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- Transcriber's Note: Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE BRENTON LAURIE
For Private Circulation
Lt.-Col. GEORGE BRENTON LAURIE
(Commanding 1st Battn. Royal Irish Rifles)
Dated NOVEMBER 4th, 1914-MARCH 11th, 1915
EDITED BY FLORENCE VERE-LAURIE
Printed by GALE & POLDEN, LTD Wellington Works, Aldershot 1921
TO HALIBURTON, BLANCHE, AND SYDNEY.
MY DEAR CHILDREN,
I dedicate this little volume to you in memory of your father, who, as you know, fell on March 12th, 1915, in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. These Letters, which were written to me from France during the first winter of the World War, do not in any way pretend to literary attainment; they are just the simple letters of a soldier recording as a diary the daily doings of his regiment at the front.
Often were they penned under great difficulties, and many a time under a rain of fire. The accounts of the awful loss of life and the discomforts experienced, both by officers and men unused to such severe climatic conditions, are sometimes heart-rending, and they make the reading sad.
Touches, however, of his natural cheerfulness relieve the greyness of the situation, and at times one can almost hear the lightheartedness of a schoolboy speaking.
Your father cared for his regiment as a father cares for his child, and was beloved by it. He obtained his commission in 1885 at 18 years of age, and was, curiously enough, the last officer to enter the British Army with the rank of a full Lieutenant. Had he lived till the following September, he would have been 30 years in the Royal Irish Rifles.
A short sketch of his life and military career is given in this book, and reference is made to the pleasure he took in being chosen to write the History of his Regiment, completed in 1914. He was also devoted to all kinds of sport as a pastime; but I will not write of these things; rather would I speak of his great wish to win fresh laurels for his regiment, and of how proud he was when, after the long, dreary winter in the trenches, the Royal Irish Rifles were the first to enter the village of Neuve Chapelle. But above all would I counsel you to follow his example in his faithful attention to duty, fulfilling the French proverb, "Faites ce que doit advienne que pourra."
He died as a true soldier, leading his men, and what better death could be desired? He now lies in the British military cemetery of Pont du Hem, midway between Neuve Chapelle and Estaires, not far from Bethune in Northern France, and a little wooden cross marks the spot.
CARLTON HALL, CARLTON-ON-TRENT, NOTTS. May 12th, 1921.
BY LIEUT.-COLONEL SIR JOHN ROSS OF BLADENSBURG, K.C.B., K.C.V.O. (late Coldstream Guards).
Colonel George Laurie came from a military family. His father a distinguished General, and his uncle both served in the Crimea and elsewhere, and many of his near relations joined the army, and were well-known zealous soldiers of their Sovereign. His elder brother fell in the Boer War in the beginning of this century, and he himself saw active service in the Sudan and in South Africa, before he landed in France to take his share in the great World War. On being promoted to the command of his battalion, he joined it at Kamptee in India, and this obliged him to leave his wife and family at home, for young children are not able to live in that tropical, very hot and unhealthy district. From that station, with scarcely any opportunity of seeing them again, he was launched into the severities of a cold and wet winter in a water-logged part of Flanders. His experiences are graphically told in his letters, and they will show how much our gallant troops had to endure when engaged in the terrible conflict which the ambition of Prussia had provoked, and with what fortitude and courage they defended the country from the serious dangers that then menaced it.
All who have read these interesting letters will, I think, perceive that one dominant feature in Colonel Laurie's character was a keen and all-pervading sense of duty, and an earnest determination to discharge it in every circumstance as thoroughly and as completely as possible. Never did he spare himself. What he had to exact from others, that he sternly imposed upon himself; and he fully shared with his men all the dangers and all the hardships of the war, with serene good temper and with a cheerful spirit. This fine disposition, which he himself had trained by self-discipline, ensured the prompt and willing obedience of his subordinates, and endeared him to all who were committed to his charge; it also secured for him the respect and the confidence of his superiors, who were well aware that every order they gave him would be carried out to the letter with prudence and with strict fidelity.
As he had married a beloved niece, I had many opportunities of observing his character, and I did not fail to recognize how devoted he was to his regiment and to the military career he had embraced and how thoroughly he was imbued with this great sense of duty. He had, moreover, considerable literary ability, and wrote a very excellent History of the Royal Irish Rifles; he also translated from the French an interesting account of the conquest of Algiers. In short, he took pains to learn the many details of his noble profession, and to make himself an efficient officer. Had he survived, my belief is that he would have advanced far as a soldier; for he combined with a studious earnest mind, much activity of body, and a sincere love for outdoor sport and manly exercise.
His letters show his affectionate nature; his care for his family and for his officers and men; and his solicitude for all with whom he was brought in contact. His sympathies were quick and real; and he felt the responsibilities of his position, and what he owed to those who belonged to him, or who were placed under his command. And last, but by no means least, there are many short expressions in the letters to show the deep and all-absorbing feeling he entertained for Religion, and how his whole life was guided by the Faith that was in him. May his memory prove to be an incentive to his young family, so early and so cruelly deprived of the care of a loving father, to imitate his sterling qualities of head and heart!
SKETCH OF LIEUT.-COLONEL LAURIE'S CAREER.
(From the "Bond of Sacrifice," reproduced by permission of the Editor.)
George Brenton Laurie was born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on October 13th, 1867. He was the eldest surviving son of the late Lieut.-General John Wimburn Laurie, C.B., M.P., of 47, Porchester Terrace, London, and of Mrs. Laurie, of Oakfield, Nova Scotia.
He was grandson of the Hon. Enos Collins, M.L.C., of Gorse Brook, Halifax, and great-grandson of Sir Brenton Haliburton, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia. He was educated at Galt Collegiate Institute, Ontario, and at the Picton Academy, from whence he passed into the Royal Military College, Kingston, Canada, in 1883. He joined the Royal Irish Rifles as a Lieutenant in September, 1885, going with them to Gibraltar in 1886, and on to Egypt in 1888. He took part in the Nile Campaign in 1889, but, contracting smallpox at Assouan, he was sent home to recover, and spent two years at the Depot at Belfast, rejoining his battalion in Malta. He was promoted Captain in 1893, and when the Rifles came back to home service he obtained an Adjutancy of Volunteers in Devonshire in October, 1896, and from that date until March, 1901, by ceaseless energy he brought the battalion to full strength and high efficiency.
In March, 1901, he was appointed a special service officer, including the command of a mounted infantry battalion for the South African War. He was present at operations in the Transvaal, Orange River Colony, and Cape Colony, between April, 1901, and May, 1902, having been Mentioned in Despatches for his services (London Gazette, July 29th, 1902), also receiving the Queen's Medal with five clasps.
After peace was signed he served in Ireland, and in October, 1904, obtained his majority. Afterwards he served in England till, becoming Lieut.-Colonel in 1912, he went out to India to take command of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He was deeply engaged at this time in writing the History of his Regiment, a work soon officially accepted and highly praised. He had previously written a history of "The French in Morocco," compiled from many sources during his years in the Mediterranean.
When the European War broke out in August, 1914, he was at Aden with his battalion, and until anxiety in Somaliland was allayed the Irish Rifles were detained there, only reaching France in November. They spent the winter in the trenches, taking their share in the fierce fighting in December.
On March 10th, 1915, they took part in the attack on Neuve Chapelle, and were the first battalion to reach the village, but losses were heavy. A sergeant-major wrote: "Our Colonel was everywhere, encouraging his men, and seeming to bear a charmed life. He knew no fear, and walked quietly in front of us as if no bombardment were going on."
On Friday evening, March 12th, a fresh assault was ordered. Lieut.-Colonel Laurie rallied his exhausted men, and, calling out "Follow me! I will lead you!" he sprang over the parapet, revolver in hand. A moment later he fell shot through the head. He was buried with his fallen officers and men in a garden near Neuve Chapelle.
During this war he was twice Mentioned in Despatches (Gazette, January 14th, 1915; and after his death, May 31st, 1915).
Lieut.-Colonel Laurie, who was a member of the Army and Navy and the United Service Clubs, was fond of hunting, and went out regularly with the Devon and Somerset hounds. He also hunted in Ireland, and in Nottinghamshire with the Rufford, and played polo.
He married, in September, 1905, Florence Clementina Vere Skeffington, eldest daughter of the late Hon. Sydney William Skeffington, and left three children—George Haliburton, born August, 1906; Blanche, born 1907; and Sydney Vere, born 1910.
LETTERS OF NOVEMBER, 1914.
Telegram, November 4th, 1914:
"Get gun oiled."
[Note.—This was a private code message sent to me in London signifying that the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles was ordered to France with the 25th Brigade, 8th Division, on November 5th, 1914. Information of the day of departure was not permitted beforehand.—F.V.L.]
HURSTLEY PARK CAMP, WINCHESTER. November 5th, 1914.
MY DEAR F——.
I telegraphed to you yesterday not to worry about any more equipment for me, as I should not be able to get the things, no matter how soon you sent them. We have had our arrangements put back twelve hours, but even that makes no difference; I shall rub along somehow.
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The Camp is up to our necks in mud. Fortunately, the weather is mild, though we shall have it cold enough later on. Any warm clothes, etc., for the Battalion are being sent to you to be distributed to us in a short time. Then the men will appreciate them more. I should forward them only as you get the funds.
