To his Mother.
June 25th, 1915.
No, please don't send me any money. Things are quite cheap here. In fact I have lunched out every day for the last fortnight, and had the usual evening coffee and biscuits also on very little more than my pay of one and fivepence a day, and I have a reserve of funds in my pay book. By the way I haven't tasted meat for nearly a fortnight. (I lunch on an omelette de trois oeufs and chip potatoes daily) and only twice in the last four weeks. This is not a fad. I simply don't like the look of it. If ever it appeals to me again I shall return to it---or if I go up to the adv. I shall have to I suppose.
The rumour, I beg your pardon, official thingummy you report is, I hope, quite unfounded. Don't listen to peace talk yet,---discourage it if you can. Nothing makes us madder out here. Remember we are on the wrong side of the top to talk of peace. It's a worse idea than the war! A patch-up with those bloody gentry over there. Do you realise that I can see one of them now? a little speck in the heart of a "Taube" with a row of little puffs of soft cloud miraculously appearing with pin-prick like twinkles rather than flashes about him; the shrapnel fired by our anti-aircraft guns; busy "keeping him off." I can hear them in the distance too, (or it may be some distant part of our line at work) and at any moment a couple of rough crosses may be carried past the gate I am sitting on, carried by children and followed by a temporary hearse, a burying party of long bayonets and loose trousers and the usual following of children. No peace until we are on top please.
To his Wife.
June 25th, 1915.
I am so sorry. I see by your letter I have given you quite an exaggerated idea of my rash. I was never put into an isolation hospital at all. I was only put out to sleep in a tent until it had made up its mind whether it would be German measles or scabies or what. I carried on my duties just as usual (not during the high temperature, influenza first spell, of course---I mean during the second spell in "hospital") except that I was excused 6 o'clock in the morning parade and had a daily bath in its place after which I rubbed myself with sulphur ointment.
The rash has now neither developed any recognisable peculiarities nor altogether departed. Anyhow I have been discharged from "hospital." I think I must make up my mind to a continuation of it through the hot weather. Army shirts are very rough and army blankets rougher. Also we do not get enough regular exercise (either a spell of hard labour or a spell of confinement within a space of a hundred odd yards by ditto) I think the latter starts the rash and the former irritates and increases it. I'm not by several dozen the only man in the 6th who itches o'nights. Of course there are fleas, bugs and lice to do their share, but none of us are actually lousy though most have caught a few on their clothes or bodies. I for one have---nasty white bodied, slow crawling creatures---ugh! I found mine on a body belt issued to me from store---I burnt it forthwith. My tummy was badly bitten though. Beasts!
Do you know I am coming to regard our habitance of Vic Square as the black months of my life---I mean since we were married. I never felt mentally alert there: no initiative. I believe if the war had come along while we were there I should never have joined---Oh apropos---and in reply to your letter. I am very glad I did join. It's only the thought of poor dear you stuck in a poky little flat without enough money and that great tiring blessing on your hands makes me wonder if I did right.
My letters are not so newsy as they were are they? Old news over again is the order of the day. One "hospital" is very much like another (of course we don't run a hospital at all really. This like the places back in Bethune is just a main dressing station). We keep scaby cases a few days and any minor illnesses like my little go of flu---or whatever it was---also for a few days and a few only (they wanted to evacuate me) all wounded or cases likely to last over a couple of days we evacuate per daily convoy to the clearing hospital, whence they go on to the stationary or general hospitals at the bases or even to England. We have no beds or nurses (latter not allowed into the shell zone at all). Personally I think our orderlies are just as good as nurses. They were splendid to me as far as lay in their power. I didn't want anything but water and sleep. They couldn't get me any water the first night. We had just arrived here you understand and had only a little in the water bottles which was quickly used up. The water cart (I believe) went astray and local water is condemned until it has passed through the cart which is really an enormous tank and filter. They went to great trouble to boil water for me though and by morning it was cold and drinkable.
Don't worry about the Russian reverse, dearest. It's costing Germany more than it has been worth to them yet and even if they regain Lemberg unless they also disorganise the Russian army they will be no better off than they were a month ago on the strategic view of the situation and rather worse on the economic. Of course if they can put the Russian army out of action---but it's a mighty big if---we shall have a bad time all round for some time to come---and I shan't get home this year but even then we shall beat them in the end and beat them to a frazzle.
