Letters from the Front 1918/19 (Oct-Jan)
My dear people,
I have arrived back safely in my other home and find it rather more muddy than the real one. I am back at A.
I took things easily coming back 18th sailed and stayed night at Boulogne – 19th arrived at Doullens and spent night – 20th lorry to CAMBRAI, I was interested to see it – 21st – I rejoined and was glad to find Major Roberts very fit, likewise Gamble and Holden – Morice on leave.
Apparently they decided to, (why?) give me the M.C. and the enclosure note was sent with a bit of ribbon.
Murray is at Mayfield Aux Convalescent Home, Harbourne Road, Birmingham. If M. Could see him and give him my love I should be pleased. Probably he is a bit lonely.
My dear people,
This is a hurried note. I’m sorry my first will only shortly precede this. Many thanks to mother, dad and all for the leave. I am now quite settled again.
Will you please send
1. About 12 ins M.C. ribbon (not more) all obtainable in Putney.
2. 2 pips 2/6
3. 1 pair Boyd’s patent elastic puttees. 12/6
The weather is beautiful today. I live in mother earth.
There are multitudinous vegetable fields left by the Bosch and consequently we have as much carrot, turnip as we desire. Hay and straw has also been exceedingly useful.
1st Nov. 1918.
My dear people,
I haven’t been grumbling at the weather. Today is bon, then the news that Turkey and Austria had “chucked in” was most palatable.
It’s the Bosch’s turn and may he not delay.
Did I tell you Major Roberts stopped two bullets just above his knee. Fortunately no bones were damaged, but he has gone away again; we have Capt. Bryant from C.
Morice is Capt now in 124 Bde.
I visited a village held by us with the Bosch just outside. Three weeks ago the war was far away, now a few civilians remain cowering in the cellars. Before he left the Bosch most shamefully messed and spoiled the place which was as charming a village as one could wish to see. In every home furniture has been deliberately hacked to pieces and belongings thrown about. It must hit the humble folk very hard to have their lowly treasures ruined. Lying about in a room one can see in the filth some large book, ornament or picture which the villager must have prized. The desolation, so systematic and universal, is only to be described as the work of a beast.
The humorous side is discernible when one hears pianos and singing – Tommies enjoying themselves; in one case I passed a scene of such revelry when the Bosch was only a few hundred yards up the street.
Alas, the jubilance of a glorious dayand a fine night, much of which I saw, is bartered for the chagrin of a poursome morrow. To you would counsel me to look at the bright side of things, I say, “What is the bright side of a tarpaulin what leaketh?”
Reference the ordinary things of life, please do not send Punch as I find two recipients in A.
Why I cannot put things in an ordinary sensible way is not quite clear. Some experts have attributed it to hereditary others to shell-shock. Opinion on the point is however divided.
Yrs in solution C
My dear people,
I received a good batch of letters today, the first acknowledgements of my letters. I shall be glad when the ribbon comes – it is purchasable anywhere. I am not so keen on wearing it, but people make remarks. The first little bit was like the diagram and fixed with pin. I lost this as it came off with my overcoat. I shall however get another tomorrow – may Heaven help me – there is going to be a grand ceremonial parade. I have had some good scrapping since my leave but now we are resting for a short period. The corps general is presenting ribbons tomorrow, there is going to be a band and march past.
I am sorry about poor old Ella. Thanks for the letter from Brondesbury. I was very sorry to hear that Kathleen Cooper has died of double pneumonia. I met Maurice Sadler yesterday. He is in the same village.
Major Elliot has got the idea into his head that many regulars will get sent to India when war finishes, to relieve Senitorealis? there now. I think it will take time settling up here.
Much love C
I think a letter might be missing here – reference in the next letter to a huge ceremonial parade that took place which he writes he had told family about.
(Two days after Armistice)
My dear people,
As restrictions have been removed, I can tell you things. I am feeling very fit and have been having a splendid time for a fortnight. We finished up – as the paper told you fifty times – just south of Le Quesney, near Foret de Mormal. We are refitting and going to Boschland in about a fortnight. We are going by train a good deal, through the Ardennes.
At present I am at CAUDRY just off the CAMBRA – LE CATEAU road.
The village is almost untouched as a matter of fact it is a town. It was captured by the Division without hard fighting in the vicinity.
A huge ceremonial parade took place here. Of course I told you about that.
