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Your

So writes Frank Smith home to his parents in April 1915, one of hundreds of similar letters he wrote. Transcribed and collected here, they give a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of a soldier serving on the Front during The Great War. He was only one of tens of thousands of other British men, and he was fortunate enough to survive. The honesty, the concern with practicalities, the humdrum of waiting, the fear and horror and the pointless destruction – they are all in the letters. A sobering, thought-provoking and inspiring read.

Your Affectionate Son: Letters from the Trenches During The First World War

You complain that I give you no idea where I am, well you know what happened last time I did, and we are warned that if we do say anything like that our letters stand a good chance of being destroyed, and then you would wonder why I had not written. We are quite a good way now from the first line about nine miles and can only hear a dim rumble of the guns and on a very still night even the crackle of rifle fire, but on fine days occasionally the German aeroplanes drop bombs on the town close by and generally manage to harm some poor innocent civilians.

AFFecTionATe Son

Letters From The Trenches During The First World War


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YOUR AFFECTIONATE SON


YOUR AFFECTIONATE SON

LETTERS FROM THE TRENCHES DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR


Copyright Š Marjorie Wild 2012 First published 2012 by

www.wordsbydesign.co.uk The right of Marjorie Wild to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying.! In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency,! 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P 9HE. ISBN: 978-1-909075-07-8


DEDICATION To (for) the memory of my loving Father and to all those who fought in the Great War. If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England‌ The Soldier, Rupert Brooke


CONTENTS Contents Preface Acknowledgements

vii ix xiii

Introduction

1

The Letters – 1914

5

FWLS Growing Up The Letters – 1915 Army Training The Letters – 1916 The Letters Home

35 39 105 109 184

The Letters – 1917

187

The Frontline

212

The Letters – 1918

217

Commissioned Soldier The Letters – 1919 FWLS’s Brothers Postscript

265 273 278 279

vii


The area of Northern France and Belgium where Frank spent most of the war

viii


PREFACE The 4th August 1914 was the day Great Britain declared war on Germany at the start of the First World War. My father, Frank Smith aged 22, had nearly completed his apprenticeship as a trainee engineer at Robert Stephenson’s locomotive works in Newcastleupon-Tyne, Northumberland. Later that day, fired up with anger that Germany had invaded ‘poor little defenceless Belgium’, he joined a bunch of his workmates, and walked to the town with them and signed on, to serve in the Northumberland Hussars Yeomanry, a territorial army regiment. Like thousands of other young men that day, he was “…damn well not going to let ‘the Boche’ get away with it”. Little did Frank and millions of others, know just what they were letting themselves in for. Frank wrote home to his parents that evening telling them he had volunteered for the army. That letter has not survived, but we know that his father expected this news and anticipated the same from his second son Reggie and, if the war lasted that long, from his youngest son Arthur. While history does not relate what their mother Alice felt on reading the letter, it is not difficult to imagine her reaction. A day or two later, with the rest of his pals, Frank reported to the local regimental headquarters in Newcastle and was fitted out with uniform, boots and puttees. They were given the rank of ‘Trooper’. Within a week he was at the training camp at Otley, Yorkshire where we have the first photos of him and his chums relaxing with their Sergeant instructors; sadly, we only have one photo of them with their horses. The first letter we have is dated 8th September 1914, written from a training camp at Castle Eden in Co Durham. This is the first of 212 letters home to his parents written during the four years of war, most of which he spent in France or Belgium. All these letters were saved and kept by his mother, who, towards the end of her life thirty years later, handed them back to Frank. Whether or not he read them again, we know not, but as he was reluctant to talk much about those war years, I rather doubt he wanted to relive the terrible times during which they were written. The letters speak for themselves as to how he fared, and although he was not a man to express his feelings liberally, through them one ix


can follow the change in his mental state as conditions worsened and more of his friends died or were terribly wounded. Whenever he did talk about the war to his three children, it was always with a certain pride that he had volunteered on that first day, and played his part throughout the years. He used to impress on us the sense of duty that led him to volunteer to fight an oppressor set on dominating others by force of arms. He spoke more of his horses than he did of his human friends – I never remember him mentioning a single one by name – but this was not because of any absence of friendship; on the contrary, it was because the comradeship, borne of adversity, was so deep, that to recall their loss and the actual moment that ended the life of many of his pals, was almost beyond him. There is no doubt that, like most of those that survived, he always resented the fact that his countrymen and women never really appreciated the sacrifice that he and so many thousands of his fellow-men gave. Even so, I never heard him criticise or complain about his senior NCOs nor his immediate officers nor even the direction the war took – something that was highlighted soon after the end of the war, when records were studied and needless mistakes began to surface. But he always remained critical of those able-bodied men who did not take an active part in the war. After Frank’s death in 1975 at the age of 84, the letters were handed on to me for safe keeping by my mother. Years later, when I had the time to read them carefully, I realised they were an important record that must be saved for the edification of future generations. So I was able to include a brief synopsis of each one in a Family Journal I was writing. Later still, my sister Marjorie became interested in them – so interested, in fact, that she bought a speech recognition programme for her AppleMac computer and taught herself how to use it. Marjorie, then aged 86, set about reading all the letters aloud, one by one, and by so doing, transferred and saved them in digital form. This was a remarkable feat, about which her father would have been more than proud of her. Some of the statistics that emerge from the letters are interesting. From the day he left his work at Darlington, it was just ten weeks before he was in the thick of battle near Ypres. In this, his Regiment became well known as the first territorial regiment in the British army to engage the enemy. In Letter No 76, dated 3rd November 1915, he reflects that he had been in France by then for over a year and, during the whole of that time, had never been more than five miles away from the front line and had missed only one morning’s x