God bless you my dearest---keep your pecker up and make every one you can stop subscribing to charities and buy war loans.
I love you very much more now than I used to and I wasn't joking about grass widows---but I didn't mean anything silly.
June 27th, 1915,
I am so sorry about the use of that word "isolation." Use has robbed it of all sinister meaning to us. We "isolate" anything suspicious---scabies, pediculie (otherwise lice). any old thing. I suppose if I had said I was to be evacuated you wouldn't have thought much of it whereas it would have meant I was much worse.
Things are still very monotonous. I got a run over to B. Section station the other night. The Jack Johnson's had found a neighbouring billet and a short but heavy rush was the result. Fearing it would prove worse than it did---(the J. J.s can't have known the damage they were doing as they dropped only a few shells and then rang off. Some said the French 75's "found" them---I never heard). The M.O. there sent a car over to us with a request for a couple of extra N.C.O.'s and Imms and myself were dispatched ---not altogether to our joy. 1.30 a.m. is an unenthusiastic time to be routed out. Arriving at B. Section station we got the surprise of our lives. It's in a little, now rather battered, mining village and it looks a palace at first sight. One lofty well proportioned room; at the far end a dark curtained stage; with rows of beds---beds my dear!---and the diffused lighting coming from hidden ledges and reflecting on the arched ceiling. It turns out that the mining village is a model mining village and the "station" is the theatre built for the miners in happier times (in most excellent taste; about the size and proportions of Prince's ground floor room otherwise reminiscent of the Little Theatre) and the beds are accounted for by the fact that the French are running one of their amazing hospitals---under fire there. We are sharing it with them. You can imagine our surprise, can't you? expecting the usual outhouse or barn with straw on the floor and a couple of candles; an M.O. and his orderlies stepping over one patient to reach the next; a musty damp straw cum drying blood smell; blankets instead of doors and windows; a smoky wood fire outside on which a dixie of tea, or perhaps Oxo, stews --expecting this and finding a lofty, exquisitely lit, pleasant hospital palace.
I am rapidly regaining old form. Sleep well again and good appetite. We have had some very welcome rain but the sun puts in a good many hours a day and flies are increasing. We do everything possible to keep them down. It is a punishable offence to leave food about or throw it away except on to the incinerator, and we use heaps of lime and disinfectant fluid. The health of the troops is really marvellous---but the bad months are to come. I shall be glad to see August over. Wherever we advance the enemy leave us a filthy mess. I suppose we don't give them time to tidy up before clearing out. Moreover they always shell any trenches they evacuate so fiercely that we can't do much more than get the wounded out. There are several No Man's Lands about behind our lines but almost unapproachable. One at " ---" we call Smelly Farm will be a plague centre if it isn't cleared up soon. I believe we have done something in the burying and lime strewing line there since I personally smelt it last. You can bet on one thing: the authorities are awake and doing all they can, and---what is even more important---the men appreciate the importance of all the precautions possible. This is what counts. However fine the authorities and however energetic they cannot watch all the men all the time. I am disposed to hope that the Germans (who seem to be much less clean habitually in spite of all their discipline and experts) will suffer some in the hot weather.
Don't hope to see me home on leave for some time yet, dearest. There are Divisions who have been out here for six months who should get ordinary leave before us. The only leave going, special leave, only granted on the plea of urgent private business. Sergeant Burrows has got three days: his mother has just died. The S.M. has the same on some business reason. So you see without a good business or domestic reason I cannot get leave. In the ordinary course of events I shan't get any for months, see?
Heaps of love.
P.S. I have been the recipient of many complaints about the way the press is booming ------'s tardy joining of the A.S.C. Strangers in the Battalions only knowing me by sight have sought me out to explain to me that it's "things like that" that give the stage a bad name. As long as he didn't join nobody worried about him (except a few silly white feather distributors) now he makes it look as if he were the only "pro" who ever joined the army. It's too bad. There are hosts of us out here (I met Millar Anderson---now a Sergeant in the London Irish the other day) and this one pup joining the A.S.C. half way through the war (I bet he never sees a shell burst and doesn't want to) discredits the whole trade.
