It seems fitting to post one of Alexander Henry Tod’s letters to honour Remembrance Day and to give thanks to those who served and who serve in the cause of justice and freedom.
2nd March 1916
Just a line to acknowledge your letters of 7th February before going up to the trenches tonight. The snow has almost disappeared but our advance party reports the trenches to be knee-deep in mud and water, so it is going to be no picnic trudging up there tonight. We have had fairly comfortable billets this time and as permission had been given to the native population to return to this area we were able to get some washing done. They have become quite accustomed to shelling in the back area and the children spend their days looking for souvenirs in the form of fragments of shells bursting in the vicinity. We only get the odd one now and again, as the bulk were dropping beyond us seeking some of our batteries.
The children can all sing “Tipperary” and “Keep the home fires burning”. Although we get on well with the civilian population, we have a feeling that there are spies about us. I am certain I missed an opportunity of nabbing one and have been kicking myself ever since. I was taking a walk along a country road a little way out of the village and at one of the few places where you can get a sort of bird’s eye view of the enemy country in the distance. I overtook a fellow officer wearing a burberry [yes, the classic trench coat] and a Royal Scot glengarry [seems to be a cap with a badge on it]. I greeted him in passing and was inclined for a chat as we were going the same way. He was rather curt in his greeting and unmistakably allowed me to go on ahead.
At first I thought little of it and that he was just an ill-mannered youth and then I began to think that his appearance and behaviour were a little strange, apart from his rudeness. I decided to take some action to satisfy myself. I had meantime gotten some way ahead of him round a bend in the road and came on a motor lorry with two A.S.C. men [Army Service Corps] tinkering at the engine. I told them to stand by and be ready to help me if necessary and explained what was in the wind. They were to go on working while I accosted my friend. Next minute he whizzed by on a motor cycle before I could recognize him and looking back I could see a civilian running into a wood some way off the road. They were spies beyond a shadow of a doubt. [Sounds like something you’d read in a novel!]
Two of the enemy observation balloons broke away the day before yesterday and drifted over us and on the same day our anti-aircraft guns brought down two of their aeroplanes, which was quite a good day’s work. We are still awaiting the result of the German offensive at Verdun, which may have a considerable bearing on the rest of the line.
This is all for the present. I have sent you the Regimental Chronicle which you may find of interest.
Germany and France fought one another in the battle of Verdun from February to December 1916. Over 156,000 French and 143,000 German soldiers died. I wrote a scene or two about it in Lies Told in Silence. I’m sure Henry’s battalion saw a lot of action in their portion of the line before this battle was settled.
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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.