GWL 20th February 1915

Just a few moments before breakfast to write to you, as I woke up early and the floor was rather hard.  No, don’t order any more boots just yet, I will let you know in better time when the next lot will be required………..I have got another subaltern, he turned up yesterday.  Terrible tragedy has just been revealed.  We have got a tin of sausages & by the size of the tin you are justified in expecting at least four sausages.  We find to our annoyance that there are only three.  So some-body will be minus sausage.  Our “makee pray” last Sunday was knocked on the head – I was very sorry.

Later the same day “Thundering”!

The cake has arrived for D Coy.  We are going to have some for tea before we go down to our mud pie again.  Just imagine we are having a thunderstorm of all things!  Rain of course, but thunder is rather the limit -“

First watch stopping and now three sausages instead of four – whatever next!  Reading the letters at this stage you would think that life alternated between some uncomfortable times in the trenches and eating.  From The Gloucestershire Regiment War Narratives 1914-15 (Capt R M Grazebrook) it is noted that during the month of February when apparently not much was happening the Batallion lost 22 Other Ranks killed, 3 Officers and 68 Other Ranks wounded and 144 sick.

{next post 23rd February}

GWL 19th February 1915

I have not been able to write for four days.  We had our rest cut short by one day as Fritz began making himself a nuisance.  We spent a very wet and muddy night in some sheds near here and then the following night moved up nearer.  We have just come back from the trenches.  They are in rather a bad state in every way. I had your letter of the 13th to-day.  The Headquarters Mess has received your cake and thanks you awfully for it.  Vicary is going to write to you and thank you.  The D Coy one has not come yet.  Please tell Uncle Frank that another parcel of baccy has arrived, but with this rush we have not been able to distribute it yet.  Rain with bright intervals is what the lady in the Daily Graphic would say about the weather.  What we want is a nice drying wind.  I got rather a fright last night as my watch stopped!  Happily it went on again after about 10 hours rest – like Master…… Damn Fritz & all his works, I say!  One night we spent in rather a charming house or rather what remains of it.  There was rather a lot of nice Chinese porcelain there.  Three of us lived in a small kind of summer house hollowed out in a mound, on the top of which was a small temple, very like the Trianon one.  Quite comfy, but Fritz began dropping shells into the garden rather close to the temple, so we hopped into the cellars of the Mansion.  Much to the disgust of the Regimental H.Q. whom we found in the kitchen.  It was rather a crowd but safer.  In these trenches the Germans are pretty close.  About 30 yards from one of mine.  I prefer them further off.  Alas I never saw Ion.  I am so sorry.  I shall be glad when the next consignment of chocolate arrives as I have only got local stuff which is rather sweet.  I think there are some parcels waiting to be delivered here.  Of course our quick move absolutely spoilt our fine dinner party – The hen had to be left behind, but the curry powder was saved.  We had bought a bottle of starboard light, that also was saved and drunk in lieu of whiskey!  Before all these excursions and alarums, we used to look on our little rests as certain & almost as sacred as the Thursday holiday abroad, but now we have no sooner got in than we prepare to go out again!  Most disturbing.  If the mail comes in to-night I will write again……

The Daily Graphic was a literary magazine set up to rival the Illustrated London News, first published in 1869 and closing in 1932.  Odd that while facing possible death on an almost daily basis, Georges watch stopping should give such a fright!

From Sir John French’s 7th Despatch:

On the 14th February the 82nd Brigade of the 27th Division was driven from its trenches east of St. Eloi; but by 7 a.m. on the 15th all these trenches had been recaptured, fifteen prisoners taken, and sixty German dead counted in front of the trenches. Similarly in the 28th Division trenches were lost loy the 85th Brigade and retaken the following night. During the month of February the enemy made several attempts to get through all along the line, but he was invariably repulsed with loss. A particularly vigorous attempt was made on the 17th February against the trenches held by the Indian Corps, but it was brilliantly repulsed.

The 2nd Battalion were part of 81st Brigade of the 27th Division, so although not directly involved in the fighting, were presumably sent up in support.

The German submarine blockade of Great Britain began on the 18th February.