To his Mother.
June 27th. 1915.
I'll tell you what you can send me: a list of the vols. in the Home University Library; a list of the vols. in that series of one shilling or one shilling and sixpenny Handbooks published by the Oxford or Cambridge University Press; a copy of Bohn's (reissue at one shilling of their library!) "Plotinus" published by Bell who have bought Bohn out; a copy of Rev. Collin's "Plautus and Terence" published by Blackwood at one shilling (reissue), and any Joseph Conrad novel at one shilling except "Typhoon." That'll cost you three shillings in toto.
To his Wife.
June 29th, 1915.
We are jogging along under the impression that we are having a slack time but on going over our figures for the last month the "slack"ness proves to be only by comparison with our tremendously busy spells in May, when we handled our two hundred wounded cases a day in C. section alone. I myself helped with the "dressing" of over 150 in 43 hours in our operating tent, and 400 in the week, after which I went up to the Adv. for three days. In those ten days I had my boots off four times, my trousers three, which may impress you till I mention that a whole platoon of the ---th didn't get their boots off for eight days and slept in their full marching order six nights! Some men of that Platoon had to mount guard after those eight days and march the next day five miles. The next day they marched up again and delivered the great ragtime charge of the " ---th" which took three lines of trenches, and the description of which will still reduce any trained regular to a state of imbecility through laughing. I didn't see the charge, but I went over the ground and I heard the "story" from over forty participants while it was still very fresh and so were they. They are an amazing lot of cockneys---ex newsboys and such and---well I'll tell you about it one of these days. Part of the joke was that we didn't want three lines of trenches just there only one and the officials had a devil of a time getting the men to retire to the first line taken (the only one tenable), and when they got there they found it full of their supports who had come up and who in turn didn't want to go back etc. etc. ad lib. There really is a lot of genuine humour in war. I swear I've heard more real mirthful, unjarring laughter in the last six months than in the previous six years. I am developing a theory that men who face death have a right to face it how they please, so long as their attitude is genuine, and the happy go lucky, laughing philosopher attitude of our men (between fits of "I want to go home" depression) is absolutely true and neither assumed nor callous. To laugh while laying out a dead is perfectly natural if anything funny happens and jars on no one present. To force a solemn face and funeral mien is fake and does jar on most susceptibilities.
No more paper.
July 1st, 1915.
What a bat! It has knocked all the ambulance speechless and I am suspected of being a county player in disguise. Who in the world chose it? Of course the make is a good one, but it is such an exceptionally good specimen. Mayhew who has played 2nd County Cricket says he has never lifted a better and our other one or two experts are equally impressed.
I like the photo of "ours" but it has made me unhappy to see how my baby is changing. I shall have to make the acquaintance of a comparative stranger I'm afraid, when I come marching home.---" Marching " looks quite an odd word. I haven't had a mile march---or walk---in the last fortnight.
Things are still pretty monotonous. Still on "evacuations" to which I have now added the "grubbing" of our section. I dishes out their beastly dinners---which is not good for my already feeble appetite, and draw their daily bread and jam and cheese from the Q.M. Stores.
We have had just a glimmer of excitement to-day: a score or so shells on a slag-heap a few hundred yards away. Very few of them exploded, whereat a great reawakening of the---"German ammunition running out" story is now in process.
It's very difficult to write---continual interrup---
Love to you all.
To his Mother-in-Law.
July 3rd, 1915.
Thank you ever so much for the bat. I don't know how you managed to get hold of such a magnificent one. Of course you went to a good place and paid a good price but some people could do all that and still get an indifferent quality wood. This has aroused such enthusiasm here that you'd think I exaggerated if I told you---but I don't. Mayhew who is a judge says it is the best he has ever played with.
There is a joke about it which must wait till I see you as it involves official secrets---of a sort, and might touch the censor hereof nearly.