Capt. Cinnamond is still in bed with lumbago, whilst Major Weir is staying behind too. Capt. Allgood comes with me. I cannot give you any more news, as it might let things out. I had a lot to do yesterday, and dropped to sleep after dinner sitting in a high chair about 8.45 p.m.!
Yours, etc.... G——.
Postcard from— SOUTHAMPTON, November 5th, 1914.
We had a wet march to this place, and are now on a transport which ought to land us in France to-morrow. So far everything has gone most prosperously with us. Curious that the day you left Winchester I should have got the order to move! I believe the sea is fairly smooth; am getting the last few horses and wagons aboard. Heard to-day that the Remount have bought my chestnut horse "Goldfinch."
FRANCE, ON ACTIVE SERVICE, B.E.F. November 7th, 1914.
MY DEAR F——.
We had a very smooth run across to ... and then lay out for about 20 hours. Fortunately, it still remained perfectly calm, and we got in at 2 a.m., having only a slight collision with another steamer. We left the ship this morning and went into a rest camp to get ourselves thoroughly fitted out. We were told that "French" wanted us badly, as he expected to have the Germans back on the Rhine shortly, which may or may not be! Anyhow, our "rest" will not last many hours! There is a thick fog at present, so I cannot tell you what the whole place is like; but the lanes as we came along reminded me of England, say Ore near Hastings. I saw that your cousin Herbert Stepney was killed, and his mother will be wild about him....
A Naval Embarkation Officer came up to me at our embarking post—Southampton—and asked where Laurie was! I told him, remarking: "I know your face!" He was Captain Perfect from Rostrevor. He said that poor Major Nugent of Bally Edmond died rather suddenly two days ago. Perfect then introduced me to the Captain of the ship, who rejoiced in the name of "Spratt," with the result that I was given half his cabin coming over. We had to feed ourselves, or, rather, we bought some cooked food by arrangement. Here we have secured bread and butter and condensed milk, and we are now waiting for our transport to come up from the harbour to get some warm tea.
I will let you know as much as I can as we go along. Of course it is impossible to tell you where we are, etc.... If you want to know about German atrocities, read Nash's Magazine for November. I just saw it.
ON ACTIVE SERVICE. November 8th, 1914.
That was as far as I got in my descriptions to you when I had to rush off with my transport wagon and Quartermaster to complete the equipment which had not been given us in England. This lasted until 11.30 p.m. in a strange country with thick fog, five miles to go, and none of us able to speak French! However, I came home about 7 o'clock in the morning to fix other urgent matters up. The night was not so very cold.
Being an early bird, I varied matters this morning by calling my officers! Major Baker is splendid.
After Church parade, reading the service myself, I have been generally hustling things, and am going out for a route march at 2 p.m. to-day. The sun is finally dispersing the fog, so we shall get an opportunity of drilling together. We have practically never done so yet; and I am really appalled at what might be the consequences of going into action with the men unpractised. Few of them have been on active service before, and it will all have to be taught under fire.... Since I have managed to get a pair of boots for myself from the Ordnance, I now go dry-footed for a change! I shall probably send you home my good uniform ones to keep for me, as they were made rather too tight for this sort of work. If I live through it, I will be able to wear them all out. If not, it will not matter much to me....
I expect you are having your shoot to-morrow and next day, and I hope it will be a success.
November 9th, 1914.
I may not have time to write to you again for some days, so first, please accept my thanks for the waterproof sheet, and all the other things you bought. Unfortunately I shall not be able to carry them with me, so the lot must be returned to the Army and Navy Stores....
I think I told you that "Goldfinch," my chestnut horse, has been sold to the Government, and the roan "Khaki" I sent to Mrs. Clinton-Baker at Bayfordbury. One of my new horses rolled over me yesterday, but beyond bending my sword and tearing one of my leggings did me no damage, though Major Baker thought at first that my leg was broken! It is colder to-day. We were astonished to see a number of French soldiers about; one imagined they would be up at the Front fighting. Also there seemed to be a lot of young men who might have been out doing a little for their country. Many of the women are in mourning here. My servant told me that most of our men had now got gloves, and that it was surprising the care they took of them, as they were generally not so careful; but they knew that they would want them; so I am very glad that you have got extra ones, for they do not last long. The fog has settled down again, mercifully not quite so thick as before. It was odd the day before yesterday when I was down town on duty to see the crowds round some large windows which had news written up on huge placards.
Personally, I have only seen a couple of French papers since I left England, and they contained simply a repetition of news from the Daily Mail before we left England. I feel much better with dry feet; though the boots are coarse, they are strong and useful, but they make me walk like a ploughboy! Still, if the weather gets colder, I can put on a second pair of socks under them. We have been lucky enough to get some good butter and some tinned milk from a small cafe near here. Of course, we are in the district that is not invaded by the enemy at present. My men are very willing, but very troublesome. They lose themselves and fall out on every pretext.... A Colonel came up yesterday and said: "You back from Aden?"...
I hear a rumour that John is off to India and my brother Kenrick a Major already. He is a lucky fellow! Glad you saw me off on Wednesday at Winchester. I looked up at your window, but could not see you....
[Note.—The position of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles was, at this period of the war, about 20 miles from the town of Ypres, and the billets mentioned in the letters were mostly in and around the little town of Estaires.—F.V.L.]
IN BILLETS. November 11th, 1914.
I wrote to you last Monday from our camp where we landed. We left that, being put into our train by an old gentleman of your uncle's (Sir John Ross) Brigade. Having told us everything he could, he then went to dinner. In the meantime, we had to put the loaded Army wagons from the ground on to the railway trucks. We finished in about four hours' time, and went off in a very cold train of nearly fifty carriages. Biscuits and tinned meat were distributed to us, and we ran on practically without a stop until 12.30 a.m. Wednesday morning. I say practically, for we halted nearly an hour at one station and got the men some tea. We had no means of washing, so you may imagine we looked like black men in a very short time! Next, we got out of the train and unloaded it in rain, went into some barns and slept until 5 o'clock.... I was in a cart shed much like the one opposite the large barn belonging to the "Park Farm" at Carlton. I had some doubtfully clean straw and my coat and waterproof, but I found it cold all the same. However, as I was only allowed to remain in till 5 a.m., it was not as bad as one might have expected. Marching again at 9 a.m. I went into billets after passing a church badly knocked about by German shells, and a burnt-down house, which owed its departure to the French shells. Here I am in a building very much resembling Willoughby Farm. In the hay barn I have 50 men, 100 men and 11 horses in the stables, and 16 officers in the house, with all the remainder somewhere near me. It is colder and has been blowing a gale up to now, but I expect it will turn to rain again when the wind drops. I was inspected this morning by a superior General: am rather tired of inspections! From where we sit we can see the flash of the shells bursting in front of our position. We hear all sorts of reports as to what is happening. I fancy it is fairly even balanced fighting of a very hard sort. An old lady belonging to the farmer class had her home invaded by the Germans some time ago. They took everything in the house—food, clothes, etc.—and presented her with two francs on leaving, saying they always paid for things! The country is exactly the same as the ground on the opposite side of the Trent without the hedges. I have seen no chateaux or anything of that sort about here. It is evidently a peasant's country. Our men are very funny bargaining with the farmer's wife; now and then we have to come to their assistance over the money question. Rather a curious feature in these parts is that most of the farms have a large wheel for churning attached to the house. A dog is popped into this wheel, and he then has to run for his life, and so does the churning! I suppose such an invention would not be allowed in England on the ground of cruelty nowadays! I am glad to hear that the Emden and Konigsberg have both been settled. I am only sorry about the ships off Chili. Poor Admiral Cradock! Do you remember him at Dover, when Lord Brassey gave an entertainment to the Fleet?
Well, I think that is all my news. I can hardly keep awake as it is. A pretty cold night, but one just has to put up with it. I only wish that something would happen to end the war with honour to ourselves.
Still it is a mercy to spend a night like this in the house instead of in the trenches. There is no fresh meat in the country, only tinned beef for us!...
IN BILLETS. November 13th, 1914.
