“July 11th. … I am answering your two letters and parcel together, but I suppose it is all the same. The parcel was fine – thank you. We came out of the trenches to-night and I received it on arrival at our billet. It had the effect of making glad the heart of this man. You always send me everything I like, so do not worry. We generally go a little short of food in the trenches, living mostly on bread and jam, and perhaps a little bully beef. … We had an exciting time dodging bombs. The Germans are using a bomb now, about as big as a jam jar. … Someone shouts, “bomb,” left or right, as the case may be, and you have to run in the opposite direction. So long as you see the thing, you get plenty of time to dodge it, because they go right up into the air, but they make a deafening noise when exploding, and our fellows call them “nerve shakers.” … Last Sunday I went to a service at 6.30p.m., and I wondered if you were at Church at home at the same time; we had eight or nine hymns, and it was very nice indeed. Also in the morning we had an early service too, in the back room of a theatre fitted up with an altar by our own chaplain. He has made it into a little church which he intends to keep standing, so that we may be able to use it any time we are resting at the place. … My air pillow is done for – I think – so send me another. R—- tells me I am a lucky fellow to get standard bread – I would willingly change places with him – … Fancy we are in exactly the same houses that we were in last February, on the same duty. It seems strange to come back to the old place and find the houses more knocked about than ever. When we first came to them the furniture and belongings were all scattered about everywhere, but that has practically all been cleared away now, and of course new reserve trenches have sprung up and everything improved for defence; it is quite interesting to see it all again. We don’t seem to take any notice of ruined houses now they are such common sights.”
“Aug. 24. … I don’t think I told you that, for convenience sake and other reasons, nearly all the fellows now have but two meals a day in the trenches, one about 9.30a.m., and the other about 5.30p.m., without any apparent reason, all the fellows seem to have adopted the two meals a day system, and it is now quite the rule. … The candles came in quite handy, as I have a little weakness for reading in bed every night, if I am not writing letters, and our billets are always barns without artificial light, so every night without exception we need a light. I and my two chums generally work together, and so usually one or the other has a candle. …This afternoon I had a swim in the canal and afterwards visited the flying station. It is most interesting to watch the aeroplanes ascending and descending (landing), they are beautifully made, and we seem to have a great number. They go up all ready for fighting, with machine guns, bombs, etc., the driver behind and the observer in front. … I should have liked to have been at the Fete (Red Cross). It is the lack of something like that now and again that makes things so dull, never being able to put on anything but one suit, and which we seldom take off. So I imagined I was at the fete when I tasted the chocolate … and wished I could have been there in reality. … About looking grey – well, you know, we can tell in an instant if a fellow has only just come out here. We saw some only this afternoon, and we all knew at once they had been out but three or four days. … There is a sort of worn expression on all who have been out here during the winter, to be discerned in an instant. But I expect it soon vanishes when a fellow sets foot on Albion again, on leave! One of my pals went to hospital a short time ago, and met a fellow there (in the Bucks.) who knew me well. Another of my pals who has come all through has now gone to hospital. He is a very strong fellow, too. Do you know, hardly one of our fellows who came out here at the first has not had a turn in Hospital. Some look on it as going for a short holiday, but not so this nigger. I always like to be with the boys, and haven’t missed one day in the trenches so far.”
