Christmas is over, and the wretched old year of 1914 has told its tale, and is going out as if ashamed of it in rain, slush and fog.
When December came in we began to think of Christmas, and joyful reunions around pleasant firesides. The question which puzzled our minds was how many would get Christmas leave. Would the battalion go home in batches? At last our doubts were settled, and it was found that a good proportion of the men were to be given passes in three periods. Then came the eventful casting of lots, and the lucky men were in high feather. Preference was given to married men. What a pity some of us didn’t know this a little earlier, but the notice was too short. The orderly room staff put in overtime seeing to the passes, those precious pieces of paper worth their weight in gold, which are the open sesame to the trains.
Then came the news of the Scarborough bombardment, and after that the fateful message that all leave was stopped. Of course, there was a lot of grousing – the soldiers’ only prerogative – but we recognised that we were engaged on the serious work of protecting our country in wartime, and that even Christmas leave was of a very secondary importance. We therefore soon settled down for Christmas in this little town. Don’t think that we were miserable here, by no means. After Divine service parade the rest of the day was free. Our hosts and hostesses rose to the occasion, and we fared well – some, perhaps, not wisely but too well. I wonder whether it was unconscious humour on the part of our commanding officer that the following day the battalion orders contained the notice: “Companies will parade under their company commanders for company training and interior economy.” – an excellent subject for the day following Christmas.
We were not forgotten either at home or here. This little Norfolk town had surely seldom seen such a parcel post as came in during Christmas week. Many of the parcels were horribly mangled. Plum puddings had to be extricated from string and brown paper with the aid of a spoon, and mince pies turned up in granulated form. The ladies of Northamptonshire, per Miss Wake, of Courteenhall, sent stocking caps. Our esteemed chaplain, Rev T G Clarke, MA, of Corby, gave every man a beautifully bound and illustrated Testament. The commanding officer presented each company with a football – a most popular gift – but perhaps the most surprising gift was one from the boys of the King’s School, Peterborough. The Cadet Corps of this school is affiliated with our battalion, and to show their interest in the parent regiment we received a cheque for £30, the proceeds of a play got up by the boys: Bravo, the King’s School, Peterborough! Along with the audience we cry “Encore.” Even the Government didn’t forget us, and we received new shirts and socks, and the recruits a second uniform to complete equipment.
Some of the companies were also remembered by the towns to which they are connected, but I have no recollection that Raunds rose to the occasion in like manner.
We have not been forgotten musically. Messrs John Broadwood, of piano fame, gave us one of their camp concerts. The artistes were all of first-class order, and a crowded Town Hall showed the appreciation of the soldiers of the generosity of this great English firm. I must add a word about our band, of which we are justly proud. We have read a lot in the papers about bandless Armies. We, however, are well provided for. The inhabitants of this town also appreciate its presence here, and on Sunday mornings after church parade, the Market-square is thronged from twelve-thirty to one to listen to the open-air concert which is then given. By permission of the commanding officer, help is given to other services beside the parade service, and the presence of the band at the various churches is greatly valued.
Our training has been somewhat handicapped by very wet weather. We have had two or three big days in the presence of the General, and there is little doubt about the general efficiency of the battalion. Navvying has also been practised in the shape of digging safe and comparatively comfortable trenches, plans of which have been supplied from the front. It is a source of considerable amusement to the “natives” to see the battalion march off with pick in right hand and shovel in the left. It is perhaps well that some get amusement there from. We don’t!
The year is dying in the night. The bells are even now ringing its knell, which soon will change to a welcome peal to the New Year. And what will it bring? To us as individuals it matters very little. War teaches us to sink our individual welfare in that of the social whole. But what of our loved country and the world at large?
“Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.” * * * * * * * * * * * * “Ring in the Christ that is to be.”
If that be so – Ring out wild bells and let him die!
Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, 15 January 1915:
Raunds Private “Quite Well”
Private W Nunnely, “C” Company, 2nd Northants, and of Thorpe Street, writing home to his parents says:
“I am quite well. We have just come out of the trenches for three days rest. We went into the trenches for our first time a week last Sunday. My pal that enlisted the same day as I got killed the first day we were in the trenches. Just remember me to all the boys and tell them I am quite well.
I saw Coles from Hargrave at Rouen. He has been sick for a fortnight; and also Mrs Smith’s brother, who has been wounded. He was a cook at the camp where I spent my first three days in France. He looks fat and well!”