We are having a very monotonous time: each day like the last or the next. The variation in number of sick or wounded per them is very slight and always well within our capacity. We had a tiny rush the other day, which however did not last. An occasional dental parade will occupy an afternoon but as a rule our day's work begins at 6 a.m. and ends before 2 p.m. In the afternoon we leave just enough to keep the place going and adjourn to a field a couple of hundred yards away for cricket among ourselves or football with the Indians (who won't attempt cricket). Occasionally a convoy interrupts our game about 4.30 and again after tea we are kept mildly busy till---perhaps---9 p.m. It's a dull monotonous life. We are all longing to get up to the advanced station again. We are nearly three and a half miles behind the firing line here, and have only drawn fire---to any extent---once since we've been here---a month now. We are losing a few men (losing only meaning that they are no longer with us) with eye trouble and other minor troubles due I think mainly to nerve strains. The Staff Sergeant of B. section came back from the advanced station a walking skeleton. I hadn't seen him for a fortnight and he quite horrified me. I never saw a man lose flesh so. Curious the difference in temperaments, the sergeant in charge of the Adv. I spent Easter at had been there---in the most exposed " Adv " I ever saw---for over three months and he looked as healthy as any man I ever saw. Men who can't stand the strain either get jobs in the divisional laundries, bakeries, etc. or get further back still to Boulogne or other bases where they are employed somehow. Sometimes they turn out very useful there. It is not considered the slightest disgrace to be sent back with this or that ailment, unfitting one for the hard life up here, but still leaving one quite capable of useful work on the lines of communication.
This is not to prepare you for any departure from the front on my part. I am quite fit again and haven't got any nerves to get upset.
I hope you are giving up all subscribing to charities and buying War Loan instead. I'm sick of these charities. Most of them are all wrong: their beastly tobacco funds that send us out absolutely unsmokable tobacco and the society that presents us with hair brushes! (Consider: what are we to do with hair brushes and how are we to carry them?) and weird shaped shirts, and tubes of pain-killer. They are all wrong. They aim---feebly--- at making war endurable. The War Loan is to end it. Subscribe to that and nothing else. It's the only thing that'll be any use.
To his Dog.
July 6th, 1915.
MY DEAR EMMA !
Do you realise that I haven't written to you once in four months away? Do you? If you don't, I am hurt, if you do and don't mind realising it I am still more hurt. Taken either way you are a heartless little dog and you don't deserve a letter.
There is only one hope for you. You may be too proud to enquire with suitable asperity, why I have not written. I leave it to you, are you proud?
If so what of? Your ears?---I beg your pardon; I forgot Firstie. Of course you've a right to be proud after all, but I don't see your point. Why should your natural pride in Firstie be too great for you to complain of my remissness. You are illogical Emma, as well as heartless. I don't see what you're getting at.
If you see that son of mine, you might give him my love and tell him to get his hair cut. If it hasn't been cut since the photo it must be too long by now---unless it grows backwards: in which case he must have a knot tied in each hair close to his blessed little scalp to prevent it growing in too far and coming out of his chin as whiskers.
Will you see to this? I don't want to come back and find my little boy sprouting a beard: he is too young for such things.
Please give my love to Mrs. Chapin with this, letter enclo. It's a silly sort of letter---a great mistake I know---but---entre nous---(that's French) I'm a silly sort of person and subject to quite idiotic moods when I start thinking about all my darlings at home in England.
Bless you all.
To his Wife.
MY DEAR ONE.
Your description of Vallie's greeting is lovely. I've read it twenty times. I love it---but it hurts me too. Don't think I grudge you one pearl's-worth of his love but---it throws my situation into a cruelly clear light. I've only seen him---he's only seen me that's the point----ten days in the last eight months of his short life. I shall come back in a few months' time to a---well almost a stranger, a sweet little stranger of course but he's bound to be shy with me---even though---as I know you are doing---you talk about me to him very often and do your best to---well---keep my memory green. He's been looking to you for everything and only hearing about me as a fairy story---Oh don't think, Please don't think I'm being jealous. I can be sorry for myself without being the least little bit grudging to you. I really am more glad than I can express, that you have got his love---and appreciate it---to make up ---it's such simple plain sailing work being loved by a baby---to make up for the unkindness and exaction that I have mixed up with my love for you, until I've made rather a trying business of it for you, you poor dear. I wonder if I shall do any better after --- I'm afraid I shan't you know, I shall make a good start and---I've got a rotten disposition, that's what's the matter. I'm full of good:---ideals, courage, kindness etc. but I who am full of them am---well I've got a rotten disposition. And you know it---don't you?