parade because of ill-health.. In fact, it was some 14 months before he had his first home leave which was only a week – two days of which he would have been travelling. He had no more leave until he was invalided out with ‘Enteric fever’ (typhoid) in October 1916. This means he had only seven days leave in over two years, a good deal of which had been spent in the trenches. However, because his was a mounted regiment, with horses, some of his time was spent carrying out draught work, hauling guns and ambulances and ammunition to the front line (a scenario that Michael Morpurgo depicts so well in his book and film War Horse).1 After his recovery from typhoid in a hospital near Croydon, he returned to France to complete his service, this time as an officer in the Royal Artillery. Both his brothers also served in the army throughout the war and survived. Sadly, a very unusual statistic. Many of the letters are about mundane things, but the reader must realise that this reflects his desire not to cause any more anxiety to his parents than necessary. The letters were always signed with the same words which have provided the title of the book, and the three of us, Jean, Marjorie and David, all now in our dotage, remember our father with pride and great affection. We trust that those who read the book will also learn something of the sacrifice he and so many thousands of others made simply because they believed it was their duty to go to the aid of those weaker than themselves who are being attacked by bullies. D.L.S. August 2012

1 During World War II Marjorie and I were loaned a horse called ‘Babs’ who we were told had served in World War I. She was such a lovely horse and so comfortable a ride that when she was at the local stables we always asked to ride Babs.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I know I have thanked David elsewhere but I would like to express my gratitude to him for keeping these letters safely and for the work he has done on them (keeping them in chronological order by the year), and most of all for the work he has done on the photographs. His daughter Tessa, too, has been a great help advising and proof reading. I couldn’t have done this work had I not had Nigel at my beck and call. He volunteered when I was looking for somebody to assist me as I am not used to Word on this Applemac let alone the speech recognition software Nuance. He was marvellous and answered my numerous calls by ‘phone or by coming up. He is a neighbour and I am very lucky to have such willing and kind neighbours. Best of all I found he gave me encouragement when I was depressed about my lack of computer knowledge. Last but by no means least is Tony Gray from WORDS BY DESIGN who has led me through this nightmare real-life story. On numerous occasions he has interrupted whatever he was doing and answered my e-mails, encouraged me when I was doubtful, and I would urge anyone who has ever thought of putting a book together to use his expertise. He has completely ‘made’ this book of my father’s letters and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

xiii


INRODUCTION That these letters exist at all is a miracle. It is nearly 100 years since my father wrote them, and not by any means under ideal conditions. They have survived in a tin trunk which was in his study and no one had looked at them until my mother handed the trunk to my brother David just before she died. Amongst the letters are valuable photographs which David has spent hours tidying up. He has done well, and made the letters all the more interesting. By putting the letters into this book I have had an awful insight into what my father had gone through. I only wish he had been able to share the dramatic four years in Belgium and France with us. As it was he spent many long hours telling us about his horses, not about how many Germans he had killed. I have been continually grateful that he was spared, along with his two brothers, as I have had a marvellous time on this earth, even though we have had another war. Marjorie Wild September 2012 Transcriber’s Note There are a number of places in the text marked ‘-----‘. During the First World War, letters were censored before they left the field. Words or phrases marked in this way either fell victim to the censor’s pen, or were illegible to the transcriber! In addition, the spelling of proper nouns has been standardised throughout the text.

1


THE LETTERS


THE LETTERS – 1914


1914

The Brewery Castle Eden 8 September 1914 Dearest Mother and Father Thanks very much for your letter received day before yesterday, and as you will see we have not yet shifted, I cannot say definitely how long we should be here, however it is pretty certain we cannot be staying long. There will be time however to safely send on that letter of the Crown Agents. Could you draft me out a letter to send to the Crown Agents telling them to pay my salary into your account also letting them know my regimental number which is 2213. I am on Main Guard from 7.30 tonight till 7.30 tomorrow night, quite a decent job, have to pull up everyone at night and examine them and have orders to shoot any motor, not stopping, it was only last Thursday I did one so am quite having my share. Am longing for hot bath but cannot get one, shall however try to get one in one of the hotels near this place. I tried to get home but could not manage it as I would have to have two days off, all the other fellows have been home for a day and I was very disappointed at not being able to do the same. Went for a recruiting march yesterday through some colliery villages on horseback. I am beginning to feel as if I am an expert rider now, having never missed a day hardly on horse back for five weeks. We have had a great deal of jumping to do and have to take hedges and everything that comes in our way, much different to camp where we always made for gates. It is astonishing how well all this coast is guarded, all along the coast one comes across men watching the seas all important places are guarded by men with fixed bayonets, I don’t suppose England has ever been so much on the look out before, and when you come inland, all railway stations and bridges are guarded night and day within one-and-a-half miles of this place north and south a motorist is pulled up at night four times. Well must end hoping you will let me have news of Reggie. Much love to both, your affectionate son, FWL Smith

