Background to the 1918 letters

The background to the war in 1918

Allenby’s capture of Jaffa and Jerusalem had met the expectations of those like Lloyd George who believed that on the path to eventual victory there must be an alternative to the attritional slaughter of the Western Front; but there were many imponderables in the first months of 1918. Bolshevik Russia was keen to sue for peace, allowing the Germans to transfer armies from the Eastern Front to France and Belgium and it was not yet clear when the arrival of United States’ forces would introduce a significant new factor to the Western Front. In March 1918 the Germans struck hard and as soon as the massive scale of this offensive was appreciated Allenby was warned that he might be required to spare some of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force for service in France; in the event two divisions left in April and eleven more British battalions and other units in May, a total of nearly 60,000 men. To replace them Allenby was sent an Indian division from Mesopotamia and many more Indian units recently recruited and lacking in battle experience. Much reorganisation and training was now needed to make the depleted E.E.F. capable of launching a full-scale offensive against a tenacious enemy defending well-prepared positions. Not that Allenby allowed the two Corps of the E.E.E to remain inactive. In late March and in late April XX Corps launched major raids to cut the railway at Amman and to convince Liman von Sanders – the hero of Gallipoli who had replaced von Falkenhayn – that when Allenby was ready his main thrust would be East of Jordan. Between the two Transjordan raids XXI Corps, whose left flank guarded the coast, planned an operation in the foothills East of Lydda designed to tear a gap in the enemy’s defences through which the cavalry would pour encircling his front line and capturing Tul Karm, the headquarters and railhead of the Turkish Eighth Army. The ‘Action of Berukin’ as the Official History austerely calls it1, was fought on April 9th, 10th and 11th. The 75th Division, crossing a wide no-man’s land,  advanced against an entrenched enemy defending a country of ravines and steep hills. Two German infantry battalions supported by their own artillery, mortars and machine guns, as well as determined Turkish units, contested every metre of ground; any gains were fiercely counter-attacked before they could be consolidated. A few villages and hilltops were taken and held but the looked-for breakthrough did not materialise and the action was called off; the 75th Division had suffered a total of 1500 casualties.2

 

Over the summer, while his army was re-grouping, Allenby matured his grand strategy. Setting his sights on Damascus, Beirut and Aleppo he intended to clear the enemy not only from Palestine but also from Syria. The lesson of the ‘Action  of Berukin’ was learnt; there would be no more attacks involving only one division. Allenby planned to strike the Turks on the coastal plain with such overwhelming force that there could be no doubt of the breakthrough which would enable the cavalry to rush north up the Plain of Sharon, over the range of hills which runs from south-east to north-west and ends at Mount Carmel overlooking Haifa and so down into the Plain of Esdraelon – all this to be accomplished in a ride of at least fifty miles in twenty-four hours. A series of elaborate deceptions confirmed Liman von Sanders in the belief that Allenby would attack in and to the  East of the Jordan Valley, but with the concentration of his forces near the coast undetected, the onslaught Allenby launched in the early hours of September 19th, initiating what is officially named the Battle of Megiddo, achieved complete surprise. The following morning von Sanders himself was lucky not to have been made prisoner when, unaware of the depth and speed of the British advance he escaped, in his pyjamas, from his headquarters in Nazareth, on the northern side of the Plain of Esdraelon, which had been entered by a troop of Gloucester Hussars.

In France the Allies had recovered the ground surrendered in the Spring and, as the Germans retreated, reached country behind the front-line areas which had not been devastated by four years of trench warfare. In the Balkans the Bulgarians crumpled on the Salonika front and sued for peace on September 29th. Meanwhile Allenby’s cavalry ranged further northwards; Haifa was entered on September 23rd, Damascus a week later, Beirut on October 8th and Aleppo on the 26th. In less than six weeks Allenby’s men had advanced 350 miles – many units covering much greater distances – and taken at least 75,000 prisoners. Threatened by invasion from both the South and the Balkans and aware of Germany’s imminent collapse, Turkey capitulated on October 30th. The political consequences of Allenby’s victory were complex and far-reaching but these were not the concern of the majority of the men under his command, the volunteers and conscripts whose duty had been done and who now longed to return home to India, Australia, the West Indies and the United Kingdom.

Stanley Goodland in 1918: Palestine & Egypt.

