To his Wife.
Adv. Dressing Station.
I am up here again-came up last night. Yesterday was a day of wearisome waggon loading. At eight when I was just about beat and turning in the S.M. bagged me to come up here as waggon orderly with the horse ambulance. It's about a three hour job as a rule; (up, collect cases, and return) and a job I love as the horse amb. is "ride driven" from the saddle and the orderly occupies the high front seat (like an old-fashioned char-a-banc or horse bus) and gets a fine view of the country. On a fine evening it is particularly enjoyable when the reliefs are moving up and the amunition columns are going and returning, and the roads near and distant (you can see a long way over this flat country) are all dotted out with men and horses and motors: a job I love, but I did not welcome it yesterday evening, after a spell of thirty-six hours in my boots especially as on the ambulance in the evening usually means on the ambulance---up and down---all night; generally by one's own suggestion: it seems such a pity to turn out some one to take one's place in the middle of the night, when one is wide awake. On the way up here though a horse cast a shoe (the artillery have farriers right up here), the wounded were all pressed away in the other ambulances and---the supply from the trenches ran out! We were told to wait and, turning in on the stretchers of the ambulance with ample blankets, slept till eight this morning with only one interruption: when a thunderstorm burst overhead. That was an exciting five minutes as we had tethered the horses to the wheels and they and the rain rocked the old bus like a ship at sea. There was cannonading (out and in) all night, our own batteries being particularly strident and the Germans dropping their black puddings about the place with pleasant little "pomboms" (the first syllable very short please), but we slept through it right into the morning.
A poor refugee dog from "----- " that is tied to a barrel outside our station didn't though. I heard his wails through my dreams and dreamt of Emma.
Back in "-----"
Also back in premises of our first Hospital here.
This is a lark, Dearest! I am in command of an army of two. We are the representatives of the 6th and in lawful possession of our old schools that we evacuated last Friday, when those scraps of bombardment came over. The 6th hasn't left our hospital No.2. over on the safety side of the town yet, though A and C sections have packed their waggons and every other Field Amb. in "-----" has cleared out and moved back to "-----" and now-far from developing---the bombardment looks like petering out and we are longing to get back into these really exceptionally suitable premises so---with the written authority of the (bow low!) the D.A.D.M.S. here am I a "Lance Corporal and two men" (vide order) "in possession" just like a bailiff. Mayhew and Galton the Scot are my "men and they've both just received enormous parcels. We draw rations from the Q.M. each day per one man sent as messenger. I fancy we are going to live some.
We does! We had lunch in the middle of the day (omelettes and coffee sent in. Hang Expense!) and improvised a four course dinner in the evening: Soup (soup squares), sardines, steaks (our ration cooked properly) tinned apricots followed by café-au-lait (tinned like condensed milk-bon) and accompanied by a bottle of vin rouge (sixpence and a halfpenny on the bottle).
This looks like pic-nicing---and it is---but I for one really needed a rest and a good feed up. I have done my share of the last fortnight's rush and a Lance Corporal's share is generally a biggish one. Three days and three nights at the Adv. working like a galley slave, two nights as Corp. of the Guard with extras (by the way my delirious charge died while I was writing my last to you. I helped to lay him out---I wanted to; curious isn't it?) four nights as night orderly in the wards (during two of which I slept, the wards being nearly empty) and the rest of the time either working in the operating tent, as pack store keeper, or loading waggons, unloading them again and reloading them encore ad lib. da capo ad naus. Also I am awfully glad to get away from the blood and bandages and carbolic and perchloride. I was really happy during the two rushes and nothing knocked me out---though we saw enough in all conscience---but these last few days I have been sickening of blood and wounds. This rest from it will set me up.
I have sent over to the H.Q. for my things. If we stay here a few days in peace I shall get to work on the "Dress Coat" again. One of two things may happen. The bombardment of the town may cease altogether in which case the 6th will come back here, or it may grow worse in which case we shall be recalled and the 6th will move to altogether.
