Letters from The Front: 1917
Letter No 15
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know that all goes well. We have moved again and are back not so very far from our old haunts. But I am not in the line yet though I may go there anytime now so don't be surprised if you don't get a letter for some time for I don't know yet what facilities there will be for writing and dispatching letters. If it is like the usual sort of trench life there will be plenty of chances of writing. But of course it can't be done if there is any strafing going on.
Leave still seems as far distant as ever it was or as close. Near and far depends on the point of view. I am next but one for it so I shan't be long if the leave re opens but on the other hand the leave seems to stop closed with a persistences which would be very creditable to an oyster. Talking of oysters reminds me that if I don't get the leave pretty soon the season for them will be closed when I do come and I shall have to wait another 6 months for the long expected oyster feed with you.
It is just on 6 months now since I left England. It seems like about 2 years in some ways and 2 weeks in others. It has been pretty eventful in some ways but it has been dull out here when all one's thoughts are the other side of the Channel. However, its all in a lifetime and I guess the old war can't last much longer anyhow. So there's always hopes of good times coming. I reckon I shall just about be due for a proper honeymoon when it does shut up shop! And I shan't have it anywhere where it can be snow or rainy and cold like my official one was. Madeira or some such place will be about my mark I rather fancy.
The front has at last broken out here and we are getting damp and misty days once more. But the milder weather is very pleasant, although the mud gets deeper day by day. It was rotten when everything including the toothbrush was frozen. The towels in the morning were like so many bits of board. Thank Heaven we were out in rest the whole or practically the whole time.
There is no news at all so I must stop. I am sorry that I always write such scrappy letters these days but my life is really uneventful. Our only moments of excitement almost invariably are due to unpleasant shocks, such as a Bosche shell: and naturally on the occasions, fortunately fairly rare with me so far, we don't write or even think of them more than necessary. Otherwise life is rather less exciting and interesting than garrison life in England!
Yr son Gordon.
Letter No 16
My dear Mother and Lucy,
Please excuse a joint letter but as I understand the parcels enclosing the coat came from you jointly. I am going to reply jointly and try to make one decent letter instead of two scraps. The coat is fine and exactly what I wanted and I think that you are splendid to send it after the way I lost the other. I will try to take better care of this one but as you know it is very easy to lose things out here especially these days when we are continually moving. Among other things at present I am particularly liable to lose things as I have to divide my attention between the Section and the Mess and see that they both get safely moved. My own things I have to leave to my Batman entirely which is almost always alright but occasionally disastrous. I am not trying to make excuses but I do think it was fine of you to replace the coat like that. “I kiss your hands and feet” Isn't that the correct thing to say?
Well here I am warm again with several letters of yours to answer. I have been up the line a bit lately and it was the limit. It snowed and sleeted till I was soaked being without a coat and then blew cold as ------- and no fires could be lighted as we were in full view of the Bosche in little shelters cut out of an embankment. I relieved my feelings by strafing the blighter's with a gun or rather guns. We got 6 at least and a motor car! Probably we got a good few more as we were firing direct and had the ranges to 10 yards. Anyhow we annoyed him so much that he shelled like fun. We retired under the embankment till he had got it off his chest and then did it all over again. It was great sport and relieved my feelings vastly. I had an officer in with me for instruction though and he hated(?) the situation. I thought I had reduced quick funking to a fine art but he was quite as good.
However we are out again now and quite comfy and warm in an old stable. True there is a manure heap just outside but what's that. It keeps the room warm! I have received several parcels from Mrs Braythwayt and have written to her to thank her every time one has come. The shirts she sent are very welcome indeed. I nearly pinched one of the last lot. However, I still hope for leave so I am putting off having any more sent for a while yet. You would have laughed if could have seen me last spell in the trenches. I looked just like a drowned rat with mud from my eyebrows downwards. When I eventually got my big boots off I found that they had let the mud through so that my feet were absolutely caked with it. I have never been so glad to strip and get into bed. I just went to sleep in about 15 seconds and lay like a log.
I saw some Bosche M G positions ---also the guns captured--- the other day. They were an object lesson to me. My but he is a good gunner and a plucky one too.
In my various wanderings these last few days I have lost all the letters you have written recently bar one. I hope there was nothing requiring an answer for I can't think of anything and I can't refer. It is very curious the effect of this new country. The villages are, as you say, most terribly desolate and awful places but in the country itself is grand. Green fields and so on are a very pleasant change from the old lines blasted to a waste of mud by shell fire. You can't imagine what the old Bosche line looked like for nearly a mile back. Honestly and truly I don't believe there was a bit 5 yards square without its own shell hole. There was no green; all was mud and brown and shell holes full of water of all colours of the rainbow from shell gases and other even less pleasant things. Now we are fighting in green fields for a change and the result is not half as depressing. The wanton destruction is awful, but it is not nearly as depressing: I think it is more human. It does make one wild though to see whole orchards cut down for no military purpose and trees blown up for sheer spite. God help the Bosche if the French ever gets across the border- they will need it.