Every arrangement is being made for comfort of the troops. Football etc. etc. including hockey on the ice may be expected the other end. Tomorrow the Div.Arty are to be inspected by the Div. Cmdr.
As I may expect a coldish part of the world would you please send me a “posh” pair of gloves fur outside and sheep skin inside. I want absolutely the best please and will send you a cheque when you let me know the price. They should be large, reaching the wrist. Please also let me have an ordinary pair of woollen gloves. I have written the Vicar about socks and perhaps you can get friends to send me a pipe. I am always asking for things, but that is your penalty for being so good to me.
I received letters and Sphere – Ma’s parcel was welcome. We should like something to read now place M dear. So sorry to hear about flu. Church parade today (Sunday).
Our division was called in a French communiqué the famous 37th divn.
While I am asking (!) would you send me a few cheap brass tie pins; enclose in a letter, as you might have the riibon.
I have a new pony which climbs the side of a house for each lorry.
I heard from Aunt Sally.
Much love C
If passing through Richmond you notice a tobacconist with a lot of dark polished pipes in the window and a foreigner behind the counter please send a ¼lb of their splendid mixture. Explicit.
My dear people
I told you in my last letter that I was bound for Bosch land. This seemed certain, now, however, I have an idea it will be Namur-Luge district.
I also mentioned I was at CAUDRY. This small town is noted for lace and is just off the CAMBRAI - LE CATEAU road. Les habitants tell me CAUDRY lace was sold in America and I suppose cambric has something to do with CAMBRAI.
In the final attack I was near GHISSIGNIES (near LE QUESNOY). The night before we brought the guns up behind GHISSIGNIES. When I left them 2 had got in. The remainder being dispersed and the teams lost. The captain (Jenkin) got slightly wounded. Jerry was chucking stuff about. I spent the night in the village ready for mu job in the morning. I slept on the ground floor of a house (Bde H.Q.) the colonel etc. were in the cellars but there was not too much room. Twice I stepped towards the cellars when Jerry became familiar.
In the early morning the barrage stopped and the fun began, An hour after I started with my telephonists, laying a wire. Fog prevented me seeing more than 20 yards ahead. Open country by map in the dark is great fun. Stepping out to avoid ???YVOLLOPPINS PERCY??? I shortly came on some inf. on their stomachs. They advised emulation which I adopted on hearing bullets. Apparently one or two M.G.’s held out in what is called a pocket after the attacking troops were well passed. This delayed us no end. Going forward to survey I discovered the tank which had endeavoured to attack. The commander and infy round it swore the M.G. was still there but this was not the case. I soon got ahead after this and in a barrage of 10.5cm most of the time – in phosgene* – I nearly got hit from one of our own guns systematically firing on our own country. When my wire ran out I connected with a Bosch wire nicely laid ready. I nearly went past the front inf through not noticing them. The joyful time was when all Bosch guns shut up, evidently to retire. It was interesting being greeted by the civilians in JOLIMETZ.
*Phosgene, which smells like moldy hay, is also an irritant but six times more deadly than chlorine gas. Phosgene is also a much stealthier weapon: it’s colorless, and soldiers did not at first know they had received a fatal dose. After a day or two, victims’ lungs would fill with fluid, and they would slowly suffocate in an agonizing death. Although the Germans were the first to use phosgene on the battlefield, it became the primary chemical weapon of the Allies. Phosgene was responsible for 85% of chemical-weapons fatalities during World War I.
Many thanks to all for good wishes. T’o parcel and a cake from Barkers arrived today. Again thanks.
On 28th I took part in my first steeplechase on very muddy going. I have never before taken such jumps and as the course was 1½ miles I was glad to have a good horse. He’s in A subsection gun team and was at one time Hwrd’s charger. Hwrd came off him in a steeplechase when leading by 150 yards. He is absolutely mad in open country and cannot be held. I had him trained and the day before the race tried him on some jumps and he ran away with me.
On the day, the race - open to Captains and subs of the Div. Arty, - started rather a crush. In the crush old Peter took off about 10 yards before the first jump and landed on the jump which was thick fascines*. I came down. As he was a good ‘un when I caught him I set off again and he took the second jump (about 4ft 3in) splendidly. Then he caught people up, who were hung up by jumps their horses wouldn’t take. I’ve never seen anything like this show for tosses. People and horses were flying in all directions. Capt Smeeton took (I believe) – 5 tosses. I took 3 the only bad one being the water jump. Old Peter came down. He was an old sportsman and stood - with his face covered with peat – like a lamb while I mounted, cantered up the hill; over the last two jumps; and home at a gallop. At the post I could only just stop him after a heavy 1½ miles. I was fortunate to be 3rd.
