Letters from the Front 1917
The Hooke Family 1917
C=Cyril and his sisters are M=Mildred, E=Ella, T=Trixie and F=Frances
Pa (Dad) is George Archer Hooke and Ma, Mum is Ellen Hooke
Ages in October 2017:
Father: George Archer Hooke aged 60, Mother: Ellen Hooke aged 62,
Children: Mildred aged 27, Frances aged 26, Trixie aged 24, Ella aged 22, Cyril aged 20.
Locations were added after the War ended. During the war every letter came from “France”. After Armistice Day Cyril was able to reveal that he had been on the front line inside Belgium which was where he finished the war.
No details of fighting are included until after the war is over, presumably forbidden.
Cyril wrote this postcard home to his father, G A Hooke, during his second leave. The date of this is uncertain, but it was probably October 1917, just preceding the batch of letters that follow, dated from 26th October onwards.
This card reads,"A type of French beauty. Write soon. having a fine time, still on the way. Enjoying a second leave. C" As is is unstamped and passed down with Cyril's possessions, presumably it was never actually sent.
26 October 1917
Owing to a very astute arrangement by which the water in the mess drips onto a given spot, instead of down my neck, I am able to write and tell you I’m quite fit and hope you’re all going strong despite Winston Churchill and of the horrors of the peace. Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I received Dad’s letter and have now, without F.
I’ve had a weary and exciting last four days and am looking forward to a decent hot dinner tonight a tot of rum and well I hardly dare say it “a good night’s rest”. I am anticipating a decided decline in the amount of mud out here as I think I carried about 50% along with me today. Truthfully, (what a word for me) I have never seen such a place of a mud; every kind - liquid mud, sticky mud, stodgy mud, ordinary mud and extraordinary mud.
I suppose “wind up” is not quite so fashionable in London nowadays, since the foul weather.
Many thanks to E. for letters and….. to T for letters and F & M.
No news as usual. So sorry I used this paper upside down. Suitable to the times.
Just to let you know I’m quite fit. As I said, I did not go on the T.M. course and on the whole I am not sorry. Many queries were expressed as to why I should be sent on such a thing. Toe Emmas are officered as fact (Crossed out) The whole personnel of medium and heavy Toe Emmas are R.F.A while the infantry man Stoke’s Light T.M. however it’s not a very desirable branch and at one time it was considered a reduction to be sent there.
Courses are much abused, owing to the fact that officers or O.R.’s are sent when there is a vacancy not when they desire to learn. They are certainly a rest from the line. An example of abuse is that an officer in our Brigade went on a T.M. course when his papers were already through for a transfer to R.F.C.
I received letters from M & E this morn and one from Blake. He is in hospital having cut his knees falling over in the dark at “the Shop”. I am rather early, I fear, but the times are uncertain, so I will wish F now many happy returns. I want her to take ma to a dress circle and tea at my expense. If Dad goes too all the better. Perhaps it’s hardly worth by sending cash by post so I shall wait till next leave. Do you mind Pa?
I suppose London has been pretty wet lately. How are the grapes, I should not mind seeing some?
I shall not acknowledge anything yet while as I am away from the battery, for a few days and so shan’t get anything. When I return may I find a good large mail to welcome my heart.
The doc. of this infantry battalion is an American and seems a very good fellow. He says there are 600 in similar circumstances.
Six American divisions should be out here by Xmas according to the papers and from what I have learned here. Waking up inside a Bosch concrete place (HOLLEBEKE) one does not know day from night, and I was surprised to go outside and find glorious sunshine.
Our noble allies the Italians are going strong n’est ce pas, I wish it had been in the opposite direction? It’s very cheering to hear our own shells come whistling over against us, fired by our guns captured from the Russians and now a few more, kindly supplied by Italy.
The noble Dawes (my servant) returning to get rations brought mean Ma’s letter and Ella’s.
Continue from my tent at the wagon lines where I am staying for a few days rest. I am going to town to replenish my stock of everything. I’ve got M’s books - many thanks.
I am very grateful to get a few days rest, at the wagon lines. My letter that I wrote previously will probably arrive with this.