“Monday, June 28th. … We had rather a long and weary march back from the trenches last night (Sunday), and on my return I got the parcel which was jolly nice. … It rained very heavily whilst we were going to the trenches, so when we got there found the water over our boot-tops and I got thoroughly wet-footed, and I believe that accounted for the blisters which came on my heels. I did not fall out though, as as I have never given in during any march yet, in all my five years, soldiering, and I don’t mean to if I can help it. I saw the doctor this morning as I can only walk on my toes, and he gave me some tablets to use for bathing them, and I hope they will soon be better. … I am glad you sent the stuff for the insect bites. I had a mosquito bite on my leg and it was jolly uncomfortable while it lasted. Next time you send will you please include a tin case just large enough to take one box of matches. The thin boxes soon get crushed when we have to sleep in our tunics. … The trenches we were in were all chalk and we amused ourselves by carving. Some soldiers who were in the night before us, had carved out quite a little village with a church, houses, etc. Of course, hundreds of “crosses” were about, dedicated to the “Kiser.” I made one myself and took it for a souvenir to some French friends of mine. I know quite a number of families round here now, and when we go near enough and I am able to look them up, they are always glad to see me again. … I saw my old friend Gregory, with the Oxford and Bucks Regiment, last week. He is still well and has not been wounded. He brought in a wounded Wolverton fellow during the last attack, and probably saved his life. Of course hundreds of acts like this go unnoticed, so I don’t suppose he will get any award. … A short time ago we were billeted quite near a church which had escaped shelling except quite a little. The English notice inside took my fancy and was not at all bad, I thought. This is how it ran; “Nothing to the things of this church has been stolen since the beginning of the war. Every one is requested to respect the Sanctuary and to use the Organs when it is necessary only. By Order, The Mayor, 18th May.” … Speaking of marching, the R.A.M.C. people don’t carry a pack, but route marching in England is very different to ours out here, nobody can realise what it is like to be under shell fire unless they have been in a bombardment, you have a sort of feeling that the next minute you may have been blown off the face of the earth. … The rotten part is that you may hear them coming sometimes ten or fifteen seconds before they burst.”
“May 24th ….. I have received your parcel, etc., and very nice too! We are away from things now for a little rest, after a strenuous time. Two of my Harpenden Bank chums, who were in my section, were killed. They were such nice fellowsand we often used to talk about “old bank times.” I had the sad, and unpleasant job too, of writing to the mother of one and the sweetheart of the other. Still perhaps the poor fellows are happier out of all this, and there have been times when things have been rotten … but when we get right away from the beastly shells we soon forget the horror of things. … I expect we saw a good many of the prisoners you mention as passing through Bletchley, etc. Things must be bad too, in England, but do be thankful you are not out here. … Things will come out after the war that people in England little dreamt of. … We wonder if Italy will speed things up a bit. … These strikes do make our men feel mad. … Here we often work 24 hours a day, for next to nothing, and risk everything, and people at home with no bullets and shells to risk are not content. We often say we would willingly change places for only our 1/- a day, and let them take ours (at their present pay). They don’t realise what war is. The experience of one or two shells would soon teach them a thing or two. I am so glad we had an unexpected Whitsuntide Communion Service, it was so opportune, especially after all we have gone through lately. … The prisoners I before mentioned were some specimens I felt I would not mind meeting anywhere with my bayonet, they all hung their heads and looked frightened to death, very different from how, I have learned, they behaved when they got to England where they are well treated. Out here they don’t get such gentle treatment I can tell you. The big page in the “Graphic” is interesting, as I know almost every inch of the country, and everything on the picture, and I want you to save it for (D.V.), when I come home.”
“Our rest has again been rudely interrupted, but I suppose now the spring is at hand we must begin to expect “things lively.” I am glad to say we have given in our goatskin coats, and we have had waterproof mackintoshes issued instead. They are fine things, as light as a feather, and will go over full pack quite easily. They are after the cape style with just two slips for the arms. Three people could be got under one. We are only about —– from the trenches, even here. During the night bullets whistle about, and we hear them thud in the ground close by. I shall be in the trenches again to-morrow night and again seeing more excitement, if you can call trench life exciting. I have thoroughly enjoyed our little rest; it has been a real treat, and they were lenient with regard to our walking out at night. Nearly every night I went into —–, which is quite a decent size and a busy place. I don’t feel a bit like writing to-day, and if I don’t feel like it I can never make a show. How is H getting on? I suppose you do not know here he is at all. We had some real sport yesterday. We were roused out from our billets at 3a.m., and marched off at 5a.m., and had to wait about all day in readiness. Some (censored) of the firing line. Of course we had to do something, so we made fishing lines and tied worms onto them. Most of the afternoon we were pulling little fish out of some water close by. It was grand and so exciting, as just as we got the bounders free from the water they would drop off. However, we landed quite a decent catch. An officer took a photograph of us, so if you see a picture of about a hundred or so fellows fishing, look out for your humble.”
