Henry Tod has a “pretty rotten time” in the trenches according to his next letter home to his parents.
I have your letters of 24th December and note all your news with interest. I am glad to see you are both keeping fit and that mother has recovered from her recent indisposition. There is not much the matter with you Dad when you can go slay coyotes. [Note: although Henry was from Scotland, his father and two or three brothers had emigrated to Canada early in the 20th century, hence the reference to coyotes.] You were always pretty useful with a stout stick and I think we might with advantage turn you loose amongst our friends over the way.
We are back for a day’s rest and respite in “trench billets” and we go up to the line again tomorrow to complete our spell. We have had a pretty rotten time and had quite a number of casualties, including one officer killed. We don’t seem to have much luck as when we took over from 1st battalion — Highlanders, they told us it was quite a soft spot and not much doing. No doubt we asked for trouble as we started the ball with a heavy machine gun fire on a village just behind their line through which their reliefs are affected and a shower of rifle grenades into their trenches, just to show we had arrived. We got heavily shelled for our pains but that didn’t do so much damage as a fusillade of trench mortars which they sent over late yesterday afternoon.
They got the range pretty quickly and I suspect they were trying to get the aforesaid machine gun, which was hard by our dugout. Anyway, these heavy mortars were dropping all round us and one of them sent a small avalanche of earth and stone into our dugout, but we were safe.
The men in the vicinity were quick to take cover in another dugout which was luckily available but not before several shells were laid out and our dugout was converted into a hospital for the time being.
We had as a visitor an officer from “C” company, who were [C company that is] in support immediately behind us, and our friend had just returned from leave and was telling us all about his holiday, during which incidentally, he got married. He thought it was time he was getting back to his company and although we tried to dissuade him from going until the strafe was over, he insisted on it. Almost immediately afterwards word was brought in that he had been killed.
Two of us went out to see if we could do anything, but there he was lying a few paces from the dugout practically decapitated. We could only lay him out on the fire-step and come away for the time being. It was rather tragic but he simply walked into it, and if only for his week-old wife’s sake, he might have exercised a little more caution. He was an old 13th H.L.I man, like myself, and we came over to France together. He was an excellent soldier and quite a well known sprinter in his day.
We had some shelling here today and one casualty. Must turn in now as we shall be early on the move tomorrow. My turn for leave cannot be far off now but we are rather short of officers at the moment.
Startling how matter of fact Henry’s writing is. Perhaps that was the way he coped?
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. 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.