The major has got the M.C. Three blank blank cheers. The M.C. as you ought to know but don’t is for warrant officers and officers up to the rank of captain. Roberts being temporary Liet acting Major is entitled to it.
In return for a few questions kindly answer these.
1. To whom and under what circs are the fall given and whence do they originate.
V.C. D.S.O M.C. D.C.M M.M also what other colours of the ribbons?
2. What is the difference between a how’s and a gun?
Did a how’s exist before the war?
3. How many different methods of destruction do you know? That’s just a few to go on with. Reprisals Pa!!
It’s fine to be out of shell fire, but even here one gets bombed every night. I saw some Bosch prisoners today some very young.
Roberts has been recommended four times, I believe, for M.C. and I am glad he has got it because no one has deserved it more. He got it for helping to get off wounded and a very heavy fire, 8” by gad. The wounded were not of our own, and although he had work and interest in the battery in question, he could easily have left the job to the officers in charge of the men.
Much love C.
I have settled with tailor for clothes. Tunic, badges, breaches, puttees £7.14.0 Bill arriving today. That’s right my lad always be prompt.
11th November 1917
I received Ma’s letter today, the parcel preceding it by several days. The latter was most welcome, the grapes were slightly crushed but quite good. I can correct my previous statement on the subject by saying that “the Major” has been recommended four times for the M.C.and this time actually for the V.C. and gets an M.C. One more military medal has been awarded to a gunner, for work done with “the major”. Apparently he worked with the major ‘ when all but he had fled’.
The two horses which I like best in my section are two blacks – wheelers, i.e. not tall but “stubby” thickly built and glorious huge necks. John Bull (KILLED in advance 1918 W of BAPAUME) and Mrs Bull they are called.
One horse or rather mare is a light bay and very untameable and little use. (Name “Boxer”) One of my corporals was trying to break her in. I asked him if she’d had him off (remembering my own experience) and he said, “No Sir, it’d take a better ‘orse than ‘er to have me off”. The next day he came off quite nicely and she dragged him 50 yards. In answer to Ma no one goes home specially for a medal but they are received on the leave following. Incidentally the major is on leave.
We really have got a top hole mess here at the heart of tarred felt with first rate flooring. It’s better than most batteries have got. Cheerio.
The Spring offensive of 1923 will soon be here.
Much love C.
P.S.I sent M a poem and she said she liked the “Milton”.
13/11/17 ( La Clytte or Westoutre S.W. of Ypres)
‘Tis a lovely morning and I have been up since 5.30 every day lately. At 6am we feed (chaff) at 6.30am we exercise and water and feed (oats,chaff) on return.
I am very busy as we are moving. This is about the most responsible job I’ve had really, looking after the moving of men, horses, vehicles and material is far more difficult and complicated than one would think.
I’m not getting on very well with this letter. I receive mother’s letter. I can only hope there may be a mistake about Lionel. I will wait before writing Mrs Freaker.
I hope all are well. I forgot to mention now I am O.C. A wagon lines which means I am here at the wagon lines for a rest for a while. The major is on leave, Capt Hurd is with guns in action with Woodbridge new out from “the shop“ and an officer temporarily attached Lt Kyles M.C. (killed later with D.Btn) Chown is at 2nd Army Artillery School rather curious for a man of over 12 years service, far more than most of his instructors. Morice ‘s home in England sick and Murray sick in France.
The horses are looking bon and our new standings are luxurious even if there are other disadvantages attached. The men had worked like
Trojans and made splendid standings and bivouacs on mere mud and now - we hand them over. Orderly here letter must go.
Much love C.
So many thanks for all the wishes and “all everything”. The majority of the parcels arrived on the birthday, which I must admit I had forgotten who I saw them. The matchbox, cake, chocs from Ella, cream, nuts toffee forgive if I miss anything all arrived top hole. What a cake and ma almost apologised for it. She should have apologised to the food controller - I’m afraid I can’t compete with the changes, who is he? Auntie Aggie and Auntie Annie, and Aunt Stalker have all displayed unbounding generosity in remembering me in these hard times.
I have been very bad writing, hope to improve.
“Wind up” for air raids in Devonshire T. If the last word. Where one got air raids nightly it was difficult to subdue lights out here. Wondering round one finds the cook at night waving a brazier.