Well, I have not been able to write to you before this, as I try to do every day. Yesterday, for instance, I was up at 5 o'clock, and after an hour's parade, shivering in the dark, I then went off to another, and got back about 1 o'clock. I was instructing my men in the difference between English and French distances—i.e., what 600 yards looked like in this country for rifle ranges, and where an enemy was likely to hide, etc. In the middle of this the Brigade Major dashed up in despair, as some order of his had gone astray. I was wanted to take ten officers at once and to jump into a motor lorry, and go with a party of 30 others to the trenches. I popped my ten officers in, and went off with the Brigade-Major's greatcoat in my hurry! We raced our lorry through country looking just like the Romney Marshes, Sussex. As we went we met refugees flying from a burning town which had been set on fire by German shells. We also passed immense amounts of transports; for troops must live even when they fight. On the way I suddenly saw the back of my last General at D——. You remember him—a very pleasant man. Well, he showed us round the trenches. The shells were bursting up along the forward line held by my brother Hal's old regiment [4th King's Own]. You could see the shrapnel bursting on the ground, and perhaps setting fire to something or other. None of the shells were near us, so we were quite safe. Leaving the line about dark, we had to rattle home. Of course we lost our way, as our maps are on such a small scale, and the inhabitants of one little town told us the wrong direction, mistaking our French, I suppose! But we were not to be done, for we picked up an old lady trotting along in the dark, and, having satisfied her that we were not Germans, she soon showed us the road, coming a couple of miles with us. I arrived home—or, rather, at my billet—shivering about 7.30 p.m., having had heavy cold rain during a great part of the day. I turned out to an "Alarm" Parade at 9 o'clock, returning to my house again at 10 p.m. So, you see, I am not eating the bread of idleness! To-day we have all been out and got very wet. It is unpleasant, but one cannot help it in war. I have had very hard work with my returns, and my Quartermaster is getting old. However, I shall rub along now, I trust! To-morrow I am sending my R.C. soldiers to a church with holes in the roof from shells. Don't you think I really deserve well of my Catholic acquaintances, for I have had the priest down twice to see them. Our host tells me that the Germans came here; the people ran away, and that the Germans ran after them, caught eleven, made them dig a big hole in a field, and then shot them. I wonder if it is true. Certainly I have seen some few graves in the fields with no names, just little crosses of rough wood. They may be murdered inhabitants, or they may be simply skirmishers who fell in some inglorious scrap. Please send me a few more packets of plain envelopes; one bundle at a time is quite enough, as I write on this note-book paper; it reduces the amount I have to carry. Some men have been sent to me to be instructed in Machine Guns. What a curious nation we are, training our men quite happily within ten miles of the enemy! I think I told you about our billets in the last letter. The Germans emptied the wine cellar. Imagine an English farm having a wine cellar at all! We do not even burn the wood, and we have done a great trade for these people in milk and butter. Eggs there appear to be none. I expect we shall be moving shortly; but where to I cannot tell. I was glad to find that the French had not at all exhausted their reserves. For instance, there is in the house here a labourer who is a cavalry soldier. He is 43 years of age, and his category is the next to go. Only your first letters have reached me up to now, but some more are expected in to-morrow evening. The General I met yesterday told me that the Prussian Guards, 15,000 strong, were formed up two nights ago, and were told that they must break through our lines, as their Infantry of the Line had made an attempt to do so and had failed. They tried hard; we heard the guns going. They did not get through, and they showed no disposition to try again yesterday morning, fortunately. It is probable that they suffered very severely. If this goes on, they must stop shortly. Possibly you know more about it all than I do, though, as I have seen no papers; in fact, I am absolutely isolated. It has been raining in torrents, but has now stopped for a minute, and the wind is getting up. Horrid in the trenches, I fancy. Our Protestant soldiers open their eyes at the crucifixes scattered all about the country. I have three in the tiny room which I share with Major B——. My doctor is ill, which is a nuisance. I have not yet heard what the Government gave me for my horse "Goldfinch."
Hope you are not having a dull time. I am; but that cannot be helped. I shall be glad to get through this war with honour and return to England. I have had a dreadful knocking about during the last four months, coming from India and the horrid journey home, etc., etc.
Please send enclosed letters to your mother and to Aunt Helen. Love to the children. My two new horses I have called Patrick and Michael.
November 18th, 1914.
Still in my dug-out and just now under shrapnel fire. I have been out this morning, having at last got a doctor, and I have arranged with him to get a little morphia with a trained man, so that my poor fellow badly wounded may die in peace. I had a case of that yesterday, when a man died after 12 hours of great pain with both legs gone, and his was not the only one. I received your letters during the night up to November 9th. I am so glad that the shooting was a success. Tell Faulkner now to shoot the cock pheasants as he gets the opportunity.... I had not time to fill in the game book, so please keep it up for me.... Enclosed is a letter from my mother; it was good of her writing so soon.... She must have had a great deal of trouble and expense rebuilding "Oakfield" since the fire last summer.... I hear that my horse "Khaki" is quite a success and much appreciated at Bayfordbury. I have just had a man shot out of a tree where he was posted as a sentry, protected by sandbags, but our fellows got the man who wounded him, and there is general joy. I am also investigating the case of a civilian who was inside our lines with a pass, and who had a friend who ran away, whilst four German soldiers suddenly popped up and let drive at us. So you see I have my work cut out, what with holding my lines, directing our batteries of artillery where to shoot, arranging for hospitals, answering letters, making sketches, laying telephones, and sending messages to Headquarters, etc., etc.!
In the middle of all this I was shelled, and my clerk fled before the storm as he was writing the returns. I am told to remain here for three days more, unwashed and unshaved! It was so cold last night; I was up most of the time doing business, but in between whiles got a little sleep. To-day I have been seeing to my hospital and the graves, and have a four-hour walk before me to-night with the Engineers. Such a cannonade has been going on in Ypres for the last three days. The roar of cannon is quite continuous. Your watch is keeping most excellent time, by-the-bye. I expect this battle will have a great effect on the war. One wonders how many are being killed in it—poor things!... Please send all you have now for the troops, as I imagine they will want anything and everything to keep out the cold if they can carry it. The Government gave me L70 for "Goldfinch," which was good, I think.
November 20th, 1914.
I am now in the trenches in the snow, and it was very cold indeed last night. Can you picture such conditions, lying out in it after dark? All my poor men feel the change very much, coming from the heat of Aden. However, it is business. We are supposed to go out to-morrow night for three days' rest after six nights in the trenches, during which I have not washed or shaved! Yesterday a bullet pierced our splinter-proof roof. Major W—— had his cap cut by one, greatly to his surprise! I was up half the night with orders, etc., coming in. Whilst I was going round quite a pretty little fight developed. Fifty Germans attacked a few of our men; I stood revolver in hand and watched it, as we gradually drove them back. This morning at daybreak our men are reported to have shot two men of a burying party, so there must have been casualties. Still, one is sorry for the burial party. Their guns are knocking things about here; big guns, too. Our Brigadier, General Lowry Cole, asked me if Mrs. L.C. might write to you about comforts for the troops, and I said certainly. If you have any gloves or waistcoats, send them along, please. We thought our friends had arranged to take away their guns, and for one day we did not see them; then they opened again this afternoon. I shall not be sorry to get relieved to-morrow, when we march all night and go into billets, taking our boots off, which will be a great relief. I have caught several local men inhabitants here and sent them off under escort, since which time "sniping" has gradually decreased. Well, I did not write to you yesterday; was too busy. I am inclined to think that Germany has shot her bolt.
IN TRENCHES. November 21st, 1914.
Very cold, and more snow—I wonder how we can stand it! Fortunately, the Germans are equally badly off. I have had a chequered life. Last night, after a meagre dinner of tinned beef, I found an officer of the Royal Engineers waiting for me, who announced that he and a party of men had come to put my wire entanglements into order. Having done that, they were to go home. Passing along a deep drain, led by myself, we got to the end of a huge mound of earth. Three of my men popped over it in the dark, within 100 yards of some Germans who were lying down firing at us. Then over went the Sappers, whilst I flew off to see that our own men did not fire on them. Back again to my hole in the ground to put other things "in train." Up at 11.30 p.m. to repulse an attack. That driven off, I rolled up in blankets to shiver until 1 a.m., when messages began to pour in from everywhere as to all sorts of things. Up again at 4, and at 5.30 for good, back to the trenches, followed by five officers who are relieving us. This procession was a walk with stooping heads, bullets raining in through the loopholes, and frantic runs along ditches beside hedges (just like the "shallows" at Carlton). I crawled completely doubled up. Suddenly a sniper would see some part of me showing, and would then let drive at me. I had to duck, and then run like a hare until I got to a bank which gave some protection. Needless to say, my coat and riding things are already in holes. Please send me another large packet of chocolate; the last was much appreciated; also some soup squares.
IN BILLETS. November 23rd, 1914.
We are back again in billets now. Such a business as it was getting out of the trenches. Of course, my men could not leave until the others were in their places; then they had to change back to their roads through the trenches, practically so narrow that they could not pass without stepping over each other, and these three miles long. Well, the result of all was that, moving off at 4.30 p.m., we collected at a road two miles back at 2 in the morning. Just think of it! There was snow and 15 degrees of frost, and we were awfully cold. We got to our billets about 3 a.m., and the General was in my room at 5 o'clock to see me. I was very tired after my week's work, but I think it was successful. My casualties I am not allowed to state, but they were more than I like to count; also, alas! the number of men killed in action recently.... Well, following on from that, you will quite understand that I had much to think about; funerals, wounded men, rations and everything, shivering with cold the whole time. Then I had to go into my returns, and I was even asked to make up maps and sketches. I believe one of my officers had a bullet through his clothes whilst trying to sketch the enemy's position at night. Still, we did our work. One particular night, for instance, I had four officers—patrols—in the enemy's lines. It cost me one man killed and one man wounded, though I heard that Capt. Stevens died too the day after he was hit, poor fellow! Colonel Napier was not wrong when he said it would be a terrible war, but Germany must surely be very nearly at the end of her tether. After all, I must return my boots, as the pair sent, though quite large enough in an ordinary way, are much too small now that I wear two pairs of socks and do not remove them for a week! Did it ever occur to you how difficult it is to feed 1,000 men in a trench 3 miles long when you can only get in at the ends? It took from 5 p.m. to 10 o'clock to get and give them their teas, and then from 3 a.m. to half-past six to give them their breakfast and their food for the day, whilst all the time the enemy was fighting and shooting, and one had to judge to a nicety where to keep everyone until the rations were issued, so that in case the Germans should suddenly rush us we should have enough to repel them. I wonder where you are now—at Rostrevor or at Carlton—and whether I am fated to get home before Christmas or not. In any case, best of luck....
IN BILLETS. November 24th, 1914.
