Somewhere in France – 28th May 1916

27 Berkley Square today

Henry Tod writes to his family from London with what must have been a jarring update. He’s at 27 Berkley Square.

Here I have come to anchor at last, in hospital, after being a week on the way from the trenches. I sent you a card from Calais but I expect you heard before that from the War Office that I had been wounded. It is a slight affair and just sufficient to get me packed off here for a few weeks out of the turmoil. It was a bomb which got me, hip and thigh, and I am punctured in half-a-dozen places. They are all flesh wounds and I think they have all the metal out of me by now. Dressing the wounds is rather a painful process but I don’t think it will be very long before I am up. Otherwise I am quite fit and as you can imagine enjoying the change of surroundings to the full.

This is a big private house converted into a hospital and the extraordinary thing is that I know the owner, Mr Salisbury-Jones, who is what they call “something in the city.” I know of him in Russia where he has oil interests, and I met him when I was last over on leave at a dinner party at the Carlton with Mr Grabowsky and our London manager. When I discovered where I was, I sent word by one of the nurses and Mr and Mrs S-J came up to the ward to see me. Mrs S-J resplendent in the blue uniform and gold stripes of the commandant of the hospital, and we had a long confab, somewhat to the wonder and admiration of the other fellows.

27 Berkley Square dining room

There are twenty beds here of which eighteen are occupied, as are all six in my ward. We are very comfortable and the general contrast to the last eight months could not be more marked.

As to the manner of my wounding it is a sorry tale and I have little zest in the telling of it. I was taking out a patrol to discover and plot on the map a new crater, which was not visible from our lines owing to the other craters extending along our front and generally to find out what the Bosche was doing behind this miniature mountain range. It wasn’t really our company’s job, as we were in support at the time, but two attempts had been made by other companies, with negative results. The patrol that went out the previous night were spotted trying to get through our own wire and badly strafed by machine gun fire. The Colonel asked if I would take it on and advised me to take a strong patrol, say a bombing squad of seven men and an NCO. I thought it too many for reconnoitring purposes be he thought we might be able to cut of one of their patrols or working parties. Moreover, if we found the new crater occupied by the enemy we were to try and bomb them out of it.

Plaque commemorating WWI hospital

At about 1 a.m. we set out and left our trench at a point well to the left of our objective where the row of craters ended. There was an unfortunate moon shining but we could not wait any longer as it gets light soon after 2 a.m. We cut our way through our own wire and got clear of that and bore away to the right, wriggling on our stomachs Indian file. I was at the head of the line and had just got abreast of our old friend the Munster Crater when I saw trouble looming ahead in the form of a sap running out from the German lines and converging in the same direction I was going and which I would have to cut very fine if we were to make further headway. We could scarcely hope to get round it unobserved but there we were and something had to be attempted.

I moved on a bit and could hear the Germans talking and moving about in the sap, which I could now see was well protected with wire. There seemed to be a good number of them and I wondered what they were so busy about at that time of night. We wriggled on a bit further and I was within a yard or two of their wire, when we were spotted. I heard their excited “yah, yah” and one man started to count us. We could not have been caught in a worse place.

I passed down the word to throw our bombs and run for it, but where to run with a mountainous crater behind us? I had just got rid of my first bomb when their lights went up and a machine gun opened on us and bombs were flying in all directions, but we had no show [not sure what this means or if perhaps it’s a mistake] at all in the open and the chalky soil of the crater made a bad background for us. I had provided most of the men with revolvers, as a handy weapon in an emergency, and these were emptied at almost point blank range.

But they soon mopped us up. A bomb landed between me and the man next to me and I felt a burning sensation down my back and legs. He got it down the front and indicated he was through with it, pointing to his throat. I told him to stick it and we would try and get into the crater behind us. I hauled him up the bank of loose chalk somehow and how we ever got to the top I don’t know.

I wasn’t hit again except for a bullet which grazed the inside of my thigh but it is more than likely my friend stopped some more. From the top we simply rolled down anyhow into the bottom of the crater which had some water in it. I propped the man up but he was dead. I couldn’t make out what had happened too me; my breeches were in tatters and I could feel the warm blood on them, but I wasn’t waiting there any longer. I scrambled up the inside of the crater and was nearly blotted out by one of our own men at the top, who thought I was a German. I roared at him in pure Glaswegian, as there was a terrific racket going on from both sides, and he and some others soon had me back in the trench. I found three others had got in, all wounded. This left five unaccounted for and I could only take it the worst had happened.

I was taken into a dug-out and had first aid from the battalion doctor. When it was light, the stretcher bearers carried me to the dressing station where the doctor gave me an anti-tetanus injection and patched me up for the next stage to the village, where an ambulance took me to Bethune. It was during these operations I realized I had lost a good deal of blood, and of course I could not move – being all trussed up. At Bethune I was put under an anaesthetic, x-rayed, and the wounds thoroughly cleaned and after three days treatment here, I was put on a barge, fitted up like a hospital, and floated down the La Bassee Canal to Calais. [A distance of roughly 90KM or 56 miles.]