We are in gorgeous huts and walk about with polished boots.
I’ll write again soon. So many thanks for everything once more and excuse rush.
How are you all? Soon to be together again.
Beautiful frosty weather, yes but don’t the 5.9s crump on the nice hard ground, bless (?) ‘em.
The weather is similar to when I first came out here at Richebourg St Vaast.
The southern success was not all our own way apparently, but I think we came out top dog all right. The Bosch, with good reason, but a lot of his HINDENBURG LINE and you know from my description is what it is like. That the tanks should walk through is top hole. (Cambrai
Possibly some time I may manage to get my photo taken on Bess (Killed 1918) but not yet a while. I shall probably also get photos of my groom and batman which will interest you perhaps.
I look forward to getting the socks from the vicar and you in the New Year.
12/12/17 (Hooge near Ypres)
All letters are much appreciated. In one of Ella’s she talks about me being O.P. Whether she imagines O.P. to be observing person or officer peeping I don’t know, but “for her information and necessary action” may I say O.P. ‘s observation post and the observer is the F.O.O. (forward observing officer).
I hear I’m doing O.P. - a loose expression - I tell Dawes to call me at 5am. I make arrangements for telephonists in N.C. and a Gnr to come to relieve in observation. At 5:30am Dawes enters my dugout and says 5 o’clock Sir in a gentle voice to avoid disturbing me. At seven minutes to 6 I rise,wash* and clothe myself *when there is time
I have breakfast and start off about 6:15 a.m. in the darkness, falling over shell holes, tripping over barbed wire and even if I do not sound quite like an officer and a gentleman I have at least the excuse that this is not the job for an officer and a gentleman. At the O.P. the other party may always be found observing very hard - looking for you to relieve them. Usually nowadays the O.P. is an old pillbox which has had umpteen direct hits on it and has umpty more. Inside is a “fug” outside it is cold, so O.P.ing can be compared to a Turkish bath. Your telephonists light a fire in a brazier where they skew bacon and roast - some cocoa and as the other place is sometimes about 9 ft.² with wire beds you can imagine the atmosphere. I usually write a rough copy of my report in it. The only relaxations from entire and absolute boredom are as follows, shooting, smoking, eating, reading, sleeping, writing. Last night the stars were beautiful and Orion showed more detail, when looked at through my fairly powerful glasses, than I have ever seen.
I want Ella to visit the Pilkington’s. I thought she understood I was very anxious to hear about dear old Pilks one of the best fellows I have met out here, who got gassed.
I am sorry Arthur’s wound (Arthur HOOKE cousin Lost a leg) turned out serious, the aunts gave me to understand it was not so bad.
Yus rather I got the puddin’ ?!
I’m glad pa is better, and hope he will take things easily. Not too strong at Christmas, yer know dad. Yes I know it is the festive season, but moderation in all things. (GAH was almost a teetoller!!)
Mildred has been very clever in her selections for me to read. Many thanks. They have delighted the mess as well as myself and will when quite finished with, delight the NCOs and men.
Send me some of the photos from the camera please. We are hoping for a gramophone again soon and I can assure you it will be welcome.
I’m glad you went across to St Mary’s and hope you had a good time. Give my best love to Mrs Freaker whom I wrote a few days ago.
I shall be pleased to receive a muffler.
I hope this Christmas the usual family gathering will take place minus me and that you will have a beaucoup bon time. I am now quite fit and hope that all at home now are feeling their very best.
Thanks to T. for the booklet.
Arriving back, the battery seems very comfortable, and what luxury to find a good mail. The parcel of socks and sweets etc. is top hole. Will you please send me a balaclava helmet?
Many thanks for letters Pa, Ma, M, F, T & E all of you, so many thanks and especially to those compiling the parcel.
I will first reply to Pa. T’s letter gave me the impression that Arthur’s wound was slight, I was sorry to hear the truth. Nothing can compensate for the loss of a leg. He has my greatest sympathy.
Pa’s essay on medals was interesting. The part I see is that a man gets recommended through his O.C. whence it goes to Brigade, Division, Corps, Army and finally C in C. each of these being able to knock out the recommendation if they think it unjustified. The commanders of the higher units have powers to award and either exercise that power or pass on for a better reward. The C.in C.can only award a V.C. or D.C.M. There is much chance and great difficulties in the way of justice.