From January to April 1918 the 75th Division held its place in the front line due East of Jaffa and North East of Lydda (Ludd). Each infantry battalion took its turn at the front, where no man’s land was wide and activity was confined to patrolling. The 1/5 Somersets gradually returned to full strength, though there were gaps which reinforcements and the returning wounded, now restored to health, could not fill. Stanley Goodland felt deeply the loss of his friends Gerald Banes Walker, killed in the battle for El Jib, and Harry Milsom, wounded and invalided home.

The visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught provided a welcome exception to the routine of divisional duties. Stanley commanded the one hundred strong Guard of Honour at the parade on March 16th at Ramleh (now Ramla). The Duke presented medals to officers and men of the 1/5 Somersets. Major Frank Urwick received the DSO for his distinguished leadership at El Mesmiyeh in November. Captains Goodland and Timms received their MCs, RSM Windows was presented with the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Sgt Collard with the Military Medal and Bar, and Privates Cridland, Greedy, Petvin and Rowseti with Military Medals.3

The 1/5 Somersets were heavily involved in the ‘Action of Berukin,’ which began on April 9th. By 0530 hrs no 4 Company had achieved its objective, the occupation of Rafat and by 0730 nos 1 & 3 Companies had seized the ridge between Rafat and Arara. Arara is ‘a rugged hill, devoid of all vegetation …  it stands out a landmark for miles around, and was a position of great natural strength.’ ‘The prominent ridge [is] fashioned principally from solid rock interspersed with enormous boulders.’ The ridge was taken ‘in the face of heavy M.G. fire, a hostile M.G. being captured by 2/Lt Franks and used to repel a counter-attack.’4 Attempts to capture the South-East peak of Arara were frustrated by the fire of three machine guns on the North-West peak and by enfilading fire from the right. Casualties were heavy. Two subalterns were killed, as were five other ranks. Among the wounded were six officers and seventy-five men.5 Elsewhere along the 75th Division front there were similar stories of merely limited objectives obtained, frequent counter-attacks by a stubborn defence which included two battalions of the German ‘Pasha II’ contingent and severe losses inflicted by well-directed machine gun, mortar and artillery fire.

When the battle was resumed early on April 10th the enemy had been reinforced and had at least six machine guns in position making the Rafat-Arara ridge untenable, so a withdrawal was made that night. On the 11th the Corps Commander, Lt Gen. Bulfin and his Chief of Staff visited the 75th Division and, having seen for themselves that no immediate breakthrough was possible ordered further offensive operations to be postponed.6

The British possession of Rafat, El Kefr and Berukin was still bitterly disputed and desultory fighting continued until September. Through the scorching summer the Somersets were either holding the forward outposts or were bivouacked in ‘rest’ areas, from which large working parties were employed in road building and the construction of a second line of defence. Artillery bombardment caused casualties. For instance at El Kefr on April 30th three men were killed and three more wounded; two more were wounded when the same village was shelled on May 27th. Night patrols were sent out, some leaving propaganda material in places the enemy was known to visit. In July the Battalion was at Deir Ballut where, on the 13th, when Stanley was temporarily in command, an estimated 600 shells were directed onto the area it occupied but the enemy’s attack on Rafat from Arara failed because ‘they were prevented by our artillery from reaching the wire’ 7 In late August the Battalion occupied the Berukin area, remaining there until September 12th, a week before Allenby’s offensive began.

Stanley’s surviving letters provide only a sketchy account of these months of hard campaigning. German and Austrian submarines continued to sink Allied ships in the Mediterranean till the end of the war; letters were damaged or lost.8 There is no reference in the War Diary to Stanley’s reconnaissance work in August but he must have been minutely examining the area in which the 233rd Infantry Brigade would be deployed in the operations on Z Day, September 19th.

Marching only by night, forbidden to light fires, moving to concealed bivouacs in orange groves, the Battalion prepared for Allenby’s greatest ‘stunt’. Two Companies were attached to the 234th Infantry Brigade with the specific task of capturing an advanced Turkish outpost covering Tabsor, about five miles inland from the coast. This mission was speedily accomplished without loss, though two men were killed and five wounded later in the day. By nightfall the re-united Battalion had advanced five miles and become part of Corps reserve.