The case next to me was the adjutant of the Royal Scots whose headquarters dug-out I think I told you got a shell all to itself. He was hopelessly mauled and practically unconscious and died in Calais. I was three days in Calais before being shipped to Dover and thence to London.

This is a long winded effort and has taken days to write. I was glad to learn from the balloon that two others of my patrol got back to our lines the following night, after spending about 24 hours in a shell hole.

Will close now and duly report progress.

I can tell you I had no idea of Henry Tod’s wounds. He has such an understated way about him. My husband remembers from family stories that Henry Tod was connected with Russia in some business dealings, but the details are lost.

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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 www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 7th and 17th May 1916

Henry Tod was in the thick of the action in his last letter. Let’s see what happens next. I haven’t read any of these before I share them with you.

Farm near Bethune

7th May 1916

Just a line to acknowledge your letters of 10th April and to report all well. We completed our tour without any further untoward happenings, but were jolly glad to get out of the place. [Now there’s an understatement.] Our next visit to the line will be a little to the right [this would be south], in the vicinity of my first visit to the trenches, likewise of bad memory. We are spending out six days out in the quite big town of Bethune, by way of change, where it is possible to do some useful shopping. This time the whole battalion is billeted together under one roof in a disused factory and we had a very successful concert last night. Some of our later drafts have provided excellent talent in this respect, including a professional comedian. The Colonel passed on a message from the Divisional Commander complimenting us on our stout behaviour in the trenches recently and we were all very pleased with ourselves.

17th May 1916

Your letters of 25th April are just to hand and glad to see you are all well, and I can likewise report “all present and correct”. As you will have seen from the papers, our part of the line is coming in for the attentions of the enemy. The Germans again attacked at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, of which we hold a part, and this time succeeded in establishing themselves in a section of our front line. We were in reserve and the Royal Scots were the unfortunate ones in possession. They are in the same Division.

It was after the usual terrible bombardment, against which infantry have no chance. The K.O.S.B [Kings Own Scottish Borderers] and the Scottish Rifles made the counter attack and managed to contract the enemy’s new line a bit, but failed to drive them out. The part taken is of little account as it formed a pocket in the enemy line and the result has merely been to straighten the line, but it is not pleasant to be treated thus.

Countryside near Bethune

We were brought up as support and provided digging parties, ammunition carriers, etc, etc, and to consolidate if the attack were successful. The Huns however, had already got their machine guns up and kept up a heavy shell fire on our lines, and our colleagues were unable to get through despite two valiant attempts. Owing to the contour of the ground our artillery is twice as far back from the line as the German guns and consequently could not make such good practice, and that made a big difference.

The brigade casualties were pretty heavy. A 5.9 shell found the headquarters dug-out of the Royal Scots killing two field officers, two company officers, and a host of others. Tomorrow we relieve the Irish on our right, who had a bad time of it in the last gas attack, for the simple reason that they were not nearly so well disciplined in gat drill and a number of the men had thrown away their helmets. We do eight days there. My leave is due but officers are scarce at the moment and I will have to wait.

Officers are scarce … sounds ominous, don’t you think. Although, I’m reminded of looking at Canadian battalion reports where casualties for officers were listed by name and casualties for regular troops were listed by numbers along with horses.

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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 www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 2nd April 1916

Henry Tod writes his parents about a mine blowing incident – that’s mine blowing not mind blowing, although the latter could also apply.

Dear Mother and Father

I am not quite sure where I left off in my last letter. Sufficient anyhow that we were relieved and clear of the front line trenches just in time. [Imagine receiving his earlier letter then waiting to hear whether he lived or not.] I think I told you we were going to spring a mine on our front and had everything planned to occupy and establish communication with the crater. The question was whether we or the relieving battalion would do the job.

We knew the Germans also had a mine ready under us, or nearly ready, according to our sappers, but we would probably blow first. We had just been relieved by an Irish regiment and got as far as the reserve trenches on our way back, when the Bosche blew his mine and rather badly strafed our Irish friends. (A euphemism to be sure.] We came in for some of the bombardment which invariably follows on these occasions but nothing to what the front line was getting and altogether we thought ourselves very lucky fellows.

We stood by while it lasted in case of an attack on our lines but this did not develop and eventually we resumed our way to billets. The Irishmen had heavy casualties and a long stretch of their trench was knocked in, while a new geographical feature called ‘Munster crater’ was added to their responsibilities. [The name might have derived from the name of the Irish regiment – pure speculation on my part.]

Photo source – https://graphics.wsj.com/100-legacies-from-world-war-1/

We are now out of the line for a couple of weeks rest and training and are at the same place where we spent our last Divisional rest, at Christmas time. The weather is perfect and I got a football sent out for the men. The other companies are following suit and already there is fierce rivalry between them. My company (B) drew with A company last night after a great tussle – one goal each. There were two casualties of a minor nature. I get plenty of riding exercise and so far we are having a nice easy time. The men are getting brushed up in their drill and have received a complete refit in clothes and kit. We also do a lot of shooting and wiring practice. Nothing further to report meantime.

If you are interested in the work of mines and sappers and the underground world of WWI, read the novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It’s one of the most popular novels about the war and a chilling look at what men endured.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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 www.mktod.com.