There is as usual no news worth mentioning. I will try to write soon but you understand don't you that in this was of movement time and opportunity for writing are both at a premium. Again were so many thanks for the letter and coat- and the baccy and cake which I am expecting but which have not come.
Yrs Aye AGW.
Letter No 17
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines while I have a chance to let you know that all is well. I am back in France without meeting any mines or torpedoes. We had a glorious crossing with the sea like a duck pond and a nice sun. Only the wind was chilly making the great coat, which by the way fits all right now after its alterations, a boon and a blessing. We have had an exceedingly leisurely journey back, In fact I have only got about half way in 2 hours. Still I hope to catch a train again sometime this evening. If I have to be in France I would sooner be with my Company than anywhere else, where I know the officers and the men. I wander round like a lost dog here.
I had a fine leave though while it lasted. It was great seeing you all again. I hope it was not too strenuous for you though. You will have to take care of yourself for a bit and go easy for you seemed pretty cheap when you were up. But the leave was so short; it passed like a flash and I feel very much as if I had never had one at all. I suppose I shall have to wait some time before another though. They (?)the leaves, do not grow on every tree by any means. Still a bit of luck the war won't last very much longer now. I don't see how it can but then no one can possibly tell.
I am naturally rather devoid of both ideas and news so I must stop.
Much love to all.
Yr loving son, Gordon
Letter No 18
My dear old Mother,
Just a few lines today to let you know that I am all right. I got your letter from Bournemouth this evening. It took some time to get here but it was nonetheless welcome for all that. I am glad you are at last getting a little Spring at home. We also thank Heaven. It has been grand ever since I got back to the Company. Long may it continue for both of us. It will do you all the world of good to be able to get out a bit. I bet Grannie enjoys having you and Lucy down there to cheer her up a bit.
There is not much news today as we have been in a tent in the middle of a field and I personally have been asleep the whole time. So I am, though comfortable and not tired, not particularly full of news, so no more.
Much love, Yrs AGW
Letter No 19
My dear Mother,
Just a line, in case you hear any rumours, to set your heart at rest that you know that all is well. I have had a couple of scratches from a shell and am a bit bruised and tired as a result. But I have been worse knocked about by a game of football so there is no need to worry. It is so slight that I was not even sent back beyond the advance dressing station. Now I am with the Company Transport in a nice quiet safe place for a day or so's rest. I don't really need it as I don't feel particularly the worse for the upset but I shall enjoy it all the same. Anyhow, don't worry for I am pretty well all right and in good hand.
Much love to all,
Yr loving son, Gordon.
Letter No 20
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines as I sent such a rather scrap last time, to let you know that I am quite all right again and on duty. The bandages have been taken off and nothing remains except two tiny holes and a feeling of stiffness in the leg and back when I get a bit tired. So there is absolutely no reason to worry yourself at all. I felt rather ashamed of myself in coming down at all for two such tiny scratches but the doctors would not let me stop up where I was. My batman was unfortunately killed by the same shell. He was a splendid man and I am very sad about it. I had a very lucky escape as I was nearer the shell than he was. But enough of these subjects: they can't be helped but there is no need to write about them.
I got another letter from you yesterday. You really must take care of yourself and not get laid up again in Bournemouth. I think you need someone to keep you from overdoing it. Are you doing any painting? It seems a good sort of chance if you have such a fine view from your balcony and are rather tied down to your chair. You must get Muriel to go on with hers as she is really quite good. You should do a bit when you get down to Barnt Green again. I hear she is going direct there on the 16th. I am going to begin writing to her there for that date anyhow. I wish I could be there too to keep you both in order and to see that you don't over tire yourselves.
We have a pair of swallows nesting in the mess and present. They are absolutely tame and fly in and out all day, however much noise is going on and they seem to like the gramophone. They bring us luck.
There is absolutely no news so I must stop.
Yr loving son,
Letter No 21
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines or so to let you know that, though hot, I am quite all right. My scratches have practically healed and I am as healthy as can be. If I were out drilling in the present heat would knock me out completely. As it is I am very much alive. I was sent down here to the Corps School of Instruction where I am doing bayonet fighting, squad drill and various other things that I shall never do with my own Section. Incidentally, I am learning “DISCIPLINE” in very big capitals. That is the idea. Personally I can't see very much point in sending machine gunners down to learn stuff that they are never likely to use though the said “DISCIPLINE” may be useful to many, including myself. But the process of learning is distinctly trying as there is a baking sun all day at present and instead of working in the morning and the evening we do all our work in the heat of the day from 8.30 to 1 and from 2.30 to 4.30. What an army we have got. Even sitting writing letters I am sweating violently but you can imagine what it is like bayonet fighting and drilling.