{next post 20th February}

GWL 14th February 1915

S.Valentine’s Day.  I ought to have sent you a Valentine, but I forgot all about it.  In fact if I had remembered I am not quite sure how I should have set about it, never having made one.  Your letters of the 11th & 12th have just come.  I think it is an excellent idea of yours to send the cakes.  I am sure they will like them immensely……….. We had a tremendous dinner again last night.  Capel-Cure got a goose somewhere and the doctor came in again.  To-night we are having Vicary and Clarence Gardner.  Hen curry and Sear’s pate.  Last night the doctor said in his Irish way that he felt like a poisoned pup!  It is an awful day.  Old Ion has not turned up yet;  I am afraid it is too bad a day for him to ride over……….. We are going to “makee pray” to-night at 6pm & there is going to be a celebration in the orderly room afterwards.”

Capel-Cure comes up with the goods again!  Capt Vicary (previously mentioned) was Battalion Adjutant at this stage.  Lieutenant Gardner was the Transport Officer.

{next post 19th February}

GWL 13th February 1915

……..A perfectly beastly day, raining and blowing hard.  Thank goodness we are not in now.  There is no news except that we had a dinner party last night.  The doctor dined with us.  We raised two bottles of champagne and a bottle of starboard light.  Much merriment withal.

I don’t think I want any more tinder just now.  I have accumulated rather a lot.  I will write when more is required.  Sear’s pate has turned up, I will write and thank her for it.  It is awfully kind of her.  I can find no ink for cheque writing so will you please pay the enclosed bill for boots, it is quite correct.  Also please order me a new cap from Hawkes.  He has my measurements and everything.  There seems to be movement in England to make us all teetotallers.  What rot they all talk.  I really believe that it is only the rum that keeps half the men alive; it is awfully good rum and miles over proof.  Have not seen old Ion yet.  I do hope he will come over to-day or to-morrow.  Yesterday afternoon I had a small “shut-eye” – very pleasant – probably have another this afternoon unless they stick us for anything.  There is a continual stream of dripping wagons going by our billet, full of all sorts of stores and forage and men in all kinds of queer kits.  We have just been stuck to make wire entanglements this afternoon so no shut-eye to-day – Damn!  Capel-Cure snored to such an extent last night and talked in his sleep so badly that we had to throw things at him.”

When back from the front opportunities were there for some relaxation (for the Officers at least).  Starboard Light is a cocktail with various recipes both gin and whisky based.  Presumably the bottle was a pre-mixed variant.

Capel-Cure hero to villain!

{next post 14th February}

GWL 12th February 1915

“(Copy of letter to Ashburn Place) Resting.  Thank you very much indeed for your long letter of Feb:7th.  The curry powder and soup tablet parcel has arrived safely.  We are going to try the curry powder on a local hen, which we acquired yesterday.  During our rest we make pigs of ourselves as much as possible for six days & then regret it for the next 12 days when we are in.  It froze quite hard the other night and we all hoped the rain was over for a bit again, but no, it is just as bas as ever now.  The vaseline comes in very handy, for feet.  Mine are much better than they were three weeks ago……. We have a funny little billet here.  The three of us sleep in a small room upstairs.  Nearly all the glass is broke in the window and there is a good deal of draught, but that does not matter a bit.  We feed below in a room with a table and four chairs and a fine fireplace.  So altogether we are pretty comfortable.  Food is scattered all over the place.  You never saw such mess.  The local nuns are struggling with my washing to-day.  I don’t know what sort of a job they will make of it.  They are most obliging little people.  The regimental headquarters are established in what I think is their hospital.  They all have beds with white curtains to them!  How is Miss Power these days?  I had a letter from Uncle Frank yesterday and he told me she is bigger than ever.  She was quite large when I left.  Heavens, it seems more than a little under two months since we left England.  I hear the bold Peter is doing great work at Abbeywood and district.  I wonder when he will come out.  Tell him that when he comes out one of the many useful things he should bring is a symphelite stove.  You can get them at the Stores.  I have got something of the same kind only French.  You can cook on them.”