A howitzer is a piece of ordnance which is loaded with a propellant of varying weight and a flat trajectory i.e. part of the shell or a greater one obtained.
Note range the same.
A has greater weight of propellant and gun therefore not “cracked up” as much. There shall comes down like this ….. Or this ….., The latter being more effective on trenches and other targets.
How clear I am at producing lectures on pork, etc.
Thanks for Tennyson Pa, which I love, but please give poetry a rest as excess is likely to sicken and kill the appetite as Shakespeare says.
I don’t think much of the City Of Beautiful Nonsense though most of M’s books are delightful.
Civvy is “army” for civilian
Burbling is the present participle of the burbb. To “burble on” is to continue talking nonsense like I do.
Sweatin’ on leaf is “army” for anticipating furlough with eagerness.
I don’t think Butler is a fatalistic. He is merely a merry lad who says in a tight corner that he’ll “carry on” with his job and if he’s killed - well he’s killed, that’s all there is about it.
You cannot expect a slightly educated man to have deep thoughts. Certain of my ideas on religion have changed since I have been out here. Religion is of the heart, not of the head, and that man is so high in my opinion who carries on with the job on hand despite difficulty, even though he does not think about the next life nor discusses Sir Oliver Lodge with his mouth full of “bully”.
Religion is to me essentially a simple thing and spoiled by the intricacies and difficulties introduced by “wise men” who try to find out all to query God’s reasons, and who try to grasp the infinite with a finite mind instead of obeying like good soldiers.
Religion must be simple, or else confined to a few “saved” ( from whom save me).
I have seen more Christ in dirty swearing Tommy out here than in any regular churchgoer at home.
A Tommy does not know an officers reasons for doing things but obeys - an NCO obeys but sometimes knows more when the officer thinks such knowledge will help. Perhaps men may learn more as they rise in condition but obedience is the first thing for all.
Batman is an old Army expression, originating, I believe, from India.
I paid the Army and Navy stores 11/- and then 5/- both by P.O. both were acknowledged, but I lost the receipts.
Pa’s objection to the word “too” is reasonable;
………… (Page 6 of this letter is missing)
on the Western front. 75% of those mentioned in our Div Arty (short for Divisional Artillery) are men who have hardly ever seen a shell burst, certainly they have done good work, but they can scarcely be called gallant. The most gallant act…. Staff Capt Lefroy (mentioned) did was to mention to me that one of my drivers had been caught by him trotting a horse on a cobbled road. I informed him that no drivers had been out riding at the time and he was not delighted when I suggested the driver who said he was A/123 was “having him on”. Lefray is fat and known as “Leap Frog” or “The Fairy Queen” or “The Captive Balloon”
………… (Final page missing)
Father & Mother, Sisters, Aunt Alice Aunt Ria, Aunt & Uncle Stalker,
It is befitting that I should make a speech this Xmas, and though we cannot be together, it is up to us to show that we are together in thought and that we are superior to the little difficulties that separation creates. We will not let it interfere with our enjoyment more than can be helped, nor will it prevent you from hearing at least a little from the longest tongue so well developed by close association with four of the fair sex.
After all our activities may not be dissimilar at this time. I am writing this from a pillbox; you too will probably find one useful if not at Christmas soon after. I too hope to celebrate the season. To prove that this is done out here recollect that it was one of our own subalterns who, in reply to the sentry’s challenge “Halt! Who goes there?” replied “Briddish off’ser drying vind sway ‘ome.” The sentry replied “Pass British officer, all’s well.”
Yes! We enjoy ourselves alright, and now for you at home. Who will be there? Pa and Ma, the girls, Aunt Alice, Aunt ‘Ria, Uncle & Aunt Stalker. Anyone from Brondesbury? I’m afraid Mr and Mrs Freaker won’t be there?
If you have the majority of these you should be all right. Then you will have a pudding, if a small one, with doubtless a dandelion on the top to save in wartime. Uncle Stalker will lead the cheer as it enters and everyone will say “My! What a fine one!”