We are rather crushed to-day, Darling Casualties---our first. Two killed, one injured. (slightly), one suffering from shock. All C. Section men, but not great friends of mine---though I liked them. Mayhew---who knew the two dead very intimately---is fearfully down: seems to think he should have been with them. Curious how people feel, isn't it? I feel most for their mothers. Chick---the younger of the two---was only nineteen and such a child; though very tall. They were all smashed by a shell. I wish to God England would come into this war and get it over! I told you I thought November. It won't be November twelvemonth unless England drops attacking Kitchener, attacking the Daily Mail, attacking defenceless Germans in London, striking and all the rest of it and devotes all its attention to attacking the German Army out here. If you at home could only see and hear the enormous concentration of force necessary to take a mile of German trench; the terrific resistance we have to put up to hold it; the price we have to pay over every little failure---a price paid with no purchase to show for it---if you could only see and realize these things there'd be some hope of you all bucking in and supplying the little extra force---the little added support in resistance ---that we need to end this murderous, back and forth business. Every man not engaged in supplying food and warmth and order---bare necessities ---to those at home should be directly engaged in supplying strength toward the ending of the war. If he isn't doing so he is contributing by neglect to that killing and maiming of our men out here, which he might be preventing. I am not exaggerating an iota. This is mere truth which cannot be gainsaid. There can be only one reason for not serving: selfishness. And selfishness at this time is not the commonsense quality it is in ordinary times, since no man is now looking after himself or could look after himself entirely. He is part of the crowd which those of its complement who are serving are looking after, and he can no more look after himself than any one of the men out here can look after himself, but each can help to look after the crowd and be looked after in return. The Devil of it is that so many have slipped into the crowd and are being looked after in return for nothing. That is the weakness.
I am not shouting for men only to enlist. Enlist if possible---but at least to register at Labour Exchanges as willing to do such work as may be needed---and to learn to do it: to do the rottenest sort of work if necessary so long as it's useful. There should be a glut of labour on the market now instead of a shortage.
Still here---"resting." It's getting a bit dull. Your letter just arrived. So sorry you were so long without hearing from me. I do my best. You understand surely how we are sometimes rushed---sometimes posts cut off---sometimes officers too busy to censor all letters, I expect.
To his Mother-in-law.
May 28th, 1915, Empty Hospital.
Thanks very much for your letter. It is now nearly three weeks since it reached me but you will, I am sure, forgive tardiness in replying: those three weeks have been so very full of work.
Of course I have no objection to your teaching Vallie a prayer. Why should I have? Only please teach him one thing: that his prayer may not be answered and that if it isn't, he must not think that God is cruel or unmindful. "Thy will be done" is the safety valve in all prayer and a believer in God must surely think---if they do not say---those words as a part of every prayer. In the case of a child I think they should be said.
I would be grateful if you would not muddle his little brain with trinitarian dogma. I have nothing against the trinity idea except that it is puzzling and quite unnecessary. It's alright for an artist or a mystic---it can have a symbolic meaning which is most grateful but I think it should not be taught. One can be a lover of God without going into the matters of the definition of Christ; and all such difficulties. If Vallie grows up a poet or a mystic, he will fight into those problems for himself. I would rather he had the chance to do so unguided. If he is going to grow up an engineer or a farmer, he will be no poorer for never having been troubled with them.
If I don't come home you may---I mean: Please will you---teach him the Sermon on the Mount and "The Lord is my Shepherd" etc., but I have always looked forward to teaching him these myself and still hope to do so---this coming winter too.
I do hope you are not being too greatly distressed by these confounded newspapers. To read some of them you might think that in the middle of an important action, the gunners suddenly put their hand in their pockets and found they had run out of shells and --- "there falls a sudden silence in the rear." This war is quite horrible enough---I dare say to your imagination it is quite as ghastly as it is to our eyes and ears and noses---quite horrible enough without the papers harrowing the feelings of you poor dears at home by suggesting that this or that could have been prevented. It is the most appalling thought possible, isn't it? It's all very well for them to be wise after this or that mistake, but I do not believe that any combination of human minds could have foreseen more than has been foreseen by the authorities. I met a sniper the other day who had had to desist owing to something going wrong with his loophole. "If I'd only had a bit of forked stick" he kept on saying "I could have done in a hundred of 'em." I suppose it might be called lack of foresight that he had not supplied himself with a bit of forked stick before going in---still---.
Au revoir (soon I hope---though with no ground) . We---our Ambulance---has turned out such a success that we get more than our own Brigade's work to do. We have had to lend the ------s a hand when they mislaid their Field Amb., and though originally we were under orders to send on very serious cases demanding operation to No --- and officers to No --- we have lately been doing all the work that came in ourselves "Officers," "Very Serious's," "Moribunds, "Sitting," "Medical" "Allymangs" "Scabies, "Shocks," every kind of case except infectious measles and the like---very little about---they go to a special hosp. by special motors never used for anything else.
