some ammunition (200 rounds) up to the
trenches, also two dug-out frames and 2,000 sandbags; we get through
in the battery about 500 sandbags a day. They are brought up to the
dump, and from there we push them up tramway lines on trucks,
across the open up to the firing line, and then along it in the open
behind to the place where they are wanted. Stray bullets and machine
guns make it rather exciting; we had one man wounded--the bullet went
right through his calf just about half an inch under the skin, a tiny
little wound, but he will only be a few days. I hope Amy is quite
better again.

I was made a First Lieutenant on March 1st. It is possible that I may
be made a Captain sometime in the future. There is talk of making all
Battery Commanders Captains. I am afraid that soon we will be moving
further south; we are very comfortable here, and I am enjoying myself
greatly. I am not feeling up to writing much; I am going to read or
sleep.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                     101/1 TRENCH MORTAR BATTERY,
                                                 101ST BRIGADE, B.E.F.
                                                            Wednesday.

My darling Mother,--

I did not quite know what was the meaning of the telegram the other
day. It was dated April 1st, which made me rather suspicious, and it
did not arrive here till April 4th. I wired immediately, but it is
difficult to do so; I wrote last Sunday and once the week before; I
hope you have received them all right. You can be quite happy about me
now, as after this afternoon I shall be quite safe for some time. This
afternoon I had my first real taste of heavy shell fire, and I was
glad to find that I did not object to it half as much as I thought I
should. We were doing a pre-arranged strafe into a German salient--two
trench mortar batteries and all our artillery on to their first and
second lines, &c. We put over about 4,000 lbs. of shells from the two
mortar batteries in ten minutes and absolutely crumpled about 150
yards of their trenches. There is no trench there now--just a mass of
earth, great girders, pointing jauntily skywards, timbers drooping
over where the parapet was, and the front of the trench, where any
remains, leaning in a tired fashion against the back of it. Of course,
directly we started the Germans got going with all their artillery at
us. "Jack Johnsons," so-called howitzers--I have never heard such a
noise. I was observing in our salient; they had cleared all the
infantry out except the machine guns. I had my eyes glued to a
periscope, and never noticed most of the stuff coming over till I had
to go along a deserted trench to give orders to my guns, and they put
over in one place four shells from big howitzers into the stream
within 10 yards of me. I enjoyed it; it was topping to see the Bosche
parapet crumpling away, lighted every half second or so with a weird
flash, covered with smoke, and the earth rocking with the concussion.
They must have lost a lot of men; we lost only about three killed and
a dozen or so wounded, none in my battery I am glad to say. In about
half an hour all was quiet again, and I was observing the damage
through a topping periscope, which magnifies ten times, when I saw
four German officers crawling among the debris and distinctly saw them
from the waist upwards. I had no rifle worse luck, and when I found a
sniper they had gone. Fancy missing four German officers. They had
grey uniforms and grey caps on and Sam Browne belts. That is what we
have been working for, for the last week making emplacements to guard
against their shells. At present we are rather being messed about; we
are supposed to be going back for about a month's rest, which no one
wants--a rest means twice as much work as you do in the trenches, and
no excitement. After that we shall probably go to somewhere
unpleasant. We are being relieved here by men who were in the same
place as Lovel.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

(_After this date the names of places are inserted from a diary which
was sent home later._)



                                                           April 14th.

My darling Mother,--

I am afraid I have not written to you for several days, but I have not
been able to do so as we have been marching every day. We were
relieved in the trenches by the Australians from Anzac. They are a
very casual lot and did all manner of absurd things in daytime,
thinking it so much safer than Gallipoli, but I hope they have learnt
wisdom now. The first day we moved only about five miles independently
to a new billet; we had two rooms with a big bed in each, and we slept
two on each bed. That was Monday.

