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

And We Go On – a WWI Memoir

And We Go OnAfter spending the past twelve months editing and publishing two novels, I am finally able to return to a manuscript I haven’t touched in more than a year. Time and Regret interleaves the stories of Grace Hansen and her grandfather Martin Devlin, the former taking place in the early 1990s, the latter occurring during WWI. In one chapter Grace visits New York’s main reference library to research WWI. I have her reading all sorts of reference books and then checking one book out of the library to read more closely. That book is a WWI memoir titled And We Go On by W.R. Bird.

Born in 1891, William Richard Bird was a Canadian writer who served in WWI. Over his career he produced fifteen novels, two memoirs, and several history and travel books. And We Go On, Bird’s first memoir, documents his time in France during WWI. It was republished in 1997 under the title Ghosts Have Warm Hands: A Memoir of the Great War 1916 – 1919.

Here’s an excerpt I plan to include in my novel — after securing the appropriate permission, of course. Bird’s memoir has a profound effect on Grace Hansen.

. . . and it came. One instant we were speaking in low tones, watching a red flicker of artillery away on the right and the next heart beat the very earth seemed to quiver. One great sheet of flame seemed to leap along that twenty-mile front and the roar that made the trench tremble was so fused that we could not distinguish single explosions. It was a stupendous thing. We were shaken, stunned, bewildered. For a moment we could not make ourselves heard, then, gradually, the barrage became more broken, and by shouting we could make ourselves understood. Someone touched me on the shoulder. I turned and there stood Eddie, from thirteen platoon. He reached for my hand and his face was deathly white. I gave him a hearty grip and shouted, “Good luck, old timer.” He shook his head. “This is my last trip”, he called. I made no reply. What could I say? We stood together, watching the flashes and then he moved away, slowly, down to his men.


A quivering earth, a sheet of flame, a man who knows he won’t survive. Powerful images. Immensely sad.