23rd February 1915
A long letter to Dollie describing in vivid detail the conditions at the Front and how close they are to the German trenches. It is bitterly cold and muddy and Arthur is wearing all his kit. They work by night and sleep by day.
Arthur to Dollie
In the Trenches, Tuesday 3.15pm
Thanks dear for your sweet letter of Thursday last which came up here after dark with the rations. Thanks awfully dear girl for the muscatels and cap cover. I haven’t had them yet but expect – if Harry brought them over – to get them tonight. I shall tell Evie [Noel] about his mess tin as soon as I get the opportunity which I don’t think will be for a few days. I’m glad dear that you got the letters all right. I’m sending some more home with this, as I’m afraid I have nowhere to keep them, much as I dislike to part with them.
Well, darling, I’m awfully sorry I had to end so abruptly yesterday. Today I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps if I start from Sunday afternoon. We paraded at 4.15 and got our men, British and Native, together in their groups and sections. We then marched off, a long straggling procession of mules and men and carts. Our way lay through a village adjacent to where we were billeted – and out beyond for some way. Roughly the position in our immediate front consists of roads traced like a flag on its post like this:
I’ve called the roads A, B, C and D … The trench lines which are between 100 and 200 yards apart run across the “flag” as I’ve shewn. Just where I am they are rather close. As a matter of fact the lines no longer consist of trenches. They are all breastworks built up 7-9 feet high, of sandbags.
The Germans broke in just before Christmas at the point where C and D meet and though driven back they still have that corner. Our breastworks are just behind our old trenches. The country is very flat but very rich. Trees abound and there are innumerable water ditches lined with willows. The 2 main roads are A and B. Our Brigade HQ are behind B. The headquarters of the Brigade Machine Guns is about the junction of A & B.
At present I am up road D with one gun and with Capt Lyell of the 2/39th Garwhals and 2 guns. Harold Moore is also here with his Company. Where our lines run across the road there are two groups of houses one on each side of the road. Most of them are blown to bits, literally. But Harold, Lyell and I have found an HQ here in the right house with Bobbie Page in the line 20 yards to our front and Giles on the left of the road. We are pretty comfortable – managed to find some straw, but it is bitterly cold, no doors or windows and not much roof – walls full of bullet and shell holes. However we stop up all the cracks and holes as we can, so as to be able to use lights – which we shield in boxes. We have been able to get fires going for the men but have to be awfully careful not to shew flame or glow by night or smoke by day!
We never get out of our clothes and equipment. But this morning we managed to get a shave and a bit of a wash. You would laugh to see them all including myself. I’m wearing your dear presents all about me – I have on a Balaclava cap (inside of a cap. They are ordered to be worn by all as it is considered safer – then I’m wearing your short muffler instead of a collar (Forgive my slips dear I can hardly keep my eyes open). Also a Burberry, equipment, 3 pairs of socks and gum boots. When I go out I put on your long muffler – they are invaluable. As for food dear – our rations arrive every night and we supplement them with what we may have had sent out – sardines, potted meat, etc. The nut chocolate you sent me is awfully good. We drink cocoa all hours of the day. I had a tin of bivouac cocoa and Lyell has some too. While we are up here these little parcels of luxuries are simply invaluable. Handkerchiefs I have enough, thanks to the dear folks at home – but eatables, toilet paper, candles and anything to read are awfully appreciated. My electric torch has proved indispensable thanks awfully dear for getting it for me.
… We arrived at the HQ of the Brigade machine guns at the junction of roads A & B about 6 on Sunday evening. We stopped in a field near there for some little time, making preparations for our move in. It is about 1 ½ miles back, but well in the area of shell fire and lately has been regularly shelled. From there we split up in two parties … [we] proceeded along B and then turned up D. My men were carrying their gun etc but the Indian troops brought theirs on their mules up D to within a couple of hundred yards of our position here. Pretty risky as the Germans snipe down D regularly. From here we unloaded the mules on D, we marched along some fields by the side of the road, going in single file. It was a beautiful night, as the last two nights have been, but it got very misty later. We finally got here and relieved the H.L.I. (Highland Light Infantry).
The rest of the night we worked building emplacements and alternative positions, one in a barricade on the road. It is pretty safe, though both sides fire a fair amount every night and send up star shells – which are rockets that give off a very bright light – during the continuance of which one crouches down. Apart from that at night and during the mists of the morning one walks about with the utmost insouciance – or tries to through the mud – which is awful. In the daytime it is not safe to move about and one has to be very careful. It is perfectly absurd to see the German lines only 150 yards off and at night hear them working, whistling sometimes and putting up barbed wire with which the front of both lines is protected.
Our hours are wonderfully irregular – we are night birds literally. We begin to work as soon as it gets dark and go on till about 2.30 or 3am working and reconnoitring. Then we try and sleep till just before light when we go on our round once more for the last time. All rations are brought up by night and have to be distributed in the dark. Working parties come up too to improve the lines. By night [day?] we eat and sleep and write reports etc. One can’t do very much.
Both Sunday night and last night which were very misty, though there was a bright moon, were fairly quiet. We were very busy and worked hard. Yesterday also was very misty and the artillery was unable to fire. But this afternoon we had a bit of an artillery duel. Well, darling mine I’m afraid I must stop. I can’t see what I am writing. So I’ll continue tomorrow…