To his Wife.
I should like some more tobacco.
You need never worry at not hearing from me Dear, you would be immediately informed if the slightest accident happened to me. Also I am not one of the careless ones, and take no chances.
I am longing to see my little boy in his sailor suit.
Bless him and you.
To his Mother.
1st June, 1915.
Things have quieted down now---only aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns with occasional, very occasional, five minutes of shelling disturb the town. After the inferno which raged "out there" for the last two weeks the result of which you have seen by the papers, (it looks little enough but has cost both sides the most enormous efforts and really signifies much), the comparative calm is almost uncanny. Men of this or that battalion are wandering aimlessly about the streets, getting arrears of food into them, and losing slowly the strained and distrait manner that their experiences have engendered. Our Territorial Batts. have done wonders. Every one is marvelling at them. The general has told them that they will in future be called "veteran fighters." From what I've seen I really believe that the Londoners are equal, man for man, to any soldiers in Europe, in everything except subordination. There are such stories going as it would do you good to hear.---Example: of little so and so-kid of nineteen (he says: not more than seventeen really)---nipper "so high"---marching in a Prussian Guardsman with whiskers like old Tirpitz---down---oh, down to (indication of beard reaching to abdomen) fetching him out of a dug out----(gesture suggesting pulling a surly dog out of a barrel) and jabbing him along---(illustration first of the nipper with rifle and bayonet, then of the Prussian who was about six feet two I understand, waddling along, head down and hands up). There's no getting away from it we are a success. Fighters, medicals, and all. But oh, my dear, the men who have been buried out here! Such splendid chaps. Why do the best ones all get done in? I met a ---th man a friend, after their charge---two days after it---I had been hearing of this man and that one gone of those I had known best in the batt. and I believe I shook hands with him for five minutes---which surprised nobody. The little ginger headed chap whose hand gave me so much trouble at Hatfield was first to go in the charge of that batt. A bomb finished him. Other old patients and friends went---or came back here with greater or lesser wounds. One with his breath whistling in and out of a hole between his shoulders---I saw him out delirious and comfortable with plenty of morphia in him. I can stick anything but depressed fracture of the skull. A man died in one of the wards here of that,---Galton watching him. He had the ward to himself (they make such a noise) and a mouse came out and ran back and forth under the stretcher he was tied to. Galton called me to watch; he was quite fascinated. These things almost please one by their very perfection of eeriness and horror. Do you understand? They are like the works of some gigantic supernatural artist in the grotesque and horrible. I shall never fear the picturesque in stage grouping again. Never have I seen such perfect grouping as when, after a shell had fallen round the comer from here a fortnight ago, three of us rushed round and the light of an electric torch lit up a little interior ten feet square, with one man sitting against the far wall, another lying across his feet and a dog prone in the foreground, all dead and covered evenly with the dust of powdered plaster and masonry brought down by the explosion! They might have been grouped so for forty years---not a particle of dust hung in the air, the white light showed them, pale whitey brown, like a terra-cotta group. That they were dead seemed right and proper---but that they had ever been alive---beyond all credence. The fact that I had seen them "mount guard" was in another department of experience altogether and never occurred to me till some days after.
Of all the curious things of war the most curious is the way my old problems of perception, experience, and apprehension; their relation to reality---the way those problems are being lit up. We have some really brilliant men among our officers. One in particular who---not deeming himself a surgeon (pure swank---he was going to perform a trephinning without turning a hair---but such swank is most sympathique, isn't it?) generally acts as anaesthetist, is often most illuminating with a word here or there just when one is wondering---as one can in the middle of holding down a half-anaesthized and very energetic Scot or Guardsman---just what feeling is and what consciousness; how there can be degrees down from our normal to zero and if there can be degrees up as well---you follow?---to some zenith of apprehensiveness to existence. Of course the normal capacity for perception fluctuates a little. Has it any limits up as it obviously has down?--- unconsciousness? The devil of it, is that an imaginative projection can be so easily mistaken for a conception the result of higher sensitiveness ---perceptiveness. So many of the mystics seem to me to have been merely people gifted with imaginations. The Bronté sister perhaps---what was her name? ---and Wordsworth and A. E. and Evelyn Underhill ---genuine exceptions, the rest---most of them ---imaginative. "Thrysus bearers," casting their imaginings in the form of active experience.