On Tuesday we moved again, about 15 miles, to Havesoskirk. It was
raining all day, but we managed to put our packs into our waggon, and
so marched the whole five days in Sam Brownes only. That night we had
a farm house, with the usual arrangements, and went a few miles into
St. Vement for dinner, where we went over the school of mortars and
saw several interesting guns, especially the 9.4. Major Dodgson was
very interesting and pleasant to us. We had dinner at an
estaminet--quite a good dinner, but a mad female served us. On
Wednesday we again wended our way farther on our flat feet marching
again; also rain again and a very cold wind. When we march it looks
rather funny, as we have a long train of handcarts, which are our
transport, packed with all sorts of things, including a lot of wood,
chiefly composed of ammunition boxes. We had an hour's halt for lunch
and tried to get some lunch, but were pushed out of one estaminet by a
fat madam who was bustling round, and evidently did not trust us near
her very unattractive daughter. Then we went to get some lunch at an
hotel piloted by a major, but discovered we only had sovereigns and
halfpennies, and so bought chocolate instead. That night we had a
topping billet--a house in a lane at Roquetoire standing by itself,
which belonged to a French doctor; we had a dining room, the use of
the drawing room, and three topping bedrooms with big double beds in
each. Kitty and I shared one, Carol and Brand another, and Seddon and
Douse, the Brigade Signalling Officer, another. We had a topping time,
but, unfortunately, had to wait till 9-30 for dinner, as our servants
seem to have fallen on evil days. After dinner we made our confessions
in a book of Madame's, such questions as "Who is the greatest author
of the day," "Describe the girl of the period," &c. Afterwards we went
in with Madam, a topping old dame, who spoke English very well, and
Madamoiselle, who was rather charming but "triste" because so many of
her friends had been killed, so "triste" that she never plays the
piano now. We had to justify and explain our opinions and confessions,
and so to bed, only to get up at 7-0 the next morning so as to get
everything packed up to move off at 9-20 a.m. This day (Thursday)
fortunately it was not raining, and the Trench Mortar Batteries and
Brigade Headquarters moved off independently of the Battalion; we went
only about ten miles and arrived at Blendeque for lunch, where we were
billeted with the brewer, a most topping and hospitable old man, who
offered us drinks before lunch, and attended to us in a most courtly
manner. After lunch Kitty and I borrowed two signallers' bikes and
biked into St. Omer to get pay--it is rather nice country round here,
not flat like it is further forward, but rolling downs and quite a lot
of wood, and lanes, rather like Salisbury Plain. You will be relieved
to know that the Bosches could not shell us here if he tried, and we
are here in army rest for a week or two. In St. Omer we went for money
for ourselves and men, and then went to the canteen to get cigarettes,
&c.; after that we went to a tea shop to tea. While we were there a
lot of the 16th Scots came in, and we had a jolly tea altogether. We
then biked back again. I paid my men, and then we had a jolly good
dinner. After dinner we went in to enjoy ourselves with our host; he
offered us all sorts of drinks, cigarettes, cigars, &c., in a very
hospitable manner, and his daughter played the piano and we all sang
all sorts of English songs. Madamoiselle sang "Where my caravan has
rested," "Chocolate soldier," &c., with a perfect English accent. Then
she and Monsieur sang from various operas in French; they both have
very good voices, and have been well trained. When we went to bed I
said to Madamoiselle "Bon soir," &c., of course, in a hopelessly
English accent, and she replied with "Good-night" in perfect English.
In bed, unfortunately, Kitty insisted on having all the bed and most
of the bedclothes, and in the morning accused me of taking it all.
When two people sleep together they always both sleep on the edge, and
a mysterious third person seems to come and sleep in the middle and to
take all the clothes.

At 8-0 this morning we moved off again and arrived here at Eperlecques
at about 12-30, this being our final destination. We are in a big
farm, with a nice big mess-room and a nice little bedroom with a big
bed for Kitty and myself. To-night we had to go to Divisional
Headquarters in the rain, and returned home for a late dinner, and are
now sitting in pyjamas and coats with a big wood fire. Two of my men,
two corporals, are getting Divisional cards of merit for their work
and pluck in the strafe the other day. Well, good-night, little
Mother.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--Have received a week or two ago the three parcels you mentioned,
but absolutely no papers. Would you please send me another pair of
pyjamas and lots of handkerchiefs, no more tea or milk, but lots of
those Foster Clark's 2d. packets of soup, and cake any time. P.P.S.--I
am writing in duplicate to make a diary, and names are censored by me
in letters home, but you can see them later. P.P.P.S.--Life is very
pleasant.



                                                           April 15th.

My darling Mother,--

We got up late this morning for breakfast in pyjamas at 9-0 a.m. and
dressed by degrees. This afternoon we had a parade for drill and after
we went a walk; the country round is very pretty, like England. Our
farm is a nice big white one with a nice orchard; the country is
wooded with rather nice little streams. We wandered into the grounds
of a chateau, where the A.S.C. were playing soccer against the
R.A.M.C., and so through a wood with primroses in it home again.

I am afraid that I have been unable to continue this letter for
several days, as we have been busy early and late.

On April 16th we packed up all our worldly goods and removed ourselves
to Divisional Headquarters at Tilques for a course in Stokes guns. All
the Batteries of the Division, nine in all, were assembled
together--three medium and six light batteries. The personelle as
follows:--Kitty you know. Brand, his second in command, from the 15th
Scots., quite a decent chap, known as the Band Box for obvious
reasons. Lloyd Barrow, Captain R.F.A., in charge of one of the medium
batteries, a strange fellow, was at Jesus, slightly fierce appearance
and manners, an authority on most things, but all right if not taken
seriously. Burlingham, in command of another medium battery, just a
baby grown up. Badderley, a monomaniac on mortars, who saves 3d. out
of every 2d. he receives. Wylie, 9th H.L.I., a Scotchman, and a
topping chap. Others: Sutcliffe, Laury, Lake, a decent kid, Bowquet
and two others, quite a jovial crowd in all. We all live in a large
brewery, all the batteries in barns, &c., and the officers in the
house--big, deserted bedrooms, with camp beds or bedsteads, and
thousands of doors, secret and otherwise.

We breakfast at 8 and start work at 8-30, and with intervals on to 4
or 5. Kitty has been teaching my battery the Stokes gun, firing dummy
shells, &c. Our Adjutant is an A.S.C. man, and James, the Divisional
Trench Mortar Officer, is in command. Parcel, with topping cake,
received; many thanks! All the parcels you mention in your last letter
have been received all right.

We are having appallingly rainy days. Most evenings the men play
inter-battery soccer matches.

The officers are going to play the men, but it is wet to-night. I am
afraid that there is little of interest in this letter.

                    Much love to all, from your loving Son, ALEC.