7


Your Affectionate Son

The Brewery Castle Eden 11 September 1914 Dearest Father and Mother Thanks very much for letter received the other day, and also hope you received the parcel of washing I sent yesterday. I don’t quite know when we are leaving here, but I think it will be on Sunday, however if you write tomorrow here I should think I would get it all right. You never seem to know what you are going to do here till the last moment, when everything is all rush. I know no more news as to what we are going to do, other than what I told you in my last letter, but expect our principal work will be despatch riding, which is not quite so dangerous. I only hope the war will not last long as the death roll will be something enormous. Got a letter from Arthur this morning, but he does not say much except that he would like to join but I hope to goodness he won’t. Have now changed my horse for a lovely little mare a most comfortable ride and have been doing despatch work riding on her this morning. Still continuing to have fine weather which is a great blessing, and I have plenty of things now and they are going to serve out shirts to the men. Have tried to get two days’ leave to come home but have been unable to obtain it, all the other fellows have had a day off. Well must end now as it is five o’clock and stable will be in a few minutes and have only come in about one and a half hours ago so have been in a bit of a rush. Fondest love to both, Your affectionate son, FWLS

8


1914

POSTCARD Castle Eden Saturday 12 September 1914 Dear M & F Thanks very much for letter rec. Just a hurried line to let you know that we are shifting from here tomorrow and going to Newcastle for a day or so. So if you write to reach me Monday or Tuesday but not after unless I write to say how long we are stopping. Add ‘B’ Squad North Hussars Gosforth Park, Newcastle. Much love, FWL Smith

9


Your Affectionate Son

B Squadron Northumberland Hussars 7th Division Lyndhurst Hants POSTCARD Fence Houses Durham 12 September 1914 Dearest M & F Have arrived here on our way to Newcastle, and have just received orders to entrain for Portsmouth tomorrow at five o’clock at night. I do hope you will not worry about this but thought I would hide nothing from you, whether we are going to the front or to India, I do not know. Fondest love your affectionate son, FWLS PS Had a letter from Reggie yesterday. PS Please thank Reggie and Arthur for their letters as I shall not possibly have time to write.

10


1914

B Squadron Northumberland Hussars 7th Division Lyndhurst, Hants Dearest Father and Mother I have not received any letters since I left Castle Eden. We have had rather hurried orders, and had to entrain for here from Newcastle directly. We boxed our horses at night, which was very weird and arrived here 10.00 next morning. The whole of the 7th Division is coming here, thousands have already been collected, all regulars. The country is very pretty as you may imagine, as we are in the heart of the New Forest. We get very little rest so as I have a minute to spare here on outpost duty I am writing these few lines. You must not fret about all this news as by the time we go abroad there will be pretty little to do I expect, and we do not sail for over a fortnight yet. Witnessed a fine site a whole battalion of the Irish came from Malta all in their sun helmets to camp by us, and are a very fine Regiment. We had a very tiresome time boxing our horses and travelling down here but all came off quite smoothly in the end the horses coming through their ordeal very well indeed. I want a revolver very badly and wonder if you could buy me one, if you think yours is too big to pack up. If you send yours you might get a fair amount of bullets say 50. Pretty well every trooper has one and it is far safer, on account of the amount of scouting we shall have to do. I will send £2.10 as soon as I can, and if you do not get me a revolver with it you can stick to it. We are being dished out with a sword and shall have to stick in and get some practice with it also new rifles. I really don’t think we shall see much fighting but will be mostly entrusted to line of communication work. I have been inoculated for typhoid and the army are dishing us out with spare clothes. By the way if you happen to have a spare cake you might send it along, as grub is rather scarce here. I am very fit and well and hope I shall continue to be so. You might give me Arthur’s address as I have forgotten it. Please give my love to Ada and Grace and thank them for their letters as I don’t know whether I shall have time to write but will if I can possibly. Fondest love and keep your spirits up. Ever your most loving son, Frank WL Smith 11


Your Affectionate Son

Northumberland Hussars 7th Division Lyndhurst (probably 18 September 1914) Dearest Mother & Father Thanks very much for yours received yesterday, also for the cake which has not arrived yet. You might tell Father that his revolver will do quite well, if he can get some ammunition. If he cannot and I will try, as I expect they are service standard. Nothing much fresh at present, but am waiting for some Indian troops and heavy artillery from South Africa. We are now in a dense wood scouting practice, and these intervals of rest are about the only times one has to write. We had a stampede of horses the other night, and one nearly caught my head while I was in bed. Fondest love, FWLS Please do not send belt with revolver.

12


1914

Lyndhurst 30 September 1914 Dearest Mother and Father Just a few lines for a change instead of a PC. I am writing now while out scouting on a very big field day with the whole Division and have just got in touch with the enemy so am holding fast with an officers’ patrol till our supports come up. These little opportunities are practically the only time one has to write letters, as we are so busy getting everything straight for our journey across to France. When we do get there we will probably not go to the front for a month as the other Divisions have done. You seem to be very grieved about my cold but it has practically gone now thank God my cough also. I cannot say definitely when we are leaving here but am pretty certain it will be this week, by the activities displayed by the Division. We are having splendid weather, which is quite a godsend as the camping ground at its best is a wee bit damp, and there are plenty of bogs about which will show you what sort of country this is. All our swords have come and are all nice and sharp. I had a letter from Reggie yesterday and he seemed very pleased to see Father, he seems to be having quite a decent time and not half as hard as we are getting, about every other day we have to turn out about four in the morning for a field day and have done so today. I hope you received my two PCs all right and I am afraid they were all I had time to send. I had another letter from Eric Woodcock, and if you see him you might thank him and say I will try to write soon. The nights are coming in very cold now but have sufficient blankets to keep me warm and always sleep just as I am. Am afraid I can say no more just at present, so with much love ever your affectionate son, Frank WL Smith

