Somewhere in France – 26th February 1916 (2)

Source: http://battlefields1418.50megs.com/loos_photos.htm

Continuing Henry Tod’s lengthy letter … if you recall his battalion is in the vicinity of Loos. This photo shows Loos after the 1915 battle.

In the big attack [he’s referring to 1915] we captured Loos and Hill 70 which lies just beyond, but were unable to hold the latter, and today our trenches run round in front of Loos on the lower slopes of the Hill. The Germans on the higher slopes dominate the position and the village is a death trap [no mincing of words here]. Some of the buildings are still standing and the two famous towers, but only just, and they form a fine target for the German guns. If you scuttle across a street you are sniped at – not with a rifle or machine gun, although they are there in plenty, but with a small field gun, or whiz-bang as they are called.

We were just to the right of the village, with our headquarters in a cellar in the village itself. The day after my arrival it come in for a very heavy bombardment from early morning till night. The 5.9 shells (high explosive) were coming over at the rate of one every six seconds. [Remember, he’s writing to his parents!] As it was getting dark they fired a mine in front of the village which went off with a terrific rumble and a dull red flame. It was short of our trenches, so it didn’t count. We thought this was the prelude to an attack on the village, but as night fell things quieted down to the usual display of fireworks in the form of star shells (light rockets) and the spasmodic rattle of a machine gun. This is a touchy part of the line and one has the feeling that the Germans will sooner or later make an attempt to recover their lost ground.

One night, or rather early morning at 2 a.m., I went out on my first reconnoitring patrol to investigate a sap which ran out from the enemy lines towards ours. I took three men with a good supply of bombs, as you never know what you might run into, and started off with a vague idea of doing something. The Colonel wanted a live prisoner amongst other things, which of course is a mere trifle. [Great sense of humour, our Henry.]

The trenches here are about 150 yards apart but from the lie of the land it is difficult to make out the formation of the enemy line. We suspected they were digging in this sap, and I had to verify its existence. It was a nice dark night but it had been raining and the grass and everything else was very wet. As you have to crawl on your stomach all the time you are out, you can imagine the result; wet through and covered with mud.

It took us over an hour to reach their wire entanglements and I found myself in the angle formed by the sap with their main trench, the sap being on my left and also well wired. It was weird and every time their flares went rocketing up we lay perfectly still with our noses buried in the wet grass hoping we hadn’t been spotted. Anything unusual on the ground had to be very closely watched before proceeding further.

I wriggled up to the wire protecting their sap and waited for some sign of life. I might have done some damage here as I was only a few feet from their sap but I couldn’t hear or see anybody. I moved along towards their main trench and presently heard voices and men moving about there, but I couldn’t get within 30 years of them because of the wire.

I worked along for a bit hoping to catch some stray Jerry out working on the wire, but no luck. I took general stock of the situation and then headed back for our own trenches. It is quite easy to get lost in No Man’s Land and I had to consult my luminous compass more than once. The opposing trenches are never just parallel to each other and wind about in the most bewildering manner. When you are out reconnoitring the men of your company are warned to keep a specially sharp look-out as are those of the adjoining Companies and they do not throw up light rockets to your discomfiture. However, we got back to our own line in much quicker time than we took to go out, although I felt a little disappointed that it ended so tamely, considering the possibilities.

Well, I must get this letter to a close somehow. Nothing particular happened until the day we came out and we were congratulating ourselves on getting out of this spell with practically no casualties. About midday however we got a most awful hammering from their artillery, just our Company front which was fairly extended. Our trenches were badly knocked in and we had 15 casualties, 5 of whom killed, including the Irish captain aforementioned. He was a nephew of Sir Edward Carson. Considering the severity of the bombardment we got off lightly. Our telephone lines were broken and we were isolated for a time.

We are now out for 6 days and the weather is fine, but the roads are in a dreadful state owing to the heavy traffic.

As always, I find these first hand accounts amazing. Almost makes me want to write another novel set during WWI. And a reminder, I haven’t read ahead so I’m finding out what happens just as you are.

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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 – 24th January 1916

In this letter, Alexander Henry Tod is in Glasgow on leave. Some readers might recall that much of his family emigrated to Canada around 1910, hence he’s still writing to them rather than visiting with them.

