Somewhere in France – 26th February 1916

Time for another letter from Henry Tod. Imagine, February in the trenches.

12th H.L.I – B.E.F. France

Your welcome letters of 28th January to hand. The cold wave from which you have been suffering has reached here and we are under several inches of snow with keen frost at nights. Luckily we were in the reserve trenches when this started and had good dug-outs. At the moment we are back in billets. These however have been so knocked about that they are, if anything, colder than the dug-outs. No windows, or rather no glass in them, and most of the houses are roofless. We ought to have been sent further back for our rest and got better billets, but the present position is touchy and the Hun is evidently determined to get through somewhere, so we have to remain close up.

They broke through the French close on our right and took a considerable slice of their front trenches. Some of our artillery was switched over to the rescue and altogether there was a tremendous racket all night but they seem to have held him [the Hun] up all right.

We were in for our usual 12 days and altogether had it fairly quiet, especially from their artillery fire, which seems to have been diverted elsewhere. There was a large mine crater in front of us somewhat nearer the enemy line than ours and he was trying to establish himself in it but it was too easy a target for our bombs and mortars and the best he could do was to plant a defiant flag on his lip of the crater. We sniped at this in vain and could not bring it down. I had a go at it myself.

It was a dangerous lure, as the man whose rifle I borrowed can testify. He has a hole in his tin hat to remember the occasion. He subsided quickly onto the fire step but had soon sufficiently recovered to tell me that his ‘head was fair bummin’. The impact of the bullet on his helmet had stunned him and no more. Otherwise our friends over the way were fairly sociable and sang to us of an evening some ancient music hall ditty like “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do”, which quite tickled our fancy. He knew to a minute when we “stood to” both morning and evening and would shout over “stand to, Jock”. We were quite incapable of returning the compliment in German.

The wind has gone round in their favour and gas alarms are the order of the day, which further complicates one’s existence in these parts. The mens’ gas helmets have to be inspected twice a day and all precautions taken against surprise. It’s a great war, I tell you and as I heard someone remark – it is an overrated pastime. Life in billets consists chiefly in sleeping and eating, inspecting the mens’ kit and burnishing up our armour generally. We provide working parties up to the line for repairing trenches or helping the engineers to bore tunnels and we each take our turn in conducting them. I often manage a ride on one of our transport mounts, but it is impossible to get very far afield and a game of cards occasionally and letter writing are our main diversions. [Hence these long letters?]

Well, I must go and get a bath as I booked my turn, so au revoir and love to all. I am sending you a book of Bairnsfather’s sketches, which hits it off very well.

Henry seems rather blasé about it all, doesn’t he? I wonder if he really felt that way or merely wrote like that to avoid alarming his family.

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

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6 Responses

    1. I think you’re absolutely right, Pat. Elinor Florence asked how old he was – 33 at the time. Born in Sept 1882 so not quite 34. He was a lieutenant and more mature than many of the men. My recollection is that he didn’t marry until late in life. Unlike his two other brothers, he didn’t emigrate to Canada but stayed in Scotland.

  1. I’m sure you mentioned it earlier, but how old was Henry? I keep picturing him as a mature man based on his excellent grasp of language but he was probably quite young. Imagine being so close to the enemy that they could sing and shout to each other!

    1. Good question, Elinor. He was born in Sept 1882 so would have been 33 at the time. Definitely older than a lot of the men he lead. Probably helpful to many of them to have someone steady in charge. He was two years younger than my husband’s grandfather. The family called him Henny.

  2. Of course, letters to home were blasé for several reasons. War time censorship existed, so you think twice what to write. Secondly, writing something bad qould put you onto non-patriotic shelf, and at the time when even fashionistas tried to keep patriotic facade, soldier complaining about anything would be considered a covard.

    And thirdly – of course, you try not to upset your family back at home. You do not want them to lose the sleep, thinking of you.

    My father was a Soviet Gulag survivor, and from my childhood I remember his stories – they were hilarious, funny, light – nothing bad or scary. After his death I did read the letters he wrote to his father – my grandfather – and it was crazy, if you look at the surface. They were discussing a purchase a piano or a new winter coat for my grandfather.

    If you dig deeper, puchase of a piano was the way my grandfather expressed his hope for the return of my father. He didn’t let him believe that his som will never return. So – he bought a piano for my father to play when he will be back. Gulag censhorship also didn’t allowed my father to write anything so it was all about – got your parcel, thank you, can you please, send some more warm clothes the next time and such trivialities. Very short, very simple, and in a way primitive letters like these two really do not care much about each other. We do not speak truth at times like these. To protect ourselves and to protect these dear to us.

    Sincerely Anna

    On Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 2:35 PM, A Writer of History wrote:

    > M.K. Tod posted: “Time for another letter from Henry Tod. Imagine, > February in the trenches. 12th H.L.I – B.E.F. France Your welcome letters > of 28th January to hand. The cold wave from which you have been suffering > has reached here and we are under several inches of ” >

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