                                                           April 23rd.

My darling Mother,--

We are all still together, with not much to do and plenty of time on
parade to do it in. I will give you one of my men's description of
their billet: "I am situated at present in country not unlike
Welphine. Our billet is pretty decent, on the first floor of a large
building, which bears a slight resemblance outwardly to a Workhouse.
What an existence! Look up 'Dante's Inferno,' and you will get some
idea of every soldier's environment." I am afraid that our mess is
none too quiet at times itself, though at present they are all quietly
playing cards and reading. To-day being Sunday Kitty and I had a
holiday and had breakfast in bed at 9-30.

I am just recovering from rather a bad cold; we all have come in for
one, and it seems to make most of us rather argumentative on all
subjects relating to trench mortars, various regiments, &c., being a
motley collection of regulars, New Army and Special Reserve, and
Territorial officers drawn from all sorts of regiments and
representing every branch of the army except the R.E. We have R.F.A.,
E.G.A., R.H.A., A.S.C. and Infantry. Rather a cosmopolitan crowd, and
we, most of us, all hold different views on every possible subject
that turns up, but we manage to agree on the whole.

Last night Brand and I took our beds outside. It is topping weather at
present--very hot, but I like hot weather. Our mess-room leads out
into a sort of terrace with a wild garden all round. It must have been
very pretty before the war, even in its deserted state it is very
nice; forget-me-nots and bits of lake and stream everywhere. I feel as
fit as a fiddle and am as brown as a berry.

And guess what time I was up this morning--6-0 a.m., and it will be
5-0 a.m. to-morrow for a field day. When you are in rest you do just
twice as much work as in the trenches. But the only think I dislike is
moving.

I am waiting very impatiently for our gramophone to arrive, it is so
topping out in the open at night. I am afraid that I have been a long
time writing this letter, but, as you know, we are still in rest, and
I have little news. In addition, we have been kept very busy. To-day
(Sunday) we paraded at 4-15 a.m. (just think of me on parade at 4-15!)
and I wasn't late; we had a field day, lugging heavy guns about in the
heat, and firing dummy rounds. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.
To-night Lake and I went for a bathe in the river. As I think I have
told you the country is very like Cambridge, or rather more like
Norfolk Broads, streams everywhere, wide rivers and small streams
intersecting all the fields, so that, unfortunately, wherever you take
a short cut you have to jump all sorts of ditches, and already three
of us, including myself, have bathed in our clothes. Leading off the
rivers are smaller rivers, and everywhere by the riverside are small
white farms, each owning two or three flat-bottomed boats like large
canoes, shaped like gondolas, and they go everywhere in them, and take
their horses too.

I hope to come home for leave on the 1st of June, but leave may be
cancelled before then. We have an allotment of leave for the Battery,
but I cannot take the first leave myself. Thank you very much for the
pleasant parcel, with pyjamas and papers, received the other day.
Well, good-night, little mother, you can always know that the fewer
letters I write the more harmless time I am having, because I have
less to tell.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                              May 7th.

My darling Mother,--

The dates put at the top of each letter are the dates on which the
letter is commenced, and, as each letter is written bit by bit, it is
usually several days before it is sent off; as a rule I forget to put
the date at the end on which the letter is despatched. Father said
that one of my letters was heavily censored lately, but the censor was
myself. I think I explained that I write my letters in a book now, and
fill everything in the form of a diary and send the duplicate on to
you censored by myself.

I received the parcel of socks all right, and thanked you for them in
a letter written in March. Socks are always welcome to the men. I keep
about 15 pairs for myself, and the men like as many as they can get.
At last we have got away from the Bomb School. We moved back to our
Brigade a few days ago (May 3rd) to the billet we were in before at
Eperlecques, only to move off again the next day in the afternoon.

Kitty and I went into St. Omer for tea and to get our hair cut, to get
mess things, fruit, &c. We started to walk about seven or eight miles
on a scorchingly hot day, but fortunately managed to go almost all the
way in two ambulances we commandeered.

We had a very pleasant time, and then went to the canteen and bought
stuff, which our servants took away in a handcart. Then we went and
had our hair cut, and I bought a new auto-strop safety razor as a
birthday present to myself. After we had done everything we wanted we
went down to the station to meet our batteries, who had marched in
with Brigade Headquarters, and for three hours we messed about,
shoving great lorries on to trucks by hand, and then while we had
dinner (an omelette) in quite an English buffet, our men brewed tea in
a large loading shed. And, finally, at 11-15 our men bundled into the
usual trucks, labelled Hommes 32-40 Chevaux (en long) 8 (1 horse--4
men), while Kitty and I had a French second class carriage, in which
we slept fitfully, and ate chocolate biscuits and oranges
intermittently throughout the night.

The next morning we arrived at a station near Amiens and proceeded to
unload g.s. waggons, &c., again. When that was finished we marched a
mile down the road and halted for breakfast. We had ours in an
estaminet--coffee, omelette, &c. After breakfast I went to the river
and had a topping bathe; no weeds or anything to trouble you, only two
garrulous old French soldiers, who stood on the bank and watched and
gave me encouragement. At about 11-0 we set off. A blazing hot, dusty
day, pushing handcarts about 12 miles, without any lunch, and arrived
at St. Gratien at about 5-0. Arrived there we found Wren, the Brigade
Signal Officer, absolutely at sea as to where our billets were, so we
foraged round for ourselves. After being kicked out once or twice we
finally settled our men and bagged a Battalion Headquarters for
ourselves. The Brigade lent us blankets as our valises had been left
behind with guns, ammunition, &c., for the Division to bring along.