Letter to Marion. “……Capel-Cure went shopping yesterday and brought back enough things for months.  Where they are all going to be carried I don’t know.  If the wagon cannot, he must….The most noble Ion I hope to see either to-morrow or the day after.  I think he comes out to-day for a spell…..The other three companies had rather a lively time the other day.  Fritz started shelling some houses they were in and they all had tp clear out very quickly.  A shell came into the kitchen and knocked over the kettle, but otherwise they did nobody much harm.  Rather lucky….. Piggy weather again, snowing this morning then raining.  We just eat and sleep and write letters.”

Miss Power referred to is presumably younger sister Nancy (clearly quite plump!). It isn’t clear who Capel-Cure was but obviously very effective at “procurement”.

{next post 13th February}

GWL 11th February 1915

Resting.  A lovely day.  Bright sun and no wind.  Such a lot of parcels greeted us on arrival from the trenches as I told you.  The boots I am wearing now and they are absolutely right in every way.  Thank you so much.  Then the chocolate biscuits and shortbread.  Alas the biscuits have gone all too soon, the way all biscuits go: they were very good.  And yet again there was the chocolate & Mother’s soup and vaseline etc: You send me such a nice lot of things………Lots of aeroplanes German & Allied were up all yesterday and people potted at them all day, but apparently did no damage.  I hope I shall see old Ion soon.  Anyhow before we go in again.  The most extraordinary rumours fly about this country.  Yesterday they said there had been a big naval battle and 7 Germans had been sunk, and also that Ostende had been captured.  Where all these things start is a mystery.  Germany’s latest stunt is going to cause rather a lot of trouble to herself whichever way it turns out.  If she cannot in force the blockade she will look a fool, and if she does, she will get in the neck from the neutrals.  The awful thing about it all is that we seem no nearer the end than at the beginning.  We have been out here nearly two months.

Lachlan’s wound was not much; he has not even gone to hospital.  The bullet just clipped the side of his thumb while he was sniping through a loophole.  Painful, but I am glad to say not dangerous.  Davies, one of my subalterns had a piece of luck, he was wounded by a bullet which apparently bounced on to his eyebrow and off again without entering his head.  He is suffering from slight concussion”

The rumours of a sea battle and capture of Ostende were just that – rumours.

{next post 12th February}

GWL 9th February 1915

Well, here we are back again and to-morrow, thank Heaven, the “square heads”  permitting , we go further back still for six days.  It will be good.  I am sure I have received all your letters up to and including the one of Feb 6th.  This morning a huge mail arrived.  Boots, sweets & shortbread and two tins of baccy.  I will answer about them in detail later.  We had a very strenuous time this spell.  A good deal of rain and mud but feet better on the whole.  I have not had my clothes off for 12 days, but that is short compared with some.  The last two days were spent in a ruined farm house within sight of the German lines.  Rather a queer experience.  Bullets kept coming into the remains of the drawing room & shells flying around. though none hit the building.  Nobody is allowed to show his head out of the building & no fires, except charcoal ones inside, during the night.  A novel now and then would be lovely.  There is such a long time always with nothing to do but wait.  This is a weird game.You are never safe from observation and the slightest slip like a little smoke from a chimney or a match struck where it should not be, generally means “whiz bang” after about half an hour.  Our headquarters were shelled the other day and they all had to clear out pretty quickly.  But as the doctor – an Irishman – says “It is no good trying to dodge them, they are much too quick for you!”  Clarence Gardner got one or two chance ones near him the other day, when he was making a laudable effort to make some charcoal near where that bally pheasant eluded me.  I think I shall probably see Ion in the next day or two.  I had a letter from him the other day.  He had been over here to see his other battalion, but unfortunately we were in the trenches at the same time, so we missed each other.  Looting more mixed veg to-day.  Raining hard.  Thank goodness we are going the right way though.  Touch wood!  I think I should weep if those blighters started a fuss now or in the next eight days.  The last two nights up we were five hours late, because somebody had a rush of blood to the head on our left.  We have got such a lot of things to eat that it will take at least a week to get through the uncarriable  (good word) part of them.  Every time I go up, I take more home comforts – soon I shall sink under the load.  Bye bye for the present……….The recruiting pictures say “Remember Belgium”!! “Help!”

The last line probably says enough!

{next post 11th February}

The First World War seen through the letters of George Power