The Spanish Flu

As if the deadly consequences of the battlefield were not enough, a deadly virus appeared inthe closing months of the war in September 1918.  It died not originate in Spain, but since Spain was neutral its newspapers were not restricted and therefore the stories first surfaced in Spain. By the time it was reported in newspapers in the Uk and the US the name “Spanish Flu” had stuck.

It was a new and deadly strain that the immune system of most people could not fight and it is estimated that as many as 50 million died from this pandemic in 1918 and 1919. Among them was Herbert Lawson, the second son of W J Lawson, who had a news agency and stationery shop on Church Street. Mr Lawson had already lost his eldest son in battle in 1916 and Herbert had also joined up in 1914. His health had probably been weakened through years in the trenches and he had been discharged on medical grounds. He subsequently worked in the manufacture of munitions but the influenza got him and he died on November 23rd 1918.

Those of us of a certain age will remember Lawson’s shop next door to the Co-op at 58 Church Street. It traded as Lawson and Son, and the son was Stuart Lawson, the youngest son, who had been to young to fight in the war and therefore survived to help his father in the business.

Armistice Day

On the 11th day of the 11th month representatives of the opposing forces met to agree to an armistice, which was signed at the 11th hour. So the four year war which had cost millions of lives came to a stalemate. There were losers, of course. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, as did the Turkish Empire. The German economy was crippled by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919.

It is difficult to believe now that young men in 1914 were only too keen to sign up as volunteers. In August 1914 the recruiting sergeant was overwhelmed by applications to join up and he ran out of forms. The would-be recruits had to come back the following day.

And they weren’t always young men either. Beard, pictured below, was 35 when he signed up and my grandfather’s older brother, born in 1876, was in his late 30s when he joined up in 1914. Fortunately, he survived the four years and died in 1966, one week short of his 90th birthday.

The armistice came just too late for some. On November 13th 1918, there was a memorial service at St George’s for three soldiers who had lost their lives in France on October 16th. they were private Alfred monk, Sergeant J. Forrester and Lance Corporal George Watts.

Wolverton’s War Memorial

On Saturday July 10th 1921 a huge crowd gathered in the Square to witness the unveiling of the permanent War Memorial. It was made of Portland stone and stood 28 feet 8 inches high. The cost was £500 and the money had been entirely raised by public subscription.

There are some interesting observations to be made about the preparations for this day, almost three years after the end of the war. There was an almost universal desire immediately after the war, and not only in Wolverton, to build some lasting memorial. A committee was formed to raise the money and decide on the nature of the memorial and the process was initiated in November 1918.

Various proposals were considered – a memorial hall, a bandstand, and, strikingly, a proposal for a public swimming pool. That particular dream took another 40 years to realise. After much discussion over two years, and consultation with the general public, the memorial cross became the preferred option.

There was a debate about the location. One opinion, from Old Wolverton’s Reverend Mildmay, was that the memorial cross should be at the Old Wolverton turn, mid way between Wolverton and Stony Stratford. It was his view that Wolverton would grow to meet Stony Stratford in 30 years! His vision has almost come to pass but it has taken a lot longer than one generation.

The favoured location was the Square, which at that time was relatively new. It was land owned by the LNWR and they had not really done much with it. Buckingham Street and Aylesbury Streets had been developed in the 1870s and 1880s. Moreland Terrace was built in the 1890s, made up of above average properties, and there was probably an intention that the owners should enjoy an open view, rather like Glyn Square 60 years earlier. The Congregational Church commanded the southern side and the western side was made up of houses of mixed size. Briefly, this was called Market Street, so there must have been at least the germ of an idea in someone’s mind that the Square could be used as a market. The old Market House beside Glyn Square remained in use until 1906, when it was largely destroyed by a fire. The old school on Creed Street became available in that very year, and the market immediately transplanted itself. No further consideration was given to the Square.

Accordingly the Memorial committee approached the LNWR and persuaded them to grant the land to the Council for the memorial. In everyone’s mind at the time this became a sacred space, and this probably explains why, over 90 years later, no other building has set its foundations on the Square. Not even the Agora was allowed to trespass!

This memorial was actually the second. A wooden memorial was erected in 1919 while the process of developing a permanent memorial took its course.

Over time the limestone deteriorated due to the ravages of atmospheric pollution and in the later part of the last century it was torn down and replaced by a third memorial.