We moved off again the next afternoon about three miles to Rehencourt,
and there found a terrible muddle. A.S.C., two brigades R.F.A., our
Brigade Headquarters, all trying to billet in one small village. We
found a large billet marked up for our two batteries, and the machine
gun company, and, while we were trying to fit in, an A.S.C. Colonel,
who was town major, came bustling round looking into every barn and
calculating how many they would hold. He would go into each little
hencoop and chalk up about 100 men on the door, and, finally finished
up by looking round for a loft for 14 officers to sleep in, in which
he proposed to jumble up ten machine gun officers and four of
ourselves. When he had gone we put our men in (not according to his
scale). We bagged the house for ourselves and the machine gun officers
went out and discovered billets for themselves.

We have a priceless little mess-room papered in yellow and white, old
oak-carved chairs, oak table, shaded lamp, &c., and a bedroom with one
bed in it.

Madame was in tears at having so many soldiers all over the place, but
we soon pacified her, and did all she wanted, and now she cannot do
enough for us, especially as I send Fuller, my servant, who is a
gardener, to work in her garden every day. I will give you a rough
plan of the house, as it is typical of the farms we are in:

[Illustration]

We get a lot of food from Madame--Fowls, eggs, milk, lettuce,
asparagus, &c. We have very good meals. We seem to have the best
billet in the place. Brigade Headquarters, of course, spotted the best
billet, a chateau, and went there; unfortunately it is owned by a mad
French Countess, who ran about locking all the doors in front of them.
They could not get into the house at all at first and had to eat and
do everything in the garden. Finally, they got assistance from a
French General and got bedrooms, but they have their meals in the
passage, and their office in a stable. Madame came at 8-0 the first
night and ordered the general and all of them to bed. But they were
not obedient.

Greig came in the other night and was very jealous of our billets,
seeing he had missed his chance and had judged by externals and had
caught a whited sepulchre.

The second night an A.S.C. friend came to dinner and the menu was:--

  Soup. Salmon croquettes. Asparagus. Stuffed chicken and sausages.
      Fruit, custard and cream. Sardines on toast. Coffee.

Not bad for active service. One of us sleeps in the bedroom, Brand,
Kitty, Carroll and I sleep on folding beds and big mattresses in the
mess-room. All borrowed from Madame when we had charmed her tears
away.

Yesterday I had a very good birthday. Please thank everyone very much
for the parcels, especially yourself. They were topping and very
welcome. Who was it sent all the chocolates? I could not quite make
out.

I was very pleased; my servant gave me a box of Abdulla cigarettes,
and the Battery, or rather the Sergeant for the Battery, presented me
with another box.

In the afternoon, Brocklebank, my A.S.C. Captain, took me down to
Albert in his car. It is rather knocked about, and the church has a
huge figure of the Virgin Mary hanging down at right angles to the
church tower; it looks very curious, why it has not fallen I do not
know.

Then, after finding the people we wanted, we went up on to a hill with
glasses to look at the trenches. Before, as you know, the trenches we
were in were breastworks, moulds of earth in perfectly flat country,
and we rarely saw the Bosche trenches except through a periscope. But
here, from the top of the hill, we saw on a hill a mile or two away
long lines on the hillside, where the chalk had been thrown up in
building the trenches, and opposite them other white and brown lines,
where the German trenches were, white lines in all directions--a sort
of maze upon the hillside our trenches and their's--and behind that
hill other hills in the distance, much like Salisbury Plain and
Aldershot. There is a very noticeable difference in the country here
in districts occupied by the English. Civilians here are in their
farms right up to the firing line. In fact, in one instance, an old
woman was known to live for ten days in her cottage, once a lonely
country spot in the open fields, but now with a boundary on each side,
one where the Germans held their front line and one where our front
line existed. Ten days in No Man's Land! But here all things are
different. One rarely sees a French civilian; even here, some twenty
miles back, one sees very few, and in Albert one sees none. The
trenches are also better. Miles and miles of wire and lines of
trenches extend behind Albert, whereas North there is rarely more than
one real line of trenches. The French are much more business-like and
more thorough.

In the evening we returned to dinner, and again we had a very pleasant
one in celebration of my birthday. After dinner we played cut-throat
auction, and so to bed.

To-day Carroll has gone on leave. If I am lucky I may come home in a
week or two. If so, I wonder if it would be possible for us to go up
to Lowood or somewhere of the sort for a week, as I am longing for
some decent country--tennis, &c.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

May 10th.



                                                             May 11th.

