Happy christmas

5.12.17
Passed by censor 3983

The contents of this envelope is a regimental Christmas card with no message other than the printed greeting:

A Merry Christmas

and

A Happy New Year

from Stan EEF 1917-18

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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.

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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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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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..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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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

These letters have been published as
Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
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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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Engaged in War – the Letters of Stanley Goodland 1914 – 1919
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The background to 1917

Throughout the First World War the Government of India had reason to fear the outbreak of internal disorder and the conflicts for which the North-West Frontier was notorious. There was substance in the reports from Persia and Afghanistan of the activities of German and Turkish agents whose influence percolated to the Punjab. The pre-war Indian army had been professionally skilled at meeting such threats and the Territorial battalions sent out to replace the Regulars trained hard to reach the same standard of proficiency. An example of operations on the North West Frontier occurred in November 1916 when 6000 men of the Mohmend tribes were dispersed only after the deployment of two infantry brigades of the 1st Peshawar Division backed up by supporting troops, armoured cars and aeroplanes.1

In the two-way traffic of men and materials between India and the United Kingdom, Egypt played a vital role. Since 1882 the British had governed Egypt through an administrative structure which controlled without abolishing the authority of the Khedive and his ministers. On August 5th 1914 the Egyptian Government was required to announce that Great Britain’s enemies were also Egypt’s enemies; when war was declared on Turkey martial law was proclaimed and in December 1914 Egypt became a British Protectorate, enabling recruitment  to the Egyptian Labour Corps to become increasingly energetic, amounting to virtual conscription in some rural areas. The Turks hoped that they could stir up trouble by declaring a Holy War against the British, though only the Senussi of the oases on the fringe of the Western Desert responded, their rebellion being suppressed early in 1917. When Turkish armies on three occasions crossed the province of Sinai and approached the Suez Canal the Egyptians of the Nile Valley did not stir.

In the first two years of the First World War, Egypt was the chief Imperial staging post from which troops were despatched to the Western front, the Dardanelles, Salonika, Mesopotamia and India. The third Turkish attack, delivered by a force of 16,000 men including some German and Austrian artillerymen and machine-gunners, was turned back in the sharply fought battle of Romani, 15 miles east of the Canal, in August 1916. This incident convinced the War Office of the need to put the security of the Canal beyond doubt, to be achieved by the recovery of the Sinai coastal strip up to the Palestine border. Correctly assuming that a British army was not as well adapted to desert operations as were the Turks the Egyptian Expeditionary Force began to construct a standard gauge railway, eventually 150 miles long, and a 12-inch pipeline carrying water, suitably filtered, from the Nile. At the end of 1916 the Government indicated that, though British and French offensives on the Western front were the top priority for the Spring of 1917, it envisaged a major campaign in Palestine in the Autumn. Meanwhile the EEF must do its best to distract Turkish attention from Mesopotamia, where General Maude’s plans to recover Kut and capture Baghdad were unfolding.

The EEF crossed the Egypt-Palestine border in January 1917 and in March and April made two attempts to take Gaza by storm; the first, with the advantage of surprise, was nearly successful but the second was foiled by the tenacity of the Turkish soldiers who by then were well dug in. The EEF needed reinforcements and a new leader. In late June General Allenby, ‘The Bull’, formerly commander of the Third Army in France, arrived in Egypt, having been told by Lloyd George that Jerusalem was wanted “as a Christmas present for the British nation.”2 Allenby’s frequent visits to the front line and his removal of Headquarters from Cairo to a point only twenty miles from Gaza speedily restored the confidence of a demoralised army. He demanded, and obtained, reinforcements, some from Salonika; those from India included infantry battalions which, with other units, were brigaded into the 75th Division. Meanwhile the Turkish Government, encouraged by the collapse of Rumania and the faltering efforts of the Russians on the Caucasus front devised the ‘Yilderim’ project, which with German assistance, would achieve the recapture of Baghdad and the defeat of British ambitions in Palestine. The Germans provided 6500 men including three infantry battalions, artillery batteries, machine gun companies, four squadrons of aeroplanes and the distinguished staff officer General von Falkenhayn. Their presence ensured that when Allenby was ready any attack would be sternly contested.

Allenby won the Third Battle of Gaza in early November by using his superiority in cavalry to turn the left flank of the Turkish position at Beersheba, about 30 miles from the sea. From October 27th the Gaza stronghold was subjected to military and naval bombardments, successfully deluding the enemy into expecting a third frontal assault on the town. On October 31St the operation began which won control of Beersheba, but difficulties with the water supply and strong Turkish reaction led to six more days of heavy fighting before the enemy was forced to pull out of Gaza on the night of November 6th/7th. In the next ten days the British advanced fifty miles along the coastal plain reaching Jaffa and, inland, the foot of the Judaean hills. The Turks avoided disaster by fighting rearguard actions but they lost much equipment and 10,000 men taken prisoner.