13


Your Affectionate Son

Lyndhurst 7th Division 4 October 1914 Dearest Father and Mother I am very disappointed at not receiving a letter from you for five days, perhaps I gave you the impression that we were actually leaving in my last letter, but I did not intend to do so, true we are on the verge of leaving and may have to do so any time in a few hours’ notice, that you may depend on me letting you know directly I know even if we have gone when your letter arrives here, I expect it will be sent on to France or where ever we may go and shall be at the base probably a month before getting shifted up to the front. The whole Regiment have been on a big drumhead service this morning and about half the Division were there. Still having very fine weather and quite hot for this time of the year. Please let me know if my letters come all right when I put SOAS instead of a stamp which means soldier on active service, I am told by other fellows that theirs go all right. Russell Sanders has been recalled to join the Regiment I am very glad as he was the only friend I had in the Troop and arrived here yesterday from the reserve Squadron. His people will be very upset and he has only been married a few months and is pretty worried. Well I am afraid I must close now as dinner is ready and you have to fairly scramble for it unless you want to do without, which I do not. So with fondest love hoping to hear from you soon ever your affectionate son, FWL Smith PS Just come in after mounted sword exercise in a hurry. Division has had orders to move to France can’t say when we shall go exactly but may most probably be tomorrow morning. The Infantry over the hill are cheering lustily all the while, and the big drums are beating so I expect they are off tonight. Will write again as soon as possible or wire if I can. Much love, FWLS

14


1914

POSTCARD Oostende (postmark) 9 October 1914 Dearest Mother and Father I am afraid I cannot say where I am or where I have been, but hope you received my postcard on landing. I am very well and have seen no Germans up to the present. I have sent one or two postcards and hope they will arrive quite safely. Give my love to R and A and hope you are all quite well. I cannot say very much as I am not allowed to do so. So with much love, FWLS

15


Your Affectionate Son

POSTCARD (addressed to AWG Smith Esq, Lloyds Underwriter, Exchange Buildings, London) 16 October 1914 Dear Arthur Have a moment or two to spare now as I am relief on a patrol just outside the village where our chaps shot dead five Uhlans yesterday and am expecting some more to come along. We got into a fair amount of small scraps yesterday but only lost one horse but killed a German officer and captured his horse and killed or wounded another. I have been to a great many places here but dare not tell as this postcard would not be passed. At the present moment I can hear rifle firing quite close, which shows one of our patrol has come in contact, and we shall most probably have them along soon. One of the fellows in my section and my best friend here is missing I think he must have been captured. He was out despatch riding at night. Don’t tell the people anything about this. I have just written a PC to Reggie and expect he will be coming out shortly. The people here (Belgium) are very hospitable and one will never starve while we are with them. They show extraordinary joy as English soldiers pass through their villages and towns. Vive l’Anglais they shout. Much love, FWLS

16


1914

POSTCARD 24 October 1914 My dear M & F Have just received both letters dated 12th and 15th inst for which thanks very much. Am sorry some of my other PCs have not reached you but hope they have by the time this reaches you. I have lost all my shaving tackle so would you send on to me my old razor which is kicking about somewhere, or if you cannot find that get a very cheap one, also soap and brush. My towel and soap have gone but as soon as I get in a town I can get that myself. Been having a pretty rough time just lately, and they are I believe giving us a rest today, but you never know when you are going to be called out. I should like the English newspapers very much indeed if you could send me them. Please excuse PC as I have no notepaper at all. With much love, Yours, FWLS

17


Your Affectionate Son

POSTCARD 28 October 1914 Dearest M & F Just received your letter dated 21st instant am very much relieved also to hear that one of my letters have reached you safely. I only hope you have received some of my others as I write more than once a week. We are now having a rest I believe for I hope a week, as we have had some rough times, and the horses are in a pretty bad state. I have a new horse now, but it is far from being well. I cannot tell you much news, but our little Army is well holding its own and perhaps more and we all hope the war will not be a long one. We are billeted here within a few hundred yards of some aeroplane sheds, and there are hundreds of beggars about, French English and Belgian. We have been favoured with quite good weather with only occasional showers. Can say no more just now and will close. With fondest love, Yours, FWLS Should like papers and some tobacco.

18


1914

9 November 1914 Dear M&F Thanks very much for parcel of razor etc letter and also Sunday Chronicle. We are now in a rest camp and have been for three days, but how long we stay I do not know. You don’t know what a relief it is to be away from gunfire for once and are about ten miles from the firing line. Have just written a few lines to R and A the first since I came out. Am keeping quite well and am confident the war cannot last very long as the Germans must be outnumbered. Have got another horse a little beauty but have it in the sick lines at present with Strangles, and hope it will be better soon. Will write a letter tomorrow so will close. With much love, your affectionate son, FWL Smith PS Please forward R’s letter.

