25th April 1915
Arthur is safely back in billets; a bonanza of letters from Dollie and a welcome parcel – finally Arthur can have a shave; an account of the last few days – immediate departure from the trenches cancelled following news of trouble north of Ypres; the Germans lay more barbed wire in the night; a long and very emotional account of a visit back to “Port Arthur” – where Harry Pulman, Cyril Crichton and Bertie Mathieson are buried; vivid details of Harry’s death in action.
Arthur to Dollie
in Billets, Sunday afternoon 2.40pm
… At last I have an opportunity to write to you, to thank you for your dear & welcome letters of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday & to give you my news of the past few days. First to answer your letters, dear. I am pleased to get them – sweet messages of hope & comfort. God bless you darling.
The identity disc & strop have arrived safely. I think the disc is topping & have it on as you asked, dear. The strop also has proved its utility in helping to get rid of a week’s beard. Of course, I understand that you asked Daisy to include it in your parcel. I want to thank you too, little sweetheart in advance for the cake which you say you are sending. Darling thanks awfully.
Your letters have brought more welcome news about the servant question. I only hope that the question will be now more or less permanently settled. I am glad to hear that the photos were a success. Let me know how things shape as to your getting a copy of each won’t you dear & we’ll see what can be done.
I was very sorry to hear that poor Rosa was in bed [widow of Harry Pulman]. I hope by now that she is better. Gerald Pulman [Harry’s nephew] is very fit. He is with Sammy in A Company. They were in a reserve redoubt behind me.
So now for some of my news. The weather has been fine, but rather cloudy & colder lately. On Thursday night late, or rather on Friday morning at about 1.45, I was woken up in my dug-out with a message from Lodwick that we were going to be relieved that evening (Friday) & were to march back to Calonne whither the remainder of the brigade, (i.e. those not in the trenches) were going. The day passed the usual round & we had quite a quiet time. I made preparations that evening to move off. Everything was ready when we got the news that the relief was indefinitely cancelled – this because of some trouble north of Ypres. The division that was going to relieve us was being held in readiness to be moved north & our brigade was coming back to Vieille Chapelle next morning (Saturday). Imagine out disappointment. We were awfully “fed up”.
That night I was awakened about 2 – someone wanted me on the phone – about 200 yards away. I went stumbling along the trench – pitch dark – feeling only half awake, to find when I arrived that I wasn’t wanted, after all. However I found everyone in a state of “wind up” the Tommies slang for a state varying from “nervous tension” to “blue funk”, expecting a German attack. However our flares showed the Germans to be even more alarmed, for they were very busy putting fresh lines of barbed wire in front of their line.
That morning after breakfast, I went in to 96 Piccadilly – the ruins of an estaminet & battalion headquarters. Major Beresford had been up to Port Arthur the day before to tend our fellows graves & to put proper crosses up. I asked him to take me along to shew me where they were. And so after he had shaved & washed, we went along.
It was a beautiful morning. We went up behind the Rue du Bois and into Port Arthur. It is an awful scene of desolation: it is like a great ant-heap of bricks and bits of buildings, sandbags, hurdles, bully beef tins, timber & war material & through it all, winding in and out & all over the place are trenches and dug-outs. We came to Mabel’s grave first. It is in a grassy little corner of Port Arthur – very peaceful and quiet – but we scarcely stopped. I was anxious to go on.
We clambered up over the parapet & walked over towards the spot where poor Harry & Bertie lie, an occasional shot whistling by us. Here was the end of my pilgrimage. We were scarcely 45 yards from Port Arthur – I suppose anything between 80 – 100 [yards] from where Harry began his first & last charge. Behind us was Port Arthur & our old line. On our right, a few feet away, an old German sap – later made into a communication trench. In front of us the old German trench 12 yards off, behind that more trenches & the two buildings or rather, a few bricks & ruins, where the Germans stuck – the two houses that Harry was to clear.
Harry’s grave was at our feet; two or three feet beyond & to our right, lay Bertie. The ground where they lie is just brown soil. Behind & nearer to Port Arthur last years corn is just beginning to sprout, but here it is bare. They lie with their feet to the north. Their graves are marked at head & foot by crosses of wood & a few bricks. At the head a wooden cross with a stamped tin plate. At the foot a smaller and ruder cross, that was put up at the time they were buried, with the name pencilled on it. Perfect simplicity as befits our heroes who gave their lives simply, in a noble cause. No fitter burial place than the ground that they have consecrated with their blood.
I wanted to put something on Harry’s grave. The cross at his foot has his cap on it, ripped & torn where a bullet went through it. So I took out the sprig of white heather that he had brought back from you & tied it in front of the cross at his head with a piece of red ribbon I had. White for the purity of his cause, red for the blood he shed for it.
I sat down to make a sketch of it. Beresford went as he had to get back. I am enclosing the sketches I made or rather copies of them. They are very rough. I am no artist. But cameras are forbidden, so I’ve done my best. Rosa perhaps would like them.
I made a sketch of Bertie’s grave too: if you would, please send it to Mrs Mathieson, dear. There are two sheets of Harry’s & one of Bertie’s grave…