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Monday, 3 January 2011

Letter Home - 2nd January, 1916

2nd January, 1916

Dear Father,

I must try and write to you in the hurry and excitement of things. To begin with, the Bosch has been treating us very badly this week. They have been shelling our wee village with 5.9 inch hows, which are commonly called “Jack Johnsons” and, after his shooting today, I have great respect for the gun – and the men behind it, as their shooting was worthy of praise.

On Tuesday, when Hoyland and I were at the wagonline, they shelled Cambrin. They just began as we left at eleven thirty, beginning at Harley Street, and working their way solemnly down the road. We missed it all and just returned at eleven thirty when the shelling stopped. We could see there was something doing, as we came across a poor wounded horse and, when we got into the straight among the houses, found everyone gazing towards the brigade. Well! When we got to the town, we turned down to our Mess and saw two beautiful holes, one 10 yards and the other 15 yards short of the Mess and all the tiles were broken (by the splinters). On the house next door, but for a few bricks being dented, there was no damage done. In the afternoon, another one dropped about 50 yards or so over, in the vicinity of the men's cookhouse and, landing in the soft ground, made a hole about 4 foot 6 inches by 15 foot in diameter. I set to work in front of the Mess and dug the fuze out. It was about 3 foot down in the clay and very hard digging, but a good specimen when I did get it.

On Thursday, when I was at the O.B., they again put over a few more in proximity to the battery, but no damage was done. I forgot to mention that they wounded two or three of our brigade staff and one of our subs was taken, to take the orderly officer's place. He will be away for a few weeks. Our adjutant was also slightly wounded and the 41st narrowly escaped being demolished.

Nothing very exciting happened on Friday, except a few pipsqueaks (77 inch) coming down the road, but they are becoming a habit now.

Today I was again away at B├ęthune, at the field cashier's, drawing money for the Major and, on returning, just got into the straight again when I saw a column of black smoke go up in front of the 41st brigade – the 3.9s were at it again. My stables were only a short distance from the crossroads, so I took my first turn to the left and was going along, not knowing quite what to do with my horse, when I met the doctor, who was also in the same predicament. We finally tied our horses up in front of the 70th Battery Mess and went to the doctor's billet, to survey the shelling. We both decided it was useless to try and go up to the brigade, as we could see they were going to finish them off, so we watched the performance from 400 to 500 yards distance.

We stood next to a brick wall at the back of the doctor's billet and watched events, which came to a close about two. They began at twelve pm. At about one thirty pm, the 70th battery Major spotted us and gave us some lunch. It is extraordinary the way the splinters travel. Every time they burst, we had to get behind the wall, as fragments would come buzzing through the air. By two pm, the Bosch stopped, having executed his work very well. The Infantry headquarters were on fire. Otherwise, he only slightly damaged the 41st. The chemist's, the 30th and all the houses in between were in ruins. The former was also in flames. A number of casualties occurred, mainly at Infantry HQ, but only one shell frightened us – it made a very good refuse pit in our backyard, 10 yards too far. The devils were also putting shrapnel over our battery during the proceedings. One of our men was touched on the foot.

Our Mess is chock-a-block full of refugees from both the brigades. At present we have both colonels in the mess, discussing their whereabouts for tonight and the future. We are taking all we can under cover. Some of them have lost all their kit and have only the things they stand up in.

Everyone will be looking for new houses now, and I think they will be hard to find. There is nothing else and no time to write if I am to catch the mail.



  1. It is interesting that he duplicates the journal entry on this topic. I would not think it worth his time. He obviously did. Maybe thinking that either journal or letter would not survive. Journal most likely ...

  2. Getting things off his chest, I thought, the most ancient form of 'therapy'.