We live in strenuous times..

l4 Aug. 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie
Many thanks dear girl for your last letter from Llandidno [sic] and also one which has come today from Leeds. Im so very glad you have had a good holiday and only hope you will return to Minch feeling like a giantess. This is only a very short letter –  we live in strenuous times out here just now and Ive very little time for writing –  at present I am on special duty detached from the Regiment – we have half the Regiment here and Im adjutant & quartermaster. In a few days we move up further and right into the front trenches –  If you dont here regularly from me dear girl dont worry about me I will write when I can I shall always be thinking of you and if anything happens to me I shall feel right to the end that you thought well of me and that will make me happy. Goodbye dear girl best love

from Stan

Next letter August 31st 2017
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The Mespot Commission has exposed…

August 1st 1917
No address

My dear old Elsie
The posts seem to have gone all wrong again for this is the third week no letter has come from you – perhaps those wretched submarines have been busy – Ive not written for about ten days because Ive been out on outpost duty again but now we are resting and under canvas and I can get back to my little camp bed. There is very little to tell you and there is a good deal of sameness about our days –  sometimes however there are raids carried out and there is always a certain amount of artillery fire and air activity – we are all longing to get further on but there are a good many difficulties to overcome first. The other day our General suggested we should get up some Brigade sports while we are resting and so last Saturday we had quite a gala day here in the desert we had managed to bring our band along with us – and they played all afternoon –  the Somersets beat the other Regiments of the Brigade in most of the events – weve got a very good tug of war team.

Ive been thinking of you dear girl on holiday and hoping you have had a very good time and real summer weather – you must have enjoyed seeing all your people and friends again. The last batch of home papers gave the report of the Mespot Commission1 – of course I am greatly interested and I am glad all the horrible things (or some of them) have now been exposed to the world. I could add a few more details – but I try to forget all my experiences out there. It seems ages and ages since we left England and here we are at the anniversary of the war again – whenever is it all going to end dear – we have had no news at all lately from the outside world and are very anxious about Russia – I wonder what people at home think about things especially as food seems so scarce and expensive wouldnt it be grand if we could wake up one morning and find Peace in the world once again. I hope dear girl that you are quite quite fit again – Every day I look out for your letters which I hope will soon come – with best love

from Stan

1 Report of Mesopotamia Commission issued June 1917 (Moberly, op. Cit. vol. IV, pp.28-31. Chairman of the Commission, Sir George Hamilton, wrote in a letter to The Times July 16th 1917 ‘Our investigation showed that never before had the rank and file of the British and Indian Armies fought better than in Mesopotamia. On the other hand it was difficult to exaggerate the incompetence shown in the management of their transport, supplies and medical services.’ Austen Chamberlain resigned as Secretary of State for India when the report was published.

Next letter August 14th 2017

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tired of this horrible war

[letter re-addressed to Gwynant, Park Rd., Hale, Cheshire]
no address.
July 9 1917

My dear old Elsie

Your letters have reached me at last – many thanks dear girl for six of them which arrived a few days ago and gave me the greatest possible pleasure. I am glad the parcels reached you safely as I was afraid they had gone to the bottom of the sea and I hope you will wear that funny old necklace sometimes. If you string them on the strong fine silk used for pearls they should be all right until Barbara has a good pull at them. I am very sorry you have been so unwell but Im thinking of you now on holiday and hoping the change and sea air will do you ever so much good – you will return to Minch quite refreshed – especially if the weather has been fine and warm.

I had 11 letters from the Pater the same day as yours came so have had quite a budget to read and I hope now to hear regularly altho Im told several more Egyptian mail boats have been sunk.

Dont send me the Tatler dear at present — many thanks all the same – I shall miss it especially Eves letters and ‘with silent friends’ but they dont bother much about papers out here and so many wouldnt reach me it would be waste of money. When you think of it however dear girl you might post me a sixpenny novel – say once every six weeks or so – I dont get much time for reading but when I do get a few slack moments its nice to take up something light and frivolous. My out post work is over for the time being and my company is resting (so called) Its been a strenuous time with a lot of night work and Ive been in the saddle all day long sometimes. Im very well dear – only a little tirer –  tired of this horrible war and wishing every day that it may soon be all over General Allenby1 our new Commander in Chief has been to see us – It has cheered us up and we are full of enthusiasm and we are going to have a great victory here before many weeks are gone by – but how I wish it was a thing already accomplished for I know what mettle the Turk is made of and I fear there’ll be much blood shed before we see the gates of the Holy City – however! Goodbye dear old girl – many thanks again for your welcome letters
Best love
from Stan

1 Sir Edmund Allenby (1861-1936) assumed command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at midnight June 28/29th 1917 at Cairo GHQ and within a week of assuming command had ‘departed on a visit to the front, leaving behind a slightly shaken staff’ (Wavell, Allenby, op. cit. p.188). Later promoted Field Marshal and ennobled as First Viscount Allenby of Megiddo GCB, GCMG, GCVO, KCB, etc, and numerous foreign honours.