Off to the trenches again to-night, and please God we shall not lose so many men as before. I had the clergyman up to-day and Holy Communion administered for officers and men. Quite a lot of the former attended. You remember we were together last at Winchester. What a difference between that day and now!... Then, the most stately pile in the world; here a little room in a French farmer's house, with the table pushed into the corner and a few broken chairs to sit upon. An evil-looking bin stands in the corner containing our rations, a pistol on the mantelpiece, and some boots at the fireplace drying, which latter I hastily removed. However, the service was really just the same as at Winchester, excepting that you were not with me. If anything happens to me on this expedition, I should like that small window looking on our pew, representing the Bishop of York's figure, etc., etc., to be filled in to my memory; and, curiously enough, I think the Penitent Thief always one of the greatest heroes in the Bible; for he must have had enormous faith to believe when he was in such a bad way himself.
The snow is fast melting, and, on the whole, it is much warmer than yesterday. Well, beyond this I have no news to give you, excepting that, of course, though Germany may put up a long fight, yet, in my opinion, she is being strained to death to keep herself going, and I believe that she cannot last long at this rate.
November 25th, 1914.
Back in the trenches, and very busy indeed, as apparently we intend to stay here for some time, and we are doing our best to make them habitable for the winter. Our own dug-out, which was 3 feet deep, we have deepened to 4 feet, but just at this moment the roof beams of Major Baker's half have been carried away, whilst a sniper prevents our getting on the top of the roof to shovel off the earth and renew the beams. Altogether a cheerful problem. However, like many others we shall gradually get this right. I was told that the Germans made a great attack in the afternoon two days ago on the Brigade to our right, but were beaten back. I have warned all my men to be ready for a rush at any time. We made an amusing attack two nights ago with 8 men and one officer, all of whom were wrapped in sheets to avoid being seen in the snow. It took place from one of my trenches. The officer got to the German trench, where a man looked into his face. He fired his revolver at one yard, and his men following dashed forward and fired right and left down the trenches. A great scamper ensued, as you may imagine, and then from each German trench burst out a heavy rifle fire. Our guns were ready, and immediately opened on them in the darkness, and presumably caused the enemy many casualties. I must say that I should never be surprised at the war coming to a sudden conclusion, or for it to last a very long time; but I fancy that a great deal depends upon the result of this battle in Poland. The sniping gentleman is tremendously busy at present, but I hope he will not catch me on my way to luncheon. I have to go there very shortly. You see, I believe they have rifles fixed in clumps, and then they fire them by a sentry pulling a trigger. Of course, the shots are erratic to a certain extent, but they find out from spies where the general line of advance to our trenches is, scour them regularly, and now and then bag someone or other. Last night passed quietly enough; we had our scrap about one o'clock. I was out, but nothing serious happened, I am glad to say. The weather has turned to rain again, and the country is losing the snow, whilst the trenches accumulate the rain and mud badly. Please God this war will soon be over.
IN TRENCHES. November 26th, 1914.
I thought I might have had a letter from you this mail; however, it has not arrived, worse luck! Last night, while talking with the General, a bullet struck near his head, glancing off a brick wall. You should have seen him jump! My nerves have grown stronger, as I've had a good baptism of them when going about. Our trenches were awful. Yesterday I went round them all, and found everything more or less right. Only my leggings were absolutely plastered above my knees with mud. I think I've hit on a good way, if original, of getting ahead of the mud now, by putting my feet into a bag as soon as I come into my dug-out. This is then drawn up nearly to my waist, and collects any mud that falls off, and saves the place. As one does not walk about in it, only crawls, the bag is better than you would have thought! It is turning cold again, and I suppose we shall have a bad night of it. Yesterday evening we discovered a fast machine gun had been brought up against us, so this afternoon I have been amusing myself and one of our batteries by shelling it, but with what result I cannot say. Great stories of Russian doings on the East of Prussia still come to us. About two months more should, I think, give Germany as much as she can do, with her few remaining soldiers, and they must run down fast in numbers. A man looked into one of my loopholes during the night, and told my men that he was an Engineer mending our wire, and the silly fellows thoroughly believed him. I am certain he was a German.
IN TRENCHES. November 27th, 1914.
I received your letter to-day of November 18th, also your mother's of the 21st, for which many thanks. Last night I was up at 1 a.m., turned out by heavy firing. Fortunately, after a time it died away, as I could not get my guns to work! I heard that the Rifle Brigade also tried the white sheet manoeuvre with an officer and 8 men lately, but they tell me the officer is missing. One of mine has been at the enemy's lines during the last two nights; I hope he will be all right. We made no fuss, only just lay and watched them, and heard them chattering and sitting round little fires in the trenches. A bullet came through the ruin which I was in close beside me, but as dozens are flying over and around one all the time, it merely attracted my attention by the fact that it passed through two brick walls and went on its way. This pointed German bullet does strange tricks. For instance, one of them yesterday must have struck something, turned at right angles, and gone on, killing an old soldier of mine by striking him on the left temple, poor fellow! Well, I must close. I expect to get out this evening, if alive. By the way, please send me several pounds of plum pudding—the richer, the better. We can stand it. Very greedy thinking about things to eat, but it takes one's mind off more serious affairs. Young McClintock's regiment (the Gordon Highlanders) has been sent in alongside myself. I went down to see it, but Stanley was not there.
IN BILLETS. November 28th, 1914.
It is very odd, but all your letters have not arrived. We moved out of trenches in the dark last night, and as we got well away were feeling ourselves safe. "Zip" came a bullet, and hit the ground beside me; it seemed rather unfair when one thought one was well out of range. We got in here at 8.30 p.m., and, having two cold pheasants sent by Major B.'s brother, we supped sumptuously. Please send me some more pheasants or partridges cooked as before, and sewn up in sacking. This house is a farm much like that one on the road to Newark before you reach Muskham Bridge. The owner is evidently a rich man, for everything is very nice, electric light laid on, but unfortunately not going! We had our rest rudely disturbed by the Germans trying to shell us. Whether we were betrayed by people pretending to be refugees or not I cannot say, but within an hour of sending two away the shelling commenced. Fortunately they missed us, though I heard that a couple of officers of another regiment were killed. A possible reason, however, which we have since found out is that some heavy guns of our own have placed themselves beside us, thus letting us in for all the shells that miss the enemy. We are rather irate at it. But to return to our house. It has six bedrooms on the first floor, and some attics; the rooms are quite middle-class looking, though the furniture in the dining-room is of nice walnut. The Germans looted the place and smashed the mirrors over the mantelpiece, whilst there is a bullet hole through the door. I sincerely hope that something will happen shortly to bring home to the German nation what a thing it is to invade another country's property. It is quite pitiful to see the way everything is knocked about. The china in the house is in the pretty French style, the coffee pot particularly neat and nice. It is curious sitting here with shells having fallen all round us within 300 yards, and yet to be so perfectly peaceful. Still, it is war. I said to one of my captains: "Where did you bury So-and-So yesterday?" and he replied: "Where he was shot, sir. He was a heavy man, and we could not take him to the place where we buried the others." So there the poor man lies in a ploughed field, and no more trace of him excepting that in his humble way he did his duty and gave his life for his country. I suppose the evening of November 30th will see us in the trenches again. By the way, please tell Miss P—— that I have found her handkerchief most useful in the trenches. Nothing smaller would have been any good at all. I am trying to get my chestnut horse back, and asking the Brigade Major to telegraph for him to the Remount. The Government has commenced to issue to the men goatskin coats of white and brown or black goats. Where such a goat lives I do not know; anyhow, here is his skin! I suspect I shall very soon have one too, if the weather gets colder.
IN BILLETS. November 29th, 1914.
You can see by this that your notepaper has duly arrived, for which I am much obliged. I was also glad to get your letter, and I am sure that you must be very pleased to be back in Rostrevor again. Curious how I have been kept away from you for three years, is it not, first by my promotion, and then this awful war.... Well, yesterday I think I told you that I saw a shell strike close beside one of my companies, so I ran and put the men into bomb-proof, or rather splinter-proofs. Having seen they were safe, I went on with my work, though it is not pleasant doing this sort of thing whilst shells are flying about! Anyhow, I started out afterwards to reconnoitre the road to a certain town, and passed two men of the Rifle Brigade making a coffin. I asked for whom it was intended, and found that this same shell had killed a very nice Major, called "Harman," of the Rifle Brigade, whilst another man was badly wounded, and a Captain also in the Rifle Brigade. It all happened just as far from me as Carlton Village is from the house, or a few yards more at farthest. Well, we buried the poor fellow after dark. This morning we had service both for our Catholic and Church of England men, and after that the General decided to inspect my regiment. As he approached, so did the shells, and in a few seconds everyone was flying for shelter to ditches and holes in the ground like rabbits to their burrows. Having knocked us about with 300-lb. shells, they then thought that we should be out of the house, and they let loose with shrapnel, which is a great man-killer. I watched the first burst coming, and had everyone under cover whilst they rained this around. I think they must have been in a bad humour. At all events, they wasted L500 worth of ammunition to no purpose. I expect they are told by spies which houses we occupy, as they appeared to follow us about steadily. It has become much milder, but still cold enough when we turn out at five o'clock in the morning. One certainly does not eat the bread of idleness in the British Army at present! Here comes our solitary lamp, borrowed from the absent farmer, but before it arrives we must close the blinds, as the light would certainly insure a shelling for us. I am glad you had a good run across to Ireland, and that Sydney was a good boy. I wonder how much longer we are going to stay here. Rumour has it that the enemy is moving back, but I cannot say.