19


Your Affectionate Son

9 November 1914 My dear Reggie and Arthur I have not written to you since I came out here, so will now write and let you know something about what has happened. I have not told ‘the people’ and do not want you to let them know too much. We landed at a place called Zeebrugge some miles north of Ostend, and the same night marched to Bruges some ten miles inland, where we received a tremendous welcome from the inhabitants, more so than I can express. We stayed there are a few days and then marched to Ostend, where we again were received with much joy. The whole day and night we spent in this place on the quayside, and a more miserable night one cannot imagine, as it did nothing but pour with rain. It was in Ostend that we first saw signs of war, where the wounded men were coming in in thousands from Antwerp and in the cafĂŠs English soldiers and sailors were telling of their terrible experiences. From Ostend we entrained for Ghent, why we ever went there I never could make out. And then we pushed out patrols and one after getting beyond the further most trenches was surprised and had two horses shot but no men -----On from there we did a whole night, day and another night, and marched to a place called -----. The next morning there we brought down a German aeroplane with three Germans, killing two. From Lillet we marched right along the enemies flank to Roulers but getting through without a scrap, although we expected one. At Roulers we started in earnest, our Regiment pushing out patrols and eventually coming in contact with the enemy near Ypres, which place you will have heard about. The patrol I was in, had its first taste of fire. We had some exciting times, and accounted for one or two Uhlans, but none of us got scratched. Other patrols captured a Uhlan flag and horse, besides killing a man. All I believe the Regiment lost was a horse or two. After driving in the patrols a battle started known as the Battle of Rivers and which has been going on for about 20 days with terrible loss on either side. One day we were called out to a weak spot in the trenches, and were there the object of a terrible rifle and gunfire. Altogether about ten hours in the trenches, the Regiment had about five men wounded, with one Major very badly. The sight that night as we rode away I shall never forget. The whole horizon and everywhere being lit up with blazing villages and houses set on fire by the terrific gunfire of either side. Another day some Germans had broken through during the night, and we were called in haste to drive them back, two Squadrons went at ----- ----- two of our fellows in my Troop were 20


1914

killed in a very short time, one poor chap was next to me, and a good many wounded, including also our officers, but we managed to drive them back all the same. Our adjutant was also badly wounded. Since then we have done a great deal of trench work, but have only had one man killed in them, and a few wounded. Shrapnel fire is fearful, and we can say that we have been in the heaviest shellfire ever known, I cannot describe it. In the middle of nights we have been shelled out of our billets ----- A most hopeless thing, never knowing where these things are going to burst, along roads one can see whole gun limbers and their teams of horses lying dead from the shell fire, and I saw five men laid out by one shell the other day. Three of our men were killed two nights ago from ‘A’ Squadron, a shell bursting in the room they were sleeping in injuring seven I believe, one fellow could not be found. There is a great deal more I could say but have no time now as it is near evening stables and must get ready to do my horse. By the way we are at rest camp now. The whole of the 7th Division or what is left of them, but we expect to be off again soon. Out of 20,000 I believe there are only 4 to 5,000 left, some Regiments have only ----- and the more lucky ones ----- when they came out. This Division has suffered more than any other, and you can see it all on the men’s faces. I’m addressing this to Reggie and hope he will pass it on to Arthur when finished but do not show it to the mater. Much love, your affectionate brother, FWL Smith (The dashes are where the censor has obliterated sentences. He also wrote on the back “not to be published in any paper”.) (Copy of FWLS’s letter to Reggie and Arthur, copied by his (their) mother.)

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Your Affectionate Son

11 November 1914 My dear Mother & Father Now that we are in a rest camp I see no reason why I should not let you know more than I have been doing. As you know we landed at Zeebrugge which is in Belgium north of Ostend and the same night marching to Bruges where we received a most cordial welcome and had all sorts of things given us. We stayed a day or two in this town, and then patrolled in a circle to Ostend, where we spent a most miserable night in drenching rain on the quayside holding our horses. The place was full of wounded men from Antwerp, and many poor English soldiers and sailors in most dilapidated condition. The next morning we entrained for Ghent, here we pushed out our patrol and lost only two horses. This was the first place our Troop got in touch with the enemy. Eventually we (7th Division) had to retreat from Ghent owing to the numbers of Germans and for two nights and days we marched without offsaddling till we came to a small place called Lillet. Here we fetched down a German aeroplane which came a little bit too near us with three men in it. From here we marched to Roule doing a sort of flank guard action. We did not come in contact but expected to I believe. At Roulers we pushed out our patrol and this is where we had our first taste of fire. We lost no men but accounted for one or two Germans. We then drove the enemy’s patrol into where the first big battle of the 7th Division was fought. We then retired on here. A tremendous battle has been going on for 26 or more days the account of which you will have read in the papers. We had to hold this place at all cost (7th Division) which we managed to do I am pleased to say until reinforcements came up. I think this battle now is going in our favour, and some say it will be a great deal towards ending the war. At present I am in the sick lines but hope to be with the troops when we march off again. I have a fine little horse and I’m doing my best to get it right again. I wonder if you could find me a pair of pants not too thick to send on to me as my spare pair is at the base and I see no likelihood of my getting at it, please do not forget to send shaving brush and please tell some of my kind enquiring relations that I should very much like a letter or two from them. I’m getting quite an expert cook and will be able to show you how to make some things in the stew line when I come home. I am in the pink of condition and live quite well now we are at rest.

