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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Letter Home - 24th April, 1916

24th April, 1916

Dear Mother,

Many thanks for both your letters this mail. It was good of you to send us a mail each, as we never knew when we would see one another to pass letters on. As it is now, Bee is with the BAC, about four miles back and I don't suppose I shall see him for perhaps a fortnight.

Dad, we have both plenty of money. I have not drawn anything out of our joint account since we left England, and I don't expect Bee has. The only things to use your money on out here are clothes, (necessaries), and eatables, and there is not much variety to be obtained of either. We will let you know, Dad, when it is getting low, but, unless the rest of the family draw on it, we ought to be all right for some little time yet.

Yes, Mum, I suppose we have settled down to life out here, but there is no other way about it. You have to take what comes. I often wish some of our shearers could see what has to be put up with here. It would do them the world of good, and they would not be able to go out on strike for shorter hours, better food and higher wages. I think of a dose of Field Punishment No. 1 would get them up.

I must go back to where we were on rest, as wrote last from there, I think. Sunday was a splendid day, and we had a section football match between the men, and, as Suttie had returned from England the night before and brought a lot of colours with him, it looked quite like the proper game. The men were very keen and put up a very good game, the colours gave them more of a chance than their military dress, as they could distinguish their teams and play together.

It rained on Sunday night and Monday morning, but fortunately stopped for the afternoon so that we could hold the sports. The ground was on the crest of a hill and, as it was blowing fairly hard, we got the full benefit of it. It was not a nice day, but it was a popular meeting and things went off very well. Captain Palmer of the 15th was running the show and, of course, had all his men as keen as razors. They had had a good deal of practice and I think expected to wipe the floor. The first event was 100 yards, in which my servant came second and the BAC won.

Then there was section jumping, won by the 15th; wrestling on horseback; led horses jumping, 48th; subalterns jumping, first 15th, 48th second and third; led horses trotting, 48th; boot and jacket race, 48th; relay race, BC column; VC race, 15th; open jumping, Staff Captain. That should give you an idea of the show. We got our share of the winnings, although we only had one practice when picking the teams. I jumped my wee Ginger in both Subalterns' and the open jumping. The jumps were well up to the wee chap's chin, but he flew them very well and brought us in second to a very good horse in the Subalterns' and in the first 4 of the open, which satisfied me

I had only had him over three jumps before and did not know him, so I think he went jolly well. Bee, I believe, had a good horse to jump, but unfortunately the BAC went away on Sunday – at least part of it did, and he went in charge. Some of the events were most amusing, and everyone enjoyed themselves immensely, especially gunners and drivers. Charlie Armytage was there, trying to jump a horse, but I think he went through most of them. The horse could not get much spring with about 14 stone up. I have a most amusing report from Major Crozier on the course and must tell dad that he wrote in it the phrase “a very good horseman" – it ought to tickle him. The others were so bad, I expect, that he put down me as the best of a bad lot. On Tuesday morning it rained, and Wednesday morning, but it fined by midday, when we had to march up to action.

On the Tuesday, Hoyland and I rode up to see the people we're taking over from. They are a 4-gun battery, and we also had to see another lot as we were taking over two guns from them too – to make up our six. It was a very wet trip there and we had to wait about four hours for the Major. On arrival, he was away and the fool of a subaltern in the Mess would not help us out of the difficulty by telling us when he would be back. So we had to sit there in the Mess and await lunch, which this man had brought in at two. We were glad to get away at four thirty, as soon as we had gained all the information we wanted, as we had about 12 miles to cover.

We left our lines at two on Wednesday and were inspected by the Colonel as we marched out of the town but, as there was no room to square up in wagon line and gun wagons were dotted all through the column in any order, I don't think we made a very pretty picture. We had one or two minor accidents on the road, such as broken pole bars, but there was nothing serious. Before we had gone two miles, the rain started and carried on until about Saturday night - and some of it was rain that would drench you in about five minutes. We have not done a march since I have been out when it has not rained or snowed. Well, we got into our wagon lines about seven, and I went straight up to the guns and took over.

Since coming in there has not been a moment to spare, and I will tell you why. On coming up to a place where 6-gun batteries are taking over from 4-gun – or, in fact, whenever you take over - you leave your guns at a certain place and take over the guns left in the pits, so as to save pulling the bits down. Well, as I say they are all 4-gun batteries we took over from and so two of our guns were with another battery which, with two of somebody else's, are forming what is called a composite battery. The section officer had to go with these guns, so it left two of us – Siggers and I – to do the work until the detached man, Meade, arrives. He is at present on a course. So it has worked out to our doing OP alternately.

Up to now, we have been using Dead Man's Hill. I told you about it before but, as one can't get there or leave there except in darkness, it means a long day. It works out that we arrive at two thirty a.m. and leave the OP at seven thirty p.m. and the days get longer as they draw out. The guns is also an all-day job but not so strenuous, so you can see there is not much time to look about just now.

I met two more Jesus men on Wednesday – at least, I got a glimpse of them as we came along: Straker, A C and a man named Williams. The former asked me to dinner but there is no time for dining, even with the 15th Hussars. There is not much more to tell you, I think.

Yes, Mum, I think I thanked you for all the socks, belly bands etc, but the latter are not in my line, Mum – once wear them, always wear them – so I gave them to my servant to distribute. I hope you won't be offended! I think Gilliard sent you out some prizes in a box, but whether they will arrive is another matter. However, let me know, if they do. They might interest people out there. It is my turn for leave soon, so, if they start again, I ought to get away in about a month and I will send you a photo in my war paint but would rather be able to send you one as we do it out here – I mean a snapshot – but, unfortunately, cameras are not allowed out here. You were asking how medals are given: well, French medals are allotted so many to a divisional Army and they distribute them from there to Brigades. Our Colonel might have one to give out and he allots who is to get it.

Well, I don't think there is any more news,

Ever your loving son,


PS Fritz has shelled a French battery behind my billet all morning with 4.2 howitzers, but I don't think he bothers the Froggies much. They have good deep dugouts and between times dash out, and let him have a few back. They wounded three though, but they have been sent to hospital in the ambulance cars.

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