Monday 13 May, 1918
Somewhere in France
My dearest mother,
I am a bit late in wishing you many very happy returns of your 44th (?) birthday; but out here I forget the date and very often the day. I hope that the coming year will bring with it every happiness for you & that as you get older your worries, care and the work you have to do will get less. Perhaps by the time May 12th comes round again I shall be home for good & this wretched war a thing of the past. I expect you judged by my letter to dad that something was happening; well, now it has all happened & I hope I am settled for a short time at least. I don't expect you can guess where I am writing this letter but I am going to give you an idea. I am in a barn of one of the farmhouses which constitute this pretty little old fashioned village. The village is many miles behind the line out of sound of the guns and is for all the world like one of England's many villages with its whitewashed cottages, the small quaint church and the inevitable duck pond. There are only a few houses and these are along the roads which meet here. The nearest YMCA is at a village about 3 kilos from here and a pass must be obtained to enable us to go there. Apart from that there is no amusement for the troops billeted here, so that we have to amuse ourselves with writing and reading when we are not working. As I told you in one of my previous letters I have bought Chas. Lamb's Essays of Elia which I am reading. I should like a magazine or two and a decent novel to read when you send a parcel to me. My address here is Pte. AHF, 537, "A" Coy, 1st Batt. 15th London Regt 47th Divisional Wing, BEF, France. Thus you see I have joined the good old C.S.R¹ at last. From all accounts we shall have a better time with the Batt'n than with any other and as long as we stay here we shall be quite happy.
We left the base yesterday morning in full marching order, having got up at 5.30am. The weight of the pack, ammunition and rations was awful - it must have been over one hundred weight - and I wondered, if we were called on to march for how I should get on. We marched down to the station and having dumped our packs etc in our truck bought some hot cocoa to drink and a packet of biscuits to eat before we began our journey. After about an hour and half delay the train started with a jolt that sent nearly all of us on to the floor. As you are aware the troop trains over here wait for hours at a time and when everybody has got out and made himself comfortable by the way-side thinking that the old train has come to rest for ever, it suddenly shrieks and the couplings creak and rattle as it commences its journey without any warning, just as if it were some giant monster that had fallen asleep on its way and suddenly awoke and went on again. The train was a very long one and full of troops on their way to join their regiments. Unlike most of the trains here this one travelled at quite a respectable rate - about 20 mph. For a time we looked out of the doors of the train at the country through which we travelled and which consisted mostly of arable land with green meadows and clumps of trees here and there. The country seemed very flat and resembled that part of Essex through which the Great Eastern main line runs. We soon tired of standing up then we layed down of the floor wherever we could do so without sprawling over the kit or some prostrate sleeper already in dreamland. As I lay dozing with my head on old Stuart and my boots wiping some other poor chap's anatomy I thought what a strange Sunday this was and how imperfectly I used to imagine the doings of chaps out here. When I was at home I looked at my watch several times and thought of you and tried to picture you all at your customary places in church and at home and fell asleep thinking of home and wondering how long it would be before I got back again. I awoke just before the train pulled up at a large town where we waited about half and hour in a siding. Here I got out and had my dinner of bully beef and biscuits which I washed down with water. We brought some tea, dried milk and sugar with us which unfortunately we could not use as it all got mixed up with the pepper and salt ration which was wrapped up in the same parcel. When traveling by train we usually get hot water for tea from the engine and in this instance a queue was soon formed for water.
At 1o/c the train started again and after an hours journey pulled up at another station where the drafts for this division got off. I was feeling horribly sleepy and felt that I could not walk a half a mile, so that when we were told that we had to march 14 kilos that afternoon to this village you can guess how I felt. Well, the march seems a night-mare to me even now so I am not going to say much about it; suffice it to say that I managed to keep up with the party all the way altho' I don't know how I did it. I arrived here at 6pm and after having some tea inspected the billet where I was to sleep. There is straw on the floor of the barn which is divided up to make four compartments. The walls which are made of mud have been knocked down in places, while the tiled roof contains many inlets for water when it rains.
I slept very comfortably last night and consequently awoke very much refreshed after yesterday's tiring experiences and so I am now quite comfortably settled down. I will bring my letter to a close feeling that I have done justice in bringing you up to that point of my adventures where all is well.
We shall be fairly treated in this Battalion. I understand from fellows to whom I have already spoken that unless there is any great need for us we shall not be sent until we are nineteen and that in the meantime we shall continue our training. I hope that the emergency will not arise for the sake of your rest of mind on my account, although from my point of view the sooner I go up the line, the sooner I get my Blighty and get back to good old London again.
I have not had any letters yet but now that I am with the Batt and have a permanent address I hope to receive some very soon. At present my correspondence is rather a one sided affair which will, I hope, soon be remedied.
Give my best love to Dad, the boys and Grandma. With fondest love
from your very affectionate son
PS The things that I need most are:- Margo, Harrison's powder, envelopes & a bottle of ink and ink tablets.
¹ Civil Service Rifles