The last need not be answered. I know you know it just as well as I know it myself. I hope you realize my good contents though and how distressing it is for me---unashamedly conscious of them---to be equally conscious what a poor show I make of them---what a rotten ensemble they and I make together.
To go back over this letter and gather some lose ends. Do you understand that what I really mean is not that Vallie will seem strange to me, but that I shall be a stranger to him. He's been growing out of me for these last most impressionable months, just when he was acquiring a vocabulary and an enquiring mind for simpler metaphysics otherwise religion. Just the months I wanted to guide him through. Oh, my dear, be careful of his vocabulary and his religion. Don't let him use one word for more than one idea and don't let him think that to pray for a thing gives him a right to expect it from God by return of post. Teach him one simple thing---an obviously true one---that if God is Omnipotent, all seeing, all knowing, and good, all prayer should be concluded with "Thy will be done." Omission of this may end in a very rebellious frame of mind after some devout---and ungranted---prayer. All prayers are not granted. Teach him that if anything.
What a letter!
God bless you my Darling.
July 7th, 1915.
It is boiling hot to-day. It has been getting steadily warmer for a couple of weeks but these last two days have been much hotter and to-day is tropical. Imagine what we suffer in the same heavy khaki and flannel shirts we were wearing at Christmas, puttees and heavy boots. You know how ill I endure hot weather. I feel---well; rabid. How I shall endure three months of hot weather (July Aug and Sept.) God knows.
I hate it like poison: makes me feel so slack. It's got to be stuck though like many-presumably -worse things.
By the way, did I ever thank you adequately for the spaghetti. I simply loved it: had it the night it arrived. I can't remember whether I expressed myself about it or not. I have a habit of composing letters to you in the night, when I cannot sleep, or when I am shaving or cleaning my boots or searching my shirt for " pediculi " or doing such---like mind-free things. I think this to you or that to you---just as eight, seven, six, years ago I used to think conversations with you.
The devil of it is I sometimes think a letter and remember it but not whether I ever wrote it or not.
July 10th, 1915.
I am so sorry not to be with you at such a time. I know how much of it will fall on you and what a gloomy, long winded, affair the funeral is bound to be. I cannot find any feeling in myself about him; we have all known so long it was coming and I have seen so many die out here that a death is not so looming a thing now as it used to be. You, though I do feel most awfully for. I can see you looking pinched and tired and pale and sticking the long useless service because it's got to be stuck, and the long ride there and the long ride back in the stuffy funeral carriage---I have a hope you may come back some other way---will all add their weight of depression---where depression is needless. What's the use of an orgy of heart-heaviness to anyone.
Now about leave. I have asked and had audience of the C.O. who was most kind, but there's no hurrying matters, understand that. My application to the C.O. was backed by Lieut. Dixon and has now gone on to the Divisional Medical Bosses backed by the C.O. but at present only one medical at a time can be spared from the division and (as this is not a death-bed-side matter) I must wait my turn for (probably) a month or six weeks at least, by which time (let's be hopeful) the Germans will perhaps have started their big attack or we shall have started ours or an epidemic will have broken out or something unforeseen will have occurred and all leave will be stopped.
Bless you all and Emma.
To his Son.
July 10th, 1915.
MY BLESSED MANLET.
I rather like your photo in the sailor suit but I love the one with Mummy and Joan that the Special Constable took outside the flat.
By the way old man; do you wear a black silk handkerchief with your sailor suit? Because you ought to, you know. Ever since Nelson was killed on his ship at Trafalgar, sailors have worn a black silk handkerchief under the sailor collar with the ends tied into a sailor knot in front in memory of him---and he's worth remembering. Get Mummy or Granny or someone to stand you a plain black hanky, big enough to go round, and fold it from comer to corner and wear it as I've told you.
Have you heard that the Kaiser (who you did not tear up and put into the dust shoot for all your boasting) has said that he's going to end this war by October---that's in three months' time, less than a hundred days. Of course he means he's going to win it in that time. He's wrong, poor man, but it's nice to hear him talk that way, because, when people talk that way, they generally do something silly, and when he does something silly, we'll catch him such a wallop that you'll hear it at home in England.