Mr Lee, of Raunds, has received the following letter:
“In the field, Feb 11, 1915.
Dear Mr Lee, I have today received a letter from my aunt, Miss Sharpe, in which was enclosed a magazine (Wesleyan) supplement. I notice that you are the secretary of the ‘Old Scholars Fund’. This came one day when my name appeared in the orders as promoted from 2nd Class to 1st Class Air Mechanic. This carries with it an increase of 14 shillings per week and so I offer this as my contribution to the fund, the amount of my first week’s rise. My brother Herbert will give you the money on my behalf and will no doubt either see you or write to you when I have communicated with him.
I may mention that I have seen a number of Raunds fellows out here. I keep a good lookout for anybody whom I may know. You can never tell who may turn up. I shall be very pleased to see Raunds again though.
Wishing your efforts on behalf of the fund every success.
Yours Truly, G Harry Hall.”
Ed – The writer of the letter, George Henry Hall, was killed in December 1917 in a flying accident while training as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. He is buried in the Raunds Wesleyan Methodist Chapelyard.
Dr W Mackenzie, of Raunds, has received the following letter from Private J A Cuthbert, of the ‘C’ Company, 1st Northants:
“Dear Sir, just a few lines in answer to your letter and parcel, which I received quite safe in the trenches, thanking you very much for the same.
I was very glad to hear that a few more men have enlisted from the old town. As you know, I have been out since August, and I have seen some awful sights one way and another. The last village we were in was blown down to the ground, and some of the bodies in the churchyard were blown up, and all the places that we go to are the same. If our young men in England who have not yet come to the call could see this and they still resist the call, they are not Englishmen.
I have done nine months fighting, and am willing to do another nine if we can only clear the dirty dogs out of the way, and all are of the same mind with me here. We have had a terrible winter out here, snowing and raining all day and night. We have been relieved out of the trenches for a few days rest, but expect to go back at any moment.
As you know, the fight for Calais is a stiff one, but they will never get there, as we have got them whacked, as our artillery have got the same superiority over them as they had over us at the beginning of the war, so it is only a matter of time.
I remain, yours sincerely, J A Cuthbert.
ps – Percy Smith thanks you very much for his ‘fags’ etc."
Ed – the same Percy Smith was killed in June 1916!
Miss Nunley of Thorpe Street has received the following letter from her brother, Pte W Nunley of the Northamptons, from the 2nd Northern Hospital at Leeds:
“Dear Sister, just a line to let you know I am in England once again. I arrived here, at Leeds, on the 12th and am getting on fine.
Now, it was on Sunday, about 8am when we had the order to charge the German trenches. I had only got about 100 yards when I fell to the ground, being shot through the left thigh. We were trying to also to take a village called Fromelles, and I can tell you, it was hell. Our boys tried hard to push forward but fell like ninepins.
I lay out in the open for about 3 hours, expecting every moment to be shot again, when 2 young men of the RAMC came and picked me up and carried me into our own trench. They fired on us just as we were getting in the trench, but without hitting us.
I left the trenches about 12.30am and I think we had lost half of our regiment then.”
Raunds Gifts – Soldiers Appreciate Good Things From Home
The girls employed at Messrs Horrell and Son’s factory at Raunds went round on the 1st of May collecting for the soldiers at the front, and it was decided to send a parcel to every one who had gone from Raunds and Stanwick.
Thirty-four parcels were sent out. Of the recipients, 24 smoked cigarettes, and to these were sent 30 packets each of cigarettes, one large tin of cocoa, one large tin of milk, one bar of carbolic soap, and one packet of stationery. Four did not smoke cigarettes, and to them was sent a half pound of tobacco with the other articles. There were also six non-smokers, and to those the same value was sent in chocolates and toffee.
To one, a prisoner of war in Germany, a brother of the champion skater of Raunds, was sent one loaf, one cake, 3 pounds of cooked bacon, one tin of milk, one tin of cocoa, one bar of soap, a pound of sugar, half a pound of cheese, and one packet of stationery.
Mr R Jacobs, the secretary for the effort, has received a large number of letters, all expressing high appreciation of the gifts and thanks to the senders.
Amongst the writers are Lance-Corporal J W Vorley, of the Motor Ambulance Corps; Pte John W Bland, “C” Squadron, Northants Yeomanry; Pte S Cuthbert; Pte A Wilkins, stretcher bearer of the 2nd Royal Warwicks; Pte Twelftree, No.4 Co, 1st Herts Regt; Sergt J Harris, “A” Co, 2nd Northants, who writes of the death of Pte Richards, to whom a parcel was sent.