IN BILLETS. November 30th, 1914.
We are still in billets and still under a heavy fire; a nasty cold rain is falling, and altogether it is very disagreeable, excepting that it would be worse in the trenches, as being more cold and wet. Well, last night we discovered a pigeon loft in the ruined part of the town, and as we have orders to destroy all these birds we put a guard on it, and Major B—— and I walked down to the Brigade office and asked if we could kill the lot. We found, however, that it was supposed to belong to the French Army, so we returned sorrowfully home. On our way we had a near shave, for out of the darkness whizzed a shrapnel shell. I heard it coming, having very quick ears, and shouted "Down!" It was rather amusing to see what happened. The three men stood stock still, and gazed like owls solemnly into the dark. Major B ... walked rapidly forward in the direction he was then going, whilst I gave a flying jump and was face downward in orthodox style in a second and into a ditch. The shrapnel landed its contents within 20 yards of us, but all escaped unhurt, I'm thankful to say. We managed to get under cover before the next one came. Such is our life here, though we are politely said to be resting! It is fairly raining shrapnel 200 yards up the road now, but what I am on the look-out for are high-explosives, as they are so much more dangerous to troops amongst buildings. The other day, on November 9th, we heard a tremendous burst of firing, and in The Times of November 23rd I see it is thought that the British guns caught the German reserves forming up for an attack on us, and destroyed them in large numbers. Certainly, as Colonel Napier says, it is an awful war. However, I notice that a lot of German fuses do not explode their shells, which makes me think they have not got quite so good a supply of stuff as they try to make us believe! I want very much to go out, but, on the whole, I think it is safer to stay in at present. Sir John Ross will have his work cut out to write the history of the Coldstream Guards for this war. My mind is so full at present that I cannot say if I shall be able to write ours, even if I come through all right. However, I keep an official war diary, which will always help greatly. These brutes have now changed from shrapnel to high explosives, which are whirling over our heads and bursting in the town about 400 yards farther down. I hope they will not drop one short and put it in here, which would be good-bye to all of us....
LETTERS OF DECEMBER, 1914.
IN TRENCHES. December 2nd, 1914.
MY DEAR F——
Am sitting in my dug-out scrawling this by the light of a signaller's lamp. I was awake at 4.30 a.m., working hard practically ever since, and it is now dark with a beautiful moon rising. I have been very busy trying to get ahead of a German trench which they had sapped up to us. We arranged to have it stormed by Capt. O'Sullivan and Mr. Graham, but as the Royal Engineers could not let me have an officer to put a mine in just then, it had to be postponed for one day; and that brings us out of our trenches, as we are supposed to go into rest billets to-morrow night. Well, I have now settled that a battery of Field Artillery is to fire on them at fixed hours during the night, and Mr. T—— has been sent down there with his machine gun, so it is quite on the cards that we shall have a merry evening! I hear the guns opening as I write, and wonder if our friends, who greatly outnumber us, will rush us to-night or not. If they knew how very weak we were, I expect they would try!
I forgot to tell you that I was ordered to send away a Major, and consequently Major Alston had to go to the 2nd Battalion with two other officers. During my rounds this morning with the General he incautiously exposed himself, and he was instantly fired at, the bullet striking between us as we stood about a yard apart. Also, two minutes after I had finished shaving early in the day, a bullet came through the place breaking the pane of glass. Such is Providence, and you see that, so looked after, it is as safe here as in England, if it is our Lord's will.... Your Mother sent me a second paper to fill in. It is curious to be a Trustee and do such work in the trenches. The sniping that is going on now is perfectly deafening.
IN TRENCHES. December 3rd, 1914.
We go out of the trenches to-night, and after marching six miles to try and avoid the German shells we shall all put up at a small town where for the first time since November 10th we shall not be under fire, and when we shall have the opportunity of taking off our boots and sleeping without them, also for the first time since we left our port of landing on November 7th. The poor Colonel I took this dug-out from was killed last week, as I saw by the papers. He was a nice sensible man. I shall not be sorry to get out to-night and into bed for a change. My sleep yesterday was from 12 midnight to 5 a.m., and I was awakened three times to answer messages. No chance of any more during the 24 hours before or after. By the way, a story that happened quite lately might amuse you. An old Frenchwoman came to a house occupied by our cooks, and asked whether she might get some clothes out; for all the houses are deserted by the inhabitants. She presented a recommendation, obviously written in English by a foreigner. We thought her suspicious, detained her, took the permit, and sent her away without allowing her in. We cannot arrest her, as the Staff will not let us do so. Well, she then came and found out where the observation station of the heavy artillery was, and was seen to go into the building opposite, take some clothes, and come out, shutting the door and fastening the shutters; this marked the house, and she had not been gone 20 minutes when four shells landed together and blew the place to pieces, just missing the observation post! Of course she was a spy for the Germans, who watched from a church some distance off through a telescope, and so were shown where the station was. Then the guns opened on our cooks, but passed them, knocking down a wall alongside. Curious that we are not allowed to intern these people; but the French authorities object. Probably many messages are sent to the Germans by underground wires.
P.S.—The last of this note is rather disjointed, but that is because I have been giving a learned dissertation on the best means of circumventing a German sap approaching us.
IN BILLETS. December 4th, 1914.
We left our trenches yesterday without regret, and retired some six miles way to a little country town about the size of Newry, where we are quartered, or rather billeted, for a couple of days before we go back again to our diggings. The exchange had to be done in the dark, and I got the regiment away without casualties, which was better than the night we went in, when I lost two men killed. It is strange being out of fire for the first time for three weeks, and nobody being killed or wounded beside one at present! Also it seems funny to see people walking again in the streets, and to hear children's voices, instead of only soldiers dodging from house to house whilst these latter are falling to pieces about their ears and all around them. Your things duly arrived, and are at this moment being distributed to the men, and are much appreciated by them, excepting the chest protectors, which I suspect they will not wear! I am glad you have done so well with the plum-pudding fund for the Regiment. Your Mother's offering was most generous, and Aunt E——'s too. We came out of the trenches by creeping down ditches, and then assembled at a place a mile away in the moonlight, and we stole cautiously along, leaving gaps between us, so that if we were shelled we should only lose a certain number. Many of the men could hardly stand, their feet were so numbed with the cold of the trenches, but we got them safely in about 10 p.m., and they are sleeping in all sorts of queer places. One lot are in a granary four stories high. There is only one ladder, so it will take nearly half an hour to get four hundred men out of the building. By-the-bye, you might tell Sir John Ross of a feat done by a Russian bullet which I would not have believed possible. The bullet struck one of our rifle barrels. Of course the distance was only 400 yards, but it cut clean through the massive steel barrel as if it had been butter! I know that it always takes four feet of earth to stop it. I have to go over now to dine with our Divisional Commander, General Davis. It seems so odd getting a night off like this. Khaki dress, of course. It was not my Brigade which did the bayonet charge; when that occurs, you will see the casualty list will be full of killed and wounded officers of this Regiment, I am afraid. It was my old Battalion, the 2nd R.I.R.
P.S.—I hear that my old friend Capt. Kennedy was amongst them, and died from his wounds. I am so sorry.
IN BILLETS. December 5th, 1914.
No letters to-day. Report says that the Germans have blown the railway up, but I do not think so. It is much more probable that one of the bridges has broken through overwork. As a matter of fact, they did blow up some bridges at the beginning of the war, and the French had to put in temporary ones, and these are most likely giving way now. It is very cold, with hail and sleet. I should think the trenches will be worth seeing when we go back to them to-morrow. I only wish the war was over, but one has to put up with these things. I see from your letter that you are sending us a plum pudding from Rostrevor House. If this is so, please thank your aunt for her kindness. It will be well received. As to the comforts for the men, those you sent by post have arrived, but not all coming through the forwarding officer. In any case, they are amply supplied now, and only require things which are not given by Government, such as gloves, cigarettes and matches, and the two latter they often get from friends. I had a gigantic consignment from the York Street Linen Mills in Belfast, and wrote to thank the directors. Please send me a cake of Toilet Soap, Pears or any sort will do—not too big—if it will go in my soap box. I had a pleasant little dinner last night on Ration Beef at the General's. He told me, with regard to the shooting of General Delarey in S. Africa, that it was now said the Government out there meant to shoot Beyers as well, as they were both supposed to be in the swim to raise a rebellion, but I cannot believe it. The other guest was Col. Wedderburn, who is the Hereditary Standard Bearer of Scotland, and is in charge of a Militia Battalion out here. He is a very nice fellow too. I am off to try to see General Keir of the 6th Division.
IN BILLETS. December 6th, 1914.