Next letter August 1st 2017

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we have caught 7 prisoners…

June 26 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie
I hope you have been getting my letters regularly because I have told you all my movement sometimes I think the Censor may cut out some of the things I write. As it is past history now I think I can tell you that the place we first came to after leaving Cairo was El Arish – we are now about 30 miles further up so if you look at a map of this front you will be able to see where I am and we are actually in Palestine now. Soon after leaving El Arish which is an absolute sandy desert we came across a blade or two of green grass and gradually cultivation increased and now we are on fairly firm ground with grass everywhere but very few trees yet. Only a few miles ahead we are told we get into lovely country and I only hope we shall soon be able to beat back the Turks towards Jerusalem. We are very busy here night and day and altho the sea is quite near we have had no opportunity of bathing yet and so we are all very very dirty. As soon as we arrived at this place we had to take over the outpost duties and Ive been in charge of three posts with my Company.

Nothing much has happen[ed] yet except that we are rather troubled by Arabs just as we were in Mespot – and we have caught seven prisoners up to date which is a start at any rate. Just ahead the guns are firing incessantly and the airmen on both sides are very active. I wish I could tell you more dear girl I am writing this in my little dugout with a couple of blankets shielding me from the sun – it is very burning in the daytime but a delightful climate compared to India and it is very cold when doing patrol duty at night. It must be two weeks since I heard from you & Ive had no letters from home since leaving India I do hope the postal arrangements are going to be kind to us out here and not like Mespot. The railway and water pipe run right up here so we have plenty of stores – Unfortunately we are only allowed one water bottle of water a day & we have to do all our drinking shaving & washing in that! Its three years since I saw you and I do wish it could all finish and we could return to the dear old days of peace – but I suppose we must all be patient – if only Russia1 hadnt proved so disappointing – it might have been almost over by now. Hope you are very well dear girl, with best love

from Stan

1 The Komilov offensive had failed.

Next letter July 9th 2017

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…we can bathe in the jolly old Jordan…

June 16 1917
no address but Regimental Badge not excised

My dear old Elsie
Many thanks dear old girl for your last letter (May 23rd) – your letters are the only ones Ive had since leaving India so you can guess how much they are appreciated – I cant think why the Paters letters arent reaching me unless he is still expecting me home. Well dear girl we move tomorrow further up so we are all bustle and excitement again – the move has come rather sooner than we anticipated – so this is the last letter I shall write from this desert of sand. Tomorrow will bring us actually into the Land of Milk and Honey – we shall leave the sands behind us and I hope find green fields & trees. Im afraid we shall be too near old man Turk to bathe very often and we shall miss this luxury ever so much – we shall have to go dirty thats all for fresh water will be much too precious to wash in very much. We shall have to wait until we can bathe in the jolly old Jordan with a cake of Coal Tar I will send you a line when ever I can and I hope wont worry about me. I am ever so fit now with absolutely no fever and Im so happy to be on service with my own old Regiment. I shall always be thinking of you & looking forward to Peace and the re-union in the dear old country with my best love

from Stan

Next letter June 26th 2017

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..from ‘somewhere in Palestine’…

June 9 1917
no address.

My dear old Elsie
Heres a few lines of greeting from ‘somewhere in Palestine’ for we left our camp in Cairo a week ago and are now at an advanced base. It was an uneventful journey but of course very interesting and I think the building of 200 or so miles of railroad1 right across the sandy desert with no fresh water is an achievement with which the nation may well be proud –  At present we are living among a sea of sand-hills –  fine almost white sand – there are no roads and one simply flounders about and of course its very hard going especially for the poor transport animals – it is fortunately much cooler than India but the sand glare is very trying and Ive  always got to wear my dark spectacles and the men are issued with these too. We have one great compensation for our petty discomforts and it is that we are only a few hundred miles [?yards] from the sea – and most days we are able to bathe in the clearest – bluest –  warmest sea imaginable Nothing very exciting has happened yet except that we get a good deal of attention from enemy aircraft who drop those loathsome bombs but our guns generally chase them away successfully –  All day & night long we hear the artillery duels and at night the sky is illuminated by the star shells and flares The men are all very happy and excited about it all – poor devils – they are such boys most of them – and it rather depresses me when I think what is before them – its a great mercy they don’t know as much as I do about the cruel heartless side of war

