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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Very disappointed not to come home

May 17 1917
no address

My dear old Elsie

Very many thanks dear for a letter that came today via G.P.O. London and dated April 1st. We are of course very disappointed we arent coming home so I think my best address is Egyptian Expeditionary Force. I hope the letter I posted at Aden has reached your safely – we stayed there a few hours and I went on shore to do some shopping – Do you remember I bought you some ostrich feathers1 at Aden going out – well dear they were pinched from my kit which I left in India while I was in the Gulf and so I got some more for you the other day – these I shall try to post to you in a day or two –  I wonder if you will ever wear them. I hope so – after the war at any rate. We arrived at Suez without adventure and came on by train to this camp.2 We are quite near Cairo now and are busy getting our outfit of stores and equipment – In a short time we shall be in the firing line and you will know which front we are bound for – the Censorship is very strict in this country and Im sorry I cant send you any particulars at present. Egypt is quite a paradise compared to India – the climate is ever so much cooler the people whiter and cleaner and everything seems more Western and civilized. We are seeing a lot of this wonderful world eh? In a day or two I mean to go in to Cairo and of course I shall go down to see the jolly old Pyramids & the Sphinx – there is a large French element here and the language is spoken very much –  it is such a change to see some really nice shops and smart people again. When war is over I should like to take a tour through all the places Ive been to – with just one or two particular pals  – would you come dear? Im afraid some of your recent letters to me – and mine to you have gone to the bottom of the sea – It is very sad but I think we shall very soon discover a way to cope with enemy submarines. I shall write you whenever I can and shall look forward more than ever to your letters – With best love dear girl and thoughts always

from Stan

1 The Ostrich feathers were worn by Elsie on her wedding day, September 18th, 1920, see picture at the top.
2 ‘This camp,’ Helmieh, near Cairo (War Diary, PRO WO 95/4690).

Next letter May 25th 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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1/5 Somerset L.I., Poona, India
April 2nd 1917

My dear old Elsie
Here we are at Poona quite safely at last, it has been a long and tiring journey from the Frontier –  down here the hot weather is at its height and my dear it is terribly hot and as we are under canvas in a temporary camp on the Race-course, it is most unpleasant.

But we are now only 6 hours journey from Bombay – so it will not take long to get us on board our ship when once we get our sailing orders – Even now we have not been told any news of our destination but of course we all still go on hoping for Blighty. The home mails have been dreadfully uncertain lately and I’ve had very few letters from you – it always is such a disappointment – I hope mine have reached you for I’ve written every week for a long time. Fancy it’s Easter in a few days! the months and seasons go quickly on & the old war runs its course – what does this wonderful advance in France mean – is it too good to be true that it’s the beginning of the end. It seems strange to be in Poona once again & I’m wondering if I shall find any old friends. I hope you are very fit dear old girl And settled in your new house by this time – Best love dear

from Stan

Next letter April 12th 2017

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We start our long journey on Sunday

Rawal Pindi Club, Rawal Pindi
March 22nd

My dear old Elsie
No English mail has come again and I’m very disappointed – it’s absolutely rotten to get no letters! I am at Rawal Pindi again to day on duty – and return to our old camp late tonight. I wonder if you have received my recent letters telling you we are under orders to leave India? We start our long train journey on Sunday and we go first of all right down to Poona which is nearly two thousand miles – we rest at Poona and when our transport is quite ready we shall be near Bombay and can go right on to the docks.
It’s a long and tiring journey and we are going in two trains and even now we don’t know in the least our destination and it’s quite likely they won’t tell us until we are well out to sea.
The ladies of our Regiment are being sent home by the India Govnt. and left Bombay yesterday – they will have a long trip round the Cape.
Isn’t this war news splendidl – at this rate the Germans will soon be out of Belgium & France.
I shall send a cable home when I know something definite so you will probably hear about me. This will I expect be the last letter I shall be able to send you for sometime. The parcel you mention you have so kindly sent me hasn’t turned up yet but I hope to get it before leaving – many thanks dear old girl. With best love – hoping to hear from you soon & that you are all right – cheero
from Stan

1 German strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, March 1917.

Next letter April 2nd 2017

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