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LETTERS FROM THE FRONT, Issue 15699, 13 January 1915
LETTERS FROM THE FRONT
How bravely British soldiers dio is strikingly shown in a letter, written by an Army chaplain (the Rev. C*. AT. Chevasse) to the mother oi Gunner Frank Wilkinson 1 19 years of ago), a gunner of the Royal Field Artillery, hailing from Hull;—1 write to tell yen all 1 know of the last hours of your son, who died in hospital I No. 11 General Hospital, in Frau-ie) on October 1. As his coffin was being borne up the path with the tiring party behind *a French lady was weeping beside a grave, but when she saw ns c-miing she picked every rose off the turn which grew urea it. and, stepping tern aid. placed them on your Frank's coffin. This is only an illustration of the great emotion the French always display over an English funeral. ’1 hoy followed your son weeping in hundreds, and have kept his grave bright- with flowers since. 1 hope to forward you a photo of the place where he lies. " I live on hoping 1 shin 11 be spared. Di course. 1 realise' that God gave mo life, tnd He has a right, to take it when it .-o plcrfc-s Him. and 1 bow to the Almighty iiod ; anil if He spares me 1 can recall tome awful tales about this war. ’ Thus wrote a Manchester ICrritcrini at the front to hjr- t.datives. At. a memorial servico he’d in Ireland for Captain Norman Leslie, who was killed at tho front, the Brimate oi All Ireland rend thi- extract from a letter written by the deceas'd officer:--Tiv and not. worry too much about th» war. anyway. lints, individuals , emv’t eon no Remember we are writing a new page of hastery. Future generators. »annol be allowed to read the dv.-bne „r’ the British Empire ami attribute atot; ■. \\ -; jive our little ll\e> and cif-. To s<-.;ne are given chances <d proving themselves men, and to others no chance comes. ABh.itcvce our individual faults, virtues, or qualities may be it matters not, but wheiy we are tip against big things let us torget individuals; and let, us act as one great British unit, united and fearless. Sonic will live, and nianv will die, but count the loss naught. It is better Ur to £<> out with honor than to survive with shame.
Sergeant-major IE S. Doe. Ist Pay. :u iVeWKent Regiment, recently mentioned in dematches, says:—" The, country of
Belgium has been overrun by an enemy which has left his ■trade-mark’ behind him. and that ‘trade-mark' will ever 5 iter bo known. No one can possibly imagine what these people have had to put up with. Let me tell you just two things teen in the last village wo stayed at. I mitered a well-to-do 'farmhouse. and was g> ectcd tin French, of course; by three good ladies. The whole place had been ransacked trout top to bottom. Ever’. - thing eatable had been taken, the bedclothes and mattres-es find been taken and were found in a gutter down the road. Hie remaining clothes had been wantonly de-
nroved, and nearly all the fowls and pigs bad. been destroyed. One oi the poor women told me that the German captain—- ] was going to say officer, but v,-p only associate the word with a gentleman--de-manded the food to be cooked and the v-ipa to be fetched with a revolver pointed r.t Her the whole tin;-:.” Private Morgan, of the Royal Iri-b Rifles. writes ;—” Wo were engaged iu trenches against an overwhelming force of Germans, and 1 was wounded in both legsI was -eon by an officer, who told me that my comrades were hard proved, and asked me to continue firing a> long ns possible. This I did until I was hit in the right shoulder, and then, completely disabled. I and others lay iu the trench awaiting the re; rening of the enemy, which appeared inevitable. Instead a party of Gurkhas c line up and literally carved their way through the Germans. Having dealt with the enemy, the Indian soldiers returned r--d carried ail the British wounded back t■ a place of safety. 1 was carried by a swarthy Gurkha about half my height but double my width.” An officer of tho Army Motor Transport Corps writes;—'' Some of the prisoners t-.kr” the la.-t few days are mere boys of IT and 13. ' hie of them yesterday told H” he had only been iu the field a- few days before going into the trenches. Their a dicers are fiiling- them with drink, and K-inetimc- drugging it- to make them mad Most, of them are quite pleased to bo, prisoners, We have been here about 10 days sow. A tremendous battle is raging round ni out- this district, and some nights it is Impossible to sleep Mr the guns roaring, bast night I had to turn out to take sonic reinforcements in the firing line. The tow when I got up there was awful. When ihe big guns go oil’ it -hakes the clothes in you. ... I asked tho major, who very kindly asked me to stop and have a !up of tea at their headquarters, why the Germans had not continued to shell the village. All he said was ‘Listen,’ and I listened, and could hear our guns going it, ind then I understood what had silenced ‘.hern. Our artillery knew the position of these guns. They had watched the Germans bring them up and fix them, and let them commence firing, and afterwards put them out of action.” “ Out on the Aisne,” writes Trooper Hill, of the 17th Lancers, •• I watched a man of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who layin the trenches, firing quietly- away at the advancing enemy-, as though he were in a shooting gallery pi- home. After each shot he turned and took a pull at a cigarst.t« lying by his side on a stone. Wheft the enemy got, close that it, became necessary to use bayonets, he simply laid h:s cigarette down and walked out of tho trench to engage them with steel. He accounted for three, and when the attack was beaten off ho walked bade for his cigarette. ‘ Oh. hang, it’s smoked away, and it was my last.” was all lie. said.” I lay down and slept 150 wards from the Germans, with not a blade of grass between them and me. as my gim detachment had all the available cover from the gun ready to open fire if attacked. 1 couldn’t- dig in as we- v. ere on a road and tire least sound drew tire, so i made an excellent, imitation of a stone on the ground in 10 inches of very wet mud. Grea.', tales of the Indian troops la-re. 'Wire:- the Johnsons passed over them or our lyddite was .going hack in answer, they .-rood up ami waved to them like children :o a. passing train, and s-wined thoroughly pleased when one burst near ;ncrn. One was wounded by a splinter are! i-.’d our staff captain that he had warred ’ for 50 years and merer had re- K.-t-ii in so fine a war ,13 this. One ■>f our officers is awfully funny at all 1 -met. but, in war more so than ever. A blew his hat off at some time back, and nil ho was hoard to sav was ; • D-uun ! there goes my hat!”'—Lieut. H. 0. C. Anne. Royal Field Artillery. From the letter of Midshipman Forster ;•■> h.O ’-.-.other :—“ j.he Venerable went to y ; ..-.ir,oV- w. Ire ip the Allies’ la-it. We start---! bombarding the first thing on Ti.-csday morning. Of course w? -could sc-e the u-oops firing oa land. W3 fired on the Germans, and made them retreat =0 tar. We had Admiral Hood on board. It was not all one-sided, for the 1 Jarmans brought big siege guns and hrevitzers down to the beach and fired at u.«. Shells were dropping thicklv all the time, and submarines were about, tre,. We were fired at several times by torpedoes, but they always missed us. Last Wednesday we began bombarding as usual, and were attacked by submarines, then by aeroplanes, but nobody was hurt. In the afternoon we were again attacked. They fired torpedoes at -;s. but missed. At about 4 p.m. our shin touched, ground, but was soon got off. It has been like that nearly all the time—submarines and. aeroplanes mainlv attacking us. We used a lot of ammunition. It was jolly sport. Wo have the honor of being the first battleship to fire an angry shot during the war. It was funny to see the Germans running out of the trenches like a lot of sheep.” The writer ef the following, a motor despatch rider at the front, was last year senior classical scholar of a, college in Cambridge University:—“ Yesterday we were well in the thick of it. All round the barn allotted to us were batteries of E.F.A., and howitzers raising hell’s delight. There were three 'burning villages all within a mile of us. Inftatry were letting fly all they knew on our left and front; ou -our right maxims were expectorating vigorojuslv- Overhead aeroplanes kept up tho excitement, while all along I road were batteries of guns galloping
up into action. This morning some of onr people collared six Death's If cad Hussars and three Germany infantrymen, asleep in a farmhouse quite close by to us. '1 ho infantrymen were overjoyed at brine captured, hut the Death’s Heads looked rather glum. ‘ They arc fierce-looking blighters, just the sort that plunder churches and burn villages. 1 should love to yet <ino ad’ their helmets for my rooms at Cam bridge. The skull and erossboucs are worked in on the front of their helmets most beautifully in silver. Second-lieutenant V. 11. A- H u,it - Battalion the Queen’s (Hoya! A est j'array) Regiment, writes :—“ I have been in some of the thickest fighting the world has ever seen. On Triday, October 20. we advanced over a mile under extremely heavy fire. Shrapnel burst over our heads, machine gums mowed ns down, and there was a perfect hail of rule bullets._ Owing, however, to the skilful maimer in which the troops were handled in their advance our losses were not heavy. In the later stages of the attack w<> passed ditches full of dead and dying Germans—ghastly sights. The British Tommy if pwmlei'ful. I do not think he can possibly lose his head, unless it is blown off by a Black Maria. Ono of my men had bis hat riddled with bullets from a machine gun: ono of the Indicts cut a parting in his htiir. He turned round, picked up his hut, felt inside, and pulled out a mangled packet of * Woodbines.’ He said a few well-chosen words on the subject of German machine gnus, replaced his hat, and advanced ! This man is a typical ■ Tommy,’ not an exception." I’rivnte R. G. Tipper, of the Coldstream Guards, says: "’.I here was a man in the trenches with us who had not got a clean sheet : lie always seemed to be getting into trouble for one thing and another. He got hit in the left arm. lie trawled had; nut of the trenches to the nearest held ambulance and had lbs wound dressed. We advised him to g ll to the rear, hut he refused, and with difficulty made his way back to the bring lino. There, despite his wounded arm, he steadily went on firing at the enemy. Soma time passed, and he was shot in the right arm. Again he made the difficult and painful journey to the held hospital, and again, with both arms injured, lie stubbornly insisted on 1 nr-vl-ing bad; to the trench. This time it took him longer, but at last he got h/ick. arid with difficulty handling his rifle with his mauled limbs lie grimly went on shooting. By an-:I by he collapsed, shm chain through Dm body. .Several Comrades pin to him. and raised him. They told him he must get back, but he said ’No, let me be. The beggars have done me in this time. Jack.’” An officer in the Lancer Regiment writes homo :—“ It was simply grand to receive your letter of depteiubcr 23 last night, and I rushed to the dying glow- oi a fire to devour all your news. My German is very useful of course, and 1 am generally put in charge of the prisoneis, so hear lots of things, and their ignorance on the war is amazing, ’they arc just fed on lies. Their officers tell them they aro winning, that Baris is taken; but the same officers drive the men to fight at the revolver's point. I bagged ray very first German at 30 yards' range at Blanche. He was a Ghlan, and, ad unconscious of our proximity, walked out of a wood. lie never knew any thing, as inv bullet hit him full in the ihrnat and broke his neck. We only bagged four of them; the others kept to the wood. At a later date I knocked one over at 1.200 yards with my sixth shot. He was a scout and showed np on a. lull, as I thought 1,000 yards away, rev I sighted my rifle to that distance with no result. But 1 saw my sights to 1,200 and tried. He moved, hut my next took him between the shoulders and brought him down. We took out turn in Dm trenches an nn forgettable time it was, as most of the attacking was done at night, ami a weird sight we had. Bursting shell, sickly moon, a haze of enemy, the smart rattle of our maxims and rifles, the ern-s of the wounded—all hell lot loose--our fellows grim but cheerful; the enemy courting sudden death, and finding it as we mowed them down in heaps. Not r, v;i rd could the modern Huns make. Their era- k corps had r« terrors for one men.” Private Ingram, a member of the Louden Scottish, at present in the London Hospital, lias given to a friend an account of a gallant ret in the field by a comrade in arms :—“ At midnight on October 31 a section of tic- regiment, 20 in number, were egg off from the main body, and had to decide whether they would surrender or charge. ’They decided to charge, with the result that of the 20 14 were either killed or wounded. Of the remaining six Ingram was one, but subsequently be was struck down by a bullet,*whieh entered the region of the stomach and passed out at his side. Private Sully, one of the six, who escaped unhurt and who had found .shelter in a ditch, seeing Ingram fall, crept out at great personal risk, for they were still under fire, and dragged him into safety. In doing so Sully was shot through both thighs. Tims incapacitated, they both lay till daylight, when Ingram managed to reach the ambulance, where he reported the condition of Sully, who he had been obliged to leave behind. He then fainted, but was taken to a farmhouse, and his wounds having been attended to lie was removed to Dieppe, thence via Bristol to London.” Of Private Sully nothing has been heard, but it is hoped that be was found by the 8.A.M.G.. and that he is now in hospital. Signaller George H. Lee, of the Ist Battalion of II yal Beths, relates a story of splendid bravery under heavy free mi the oart, of a driver in trio Boya! Field Artillery, an. act which ho declares to be worthy of the V.G. Dining a fierce encounter a gun’s crow were put out of action, the men being either killed or wounded. Seeing the position, the driver referred to obtained a team of horses and calmly walked down to the gmug, neither he nor the horses being struck. Having reached tic .