The war letters of a British pilot and of an officer of the Rifle Brigade
The letters of servicemen writing from fields of conflict to their families are always poignant, irrespective of the cause for which they were fighting. This special Leonaur edition contains two books, published together for good value, which offer insights into the way British men, with different perspectives and experiences of the Great War, wrote to their wives. Both reveal their most private thoughts, hopes and aspirations and provide valuable eyewitness testimony of the First World War. Despite their commitment to their duties, these men ultimately wanted nothing more than to return to their loved ones. One, a young man, newly married and a serving pilot, fought his war high above the trenches and reveals himself to be full of passion and desire. The other, a man over forty years of age serving as a second-lieutenant, was a soldier in the third battalion of the Rifle Brigade who fought in the trenches and was present at the Battle of the Somme and other engagements, speaks to a cherished and loved companion. This ‘war to end wars’ was, as all know, a great harvester of lives and tragically neither man was to return to his ‘Dear Wife’—something that makes these letters even more important in every way.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Directly after I finished that letter to you I was wired for to reinforce the batt. in an attack. When I wrote to you that I should be in Vaughan’s position if anything happened, I knew something was going to happen shortly. I had proposed to Buxton that I should go up with the platoon instead of V., and that had been arranged; but at the last moment the C.O. insisted that V. should go, as an old and regular soldier. C. was necessary as Lewis gun officer, and the choice lay between Brown and me. Brown was taken because owing to the bayonet course I had missed some attack practices he had had. V. and Brown are both dead now, shot through the heart.<br>
You will see the account of the Push in Times of 21st, I went to the Transport with four others when the batt. went up, stayed a night there, and wrote to you on the 18th. The attack came off at 2.30 p.m., and at 3.30 the five of us were sent for to Brigade H.Q. No time to pack anything, a blazing hot day, and I had to borrow the quartermaster’s revolver as I’d lent mine to V. An hour-and-a-half’s walk to Brigade H.Q., where we heard that things were going very well, but more officers were needed. I sent Ginger back from there, as he seemed too small to stick Boches.<br>
From there we had a three hour walk to the front line. Shells most of the way, and the wounded streaming down an open road between the downs. We passed A. D., hit through the leg, but filled with delight because he was going back to Blighty alive and kicking: then ——, rather badly hit in the shoulder—heaps of bandaged men, including two of my platoon. The men of all regiments, and wounded in every variety of way. To read in the papers you might suppose the wounded were whisked from the battlefield in a motor ambulance. I get rather tired of all that false and breezy representation of a battle.<br>
I’ve never been so hot in my life as when we came to Batt. H.Q., just behind our jumping-off trench. There we heard of Brown and V. and many others, and from there we went on to join our coys, in the various bits of Boche trench they had taken. No guide, a hail of shells and a sort of blind stumble through shell-holes to where we fancied the new line was. I found C Coy. at last. H.Q. in a 30 ft. deep Boche dugout, choked with dead Germans and bluebottles, and there we had our meals till we started back at 4 a.m. this morning (five days).<br>
In between that time I certainly spent some of the most unpleasant hours of my life. It seems that the batt. had done extraordinarily well and gained the first of two objectives. The second was to be won that night, and next day we were to be relieved. Unfortunately a batt. on our right had been held up and we had to wait for them in a trench choked with our dead and Boche wounded and dying for two days and then do another attack. The men had been in high spirits over the first part, but naturally the reaction was great when they found that instead of being relieved they were to dig in, and I had never seen them so glum. Here again the breezy reporter is revolting. The Push itself is done in hot blood: but the rest is horrible, digging in when you are tired to death, short rations, no water to speak of, hardly any sleep, and men being killed by shell-fire most of the time.<br>
I was given the C line in front of H.Q. to hold with two-and-a-half platoons, and luckily the Boches never really found it, and I had fewer casualties than anybody. I slept in the bottom of the trench, sometimes in rain (in shorts), without any cover and really never felt very cold. Also, though I don’t suppose I got more than an hour at a time, I never felt done for want of sleep. C. and Buxton were the only officers left.<br>
The second attack was made yesterday, and only our D Coy. was sent off at the start. C. was to support it if it needed reinforcement. My dear, you never saw anything more dramatically murderous than the modern attack—a sheet of fire from both sides in which it seems impossible for anyone to live. I saw it from my observer’s post about 100 yds. away. My observer was shot through the head in the first minute. The O.C. of D Coy. had been badly wounded, and Butler led them on most gallantly. The last I saw of him was after a huge shell had burst just over him (laying out several men) waving on the rest. None of the D officers came back, and very few of the men.<br>
Again the right batt. failed, and this time the R.B. was inevitably involved in it, as far as D Coy. went. We gained a certain amount of France back by digging a trench in front of my bit of line about 100 yds. from the Boches in the dark, lit by terrific flares from the German lines.<br>
After that we hunted for our wounded till 4 a.m. I found S. S. about 50 yds. from the Boche trench, shot through the heart. R. got back wounded in several places. Butler was last heard of in a shell-hole about 10 yds. from the Boches. He was an awfully gallant fellow. The whole thing was almost too bloody for words, and this, mind you, was victory of a sort for us. We fancy the Boches lost far more heavily, as our guns got on them when they were reinforcing.<br>
I’m too sleepy to tell you anymore. The batt. did magnificently: captured many prisoners and advanced several hundred yards; but the cost is very great.<br>
Now we are out of it for days at any rate.