Gunner T Askham, of the Ammunition Column, who speaks of the encouragement given by the receipt of letters; Pte G H Hall, who says that he should prefer to hear the girls sing with the war over; Pte P Smith, “C” Co, 1st Northants; Pte W Hazlett, “B” Co, 1st Northants, who writes of a parcel which came for a “missing” soldier; Pte L Hodson, of the Transport Service Supply Column, who writes of having had a pleasant surprise the previous day in meeting another Raunds old boy, Harry Hall, of the Flying Corps; Pte Walter Richardson, of the 8th Scottish Motor Ambulance.
Pte A Burton, “B” Co, 1st Northants, who refers to the death of Tom Craven of Stanwick, who also served in South Africa; Pte S Percival, of the 1st D.C.L.I.; Pte E Stringer, “B” Co, 2nd Northants, who also refers to the death of Pte E Richards, who was killed in the attack of May 9th; Pte F Walden, of the Regimental Transport, who regretfully speaks of the death of Pte Cuthbert; Corpl C Barker, “A” Co, 2nd Northants, who regrets that both the brothers Felce of Stanwick, for whom parcels were sent, were killed on May 9th.
“Brigadier” L Eady of 109 Heavy Battery, R.F.A., whose battery is with the Indian troops; Pte H York, of the Royal Engineers; Pte Harry Moule, who has been “in it” since the battle of Mons; and Pte R Farrer, No.1 Co, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards.
Ed: sadly, three of the writers, Pte P Smith, Pte A Burton & Pte E Stringer, and Harry Hall, would subsequently also become victims of the war.
Mr & Mrs W W Chambers, Beech Hill, have received a letter from Pte A Burton in answer to a communication sent with respect to their son:
“3/6/15, Dear Friends, just a few lines in answer to your letter which I received in the trenches, and it is the first chance of writing to you. I have made enquiries about your son, No.13216, and I am sorry to say that he is still missing, and they cannot hear anything of him. I am afraid it is the same as Barritt’s, but to tell you the truth it is very doubtful if he is alive as I do not think that they took any prisoners that day.
They even shot our wounded that made the slightest movement. They are a dirty lot, and I wish they were all wiped out, as it makes one’s blood boil when we know what they are doing. But we must hope for the best news, as we would all welcome the news that he is alive and well, as the lads all liked him and respected him.
I remain your sincere friend, Pte A Burton, No.7543, ‘B’ Co., 1st Northants, BEF.”
Ed: William Webb Chambers was later confirmed as a casualty of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, and two years later, the writer of the letter, Arthur Burton, was also killed, near Ypres in June 1917.
Official news has been received that Pte W W Chambers, 13216, ‘B’ Company, 1st Northants, has been missing since May 9th. Just before the battle (of Aubers Ridge) a letter was written to his relatives, and since then they have heard nothing from him.
The following letter was received from one of his comrades in reply to a letter sent by one of Pte Chambers’ friends:
“It is regret that I have to answer your letter. I am very sorry to say that we got parted on May 9th. It was a very sad day for us as we had to make a charge, and we lost a lot of men, there only being 2 men left in his platoon when we came out at night. We lost about 650 killed and wounded, so you can see what we had to go through, and I think that he was with the killed, for I have not heard anything about him from that day to this.
That is what makes me think that he is killed. I think that he is dead, for he would have written to let me know how he was getting on. I am very sorry that I can’t tell you anything about him. I myself don’t even come from Rushden, my home is at Stanwick, and I used to spend most of my time at Rushden, I only wish that I was there again.”
LCpl C Morris was the writer of this letter.
If any soldier could give any information about Pte Chambers, it would be gratefully received by Mr & Mrs W W Chambers, 18 Beech Hill, Raunds.
Private A Burton, of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, in France, has written a letter to Mr Albert Barritt, of Beech Hill, Raunds, concerning Private Arthur Barritt, his brother, who belonged to Hannington and went with his regiment, the 1st Northants, from Egypt to France on the outbreak of the war.
Private Barritt, who is the son of Mr William Barritt, farmer, of Hannington, had been missing since May 9th and the letter states: “I received your letter in the trenches. I am very sorry to state that your brother is still missing. It is best you should know the truth. I am afraid he must be killed, as they did not take any prisoners that I know of that day, and if he had only been wounded you should have heard from him before now. They cannot hear anything about him in the regiment.
