Somewhere in Africa – 13th Feby 1917

Let’s see whether Henry Tod has had any harrowing experiences of late 🙂

Fern Villa Hotel, Marine Parade, Durban

From the above address you will see I am off the ship at last. We got in here and disembarked yesterday and are now waiting for another ship to take us on the last stage of the journey. We have not heard of any definite sailing yet and may be here for a week or more. I wouldn’t mind being stuck here for a month as it is without doubt one of the finest places I have ever been in. The military camp, which is close by, stretches along the beach where the big rollers come incessantly tumbling in. I like this place much better than Capetown, both as a place and the people in it. Natal is the most British of all our possessions in Africa and the people here are falling over themselves to welcome us and make us at home. One did not get that impression in Capetown where the population is rather mixed.

Round Capetown the mountain scenery is very fine and is as “stern and wild” as anything to be found in all Caledonia [a reference to Scotland]. There is an electric railway running eastwards along the mountain side, something like the Highland Railway. The famous Table Mountain, which almost invariably has its “cloth” on, rises just behind the town and makes a most effective background, especially coming in from the sea. We were only there a day and a half and as I was landed for picquet duty the first day I did not get around very much. The troops were disembarked and given a stiff route march, to harden them up a bit.

The convo resumed it voyage, less the White Star boat which was proceeding to Australia. Rounding Cape Agulhas, disaster overtook one of our company, the “Tindareus”, which sank from some mysterious internal explosion, as it could hardly be a submarine in these waters. [See this article for more information on SS Tyndareus, including the text of the King’s cable. As it turns out, the Tyndareus survived to sail on until 1960.]  It happened in the night in pretty dirty weather. Only 18 lives were lost out of some 2000, which was entirely due to the fine discipline of the troops and crew alike. The King cabled his congratulations to the commander and likened it to the “Birkenhead” tradition. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but there has been dirty work somewhere. The other ships carried on and the rescue work was effected by warships from Simonstown, which is a naval base. We put in there for the night.

17/2/17 I had a game of tennis yesterday with some people I met on board ship. They got on at Capetown where they were having a holiday and were returning to Durban, where they live. I am now casting around for a game of golf. It is summer time here and to hot for anything – even letter writing. I have had some fine surf bathing here and it is most exciting. There is a huge enclosure with a sort of iron grid to keep out the sharks and the only way to make any headway against the tremendous breakers is to pull yourself out on a rope attached to it. You then let go and the next thing you know you are bundled neck and crop [now there’s an expression] on the beach, with half the Indian Ocean inside you.

We move about here in rickshaws drawn by splendid looking Zulus, with a fearsome looking headgear of horns and feathers. They get along the smooth roads in great style but I don’t envy them their job in this heat.

Looks like Henry Tod continues to enjoy his voyage.

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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 – 20th December 1915

Another instalment from Alexander Henry Tod’s letters home from France during WWI.

Source PBS Newshour

I have your letters of 23rd November and 1st December. I think I have now received all your letters and am sorry my little grouse has disturbed you so much. The only thing outstanding is your Christmas box but that will turn up all right. There are probably about a million parcels to be delivered to the troops at this time and that will take some doing.

As you know we are presently enjoying Divisional rest, well behind the line, but it is rather dull being stuck here doing routine work and we are all hoping to get away on short leave to England. The chances are we shall get it, in due rotation of course, but at this game one mustn’t take too much for granted. I have been detailed to attend a Divisional course of instruction on special subjects, at some other place than this, and will be detached from the battalion for a week. One officer per company goes every week and I was second on the list. I shall be glad to get away as I think we are all beginning to see too much of each other. I go off the day after tomorrow and will rejoin the battalion for the Christmas festivities.

Today is Sunday and I am orderly officer. That’s twice it has fallen on a Sunday and I don’t like it. The duties of the O.O. are rather vague, but comprehensive, and the chief hardship is that he must be on the spot. He has to go round and see that everything is in order – inspect billets, cook houses, prisoners and everything there is to inspect. It is all right on weekdays when he can be excused parades by pretending to do something else.

I took the Roman Catholic contingent to church early this morning but didn’t wait for the service [as far as I know, Henry is not Catholic] as breakfast was waiting for me. There is a strong Irish element in the regiment and we have a ‘padre’ to look after them. He is a good sort and a great favourite with us all and he does full justice to the hospitality of the different messes! [perhaps the padre was a little plump?] He also takes full advantage of his position and the grim business of war to bring home to the men the immediate need of their living better lives and so forth.

source PBS Newshour

We are recruited chiefly from Glasgow [Henry is from Glasgow] and Lanarkshire and the strong local accent is still music in my ears after being away from it so long. The men are wonderful in the trenches under the most trying conditions and there is always someone who can see the humorous side when things are most depressing. I hope some day to tell you all about them when the clouds roll by.

We managed to get a photo taken of the company the other day by a woman photographer, who is in this line of business in the village. We couldn’t all get into the picture so we had to make the best of it. I hope the censor doesn’t grab them. Tea has made its appearance so will close.

I found this comment on the PBS Newshour site about WWI soldiers playing soccer in their off times:

It’s a way to hide the horror under one layer of spectacle and another layer of moral virtue — a way to pretend that war is like a game, that there are rules, that there is safety. A way not to look into oblivion. We missed the cruel irony in all those soccer balls that show up in World War I photos. Nothing is a metaphor for war. War is a metaphor for nothing.

 

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.