EW-camels

There is no news of our immediate future but I fancy we shall be here for some little time but of course its always impossible to foretell –  only a few miles further ahead we come into the Holy Land and there we are told are green fields & trees – orange groves and fresh water in abundance –  we long for the time we can push on to these luxuries
I am enclosing dear girl one or two snap shots that Banes Walker took when we were at the Sphinx & Pyramids I am on the black camel in case you can’t recognise me.
I hope you are fit & well and having real summer weather
Best love dear old pal
from Stan

 

1 ‘The main single track railway from Qantara had reached Deir al Belah at the date of Sir Edmund Allenby’s arrival. It just sufficed, independently of sea transport, to maintain the force before Gaza. As soon as he received instructions to double this line the work was put in hand by Brig. Gen. Sir G Macauley, Director of Railway Transport, and it advanced very quickly. By the end of August, 8 miles from Qantara had been doubled, while bank work and the laying out of sleepers and rails had been completed for approximately another 10 miles. By the end of September the double line was in use beyond Qatiya, a distance of over 30 miles as the track lay. At the end of October, on the eve of the offensive, it was in use up to Bir el Mazar, a distance of 70 miles, a mile a day thus having been laid during the last two months.’ (Cyril Fails, Military Operations Egypt & Palestine from June 1917 to the end of the War. HMSO 1930, part I p.20).

Next letter June 16th 2017

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en route for the front line…

May 31st. 1917
[no address, but certainly Helmieh.1]
[On envelope: ‘passed by censor No 3983’]

Heres another few lines to tell you this is the last time I shalt write to you from this camp for in a few hours from now we shall be on the move again en route for the front line.

I’m not allowed to tell you our exact destination at present but it isnt far from Beersheba and you can easily find this on the map so you will have a very good idea. We have worked night and day since last I wrote and now I think we shall set out quite completely equipped and a very fine Regiment indeed. I shall write you as often as I can but there may be some little delay for a bit. Many thanks dear for a photo you sent me of Highcroft, it looks a delightful place and I’m sure you’ll simply love these next few months especially if you get some really nice summer weather. I forgot to tell you that when I was at the Pyramids I got a little old bead necklace with charms and amulets2 onew-receipt it –  these are supposed to have been dug up out of the tombs and may possibly have adorned some ancient Egyptian Princess in days gone by. Ive put it in a cigarette tin and posted it to you and I hope it and the feathers wont get submarined well goodbye dear girl I shall always be thinking of you & looking out for your letters – dont worry about my safety – if I can ward off this fever I shall get through all right
Best love dear girl
from Stan

1 The Regiment left Helmieh Camp for El Arish on June 3rd 1917 (War Diary, PRO WO 95/4690).
2 Receipt and Warranty
[This small sheet is a printed form whose blank spaces have been filled in by a ‘Dealer of antiquities’ with an unreadable signature. See plate, section II, p.2.]
30th May 1917
Cairo
I undertake to refund the sum of P.T. 125 [?7251 paid to me by Mr Goodland for Necklice of the 18th Dy [dynasty] about 1700 B.C. If any of the Egyptologist of the British musim or Cairo musim stated that it is not real old one.

Next letter June 9th 2017

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We’ve visited the pyramids…

May 25 1917
no address.

My dear old Elsie
Just a line by this mail to let you know that I am very well and safe & sound. I wish I could tell you all about our interesting work but unfortunately the censorship is very strict and I have to be very careful.

We are getting on very quickly and well with all our arrangements and the men are splendid – I feel sure the Regiment will do well when we get into closer touch with the enemy.