When I got talking to him after we had arrived here I knew it was your brother, as you said when we were at Kettering last Christmas that you had a brother at the front. We often used to have a joke together, and were talking only about ten minutes before the charge. He was in high spirits then. If I hear any news I will let you know at once. If you hear anything about him please let me know, as he was well known and liked by all the lads in the company.
The Germans shot our wounded that made the slightest movement – the dirty cowards – but I hope they will get what they deserve!”
Private Barritt’s sister-in-law lives in Kettering. He enlisted about seven years ago in the 1st Northants, and since that time has been at Malta and Egypt. Before going to France from Egypt he had 48 hours’ leave to come and see his relatives in this country.
Ed: Arthur Barritt had indeed perished at Aubers Ridge and is named on the Hannington War memorial, as is his brother Oliver, and the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing. We believe that the C Barrett named on the Raunds War Memorial is Oliver Barritt, 9th Seaforth Highlanders (died, 31st July 1916), who, prior to joining up, had been living with his brother Albert in Beech Hill, Raunds. Arthur Burton was killed in action on 18th June 1917 and is named on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing.
Mrs E J Whitney, of Raunds, has a nephew serving with the Australian Contingent. His name is Ernest Lucas, and he is the son of her brother, Mr Charles Lucas, who is a magistrate at Derby, Tasmania. In a letter written some little while ago the nephew gave some particulars of his training in Egypt. He stated that he had been in hospital for five weeks with influenza. He expressed regret that they did not go to England instead of Egypt for training. He referred to the beautiful buildings in Egypt, and mentioned that one wanted plenty of money in that country, as everything was very dear, adding that he arrived with a considerable sum, but that it was just about gone.
He continued: “We only draw one shilling a day. Of course, we receive six shillings a day. You want a pound a day. Nearly all of our chaps have plenty of money to spend. You can’t walk for natives; they crowd round you in hundreds, wanting to clean your boots, and selling all sorts of things. I went to see Turkish prisoners and wounded Indians. The Turks are a rough-looking crowd, and some have no boots; their clothes are all to pieces. Some of the Indians are seriously wounded; they were pleased that Australians came to see them. We all took them something. The Tommies have made great chums with the Australians. They come out on Sunday to tea; some of them are only boys; they wish they were receiving the same pay as our men.”
Mr Chas Lucas also writes to Mrs Whitney. After referring to the various contingents sent by Australia and New Zealand, the writer proceeds: “We feel sure they do the Empire justice. More will come if wanted as Australian is determined to see the matter through, with the rest of the British Empire. The Colonies are doing remarkably well for the Belgian Relief Fund, and enormous sums are being raised for the people of that unhappy country; and the people of Australia – those that can – will give monthly subscriptions until the war ends. The ladies of Derby, like the rest, are working well. During the past few weeks they have made up another hundred men’s flannel shirts, besides other requisites, for the Red Cross and we are only a small community.
As in England, food has risen considerably of late. The 4lb loaf, which was sixpence, is now ninepence, but this is due to the poor wheat harvest, which was considerably below ordinary years, which was due to the drought last summer.”
It may be added that Mr Lucas also enclosed a cutting from the “Hobart Mercury” containing an interesting article written by himself on “Fishing at the Mussell Roe River.” Oh how those ANZACs camped in Egypt and Gallipoli would dearly love to be passing their time in such a way now!
Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, 25 August 1915
With The Australian Contingent
Relatives in this country of members of the Australian Contingent are receiving graphic descriptions of their thrilling experiences on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This account, given by a nephew of Mrs E J Whitney, of Temperance Cottages, Raunds, shows the terrible nature of the fighting. The writer, Percival Ernest Lucas, 12th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade, in the course of a letter to his father, Mr Charles Lucas, of Derby, Tasmania (Mrs Whitney’s brother), says:
“I suppose you have heard all about our landing on the Gallipoli Peninsular. What do you think of the fight we boys put up? They gave us pepper before we landed, and after, boatload after boatload. Many of them were killed before reaching the shore. The Turkish fire of shrapnel, machine guns, and artillery was terrible. I don’t know how we lived through it. On landing we threw off our packs and advanced uphill and over gullies for over two miles inland, the fire from the Turks being terrific; and we had only our rifles.