* A fascine is a rough bundle of brushwood or other material used for strengthening an earthen structure, or making a path across uneven or wet terrain. Typical uses are protecting the banks of streams from erosion, covering marshy ground and so on. In war they are often used to create paths for tanks and other vehicles across uneven terrain.
Still at Caudry.
Many thanks for all good wishes and not least for the top-hole cake.
Would you please send me my football breeches if I have any in good condition. If not never mind. However, I should like a pair of black stockings.
After the Xmas rush please send my camera (now allowed) and a few spools.
I wonder if it is too much to ask you to get hold of some games such as chess, draughts, loto, halma anything. Old ones people don’t want would do splendidly for the men when we get settled.
I am battery officer i/c Recreation. A great revival (after being unable to play) has eventuated and all sorts of games are being got up. Soccer, rugger, steeplechases, races, cross-country run, concerts, church parades, “drill orders”, hockey is a possibility, skating a probability.
We are expecting to start shortly for vicinity of BRUSSELS-CHARLEROI-LIEGE. This of course very rough.
Just a note – I’m still in Caudry and quite fit. We should move any day from 14th – 29th and the march to CHARLEROI includes 6 days marching and 1 day’s rest.
1st day Caudry to area MECQIGNIES – HON HERGIES-BETTRECHIES
(villages N. Of FORET de MORMAL)
2nd day to area LOUVROIL-FEIGNIES-LA LONGEVILLE
3rd day Halt
4th day to area RECQUIGNIES – GRAND RENG – MAIREUX – MAUBEUGE
5th day to area PEISSANT-BINCHE PERONNES-HAULCHIN
6th day FONTAINE L’EVEQUE-COURCELLES-BALLESTRE-BINCHE.
7th day to the GOSSELIES area which is our destination.
The last shell I saw burst was about 30 yards away from me at LOUVIGNIES.
Major Roberts returned 20 mins ago. After his wounds he had pneumonia but now looks fit. Major Bryant has had the battery. I have just found a billet for him. Mdlle assures me that the clean sheets shall be put on in a few minutes, she says we had to do it for the Bosch – it is a pleasure to do it for the allies.
I rode on the same steeplechase course yesterday on the same good horse. Came 2nd out of 8. Holden who beat me last time came a cropper, I believe he finished. He went away last night with a high temper. and the new fashioned flu. “Uncle” i.e Robinson who joined A in Havrincourt Wood is at ETAPLES, so Gamble and I have “orderly dog”* alternately.
It is interesting to hear from the habitants about the Bosch. Le Lommandantur of Caudry is described as très sévère et méchant. I asked madame if the Bosch volaient** and she said, “C’était leur métier”***.
Not such a note neither.
The New Div Arty panto promises to be an enormous success in a theatre in CHARLEROI
*Orderly dog is British army slang for an orderly corporal, orderly sergeant or orderly officer.
*** They were very good at it.
Explanatory note: In the next letter Cyril is describing his father as his servant.
My dear people,
Caudry is left behind – we stayed two days by LOUVIGNIES, close to LE QUESNOY and have now passed to FEIGNIES near MAUBEUGE, and to the NNW of it.
We are having a good time. I sent two cheques £5 and £3 to John Barker & Coo. to obtain football shorts and shirts and a rugby football. If passing could some fair damsel enquire if these have been forwarded and expedite matters if there has been delay.
Major Roberts has now a D.S.O, previously he had M.C. and two bars. He has returned.
You should all have a merry if not a “well fed” Xmas.
Love to all
Aren’t you pleased to get only one request. This chateau is quite good.
My dear father,
Your letters have been full of interest and I am very especially grateful for the gloves. My servant has apparently gaged my character fairly correctly, I could just detect an insinuatory hint that I must take care of them.
I will enclose a cheque in a letter at first opportunity. On the march at present I am packed up and as my servant is sick I am not worrying him. I see little chance of getting out of the army yet. I can’t say I am keen on stopping in. I shall have to stay till I find something good. The continuous routine bores me and the lack of freedom. The one thought in the mind of all the men is “How soon shall I get out?” We have 29 coal miners out of 170 ... the battery, and their job is of course a good one and likely to lead to early relief.
