23rd Jan 1915. Letters from the front

A BRINKLOW REPRESENTATIVE IN THE TRENCHES.

Private Bernard Wolfe, son of Mr Augustine Wolfe, railway missioner, Bolton, probably one of the first of Kitchener’s Army to participate in actual fighting, sends home a striking account of his experiences. Private Wolfe joined in the last week of August, and has been in the firing line since December 21. His father is a native of Brinklow, and is well-known to Railway Mission men at Rugby. His grandfather and great-grandfather were also residents of Brinklow.

“ The Germans dropped between 20 and 30 shells over our trenches, but did no damage. Our artillery got their range beautifully, and dropped shell after shell right among them, and eventually succeeded in silencing their batteries. Our company (“ D ” Company) lost three men and a few wounded.

“ The German shell devastation in some of the towns and villages here is beyond all imagination. Cafes, houses, convents, are all deserted, and everything left holus bolus. Some of the brave Belgians remain in their remnants of homes. They have lost everything but their great and noble hearts and I don’t think there is compensation available on this earth to make good their losses and deprivations, I think the German troops are getting demoralised, and I honestly think the war will end suddenly, and will surprise all nations when it does collapse.

” It is very weird at night-time. Picture a dark night. British trenches and German about 70 or 80 yards from one another, with just an occasional rip zip of bullets to let each side know there’s a watch being kept. Then the “ Allemandes ” send a fire ball across, just like an enormous blue light, which illuminates the whole length of trenches. And then, what ho! bob down ! if you don’t you get it, for as soon as the light goes up volley after volley comes as long as the light lasts, which will be 30 or 40 seconds.”

FROM A LILBOURNE MAN.

An interesting letter has been received by Mrs Barnett, of Lilbourne, from her husband. Private A Barnett, 1st Royal Warwicks, in which he says that life in the trenches with such wet weather is most trying—otherwise, he states that he in in a good slate of health. Barnet says : ” I received a parcel just before Christmas from Miss Mary Mulliner, Clifton Court (where he was employed before the outbreak of war). Please thank her if you see her. I am also so pleased the children received toys from the Court ; I am sure they would be pleased. We are having four days in the trenches and four out, the different regiments relieving one another as soon as it gets dusk. I believe the trenches we occupy are in Belgium, but when we are out at rest, we are in France. We have had about four months of it now. I wish we could get out of the danger zone for a while for a good rest. At a place near Armentieres we had 31 days in the trenches without coming out, the enemy being entrenched about 200 yards away. We are nearer now—only 100 yards separating us. You can imagine we have to be very careful in our movements. We were on fairly good terms with them at Christmas, not a single shot being exchanged. They said they would not fire if we did not, and the truce was kept, and we were able to enjoy Christmas rather better. Bitter foes as we are we were able to talk to some of them, also exchange cigarettes and cigars. Anyone that did not se it could not believe that such a thing could happen in warfare : nevertheless, it’s true. Some of our men got hold of souvenirs, but I failed to manage one myself.

“ Our Battalion has suffered very badly : out of 1,110 men I am afraid there is not above 200 left. No doubt many are prisoners of war. When we arrived here we encamped near Langy. Just when they had completed a big retirement from Mons, we took up some trenches at Bueq-Le-Long, and on being relieved we reckoned on a rest. Instead of that we had four days’ march, resting at Rozet-St-Albin, Crepy, Rully-Verberi, and St Omer. From the latter place we rode with motor transport, packed in like sardines for three hours, to Caistre. Next morning we advanced and encountered the enemy at a place called Meteren, which they occupied and were made to evacuate alter a sharp encounter lasting about three hours. Our casualties numbered about 100. It was raining all the time and we were soaked to the skin. During our march through France I did not see anything that took my fancy much. I do not know what there is to make a fuss about. Old England can compare with it for scenery or anything else—except that it is a little warmer here.”

A NAPTON MAN AT THE FALKLAND ISLANDS.

William Watson, of Napton, writing from H.M.S Cornwall on December 9. 1914, says :- “ Dear Mother,— Just a line to let you know how we are getting on. I think the last time I wrote to you was when we were at Montevideo.

On December 7th we arrived at the Falkland Islands, and all of a sudden, when we were in the midst of coaling, we heard a gun fired. It was the Germans come to bombard Port Stanley. Directly we knew we stopped coaling, and our ship and four more British ships, viz, the Inflexible, Invincible, Carnarvon, and Glasgow, gave chase. When we had been steaming along as fast as we could go for about one and a-half hours we saw the smoke of five German ships. At last we gradually got nearer, and the Inflexible engaged with the Scharnhorst. We caught the Leipzic up, and had an engagement with her, which lasted four hours. By the way, I forgot to tell you I am wireless messenger, and I was on watch when we were in action. We fired over 1,000 rounds of lyddite shell at them before we set the Leipzic on fire. We have had several bad hits ourselves, one of which passed through the funnel down into the painters’ shop ; but we put the fire out before it did very much damage. At last, about ten minutes past seven, we hit her right forward with a lyddite shell, and she caught on fire. You ought to have seen he r; I stood and watched her. At last she made a headlong plunge, and down she went. I think out of about a crew of 900 eighteen were saved. Five of them we have in our sick bay. Of the five German ships four have been sunk and one escaped, but she will get captured sooner or later. Out of our crew there are only about four injured, and no one killed. Well, mother, I think we shall come home. Tell them all at Napton I am quite well and happy.”