My darling Mother,--

To-day we transported all our worldly belongings in handcarts from our
former billets to a village about six miles nearer the firing line.
The village is called Bresle. It is quite a nice little village in a
hollow, only it is crowded with troops--three Battalions and various
other units all billeted in it. Consequently, though the men still
have room for their usual billets in barns, &c., some have very little
spare room, whilst most of the officers are billeted in tents, hiding
from aeroplanes, under trees. When we arrived we had to get parties to
move our tents into a field under a hedge and some trees. We have
three tents--one we use as a mess--and the men looted wood and doors
and made a splendidly fine table round the tent pole, also a form to
sit on. Another tent we all three--Kitty, Brand and myself--sleep in,
and a third we have handed over to the servants. I myself have a
folding bed that Captain Brockbank, of the Divisional Supply Column,
had made for me, and I hope to be fairly comfortable. Our little camp
is in the corner of a cultivated field, behind the farms on the hills
rising from the village. When we had finished putting up our tents, we
lay down for a late lunch of bully-beef sandwiches and cake and
watched Mademoiselle and the family digging the field. Then at the
other's instigation I offered Mademoiselle a piece of the cake you
sent me as my "gateau de marriage," telling her I had been married
vingt-cinq anees. It is always well to conciliate the native. To-night
I went to tea with the Battalion, several spare officers have arrived
out from our depot Battalion. They all have tents in a sort of
orchard.

To-night we dined off boiled eggs, tea, and soup, in that order, in
our mess-tent, and we are now going to bed.

On Sunday I went away in a waggon to Railhead to Mericourt to catch a
train at 7-30 to go on another course at G.H.Q.--Hezdin, near Etaples.
On the train I met Bowkett, from the Tyneside Scottish, and we
travelled together. While we were waiting at Amiens to catch a
connection we met another man, who was going on the same course, and
whom we avoided, as he seemed a terrible person. We arrived at Hezdin
about 6-30, reported at G.H.Q., and then walked up to a chateau, where
we were billeted. There we saw the Adjutant, who gave us a room
together with two decent beds. The chateau is a topping big place in
pretty grounds and has most of the furniture left in it. We had a
large mess-room, with doors opening into the terrace, and an
ante-room. The next day, as our time was slow, we missed our breakfast
and only just came down in time for parade at 9-0. In the evening we
went down to Hezdin to the hotel to dinner, about four of us. The next
day we had breakfast in bed, and were in time for the lecture at 9-0.
In the morning, gun drill and firing. The other people in the course
were very interesting people, and an awfully nice lot. There was an
Australian whom, of course, we all called Anzac--a small
strongly-built man, with a military moustache, named Hart. He had a
very amusing manner of taking off old Army Colonels and 'varsity men,
from what he called Okker and Camer, and whom he described as always
going about with a towel round their necks, a blazer and pumps. He
would always talk to order. To set him off we had the man we saw on
Amiens station, and whom we all call George, for no known reason, and
whose real name was Arthur. Like Anzac, he had been all over the
world, and was very quiet and melancholy. He used to talk in a
pathetic high voice, and teach us Chinese, and tell us how he was
arrested as a spy in Armentières, and of his experiences. The other
chevalier, you knew at sight, came from Oxford. Bouchier, of the Royal
Scots, a small, dark Englishman, who was born in Tipperary, and was
known to our society as Arthur Bouchier, the passionate Scot from
Tipperary. Sutherland, Black Watch, a decadent specimen from the
Coldstreamers; Pinto Pike, and a Canadian Captain called Clarke. The
others were Lloyd (Cheshire), Robinson (King's Liverpool), Laying
(Gloucesters), Granville (Royal Fusiliers), who was in the same
Battalion as Wynn, who was chaplain of Jesus, and Cuthbertson, the
girl of the footlights; Steed, a pianist, Propert, and others. Our
instructor, Higgins, was a topping chap, with the Military Cross. We
had an awfully jolly time on the course.

On Friday we again went into Hezdin for dinner, several of us.

On Saturday morning we saw most of them off, and Bowkett, George
Bouchier and I remained. In the afternoon Bouchier and I went and had
a hot bath at an old nunnery by the river. Dinner at the hotel, where
we spent a comfortable night.

On Sunday morning we set off at 6-0 to catch the 6-24 train, and we
arrived at Amiens about lunch-time. On the station I met half a dozen
officers from the 8th Suffolks, and talked to them about various
mutual acquaintances and of what the Battalion was doing. Then in the
town Bowkett and I met a man named Grey, who had come out from our
Reserve Battalion to the 8th Suffolks, and we went and had lunch in
the Hotel du Rhine with him and several other officers, two of whom I
had met at Cambridge. A topping dinner, including ices and
strawberries.

When we returned to the station we discovered that the train we were
supposed to go on was a crowded leave train, full of people returning
from leave, so we waited till the next. Arriving at Mericourt I had to
walk to Bresle, but got the assistance of one motor waggon and a mess
cart, and arrived at Bresle only to find that the Battery was moving
in an hour to Albert, and was going in the trenches that night. I went
to have tea, and meanwhile the Batteries went on. Then, very luckily,
I found a friend and a car that whisked me past the Batteries trudging
with handcarts on into Albert. Arrived in Albert I went on to see
Rigby, whom we were taking over from, in a small billet, but found
that we were getting a big billet in the hospital--a huge, great
place, with large rooms built in 1904, and toppingly fitted up, but
now practically empty. All our men sleep in two big double rooms, and
Kitty and I in one room, the others in a room 100 feet by 25 feet. Our
mess-room is a large, clean, dry, tiled room, with one huge window; we
furnished it with tables and chairs, chiefly taken from the old
billet, which we are not using. Fuller keeps the room smart with wild
flowers.

