France Saturday, 18th May, 1918
On Active Service
WITH THE BRITISH
My dear dad,
I have had such a busy time these last two days that I have had no time to write a proper letter. I finished off my letter to mother with the incomplete account of my doings on Thursday. To continue then: Stuart, Palmer and I roamed about the town we were visiting until we had seen all that was worth seeing and then sat in the YMCA hut for an hour before beginning the walk back to write some letters. The road back to our village lay across fields which are now sown with such cereals as barley and oats. I had a good nights rest that night being very tired and we awakened next morning at 6.30 with cries of "Come on.. those mess orderlies, rise and shine" bawled out by the corporal of a billet hut with his lusty voice. In response to the call, Palmer and I rose and tramped round to the cookhouse (a converted farmhouse kitchen) and carried round the breakfast. After the meal we had to clean the diners, fill them with water and return them to the cookhouse. You will say, oh!, that is not much to do. Well, I'd like you to have to clear the greasy diners with grease - no water or dish cloth - and then fill them with water from an old well over 100 feet deep when there is no bucket to let down. This is just the state of affairs one is often up against out here. After a search of about 15 mins I managed to find a pail of some sort and after 15 mins the diners were filled. The day before, Stuart was mess orderly and he, of course, laboured under the same difficulties at breakfast time; he borrowed a bucket from the "old girl" in whose barn we "kick out" and owing to mismanagement dropped it down the well where it was irretrievably lost. In his quandry he came to me to explain to the French dame that her "blooming" pail was down the well. Oh dear - I did not know the French for "pail" or "well" so looked it up in the red book and armed with this knowledge I set about my unpleasant task. The good woman, when she understood, went off the deep end and gave me such a beautiful oration, delivered with remarkable speed and many gesticulations; but as I didn't understand one word I was rather in the dark to know what to do. However she seems to have relieved her feelings at the conclusion of the lecture for seeing that I did not know what to say next she went in doors to my great relief.
I did the usual training in the orchard yesterday and owing to the great heat the officer gave us a fairly easy time for which we were glad. When I was off duty I formed in with one of the small party of fellows in our squad who had arranged to go for a swim. As a result of diligent enquiry we found that about 4 kilos away there was a small river where troops could enjoy the leisure of a swim by the kind permission of the "Johnny" who owned the farm through which it ran. The sun was boiling and made the idea of a swim all the more acceptable. After a little trouble we found the river and a suitable place to go in where we derobed in no time. The water was running at about 4mph - rather fast - some of the best swimmers were lured to investigate and found everything A1. I got in last, and very carefully, as the water felt dreadfully cold until I was once immersed, when I was quite at home. It was impossible for any of us to swim against the stream and almost impossible to stand on the firm bed where the water was 4 feet deep. The place where we got in was a good landing place so we went about a hundred yards further up stream, jumped in there and swam quickly down to the landing spot. It was simply posh. When we had all dressed again we raided a farmhouse near and had two glasses of cyder each, no other drink being available.
My mess orderly job occupied the greater part of the evening and by the time I got to bed I was simply tired out after a very happy day.
This morning, Saturday, I had to be up before times again, breakfast being ready at 6am on account of the early parade for a route march. Lewis Gunners however were more privileged having to parade at 8.45 to proceed to a training ground some distance away for the purpose of firing the Lewis Gun course. It was jolly sport firing the old gun which popped away merrily. I was expecting a frightful recoil from the number of shots being fired one after the other in rapid succession, but as I held the gun firmly into my shoulder I did not notice it at all. One of the things I had to fire at was an old can on a stick and a pretty mess it was in when I had finished with it. All our squad did well so now we are all trained Lewis Gunners. There was a large party firing and we did not get back to dinner until 5.10 this evening; in the meantime I ate all my bread and marmalade ration and then had to fall back on some of the chocolate and nut food I brought out from Blighty which eats very well with the few army biscuits I had. After dinner I had a good wash and made my way into the orchard to write this letter.
"First post" has just sounded so that I must draw this letter to a close. At times I feel rather homesick and it is then that I miss coming home at week-ends. On the whole, however, we are kept so busy that we don't have time to think about these things.
I hope that business is going well, but that you are not overworking and feeling fit - except when the time for medical exams come along. I wish that some of the old scout friends were with me, it would make the life out here much more easy to put up with.
The weather is still very fine and I suppose it is very like that at home, altho' not quite so hot perhaps.
I hope that all the others at home are quite well too. Give my fondest love to mother.
Your loving son,