All the same it is better than the line and I am not grousing. The week ends look as if they should be very pleasant also being complete rests. It is a fine chance of a rest into the bargain after the slight shock I got from meeting that shell at unpleasantly close quarters, So on the whole, all goes well. There is naturally no news at all for we hear practically nothing down here and nothing happens. The school is miles behind the line and is in a very jolly village with lots of nice green trees about which is a change from the desolation we have all come from.
Much love Mother,
Yr son Gordon.
Letter No 22
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines tonight to let you know that I am in my usual blooming health, fit as the proverbial. When that is said there is not much more to be said after all for nothing particular has happened since I last wrote. The weather varies between good and medium and the work remains about the same in quantity though it has been rather more comfortable and interesting lately. When that is said, fact its finished and I must begin to draw on my imagination. I played football in goal the other day with quite fair success. It is not such a very strenuous place and suites me because I am allowed to handle the ball almost as in rugger.
I am glad you have at last gone to a
London specialist. I don't agree with you when you say it is a waste
of money. Au contraire, I think it is one of the most sensible things
you have done. It is no good having these things hanging about and
piling on a bit here and bit there when a few pounds put down in a
lump may make all the difference. I am hoping for a day off tomorrow
to go to a stream not far away where the trout grow. My tackle is not
of the most elaborate but I hope to entice one or two from the
stream. I will sing to them if necessary and pick up the corpses
lower down with a landing net. The favorite bait of the natives in
this part of the country seems to be cheese which I have never tried
before but then never venture...you know the rest. There is a far
bigger town within reach but there is a nice little pub in the place
on which I have my eye where one can get an omelet and a bottle of
wine for a small consideration. And that is good enough for me. All
depends on whether I can get the passes signed or not I have been
having quite a crop of letters lately as the effect of getting those
scratches. In that way they proved quite a good investment but it was
too unpleasant at the time to repeat. My batman whom I was very fond
of was killed at my side. Poor devil he had a wife and 2 children and
was a splendid man and a good soldier.
There really is no news so no more,
Ever your loving son,
Letter No 23
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know how things are going out here. They seem pretty quiet and normal up to the present, though I have done an unusual thing today in rising before I needed to do for the sake of getting in an extra morning ride. There is a competition very shortly for which I am going to enter I think, not that I have any chance, but for the fun of the thing. It is all good practice anyhow. I was away in a neighbouring town for the weekend as Muriel has probably already told you. It was not much fun really, for I knew no one there at all well and I get fed up wandering about. There is a fine cathedral there though I found large pieces of it sandbagged up and a service on so that I did not see as much as I might have done when I went in. There was a very dirty looking scoundrel handing round the plate, aided by 2 little boys but I suppose he thought I was a heretic and so he did not come near me.
To continue in the evening after the day is mostly over though we have an hour or so's work in the evening. I had quite a good time at the riding school this morning. I tried an “in and out” jump for the first time and took it without stirrup and arms folded. I have never tried the in and out before and it is quite a joggly affair as the horse does not steady before he takes the second jump. Like this ( drawing ) Just see how I can draw. It is not really quite so steep as that. I have never tried jumping without reins before.
I got your last letter this afternoon. I am glad that Muriel is settling down and that the baby is getting on. She must be even more fun now that she can make a bit of noise. She will be great by the time I get my next leave sometime next winter with a bit of luck. I must stop and get my boots for mess and then parade. I will write a longer letter next time.
Letter No 24
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know that all goes well though I expect Muriel tells you that I usually get off a few lines each day, even though there is no news to put down. Sometimes it is impossible when we are up in the line but I always have a try.
I am not going on pass this weekend. I did not enjoy the last one sufficiently to make me want to take the trouble to get there again. Instead I am having a quiet day writing letters to everyone. I owe a decent few I am afraid. I meant to have quiet day yesterday but in the end I did not, for I rode and played football and went to a sing song in the evening. Now that things have settled down a bit on the course we have plenty to amuse ourselves with; sing songs every 2 or 3 days and a bridge tournament for the evenings, riding and football after tea. So really we are having quite a jolly time though we do have to work. If only I had the men I know in the company with me, it would be even more pleasant.
I am very sorry to hear about Dr Underhill. He was very prosy wasn't he but a good sort. I am very sorry for Mrs Underhill though especially with the three invalids to take care of. I suppose Lilian will stop with her now for good to help. Is Eric in the army now? I suppose he is as everyone has to go sooner or later though he certainly is not strong enough for the work, out here at any rate.
There is no news at all. We don't have much excitement here you know, just work and play in proportion of 3 as to 2 (or 11/2 perhaps) It is a pleasant enough life but it does not really make very much to write about. The riding is the most amusing part. I am really getting quite full of buck over it as I am the only one in my squad allowed spurs and I feel some nut whenever I go over the jumps minus reins and stirrups and arms folded. Naturally it is the horse that does it all but one feels a nut all the same. No more now for I must write a whole host of letters.