We are still---three of us---alone in the old hospital. Since things have quieted down, men off duty have taken to dropping in for a laugh! We are the star joke of the town. It is a ridiculous situation, isn't it?---I never thought when I joined that I should ever put in a week as caretaker. If Messieurs les Bosches would only either get the range and dent these buildings slightly or give up trying altogether so that the ambulance would either give up the idea of returning or come back and done with it. I want some exercise.
By the way, let me assure you of one thing. I am taking the greatest care of myself---no collecting souvenirs under fire for me. I am not particularly nervous---in fact I have not yet been badly frightened, but I have been struck cautious ---if you know what I mean---every time I have been anywhere where caution was necessary. I do not even share the rather popular (with the infants) desire for a slight wound "just enough to get you a fortnight at home." I want to stick the war out usefully and unostentatiously---but, oh, I hope it'll end this year. It will---or not---just according to the energy concentrated by you people at home on the one job of piling up shells, guns., clothes, food, men, bombs, motors, horses, and delivering them to the right spot at the right moment. Oh,---and you can devote some energy too to inventing a gas ten times as beastly as the German product and a means of projecting it four times as far.
3rd June, 1915.
I knew you'd hear summat of that Zep. raid. Yes, there isn't much "ping" to a bomb explosion, is there? Unless it's quite close to you and then it seems to hit you gently all over at once with a wad of cotton wool and you are surprised afterwards to find your ears singing: at least that's how shells sound. For real tremendous percussive, metalic bangs give me our naval guns. My first experience:--- It was at "1," the ruined townlet we went to first (about five miles south of that we know so well which---though quite thoroughly ruined---has not suffered as "1," has). We were introduced to German shrapnel, falling about four to six hundred yards away, as soon as we arrived, and remarked how little noise the actual explosion made---the scream of the shell beforehand being really much more poignant and nerve ratling---(the German gun that despatched them being, you understand, anything about 5000 to 10,000 yards off and practically inaudible above the general rumble). Perhaps twenty had screamed up and pom bomped themselves each into a growing puff of smoke when CRASH! Sousa, thirty thousand extra trombones each with a cannon cracker inside, thunder, echoes and lightning. We all shrugged (this is exactly what we did) till our shoulder widths were reduced by about fifty per cent. and our necks were submerged to the ears and our elbows grated against our ribs. Then, when we were expanded again, the Sergt. of Regulars, who was acting as our guide told us it was only one of our nine-point-two's a matter of half a mile away! Phew!
The last time I went up to the line (a week ago now) we had, Lord knows how many, of all sizes from mountain guns and 18 pounders, up to the 9-2s all at it constantly and villainously and really half of us came back with a mild stammer or twitch in the middle of every other word. You understand that our dressing station (advanced) and the regimental aid posts are much nearer to the big guns than the trenches are. They rarely place a battery within a thousand yards of the trenches and some are three times that distance behind them. The zone is enormous. Take this town which is inhabited and also full of troops. It is about five miles west of "2." Two or three miles east of which the new trenches now lie. Nobody here seems to know exactly where we have pushed to on the general front. Only the "Umpth" know that they took so many lines. The "Oothies" that they took all there were and had to lie on their tummies in the open (while the Germans did the same 500 yards off) and dig themselves in under fire. And some other Batts. that they only took one line because some other unprintable barstards didn't support them or got in their way or something disgraceful and cowardly and unmatey. (It's a treat to hear these Batts. curse each other. I believe many a trench has been held because to give it up would expose the holding battalion to recriminations from their brothers in support or on the L. or R. who would certainly come up and retake it "just for the sake of laughing at us," said one Corporal to me of the co. which had retaken the trench his co. had at last retired from.)
Well-this town is, as I say, from five to seven miles behind the firing line, yet shells fall here daily. The road all the way up to the trenches is under fire here and there (and you never quite know where when you set out) at nearly any given moment. "2" (from which our last advance was pushed up) with the line two miles away is supplying more casualties than it and with the trenches passing its back door-more, I daresay, than the trenches themselves just now. It is the name spot for that neighbourhood but really it is nothing more now. Nothing to do there but duck and run. Nothing to eat but bully and biscuit. I have only been east of it a few times but I felt safer out in the open there than in the remains of the town. Not that I felt what you might call safe even there.
To his Son.
June 3rd, 1915.
MY DEAR SWEET LITTLE MAN.
