Henry Tod wrote a brief letter to his parents on November 6th with “nothing new to report” although he does mention receiving his “Russian top-boots” and being “served out with goatskins which give us some protection in the still small hours”. He titles his next letter (10th November, 1915) with the heading “In the trenches”.
It is a long time since I had a letter from you and I am afraid the post has gone wrong. I think I have only had one letter from you since I arrived in these parts some six weeks ago. The post is the event of the day, no matter where we are and everything else goes by the board when the letters arrive. My last was written on the eve of going up to the line for the second time and we duly got here after the usual back-breaking trudge through endless communication trenches [essentially connecting trenches] and relieved the Seaforths. We are a little to the right of our old position but no great improvement except that we weren’t quite so close to the Bosche. We are up for 12 days but three days at a stretch in the firing line is as much as you can stand and we are back for two days “rest” in the reserve trenches. We were heavily shelled in the line all the time but got off pretty cheaply with about a dozen casualties.
They can still enfilade us [a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end] from where they are and it worries the life out of you as it is difficult to get the right angle for cover, even when the shell burst clear of the trench. It is the weather and exposure, however, that is the real trial as the attentions of the enemy are more or less periodical, whereas in these tumble down trenches you get little shelter from anything and what with one thing and another you are on the go all the time with hardly a wink of sleep. However you forget all about that once you can stretch yourself to sleep and get a change of gear.
It is impossible to keep dry no matter what you wear. You stand in mud at the best of times and more often than not in water anything up to a foot deep. My Russian boots are the envy of the brigade from the General downwards but even these are not proof against this sort of thing, although they keep my feet warmer much longer than the others. Neither are they the best things for marching as they are rather loose fitting. However I have the knack of keeping myself fairly comfortable compared to most. It mean carrying more in your pack up to the line, but it is worth it. We have out goat skins and we are a queer looking lot of tykes in full war paint. I get a number of things sent out from Stirling, Highgate and Liverpool which are very much appreciated, so next time you are writing please add your thanks to mine. We move into the support (second line) trenches tomorrow.
The first letter from Alexander Henry Tod can be found here – each letter contains a link to the next one. All can be found under the category Somewhere in France.
The next letter – 16th November 1915 – 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.