“Thank you very much for the parcel which was very nice. It’s always a joy to receive parcels, and the milk is A1, as tea is not extra without milk. … What a treat it is to be in a large town. I seemed to enjoy myself to perfection, by merely walking about the streets, looking in the shops, and mixing with the crowd of people. It hardly seems possible the Germans are only (the next few lines have been censored). We went to a café this afternoon, and had a good meal. We had two eggs, bread and butter and cakes, just as in England, and I spent one of the happiest hours since I have been in France. … We are billeted in one of the best places we have struck as yet, we are in a girls’ school, but there are no girls here now. We are in what evidently is their sleeping quarters. Little divisions about 4 square yards, partitioned off and a curtain opposite the wall; we have four soldiers in each. We are on the bare floor; there is also a cupboard in each compartment, which we use for our day’s rations. I don’t expect we shall stay here long, too good to last any length of time.”
In this letter he discusses censorship. After a few months of war the War Office decided that the enemy could learn a lot from intercepted letters and all letters home were subjected to the censor’s black pencil.
January 6th “I received your parcel to-day, when we got back from trench digging, and thank you very much indeed for it. We are supposed to be resting, and we are in a straw loft, but between parades and what light there is left, I find little time for writing, so please thank Mrs. Power and Mrs. Adams for the whist drive parcel. Tell them that I am very thankful for their kind thoughtfulness; they have sent me just the right things, thank them very much indeed, and say how “parcels” do cheer us up, when we are feeling a little fed up with things, and we feel glad we are really doing something when one arrives. About our attack, was it in the “Daily —-?” It was not true, never believe what the “Daily —-” says about us. The attack on New Year’s Eve was quite near, but the Guards had it all, and ourselves none. Don’t worry about me. I almost wished that night it had been us; we could see the German maxims firing away, and every minute we were expecting a charge, but we did not get it. I have spoken to Story the other night in the trenches, and I also went visiting the Bucks. and Oxon. Outpost, and jumping down into a trench with two men, called out to know if there was anyone from Buckinghamshire there. One young soldier asked what part of Buckinghamshire? I said, Wolverton. Well, he answered, I come from that neighbourhood, Newport Pagnell; he proved to be young Daniels, who often gave me apples years ago, when I was a little boy at home. Tell Mr. Daniels I have seen his son, who is all right. He seemed quite pleased to see me, and I said I would write and tell you I had met him. We were in the trenches 9 days altogether, and the second day I had a cough, and have still got it, which keeps me awake at night. Yesterday it was so bad I saw the doctor, but he said he could not do anything for me; he had got nothing for coughs. I think it is a little better to-day, but can you wonder at anybody getting a cough. Re. parcel, the handkerchiefs are useful; my Bognor chums sent me 6 khaki ones, and the cocoa I am saving for the trenches, and also the candles. The cake was the best, I was so glad of that – really like Christmas. I ate about half dozen mince pies for tea, so that speaks for itself. I had lost my mittens, so I was glad of yours. I suppose it is not much good asking for Bromtons, as my cold, I hope, will be bettere, but I hope you will send the air pillow, and wish I had thought of that before; you would hardly believe what an important factor a pillow is, especially when we have to sleep in all our equipment. Our rest camp is not all rest. To-day we got up at 6a.m., and started at 7.45 marched 5½ miles, dug trenches until 4p.m., and got back at 6.30p.m., done up (and we were having a rest). It was hard work digging. I think there is no place like home. … Princess Mary’s pipe I smoked in the trenches on Christmas Day. On Monday, 4th, the day after we came out of the trenches, some of us got a hot bath, it was lovely. We were marched up to a brewery, and they had big tubs for two, and our clothes were ironed whilst we were in. This is my first for two months, and I never expected that; the water was hot and plenty of it, and I had a real good bath, a treat.”