I have had the Regiment at church, and now I am dashing off a note to you before I change and get into my old clothes. You will be glad to hear that Sir John's chamois leather waistcoat fits me quite well. I tried it on here, because it is "unhealthy" to stand up in the trenches. I went over yesterday and saw Gen. Keir, whom I served under in South Africa. He commands a Division in this war, and is another old friend of mine, like General Inglefield. The road I took was paved with cobble stones in the middle, and on each side was a sea of mud, a specimen of what they are like about here, as there is no stone in the country, only clay. It was very nice getting out on horseback again for ten or twelve miles, even along such a road as that. All the French farmhouses have more artistic fronts than ours; smart shutters, etc., give them an imposing appearance, but it begins and ends there fairly well, I think! The town in which we are is the same as a poor part of Belfast might be—a long paved street; mean houses, and shops on either side, with dirty little slums running off to the right and left. Then here and there you come to a better class of house looking rather out of proportion. I suppose these are the remains of the old ones, when it was a village occupied by some prosperous doctor or tradesman. However, I have not been able to find out if there are any gentry in the place. Our hostess is the widow of a French officer, but she appears to live in the kitchen! I asked the Mess sergeant whether the French people did anything curious in their cooking, and he at once said, "Yes; they never eat any meat, only vegetables and pork!" Our Divisional General, a Guardsman who is a great stickler for everything being quite right, was horrified the other day when crossing a bridge to see a Special Reserve sentry of the "Black Watch" with his rifle between his knees and his face buried in a bowl of soap. Of course, his job was to watch the bridge and to present arms to the General. So the latter sternly asked him if he was the sentry, and he received the affable reply: "I am; and I am vera cold." History does not relate any more! Well, I must give you my best wishes with my present for Christmas. It seems a long time off yet, but you know how slowly the post goes. I really think I have had no letters from anyone since I arrived here excepting yourself.
IN TRENCHES. December 7th, 1914.
I am sorry to tell you that on the way to the trenches we lost poor Captain Allgood, whom you will remember. I had ordered everyone to return, wished them good luck, and was waiting to see that they were all in whilst the Germans were sniping us, when someone came and reported to me that a man had been shot through the shoulder by the same bullet which I afterwards heard was believed to have killed Capt. Allgood. The stretcher-bearers brought the latter in, and I sent for the doctor at once, but he could only pronounce him to be dead also! He was shot through the heart, and fell down remarking: "I am hit, but I am all right," and never spoke or moved again. He leaves one little daughter and his young wife. I did not like taking him out here on account of his being married, and now he really has been killed. I have just written to his wife, though I have never seen her. Still, that is part of a Colonel's business. Poor Capt. Allgood! He looked so peaceful lying on the stretcher. We are rather miserable in the trenches, as we have to live in a sea of mud. I think it is worse this time than ever. I have been busy getting it shovelled out and trying to cheer everyone up. Yesterday when we were coming in, the Germans started shelling the village we had to go through. I moved round it by another road and saved my men, and sent a message to the G.O.C. saying that I had been obliged to do this. Last night I received a telegram from Sir Henry Rawlinson that the Germans were expected to attack. They did not, fortunately, but they are now playing on us with their machine guns. So we are very busy! A cheerful life!
IN TRENCHES. December 9th, 1914.
Just a line to try and keep up my regular custom of writing to you every day whenever I can! A shell descended yesterday in the cottage I run across to for my meals. I had just left, but I fancy there were still enough people on the spot to be badly frightened. The Guard over me from the Lincoln Regiment all fell or were blown down by the explosion. Little Mr. Wright also was surprised. However, only Major Baker's servant was hurt by a blow from a broken tile which cut his chest, and another man was hit by a flying brick. After that I was showing the General and other celebrities round the trenches. In one place they really had a most amusing time, running down a very muddy ditch crouched up double, whilst stray bullets flew about, and the shell burst fortunately just 200 yards beyond us. Nasty stuff, too; a tree about 50 feet high was caught by the explosion and cut off just half way up. We go back to our shell-swept area for 3 days, though whether we are much safer there I do not know, but we certainly are more comfortable. Here with the rain there has been a steady drip into the dug-out, and added to this the trenches have fallen in, and they, of course, are ankle deep in mud. Mud is everywhere; on my face, on my coat, and up nearly to my waist. I hear that the hostess of our last billets turned rusty with the next people, and refused to let them into her house, so had to come under the correction of the Provost Marshal. I thought she would get into trouble. Your postcard was very amusing. I heard from General Macready two days ago. The guns are booming away, but the sniping has decreased to-day.
I have to stop for duty now....
IN BILLETS. December 10th, 1914.
We marched away from our trenches last night, and no one was hit, fortunately. A machine gun opened on us just before we started, and gave three bursts of fire, and of course the sniping went on steadily as usual. I soon found out that this gun fire was drawn by a foolish corporal of the Lincolnshire Regiment, who, in cooking his guards' suppers, had a fire with flames four feet high. A few biting words relieved my feelings and put the fire down! Still bullets did fly around us, over our heads and beside us, while we passed along in the black night. Mr. Wright, my Adjutant, saw one strike in a puddle between him and myself as we marched at the head of the Regiment. You will be interested to know what our 72 hours in the trenches cost us. Of course I cannot tell you our casualties for fear this letter should be read by the enemy, but if you remember the number of our house in Victoria Park, Dover, and General H——'s combined, that was the amount of my killed and twice that of my wounded; so you see what a business it all is. Please God the Germans will shortly have had enough. I used to say that they were losing a quarter of a million men every fortnight. Now, however, it has turned out that mine was an under-estimate, and that they are really losing 300,000 a fortnight, more than I gave them credit for. People thought me over-sanguine, but now they say I am rather a good judge. We have just heard the news of the naval battle off the Falkland Islands this morning, and we are very elated. My idea is that Germany's frantic attacks on the Russians and on ourselves here will wear her out faster even than if we attacked; and "it will arrive," as the French say, that she will be so done that she will have to surrender at discretion, because her population will fight no longer. I wonder whether Sir John agrees with my views. Personally, I think it surprising that Bavaria has gone on as long as she has. I fancy that she will be the first of the German Federals to jib. Your letter of the 1st arrived whilst I was writing this, also a joint letter from Hal and Blanche; I was so glad to get all three. As to clothes, I keep an old suit for the trenches; when I get out and have to go anywhere, I turn out quite smartly, excepting that my boots and leggings are "dubbed" with grease instead of being polished. When my old suit is done, my form will be encased in Government khaki garments with my badges of rank transferred, and that will keep me going to the end of the war.
I hope you thanked Mrs. Horsborgh for the donation to the Regiment on my behalf. It was very little I was able to do for her husband beyond burying him, but it was a kind thought of hers. The chamois leather waistcoat is the comfort of my life, thanks to Sir John, and the idea of another plum pudding from Aunt Blanche is already making us feel better. I had my first tub since I came across to-day. I think it was a pig-tub, but I had it cleaned out and washed.
IN BILLETS. December 11th, 1914.
I received three letters from you yesterday. Two of December 4th, and one of the 1st inst. Likewise to-day a cake from Rostrevor House, for which many thanks from all of us, not forgetting to thank the cook! We wolfed half of it at luncheon, and the remainder is to grace our tea-table, when we have asked the two staff officers of the Brigade to come. I have just been out on a circuitous route to see my transport, which lies about 2-1/2 miles behind the town where I am billeted at present, just out of the range of any shells. I took a ride round to see how the country lay, riding hard with my heart in my mouth where there was any chance of fire, and sauntering along whenever it appeared to be safe. As a matter of fact, one hardly knows where to expect a shell. Three miles from this battery the other day shrapnel burst within 20 yards of me. Ten yards nearer, and I would, humanly speaking, have been done. Well, now as to your kind gift of a sheepskin coat and gloves, I am afraid I cannot keep them, for there are no means of carrying them, unfortunately. As a matter of fact, much as I should like them, all these things mean so many pounds extra kit. I am only allowed 50 lbs. in weight, so when you have taken into account a heavy pair of boots, one's blankets and valise, second coat, and riding breeches, there is really no room for more. I have to see that everyone does not exceed 35 lbs. (I, being the Colonel, am allowed 15 lbs. more kit), but I cannot in honour exceed my weight. I keep wondering whether we are likely to move forward shortly. I fancy that our German friends are being shaken up by Russia, whilst I am sure it is a question of time when Hungary goes for Austria. In great haste.
December 12th, 1914.
Last night was a red-letter day, for two plum puddings arrived from Rostrevor House, and also the refill for my battery before the old one ran out, so I am quite happy as to that point now. I have also written to Aunt B——. Many thanks for the figs. Isn't it strange how one always becomes a child again when one gets on a campaign and requires food of all sorts like a schoolboy, though the Government gives quite enough, and good solid food too. I had a parcel from Aunt H——yesterday, with one of her usual kind letters; I seized the woollen cap for myself, and I am quite sure it is much better for sleeping in in the trenches than the muffler you knitted for me, as the ends always get entangled in the mud of that rather dreadful place. By the way, when you have time, please send me a piece of shaving soap. I have stuck to shaving steadily, and propose doing so unless you want me to grow a beard! I was very much surprised when, after seven days without being able to shave, to see my face come out perfectly black all over! I thought I was fair, so apparently my moustache is a fraud! Is it not funny?
IN TRENCHES. December 13th, 1914.
We marched out to the trenches with very little firing, and found that the whole of them were more or less full of water. While visiting one company last night about 5.45 a.m. I had to wade through water just below the top of my leggings. What that means by remaining afterwards in wet boots I leave you to judge. I managed to get mine changed at 11 a.m., as I had a dry pair of socks in my holsters, and put my feet back into the wet boots. In one place which I have not yet walked through, the water is actually up to the waist. One sergeant of the Lincoln Regiment was left for us to dig out, as he was hopelessly bogged when his regiment had to march away; whilst another man was pulled out by main force and left his boots behind him, and after walking a mile in bare feet was put into a cart. The enemy have had the audacity to open on us with a machine gun, and spent last night with it trying to shoot down my principal communication trench, so, as I have more or less placed the gun, I am asking the artillery to fire on it without delay. A curious way of spending the third Sunday in Advent, shivering with cold in a dug-out, with lots of bullets humming overhead, but not so many shells just at present. The men and officers are having a bad time, but war is never pleasant.