I think that it was general collapse and exhaustion which caused the Bosch defeat. He was certainly beaten in arms as he could not hold ground. If he held in one place he had to give in another. Please tell Ella I would like the watch I left with her.
As I omitted in my main letter please accept this (perhaps) the only information that I hope you will all have a very merry Xmas. What is Ella to do when she “ceases to get the boot”.
Much love C
My dear people,
I will endeavour despite the primary difficulty in pencils (now overcome) to give a brief description of my interesting life of the last few days.
As I have described we left Caudry, retunring to LOUVIGNIES (near LE QUESNOY pronounced LER KEN NOIR) then, after t wo days to FEIGNES, near MAUBEUGE and after another two days we went on to HAULCHIN.
It is regrettable that our horses were in open field for this and the following night. The next day was my turn to billet and I was unable to fix up luxurious surroundings. The place was CARNIÈRE, the nearest town being BINCHE, CARNIÈRE os bigger than DORKING, and from BINCHE to CHARLEROI as numerous succession of large villages. I am sending p.c’s (postcards). I was fortunate in getting myself a bed in the house of a well to do Belgian who with his good wife not only gave me a first rate room and bed, but invited me to dinner at 8pm. A Belgian soldier on leave was there and the brother of the owner of the house. Each had two children there and ages were about 8 – 15. We must have been 13 at table. Previously I had thought my appetite a good one. However the kiddies surprised me. Moreover they all drink beer and Bordeaux. It really was an excellent dinner, the final patisserie by madame was first rate. They were remarkably hospitable and pressing. Especially was it useless to refuse the wine. I must have had 10 glasses. However it was impotent stuff, about as intoxicating as lemonade. No one ever drunk wine except when M. Raised his glass and said “Bon santé”. The eldest of the six children (all males) played on the piano very well and the kiddies sung all the national anthems. When the Bosch were here of course it was not allowed. These good and typical people merely replied, “C’est rien” to my thanks. There are notices everywhere of this nature.
HONOIUR TO THE HEROES OF BAPAUME & PERONNE.
HONNEUR AUX ALLIÉS
WE SHALL NOT FORGET OUR FRIENDS.
GLOIRE AUX ALLIÉS
Everyone is awfully good to us.
Waiting to march off from CARNIÈRE it was interesting to see the typical Belgian kiddy of ten enjoying his pipe like a man of forty. Not proudly like an English kiddy would, but with the indifference of habit.
After a miserable march in torrential rain we are settled for the winter at VILLERS PERWIN near CHARLEROI and to the NE.
Tut-Tut - however the ills of Xmas are put aside and once more on the uneven tenour of our routine. Xmas is the only day on which a soldier is allowed to be zig zag. Gamble and I searched the village with great success for seats and tables for 150 odd. The people are very good. It is regrettable that we are already being split up. We have lost 26 out of 29 miners.
Roaming round the village on exploration Gamble and I got into an inner courtyard looking for a superior mess. A woman appeared and beckoned. We approached and opening a door she showed us a class of small girls who obeyed her exhortation to rise and bow to their brave British deliverers. Then opening another she displayed a class of older girls (13 or 14) who did likewise.
My men and most of my horses are in a château (unoccupied) which is one of a number around about. The family DUMONT de CHASSART are apparently pretty wealthy. B. Battery occupy a château stables etc and share the actual château with the owner. We dined there Xmas day. He says 58 of the family are living. He speaks goodish English. He has daughters arriving and seems keen on B battery officers walking with them in his park. The park is beautiful and snow lying on Xmas day made it charming. The château is beautifully furnished, relics from Belgian Congo and a very fine open brick fireplace in one room. The château is worth visiting Belgium to see. We are not far from QUATRE BRAS.
I enclose photos of the Sergeants not including Sgt Hancock. Sgt Lester and Sgt McDonald are my Sergeants of E and F subsections, forming the left section.
Since last instalment I have played one rugger game and three soccer games and although a few years almost without a game were not helpful yet I am getting into it. A rugger 15 of officers (there are only 18 offices in the Bde now!) was not a bad effort. I arranged a game with the O.R.’s (other ranks) and we were beaten by 2 tries (6 pts) to nil after a good game.
The battery was beaten yesterday at soccer by D/124, I played and had a good game.
