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Photo of German trench

Photo of German trench

Alexander Henry Tod has received his first letters from his parents and after acknowledging his pleasure goes on to tell his family the latest news.

We are in the middle of another spell in the trenches and after doing our bit in the firing line are enjoying life in the support line which happens to be an old front line of the Germans. They are very elaborate – what’s left of them – especially the dugouts, which are really splendid. Timbered with pit-props, this being a mining village, they are practically shellproof, unless in case of a direct hit, when nothing on earth is safe. Their entrances, unfortunately, now face the enemy guns [!!]. In front of the trench is a belt of barbed wire some 30 yards deep which must have been a terrible obstacle to our men, although fairly well torn up by our artillery. The whole region around is churned up with shell holes. These are now full of water which are frozen over these frosty mornings. The dug-outs are overrun with rats and mice which play hide and seek round you and over you, but as you are asleep the moment you lie down it doesn’t matter much. [he’s not sugar coating anything, is he?]

The only bird life visible are hawks and owls and occasional flocks of starlings. The general scene reminds me of the open sea with the trench as your ship – a darn sight safer in it than out of it! The surrounding country hereabout is a desolate waste, white in its general aspect from the chalky subsoil turned over from the trenches and shell holes. The trenches form a network everywhere. The main communication trenches are fairly well defined and of course have been photographed by the enemy airmen and their artillery play on them regularly, much to the discomfiture of the troops going to and from the firing line.

Our D company who are in the firing line at present are getting pretty much the same punishment we got. I don’t know if I told you four of my platoon were killed including the sergeant with one shell. My equipment was buried in the debris but I recovered everything except my shaving outfit. Yesterday a shell got home on the extreme left of our line where we touch the Argylls. A lot of men were huddled together, as they will do, and eight of them were killed outright, six of [theirs] and two of ours. The more you have of shell fire the less you get used to it. The uncertainty of where the next one is coming gets on your nerves and it is a great relief when it stops for a time. You have then to build up your trench, recover the dead, so that you never get away from the ghastly business. We are in the firing line three days at a stretch and it is quite enough [I believe these stretches were extended later in the war]. Sometimes the support trenches get it worse but there is usually better cover there.

It is difficult to get off the subject, as I have not much else to write about. We will soon be back in billets for six days rest and I hear that after another twelve day spell in the trenches, the Division goes back into reserve, which if true should give us a nice quiet time. If there are any points you would like enlightenment on just mention them. It looks as if I will get a good sleep tonight but you never know.

These letters began on October 9th, 1915. You can find the rest of them by searching the tag or category ‘Somewhere in France’. I plan to create a chronological list of them in the future.

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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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.