-pot ho desired, lie. limbered up and brought the gun safely back. “It was the most gallant am I witnessed,’ 1 he said, “and it was. marvellous for the driver to have escaped being shot.” An officer in a Highland regiment, writing to a lady in London, says : 11 A few days ago I went to a Communion service which was hold in the grounds of an old chateau. It was a very impressive service. About 20 officers wme there; the altar was just a. table in the open air. around was heard the distant ro;u- of the guns, while now and then was the crash of one of onr big gun; as it scut its shells on their destructive journey. The way the i co-mans treat property is disgusting. While passing through a village not long ago the greater part of the furniture of a!! the houses had been dragged out and broken up, all the crockery smashed, all the- V-dding dragged out into the open street, and there left to be soa.WecL tvv ttie- vain. It awiu\ to set* the poor peasants wandering about, homoless and starving. Everywhere is the fearful smell of dead horses. It seems to saturate the atmosphere, ami one marches through miles of it.”
“At Soissons, where we were in front of the division, having .stolen a night march on tho Germans, we lost- some gallant men ana officers. Captain Pretty and Sergeant Walker, who had his log blown off. were both rewarded with tho Legion of Honor for bravery in tho field in holding the trenches against the Germans, who outnumbered us. The division, which the French caller! “ The Sleepless Fourth,” kept the enemy ou the run and showed them the English steel more than once, teaching them a lesson for their brutality to defenceless women and children.”—From a rifleman of the Ist Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. Private Woods, of the ISth Hussars, writes to lies wife in Stepney : “ You would have laughed to have- seen us a. fewweeks ago. We were going t.o have a day’s rest, as the. Germans were supposed to be retiring, so mo and washed our thirls in a river without any soap and hung them on a tree to dry. As soon as we had done this tho order cams for ns to go out at once as the Germans were trying to break through our linos. So, of course, we had to saddle our horses and clear out, and leave our ehirts still hanging there, and mo and -jvas floating about for a week till gdt two off a French woman.”
“ I think I will ask the privilege now of bringing my own parcel of sweetness home one of those fine days. She has been very good to m& emoe this lot
started. She lias sent two lots of fags, and writes so often that I- hardly know how to thank her. ... Of course
you will have to nsk dear Mum !”—From one of the, crew of a battleship operating on the. French coast. ---Sleeping Under Fire.--
One of the most graphic and descriptive letters of the life followed in the trenches by our Tommies is supplied bv Private A. E. Basham, of the Bedfordshire Regiment- 1 write on a table in someone's wrecked home—ransacked, shaken by the explosion of guns, with a litter of table linen. a woman’s apparel, lamps, chairs, wino bottles, decanters, a crucifix. glasses, and pictures. A draught blows through the paneless windows to the accompaniment of a flapping blind. A little kitten and a tiny biack-and-tan dog crouch shivering in the corner. Ah I if I could adequately to you the wreckage and ruins ! Pigeons are constantly alighting, and always being scared into further tlighfc by explosives. Yet, our fellows are playing liuio ! Some, are kicking a. ball about. Others aro writing. Many smoke and talk. The topic, you can guess, is home. We have seen so much of late. We have put tip with so much trenching an«l dampness. And after night attacks, day scheming.;, bullet and shrapnel showers, our nerves are all on edge. Only God and those who aro here, fighting can understand what n hellish pain this fighting keeps np. fam told onr regiment lias 160 men short over the past, few days. All our officers are gone, and two more have been supplied. One quarter of my section remains, and onr nervous system seems so keyed np that we hardly know whether it is rest wo want or sleep. I believe it to be rest from the tension. But we can scarcely expect it. Xor would wo think of grumbling, for what is won hero means a little towards the eventual ending of this horrible war. ft seems to me the Germans must have brigade after brigade relieving other brigades or troops. For thousands of onr fellows know what it is to sleep when shells aro bursting not. 100 yards away. I’ve seen scores of my own regiment asleep while bullets struck the very bank before their trenches. Those fellows who are capable of handling a gnu, those who rush down to breakfast with an appetite and road the details of this war, if they would only think of what is as much their duty as ft >s — that is, to prepare, to add ono to our thinning rank*;! Fighting has to he done, and such fighting as will never be seen again.”