Determined to press his disorganised enemy hard, Allenby turned East into the hills on November 18th, as the winter rains set in. His line of supply could support just two infantry divisions – the 52nd and 75th – and a Yeomanry division, covered only by the mountain guns of mule and camel batteries. Aware of the potentially adverse propaganda the enemy might make of a destructive battle for the Holy City Allenby intended to cut off von Falkenhayn by capturing the villages commanding the road which runs north from Jerusalem to Nablus. This manoeuvre involved a march over precipitous, stony and trackless country, with the nights bitterly cold for troops still in their desert kit. Despite their gallantry the men of the 52nd and 75th Divisions had neither the numbers not the fire power to force their way through to the Nablus road, though they gained and held Nabi Samweil on a high ridge only five miles to the North-West of Jerusalem, the traditional point from which pilgrims and crusaders had their first view of the city. On November 24th Allenby called a halt and for the next fortnight re-grouped his command, making the tracks usable for wheeled traffic and bringing up divisions which had been rested since the Gaza – Beersheba battle. With these the second attack on Jerusalem succeeded in breaking through enough of its outlying western defences to persuade von Falkenhayn and the Turks to evacuate the city on December 9th. Allenby had delivered Lloyd George and the British nation their early Christmas present, yet his army still had work to do. Von Falkenhayn’s Turks made several fierce efforts to recapture Jerusalem but by the year’s end the villages which had remained beyond Allenby’s grasp in November were firmly in British hands and Jerusalem was secure. At the coast the front line was pushed far enough north of Jaffa to make it safe from counter-attack. In the wettest season in living memory British, Turks and Germans went, briefly, into winter quarters.

Stanley Goodland in 1917: India, Egypt & Palestine.
Alone among the officers of the 1/5 Somersets Stanley Goodland had seen front-line service and had been decorated for his bravery. Evidently thinking highly of him, his Commanding Officer recommended Stanley as a worthy candidate for a Regular Army captaincy but he did not wish his name to be put forward. Meanwhile Lt-Col Cooke-Hurle tested Stanley’s potential as a prospective Adjutant by putting him in charge of the advance party which prepared a camp for the Battalion in the wilds of the North West frontier. After two and a half years of soldiering in India, during which hard training and close comradeship had honed its military efficiency the 1/5 Somerset Light Infantry was summoned to play its part in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. On arrival in Egypt the Battalion was posted to the newly created 75th Division and, with the 3/3 Gurkhas and two more territorial units, the 1/4 Wiltshires and the 2/4 Hampshires became part of the 233rd Brigade, commanded by Brigadier-General the Hon EM Colston, DSO, MVO.3 In 1930 the Brigadier, asked to contribute a foreword to the Book of Remembrance, recalled his first impression of the 1/5 Somersets, who had disembarked at Suez on the morning of May 11th. That night he and his staff were waiting at a siding near Cairo. ‘Punctual to the moment, like a snake the huge troop train glided in; one whistle and the war-strength Battalion detrained and in ten minutes, headed by their bugles and band they marched off. The Adjutant turned and said: “As good as a Regular Battalion. You are lucky, Sir.’ I echoed his sentiments . . . that night was the beginning of a friendship which was to outlive the War.’4

Three weeks of re-equipping and training preceded the rail journey of the 233rd Brigade to El Arish and on to Rafa, on the Egypt– Palestine border. By early September the Somersets were in the front line South East of Gaza where the width of no man’s land  –  2000  yards  –  determined the style of warfare, which was confined to night patrols and the exchange of artillery fire. On October 6th the raid on the Turkish outpost in the ‘Old British Trenches’ was a spectacular event which brought renown to the 1/5 Somersets who succeeded where other units in this part of the front had failed.

This ‘stunt’ had been meticulously planned at Brigade, Battalion and Company level. It was predictable that Stanley Goodland, with his campaign experience in Mesopotamia, would be given command of the raiding party. In their eagerness to use the bayonet his men omitted to capture any prisoners but the congratulations from higher command showed that this short and sharp operation boosted morale in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Lt-Col Cooke-Hurle’s report to Brigade praised ‘Captain ES. Goodland MC who commanded the assaulting party [and who] is a fine leader of men. I attribute the smoothness of the running of the raid to be due to a great extent to him.’5

palestine-map

After the raid Stanley was given a week’s leave in Cairo, enjoyed in the company of Lt Harry Milsom. Soon after his return to the Battalion Stanley became Adjutant, succeeding Captain Frank Calway who had received a staff appointment. For the events of November 1917, during which the 1/5 Somersets faced their severest ordeals, there are several documentary sources. As Adjutant Stanley Goodland wrote the daily entries in the Battalion War Diary which supplements his letters to Elsie and the account he wrote to his father printed in the Somerset County Gazette of January 26th 1918. Lt Harry Milsom’s uninhibited story of the campaign up to the attack on El Jib, in which he was severely wounded, provides further information. So does the privately printed pamphlet entitled ‘Some Fighting in Palestine in 1917’ by A Major (Act Lt-Col.) DSO, that is, Frank Urwick who commanded the Battalion in the absence of Lt-Col Cooke-Hurle, who was in hospital.6 These narratives speak for themselves of the triumphs and tragedies of a Battalion which, as Stanley wrote in the War Diary summing up the events of November, earned for the Regiment ‘an enviable reputation in the E[gypt] E[xpeditionary] F[orce].’7

The 75th Division did not take part in the entering of Jerusalem but won the right to wear a flash depicting a key because its brave advance into the Judaean Hills and the capture of Nabi Samweil unlocked the door to the Holy City. The depleted 1/5 Somersets spent most of December in the Ramleh area of the Judaean foothills, including eight days at Surafend, that ‘nest of thieves.’8 They moved up to the front line on Boxing Day but their main enemy over the Christmas and New Year season was the miserable cold and mud of an unprecedentedly wet Palestinian winter.

1 Moberly, op. cit., vol. III, p.55.
2 AP WaveIl, Allenby: a Study in Greatness, Harrap, 1940, p.186.
3 1880-1944. Grenadier Guardsman: succeeded as 2nd (& last) Baron Roundway, 1925.
4 BoR, p.7.
5 Insertion in War Diary, 1/5 Bn SLI. PRO WO 95/4690.
6 see post 25 November 2017
7 PRO WO 95/4690.
8 Cyril Falls: Armageddon, 1918, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1964, p175.