Ever your loving son,
A Gordon Wills.
Letter No 25
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know the usual news, that all goes well with me. I am back again with my company and quite glad to be there too, especially as I was getting a bit fed up with some of the fellows down at the school. It was not bad fun really, especially the last few days. The last day was distinctly strenuous as I was in the final of every competition including the inter divisional football match and the riding. I was one of the A selected riders who jumped for the Section and strange to say we won the competition. The old division did not do too badly taking 4 events out of 6. The football was the most hotly contested and was really a great game. I played goal and had very little to do.
Yesterday, as M will probably tell you, we spent on the scene of our former activities seeing the battle field under a Staff General. It was very interesting especially as he gave us reasons for all the operations. We also saw of course a great deal more as we could stand up on the high points which was not a healthy form of amusement in the old days. The destruction is amazing but it is all being rapidly hidden in coarse grass and mustard. Occasionally one runs across a few bones or something of that sort but almost all is hidden. The shell holes are still there and the going is still heavy so you can guess what it was like in the winter. We had the additional advantage of seeing from the Bosche point of view. The marvelous thing is, not that there was such heavy fighting but that we ever did get through at all in the face of the positions they held. However, go they had to and it looks to me rather as if they were going a long way further before very long. We have given him a nasty shot in the eye the last few days,nest ce pas?
Now I come to think of it I did not have a bad time down on that course and I am certainly a great deal fitter now than I was when I went down there or even than I was a month before. It has done me a world of good and I feel as fit as possible now.
Yr loving son,
A Gordon Wills
Letter No 26
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines today, it will probably be really a few lines for it is too hot to think, let alone to write. I am sitting in the shade in a draft and I am still dripping. When I go out and do a little work it just rolls off me and drops on the floor. It is cruel making anyone work on a day like this but I suppose it must be done. In any case it is better than being in the line as at any rate we can get some shade and there is none in the trenches. I am sorry you are keeping so poorly. I expect it is all this hot weather. It mus be very trying sitting out in the garden. We had a fine sing song last night in the wood. It was fine sitting in the cool and the people did it in good style with Chinese lanterns hung about in a very pretty way. The programme was quite good too. Altogether a very jolly evening.
I have just heard that the temperature yesterday was 107 in the shade and it was fully as hot so you can see why I trickle. And I am playing football this evening! There is rather less than nothing to write about so I am going to cut it short and write again soon when I am not quite so sticky hot.
Letter No 27
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to thank you for your letter which has just reached me in this abode of frightfulness, it was very welcome. I am afraid I have been very remiss in writing but we have been and are having a pretty strenuous time, far too strenuous for my liking. It is nothing out of the ordinary in the way of trench duty but it is hard by comparison with the rest we have been having. We are all a bit out of form after the rest I think.
There is of course no news to tell you. I am quite fit and well; the two things that worry me most are flies and smells, both of which are absolutely unprecedented. Remember the canal in Venice at low tide? It was violets compared to this trench in places though, thank heaven this one is being improved. I was glad to get Nurses letter. She seems to be going strong. Have you seen her baby yet? I don't know what to say about selling The Gables as I am rather out of touch with what is happening at home. It all depends if it is too much of a drain on your resources and what you feel about it yourself. It certainly would more convenient for you to be somewhere not quite so hilly and also I suppose that most of our very good friends have moved now. I should talk it over with Jack and see what he says. On the whole I am inclined to think it might be rather wise.
Excuse a short note but I want to go to sleep.
Yr loving Son,
A Gordon Wills
Letter No 28
My dear Mother,
I am a neglectful and lazy child I am afraid for my letter writing gets worse and worse from day to day. So I really mean to write you a decent letter this time if I have to take 2 days about it. The trouble is that I tell M all the news and she passes it on to you I expect so what to do about it anyhow.
I expect you have heard about my tent pegging and jumping exploits from her. It is a great game, that tent pegging. The pony knows a deal more about it than I do and gallops as straight as a die for the peg. I expect he wonders what ever he has got on his back that the peg never gets carried further than 3 feet. But never mind. I will get the peg properly before I am finished. At any rate I have not hit him by mistake yet and I have split the peg once. He showed unexpected talent as a jumper the other day too, taking one low and 2 fairly high jumps in a very pretty style. He looks too short and tubby to do any of these stunts but he is the best horse in the Company at them. He follows me round the camp for biscuits too, just like a dog.
I have not heard any family reports on you lately. Muriel, living with you , naturally does not notice changes so quickly as anyone coming in but she says you are better so I hope you really have taken a turn in the right direction. It is about time you gave up those alarming tricks. I expect you are in a fine upset with Dr Russell in the dining room. What do the maids say about it all?
