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 www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 20th November 1915

1915-golf-clubsAlexander Henry Tod is back in billets this time as he writes his parents. The reference to golf is wonderful as my husband comes from a long line of golfers.

I have received your welcome letter today acknowledging receipt of the regimental badge, which I am glad you like so much. We all think our own badges are the best ever. I note with alarm Dad you lost your game of golf and hope your hand has not lost its cunning. I wouldn’t mind a game myself at the moment as we are safely back in billets and have time to turn round a bit. We are not at the same place we have been to the last two times. This is prettier and more rural but the housing facilities are not o good. However, we won’t be critical as anything is better than the trenches, which we look back on as a sort of nightmare.

Our quarters are much further away this time, which involved a long tramp from the trenches and there was a good deal of falling out from sore feet. It is a standing wonder to me how the men can stick so much of it. For the best part of two weeks they stand about in the wet and cold mud and the Doctor had several cases of chilled feet to attend to. Then they are called on to do a stiff march with a full load. Of course, there is plenty of grumbling and you have got to act the martinet to get them along the road in something like order.

We are a bonny looking lot as we come trailing along and you wouldn’t know your own son amongst them. Mud to the hair and a nondescript growth on your face. No two seem to be dressed alike. Some have goat skins; others have rubber boots and some scallywags have hardly anything at all, trudging along and dead to the world in general. It is just the fact we are going back keeps us going. This time we had a cruel disappointment as it was arranged that motor buses were to have met us almost at the point where the communication trench ends or rather begins. This of course made things seem worse. [I assume he means the buses failed to arrive.] However we soon revive in billets and the rest gets us right as rain.

I have just received a postcard, via Russia, fro Alex Kirkwood whose existence I had almost forgotten. He is a sergeant in the 7th Camerons. I saw something of the 6th Camerons in the last village we were billeted at and met an old friend from Russia in them.

Interesting to read the bits about Russia. My own research hasn’t taken me in that direction before.

First letter from Alexander Henry Tod to his parents can be found here.

The letter that follows this one can be found here.

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 and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. 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.