LETTER DESCRIBING THE BATTLE OF GRAVENSTAFEL RIDGE – 22ND AND 23RD APRIL 1915
April 28th 1915
My dear Mother and Father,
I do hope you will excuse me for not writing for the last few days and when youÕve read this I expect you will. Ever since last Thursday night IÕve been fighting in one of the most important battles yet fought in this campaign and IÕm glad and proud to say that my company and the regiment played a chief part in it. Now for the narrative.
On Thursday 2 p.m. we were moved out of our comfortable billets in the last village and bivouaced for the night under a hedgerow. It was bitterly cold and there was a heavy frost and I had a most uncomfortable time. Next day the Germans continued their heavy bombardment of our sector of the line which they had started in the early part of the week and now I understand that there is not a single house left standing in the fine old town of ....s. About 9 a.m. I saw a shell blow up the farm in which our men had been billeted the previous day. The fearful cannonade went on the whole day.
In the evening we went up to the trenches and my company went into dug-outs just behind. I was in charge of two platoons in in group of dug-outs and I had hardly taken my place when a shell flew into one of the dug-outs and killed three of my men, wounding three others. I did my best to save one of them who died later and nearly fainted when binding or rather attempting to bind up his wounds. After this I forbade the men to show a light or make a fire for fear of being shelled again. The whole of Saturday we stayed there not daring to move.
Saturday night an order came up to me by phone to bring my men down to the rest of the company in fighting kit. I did so and found that we were wanted to support the Canadians who were having a bad time in the trenches, the Germans using a horrible gas which as phyxiated 50% of them. We started for this place which was some miles away and were under shell fire practically the whole way. To make matters worse, it came on to rain and we had no rations. Arrived at Headquarters we were told to lie in a ditch behind a hedge and await further instructions. It continued to rain and we were hungry, wet and miserable, yet the spirit of the men was fine.
At dawn on Sunday the most fearful time started and for the whole of the day we were shelled from the front and from the left flank. German aeroplanes circled above us and gave their artillery all possible information. We were without the slightest information as to what was happening and we never heard a shot from our own guns nor saw a single friendly aeroplane. This nerve-racking bombardment went on until about 7p.m. when the poor devils in the trenches in front were blown out and had to retire behind us. The enemy advanced in thousands, the country in front being simply stiff with huge dense masses of them. They came on until they were within 400 yards of us when our rapid fire effectively stopped them. It was wonderful - we were only about 120 of us with the Captain, another Sub. and myself along with about 400 Terriers who had arrived in this country on Thursday, and yet we held about 6000 Germans through the night.
At dawn on Monday a slight mist obscured the landscape and we were at a loss to know what was happening. Suddenly about 6a.m. some Terriers on the right legged it pretty hurriedly and the enemy also came round on our left so our little band was forced to retire. The Colonel of the Terriers, knowing nothing of the country, asked my Coy. Commander to take charge of the retirement which he did in a most business like way.
The Germans came on in hordes, jabbering like a cart-load of monkeys, but owing to the mist, seemed undecided as they could not find out our strength. Our strength was ??(450?) and at each hedge we came to we called a halt and gave them a dose of rapid fire. Our men being regulars gave just the required stiffening to the Terriers who, poor devils, were having a terrible time as it was their first time under fire. Some men tried to break back but by threats and cursings from our men they regained their nerve and really did most creditably. We slowly fell back until we reached our second main line of defence about 2,000 yards behind where we found the reinforcements we had been anxiously awaiting for two days. We then took up a line of trench that was vacant and stayed there until we were relieved about midnight Monday night when we went back to the dugouts. After our trying time they seemed like a paradise. Last night (Tuesday) we moved back to our original starting point (dugouts) and here we are after the most wonderful experiences. We mustered 26 men and three officers when we were relieved from the trenches but since then the men have been rolling back up in small parties and we have not lost as many as we first thought. I was very lucky to escape with only a very slight graze from a shrapnel bullet on my left hand and a rifle bullet through my puttee and now after a long sleep I feel almost as fit as ever. Our men were simply splendid and put all the backbone into the Terriers and when you realize that all this time we had practically no food and only dirty ditchwater you can guess what we went through. On Saturday night my servant managed to get the parcel and brought it along and my word, I was thankful for JackÕs chocolate and the cake which I divided among the men near me.