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1914

Must close now. With fondest love, your affectionate son, FWL Smith

23


Your Affectionate Son

18 November 1914 My dearest Mother & Father Thanks very much for your letters and parcel of socks, new razor and tobacco for which I thank you very much, the socks especially I was in great need of. I only hope you will have sent on a new pair of pants and shaving brush by the time this reaches you. Thanks also for the newspapers which I am very pleased indeed to have. We are still at rest camp but in a different place to when I last wrote and in a far more remote place and from what I can surmise -----. The weather has been very cold just lately and we have even had some snow but not to settle, it however pours with rain and the whole place is in a terrible state. Have been interrupted here for evening stables so am starting this about two o’clock next day. Got up at four this morning amid real winter, and a real hard frost which made riding rather dangerous. We started out to turn people out of their farms in a certain area, and take them to a railway station to be sent somewhere, I don’t at all know the reason why. I should be very pleased if you could send me a warm pair of woollen gloves also a little chocolate would be very acceptable, most of the fellows seem to get that sent to them. Please don’t however send any more baccy as just at present as I have a great deal, and do not suppose any of the fellows have ever had so many cigarettes on them in their lives as at the present moment, in fact they simply throw packets at you. Well I am afraid I must close now as I can find no more to say at present, except that I am very sorry it has been such a long interval between these last letters. Much love and hope this news will put your mind to a certain degree of rest. Your affectionate son, FWL Smith PS I should not call it a rest camp as we do also a lot of patrolling.

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1914

21-23 November 1914 Dearest Mother & Father Thanks very much for Times received but I am afraid I cannot help towards that advertisement as the poor fellow’s Mother knows it all now, he has since died and happened to be next to me when he was hit. I am at the moment on a 24 hours’ guard on a pontoon bridge, and during rest hours we are in small farmhouse close by, and very thankful are we all to be near a fire as our billet is terribly cold. We have had a very heavy fall of snow which has settled and it is also freezing hard so you may imagine the whole country wears a very wintry aspect. I don’t mind so much for myself, but the poor horses left out in the open and they must feel it terribly. This frost we have had now for four days. William Sykes of Darlington has sent me a box of 200 cigarettes and a patent box of matches which was very acceptable. I hope you will not forget to send on my pants and a little chocolate if you can get it. I cannot think of much more to say now, except that I am very well and only hope both of you are the same, so will close now. With much love, your affectionate son, FWL Smith PS Just come back to the Squadron from the pontoon guard and found our chaps billeted in houses and sleeping in the kitchen. In our cottage we have nine chaps and everything is quite warm and comfortable compared to our other draughty hayloft. 23 November 1914 Just received under-clothing etc for which many thanks only I cannot carry spare pair on my saddle. Please send if possible a knife with tin opener as I have lost mine, and one cannot do without one on this game.

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Your Affectionate Son

28 November 1914 Dearest Mother & Father Have not received a letter since I last wrote but expect one tonight. We are still at the same billet and still on ----- work, and have just come off a 24 hours’ guard at a pontoon bridge. All the snow and frosts have gone, but in turn everywhere is thick with mud and I really don’t know which is worse, one good thing however is that we have had fur coats dished out to us for the guards at night. There is very little doing now in the fighting line and I don’t suppose there will be anything much till the weather improves, we are only about two miles away from the firing line but can hear very little rifle or cannon shots. I wonder if Reggie is out here yet and I hope to meet him if he is, I had a letter from him the other day and he seemed to think it would not be long before they were called out here. We have quite a comfortable billet and our little French landlady is quite a mother to us, we live quite well too on the cakes etc sent to the fellows, also the government supply us with quite good bacon, butter and jam, and sometimes quite a good piece of meat besides tea and coffee. I halted a fellow on the pontoon last night who was leading a horse and when I came up to him I found he was a chap I used to work with at Stevensons, I expect I shall meet a good many fellows I know out here before I have done. I hope you will continue to send the papers and hoping that everything is going on well at home and principally that you both keep fit. Much love, your affectionate son, FWL Smith

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1914

NHY 4 December 1914 My dearest Father & Mother Thanks very much for letter received eight days ago, also for the parcel containing socks, towel, chocolates the latter were very acceptable. Please also thank Miss Williams very much indeed for her little present of writing tablet, which was the very thing I wanted. I shall be very pleased to get the mince pies etc you said you would send later on, I think I ought to get them all right as I don’t think we shall shift this side of Christmas. Three days ago the King visited the troops at the front as you will have read in the papers and we formed part of a guard along the road for him with drawn swords. The Prince of Wales led the procession of cars driving himself and then the King followed. The last two days we have been digging trenches about five-and-a-half miles away from our headquarters, there is very little doing up there now, and it seems that only the English are firing from the trenches, except the snipers (German) who account for pretty well all the casualties at present occurring in this neighbourhood and are a great nuisance, there will however be a big battle before long I expect. In the Ypres district I hear the enemy are still keeping up the pressure, but that place is I believe entirely defended by French soldiers. We are now billeted in houses, our little billet is quite a nice homely little French cottage, and there are seven of us in it barring the family, who comprise a husband and wife and daughter and they do all our cooking for us. I am writing this letter before I go on the line guard for the night so will close and get 40 winks or so, as we have some more trench digging tomorrow. Fondest love to all and thanking Miss Williams again for her little present, Ever your affectionate son, FWLS