Have yo seen old Nurses' baby yet? I am awfully anxious to hear how she is getting along and whether her baby is as fine as ours. Edith is full young to be having 2 teeth isn't she. I thought that teeth did not show for about 8 months. At what age does she begin to say things and roll about the floor? I wish I could get a leave to come and see how she is getting on with you at home. You say Mrs Evans did a bit of baby worship but the question is, how much do you spoil her?
Do yo remember young Arnold Taylor who was at the Lickey and Uppingham with me. He was in the M,G. Corps and was killed the other day. I had heard of him being an exceptionally good officer although I have never been anywhere near him in the line. He was in a Midland division of course. One more to pay the Bosche back for. The number of my pals that have been killed is awful. Rex Hadley, Jack Ratcliff, Ainn (?), Lupton, Taylor and a whole host of school and Varsity men whom you don't know. Lick (?) and Thastyn (?) are about the only two I know really well who are left of the old crowd now. I want to get back home to a quiet life. I only hope that when it is all over I shall never see or hear another shell, bomb, trench mortar or rifle again. I think I shall emigrate to the South Sea islands and live somewhere where there is no one with a fire arm for a few hundred miles.
A long chatty letter has just come from you and I feel even more ashamed of the way I have neglected to write. But you know don't you that it is very difficult to get time to write except under exceptional circumstances. It is hard enough to get time to scribble a few lines to M very often. You see in the front line I am up all night from 10 till 5 barring perhaps 2 hours in the middle. I sleep from 5.30 to 8.30 then I am on the go again till 1.30 or so. And I have the afternoon and evening for food sleep and letter writing. Sleep is the chief ingredient. So the letter writing has a habit of going by the board, especially when the Bosche is dropping them round about as I am continually hopping up to see if my guns are all right.
B.G. (Barnt Green) certainly seems to be changing rapidly with people moving and selling their houses and so on. It will be very dull for you if all the old inhabitants move away and you know practically no one, especially as walking is so difficult and a car is out of the question during the war owing to the petrol shortage. I really am inclined to think that I should get rid of The Gables for the winter if you can. It is a big expense and very lonely for you especially as Lucy is away so very much. The trouble of course to let it or sell it profitably. An additional argument is the fact that it is so cold up on top of the hill and with you not very fit it would be either mighty uncomfortable or mighty expensive in a big empty house with coal at its present prices. But as I said before, Jack is on the spot. I should consult him if I were you . In addition he is twice the business man that I am, if not more- so he is the man to consult.
Leave seems an awfully long way away still although it has been going unusually well lately. I believe there was a row about it lately. They took a census on the leave boat for a week and found that considerably over 50% of the officers were not fighting troops at all but A.S.C. And Base details who had had leave inside 3 months before. It is a shame if that is true. Those fellows should have 1 leave for every 2 that a fighting man has instead of 2 or 3 to every 1. That is always the way, the man who does most work and runs most danger gets paid 1/ a day, the motor lorry drivers who thinks he is badly used if a shell bursts 500 yards away gets 6/. A sub gets 7/6 and all the risks going. The A.S.C. Officer lives on the fat of the land with Corps pay and never smell powder. And still the non-fighter gets the leave. The man who runs the risks always gets the dirty end of the stick. There are men in my Section who have had no leave for nearly 18 months, married at that and yet these ASC pups can get leave every 3 or 4 months. I am after one of the Staff jobs with plenty of leave attached all the same if I get half a chance. I had one of the 3 best reports from the school which may help me. I reckon I have done enough sweating in this war. 8 months in Africa, 10 full months out here. It is about time I had a job I reckon where I have a reasonable chance of seeing the end of the war and getting back to M and Edith.
Here I am groaning as if I were the worst used man in the world while really I am jolly lucky in every way. You would think to hear me as if I were just on 40 instead of just 26. But this life does tell on a man, there is no doubt. 18 months ago I did not care a rap if I had a feather bed or a board. Now a damp board makes my back ache so that I can scarcely carry myself like a soldier on parade. I slept 2 nights ago on the boards with a blanket over me, a thing which would not have cost me half a minutes sleep not so long ago: in fact I should have been thankful for the blanket. As it is at present my shoulders are sore and the scratch on my back aches as if I had had a damn good hiding with a thick stick. I am going bald too, rapidly. The Company barber told me a couple of days ago that he could see the difference even in a couple of months- and he did not try to sell me a hair restorer as he cannot carry them about. But don't worry anyhow, I am still a sight fitter than most people. I can play football for an hour without getting stiff even after a days work and a little tent pegging so I am not as old as some. And I can carry 40 pounds for a mile without feeling it very much for I did it this morning. You will see when I eventually get back home, I shall be as skittish as a young Ram which the bible says goes in for leaping. I don't think either that the war will go on so very very much longer. Between you and me and the gas post, there is a mighty nasty rod in pickle for our friends the other side of no mans land which will give them quite a little bit to think about unless I am much mistaken. That Messines business gave them such a crack as they have never yet had and this one will cap that easily if all goes well. In the meanwhile mums the word.