P.S.—The sequel to the maxim gun fire is that one of my men has been knocked down and hit in the leg, in the arm, and back of the head. The fact being that he was going for water, and finding the ditch very dirty, foolishly jumped out, and was promptly knocked over at once. The enemy is now shelling over our heads most cheerfully. One wonders when all this will stop....
IN TRENCHES. December 14th, 1914.
Here I am in my dripping dug-out, even more so than usual. The water is up to my waist in some places. Things are moving, I think, and perhaps our friends the Germans may shortly move also. We have been pouring shells on the poor dears all day. This morning I was lucky in getting hold of a German helmet. The Divisional General has been screaming for one for days, as we wish to find out what troops are in front of us. I have had patrols prowling about everywhere at nights trying to catch a prisoner. Yesterday morning, for a wonder, we found some Germans patrolling outside their trenches, and fired upon them, but they got away. This was just at daybreak; but, going very carefully over the ground as soon as we could in the dark, we came upon a helmet, either dropped in flight, or else one of the men had been hit. However, we carried it off in triumph, and so found out for the General what he wanted to know. Thanks for your news. As to poor Mr. Innes Cross of our regiment, who is missing, I know nothing. The other or 2nd Battalion might tell you something. A machine gun has been going hard at my trench for some time, off and on....
IN TRENCHES. December 15th, 1914.
It was our evening to go off to the town six miles away for the three days in every twelve, which we get to steady our nerves, I suppose. Unfortunately, some other operations had to be carried out, so we were not able to leave, after all, and we are still here, worse luck! I was summoned this morning to go up a road to meet the General. I found him in a farm, having been obliged to take cover from rifle fire. After the business was settled, I saw him off to comparative safety, and then trudged back to our trenches, meeting a stretcher with one of our men shot through the chest below the heart when he was on the road, also on duty. I will say this for the men, that whilst I go off duty with my heart in my mouth and hurry through it, they saunter about, and no amount of checking will make them understand that it is dangerous to idle about in the open. Afterwards they are hit—if not seriously wounded. They are very like little children, rather annoyed, but in their hearts, I am sure, secretly glad that they have escaped from the awful squalor of the trenches to the comparative comfort of a wounded man in hospital. It is turning a little colder now, which will be really a great improvement over the sloppy weather we have been having. My headquarters are being moved from my awful dug-out to a house, or rather cottage, where I shall not feel the cold quite so much; but I sincerely hope that the enemy will not find out where I am, as they will then shell me out of existence! I must close now to get ready to move....
IN TRENCHES. December 16th, 1914.
As I told you in yesterday's letter, I have moved my headquarters back 400 yards, so now I am about 700 yards behind the firing line, and something like 1,100 yards from the Germans. We are in a house of sorts which has mysteriously escaped being destroyed. It is protected by a barn more or less ruined, and so the bullets miss it, and also the shells, though they burned a building within four yards of us. This is the house near by which I saw five shells burst the first day I came up here. It was most weird last night as I was lying on the floor to hear bullet after bullet strike the wall; one has come through the window, but that was unusual. When the native troops were in here, they lost three men killed at the front door, but I think we have polished off that sniper since then. Sometimes the bullets glance off the brickwork with a shower of sparks. It is very unhealthy to go out on either side of the farmhouse. I went my rounds yesterday in the evening. Such a time I have never had! Imagine going along a trench just wide enough for your shoulders; your head up to the original level of the ground, and the earth piled up on either side for two or three feet; the bottom was soft mud with water well above the knees. One sank into this whilst one struggled on, carrying revolver or rifle. In my case, revolver strapped on, and holding up my cloak to prevent it getting under my feet in my dreadful flounders. Several times I nearly stuck for good, but just managed to get through. I succeeded in putting on dry things afterwards, but the men, I am sorry to say, could not do so. I asked the doctor to go and inspect this morning, and see if there was anything he could suggest. He went off cheerfully enough, but came back two hours later a dirtier, if a wiser, man, and his only remark to me was: "Well, it will not last. No men could stand that very long!" I replied that we must do so longer than the Germans. The pheasants duly arrived, and we are grateful as ever. I have written to your Mother.
There is a big fight going on to our left about fifteen miles away.
IN TRENCHES. December 17th, 1914.
You are safely in Carlton, I trust, by now. I am afraid I wish I was there, too, in one sense, though certainly not in another. The war was none of our seeking, but it has got to be seen through by anything that calls itself a soldier! What I feel is the constant discomfort, not to mention the danger; of the latter there is no doubt, and our trenches are right to the fore. We had quite enough of it yesterday with rifle bullets. To-day they varied the entertainment by putting big shells about us, fortunately not on us, so our battery had to change its position. Of course, we, the infantry, must hold our ground, and cannot move.... Enclosed is the Special Order of the Day; perhaps you would like to keep it. I am having a luncheon party to-day to eat the pheasants and plum pudding. It consists of Col. MacAndrew and one of his officers who have come up the road from the headquarters of the Lincoln Regiment, which is on our right. The guns are shooting cheerfully again over our heads, but I am feeling very fit, having just had a hot tub—the first for some time. Your French postcard was returned to me by the stupid post, so I shall try and send it to you in an envelope, as you want to keep it for a curiosity. Many thanks for the turkey. I do not see why you should worry so much to send me things, ... but it is most good of you. Thanks for mittens; I think everyone here is now more or less supplied; but mine made by you will be much esteemed. I am sorry that your cousin, Sir Standish Roche, has gone and that S—— will now be a widow. I must close.
I do not think any of us can get away on leave at present, and if we could, I hardly like leaving the men in the trenches.
IN TRENCHES. December 18th, 1914.
We are at present apparently preparing for some adventure or other! One never knows how these affairs will turn out. This is indeed the most trying of wars; our life is one of incessant fighting. My experience of last night will illustrate the sort of thing that goes on. I wanted to go round my trenches, but a party of recruits came in just at that time; one was hit on the road half a mile back. He, poor fellow! was taken to hospital, and will probably be in England within ten days of leaving it. So I saw them away, and started to follow them up. I then dived down into a ditch and staggered along, my boots covered with foul mud and water, whilst a sniper commenced to try and take the trench I was in; enfilade it, they call it. Well, I went farther on up the ditch, getting worse and worse into the mire right over my knees. The mud actually worked its way through my leggings to my skin. I wandered on, heavy sniping hissing over my head or into the parapet, covering me with clay occasionally. Of course, everyone who lives in these particular trenches has wet feet day and night. Having been round and talked to everybody and done my best to cheer them up, I met and had a word with Capt. Rodney. He remarked: "Do not stay where you are, sir, I beg of you, for my servant was shot and killed just on that spot, and another man was wounded by the same bullet." It went clean through a book that the unfortunate man was reading. So I discreetly toddled, or rather waded, home about midnight. This morning one of my men was shot through the lungs, not far from our room, and he died at once. This just shows you what a time we go through here, always having to keep our eyes open! Poor Capt. Whelan was killed, I saw in yesterday's paper. He had been lent to the Royal Irish Regiment. Well, good-bye....
IN TRENCHES. December 19th, 1914.
This morning your kind present of ginger cake, plum pudding, and mittens, also soap, arrived, for all of which many thanks. You will be interested to hear what was going on last night, which I did not like to tell you at the time I was writing. We had been summoned in the morning to receive the General's order for an attack on a trench by the Rifle Brigade. The real attack, however, was to be made by someone else on quite another part of the line. We were to demonstrate. Well, if you ever heard Hell let loose, it was whilst I was writing that letter. Probably over fifty guns took part in it, and the firing was quite close overhead. It may have been 100 guns really—some very heavy ones. Then about 10 miles of trenches were blazing away at the Germans, and they were blazing back at us. Bullets were racing through our roof, and there I sat in a little room, shivering with cold for we could light no fire. I was not allowed to go into my firing line, but sat near the two telephones connecting me with the Artillery and with my own Regiment. A reinforcement of some Territorials was sent to help us. We finished up by capturing the trenches and also some prisoners, while the Rifle Brigade then went off to the trench that they visit occasionally, and there found a German who had been dead for about a fortnight. This was the net result of the little engagement; but it was very long drawn out at the time. In the morning, when the troops returned, the Germans caught the company moving with shell, and only that Major Baker and myself flew for our lives and hurried people about, we should have lost a lot. I have seldom used worse language! It had its comic side, too, for several of the men got so frightened that they fell into a cesspit in trying to take cover, and two were knocked over and wounded. It is very nasty having shell whistling over your head and bursting all around. At the present moment our batteries have opened again, but nothing like the business of last night. Two more of my fellows were badly hit at the same time, and I had to send a man to give them morphia while awaiting the doctor. Another near squeak was a bullet striking beside me from a glancing shot where I was standing, as I thought, in absolute safety. I am enclosing you a letter from Mrs. Allgood; she is a plucky woman. I had a very nice letter from Sir J—— R—— The bombardment of Scarborough was a cruel affair. Now the country will have to see it through....