27


Your Affectionate Son

NHY France 2 December 1914 My dear Arthur I am awfully sorry I have not written to you before to thank you very much indeed for your birthday present, especially the Log Cabin which I enjoyed very much as it is the ‘baccy’ I always smoke at home. We are at present having a pretty easy time, but have today been digging trenches. Our work at present really consists of ‘line of communication’, guarding bridges and patrolling the roads day and night. Yesterday the King and Prince of Wales visited the troops here as you will I expect have read in the papers. We lined part of the road for them with drawn swords and had a very good view. The Prince was leading the procession of motorcars and driving, and the King next, also aeroplanes were circling around him all the time. Aeroplanes play a very important part in this war, and I don’t think the big guns can get their ranges without them. One never looks into the sky without seeing some, sometimes very close indeed. When one gets over the German trenches or within range of the gun they get pretty well peppered but are as safe as houses, but it is quite a sight to see the shrapnel bursting right up in the sky and always in a long line following the plane. One day when we were in the firing line before Ypres there was an aeroplane hovering around us quite close down it seemed one of ours but was dropping smoke balls, the aeroplane’s gunner evidently thought it was behaving suspiciously and fired, I just happened to be looking at it when it was hit, it turned a complete somersault and I could see the men fall out, the whole thing burst into flames it cannot have been many hundreds yards away. Also one morning when we had come in from Ghent, we brought an aeroplane down with rifles, I think he was rather taken by surprise as he was flying very low and came too near the little town of Lillet in which there where hundreds of troops of the allies. At present we are billeted in a little French cottage six of us and are living quite well, as they are very nice people. I wonder if you had thought of volunteering yet I really think there are quite enough of the family out at the front.

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1914

I’m expecting to meet Reggie at any time out here now as he says they are expecting to come any time. The mater sent me some socks and chocolates and Miss Williams a writing tablet, which was very good of them. Well I am afraid I must close now and don’t forget to write as soon as you can as it is a treat to get letters out here, some get a good many but I get none except from home. Ever your affectionate brother, FWL Smith

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Your Affectionate Son

NHY 11 December 1914 My dearest Mother & Father Thanks very much for two letters received this week the last one dated 3rd December. The first one had been in a fellow’s pocket for some days and he had forgotten to give it to me, and was beginning to think you had forgotten to write. Thanks very much also for the jack knife which is really a soldier’s best friend as most of the things we eat here are tinned. I am enclosing in this letter a reply to a letter I got from Kathleen at Endon. I have forgotten their address so will you please send it on. I received it during all the bustle when we were at Ypres, and had forgotten all about it. I also owe a letter to the Rev. Langdon which I must answer now I have some time to myself. I shall be very pleased indeed to get an Xmas parcel but don’t worry we are not on the move yet and don’t expect we will be before Christmas unless something drastic happens. I don’t know why you will persist in thinking that we are still in the thick of the fight, as I tell you in all my letters that we are some five or six miles from the fighting line and there is hardly anything going even in the front line of the trenches, the only thing is that we are having a terrible amount of rain and the poor beggars that are in the trenches have a pretty rough time, but they relieve one another continually, as far as I can make out the cannons fire most at night and the Germans fire those rockets which light up the place. Most of the troops are having fur skin jackets dished out to them, and this afternoon we came across some companies of the Gordons all arrayed in these and they looked just like wild animals they certainly looked very comical, we have these things for guards but not for general use, all transport drivers have long fur lined and waterproof coats and they seem very good, really the government seem to be doing a great deal for the comforts of soldiers. We are having British warmers supplied, but I don’t think they are quite long enough. Well I don’t think I can say much more at present so must end hoping that you are keeping well with fondest love, Your affectionate son, FWL Smith

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1914

Northumberland H. 18 December 1914 My dear Arthur Just a line or two to ask you to thank Collier very much indeed for the chocolates he got for me, and which were the very things I wanted, they are very useful especially if you are away for the day and you don’t want to cart a lot of bread with you. I shared them out to the chaps in my Troop. Thanks very much also for your letter. I expect you will have thought about joining some corps or other but I believe the pater is dead against it, but I see no reason why you should not join some remote Regiment i.e. the Public School Corps etc. I hear tonight that the Germans have been bombarding one of our Yorkshire Coast towns, the people of England will soon be getting to know what shellfire is like, and don’t suppose they will take to it. All along our area everything in the trenches is quiet but our artillery has been giving the Germans a vigorous bombardment today, and as it happened we were just in front of the guns so got pretty fed up with the row, the Germans returned but did no damage except ploughing great holes in fields and sending the earth up in the air. Speaking to a Gordon today he told me that their trenches are only 50 yards off the Germans and that they are able to speak to them and throw carrots etc over to one another. He says they sing such songs as ‘There is a Happy Land’, ‘God save the King’ etc! A great many of these Germans speak English well and the other day we had 300 odd to escort to prison from the Ypres trenches and I was talking to one or two and they spoke very good English. I have received a Xmas pudding and mince pies from home and cousin Grace and Ada have sent a box of peppermints. Well I hope you will write again very soon and let me know all that is going on in the old country and home. Thanking yourself and Collier again for your kind present. Your affectionate brother, FWL Smith 21 December 1914 PS Thanks very much indeed for your Christmas present of sleeping helmet etc this thing was what I had wanted for a long while and most heartily thank you for it. I cannot write a separate 31