---Interval to look at aeroplanes. I though I heard an aerial scrap but it was a false alarm as there is not a Hun in sight though the sky is humming like a hive with ours.
I had better be stopping now for I have really no news and my grouse I have got safely off my chest. I shouldn't take it too seriously if I were you. It is probably largely die to the fact that I got soaking this morning and am not yet properly dry!
I will try to be a good boy and write more frequently in future.
Ever your loving Son,
A. Gordon Wills
P.S. Was it you or M that sent that packet of sweets out the other day? If it was you , ever so many thanks. They went like smoke and were hugely appreciated. I am pleased to say that I ate the larger portion of them myself which is unusual. I usually smoke too much to eat many sweets.
Many thanks, AGW
Letter No 29
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines today to thank you for your letter which I got yesterday. I have again got no news for you but I will try to invent something. To begin with, can you possibly send me a couple more pairs of gray socks , marked in red wool as before as my batman has succeeded in losing 2 pairs of mine in the course of the last 6 weeks. I wish I could lay my ands on the blighter that has got them. I had a great game with the tent pegs again last night. I had quite my most successful appearance, having one clean carry with the peg on the end of the lance and two direct hits one of which carried for 10 yards and fell off and the other of which just got the peg up, but that peg was not soft enough, being cut from hard wood. I tell you you won't know me soon I shall be such a nut on my old gee. But really it is the horse that does most of it as he rides down the peg so that it is fairly under the lance every time, only I miss it every other shot. Still I am undoubtedly making some progress. It is a fine sport and gives one a lot of confidence on horseback which naturally improves the scat. I shall go up I think tomorrow and have a try one the jumps at Mobele ie. The Veterinary Section. They usually have a few good ones. I was playing poker last night so you see we live quite a gay life. I am dining out tonight into the bargain with the R.E's who are a very sporting crowd so perhaps we shall have some fun there too only I know I shall have to be on parade at 7am so I can't stop very late.
It must be a bit too exciting to be present in London during a raid. They are rotten things but don't you think that the papers make too much of them. After all the total casualties can't average 1 per day of the whole war and God only knows how many more than that fall every day out here. A sense of proportion needs cultivation, even if one is mad about the women and children, and no one gets madder than the fellows out here. Still the old General who wrote from this point of view in the Times was not far wrong.
No more now, (?) pegging instead.
Yr loving Son,
A Gordon Wills
Letter No 30
My dear Mother,
Just going to start a letter to you tonight so that I may in time get a fairly decent one written. I hear, indirectly that you have been gadding up to London again to see the Specialist. Is that a new name for the latest play? Mind you don't go and overdo things or you will be crocked up worse than ever.
I hear Lucy had passed her exam all right. I felt certain she would in my own mind. She is not the one to be beaten by a mere examiner. All the same it is a jolly good performance. I wish I thought I could pass an exam in anything at the present time. I feel myself that bad language is about all I could qualify in . I can cuss the Kaiser and war very well- and I do.
Have you heard of my new job, temporary T.O. or Transport Officer to the Company. Why I of all people should be chosen beats me entirely as I know nothing whatsoever about horse management. However, I wander round the lines, look wise and trust to the Sergeant. As long as I don't say too much I am all right. It is a good job on the whole as there is no danger and not very much work under present circumstances though when on the move there is a lot to do in getting lines fixed up and son on It gives me a lot of riding to do and certain amount of other work so I keep fairly well occupied. But I don't like being away from my Section very much when they are up the line. I seem to lose touch in a sort of way and they were just in fine fettle when they went in this time. They are a top hole lot too: it is fine to have a lot like them to command especially when you see what stuff is being sent to some people. However, I can only go where I am ordered and do what I am told so that's that.
I hear regularly from M. She and Edith both seem to be in great form and as fit as can be. I wish to Heaven I could get out of this and back to them for a bit though I suppose it is impossible. The thing that makes me so mad is that there are such heaps of other fellows who have not been out yet. When once you get out here, here you have to stop until you are hit or sick or something. Hurry on peace! However, I have got a soft job for the time being so I must just make the best of it and be as happy as I can till better days come along. The war can't last for ever can it? I am a bit tired tonight so don't pay too much attention to my grouses. I am very fit really and probably shall be very full of beans tomorrow to make up for the moment. Goodnight.
To continue, I am feeling as I prophesied very full of beans today, quite unusually so in fact. It is a glorious specimen of all that a day should be which may account for it being at once sunny and cool form a nice NW breeze. The combination is really excellent. Consequently when I rode afield this morning I enjoyed the ride and the flowers and the sunshine, in fact all the good things that make life worthwhile or here. I am sorry I wrote in such poor spirits yesterday but I felt the reverse last night.