Glasgow – 24th January 1916

Source: Golf Quest International

Here I am back in the old country for a week’s leave, which expires on Saturday. [He’s writing on Monday.] The joyful news was sprung on me when I was in the front line and I did not stand long on the order of my going. I left the trenches at 2 o’clock on Friday afternoon and was in London the following afternoon about 5 o’clock. It was a horrible crossing and the boat was packed with those like myself going on leave. I was nearly nabbed for duty in Boulogne to look after some details going over but I successfully dodged it. There were generals and officers of every rank, plenty of red tabs (staff) and hundreds of tommies and a good few nurses, but the mal-de-mers caught everyone alike and the lee-rail presented a very interesting picture. I managed to keep all right but it was at the expense of a thorough wetting, as I stayed on the upper deck and got every other wave that came over.

I saw Rob Bell in London at the bank, but Aunt Jessie was out at Chorley Wood. I shall try to see her on my way back. Mr. G., my old chief in St. Petersburg, was also in the city and I saw a good deal of him and some other old friends during the two days I was there, and I was pretty well looked after. I then came up to Scotland and paid them a surprise visit at Stirling, where they were all very glad to see me. I only wished they had Cockburn there to welcome back. [In his October 9th 1915 letter, Henry writes of Cockburn’s death – Cockburn fell at the head of his men at the very beginning of the action (Loos).] They are all very well but the blow has been a heavy one and Uncle Fred and Aunt Alice will always feel it. Beatrice, Muriel [his sisters, I think] and I went to see a musical comedy in Glasgow and enjoyed it greatly. This morning Chris and I had a round at golf and I just managed to win by one hole [clearly there’s a long standing family interest in golf which explains my husband’s love for the sport]. It was very bad golf.

I go south again tomorrow and the time has flown all too quickly. It is a funny war – to think you can get off for a week’s holiday.

A ‘funny war’ indeed.

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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 – 16th January 1916

Henry Tod has a “pretty rotten time” in the trenches according to his next letter home to his parents.

I have your letters of 24th December and note all your news with interest. I am glad to see you are both keeping fit and that mother has recovered from her recent indisposition. There is not much the matter with you Dad when you can go slay coyotes. [Note: although Henry was from Scotland, his father and two or three brothers had emigrated to Canada early in the 20th century, hence the reference to coyotes.] You were always pretty useful with a stout stick and I think we might with advantage turn you loose amongst our friends over the way.

We are back for a day’s rest and respite in “trench billets” and we go up to the line again tomorrow to complete our spell. We have had a pretty rotten time and had quite a number of casualties, including one officer killed. We don’t seem to have much luck as when we took over from 1st battalion — Highlanders, they told us it was quite a soft spot and not much doing. No doubt we asked for trouble as we started the ball with a heavy machine gun fire on a village just behind their line through which their reliefs are affected and a shower of rifle grenades into their trenches, just to show we had arrived. We got heavily shelled for our pains but that didn’t do so much damage as a fusillade of trench mortars which they sent over late yesterday afternoon.

They got the range pretty quickly and I suspect they were trying to get the aforesaid machine gun, which was hard by our dugout. Anyway, these heavy mortars were dropping all round us and one of them sent a small avalanche of earth and stone into our dugout, but we were safe.

The men in the vicinity were quick to take cover in another dugout which was luckily available but not before several shells were laid out and our dugout was converted into a hospital for the time being.

We had as a visitor an officer from “C” company, who were [C company that is] in support immediately behind us, and our friend had just returned from leave and was telling us all about his holiday, during which incidentally, he got married. He thought it was time he was getting back to his company and although we tried to dissuade him from going until the strafe was over, he insisted on it. Almost immediately afterwards word was brought in that he had been killed.

Two of us went out to see if we could do anything, but there he was lying a few paces from the dugout practically decapitated. We could only lay him out on the fire-step and come away for the time being. It was rather tragic but he simply walked into it, and if only for his week-old wife’s sake, he might have exercised a little more caution. He was an old 13th H.L.I man, like myself, and we came over to France together. He was an excellent soldier and quite a well known sprinter in his day.

We had some shelling here today and one casualty. Must turn in now as we shall be early on the move tomorrow. My turn for leave cannot be far off now but we are rather short of officers at the moment.

Startling how matter of fact Henry’s writing is. Perhaps that was the way he coped?

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.