Mother will then smile as only she can smile. Previously she was a bit anxious about it, now she knows it’s all right. Reference will be made to the fact that banana peel is now 6½d a pound whereas a month ago it was only 5¾d.
Pa will then make his usual speech with his usual eloquence, and when the applause has died down Uncle will reply with most unusual eloquence. (To be taken in the polite sense).
When the house has resumed a vertical position healths will be drunk. You will then proceed to the drawing room and Mildred will give once more evidence of her undoubted gift as a pianist. Francie will awake the envy of Orpheus, who will throw away his harp in disgust and take to a fiddle.
Uncle and Aunt Stalker will sing. Aunt Alice will sing ‘O come my love’ and ‘I have a song’ etc.
Three mistresses will then relate some “howlers” and all will laugh little realising that they are all the result of inefficient teaching!!!?
After this Ma will discuss with the aunts socks and household problems. Winston Churchill will be given a rest.
The scene of all these enjoyments has changed. We still have, however, the guests with whom we have always associated a Merry Xmas. Therefore be merry. More than that!
Tis often said that “we” out here are doing our bit. Yes. You too are doing yours at home, and by no means a small one: - saving, sending to me, writing, carrying on and in many other ways some of which are not known, many not appreciated. Who shall say that B.E.F and M.E.F. do not contain my M.B.E. …. Therefore be merry.
Peace and goodwill may not be prevalent sentiments in the world as a whole, but they are in the family.
In the past year, more especially recently, sorrow and loss have come near the family. But sorrow and loss are temporary, joy is eternal. Happiness is our birthright.
So I’m right in wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a New Year exceeding your expectations of all things good.
Hooge, on YPRES – Menin RD. I was in Ypres area MESSINES to HOOGE for 9 months.
The havoc of war has changed the beautiful face of mother earth as if in pain and grief at the ill behaviour of her children. At Xmas, however, she tried to look happy, for the encouragement of those who love the spirit of that season, though the bare trees poking through her snowy mask showed only too truly the sadness of her heart.
My Xmas could certainly not be called a happy one, though a festival is by no means a farce when it reminds us for what we are fighting. I spent mine underground, right underground, such an earthwork could, of course, only have been provided for us by our friend the enemy.
Mother’s note welcomed my eyes today. T’s was brought to me yesterday. I fear I shan’t be home by the 10th but a soldier has no right to think of leave it makes him “windy”.
By jingo what a “show” this is. Here’s a very nice little world given to Adam and Eve with plenty of nice things and what a “bloomer” they made of it. What a “bloomer”we’ve made of it! Do yer no, I know of far pleasanter things than chucking bits o’ metal about. Apart from being a waste it so (“dam”) dangerous.
I think you’d better start trying to get me a Staff job, yer know, and let some of the young fellers carry on.
At the O.P. one has a very interesting time listening to the telephonists as I take 2 also an NCO and a gunner.
A gunner’s idea was to save up “leaves”until 1928 and have a good one then. A telephonist said of the major, “My, he is the chap to be within a hot place. I was with him ……. he says ter me, are you hit ---- I says nosir, he sez “Well I am”, he takes off ‘is puttee and ‘as a look, wraps something round and then he sez , come on --- were goin’ to lay a line forward. O my etc.
M’s Xmas book seems T.H. and I hope to get into it soon. (Top Hole)
I got Miss Goodman’s parcel and hope to write her when I get time. I also got socks from Peckham which were very good ones.
I think I have acknowledged the parcel with the socks, and I now urgently await the quantity of socks, which should arrive just when needed most.
It has snowed again this evening and you would not believe how comfortable one can be living as we are in the open. There are many points about the war that you are at home are unable to appreciate and no description of life here can give much of an idea of what it’s like. The Sphere gives a good idea of certain things but of course no photos likely to prove useful to the Bosch are taken.
Did you know, for example, that each dugout entrance is fitted with a blanket for keeping out gas? This is no great and unnecessary precaution as these are needed almost every day.
Bystander says “What happens when an irrepressible pacifist meets an irresistible mailed fist?”
A rotten letter, because I have no news.
PS nothing to put here. Cheerio.
Letters from the Front 1918/19 (Oct-Jan) (Click newspaper twice to enlarge)