LOCAL WAR NOTES.

On October 14th the sister of Scout J Farn, [?] Worcester Regiment, forwarded to him on the Continent a parcel, containing some cigarettes and handkerchiefs. On October 21st. however, he was wounded, and never received the parcel. This has recently been returned to another sister of Scout Farn, to whom he had left his property by his will , the authorities evidently being under the impression that he had been killed. The parcel has probably an interesting history attached to it, because when it was opened a piece of shrapnel shell was found inside it, the letter and some notepaper were torn to shreds, and the handkerchiefs were perforated, evidently by pieces of shell, but how this came about is a mystery. We are informed that Scout Farn, who is still in Cedar Lawn Hospital, Hampstead, has undergone two operations, and is going on as well as can be expected. He was wounded by fragments of shrapnel in the right arm.

Trooper Harvey Woods, of the 17th Lancers, is paying a short visit to his home in William Street, Rugby, from the front. His regiment was drafted from India to France, and this is the first time he has been home for seven years. While wishing to say nothing as to the actual fighting, Trooper Woods states that his regiment has been diverted from its ordinary duties, and has been serving in the trenches. In fact, he came straight from the trenches to Rugby. In many instances the men are standing waist deep in water. He spent Christmas Day very quietly in the reserve trenches.

NEW BILTON SOLDIER WOUNDED.

Mrs H Anderson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton, has received official news that her son, Pte John Elson, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, received a gunshot wound in the back in action on January 7th, and is at present in a General Hospital at Rouen. Pte Elson, spent Christmas Day in the trenches, has also written home to say that the wound is not serious. Mrs Anderson has another son in the Howitzer Battery and one in Lord Kitchener’s Army, and her husband has also a son wounded at the front.

WITH THE HON. ARTILLERY COMPANY AT THE FRONT.

The following extracts from a letter from a “ H.A.C. ” man at the front to his friends at Rugby will be read with interest :-

“ While doing duty in the trenches the other day one of our men went back to a barn to fetch something, and on returning he was shot. He went down with a call for help. I ran along the communicating trench in order to assist him, when a bullet took my shoulder strap off. Our officer recalled me at once. Some time after our bugler crawled out to the man, bound up his wounds, and stayed with him till dusk. He was shot soon after nine o’clock in the morning. They were sniped all the day through, but fortunately they were not hit. When we picked him up at dusk one of the men in my section was shot through the arm and knee.

“ Another day, owing to the continual rain, the communicating trench got full of water. It was my lot to cut a way through the side to enable the water to drain away. I had to stand for an hour up to my middle in the water ; it was bitterly cold, and I felt very exhausted towards night—so much so that I tumbled over when marching home. Our officer insisted on my riding his horse back, for which I was grateful. Unfortunately he has since been killed. He was a great favourite with the men.

“Early in the New Year we determined to have a festive gathering to which we invited some of the Scots Guards. The barn was lit up with candles. When the plum pudding arrived all the lights were extinguished and the brandy set alight. Of course, it was received with cheers.”

“ The other day, on our return after three days in the trench’s we decided to have a concert, so we stopped up all the cracks and crevices, so that no light could be seen from outside. The concert commenced, but we could not have it to ourselves. The Germans took part in part. They commenced to shell us. Towards four o’clock we had to clear out, and whilst packing up our wagon two shrapnel shells burst just over us in the trees, but luckily no one was hit.

“ We attended a very impressive service the other night ; it was held in a convent. The chaplain used a small electric torch, so that he could read the service. We all stood round and sang ‘God save the King,’ and, as you may suppose, the line ‘ Scatter his enemies’ was emphasised.”

RECRUITING AT RUGBY.

During the past week 27 recruits have been sworn in at Rugby. Their names are :—R.A.M.C, W Bax and W D Bottrill ; Northants Regiment, G S Carr ; R.F.A, H Dale, H Blythe, W H Morgan, C E Godwin, F B Allibon, W F Bolton, and E A Baines ; Gloucesters, T M Horrell ; A.S.C, W J Barnwell, A Copeman, I Green, A J Townsend, and T Worrall ; R.W.R, J Smith, E Summer, and C E Newman ; Dublin Fusiliers, J Cody ; Worcester Regiment, H Wells ; Lancashire Fusiliers Bantams, F Lowndes and P J Dunkley ; Oxford and Bucks L.I, E Harvey and W Jephcott ; Coldstream Guards, E W Davenport and H Payne.

 

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