On the afternoon of the day we landed, we were retiring and lying down at times to escape the fire, when a large shrapnel shell was seen coming low down and someone shouted ‘duck! duck!’ One piece knocked my hat off, and another piece just missed my face and went into the ground close beside me. About the same time, Pte W Farrell, my mate, who was lying not far from me, shouted ‘I am shot’. I went to his assistance and carried him to a place of safety. He was shot in the back, which paralysed him for the time. I have not seen him since. I got my wound on the foot two days after and am now at Heliopolis Hospital. The doctor removed twelve sharp pellets, and my leg and foot are like an elephant’s. We are being well looked after. Heliopolis is a lovely place: 4,000 beds.
I don’t think the people of Australia will ever forget the way our boys fought. It was simply marvellous. The Indians came up behind us with their mountain guns, and we were pleased to see their smiling faces, as up to this we had only our rifles. We passed the word along to them, directing them where to fire. Then the Queen Elizabeth opened fire on the Turks, and didn’t our boys cheer when she dropped her ton shells in among them, and you could see them flying up in the air.
On Sunday night she blew up a fort on our right, and it went up like a house on fire. On Monday morning our batteries were being brought up and the Queen Elizabeth again opened fire, and you could see horses, guns, and men blown up in mid-air. Some of the Turks came to our lines and gave themselves up, and said they did not want to fight. It was a wonderful sight to see so many English and French men o’ war ships firing – one never to be forgotten.
I will never forget the kindness of the Indian Red Cross chaps. They are fine fellows, with their smiling faces, and ever ready to help you.
(Pte W Farrell, it seems, was only slightly wounded, as he was able to write to his father shortly afterwards, saying he was right again.)
An Air Duel In France - Witnessed By Raunds Soldier
Sergeant Harold Lee has “The Thrill Of His Life”
"German Airmen Outdone"
Sgt Harold Lee, formerly headmaster of the Raunds Council School, writes:
“On Monday I had the thrill of my life. It was 7 am. There was the usual whirr of an aeroplane overhead, but I hadn’t noticed that it was a German plane. All at once an English plane appeared from nowhere. Then there was a splendid manoeuvring for position. The German was completely outdone. From the commencement the English aviator seemed to make circles round him. This was straight over my head. Then came the quick staccato notes of machine-guns as they fired at one another. Their altitude was, I should judge, 3000 to 4000 feet.
All at once up went the German’s tail and down came the machine like a stone. I shall never forget that sight. I thought the German machine was falling simply under the force of gravitation, but when it was within 300 feet of the ground it curved upwards and finally settled down in a field, within our lines. Some of our men approached to take the Germans prisoners, but they turned their machine-gun on them, killing one man and wounding several. Of course they were instantly shot. The aeroplane was a new one, undamaged except for holes through the petrol tank. The aviators were typical Germans, about 25 years of age. One had his cheek shot clean away, and the other was shot through the body.
Such is war! A sight which would shock and horrify one under ordinary circumstances is here a sight to cheer – and legitimately so. You should have heard our men cheer when the German machine came down! The whole affair was over in five minutes, but I shall never forget it. The sight of that dive down is photographed in my mind for ever.”
The Wicked Ambitions of the Kaiser and his War Lords
A Raunds Soldier on German Militarism, the Cold-Blooded Murder of Nurse Cavell and a Touching Incident
Corporal Wesley Lee (Raunds), Royal Bucks Hussars, son of Mr & Mrs George Lee, of “Kingswood”, Raunds writes to his parents as follows:
“The cold-blooded murder of Nurse Cavell has filled me with hatred of German militarism. In all sincerity I do hope I shall soon have the opportunity of taking part in the avenging of this crime. For some months I have tried very hard to make myself an efficient soldier. Now, if possible, I will redouble my efforts. How any able-bodied man can withhold himself, unless engaged in munition work, I cannot conceive.
I was touched very deeply the other morning. It was Wednesday midday. Four of us were riding into Lynn from the Swaffham side. About a mile from the town we came to a little wayside cottage, standing back 100 yards from the road. As we passed a voice hailed us. We drew rein and saw coming from the cottage a woman carrying a basket. She asked us to accept a little fruit. There were four fine apples and a dozen pears. She said she did it in memory of one of her sons who was lying buried somewhere in France or Belgium. Another was a prisoner in Turkey and she hoped some other mother had been good to him in that far off land. That night, while I was on guard, my thoughts went out to that poor mother; her trouble, her grief, and her kindness of heart.