While the British and Imperial cavalry surged North following Allenby’s spectacular breakthrough the men of the 233rd Infantry Brigade were engaged in maintaining the railway and roads in the Kalkilieh (Qalqilye) area. The most common War Diary entry for October is: ‘The Battalion continued training and bathing’. Stanley Goodland’s departure for temporary duty on the Divisional staff is duly noted, as is his return on November 9th, by which time the Battalion had moved South to Hadithe where it had spent the bedraggled Christmas of 19179. Here the news was received by wire of the German Armistice of November 11th. A party of five officers and fifteen other ranks went to Rafat-Arara to make a cemetery for those killed in the battle there. Sickness was prevalent. The Roll of Honour prints the names of twelve private soldiers who died in the last three months of 1918.10

On December 6th the Battalion was transported by train to Kantara, in the Canal Zone near to Port Said. It was one stage towards home but for Stanley, the Adjutant, the processing of demobilisation papers made for a busy Christmas.

1 Guided by Turkish nomenclature: Cyril Falls, op. cit. Part II, p.350.
2 ibid. p.357.
3 BoR, p.58.
4 2/Lt Franks was awarded the MC. Bn War Diary 22/5/1918.
5 At some stage of this campaign Major Urwick suffered a shrapnel wound. Bn War Diary for  9/4/1918, PRO WO 95 4690.
6 Falls, op. cit. part II, p.356.
7 Bn War Diary 13/7/1918.
8 28 German U-Boats were still operating in the Mediterranean in August 1918: see Halpern, op. cit. p.400.
9 see his letters, 29/10/1918, 31/10/1918 and 4/11/1918
10 BoR, pp. v-ix.

Next letter January 11th 2018
These letters have been published as
Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
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in the red wine of Palestine..

Empty envelope dated 29 Dec. 17

[passed by censor no. 3983 E.E.F.]
New Years Eve 1917

My dear old Elsie
It is New Years Eve and Tm sitting among the rocks of the Judean Hills writing these few lines by the light of my bit of candle. In the red wine of Palestine Major Urwick and I have just drunk to “Absent friends – the West and the Best” and now he is writing to his missis who is in Ceylon. I have very little fresh news since I last wrote – I think I told you what a miserable Xmas we spent – the weather is still very bad but sometimes we get beautifully warm summer days and then we forget all our troubles – I have had no Xmas parcels or letters yet – we are always expecting the mail bags but at present all the transport is wanted for food and ammunition – we are in the line now but I fancy the old Turk is thoroughly demoralised at present so doesnt give much trouble – I wish he would make peace but I suppose Germany wont let him. I often hear from all our wounded officers and some of them will be coming back soon – Poor Milsom is having a bad time still and will probably be sent to England as soon as they are able to move him. Im dreadfully sorry about him.

I wonder how you are spending your New Years Eve and hope you are having a good time I often get letters from Harold – he says he is fed up with his red tape office work in Burma and wants to come out to us but I think he is very unwise and I tell him he doesnt know when he is well off and I would gladly change jobs with him and have a bit of comfort again! What do they think at home about the war now? Can it possibly last through another year?

Best love dear girl and all good wishes for the New Year

from Stan

Next letter January 11th 2018
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Xmas day most uncomfortable…

26.12.1917
[censor stamp illegible)

My dear old Elsie
A few days ago I wrote you a very miserable letter and I have regretted it ever since but I do feel most horribly depressed these days and shall have to pull myself together. We spent Xmas day under most uncomfortable circumstances Two days ago the Turks cleared right away from our front and we imagined we should have a nice peaceful Xmas –  but it has simply rained & rained and blown a hurricane – it has really been too wretched for words – we could not get any fires to burn so had no Xmas dinner – today we have moved on again and are just settled in – the sky is just clearing and we long for a fine day tomorrow to dry our soaking blankets  I was thinking of you yesterday and wondering what you were doing and wishing to Goodness the damned old war would stop and allow us to get back to our peaceful life of ages ago again,
Best love dear girl and heaps of good wishes for the New Year

from Stan

 

Next letter 31st December 2017
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these judean hills are bitterly cold

[postmark dated 23 Dec. passed by censor No. 3983)
Dec.21 1917
E.E.F

My dear old Elsie
Many thanks dear girl for your last letter dated Nov. 20th and the Winters Pie and the little book called The Power House which I hope soon to read