I heard from Jack today. He seems in great form and very fit indeed. I wish we could all join him down there for a few days. It would be just perfect especially with this weather prevailing. We might even attract a wily trout or so for breakfast. Still I am pretty fairly all right where I am at present, in fact no news at all so no more.
Your cheerful and loving son,
Letter No 31
My dear Mother,
Just a very few lines today to thank you for the parcel of socks which came for me yesterday. They are fine and the men will appreciate them as much as I do. This wet weather especially it is difficult for them to keep at all dry footed and a clean warm pair is fine after the government issue- though that is by no means bad.
I have, as you have probably heard, been rejoicing in a fiendish cold accompanied with a slight touch of rheumatism. They are both going by degrees,the cold at a fair pace, the other not quite so fast.
It is not half bad fun doing this job I am on, now that the Company is again out of the line and I can get a bit of company of an evening, even if I do have to ride a mile for it. True I have been spending most of my evenings in bed with a cold for company but still they do make a change of company and a very pleasant one too. Not having seen any of them for a few days improves them immensely. One is awfully apt to get stale I find through seeing no one new. That is why we all look forward to any change of routine, especially leave when we have a chance of seeing people we really care about, surtont lis amies as old Madame Garnier used to say. My but it will be grand seeing you all again when my turn does come as it must do sometime.
No more now. I will write you a decent letter shortly.
Yr loving Son,
A Gordon Wills
PS Tell Lucy I will write her a line soon.
Letter No 32
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines today to let you know that I am still going strong and having a quiet and lazy time disguised as a Transport Officer. I have enjoyed the experience immensely and I must say that I should like to keep on with the job only of that there is no hope I am afraid. The regular man will be back any day now and then I shall return to the place whence I came and be once more a Section Officer. I like the work though of T.O. And there is not too much of it and, whisper it softly, I like the absence of danger which is the general rule. Still I suppose I can't hope for everything. I have had a great deal of luck lately in being out of the line. I have, as you have probably heard been rejoicing in a truly poisonous cold, however, I am rapidly getting rid of the last traces of it so that's all right.
However, In consequence of it I have not done much in the way of sport or even in visiting interesting things or people. About the most interesting thing to me though I doubt if it would excite much enthusiasm in your breast, was stripping cleaning and assembling my revolver which I did yesterday. It is an amazingly ingenious mechanism and delicate to a degree. It took me nearly 2 hours to get it together although there are only about 6 pieces and 7 screws in the whole part that I took down They fit into one another like a Chinese puzzle. I was sorry to hear that Halfpenny has had to be cleared out. It is a nuisance but he had to go if he got uppish. However it is a lucky thing that Lucy is at home for she can run for the time being. Old Fred is still with you- I expect he is always a useful stand by. Why not try keeping a pig or a goat or something with the waste products from the garden. I believe it could be done without too much difficulty and would certainly be profitable. I have been learning a lot about pigs lately. I think I must keep one if it is possible when the war is over. I was always fond of them you remember, they seem to be a very profitable investment if run at all decently.
We have had a glorious day all day, hot and sunny and cool breeze but it has ended fortunately in the cool of the evening with a couple of hours real work such as I have not done for a long time. I shall have more tomorrow so I must stop, especially as I have several more letters to write before I turn in. Reveille 4.30 too.
Your loving Son,
Letter No 33
(letter dated 12-10-14 but postmarked 13-8-17. I have therefore placed the letter in it chronological sequence)
My dear Mother,
I have a kind of feeling that if I don't get a letter written now I may not get one done for several days as I am expecting a bit of work for a change. Today I have had absolutely off so don't expect much as I am distinctly sleepy and tired as I have been far afield on my long suffering Gee. I wish I could get a photo of him for you. I tell you such a lot about him and I don't believe I have ever described him. He is more of a pony than a horse, a cob about 15 hands rather short and very thick set and sturdy with a tremendous hind elevation and a very short tail stuck on it giving a curious impression, good legs and as sound as a bell. His head is also quite good, as the small side side his colour is dark chestnut with 2 white socks and long white blaze. I have left the Transport as you have probably heard and am now once more an ordinary Section Officer, catching up with my work ofter my rest cure. I am sorry in a way as I liked the job and the work but I could not expect to keep it as our regular T.O. had forgotten more about horses than I ever knew.
I had a tremendous run of luck at Poker last night in the Mess winning over 250 francs. Nothing I did could go wrong for about half an hour and I have never seen such hands as I got. Naturally I raked in the shackles with some speed. I expect I shall lose it all again when I play next. Theres is no news at all worth speaking about so am in rather a fix as to what to say. Muriel still seems to keep pretty fit. It is a pity she can't shake off her cold but this scheme of keeping her lying down out of doors all day doing nothing seems rather extreme but I suppose you can judge best on the spot. But I should have thought that exercise would have been more good to her than rest at this stage of proceedings. However I can't really judge being so far away. She may find it does her all the good in the world even though it is unpleasant for a girl of her age.