Love from your
To his Mother.
July 12th, 1915.
Thanks so much for the books. It's such a treat to get good reading again. We are swamped with old magazines of the inferior type but can get little else.
I'm rather a lone coon these days. All my more intimate pals are either at other stations, sick and down at the base, or gone to commissions, and two are dead. I'm on excellent terms with the whole unit but---well, a little lonesome never-the-less. I miss Fisher (gone to a commission) more than most. We had subjects in common.
To his Wife.
July 14th, 1915
My DEAR ONE
It looks as if my leave would either be refused or be a long time coming. Please, Please don't be too disappointed. I hate to think of you being distressed. I have had a very plain hint and circumstances suggest that all leave may be stopped for our unit---nothing serious, don't worry. Oh and please don't don't be too disappointed. I'm sick enough without thinking about you feeling miserable over on your side. After all you have got Vallie to cheer you up.
Anyway the old war can't last for ever---or even for long at this rate. The news is good isn't it? Africa, Russia, France and the Dardanelles, all moves towards an end. I stick to the November to Xmas idea.
To his Son.
July 14th, 1915.
VALLIE MY POPPET
What time do you have breakfast in the morning? Please tell me. I have mine at about ten minutes past eight. At eight o'clock I start dishing out the tea (with one hand) and the bacon (with the other) to my section. This takes me about ten minutes---there are about thirty of them. (I am quick, aren't I)? Then at ten past eight I fry myself a piece of bread in the bacon fat and that's my breakfast. A big piece of fried bread and a mug of tea. Sometimes I have a little piece of bacon, but not often, because I don't like bacon the way we cook it here, and cold into the bargain, and of course after serving out all the rest my piece is cold.
Do you ever have fried bread? Try it. It's awfully nice and very good for you, not too thin and only just crisp not hard. Try it and write me how you like it.
Oh my boy I do want to see you again.
To his Wife.
July 19th, 1915.
Flies are our present terror. Seriously; it is impossible to sleep after day break without covering the face, they swarm so. We keep them down wonderfully in the hospital but everywhere else (Oh, my dear, the estaminets!) they darken the air.
Yes, send me a couple of light shirts. Of course you cannot understand that under the conditions out here one wears whatever shirt comes along when one has the good fortune to get a bath. There is no private property. The shirt I wore last week may be worn by an engineer, a rifleman, or (possibly) Capell next. There is no poss. of getting one's things back. You simply hand in a shirt and a pair of sox and get a pair of sox and a shirt in return from store. Still send a couple. I may be able to keep them a few weeks and if only two it'll be worth it. When one stays in one place, one can accumulate a little but it all has to be abandoned at a move. You know we can only take what we can carry in our haversacks and rolled in our great coats. Those kit bags were given up when we left Hatfield.
I don't wear underwear. It only gets dirty. The less one wears the better.
Above was interrupted yesterday for a move. Cannot give details in green envelope. I'm afraid it won't go till to-morrow now, but will hurry it off. First moment I have had to spare since left off yesterday.
To his Mother.
July 19th, 1915.
MY DEAREST MATER,
We are up among the guns again but some distance behind the trenches. We are sharing with the French local medical authorities. A hospital with beds! A good proportion of the blessés are civilians and a very bad proportion of these are children. Two on a stretcher, my dear, that scarcely weigh enough to notice between them, mites of five or six.
This is where you curse the Germans, unless you have imagination enough to remember that we probably maim our share of little ones among those that are unfortunate enough to inhabit the danger zone behind the enemy trenches. If you are to have war with ten, twelve, twenty mile range guns and civies and their families will take their chance and live in the danger zone---you can finish the syllogism for yourself.
To his Wife.
July 21st, 1915.
"They" are shelling something---I dunno what---and hitting a slag-heap at a mine head a couple of hundred yards away. The shells pass nearly over this house and make the place hum. Nobody seems to mind (I'm sure I don't so long as they pass along) I presume "they" are after some batteries near here. They are a long way out if they are.
It's awfully hot again and the flies are terrible. Love.