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 15

“Sept. 12th – Your letter reached me in the trenches, but I could not write for a few days, we were not able to do anything like that, being only 70 yards from the Germans, we have had a very trying turn in continually dodging bombs, absolutely ??? our lives the whole of the time, and bombs now are very different from what they used to be at the first; they are like high explosive shells, and burst with such force that the concussion can be felt 40 or 50 yards away. We call them “Rum Jars,” because they are as big as rum jars; and very much like them in appearance. Of course, sleep at night, was out of the question, we have to be ready every minute to dodge the things. So when we left the trench, we all breathed most hearty sighs of relief, because to be on the continual alert, just expecting a bomb and knowing that not to dodge it, means walking into the next world, makes one very nervy. Ȃ Until to-night, I had not had my boots off for eight days and nights, and I feel dog tired, through having only three hours sleep in the 24 hours. … I wanted to write as I knew you would be anxious. You would be surprised to see how much fellows age, when they have been out here a few months. If ever I do have the luck to come home on leave, I dare say you will notice, that I look more than a year older than when you last saw me. … I will enclose a photo of Ypres (in ruins). I recognised the buildings, now mere shells, on it. We passed them, as we went right down the main road, which you can see in the photo. The Cloth hall had not been touched then, and only houses here and there shelled. The Cathedral, too, was quite sound. … I did not know about Pte. Miles. Is he at home yet? I knew a fellow was hit, as we had one wounded and one killed at the same time, but I had no idea it was Mr. Miles’ son. – Good night.”

Sept. 20th. “First of all, this letter must be short as I have very little time. I was jolly glad to receive your letter, but was very sorry for Mr. Gregory. I will do my best to have a look in the G—— little graveyard, for his son’s grave, if it is there. I might say the graves are kept so very nicely. It will be difficult, but I will do my best, however. I can’t tell when it will be. It will not be possible to send a photograph (even if I came across it) as all cameras have been sent home by special army order, long since. If it is where you think (and I feel sure it must be there as I have found out he was killed there), the graveyard is not a mile from the Germans, so it may be difficult to get permission, even if we are near. However, I will do my best, and as soon as I can. … I expect writing will be very difficult for some little time now, but I will send F.S. Post Cards just to let you know I am still well. … Please in future don’t tell me any home news. It is absolutely disheartening and we get all the news now, and discuss things at home; also the Zep raids. I always look for your letters to cheer me up and encourage me to stick things. We hate to read about these wretched unpatriotic strikes. I believe it discourages the soldiers out here more than anything – to think of all they are going through for their families and people at home, and those who have a nice easy job are striking for another extra shilling or two, we shall never win unless the people at home realize that we are at war. I wish the leaders could be put into the trenches during the cold weather and be in a bombardment, they might wish then that they had never been born, and I am sure would be glad enough to go back for half their salary. … Just where we are now I have my best friends in France, very nice people, I believe refugees from La Bassee, but of a better class, and their relations who live here. … My little Marie Therise and her brother Omer. … they have just put on their “nighties” for bed, and I guess you would love to see them, such nice little kids they are, but can’t understand my watch shining in the dark.”
“The enclosed verses were found in a trench we occupied a short time ago, evidently scribbled down by someone to pass the time.
“Dear Wife, while all my comrades sleep
And I, my two hours lonely vigil keep.
I think of you, and all across the foam.
Glad of no scenes like this at home.
Here Desolation reigns as King,
Where many happy homes have been:
And dotted round me where I stand
Some hero’s resting-place marks the land.
Just here the village school once stood,
The scene of childhood’s happy days;
But now, alas, all that remains
Is crumbling ruins, and sad Decay.
As through an orchard now I stray
I pass, what once had been the farm:
No Human Vengeance can repay
Vile Huns, who first raised War’s Alarm.
While slowly pacing to and fro
And silence reigns supreme:
What’s that? The star-shells’ brilliant glow:
The flash – the deadly sniper’s rifle gleams.
Perchance to find its bullet true,
The hissing bullet sped.
And crouching low, in front of you.
Your chum remarks, “It’s just gone overhead.
While Dawn arises in the East.
The fact on me is thricefold bourne
No truer words were ever said:-
“Man’s Inhumanity to Man, makes countless thousands mourn.
But when we lay ourselves to rest:
A smoke, a yarn, and we’re complete
We think of our dear ones at home.
Most sure of “Kaiser Bill’s” Defeat.