I sent off the ostrich feathers dear girl and I hope they wont get submarined and Ive also sent a packet of postcard views of Cairo and district these will give you some little idea of a very wonderful city – Since I last wrote to you Ive been to have a look at the Pyramids and Sphinx which are really marvellous and now Im looking forward to having a tour of all the museums tombs and mosques. Weve had a great discussion in the Mess as to what are the seven wonders of the world and strange to say not one of us can remember them all –  I think we’ve got 4 all right –  I wonder if you can remember them dear girl? We thought at first that Egypt had a perfect climate but a few days ago we had an awful sand-storm which lasted two days – It was one of my very worst experiences since leaving home – there always seem something to mar the beauties and wonders of the East. Goodnight – dear old girl – with best love
from Stan

Next letter May 31st 2017

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Sailing at last

at sea, 1/5 Somerset L.I., Indian Ocean, Troopship Chakdara1
[Envelope stamped ‘passed by censor May 4 1917 No 3009’]

My dear old Elsie
Before leaving Bombay I sent a cable to Elm Grove saying I was sailing –  I hope the censor sent it off all right and that Greta has let you know. It is just possible we may put in at Aden tomorrow for new stores of fresh meat water and ice and so I am hoping to post these few lines on to you. Unfortunately I can’t tell you our destination even yet but we gathered unofficially at Bombay that we are bound for Egypt and after re-equipping at Suez Alexandria or El Arish we are to join up with the forces operating at the bottom of Palestine. Of course all these plans may be moonshine and some of us are still hoping that we are on our way to old England Its rather exciting this uncertainty but we should probably get our definite orders at Suez and of course I shall write to you at once. I believe the British need reinforcements in Palestine – if you take a look at the map you will find a place called Gaza on the coast – the Turks have got a strong position there stretching inland 40 miles to Beer Sheba. Up to now we are having a fairly good voyage – it is rather a tub of a boat – very different to the Kenilworth Castle –  and the Indian Ocean has some days been very rough but I suppose Im a better sailor than I was in the old days. We are one of a convoy and of course our wonderful Navy is escorting us for there are enemy raiders about2 –  day and night we have to wear or carry lifebelts and we are always practising the alarm and every man knows his particular job. We have now been at sea just over a week and I expect it will be another week before we get to Suez for we have to take time from the slowest ship in the convoy and consequently can only do about 10 knots an hour.

I think every man was glad to leave India at last and of course everyone is in the highest spirits at the prospect of striking a blow for old England before the war ends – we had a great send off from Bombay and I am sure none of us will ever forget it. The Colonels wife and the other ladies of the Regiment – who have been bricks to us since weve been in India – came to see us off —they hope to get home by mail boat soon.

There were some hundreds of the Bombay garrison at the Docks and of course thousands of envious natives – Our bugles sounded the Advance and the Band played the Regimental March – the men were singing and cheering. Ive been at sea 9 days now and have had absolutely no news – we hope to hear all that’s been going on when we reach Aden. I hope you are very fit dear old girl – I shall write to you as often as I can – Best love

from Stan

1 Troopship Chakdara: British India Steam Navigation Co., passenger vessel, 1,581 tons, built 1914 at Leith.
2 The German raider Wolf left Germany November 30th 1916. In January & February Wolf laid mines off Cape Agulhas, Bombay and Colombo. Then Wolf went East and in May 1917 was refitted at Sunday Is, in the Kermadec Group, NE of New Zealand. She laid mines in the Cook & Bass Straits and off the Anamba Is, near Singapore. She then returned to the Indian Ocean and home to Germany in February 1918. (Halpem, op. cit. pp. 372-3.)

Next letter May 17th 2017

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We are still hoping and betting on ‘Blighty’

1/5 Somerset L.I., Poona
April 12 1917

My dear old Elsie

Ever so many thanks dear for your last letter (Mar 7) and also for a lovely box of ‘comforts’ which reached me quite safely. I’ve been suffering the last few days from the effects of inoculation for enteric fever and have had a horrid time – but I’ve enjoyed soup made out of the tablets you sent me and for a couple of days or so could eat nothing else  – many thanks again dear old girl –  and also for all the other useful and welcome things.

Even yet no news of our going has come in – we are still hoping and betting on ‘Blighty’ and are almost sure to be off in a few days time. I think I must have missed at least two of your letters lately and the post has been very uncertain – I gather you are settled into your new house and I hope the weather is better for you at last – We spent a very funny Easter – busy the whole time with our plans for embarking and no hot-cross buns of course! The war news at last seems almost too good to be true and America has really joined in at last – I sometimes wonder if the whole thing won’t be over before we get to France! I know you’ll be glad to hear I’ve got my Captaincy in this Regiment at last – I may finish up a Major yet eh. I hope you are very fit dear and I’m ever so glad you are still so happy at Minch. Best love dear girl
from Stan

Next letter May 4th 2017

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