Christmas is hectic in our household and I thought I might skip blogging for the week. Instead, I’ve decided to reproduce more my husband’s great uncle’s letters from somewhere in France.
I have now joined my battalion and we are in billets some 10 miles behind the firing line in a little mining village. This is active service right enough and the quaint holes and corners in which we have been tucked away is quite funny to me, whatever it may be to the old campaigners. The Headquarters staff is in a boot shop. The officers mess for A and B companies (I am in B company and am responsible for Platoon No. 5, which is 44 strong at the moment) is in an ironmonger’s and C and D companies’ mess is in the front parlour of a small cottage. Where all the men are I have not yet been able to fathom. Two other subs and myself are in the top story of a sort of tenement. There is one bed and as I did not win the toss I am sleeping on the floor in my valine, which, all said and done, I prefer to any bed. We detrained at Bethune (tell it not) [side note – Ian and I stayed at a hotel close to Bethune a few years ago] on our way up, but for some time prior to that we could hear the rumble of the guns when the train came to one of its frequent stops. We are well within range of the guns here and in fact B. was shelled only two two ago, but apparently no great damage done. At present we are about opposite La Bassee [southwest of Lille, east of Bethune]. I was introduced to our C.O. this morning, Colonel Purvis, who was in command of the battalion in that last big action. He is a good type and I don’t think it will be his fault if things go wrong.
We are a sorely depleted battalion, the C.O. and two other officers being the only ones to come through with whole skins and more than half the men gone [more than half!]. The new officers have practically all been drawn from the 13th (Reserve) so that I am among old friends. The C.O. told us today that we may move up to the line tomorrow and in any case we have to hold ourselves in readiness to move at an hour’s notice. I suppose we will go into the reserve trenches to start with.
I wonder if the war is just going to begin again now and if the long inactive spells in the trenches a thing of the past, unless of course the approach of winter again hold up our movements. Our airmen are very busy and are to be seen all day. I saw five of our machines in the air at one time yesterday. Today I was out with my men for the first time and marched them away for a bath at a colliery some 6 miles away. The British army is quite in possession in these parts and are to be seen everywhere. I saw a trainload of Indian troops and some French Colonial (native) troops and am just as glad they are on our side.
Talking of my platoon it feels strange taking over command of men who have been through the thickest and worst of the trouble so far, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to them. They are wonderfully well disciplined and have proved themselves good stuff.
It is near dinner time so will wind up this. I will write as frequently and regularly as possible.
These letters began on October 9th, 1915. You can find the rest of them by searching the tag or category ‘Somewhere in France’.
The next letter can be found here.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.