(Scribbled while on guard at 11p.m., “somewhere in France.”) Wolverton Express 1915 Oct. 8th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 13

“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.”

“July 19th. … I was glad to get your letter, which I received in the trenches. I always look forward to a letter and as it was Sunday night it was particularly nice to hear from home. … I may soon have the chance of a holiday as they are working out leave, and if my service in the Bucks counts, I shall be the next but two in our platoon. Anyhow, if the Germans don’t cut up rough and everything goes on as it should, I ought to get my turn at least within the next four or five weeks. … Do you know, I am writing this in exactly the same trench as I was in during February last, also we are in exactly the same billet when we go back. Of course, we have looked up a lot of our old French friends and they all seem glad to see us, but I should think that quite half of us, who were here before, are now either in England or have been killed, still of course, we have had many drafts to keep up our number. I found that one of my French friends, had been killed by a shell, when we got back here again; it seems hard luck for civilians to get killed, but there are hundreds within quite easy shelling distance: I suppose they hate leaving their homes, and after all, they can clear out into a field when shells come too close, or go right away if things become too hot. There are many more houses occupied now than there were in the winter, but of course some have been raised to the ground by the shell fire. The destruction to private property must have been tremendous, and along the present line it gets worse and worse. Each time we go back, we notice that such and such a house has been knocked down whilst we were in the trenches, and this goes on every day, and we have held this line for nine months, so you can form some idea of the enormous amount of damage that has been done. … There are some shells knocking about and I can’t concentrate my thoughts when shelling is going on, you would understand if you had been under shell fire.”

“July 21st … We have just arrived here after a march, which we did with scarcely a halt, but being in perfect condition, I enjoyed it. … We often have things which require the section commanders to toss up for their sections, but lately we have discovered certain French pennies (deux sous) have two tails, so we usually resort to cards now. I had heard of two headed pennies, but not until I came out to France did I hear of the two tailed ones. … By the way, going up to the trenches the other night, I could hardly believe my eyes – for there behind a house and within quite easy shelling distance, was a real live English coffee stall. Well, I did have thoughts of home, and I felt that I wanted to fall out there and then, and indulge just for the very joy of the thing. A good many fellows were taking advantage of it, and to me it “almost” seemed homely. I believe it was run by the Motor Kitchen people, and it seems real good to see anything like that out here. … I told you we were in the same trenches as we were in last Feb. – but what a difference – hundreds of fresh trenches have been dug, and notices of direction all about, lots of bridges and new roads across fields, and bridges over streams, and hundreds of shrapnel proof “dug-outs,” have sprung up, or down, as the case may be. Of course the houses have suffered more from shells, and now in the trenches at the slightest sign of a light at night, or a spade or a pick, over comes a shell (which species we call “zip bangs”). The officers call them “pip squeaks.” They are so-called because the guns must be actually in the trenches, for you hear no shrill whistle of the shell as it is coming for you just ‘zip’ and then bang, all in a second or so. Rotten things they are though, and capable of doing a deal of damage. … The last day I was in the trenches I actually saw the missiles in the air, as they went by and burst about 50 yards to the rear of our trench, it is very seldom though, you can see a shell in the air.” Wolverton Express 1915 Aug. 6th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 14

“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.”

“Sunday evening, Sept. 5 … I wish you could see me now; we have had plenty of rain lately, and the trenches are in a bit of a mess, and we got fairly wet marching here yesterday, but by a slice of luck we were able to get a “bon” dug-out, made of an old boiler sunk into the ground. It is about 8 feet in diameter, and of course the bottom is filled in flat, and a fireplace in one end. It was made by the French and jolly good they seem to be at that sort of thing. … To-night, when dusk came (about 7.30p.m.), we all sat round the fire and sang some hymns, and after that we told ghost stories. A little bit of fire makes so much comfort, and we dream of our homes and how nice it must be to live in peace and comfort again. … I was jolly sorry to learn about poor Gregory and Severn. I was in their Company only a short time ago, but your letter was the first information that anything had happened. It’s a cruel war. Since I last wrote, another of my chums has been killed. He was such a nice happy go lucky sort of fellow. Don’t forget to tell Rex about poor Gregory, as he knew him well when in the Wolverton Works. Ȃ I should like to see you all, but it seems leave is cancelled again for our Regiment., and I should not be surprised if it was not restarted until the winter. It seems years since I was in Wolverton – ten months to-day, I believe since we left your shore. … My pal has just exclaimed, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up and find the war finished!” Can’t hardly imagine what it would be like, but I often think I shall not relish going back to business, after so much open air and outdoor life. … To-day we saw a bit of a duel between a German and an English aeroplane. The English was a light Morane monoplane, which only carries the pilot, who observes as well. The German was a biplane which cut all sorts of figures about our machine, and we could hear its machine gun firing. The monoplane took to its heels, and I was surprised it got away all right. The German biplanes carry both an observer and a pilot. Strange to say, the pilot sits behind the observer. They are armed with six bombs and a Lewis machine gun. It is very rarely we do see a fight. Some of our machines are as white as paper, and you can hardly see them when the sky is clear and blue. We also see them all colours – black, brown etc.” Wolverton Express 1915 Sep. 17th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 12