At 11-0 p.m. o'clock I went up to the trenches with Carroll and half
the Battery, who were going in for the night--the men in one big
dug-out and Carroll in one with two machine gunners. I returned home
and got to bed about 3-0 a.m.

The next morning I was wakened before seven by the guns waking up for
their early morning hate just under my window. There are Batteries
dotted about all over the place here--18 pounders, howitzers of all
sizes, and naval guns. You almost trip over them wherever you go.
There are two 6in. howitzers hiding in our back garden. I went up to
the trenches to look round the next morning (Monday).

The trenches here are very different from what we have been used
to--long narrow trenches, not breastworks, dug down in the chalk, a
veritable labrynth of trenches, going in all directions, up hill and
down dale. They are very deep, and very few rifle shots are fired.
Sniping is done with field guns and trench mortars. The line is very
curious, moving forward and backward. In one place in our line a
village runs out and there is a German salient. In front of the
salient lots of mines have been exploded and no trenches remain,
merely holes that bombers hide in, where the trench bulging again we
share our parapet with the Bosche. I don't go there often, as you have
to crawl, and you usually crawl into the wrong trench and find
yourselves wandering in the Bosche lines. The Germans send over a lot
of oil cans filled with old razor blades and rubbish, which do a good
deal of damage, and are rather unpleasant. However, we are educating
them not to send them over too often, as we send over two to their one
with our mortars, and in time we shall get them under our thumbs I
hope. We always have one man by each gun firing almost continuously.
We have dug-outs well back with wire beds in them, also rats! Here we
have big underground dug-outs 20 feet underground, some of them down
long stairways. The country is very hilly and wooded in parts; our
part of the line has two hills and one valley, it is rather like
Salisbury Plain, or a flat edition of Derbyshire.

Carroll has been in, and I have gone up in the daytime.

I am going to relieve him this afternoon; I shall only be in a few
days. I hope to come home on leave about June 4th.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.

P.S.--I have not got your letter, but I have received all the letters
and things sent, I think.



My darling Mother,--

I am writing this in my dug-out. It seems very comfortable at present.
We have one large dug-out in which Carroll slept with two machine
gunners. I was going to sleep there too, and as I have a new officer,
Ingle, with me he was going to sleep there. But by the greatest stroke
of good fortune I spotted this one just near. It is the best dug-out I
have ever had. The other dug-out is swarming with mice and rats, who
scratch earth into you all the time, and come and expire on you at
night. One fell down and died on the table while we were having tea.
But in this I have only seen one mouse so far, and it has got about
ten feet of solid earth over it. I sleep on a comfortable folding bed,
in my clothes, of course. It is well back six or seven hundred yards
from the firing line. The firing line is more unhealthy than other
trenches we have been in. They will keep sending the oil cans I told
you of over into the front line. If you manage to get away from them
round a traverse they come rolling round the corner after you; I don't
love them at all. I have got "Printer's Pie," and I am just going to
put up some pictures and am then going to bed. I relieved Carroll, and
have been messing around since. I went down to the firing line for an
hour or two to go to each emplacement and see how the men who were
firing the guns were getting on, and then came back and observed their
fire just outside my dug-out; there is our observation post from which
you can see our own lines and the Bosche lines for miles. I have just
been down to one of our ammunition dug-outs, seeing 100 rounds put in
that a fatigue party had brought up. Friday 10 to 12. Good-night,
Mother mine.

Had a comfortable night, but, as it was rather cold, I have had my
sleeping bag brought up for to-night, so I shall be all right. Fuller
was late this morning, so I had to wait impatiently for my boots and
puttees to be cleaned before I could get up, consequently we did not
have breakfast till nearly 10-0 o'clock. After breakfast Ingle and I
went round all our emplacements. We had quite an interesting time, as
in one place where the trench is not occupied, and up which we have to
go to one emplacement, one of our field gun batteries put four shots
into the trench about 10 yards behind Ingle and knocked him over, then
a rifle grenade landed nearly at my feet and kindly failed to go off.
We returned in time for a late scrappy lunch at 2-30. When I was
intending to have a nap and a read when one of the Northumberland
Fusiliers officers, Bowkett, turned up with Kitty to see the line, as
he is probably taking it over from us in a few days, and I had to
wander right around all the emplacements again. After tea I went down
to see how our guns were getting on and found the infantry were very
pleased with them, as one gun had managed to destroy a Hun machine gun
emplacement, and the others must have done considerable damage, as
they so much raised the Hun's ire that he shelled them all
unsuccessfully.

We had a pleasant dinner, and the rest of the evening I have spent
worrying over returns, new emplacements, trench maps, &c., and so to a
well-earned rest.

I am beginning to find my way about a bit now, but there is a
veritable maze of nice white chalk trenches. We are in a sort of
valley, and in the middle of the valley is a slight rise on which the
village of La Boiselle once existed, and which now forms the German
salient.

Sunday, 28th, 1-0 a.m. Wakened up by Parker, of the Lincolns to tell
me that gas cylinders have been seen being taken in La Boiselle, and
that, as the wind is in the right direction, there may be a gas
attack. I hope not; however put on boots and puttees. I warned the
men, putting one sentry on duty, as also the servants. I have a
beastly headache, and I am very tired; I wish people wouldn't see such
things. They are very quiet, too, to-night, which looks suspicious.