Sergeant M'Nulty, 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, writes : —“ On the Aisne our trenches were just 300 yds from the German trenches. They call that space ‘ No Mans’ Land,’ and in that short distunes were hundreds of dead men. We were never able to collect them. When we left the Aisne we went right across France to the coast, and the fighting there was fiercer than ever it had been before. It is practically hand-to-hand. Our orders were to drive the Germans from their trenches, so as to till up the gap between the Camerons and the Queen’s. Wo lost heavily before wo got near to the Germans. and, instead of them being a mile awav. they were 400 yds. I bad about 50 men under me- when [ started oft, and before we got across a turnip field more than half had been knocked over. Me did not sec a German then, but on looking over a crest we saw their trenches were only about a, hundred yards iu front. Wo wormed ourselves up under cover, made a dive, and wo properly frightened them. Not a man of ours fell. We did not leave a man alive in the first row of trenches, and the second row no sooner saw this than they commenced hoisting white flags and waving the butts of their rifles.”
-Pathetic Postcard. —
A letter from a captain who took advantage of a few hours’ leave to visit tho battlefield of the Meuse contains the following striking passages : “ Never have I seen a. more stirring sight in my life. The. dead are no longer counted; one forgets that they are corpses, except to draw a stern moral lesson from the scene spread out before one’s gaze, and from which one draw s a fund of onergv. There lie more than 600 in their place in the battle line, just as death overlook them. One section could be seen kneeling down in the act of firing, in perfect, order behind or in front of their officers; not a man or an officer had turned his back; all wore wedding rings, and were. Reservists. There won? points of the line where me regularity of their spaces (one Men) v.rs sinking.* Then, passing to the German side, 1 was able to see the effects of our artillery; 75 men entrenched in deep shelters had been blown to pieces. Further in the rear, inside the trenches, were long lines of dead, who had hcen harried by "our infantry. In one corner six men had joined to die together, one of them still holding in bis band a postcard, which is to be sent bad-: to a family named Hubsnli at the end of the campaign to tell them that their son had died a Christian's death. This will be some small consolation to this unhappy family. The postcard is dated ‘ Rastatt, August 10.’ 5n the side of the card reserved for correspondence may be rend the following fin German) : ‘Sunday, 3 p.m. Dear brother, we are in Rast-att to-day with Fritz, VVe send this holy remembrance, because to-day is your birthday. Best wishes from your brother Fritz and your sister nretdiVn.' On the back of the card was a picture of Christ, with the printed words. ‘ But they constrained him. fgying : Abide with us, for it is toward evening, ami the day is far spent (Luke xxiv., 29).”’ and underneath, written by baud. ’ ’The Lord saitb, " I have been in the midst of you all the days until the end of time.’”* A little further ou lav another group of eight men, who bad also faced death together. In the middle of them was a little, prayer-book, opern-d at tho prayer of the dying. Every German soldier carries on him one of tl’ieso little bonks, containing a selection of prayers, such as ‘A prayer before battle.’ ‘A prayer of the dying,’ etc. It is to be honed that these .soldiers of the enemy who died liko this were not among those who slaughtered women, children, and old men, and finished off the wounded.”
LETTERS FROM THE FRONT, Issue 15699, 13 January 1915
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