July 22nd, 1915
I am quite incapable of doing justice to this morning's entertainment. "They" have been shelling the most thickly---and poorly populated part of this little mining town. Some of us went up into it getting the wounded out. Houses, men, women, and children blown to pieces by huge high explosives---and more shells coming over every few minutes, all within a couple of hundred yards of the hospital. I want to tell you all I see---all that happens to me out here, but I must fail to convey it---and I don't want you quite to share my feelings. Amazing, ironic contrasts abounded: within five minutes of each other came in a self-possessed young woman of about ten to have the remains of her arm cut off---perfectly calm---walked in---never cried or showed the least excitement---and a man of fifty on a stretcher with a mangled leg who roared out in an enormous mad voice for his "Maman" over and over again till he was anaesthetised. Could any creation of the imagination equal this? Or this scene in a squalid kitchen:---a huge woman dead on her face across the threshold, a little child also dead at her feet, the legs of her men folk (husband and son?) straggling across the foot way outside (I am keeping back all the hundreds of horrible details, hard though it may be to believe it) and her remaining daughter a child of about twelve---leaping back and forth over the bodies struggling to get a chain from the neck of the body. "Souvenir!" I tried to get her away---she was half mad---but was assailed fiercely by neighbours on her behalf, who seemed to regard her desire for a memento of her mother under the circumstances, most natural and commendable. While I was being suppressed another shell came over and we went to earth in a heap, the hundred yards away crash bringing down plaster and crockery on to our heads and the flying pieces of "case" buzzing past the windows like enormous bees or small aeroplanes. When they had settled the child returned to the chain---armed now with a carving knife---and I left her to it.
From the tragic to the ridiculous: a shell has just blown in the wall of our cook house (no one hurt) and blown out our dinner. Half rations in consequence. Half rations are all I can eat so don't pity me.
July 25th, 1915.
Of course if you've gone so far as seeking a house in Devonshire, go by all means. I didn't understand from your letter that it was anything more than a suggestion which I didn't like because it would curtail my time with you if I got leave during the time you were there. The other reason wasn't a reason at all---just a vague feeling of regret for one more might-have-been lost to me. You can't understand of course. It's ridiculous of me to expect any sane person to ---pitiful, idiotic, feelings of lost, lost, lost---not at all constant but recurring. There are plenty of places left for us to go to for our honeymoon. We had talked of Devonshire for the other, that's all, and I'm a sentimental fool. It suggested somehow to me a fresh start from an old dream for us.
Oh, Slops! I'm in love so forgive them.
P.S. Later on reading your letter again.
If Shaw wanted giggling he'd ask for it. If he says "worriedly etc." he means it. Play on the lines and don't go outside them. The Manchester Dramatists need this help from actors just as the Glasgow ones used to. They scarcely draw their characters at all. How many different girls could you see in the situation of---say---the "Younger Generation"? Is there any reason in the lines why Fanny in "Hindle Wakes" shouldn't be a cheerful little fair girl or an ill tempered tall dark one---any sort of self-supporting modern mill girl? Shaw doesn't need building upon. The less you go outside him the better.
Be adequate to his lines---that is what's wanted. Of course you must appreciate the lines.
July 29th, 1915
You've got to open some sort of a home for me if I get leave. I can't tell you how I long to sit in a room again---a room with a door that will shut out people. Most of the "horrors of war" are entertainments just a shade---or a lot---too exciting or painful to appreciate till they are over; but the absolute lack of privacy for hours, days, weeks, months, accumulating and piling one on another is a source of real misery, far exceeding the physical discomforts of sleeping under an overcoat on a waterproof sheet on a stone floor or going without an occasional meal or night's sleep.
Comic: I was roused in the night (being on twenty-four hours' duty at the dressing station) or rather at 2 a.m. just as I was getting off to sleep, after having fetched in a dozen odd minor blessés, by a tall gentle voiced orderly shaking me gently and saying: "Corporal---there's a man here's been and yawned and he can't get his mouth shut! "
It was quite true. The poor fellow had dislocated his jaw yawning. How blasé! Fancy a company of engineers (he was an engineer) roused out at 2 a.m to go up and do their really dangerous work in front of the trenches and one of them yawns so much that he dislocates his jaw! I took him round to Major Dawson who came down calmly, wrestled gently but firmly with the unhappy man for about half a minute, restored his jaw to the normal and returned to bed. The man walked back to the station with me. Ses he with deep feeling, "Nobody will ever know what that minute was like." Exact words I assure you.