Thank you ever so much for the picture and the thingumy you put into the parcel for me. I was very very glad to get them. Mummy tells me you wanted to send Cocky Olly Bird but she thought better not. I'm rather sorry because I'd have liked Cock Olly Bird to come out here very much indeed. Next time Mummy's sending a parcel you ask her to find room for him. You can give him a kiss to bring out to me.
How is the office getting on? If the office boys all leave to go to the front why don't you engage an office-girl? Of course they can't play cricket so well as office boys and very few of them can whistle properly, but you can't have everything in war time,
I'm told I'm to have a photo of you in your new sailor suit. I hope it will be just exactly like you. I want to see what my Vallie looks like after all these months---nearly three my darling---since I saw him last. But oh, my dear little man, it's going to be a lot more than three months more before I see you again! These Germans won't be pushed! We shove and we shove and they only go such a very little way back after we've been shoving for weeks. Still they always do go a little way. And many littles make a lot in the end---when it comes.
Will you please dictate a letter to Mummy for me. Mummy will tell you how it's done: you say " Dear Doody " and she writes it down and then you go on as if you were talking to me and she writes all that down, and then when you've said all you can (lots) you kiss the end of the letter and mark the spot with a cross.
Bless you my boy
His kiss X.
To his Wife.
June 4th, 1915.
Well my dear, we've been married five years to-day; and what's your opinion of married life? Fairly stirring it's been; hasn't it? You ill twice, me ill once, Vallie ill once (you see I am not counting mumpses). Us burnt out once; Shaftesbury Avenue, Glasgow (assorted), Victoria Square, St. John's Wood---plenty of variety in our settings---and now you grubbing along on short rations and me---what the devil am I doing? At the moment I am Caretaker-Commandant (rank my own invention) of the Ecoles M--- feeding well, sleeping well and getting absolutely no exercise or excitement. Parts of the buildings are at present occupied by a company of the -----'s out of the trenches for a few days rest. They are a tough lot of old regulars, most of them west country or Welsh, who have been out here since October; high spirited and rowdy but (like all the British out here) models of behaviour where women are concerned (by which I do not mean saints) and adored to the verge of being turned into hobnailed juggernauts by all the children they come across. Our men also make a great impression here by their genuine affection for dogs. The poor beasts are abominably treated by the lower classes and ignored by the upper of this town and district. As a matter of fact they are rather beastly to their children, too; and as for horses---
Curiously enough the favourite accusation against them at home---that of "doing the troops down" --is not true. Certain things are villainously expensive:---razor blades; tobacco; brushes, and other manufactured trifles, but the people themselves---especially in the villages---will frequently refuse all payment for coffee, bread and butter or even---though less frequently --eggs. I never go up to the A.D.S. now without calling on the one peasant family still living in that stirring neighbourhood and taking coffee (au lait) and galette (quite different to Galette Bernevalaise) with them for which they religiously refuse all payment. I tried to tip the family brat a half franc the last time up. It was rescued and returned to me with insult. These people have been all but ruined: their larger fields all shell holes; half their out buildings and windows demolished by the reverberations of our artillery and carelessness of troops billeted therein (chiefly the former I am glad to say) and the railways and canals they depend upon torn up or full of strange craft and running into the enemy lines. They are far from hopeless, though. The enemy will have to pay, they say.
I made a foolish mistake early in this letter:--- "no excitement." I had a little yesterday---nothing much but a little. Coming back from my daily visit to H.Q. whizz bang whizz bang whizz bang---bang---the fourth so close on the heels of the third that the whizz was lost (that's when I take a dislike to them: no fair warning) and a square about as far ahead of Mayhew and myself as from 85 Talbot Road to the letter box was neatly dented in each comer. We retired round a house (the range was along the road) until the "bombardment" seemed over, then hurried up. First sight; a tall sergeant taking down his trousers coram populo to inspect the damage to his posterior aspect---not great. We advised him where our hospital (and a drink) were waiting for such as he, and proceeded with the usual job of locating the old woman and stopping the bleeding until an ambulance arrived (Mayhew went for it at once).
She was in the back room of the house before which the shell had fallen, her feet on a chair and her poor loose old stockings dripping nice bright arterial blood on to the stone floor. An unusual complication, son mari was sitting on the stairs (which were in the room) his eyes rolled up---curious pale grey eyes---suffering from our old friend "shock" and also bleeding like a stuck pig.