I am glad to say that leave prospects are excellent at present. I might manage to get back in October with a bit of luck. Perhaps Muriel will be still with you: it is not so very much longer now. Have you decided to let The Gables if you can manage it for the winter. Now that Halfpenny has gone it will be even more difficult to keep things going as they should and it will be very lonely for you. It will be a wrench but I am not sure it would not be wise thing to do all the same. But once again I am too far off to be any judge.
Really I must stop now or I shall be done tonight and I have a lot to do tomorrow.
Yr loving Son,
A Gordon Wills
Letter No 33
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines to let you know that all goes well out here,I have a lazy day after three exceedingly strenuous ones which followed on a week's fairly strenuous. This accordingly accounts for the fact that I have not written for a few days.
I don't believe I have written since the cake arrived. It was broken up but it tasted fine all the same. It was the first time that cake had been in the mess for quite a long time and it did not last long.
A letter has just come from you for which many thanks. I am glad you are going on better and able to get about a bit more. It is about time you stopped giving us shocks of the kind you have been perpetrating lately. I am also glad you have been getting on so nicely with Muriel. I thought you would get on all right but it is a real relief to know that you do. All the family seem to hit it off nicely together now which is a great relief to my my feelings. Lucy and M seem to hit it off very nicely too.
When are you going to Bournemouth? It came quite as a surprise to me when you mentioned it casually in your last letter as you had given no hint of any intention of doing so before. However, I think you are quite right in not stopping in B.G. which is distinctly a chilly spot for the winter. Leave still seems to keep going steadily. October is quite on the cards if it keeps on at the present rate. Will you still be at B.G. or will you be in Bournemouth in that time?
There is singularly little news. Everything goes on as usual. The weather is absolutely poisonous with wind a rain both in enormous quantities. It broke the trees down and laid everything flat a couple of days ago!
I have been in this country just a year tomorrow. My but I was not feeling cheery this time a year ago. I think I feel more cheery now than I did then- I am not feeling too cheery now. The war still goes on and the end looks still far away. The combination of weather and war is not calculated to make anyone too lively. But we still keep in as best we can. Anyhow leave comes along soon and that is always something to be thankful for. I am looking forward to this one even more than the last- and that is saying quite a lot. The worst of it is that it is so short. As soon as one arrives, one goes again. I must stop now. I will try to get a better letter off soon.
A. Gordon Wills
Letter No 34
My dear Mother,
Just a few lines today to let you have the latest news. I have a cold at the moment but, curiously enough, I feel far more fit than I did when I last wrote. The weather continues to be pretty fair to average miserable, with rain and high winds everyday. Yesterday it cleared up in the afternoon and I got a bit of jolly fishing and caught 5 fish, 2 quite big ones about ½ or ¾ pounds. They were carp, a fish I have never tried for before The have a large whisker on their upper jaw and suck the bait in so quietly that you scarcely see the motion of the float. They are commonly supposed to be very shy but these ones were very much the reverse; they bit like anything. Some of the men have had beauties out up to 9 ½ pounds. Some fish what!
I saw some of our new planes for the first time last night. They do go a pace; it is almost incredible to see them darting a bout the sky. We have had the older types up to now but I hope these have come to stop for t would be a good Bosche that caught one.
As you know that I have been out here a year now. It seems a long time doesn't it and I have a great deal to be thankful for in getting off with 2 tiny scratches. Long may the luck continue. My only wish still is for the whole thing to be over and done with so that I can get a job and live a quiet life with M and the babe at home. I don't think I even want to roam anymore except perhaps in a very quiet way for short times. I have had all the sensations and excitement I want in my life already and I expect I shall get a few yet before the war ends. When a man had suffered the acutest fear and seen men stricken dead beside him, his chief hope is for a quiet life and an unpunctured hide. A jolly little place in the country with some pigs and a nice bit of fishing not too far away. That is what I want, though I don't suppose I shall realise the wish until I have worked a bit and made some money. It would be something though to have a quiet holiday in the country.
But this is a melancholy sort of subject for a letter. Lets talk about something a bit more such as I have. Really I think October is quite on the cards this time unless they shut it up again as they did in the Spring. That would be the purple limit.
What do you think of Janet Dalles. She is a curious girl isn't she but quite nice I think. She is so extraordinarily thin for her height. However, I trust you approve of her. By the way I hope to be able to wear mufti (?) when I get home on leave this time so you might get Emily to get out a tweed suit and my evening things and give them a brush and shake the creases out of them.
My batman has changed again. I seem to have a fatal influence. The last man I had has just gone to hospital so I have now my 4th. Two sick and one killed in a year. The present fellow will I think be quite excellent but I am afraid I shall never find the equal of the one that was killed. He came from Wylde Green and knew Claregate (?) well and used to sing carols there when a boy.
I must stop now and send a few lines to Muriel.
Yr loving Son,
A Gordon Wills