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Date: February 7th 1917
Friends of Norewood
W.J. Stares

France Feb. 7th 1917

Dear Friends of Norwood.

On August 22nd 1916 we left the Ypres salient commonly known as the “Slaughter house” a place where no one returns and a spot dreaded by the Huns as well as ourselves, for the Somme- Gov[?] Rumours were going round as to our destination, some were saying we were out for a months rest, others said we were bound for Solonieu, and it did realy seem as if this would prove correct, for we found ourselves after a weeks marching a few miles from Calais, where we stayed 8 days for training. From here we were called up in the dead of the night and entrained in Box cars, 30 to 40 in a car. Our legs, rifles, equipment, one mass of entanglement. How we ever got ourselves out of such a mess I do not know. – After travelling all night and the best part of next day we arrived at Aix-la-Chateau, and our doubts as to where we were bound for was settled, we were for the Somme. – then started our long march finally finishing up on a field overlooking the town of Albert. Next morning I was detailed to look over where the Battalion was to spend the next few days (Sausage Valley) and in the afternoon guided the Battalion into the Valley. Here our time was taken up in sightseeing. Here we saw where the British started the advance on July 1st – we examined the deep dugout once occupied by the Huns although the dead was still to be seen in them. In most cases these dug-outs was very elaborate. 60ft below ground, passages with rooms branching off-walls papered – spring beds, electric light system and all modern convenience – The roar of the guns was deafening, and never stop day or night. I slept (or tried to) in a hole about 30 yds in front of a battery, everytime they tried it seems as if the earth had opened up.- the shock was so great. Here we first learnt of some wonderful machine which were to go over with us on the 15th Sept. these proved to be the “tanks” we could hardly believe when we were told these “tanks” went over shell holes, mine creaters, and trenches, and only a direct hit by a shell of large caliber could put them out of commission. Here also we were told of what was required of us on the 18th namely – to take a strong fortified position know as the Sugar factory. 1200 yrds dash from our lines.- I made trips to the front line to study the lay of the ground. and what obstacles we had to encounter on our way over. – passing by Contalmaison, (where the Prussian Guards met their fate) and Pozieres, now a heap of bricks, and unrecognizable – I learn that the ground sloped from our line gradually to the factory, which was all to our advantage, as it gave us speed. I had many escapes from Shrapnel before getting back to the Valley and reporting. – Midnight Sept 14th 15th Fall in ready to march to the line and take up our position, singing, and cracking jokes as we march along – nerves at high tension – ready for the word to leap the parapet and the “Sugar factory”. Before that word came however, the Huns made a Bombing attack and was successful in one spot in entering our trench, taking away two of our boys,- imagine our surprise when we dashed into the factory to find the two lads, laying on stretchers, bandaged, and labelled “Germany”. At the first sight of us they jumped the stretchers, and finally made their way back to our own dressing station and relabeled “England” This is only a few of the many incidents in the advance. It would be impossible to tell all that happened from 6:20AM Sept 15th to the 17th when we were relieved. The factory was easily taken, and we followed up the advantage by pushing on to Courcellette – 3 villages and over a mile of territory in 1 day. The biggest push of the Battle of the Somme. – Many brave Boys laid down their lives that day and we regret the loss of Murphy – a good lad – after being relieved we made a circular trip through a section of the country, finding ourselves after a weeks marching back at Albert, ready, and reorganized for our second trip in the live and another push. While at Albert we were billeted in houses and at 8AM one morning a shell whistled over the roof of the house and landed in the backyard. A second came over closer, and the third went into the next house. I was covered in plaster & brick for the ceiling fell down upon us. Unfortunately the house next to us was occupied by troops, and many were wounded one having his foot blown off. – From here we went to Bailiff Woods in front of Contalmaison where we spent a few days before going into the line. Here I witness one of the finest sights and pathetic sight since coming to France. A poor Boy had been wounded and the bandages covered his eyes so that he could not see. This chum (a celtic[?] dog) brough him alone from the line over that shell swept country winding his way around the shell holes following the narrow path between the guns until he reached the dressing station in the Valley. Sir – No money in this world could buy that dog. The tears came to my eyes as I saw that inteligent beast tugging at the string from his collar, and I gave a cheer and took off my hat as they passed by. I think I will finish for this time, and if this gets through successfull will give you some idea in my own poor way of my second trip into the line, and my worst experience of the Somme.

Yours sincerely

W.J. Stares

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