DEAR MRS. LAURIE,
I have made a great effort, as I cannot draw, to produce a Christmas card for you; it is the house (?) that the Colonel and I live in! Very old, and much knocked about by a shell in part of the roof, and bullet holes through it and both the windows, as I have endeavoured to show. In times of peace it is a very small public house, 3 rooms and a garret in which I live. The Colonel is very well, and seems to enjoy plodding knee-deep through the mud in the trenches. The Germans roused us this morning by dropping pieces of shell on our little house. We have just lunched off a most excellent turkey which you sent; it was splendid.
I hope men do not get mud fever like horses; if so, we ought to do so!
I trust that the war will have come to an honourable end before many months, and that we may all meet again.
With very best wishes for 1915.
Yours very sincerely, W. CLINTON BAKER.
IN TRENCHES. December 20th, 1914.
I heard that our people of the 2nd Battalion were driven out of the trenches by bombs from the Germans, with a loss of 8 officers and 200 men, but that may be one of the many yarns always spread about this sort of show. We have just this moment received a report that an attack is expected on us towards 4 p.m. It is now after 3 o'clock, and we have had to hurry indeed to get things ready. This morning, after our standing to arms, which always takes place at five o'clock, the Germans opened on us with heavy and moderate guns. The first shell sent the fuse through my roof, the next knocked a brick in at the side of the wall, and then I jumped out and started putting the men into covered ditches. We had between 50 and 100 shells thrown at us within three-quarters of an hour, but fortunately no one was hit. All the time, of course, rifle fire went on as usual. Such was our Advent Sunday's amusement, and the shelling continued intermittently during the whole of the morning. Our trenches are a perfect bog; I shall find some difficulty in getting round them to-night even if we are not driven out of them. As to the shelling of the East Coast, you should see what these places look like after the enemy gets through with them, for their guns (howitzers) fire nearly as large shells as warships do from their guns. The man who brought the message to me was blown off his bicycle as he came along by four shells bursting and knocking down two or three houses beside him, two miles to the rear of us. Life is too awful for description out here now, and the men feel desperate at times. Whether the Germans are equally badly off I do not know, but there is little doubt that they must be; still, they are such a disciplined nation that it is difficult to see where the first break will come, excepting that as Germany consists in reality of several nations put together, the smaller ones may think it worth while to break off from the Empire and to make terms for themselves. My opinion is that Hungary will shortly do this. By the way, what we thought was another plum pudding turned out to be your turkey, and it was voted the best one we ever tasted! Many thanks for it and the pheasants, which also arrived this morning....
IN TRENCHES. December 21st, 1914.
Your letter of December 15th, in which you said that you had got back to Carlton, arrived last night. I wish I could run across and see you, but it will be hard for me to get a fortnight just now like your cousin Massereene. You see, he is Cavalry, and attached to the Staff Headquarters of the Division; so also is Percy Laurie. Major S. McClintock got leave, so I hope mine will come in due course, but even then I am not sure I can leave my men. I think I told you in my letter last night that we received a frantic message from our Brigadier-General to expect an attack at 4 p.m. As a matter of fact, there was less fighting than usual, and I lost fewer men. My night's experiences were almost humdrum! Leaving my ruin at 9.15 p.m., accompanied by my bugler and clad in my old waterproof, I sallied out and ran the gauntlet of some snipers from the German lines, then dived into my ditch, floundered up it in mud for about a quarter of a mile, perhaps more, secured some Engineers I have at last got hold of to improve the place, went on, saw Major Wright and Capt. Tee, both as deaf as possible from cold, etc. The water was steadily rising in their trenches, and had already flooded their dug-out; another one had fallen in, whilst their third was leaking badly; so, on the whole, they were not in a good way. Then I struggled on through the mud round the trenches, seeing that men were awake, that necessary digging was being carried out, that lights were not showing, that sentries were posted at proper points, and that officers visited them regularly; for all have to keep to their particular business in this horrible time. I got back to my ruins about 12.30 a.m., having sent a message to the gunners that some of their shells were pleasantly going into my trenches in the darkness, and not into the enemy's. By twenty minutes to 1 o'clock I had dry boots and garments on, and, wrapping myself in blankets, was fast asleep, despite artillery fire and infantry fighting on my right. I awoke at 3 o'clock, went round again, saw everything was right, then to sleep once more until 5.15 a.m., when I was up for good. It is a hard life. To-night we take two companies back to just outside rifle fire, the first time for ten days, though well within shell fire. We have only been out of that for three days since we came into trenches on November 15th. I have had various family letters which I hope to answer in time. Heard, or rather Major B—— did, from Lord Grenfell. I had sent him some message. He says that he thinks the Turks will not invade Egypt; but the great question in Russia which alone prevents this nation from crushing the German Army at once is the single line of railway that brings up their ammunition. Very unfortunate; for it will take us a little longer to beat these people.
IN BILLETS. December 22nd, 1914.
Your cake duly arrived. As, however, Major Baker also received one, we decided to eat his first, so mine is safely in its box, having escaped manifold dangers! Really one does have a complicated life of it at the front! To-day all my work was before me ready to do, when we received a frightened order to fall in at once, and did so. We were three hours at that game, and have not left the billets since. Various sorts of rumours reached us, the two most probable ones being that there were 6,000 Germans drawn up about two miles behind their lines, and the other that there was a fierce fight proceeding to the right of us. What those fights result in is the loss of anything up to 350 men and 14 or 15 officers, and we probably inflict twice that damage on the enemy. Well, this afternoon we have been covered with six-inch shells. Fortunately none have hit the house; but it is a constant strain. Yesterday we left our ruin and went back to these billets in the dark. We had to form up at certain cross roads, as a fight was raging, and I was afraid of spent bullets; I moved my men, who were waiting, under a house. No doubt they thought me rather a "funk," but appreciated my forethought when a few moments later two companies of another regiment were caught in the fire; one man had his head grazed, and another was hit through the back, narrowly missing his heart. Luckily, my doctor was with me, so that I was able to look after both of them at once. I saw in The Times that Austria had already been sounding Russia as to peace terms, but that she considered the terms proposed by Russia too hard. Of course she must make her choice, but she forgets that Hungary has nothing to lose by Russia's proposals and everything to gain, not only Peace. Russia's suggestion that Austria should make all her states, including Bohemia, into Federal States—viz., give them Home Rule—is exactly what Hungary wants, for she will then be head state of the Empire; not number two, as she is at present. Nothing would please her more than to see Austria broken up into a number of little States and Hungary ruling the roost. Well, these are my political remarks! It is a great blessing getting out of rifle fire, even for a minute. The constant strike of the bullets whirling round, or its scream as it ricochets over one's head, is very trying. I suppose there never has been a war in which one has required such staying power, excepting perhaps the Crimean expedition. It is late, so I must wish you good-bye.
Please send me more envelopes and writing paper.
IN TRENCHES. Christmas Eve, 1914.
I did not write to you yesterday, being extra busy. In the morning I had gone over on regimental business to see the Divisional Staff, and then on to inspect my transport, some miles back, out of shell fire. The unfortunate men are not so lucky as the horses, you see! Well, then I returned to luncheon with my General. Major B—— was with me, and we met there some officers of the Naval Brigade who defended Antwerp—or, rather, did not arrive in time to do so. Afterwards I hurried to my billet and hastily packed up all my kit, and marched the regiment down to the trenches. We had a new place to go to, somewhere nearer to the danger point of the line, I fancy. Well, one or two bullets came a bit too close as we were marching, and I was very thankful to get under cover. I am now in the ruins of a house. A shell had penetrated through it, but we stuffed up the hole with a bag of straw. The shattered windows are covered with boards in front; then we piled up bricks and nailed other boards behind. Between us and the enemy is a burnt-out house, which rings with the smack of the enemy's bullets as they hurtle against the wall or against the tiles. Opposite that, again, are our trenches, 400 yards away, and practically 400 yards from us also is the enemy's trench, as the line takes a bend there. I lie at nights ready armed, for one never knows what a minute may bring forth! I have told my people not to fire on Christmas Day if the enemy does not do so, but to trust him—not at all! So here I am spending Christmas Eve in the trenches—like my father did exactly 60 years ago in the Crimea. Only I think I am a good bit more comfortable than he was at that time. I used to be up at cockcrow when a small child on Christmas Day, to see what Santa Claus had brought me, and I shall be up early enough to-morrow in all conscience too, but for a different reason—standing to arms—so that I shall not get my throat cut. The news of troubles in Berlin looks encouraging. However, one must not build too much on that, but I have great hopes of Hungary and Austria coming out of the war. To-day I have been round my new trenches; only half of them are new, though, and, as usual, are swimming in liquid mud. One of the men there had to be carried away with his eye knocked out by a bullet which had come through the parapet. Again my casualties for killed and wounded you can find by multiplying the number of your uncle's house in Dublin by three, and then subtracting ten from the total. [This number would be 98.] I suppose our sick are more than twice that amount. Best of love to you for Christmas. Whilst you are in church I shall be in the trenches, but both doing our rightful duty, I trust.
Yours ever, G.B.L.
As to school for Hal, you have done quite rightly. Mrs. Napier has a pet school for boys, kept by a cousin of hers, I fancy, that ought to be a fairly useful one.
"CHRISTMAS IN THE CRIMEA.
"HOW IT WAS CELEBRATED NEAR BALACLAVA IN 1854.
"BY LIEUT.-GENERAL LAURIE, C.B., M.P.
"In some of his Christmas annuals Charles Dickens delighted to portray the misanthropic