Tomorrow 123 & 124 Bde officers combined play 29F Bde A.F.A (Army Field Arty) attached to the Division.
Gamble and I are playing, the Major is refereeing. The latter very sportingly played well in the first game though his right arm is bad enough to prevent him saluting with it.
I have just heard I am 6th on the leave list. It takes 4 days to get home now. I’ll try and be a better lad for correspondence.
Love and happy New Year to all. C
The owner of the house in which Gamble is billeted is very good to us, we went to dinner one evening at 6:30pm, rather remarkably early. We had about 10 different wines and in enormous quantities but nothing with any strength. One gets champagne at a price but poor stuff. On Xmas eve we were greeted with singing outside by some NCOs. I call them in, gave them champagne all round, two fills, a Bdr Stoddart who is a professional singer sung I’ll sing the songs of Araby. In retaliation to Gamble’s billet cove we invited him to dinner gave him a 7 or 8 courser, a good stiff one, he did not get on very well with whisky. He was so impressed he kept on saying he’d never eaten so well before. Gamble helped him home. I am billeted with M. le burgomestre who is a tubby jolly little man with side whiskers and smokes a long pipe, like most of the villagers. I am trying to arrange a game of footer with the villagers, but the Belgians are a poor crowd, unhealthy and with not much spirit, though they seem hard-working and kindly, in some cases very kindly. Yet I have not seen anyone I would feel disinclined to fight from physical reasons. I object to a crowd of men who when regarded wish you “Bon Jour” quickly. However all in the village seem prosperous. The children are not what they should be since they get plenty of open air, but are sickly looking.
They have some fine horses and many substantial farms. Belgians seem to live to a good age but hang on the last years in miserable helplessness.
The children have little arrangement made for their pleasure and naturally smoke from an early age and waste their time hanging about the streets. They therefore grow up weeds. A Boy Scout troop - some football etc. etc. as in England would make all the difference. The son of the burgomestre is about 14 and seems keen on watching football - his only recreation seems “cartes”. He gambles with his father and the latter is somewhat grimy associates (farm hands) for low stakes on Sunday till ‘onze heures’.
Veritas thanks for the cake, which was by far the most welcome gift imaginable, and by far the best selection one could have made.
C. (trade mk)
My dear People,
I had a real good time yesterday. The country is magnificent and with a few of the family DUMONT de CHASSART we had a paper chase on horseback. The two Belgians started about an hour in front to lay a good trail of what appeared to be husks of corn. They took plenty of time to lay a real good trail and they did this. When the trail was lost everyone dispersed to pick it up and when was hot all followed at a good gallop all yelling like school children colonel majors and all. The trail was on good tracks, through thick woods and across open country. Some banks were steep to climb and some very slippery to descend. Finally, after a good distance 8 or 9 miles of intermittent galloping the hairs were sighted and caught by Major Roberts. Two ladies rode and one fell off – Davis of B had to come off as his horse got into a swamp. The horses thoroughly enjoyed it.
We went for lunch to a hotel where we had songs after lunch, and a very jovial time.
I am busy with plenty of football, but things are unsatisfactory, men going officers going. As a battery we are over 70 under strength.
Very many thanks to M. for the books which I am enjoying.
Part of the country we passed through consisted of a village in a valley with reservoirs while on each side of the large valley were ancient castle turrets and walls also châteaux of modern appearance.
I will send you some photographs if you will send me my camera and some spools.
Please send my Officers Advance Book (mother mentioned it - a little book with detachable cheques) I want it urgently please, so slip it in an envelope, registering on necessary.
Much love C.
P.S. please also send me 1 doz Gillette razor blades.
Correspondence ends here.
An additional note, presumably part of a letter and numbered 3/19 reads as follows:
The whole Bde will shortly go to FRASNES-ly-GOSSELIES, I tried to find a Bde mess and ante-room without great success as 10 officers is a good number.
I have heard good tales of India which made me anxious to go and I think I shall when I get the chance. Things seem very cheap almost to an absurdity and much inexpensive sport.
Cheerio CG Hooke Lt
Note added by CGH 1/64 - I did go.
Indeed he did, and those three closing words from his WW1 memoirs summarise a lifetime of service in India and of no little significance, the place he found his wife in 1923!
Return: 2nd Lt C G Hooke - At War
Continued: Major C G Hooke Off to India