“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.”

“June 29th … Just while I think of it you did not enclose any health salt in the parcel. This is so useful and takes the place of tea in the trenches, and I find it very convenient. … I sent home a parcel today. … The clip of German cartridges is of the latest pattern, given to me by a French soldier from Lourette. … The top of the shell is by no means from a large shell but is interesting. The pieces fly about with some force when the shell explodes and would give one a nasty knock. The copper bullets are French and I send them for you to compare with the length of our own. The German bullets are the shortest, than ours and the longest are French. Now I must go to bed, at least lie down on the boards and try and think I am in a nice comfortable bed. – Guess I wish I was.” Wolverton Express 1915 July 9th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 11

More letters as the weather gets warmer:

“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.”

“May 29th … We are in a most lovely spot in ——, and yesterday we went into a wood, and I actually found lilies of the valley growing wild; and such beauties, too, they smell lovely, and I should love you to see them, a picnic here would be a treat. … I have enjoyed our little relaxation this time as it had been a long time previous since we had a decent rest. Of course, we do a lot of drilling, but it’s a treat to be away from the shells, and sets up again one’s nerves, and we all feel quite ready to have another smack at them, but of course, we like a little rest when we can get it; it came quite unexpected and so seems a better treat. I have had some lovely bathes, going before breakfast and after dinner too, but just at the present time I have a cold on me so cannot go. The weather, too, is not quite so hot.”
“May 30th – It seems more like Sunday, to-day, here, and the girls turned out in their finery, powder and paint, etc., to go to church. We had a route march in full pack this morning, and are going to have an open air service at 5p.m. tonight. I wish though, I could come with you, it seems ages since I was at home, and in truth nearly a year since last camp. … P.S. – Just a short line as I have just received your parcel. The Health Salts are good and come in very handy. We have had a lovely time lately, quite a treat, but we are afraid it will not last much longer. … One of my Bank Chums killed, is the one crossing the pontoon bridge, just in front of me, in the photo of three of us returning from shopping. My companion on my right has since been severely wounded.” Wolverton Express 1915 June 11th
“June 7th. … The fellow next to me has just woke up and says he has been sleeping all night with “bombs” for a pillow, we do get some shocks out here. … Yesterday, Sunday, I went to a Roman Catholic service and saw a realistic procession. It was very grand and gaudy, many different robes and much lace; also much swinging of incense. To hear the organ and singing seemed to be more like a Church service in England than anything I have witnessed in France as yet. But still, one of our own little services in a barn seems much more real to me than all this ceremony, especially if we happen to sing a hymn “For friends at home.” … We had a nice little march away from the place, and it seemed more like going for a walk in the cool evening at home, only we had a little more to carry. We got to our new billet just before midnight and this morning I was able to bathe in a little stream. We do seem to get callous of things. An engineer has just come in and says our company is to go in front of our first line trench and dig a new one, and this one is only 350 yards from the Germans. One of the fellows merely said: “Is that right, though – Whose trumps?”
“June 9th … In answer to your enquiry re. F.R. on the badge. I cannot say what it represents, but the badge itself was taken from a German helmet. A good many fellows don’t send things home, probably because they cause one a lot of inconvenience, but if I get home all right some day I shall be glad to have them. Don’t you think so. The penholder is an awfully nutty arrangement I think. … As you say war news is far-fetched in the papers, but I have read some jolly good articles in the “Daily Mail” lately, absolutely to the point, and they must have been written by one who has been out here and knows, and they appeal to us out here, but some of the trash fairly makes us laugh! One report speaking of a man just lighting his pipe , when a shell came and he just managed to step aside and miss it, but some of the bits caught him. … Then again, if we capture a trench the report says so definitely, but if we lose one it is always: “The Germans attacked but the line remained unbroken.” … I should have liked you to see their wire in the German trenches we captured from them, you would never believe it. The lot I saw was quite a dozen yards in width, and the barbs were an inch long and at intervals of one inch instead of about every four inches as is usual. … We had a gloriously hot day yesterday, and employed our time in building ourselves a “dugout.” Working hard from 9a.m. to 9.30p.m., and finished it in the one day. We put logs on the top nearly a foot in diameter. On these we put a covering of green foliage taken from trees and then a layer of filled sandbags on the top of that. Then we piled earth on the top of the whole and made a foot of extra head cover. It is about 4ft. 6in. deep and 8ft. square, has a little chimney for ventilation and altogether is a fine little place; with a small trench leading into it. We built it for protection from shell fire, there is room for about eight of us and it is most beautifully cool. … I have had three cold baths, as there is a small stream quite near us. We are quite safe too, as a rise in the ground hides us from the trenches, and altogether is one of the best little spots we have stuck as yet. We got flowers for our “dug out” from the deserted cottage gardens round here, and it’s a treat to smoke and read as it always smells so fresh. We had four working all day on it, and I don’t think we did badly. Part of the time we worked without even our shirts on, but an officer advised us to cover our backs, as if they blistered in the sun we should not be able to carry our packs. The perspiration rolled off me, still it’s nice to do a definite little piece of work and now it’s the pride of the platoon. Its name, “Shady Nook,” is quite appropriate and I should like you to see it.”