May 29th. Awakened very tired about 8-0 o'clock, dressed by putting on
my boots, sponge bath, shaved while I had my breakfast in my dug-out.
Then I went with my sergeant to see about new emplacements. Started on
a new one with a corporal and four men working, also myself. In the
afternoon I received a scheme for construction of six new
emplacements, and I had to go to try and find positions. I managed
more or less to do so, and returned in time to start working out
ranges, compass bearing, angles, &c., only to find I had to go down to
two emplacements again to place them accurately by the map. Busy all
evening with indents, returns and chiefly with schemes for
emplacements. Bed at last--12 midnight.

Yesterday we worked on emplacements till about 2-0, when I returned
for lunch, and was strafed by the Divisional General for having my
guns in the firing line; afterwards a disturbed lunch, during which we
were shelled and our men's dug-out pushed in with a 5.9 howitzer,
though 16 men in the dug-out were unhurt. The Bosche was busy all day
with 5.9's, blowing most things in. In the afternoon I went up to see
the Brigadier, who was very nice, and attempted to solve all my
difficulties. I then had dinner with Carroll and Brand, and returned
to the trenches, and so to bed.

This morning I wakened at 7-30 Tempest came in, laying claims to my
dug-out, claiming it for Barker, but we said "No." Breakfast at 8-0.
At 9-0 I prospected with Wilson-Jones and found a topping place for a
new emplacement, which we set up forthwith, also making on the other
two new ones. Lake and another man came to lunch. This afternoon and
evening we have been doing more work on the emplacements. I am getting
a bit tired of these trenches; they are much too dangerous, and I hate
suddenly having to crouch against a traverse when a big shell comes
and crouches on the other side of it. I shall now retire to my little
couch. Good-night, Mother dear.

June 1st. Working all day on emplacements, putting headcover on, &c.
This evening, about six o'clock, I was called upon to reply to German
trench mortars, but just as we had reached the bottom of the
communication, they opened gun fire on the communication trench,
wounding several men, while we lay at the bottom of the trench, while
they whizzed over in sort of sheets of shells. They soon quieted, but
one burst was enough. I went down to the front line about 10-0 to look
round, and coming back they were unpleasant again--big stuff too--but
to our left. The shells are something terrific here; I think it is one
of the hottest parts of the line.

June 2nd. Working all day on emplacements. In the evening we were
called upon to retaliate for German mortars, and pumped hell into them
for a few minutes (excuse the word, it is the only one I can think
of), and soon shut them up. I was relieved by Carroll.

June 3rd. Went up to the trenches, to see how the emplacements were
getting on, with Kitty. In the evening the Tyneside Scottish relieved
us, going up to the trenches at 2-0 a.m. instead of 2 p.m. We had an
awful crush of them in our mess for several hours, and I had great
difficulty in pushing them off up to the trenches. I took them there
just to be in time for a terrific bombardment on the trenches, whilst
the Germans tried unsuccessfully to raid our trenches. They used tear
gas on us, sent over in shells, and it makes you weep. When I returned
they were shelling near our billet, and we had to spend the whole of
the rest of the night in the cellars, and only got to our bed at about
6-0 in the morning.

June 4th. Carroll and Brand went back to rest with the two new
batteries, and Kitty and I remained in reserve, as they wanted us to
take part in a raid that we were going to do, and, though our own
brigade was in rest, our batteries were selected as a compliment to
take part in the raid, which we learned was to come off on Monday,
June 5th, so we tried to go to bed early on Sunday after our troublous
Saturday night. However, we learnt that the division on our right was
doing a raid, and the Bosche started retaliating on Albert, the town
we were in, so we had to spend another night in the cellars.

June 5th. We spent the day getting ammunition up, 400 rounds,
registering our guns, &c. We found our emplacements damaged by the
bombardment of the night before and had to make one new one. We meant
to return to our billet for lunch at 2-0, but we actually came back at
6-0--in time for high tea. At 8-30 we paraded, six men from each
battery to work four guns, and got to the trenches to find everything
quiet. We prepared our ammunition, &c., and were finished just before
11-0, at which time all our artillery suddenly burst forth into a
hundred thunderstorms, and absolutely rained shells on the German
lines like hail. At 11-20 we started, and put over about 70 rounds
from each gun, and finished at 11-35, and returned to the third line
as soon as possible to collect there to take our guns out. I quite
enjoyed it all; there was a huge row on, and you could not tell if any
German shells were coming at you, there was such a noise. It was quite
exciting. I was surprised to find that it is really not nearly half so
bad when both sides are hard at it and our own getting decidedly the
best of it, as when occasional shots keep arriving.

We were glad to get out all right at 1-30 and back to our billet. The
next day (Tuesday) we moved back to Bresle, and arrived there in the
evening. Kitty and I had to go up to the trenches to collect some
things, then we had tea, and came along in motor wagons, &c.

At present we are back where we were in tents; it rains fairly often,
and, as a rest, we have to parade at 6-45 for field days. I am going
to the Suffolks to-night.

I am awfully sorry this letter has been so long, but I have been made
O.C. group of four batteries, and I have had to work all day and most
of the night.

I am very fit and well, and hope to be home on June 15th. Old Wroxan,
who shared a room with me at Cambridge, was killed the other day--he
had only been out about a month.