I expect we are in for a good rest now so we shall be alright again. My Coy. Officer has been recommended for his work and he has sent in a good word for the other Sub. and myself so we may get a little kudos. As the General sent a message saying we had saved the situation by our spot of work.
This is a long letter and I hope it will not make Mam jumpy or otherwise I would wish I had not written it but I thought you would all like to have an account first hand from me. The English and the spelling may not be as good as it should be but under the circs. its the best I can do.
Please send another parcel with writing paper and cream and condensed milk as I had to leave the cream, notepaper and paste behind and some dashed Bosche has doubtless devoured them by now.
Thank Will Howell for the cigs and ask him to excuse my not writing just yet as IÕm dog tired and have a number of my menÕs letters to censor.
Love to all at home and the very best to you both from your loving son TOM
LETTER DESCRIBING THE BATTLE OF FREZENBERG RIDGE – 8TH – 13TH MAY 1915
May 12th 1915
My dear Mother and Father,
Thank you very much for the letters and parcel which I have just received. I have not written for the last few days because I could not. Today is the first day I have taken my togs off for 25 days, you can guess what IÕve been through. For all this time the battalion has been fighting hard and when we marched in last night or rather the night before, I was the only officer left with 100 of my men out of 30 officers and 1000 or so men. True, there is one other officer left who has not been killed or wounded, but his nerves went and he has had to go to hospital. Brin Hughes, I think, in fact, IÕm sure, is wounded in the back, but not seriously, tell his people. At one time I wished most devoutly to get one myself so as to get out of it as it has been a perfect hell. Strange to say, though, my nerves refuse absolutely to go wrong and here I am today after a decent sleep whistling and singing and as happy as the day is long. I have had the unique experience of being a btn. commander for a day and am now in charge of a double company which has been made up of a large draft from weÕve just had from home. You have probably read all about this battle in the papers. Well, in the straightening out affair we were at the extreme end of the horseshoe line in the furthest advance position, yet we retired without losing a man and diddled the Huns in the finest style. It was in the subsequent weekÕs fighting that we lost our people. ItÕs still a wonder to me how IÕve escaped. ItÕs strange that such a rumour has reached home that I am thought to have been pipped off in the Canadian do but thank goodness IÕm still alive and ready to kick again. The Huns are now well in hand and things IÕm sure are going to buck up for us. I may not write for a few days again because I believe we have to go back again although weÕve only had 24 hours rest. IÕm feeling very fit just now through having just had a good bath outside my little hut this morning. Well I must try to thank all the kind folks for my gifts so IÕm in for a dose of writerÕs cramp. Love to all and the very best to you both from your loving son TOM
p.s. I potted half a dozen Huns before breakfast two days ago. TOM
May 13th 1915
Dear Mother and Father,
I hope you received my letter of the other day and that you have not been worrying about me. My poor old battalion has been terribly cut up and why I should be the only one to come out scatheless I canÕt make out yet IÕve had some of the nearest shaves possible. I donÕt know whether I thanked you for all the good things you sent me, if I didnÕt, please accept my best thanks now. I am sending this letter in one of the green envelopes to ensure your having it so I cannot give you any war news in it. Our Censor stamp is lost so these are the only ones possible to use. The parcel had been knocked about a little and I could not find the gum or some of the chocks so I expect someone else has benefited by it. Brin, I discover, has been wounded, but not seriously, the bullet entering his back and coming out in his chest. He got away to hospital alright and in a way I envy him as he will get a good long rest whereas I have been at it continuously for three weeks and donÕt know what minute I shall start again. IÕm feeling deucedly worn out and want about a fortnight in bed but if we have to go up again I expect I shall rise to the occasion with ease for its wonderful what you can stand when forced to do so. Keep your eyes on th papers for our casualty list in the next week or so, it will be one of the biggest yet, IÕm afraid. I must close now as I must try and thank the other people.
Love to all and best to you both, from your loving son TOM