France June 23rd
My Dear Wife & Kiddies:
Am writing this up in the front line - in one of Fritz's gun pits form which we drove him - he left his big gun behind & it is still standing just outside - there is also all kinds of ammunition for it - you would be surprised to see the strength of such position as this - built behind a railway embankment & made of steel & solid concrete 3 to 4 ft thick then we go down 30 to 40 ft to the dug out & tunnel in which we sleep in absolute safety from shell fire. The dug out & tunnel is roofed & sided & floored with 4" planking - its certainly a masterpiece. From where I am sitting I can see 10 of Fritz's observation balloons & several towns & villages & mines etc which we are going to take one of these days, as I write our artillery is busy shelling for the whole line - long day & night we never have 5 minutes pass without the thunder of guns & shriek of shells, & sometimes when for perhaps about a minute the guns are silent - the silence seems strange & unearthly - the country about here - well it cannot be described - you must see it to realize the awfulness of of it all & the devastating power of war. What was once a fruitful & level plain with prosperous farms - villages & towns is now a waste of ruins not a house or church or any building standing intact - trees shattered - here & there rose bushes in bloom amid a wilderness of thistles & nettles etc broken apples & pear trees show where beautiful gardens once flourished & the ground - well there is not a level square yard anywhere literally covered with great shell holes & craters, & barbed wire, from an inch or so from the ground up to the height of your head, there running this way & that way & every way there are trenches - truly the marks of this devastating war will be visible for centuries to come [censored] certainly will be a relief to get away for a while from the roar of the guns & the continuous strain of wondering how close or how much closer the shell are going to fall about you.
We have been resting in the dugout during the day = but at night we crawl from our holes like rats & with rifle & gas mask & pick & shovel we go on to dig & repair trenches right under Fritz's nose - last night we were working just 40 yds from Fritz's front line - He shelled & sniped & bombed us pretty heavily - especially when we began to return home it was a wonder we had no casualties. I had one narrow shave, I was working next to Albert Pryor, & I just went a couple of feet to speak to him & a minute after a piece of shrapnel fell just where I had been digging I picked it up & it was still hot & about 2" by 1" in length. Tell Billy & Shirley we have great firework displays over here - every once in a while Fritz sends up his flares which light up the country for miles arround brilliantly - one has to stand perfectly still when they go up, & you feel about as big as a house side & though they only last about a minute, yet it seems like half an hour = Mr Pryor as you notice is with me - we are chumming together quite a bit I like him, he's a real splendid fellow - This morning & the day before yesterday we went together for water & a wash to a spring in a ruined village about a mile away - Fritz was shelling all the time & I suppose could see us but we needed the water for tea & we certainly needed the wash so were quite content to take chances - Pryor is pretty cool - on our way we passed what had once been a garden, & we had a feed of strawberries - cherries & red-currents - fancy picking strawberries etc with shells coming over - I do not know when I shall be able to mail this, as we cannot send letters from the front line - however I will have it ready for when we come out - Yesterday I received your letters No's 2 & 3
You ought to have received the money I will write Lloyds about it. Sunday & 6-30 P.M, just before going our on working party & after a supper of tea - bully beef - jam & bread. Well we returned off working party digging trenches about 3-15 a.m. we were working about 40 yds from Fritz's front line - he kept sending up his flares & sniping but beyond that he didn't bother us much while working but going in, we had a hot few minutes from trench mortars they came in pretty close them coming out one of his big shells (a wal-box) burst very close but no-one was hurt - & just when we got about a hundred yards from our dugout, he began to put over the shells & for a few minutes we had it rather interesting one shell burst just in front of Pryor & I a few yards & another just behind we thought sure that we were in for it - however we made our dugout in safety & with only two casualties
This is a great game, it's a miracle how men stand the continual strain, day & night & day after day - I have been under shell fire etc you might say continually for 7 days now & we expect to be here for another three or four days yet - its all-right as long as you are in your dug out, but when you are on your way to dig & work right under Fritz's nose, &under shells - bombs - rifle & machine gun fire well it tries ones nerves. South Africa was nothing as compared to this - I have already seen more shell fire than in the whole of the S.A war. If I am spared to return I guess I'll be pretty jumpy after this experience. We go out to night again about 9-30 - to day had been very lively in artillery fire also aeroplane activity we got two of his machines this morning I think - its very interesting watching our planes going over to Fritz's lines, last night I saw 18 or ours in the air together - our airmen are very daring - its exciting watching the shrapnel bursting all arround them & wondering if he is going to get hit, I am going to try & get this letter our with the ration party to night - its hard to get letters our from the front line. It was interesting to note the heading of your letter No 2 I think "Dear Husband" I believe it's the first time you've used it - I am very interested in reading your letters describing the little home & all that you are doing, I am sure it must be bright & cosy, & I can picture you & the kiddies on the veranda & in the garden etc. - We are not counting much on the war finishing this year at the front here - though its possible of course that w4e may be pleasantly dissappointed - God grant that it may be so. I an sure that Dante in the Wildest flight of his imagination could hot describe such an "Inferno" as we have here. I am sure that if spared I shall wake often with the horror of it all before me & I shall not want to talk much about it either.
I have written you about the "Farm" idea it is growing upon me & I want you to write & discuss it as far as you can. Well I must close this Oh I wish that I could be with you this Sunday evening - you seem so very far away & one wonders often here in the midst of the danger - hardship & strain of it all, if it is ever going to end - however one thing is sure - as far as we are concerned we have him beat & its just a question of wearing him down. I havn't had a wash sence yesterday morning & I guess it will be to morrow afternoon before I get a chance now.
Well "Good Night" my dear ones, may God richly bless you & have you in His own keep until in His own good time we meet again. Am so pleased to know that Shirley is getting on so well at school & that Billy is [?] to be so clever - above all & most of all I trust that they will be good. My best & fondest love to you all sweetheart & hugs & kisses