I enjoyed the last book you sent me ever so much – the Thirty-Nine Steps – it is so amusing and Major Urwick loved it too The parcel you speak of hasnt turned up yet and I am looking forward to it so much – nothing gives me more pleasure out here as letters and parcels. Well dear we are up in the line again among the noise and horridness of it all and its more hateful than ever – I think I am getting horribly depressed and not at all Xmasy – the losses of the Regiment get on my mind sometimes and make me very fed up – I think I want a change now and shall try to get a week in Cairo again as soon as things are quieter  I have heard from all our wounded officers and they are in hospitals in Cairo and Alexandria  Poor Milsom is having a rotten time and I am feeling very anxious about him he is in Alex and perhaps I shall go there for my leave when I can get it I am always thinking of poor old Banes – he was a real white man and you would have loved him

Winter has set in with a vengeance and it pours with rain most days and the wind in these Judean hills is bitterly cold – thank goodness it only lasts about six weeks and then I expect we shall be cursing the heat again. Since we have been so busy fighting we have had very little news from the outside world – but we hear vague rumours of trouble in Italy1 and still more hopeful rumours of a possible peace – I suppose that’s too good to be true.

I think I wont write any more – Im feeling very sad and Im sure you wont enjoy this letter very much

Best love dear girl

from Stan

1 There were serious anti-war riots in August 1917 and in late October the Italian defeat at Caporetto was followed by a change of Government and High Command.

Next letter 26th December 2017
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Nov. 1st 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie
Very many thanks dear girl for your two nice letters received today. You don’t seem to get many of mine – Im sure Ive written you every week for the last two months and I sent you a cable too when I was on leave in Cairo Theres nothing I want for Xmas dear you have sent me so much that you mustnt really spend any more money on me The book Thirtynine Steps1 came today and Im sure I shall enjoy it when I have time

At present we are all excitement the third great battle of Gaza has already begun – and in a few days time Im sure old England will be ringing with the good news from Palestine. This will probably be the last letter I shall be able to send you dear girl for a little while but I hope you wont worry too much about me Everyone tells me Im a lucky soldier and Ive a sort of feeling that Ill get back safe & sound and well meet again in the glad days which will follow this awful war we [have] been going through some thrilling experiences these past few days and I shall have heaps & heaps new excitements to tell you all about when we do meet again.

We are all full of confidence in our C in C & are looking forward to our advance up through the promised Land Goodbye dear girl with best love
from Stan

1 The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, published 1915.

Next letter 17th November 2017
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A bomb landed on our armament store …

25 10 17
No address. passed censor No. 3983

My dear old Elsie
Just a hurried line today to let you know that I am back with the Regiment safe & sound again I had a glorious leave in Cairo with Lieut Milsom – we did very little  – scarcely any sight seeing but just enjoying the change and comfort of it all was amazing.

I found the old Regiment back in the Line again – in another part altogether and we are now almost within speaking distance of the enemy so it is all very exciting all day and night long – I am the Adjutant now and very busy but always enjoy the work – Unfortunately the Colonel is in hospital1 just now and also quite six or seven of the other officers and a whole lot of men, we really have had a very strenuous time the last two months and the Regiment is beginning to feel it. I hope Mrs. Brown is quite well again and your little household normal I found that beautiful leather cigarette case you sent me for my birthday ever so useful dear girl and that pipe you last sent is turning out a real beauty. I will send you some snaps I have just been given – one or two are quite typical of this country – one shows us washing at a trough like a lot of horses when we get out of the trenches.

EW bathersThe camel takes our bits and blankets about for us – the most interesting is one of a shell (Turk) which fortunately was a dud!  – it pitched as you see it on top of the dug-out where bombs are stored and not more than 10 yds away from me and my Headquarters – it is an 100 lbs shell and if it had exploded goodness knows what

would have happened – one wants luck for this game. ew-bombI will write you as often as – I can dear girl but there are great times just ahead of us on this Front and there may be delays but please dont worry about me. Im awfully fit & well – With best love dear girl

from Stan

 

1 Lt-Col Cooke-Hurle did not return to the Battalion until December 5th. Therefore command was held by Major Urwick.

Next letter 1st November 2017
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So pent up with excitement…