A gas pipe had been severed and the neighbourhood was discussing "le gaz"; of course missing the obvious reason for the smell that pervaded it. A regular, an officer and myself got ourselves nice and bloody and dabbed the old lady and son mari (whom she kept discussing) with water: he came unshocked suddenly and took to weeping, then Mayhew and the ambulance returned and we bandy-chaired them out to stretchers and slid them in and cursed the assembling crowd and went home to tea.
Nice story isn't it? With variations any day's story of this pleasant sunny and prosperous little city. Sometimes the old woman is killed outright; sometimes she has a leg blown off and dies on the way to, or after reaching, hospital; sometimes she is accompanied thither by a smashed child or two---more rarely by a man---more rarely still by a soldier. Occasionally she mingles her pint or two of blood with the more generous supply tapped from a horse. Very occasionally you find her searching herself rapidly and reporting with natural surprise---in view of the fact that she certainly is an old woman---that she hasn't been touched. Sometimes this that or the other is her share but always she has one. She is the old woman of the day to be added to the list of all the old women of last week and the week before.
The joke of it all is that old women have no Military significance.
Love to you all.
Don't be horrified at me---I must sarcast a little when I feel that way.
June 9th, 1915.
We are back in the fold having left our caretaker's job (with the usual military suddenness) yesterday afternoon. It wasn't bad fun for the first few days but deadly for the greater part of the time. Sorry to hear you have had flu. Curiously; I was verging on a touch a few days ago, usual headache backache etc. but no, temperature so I didn't report sick.
There are the usual crops of rumours here about our next move.
And now here I am in ------- a few miles from the last place. We have all moved here abouts and after going to sleep in various comers I have reported sick. Sprung a temperature of 100.3 and am now learning to appreciate a Field Amb. from a new point of view. It's nothing serious just summer flu or something---about half a dozen of us are down with it. Please don't worry one bit.
Temperature dropped to 100.2 so you see I am doing well. Forgive short letter, not easy to write lying on a stretcher.
June 11th, 1915.
I am "up" to-day. Still feeling pretty groggy but temperature falling steadily (99 this morning). The head and back aches are both much more endurable. Lieut. Dixon is for sending me back to a "Convalescent Company" for a bit but I'm dead against the idea. I'm so afraid of getting cut off from the 6th and going drifting about France attached to some amiable party of laundresses or bath attendants.
To his Mother.
June 14th, 1915.
I am out of hospital at last ---discharged in the official parlance. And now to sort out the last ten days and report what's been happening.
We, (Mayhew, Galton and Self) were recalled from our caretaking job on Saturday. We arrived at headquarters and new hospital in time to take part in a perfect orgy of packing during which a headache and general feeling of let-me-lied-own-somewhere that I had been enjoying for some days, nearly knocked me out. However, I stuck it and carried on until Monday when I went with the advance party which accompanied the waggons on the move. It was only a five mile march here but it quite knocked me out. After an ineffectual attempt to lend a hand with the unpacking I "went sick" and, showing a sudden temperature of 101 was put into one of the newly improvised wards. That was the beginning of my travels. We gave up that building the next morning and I was juggled into an ambulance and brought here (about three minutes run distant). Once here I was carried up stairs and brought down again and moved into that room and brought back again. Altogether I have experienced six moves in a five days' illness.
This is a middle sized mining town. Rather prosperous---but nearer to the front line than we have yet had a main dressing station. A. and C. sections are working it together while B. is working another station further south as far as I can gather, but I am not sure.
A lot of the boys are down with "flu" (we call it "flu"). In more ways it is like a mild heat stroke. The sudden spell of hot weather was very trying, and we get no regular exercise) and several of them have been evacuated. They wanted to evacuate me, but I was not favourable to the idea.
To his Son.
June 14th, 1915.
Vallie, my blessed, thank you ever so much for your nice letter. I was very glad to get the C.O. Bird with the kiss on his beak and I am taking the greatest possible care of him but I warn you I find him very difficult, and if I do come back without him, please understand that he will be quite as much to blame as I shall.
To begin with he arrived just as I was packed up to leave "----- " and come here and I had to squeeze him into my haversack on top of Nanty Lal's tobacco and the asparagus. I buttoned him in but he popped his head out of the corner of the haversack and watched everything that was going on till some one said he was the Eye Witness---and then on the March I lost him! I was awfully upset---but he turned up a couple of miles further on sitting on one of the waggons. I had been on the waggon tying on some loose boxes and the faithful creature must have seen me there, and when he got loose found his way to the place where he had last seen me.