Verily I thought, there must be compensation awaiting her by and by. But what for the Kaiser and his war lords whose wicked ambitions have brought so much agony, physical and mental, into the world?”
Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, 20 November 1915
Sergt L G H Lee at Headquarters
Shell Too Close To Be Pleasant
On the occasion of his recent birthday a number of Raunds friends forwarded to Sergt L G H Lee, who is serving with the R.E. at the British Headquarters in France, as a meteorological observer, good wishes and gifts.
In a letter of acknowledgement, dated November 5th, Sergt Lee sends hearty thanks for the kindness shown to him, and then proceeds to write of how his birthday was spent. He says:
“There was nothing eventful until midday. During my observation work I noticed a German aeroplane out scouting, and heard the whistle of enemy shells. After finishing my work I went for dinner – bully beef and toothpicks – toothpicks are an essential after a course of bully beef.
AN UNWELCOME SHELL
I was just coming away from the hutments when there was the scream of an approaching shell, which came hurtling through the park trees just over my head, and bringing down a big branch, finally landed plump in the middle of the centric hut. Fortunately the occupants – except for one of two who had been on all-night duty – had just gone on parade, or there must have been considerable loss of life. As it was, only two or three were wounded, and these but slightly. After instinctively ducking my head I turned round to see the wreckage. First out of the hut shot young S-----, who had been asleep. He came out at a pace greater than one usually goes on parade, clad in a shirt only. As the mud is a good six inches deep, his state can be imagined. Out of the opposite door shot another fellow, so dazed that he rotated on one leg like a peg-top. The interior of the hut was a picture – a deep hole just in the centre, with broken rifles and general wreckage strewed all round. The stove, which had contained a good fire, was smashed, but not a cinder could be seen anywhere. A big dixie of soup, which was standing in the stove was thrown clean out through the roof and deposited upside down in front of the cookhouse door, the cook remarking that the return of dixies was not so expeditious. All round the hut on the trees were tattered remnants of overcoats, tunics, mackintoshes, and boots. This morning a bandolier containing fifty rounds of ammunition was dug up from a depth of over four feet. We laugh about it now, but it is certainly a queer sensation when you happen to be so near as I was.
Being a bright, fine afternoon, I went for a walk into Belgium, to visit a town about the size of Raunds, whose curious name I dare say you have seen and noticed in newspaper maps of the front. It has had more than the usual amount of shelling. As one walks up the street there is every sign of what a prolonged bombardment will do. Every house is scarred with splinters of shell. Here is a shop with no front, but still used. Here is a school, gaunt and roofless. Here are houses after houses with only the cellars occupied. Here is a square hole, 10 feet deep, half full of water, which was once the cellar of a house.
The saddest sight of all is the Parish Church, a church larger than that of Raunds, and with a steeple nearly as high. Of all sad sights perhaps a church ruined by war is the saddest! It is so incongruous. A church dedicated to the religion of Peace blasted in battle!
The spire still stands, a marvel, with a gaping wound a hundred feet up, and its supporting arches by the west door cut almost away. The circular turret, blown open, displays bits of a spiral staircase. The windows of the belfry are gone, revealing the bells and the disconsolate bell-ropes rotting away. The interior is a scene of utter desolation. A few rafters and some quivering tiles that rattle in the rising autumn winds are all that is left of roof and vaulting. The organ a mass of twisted metal: the high altar a wilderness of broken glass and ruined statuary. Half-way down the nave, as is usual in Continental churches, stands the pulpit, gaunt and scarred with a hundred shells. The floor a rubbish heap of glass and tiles, laths and mortar. The odour of ritual incense has given place to the dank smells of mould and decay. The Holy Presence itself has fled, and there is a tangible feeling as of the presence of malignant spirits, happy to make a habitation of these sacred precincts.
In the evening we had our birthday supper – the sergeants. No shell disturbed our innocent convivialities. Selby’s sausages sizzled in the frying-pan, and never tasted half so well at home. The biggest of the Smeathers’ pork pies positively gleamed at us, as if proud to be ‘doing its bit.’ A plum pudding – mother’s make – pronounced by one to be the ‘best blooming plum pudding he had ever tasted,’ was the ‘plat du jour.’ Tea, with some of those many smokes Dr Mackenzie has sent over here, concluded the meal.
So ended my first birthday at the front, and the second in His Majesty’s Army.”