“June 13th (Sunday) … We have a fellow from Northampton in our platoon and we often have little talks about home. … They are making it more difficult to send souvenirs home now unless the parcel is under 4oz. as it was before it was sometimes a bit inconvenient to carry the things about, still, “there’s no place like home.” How true that is, after soldiering for nearly a year. … Hardly a house about here but shows signs of shelling and yet there are plenty of civilians living about round (sic). I suppose they are loath to leave their homes, although some of them have only four walls left. … I don’t think H —-’s Battery has been about here, but he will be more likely to see our regiment than for me to see his Battery, as of course, all Batteries look alike, but we have our titles. … We all have respirators ready for the gas, and we all have to carry them, I shall be glad when we start to gas them. I am going to see it experimented with when we do start. The best thing you know is to soak the respirators in Hypo.” Wolverton Express 1915 June 25th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 10

“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.”

March 19th
“Thanks so much for your nice parcel. I received it just as we came out of the trenches after a rather trying experience, as it had snowed and rained, and the nights were as black as ink. We have to keep watch night and day, and when you cannot see your hand in front of your face, it is very trying. I am so glad you sent a Standard loaf. One of our fellows has a loaf sent to him every week, so please send me one in your parcels in future if you can find room. I am glad you changed the style of the cocoa tin, as it is a much more handy shape for my pack. … I feel awfully tired, and I shall have a busy day again to-morrow, so this letter will be a short one. I had a very near turn to-day. The Germans were shelling our trench, and about six of us were standing quite close together. A shell dropped right into the middle of us. I had my back to it, and all I felt was a lob of mud and stuff which hit me in the back. One fellow was wounded a little, but it was a marvel we were not all put out of action, as it was not a yard from any one of us. I do hate shells when they begin to come so near. It was of the “Johnson” type, but of course much smaller. I found the nose afterwards, buried in the trench. It weighed quite 4lb. The other night, when we were out, our S.M. went on reconnoitring, and found a wounded man. Poor fellow, he had been out there five days and had not been able to crawl in. How he had lived between the two trenches is marvellous. I will furnish you with very much fuller details if I have the fortune to be spared to come home again. We were not in the Neuve Chapelle, but not so far away.”
March 20th, Saturday morning;
“The articles you put in the parcel were quite a success, and I would like some more sometime, as I gave them to the fellows of my platoon, and they enjoyed them much. I will write more next time as my duties finish to-night, and I shall have more time. I am just finishing this, the first minute I have had to spare to-day, and I collect the letters in ten minutes time. Good-bye. … There are lots of dead in front of our trenches, poor fellows. (Quenchy, near Govenchy.” Wolverton Express 1915 Apr. 2nd
“March 27th … We are still hard at it in the trenches – one thing, they are very good ones, and fairly dry, except on the days when it has snowed or rained. We had quite a night of snow four days ago, and it was a bit rough, even to-day we have had snow. To-night, as I am writing we are out of the trenches, sleeping in an old farm which is a treat after many nights in the trenches; we get very little sleep, some during the day, but all of it is at odd times, and does not really rest one. … You would have envied our breakfast in the trenches yesterday – I have a fellow who looks after me generally and does most of the cooking. This morning we had fried bacon, two fried eggs, and also fried potatoes – it was a treat, and for trench life it was a wonderful dish. We are allowed fires in these trenches, and now we have our bacon issued raw, so that we can fry it ourselves. In the trenches, breakfast is our chief meal, and as everyone must be awake from half past four we generally have it about 6.30 to 7a.m. … It is Palm Sunday to-morrow, and the Sergeant has just announced a Holy Communion Service for to-morrow morning at 8a.m. … Have run out of Saccharine Tablets …”