He lived under my tunic and trousers---that is to say under my pillow while I was ill and he must have had a very dull time because I was no sort of company:---couldn't smoke or eat or talk or do anything friendly. Now he looks after my pack when I'm out on duty and has breakfast and supper with me.
We have all had big parcels from the Red Cross Society with a shirt, a pair of socks, and brush and comb, sponge, razor and chocolate. The chocolate is from Queen Alexandra. I dunno who sent the rest exactly.
Oh Vallie---I do hope you will still like being sung to sleep when I come back and not be too big a boy to be carried sometimes. You were such a dear when I went away, just right---try to keep as nice till I come back and pray that it may be soon.
Love to you dear from your Doody.
To his Wife.
June 15th, 1915.
Another day and no letter---I am awfully distressed. I keep picturing all sorts of horrors, I never did trust Brighton as a place for a young grass widow. Do write and tell me Vallie is alright and you are still as usual etc. I don't like your going to seaside towns at all---and now not hearing from you for all these days. Oh for goodness sake write! I am so miserable. You have lengthened the intervals between letters steadily two letters in seven days while I was at the caretaking job, two in nine now. It'll be two in ten if you don't write to-morrow. Do you think I shouldn't have joined?
I am returned to hospital---my rash is the only trouble now but it is persistent. I am to be isolated until it makes up it's mind what to be. I know what it is. Too much meat not enough vegs, and no exercise, beside rough flannel shirts and perspiration.
June 18th, 1915.
We are jogging on here, forty or fifty cases a day: perhaps a dozen wounded the rest the usual assorted . After the rushes we have so successfully weathered, it is rather dull and monotonous. The men are getting fearfully impatient (as always during a lull) and talk of the summer slipping away, and the likelihood of another winter in the trenches, etc. The less intelligent majority persist in measuring our progress by the distance advanced, and cannot see that war and Geographical aggrandisement are not quite the same thing. It is quite possible that we shall slog at a line for months, and then find one day that the war's over and the hard fight across Belgium and Germany "off." It's up to the enemy. They could impose that couple of hundred mile advance upon us if they chose or they can impose this system of holding us up at all costs upon themselves. Were I the German General Staff I should fall back to a line Antwerp-Liege and Rhine right along to Bile, while yet I could safely do so only holding Antwerp and that slice of conquered country but they seem to prefer to hold on, though I am convinced their present line is more difficult to hold and they may be so weakened on it that no other first class stand will ever be possible to them. In the same way this enormous offensive in Galicia may cost them the Carpathians before Christmas. It looks to me as if political considerations influenced the German General Staff far more than is good for it. Every General up to now who has allowed politics to impose upon strategy has gone under. Napoleon III is the classic example but there are many others.
Isn't this Italian progress tremendously cheering? Of course they have not yet met a first class resistance but to advance through such country even unopposed would be a test of mobility in which to show up well would be a feather in any Country's cap and they have been by no means unopposed.
When am I to have that photo of Vallie? It's getting on for two weeks since it was mentioned. You haven't by any chance sent it off, have you? You do not number your letters so I am often worried by fear that one has gone astray. I have only had two from you written since you went to Brighton ten days ago
Bye bye. Love to my brat.
To his Mother.
June 19th, 1915.
Apropos of the "long time away," a curious thing: I made the discovery yesterday that unless I can leave a nice well finished off war behind me I don't want to come home. This in spite of the fact that I am regularly and miserably homesick for at least half an hour every morning, and two hours every evening and heartily fed up with the war every waking hour in between. Never-the-less when yesterday to the rumour that certain parts of our division which have been rather badly knocked about were going home, was added the rumour that the rest of the Div. was going too, to continue as a Home Service Batt, I found myself absolutely horrified at the idea. To go home now and mess about at Hatfield and St. Albans! Or to go home even to Vallie and his Mummy is not what I want yet. I want from the bottom of my heart to see it out. Of course the sooner "out" the better, and I'd give my teeth for a week's leave, but I don't want to be away from the work---even my insignificant share of it---permanently or for long.
I am hurrying to catch post.
Love and thanks again.
To his Wife.
June 20th, 1915.