Your Affectionate Son

letter as we are pretty busy just at present, having to stand to all day, though. This letter should have been posted days ago but never got the chance to give it in. Well I will again close wishing you a very Merry Xmas and a happy New Year. Your affectionate brother, FWLS

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1914

Northumberland H 21 December 1914 My dearest Mother & Father Thanks very much indeed for your letters received. I ought to have written some days ago but have not had an opportunity as we have been a little more brisk than usual, there being one or two attacks along the line just to liven the Germans up a little, and the cannon have been going at it hammer and tongs. I am on patrol duty just at present on the outskirts of a certain small town looking out for suspicious people etc, and have got a French policeman with us. The little cottage we are in while off duty belongs to a postman with whom I am entrusting this letter. We are still having wet weather, yesterday being the only fine day for weeks and it was really quite like spring, this sort of weather bring the aeroplanes out by scores, an opportunity to get a look at the enemy I expect after the very windy and rainy weather when it has been most unfavourable for that sort of work. I am afraid I have eaten your Xmas pudding as the last few days have been very uncertain about shifting and I could not carry it so all of us in the billet decided to have it last night and it was truly ‘très bon’. As we are still in the same place and have now been for about a month, I can only hope we don’t move before Xmas as all the fellows have such piles of Xmas parcels that they would have to leave them all behind. I had a letter and parcel from Arthur one or two days ago it was very good of him indeed to send me so much. A sleeping helmet included is what I really did want. You know my pal Fisher, well I had a letter from him the other day and he has a commission in the 8th Durhams and has charge of the company. Fancy having to salute him when he comes out here. What a shame it is of the Germans to shell a place like Scarborough. I do hope they get wiped clean off the face of Europe for it. Saunder’s married sister and his wife are living at present right on the seafront at Hartlepool and he is very anxious. Well I must close now as the old man is waiting for this letter, With fondest love, Your affectionate son, FWL Smith 33


Your Affectionate Son

NHY 29 December 1914 My dearest Mother & Father Your letter received tonight for which many thanks. I am very sorry you will have spent such an unhappy Xmas but I hope such a state of affairs will never happen again. I am sorry I have not written for such a long while, I mean a long while for being out here, but I know you know I am quite safe and sound in fact the Cavalry Divisions have absolutely nothing to do and there is a rumour afloat that we are shifting to a base many miles away from the fighting line. I doubt Reggie will not be called out for a good while yet, as now this trench fighting is going on, our sort of work is not needed and each side seems to be so strongly entrenched that it will be a job to shift one another. I would very much like you to send a toothbrush on to me if you will and enclose a box or two of matches if you have any to spare. Baccy and cigarettes I have in abundance after Christmas boxes from Princess Mary and other kind people. I shall be sending home a few souvenirs soon so please look out for them. Some of the chaps have collected a good many from the battlefields but am afraid I have not bothered much with them as it really meant extra stuff to cart about all the time. I got a letter from Kathleen the other day also a photo of the family and a cutting of a cartoon from the Daily Mirror. Just this minute received some more baccy, cigarettes and a pipe from the North Star, oh what shall I do with all this stuff. I have now nine or ten pipes hundreds of cigarettes and about ten ounces of baccy! This afternoon I witnessed my first cockfight under proper conditions but it only lasted one round worse luck. We are here about six miles off the firing line at the nearest point and when there is an artillery duel on the sights at night they’re very pretty, much more so than when you are in front of the guns. I am very disappointed some of my relatives have not written I think the least they could have done would be to send a letter. Well I will close now as the old dame is grinding the coffee – a sign of bed. Your affectionate son, Frank WL Smith PS Please send a shirt and toothpaste also. 34


Francis William Lovatt Smith

35


Alice Smith, with Arthur, 8, Reggie, 10, and Frank 12 (c.1903) This photo must have been taken when Mother took them to Prep school at Ashby de la Zouch in Derbyshire. Reggie was always the tallest of the three brothers and Frank, the shortest and slimmest. 36


Alice Smith with her three sons (1905), Arthur 10, Frank 14 and Reggie 12 They were at school at Ashby de la Zouch, near Leicester. Their father was in the Gold Coast at the time, as General Manager of the Railways.

Reggie, Arthur and Frank Smith, c.1905 37


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Your

So writes Frank Smith home to his parents in April 1915, one of hundreds of similar letters he wrote. Transcribed and collected here, they give a fascinating insight into the day-to-day life of a soldier serving on the Front during The Great War. He was only one of tens of thousands of other British men, and he was fortunate enough to survive. The honesty, the concern with practicalities, the humdrum of waiting, the fear and horror and the pointless destruction – they are all in the letters. A sobering, thought-provoking and inspiring read.

Your Affectionate Son: Letters from the Trenches During The First World War

You complain that I give you no idea where I am, well you know what happened last time I did, and we are warned that if we do say anything like that our letters stand a good chance of being destroyed, and then you would wonder why I had not written. We are quite a good way now from the first line about nine miles and can only hear a dim rumble of the guns and on a very still night even the crackle of rifle fire, but on fine days occasionally the German aeroplanes drop bombs on the town close by and generally manage to harm some poor innocent civilians.

AFFecTionATe Son

Letters From The Trenches During The First World War


Your Affectionate Son