I missed posting on Thursday – my regular day. Here is another letter from Alexander Henry Tod to his parents in Scotland.
Here I am safely back in billets again, for three days. We got back late this afternoon in a downpour and it had been raining since last night. This following on the frost has made the trenches practically uninhabitable and I don’t know [how] our relieving battalion are going to stick it if the weather doesn’t improve immediately. They are mere ditches full of water. Most of the dug-outs have collapsed and there were many narrow escapes of being tried alive both from that and the miniature landslides caused by the trenches falling in. How we are going to get through the winter in them is a mystery. The long communication trenches are not much better and it is one of the things in the war I shall never forget – these interminable struggles to and from the line. You may not believe it, but several of the men had to leave their boots in the mud – it was so deep and sticky.
We had the usual exchange of compliments, with the addition of rifle grenades and trench mortars, which latter are thrown up almost perpendicular to a great height from the opposite trenches and land with a terrific thud and blow everything to smithereens. They are great lumps of things (called rum jars) and you can follow their flight in the air, which gives you a chance to scuttle for cover. Otherwise things were fairly quiet [!!] as evidently the conformation [he might mean formation] of the line did not permit the Bosche to shell us. We had very few casualties and only one fatal. This followed on a most unusual incident. The German line was not 50 yards from ours and we had saps running out from our respective trenches to almost touching point. We had just had breakfast when a German got out of his trench and with his hands above his head came over no man’s land towards our line. I may say that prior to this they had been shouting over to us that they wanted to surrender and we thought this was the first move. He stopped half way and waited and we sent out a corporal to see what it was all about. The German gave him a note and that seemed the end of his mission. Our ambassador tried to steal his cap, as a souvenir, but didn’t succeed and after grinning at each other for a bit they returned to their respective trenches.
Meantime the men on both sides had been showing themselves pretty freely, and for a time being there was no war. The note said, “Don’t shoot; come over; we are very comfortable.” A queer sort of message and I suppose referred, ironically, to the state of their trenches. H.Q. got wind of it and the major came round the firing line and put an end to the tomfoolery. Immediately afterwards, one of our men put his head over the parapet for a last wave and was immediately shot for his trouble. The whole thing was probably a ruse on their part to find out who was opposite them and anything else they could find out.
I am glad to hear you are all keeping well. I am beginning to revive too in front of a coke brasier and looking forward to a good sleep.
The first letter from Alexander Henry Tod somewhere in France can be found here.