Socks, cake and all sorts of nice things received.

                     Much love to all, from your loving Son,
                                                            ALEC.



                                                         B.E.F., 10th.

My darling Mother,--

As I told you in my last letter we are now resting, and we are doing
it very vigorously indeed. There are two kinds of rest for Infantry in
the British Army, and they are (1) A good rest, and (2) a thoroughly
good rest. A good rest is when your brigade is in the trenches, and
your battalion or unit is out. Then between shells in the trenches you
rest. You begin the cure at 7-0 in the morning, if you are lucky, and
continue it all day and all night on working parties.

When you are having a thoroughly good rest you rise at 6-0 a.m.,
parade at 6-45 every day, and charge across country, practicing the
assault for the day that has always been coming (is always in a
fortnight) and never comes off--the great Spring Offensive. That's
what we have been doing the last few days, walking five or six miles
out, then walking two miles or so across country, and then marching
home. Every day we receive orders in the afternoon that the brigade
will go somewhere, to the trenches or to some other village, but they
are always cancelled in the evening.

Fortunately, to-morrow is Sunday, and we are to have a day's rest. I
hope it will not be cancelled.

Last night I had dinner with "C" Company, my old Company; we had a
wonderful dinner. This evening we went to our brigade theatre. It is
an old barn, and we all sit on the floor--Colonels, Majors, Subalterns
and privates. There are cinematograph films, songs, &c., and it is
very cheering; Kitty, Dougal and I went together to-night. The chief
talk is all about leave, everyone being in hopes of it, and all except
the staff being put off from week to week until you almost despair of
it. Dougal is just talking about hopping into a big hot bath and a
feather bed, but if we had never done without them we should not value
them quite as we do now.

Wednesday, 14th. The Day of Days, the heaven of every British soldier.
Leave, that Will-o'-the-Wisp which everyone possesses, but which
evades all but the staff, and the very lucky. A long journey from
Mericourt, starting at 9-30 to Havre. Lunch off omelette and coffee
during an hour's halt in the dignified perambulations of a French
train at Bouchie. At Havre we rushed to get cabins, but found plenty,
and we soon went to bed--Payne and I (Bernard Thompson on the same
boat)--and we slept until wakened one hour out of Southampton.
Breakfast off a cup of coffee, and then train again.

Winnie met me at Waterloo, or rather I met her, gazing forlornly at
streams of strange soldiers. All morning at Harold's offices and
shopping, lunching at the Criterion, &c. Then on to Win's to tea and
back in bare time to the Savoy to change for dinner. Then to
"To-night's the night"--topping seats and a good show.


       *       *       *       *       *


The writer of these letters arrived in England June 15th, 1916, and
returned to France June 22nd. The Spring Offensive, of which he wrote,
was launched at 7-30 on July 1st, 1916, and on that day he was killed
near La Boiselle--"A corner of a foreign field that is for ever
England."


Writing of him a fellow Officer said:--

   "The last time I saw him was on Friday afternoon, June 30th, in
   the cellars of the Chateau. He was gaily talking to his Officers
   and giving them one or two final instructions. 'Have some tea of
   dog biscuits and bully beef' he said to me just as I had finished
   a wash. I said 'Good-bye' to him, and then crept along the dark
   passage to the Chateau.

   He was one of the real enthusiasts for war amongst us as a
   regiment. Most people had joined because it was their duty--he
   joined because he was a soldier by nature as well. If there was
   to be a scrap he was sure to be in it. He wanted to go out before
   the battalion on July 1st, but the C.O., of course, would not
   hear of it.

   At Armentières I was told that when the Corner Fort was bombarded
   he was hit on his helmet by a huge piece of shell, but just
   carried on. I feel certain he died in the forefront of the
   battle, for his pluck was proverbial. "Whoever else gets the wind
   up--Mack won't" I heard an Officer of the regiment say one day
   during a bad spell in the trenches.

   I do not believe he was afraid of death, and I am sure he fell as
   far forward as the German leaden hail would let anyone get
   alive."

Another one wrote:--

   "I saw a good deal of him during the last few days before July
   1st, as his battery was encamped with us. He was in the highest
   spirits, though he knew he was to occupy a most exposed position
   in the attack.

   He was as brave as any man I know, and his loss is tremendous. I,
   as well as all his friends out here, sympathise most deeply with
   his family, whose consolation must be that he died a gallant
   soldier's death."



       *       *       *       *       *

"Daily Post" Printers, Wood Street, Liverpool.


       *       *       *       *       *

    +--------------------------------------------------------------+
    | Typographical errors corrected in text:                      |
    |                                                              |
    | Page 12: Moher replaced with Mother                          |
    | Page 37: fraid replaced with afraid                          |
    | Page 44: Boches replaced with Bosches                        |
    | Page 48: intersting replaced with interesting                |
    | Page 55: we we replaced with we                              |
    | Page 64: Epeleque replaced with Eperlecques                  |
    | Page 73: greatet replaced with greatest                      |
    |                                                              |
    | On Pages 78 and 79, the author uses a common British         |
    | phrasing "Breakfast off a cup of coffee" and "Lunch off      |
    | omelette". This is not a typo.                               |
    +--------------------------------------------------------------+

       *       *       *       *       *





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