Dearest your letter arrived just this second. I am so sorry I told you about the shelling---but I hate to suppress anything when I write to you. Of course there's a little danger to every one out here but how very little to me or any one person! No amount of activity can make me occupy more than about two and a half cubic yards of space. A really heavy bombardment doesn't hit everywhere at once---or a thousandth part of everywhere and we stand a very slight chance of getting anything like a heavy bombardment here. Why, hundreds of civilians are still living here! Estaminets are open, mines working.
There is something rather curious in your being frightened over this last little entertainment, when you weren't over the really hot time we had at the end of May. It is that in the May caboosh I never felt the least tremor of fear and the other day I was for the first time quite panicky. I am inclined to think that the May calmness was a mixture of fatigue and lack of "reality" in the show. I came up from "----- " already tired out and plunged into the fag end of a long and hot engagement. The very number of dead and wounded and pieces, the vividness of the flashes, the volume of sound were too great to derive self-applicable knowledge from---only a general---and rather---no I'll be honest---very enjoyable sensation of animation and alertness and excitement. It was so enormous and ear-splitting that the mystery behind life and death and light and darkness and noise seemed more realisable for expressing itself thus tremendously, and the medium of its expression took a more palpably secondary place to it as mere mediums and not ultimate realities.
The dozen shells the other day were, au contraire, separate distinct, each one explained itself clearly to the lesser domestic side of the mind and foretold what the next one might do.
Don't worry about me. I am well---sensible---in a safe employment (consider if I were in the infantry!) The chances in favour of my coming back a good deal fitter than I came out are enormous.
July 30th, 1915.
Do you say anything to Vallie about the chance of my coming home for a couple of days only? If I do get leave I don't want the blessed boy to think if he sees me that I am home for good. It's difficult, isn't it? Of course you mustn't raise his hopes of seeing me at all. Oo-er
Things are very quiet here so don't be frightened about me---not that I was altogether sorry to get your upset letter. It's gratifying, you know, to feel that someone cares as much as that, though it sounds selfish to say so. Anyway you've no grounds for worry just now. The war seems to be "off" for the time being as far as we here are concerned.
Love to my brat and his Mummy---I quite believe he is a duck.
July 31st, 1915.
Yes, news in general is quite healthy isn't it---but remember no news can be bad as long as the Russian army is not disorganised and the Allies go on with their job. It may be made a slightly longer job by this or that German coup or a slightly shorter job by this or that German blunder but it will be done. "Naught can make us rue if the Allies to themselves do prove but true." Steadfastness in the authorities and fortitude in the peoples are all that are wanted---and they seem to be forthcoming.
Will you please call on Alfred Dunhill of Duke Street St. James (or get Lal to do it) and pay for the repair of a pipe I sent him to do a couple of days ago. Do this soon, there's a dear.
I am glad to gather that I do right in giving you the worst as well as the best of my news. I suppose you will take it as good that we now expect to go back for a rest shortly. I'm blest if I do. "Rests" out here are beastly things with drills and kit inspections and revising equipments to make every day a misery. I can honestly say that the terrors of kit inspection beat those of any bombardment I have yet seen, and I would rather empty three hundred bed-pans than do half an hour's stretcher drill "by numbers." However these things must be endured. We've had a ripping time here, that's something.
Some assorted sick just come in --- excuse me. --- No I'd better close --- getting near post time.
To his Son.
Hullo little boy, how are you? I'm fine. We're fighting flies just now more than Germans; there are millions and millions and millions of them. If you open a pot of jam they knock you down and take it away from you before you can say " Smiffins " and they wake you up in the morning by running up and down your nose---Oh they're horrid but we kill millions of them every day. We squirt stuff over them and bum their homes and hide our food (so they starve a bit) and catch them in traps. Oh my, they are a nuisance. They are great friends of the Germans these flies, and help them all they can. When the Germans shoot a shell at us and the pieces cut a man's face or hand the flies get on to the place and make it dirty so that it takes a long time to get better. Beasts!
Heaps of love my dear man.
Letters from France, continued
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