We are still here; in the mining town. It improves on acquaintance; many decent cafés and the usual small farms where omelettes, café au lait, pommes-frits and other luxuries can be obtained. I am living beyond my pay having developed a great distaste for army food since my spell of illness. I still have a little reserve though, and probably another spell at the A.D.S soon will give me a chance to economise.
Mayer's dainties and the asparagus were most successful. By the way, never send me anything in the form of Bovril or Oxo. Our fellows are loaded up with it and we don't want it---we get too much meat as it is. Oh! for vegetables!
Say: you may be reached by idle rumours that the 2nd London Div. may or will come home sooner or later. Don't take any notice. These rumours get about without perceptible foundation and are only unsettling. It is most unlikely that we shall get further back than a base for a little rest and moreover it is more than likely that if the Div. moves back we---the 6th---will be attached to some other brigade and the 4th and 5th look after the Div. in its retirement. No other Territorial Field Amb. stands as high with the Powers as we do, and we are at full strength and in no great need of a rest yet.
June 22nd, 1915.
I am sorry I was a pig in my letter. It wasn't premeditated. Of course without actually experiencing it you cannot realise the misery of home sickness one can feel out here. It's want of you, want of Vallie, want of all my friends, want of my books and work, all rolled into one and aggravated by intense discomfort and constant annoyance and the haunting uncertainty as to when it will end. I think in November, but in bad moments I can find ample reason for thinking not perhaps till November twelve month or perhaps-for me-never. Grrrr!
Don't be alarmed---I am only excusing my grumpyness by telling you my worst humps which I assure you always afflict me on days when I have had no letter.
Tobacco is ruinously expensive here. Franc an ounce for ordinary Navy Cut! If you will send me a quarter pound of either John Cotton medium or coarse cut Craven or some good mild to medium flake such as Dunhills stock once a fortnight I shall be most grateful. I expect I shall be having an economic time at the advanced dressing station again soon. I'm sure I hope so. It's much more fun up there. We have a new Adv. now, a gorgeous place in a chateau only partly ruined, with fruit ripening in the garden and even vegetables. At present I am living beyond my pay every day but reserves are not yet used up. Don't you think I have done pretty well since I have been out here? Your Mother has sent me a quid. I have managed on that and my pay for---now---fourteen weeks and I still have something in hand. I shouldn't crow before I'm out of the---town---though: the constant temptation of omelettes de deux oeufs et "frits" (otherwise fried potatoes) and fancy pastries may ruin me yet. I always thought it should be "à deux oeufs " by the way. By the way I should like that clay pipe in its case when you go to the flat next, try to get it for me there's a dear.
I am chock full of ideas for plays of all shapes and sizes, and the old habit of lying awake and getting quite excited over the working out of a plot is coming back to me. I haven't done it since we left Shaftesbury Avenue---not since "Elaine" was on the stocks. If only this war will end before I am quite abruti (is that how you spell it), I believe I shall come home to work. One thing I am getting thinner and I'm sure I work best thin. You mustn't overfeed me when I come home. I don't long to be over fed---but oh I do long for nice food and well served food---pillaff, rairogli, macaroni dishes, vol-au-vents, sweetbreads, your omelettes, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberry fool, ices, sole Dieppoise, salmon, turbot, kippers (Oh for a kipper!) soups. Also I'd love an oyster or two---or twenty. I've told you we can get excellent wine here at sixpence a litre haven't I? Very light wine of course, but none the worse for that. We are no longer offered that confounded rum issue, and I'm glad of it. It always meant a noisy night.
Have I warned you against rumours---Yes I believe I have. Beware of them, especially rumours of peace. We don't want peace till they're beaten, do we?
By the way---I wonder if your mother would like to send us a decent cricket bat, a good second hand one for pref, but a good one. We have two home made ones in the unit wherewith the patients and ourselves disport themselves from after tea till dark. I'm sure we'd be awfully grateful for one. Put it to her will you?
Bye bye. Heaps of love my Sweetheart---don't worry if I'm nasty. I do get such humps and I do so love every word you write. God bless you.
To his Son.
Vallie you villain what's this I hear about your visit to Brighton? Swanking in the Hotel about having cut the Kaiser into little bits and put him down the dust shoot. Swank Sir, you never did nothink of the sort. He's still bossing Germany and giving us no end of, trouble. You must have cut up somebody else by mistake. You really should look before you chop.
Bye bye, my darling little man. I love you most muchly much. How do you like me?
Please answer by dictation. I'd like a letter a week from you.
Letters from France, continued
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