“March 29th … Thank you for your letter and Saccharine Tablets. … Yesterday was quite a peculiar day (Sunday). I went to Holy Communion at 8a.m., quite near the trenches, fancy only about —- yards behind the firing line, in the afternoon we had a service at 3p.m. in an old barn. Picture about 50 fellows standing around a clergyman, and five or six officers in front, all joining most heartily in singing the hymns; it seemed so simple and nice, and the Guards’ Chaplain, who generally takes our services, is such a nice man. At 5.30p.m. we had a concert, and really the songs, etc., were quite tip-top; we had a splendid pianist too, and he accompanied the songs without any music of course. At 7.30 we had to parade and had to go digging in front of our trenches, returning about 11p.m., had a cup of tea and got off to bed, that was our day of rest. … To-day we go into the trenches, and except for lack of sleep shall have (censored) much easier days. Have not seen “H” yet, can you tell me which battery he is attached to? Let me know when the Bucks and Oxon leave England. One thing, they have the best of the weather before them. It will be nice to see some of my old pals again, if we meet. … I believe troops are coming out in thousands now, but from what I can see of the matter, we shall want every man, and somehow, I don’t think we shall get much rest.”

“April 3rd – We had such a lovely service last night. The Bishop of London preached and he was a treat, I wish you could be here at one of these services; I should think five or six hundred soldiers were present and to hear them sing, it nearly raised the roof. That was Good Friday. Fancy, in another three months, we shall have been soldiering a year; it does seem a long time. Our regiment was honoured when we were sent out in November. Very few Territorial Regiments came out so soon, and we have made a good name out here, although I say it myself. The Guards won’t have it now we are Territorials. They say we are the 2nd Irish Guards. We are on splendid terms with all the Guards, but the Irish in particular, and woe betide any regiment running us down. The Irish will stick up for us through thick and thin.” Wolverton Express 1915 Apr. 9th

William Laurie Field’s War – Part 9

The first signs of Spring.

“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.”

“March 5th I am glad to say we have given in our fur coats, as they are so heavy to carry all the while, and going through the trenches is awfully fatiguing – one gets caught up here and there. We used to have to go through a communication trench nearly a mile long before getting into the trenches proper. Previously we used to go round by the road, but one fellow was killed by a stray bullet, so we had to dig a trench after that, to save going round. Every day we were not in the trenches proper, we had to come right up and improve or dig deeper, and when we came away this communication trench was about eight feet deep, from the top of the parapet, and naturally as safe as a house – even from shrapnel shells, still I would often have rather risked going round by the road, because marching in full pack along a trench, is downright hard work. … I am glad we are resting, because I think we deserve it, but I expect things will become a little more exciting when the better weather comes. I hope we drive the bounders back, but when you are right away from shells, etc., and talk about it, everything seems quite O.K., and you feel quite brave, but get back again with shells bursting all around you – well, you soon begin to feel a little different. I am so glad you send cocoa always in your parcels, we can make our cocoa in the trenches, and the best of it is, it need not boil like making tea. You guessed about right where we had been. I have been out here four months now, and had not been home for a month before I came out. What a long time it seems.” Wolverton Express 1915 Mar. 12th