[passed by censor No. 3983]
7 10 17
no address

My very dear old Elsie
Just a line to let you know I am quite safe and well –  In my last letter I think I told you that I was going to attempt a big thing – It was indiscreet of me perhaps to mention it to you but one gets so pent up with excitement that unless on these occasions one can confide in someone one would simply burst! The great event was a night raid and it came off very successfully last night. I will write you more about it in a day or two –  you will be glad to hear the Regiment has received many wires of congratulations today and I personally have had many kind words said to me by the General and my Colonel. The Colonel thinks we are going to be relieved almost  immediately for a rest and then he says I am to go to Cairo for a weeks leave and rest. I shall look forward to this. Many thanks dear girl for your letter received yesterday I am glad that the Doctor is back again and Mrs. Brown is better. Best love dear old girl

From Stan

Next letter 14th October 2017
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Fat and flourishing…

Sept 9 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie
Heres another line to tell you I am quite safe and fit. Ill enclose a snap taken the other day when were out of the old trenches –  Im sure I look fat & flourishing enough dont I? lye very little news to tell you every day here is much the same as the next –  We get shelled every morning and evening but weve excellent trenches — two nights ago we had a bad time but my fellows have been splendid — Unfortunately there have been casualties but one must expect that – this week weve had 3 killed and 18 wounded – the people at home Im afraid will realize the 1/5 Somersets are really in service at last when they see the casualty lists come in. Damn this war I say – I hate to think this fine old Regiment of ours must suffer with the rest –  I hope next week we shall go out for a rest and if we can only get down by the sea again we shall be happy. I am as dirty as can be and the fleas have kept on biting and biting. Banes came to see me just now with Milsom – weve had a good pow-wow – poor Banes has just lost some of his best men and is so depressed about it. I think I told you dear girl I am to be Adjutant of the Regiment in a few weeks time Im awfully gratified and the Colonel has been so nice about it. It’s a big job on service I know but I shall do my ew-stan

damnedest. My name has gone in to the War Office for its got to go through the Gazette and my appointment will start on Oct 10th for 3 years but of course the war will be over long long before my term is up –  lets hope so anyway.1 Ill send you a snap shot one of my fellows took of me the other day – it surely speaks for itself and I hope you will realize how fit and flourishing I am Best love dear girl

 

 

from Stan

1 He served until June 2nd 1920.

Next letter September 26th 2017
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Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
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an extra 5 bob a day pay…

Aug 31 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie
Just a few lines written under difficult circumstances to tell you I am quite safe and well altho Ive gone a bit lame in my poor old wounded leg temporarily.

Weve just finished a very hard spell of soldiering and its taxed the strength of the Regiment very much – I wish I could tell you more details – several long night marches over very heavy going and little sleep – however we are keeping cheerful and the men are really wonderful and it makes me feel so proud to be with them and to be one of them. At present we are in the trenches facing Gaza actually the real front line at last after 3 years strenuous training – it seems strange that after all it should be I who should lead the old Taunton & Minehead Company into the trenches for the first time and I feel it a great priveledge [sic] for Ive got 250 of the best fellows in the world in my company. I am some way away from Headquarters and I rarely see anyone else outside my company and I havent seen Banes1 for 2 weeks altho he is only a stones throw away but we are all underground now and I cant leave my post night or day. The Colonel came to see me this morning and to my surprise he offered me the post of permanent adjutant to the Battalion – Frank Calways term of 3 years is up next month and its the custom to make a change and probably Frank will get a staff job Ive got 3 days to think it over and I expect I shall take it especially as the General has already expressed his approval and it means an extra 5 bob a day pay too and besides its looked upon as the star job in the Regiment My only regret will be that I shall have to leave my company.

Thank you ever so much dear girl for your letters which come quite regularly again now – last week brought me too a lovely little book to read ‘Jerry’2 I haven’t had a chance to begin it yet but Im sure I shall enjoy it. And today we had our parcels sent up to us and your delightful box of surprises came for me – I cant thank you enough and Ive already started my new pipe all the things you sent are really most useful – it is so sweet of you dear girl. I am sitting in my dug out now and its just 2 o/c in the morning – weve been heavily shelled all night and have had no rest – I cant sleep now for we have an epidemic of fleas & mice in these trenches – last night when I woke up to do duty I was a mass of bites and I think nowhere on my body could you have put a 5 shilling bit without touching a spot –  tonight its just as bad –  its a horrid war –  but thank God we can laugh at our misfortunes altho all night we scratch and curse. I am so glad you had a real good holiday and that you feel so fit after it

Best love dear and again many thanks for the lovely parcel and book
from Stan

1 Captain Gerald Banes Walker, commander of D Company.
2 Not identified.

Next letter September 9th 2017
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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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Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
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