Letters from the Front 1918 (Apr-Sep)
I must have moved down south by this date HEBUTERNE SAILL AU BOIS. Then (after moving about) in action in front of HANNES CAMPS SW of Arras.
I hope you got a letter which should have arrived about the 8th. I have received numerous letters in a lump, two from T, two from E, and one from F & M. The weather is gorgeous and I am sitting by a table on grass by a stream, listening to a band. Yesterday and today I have felt this is a good war.
I am glad you are doing some work for vegetable growing and hope you will get enough to be independent.
There seems to be surprise about missing out the name of the country; I wonder at this because I mentioned it once before when the order came out. In order to prevent knowledge of what troops in Belgium France or Italy all are termed B.E.F. and the name of the country must not be included.
I imagine people at home are a bit anxious about things, rather naturally. I think the Bosch is making his last effort, if we hold him it is the best thing possible, because if he did not attack we could never inflict such losses on him.
I expect all the girls will beat me at tennis when I return.
Did I acknowledge the dates and the other little parcel from Ma?
Much love to all
I’m afraid you’ll lecture me again for having kept you about a week. Time flies so that I find I have not written for some time. Perhaps you are not quite clear how we stand now in the battery. Major Roberts left us in March on which day (13th) he got his second bar to his M.C. Capt Thorne of B was given M.C.for work done assisting getting the wounded away that day and has been our major for over two months now. He also comes from the Argentine and is one of the finest (if not the finest) horse master in the division.
We have had tributes paid to our horses as a division, and which are equal to any in the B.E.F.and at present our battery horses are probably the best in the division. This is partly due to an extensive knowledge by officers, for in the division we have a large number who have lived with horses, many in the Argentina like Major Roberts and Thorne. The only other necessary factor is discipline to ensure the arrangements are carried out. A few points in getting good horses are these. That he has plenty of time at the trough for watering and plenty of times - that he is never watered with tight girths or bits in - that he is never returned perspiring into the lines - plenty of grooming and wisping - warm at night - hay before a feed to take off the edge of his appetite and prevent bolting the more substantial oats - as much grazing as possible - regular exercise, not vigorous and occasional - well fitting harness of which much care must be taken to prevent rubbing causing galls - march discipline i.e. men dismounting for all up hills and brakes for steep downhills, only a definite number on a vehicle, packing vehicles to make easiest pulling and least strain - harness off if possible during a substantial wait in a days work –
There are thousands of points. Most of them seem trivial and because of this much discipline is required. For example a driver will loosen the girth of his horse and take the bit out if an officer or NCO present but some would not in their absence. As a matter of fact most of our drivers take interest in their horses, because they know they are good and (ought I to say it) most would “come by” anything anyhow for their horses. If oats are thrown in a bag and put on the horse he will eat it but will thrive better if care is taken to see to equal division, with fixed extras for some large or thin horses, and mixed with chaff well cut up and well mixed to prevent him going for the oats and bolting them by themselves. These are thousands of points which I could never tell you and thousands more I learn every day. I have finished a week detached with my own horses and got so keen that I nearly went mad. Excessive pleasure at seeing one horses coat coming or another fattening up - discussed at having continually to strafe drivers for sins; if I had a month with my horses I should go grey headed.
I was talking about officers - Hurd is still Capt: - Morice returned Murray and Holden are still going strong. Gamble an Irish chap has joined us and is an absolutely awfully good chap. Holden tells the major how to run the battery and has well carried the name “Pip Squeak”.
A little parcel for mother comes with this - a little souvenir.
21 July 1918
In charge of the forward guns between BUCQOY & HANESCAMPS (½ British ½ German)
My dear people,
I am far too well treated altogether. Scarcely a letter arrives without your mentioning you are glad to get letters, but I am afraid this extra regularity is only due to the fact that I am in the appallingly awful, undescribable position of having absolutely nothing to do all my time.
At 8:30am my servant wakes me and I have brekker. At 8:40 a.m. I rise wash and shave and grouse. After this my work is finished for the day. Occasionally I inspect dugouts, box respirators, rifles and see that the rations are all right but otherwise I just exist in my little dugout. Few are the times that I see any other officer, when I am more than usually fed up I call someone on the phone and talk. Isolé absolument isolé and the war passes slowly. I am not even allowed to kill Bosch’s, though (twixt me and you) I did nearly get an aeroplane t’other day. My dugout is quite bon though I see too much of it. I think it must have been “Jerry” who felled some trees, not quite so heavy as those in Tooting Bec Avenue but nearly as thick. He left them like this and therefore digging there………… diagram……………. formed a good dugout with a few pit props and girders, the trunks themselves resting on the ground. I have a good bed and table, shelves of planks and boxes and to complete the beauty and 18… Cartridge case filled with clover etc. and incidentally the fuse and front part of a 5.9 as a candlestick.
Holden went on leave yesterday - I have instructed Mildred to call on him. Leave for officers is now after not less than seven months, and 12 months for men. As it has just started for us - I am surprised that it has - I might get leave in October or November if I am fortunate. I should like to have been home in summer but still if I get it in October it won’t be so bad.
This appalling scribble disgusts me so I will close with love
let me know when you holiday - I hope all can go. It is essential that you forget things for a time.
First four pages of this letter missing. With two guns forward.
…. In and out of success. I don’t think I shall do well in the army. I have a bad habit of being in bed when anyone comes round. I woke to a blaze of tabs the other day and saw the brigadier sitting by my bed; I said, “Good morning sir” and went to sleep again. Nasty old man. This was 11 a.m. firing all night - worried by the telephone - Patrick says I must have some brekker - then that. This is always happening to some old screw who having enjoyed about 13 hours hard sonorous slumber come round to have a look at the war. Maj Roberts is, I believe, getting on well and there is hope he may get back here but I have no recent news. Some little time ago I changed my servant and groom as the old were not doing well, and now I have two excellent fellows. My servant Patrick, being a tailor in private life, is able quite cleverly to conceal the ravages of barbed wire.
I really am treated too well here. Patrick nurses me like a mother and there is an absolutely priceless old chap called Brand. He must be getting on in years yet he is probably the most willing worker in the battery.
I was surprised to find him as cook but he has certainly surprised me. He made a beautiful dough, which originated with ration biscuits, you doubtless know the hardy type. He soaked and fried (?) these whole also and made an excellent - ? with jam. But what surprised me was when he began to insist on my having a piece of cake sent to him and one night Oxo -today an orange served comme Hotel Cecil. He is entirely different to the other men. He first attracted my attention as being a remarkably ---- old bird under very unpleasant conditions and it is surprising to compare his willingness and alacrity to comply with the actions of others.
I suppose Ella’s dislike of teaching is due to the fact that she could teach when all are willing to listen and learn but hates ‘taking disciplinary action’ or has not had experience of the noble art of ’choking off’ (believe me how necessary) I believe ‘choking off’ to be most excellent. When a man has done wrong a conscientious quiet ‘cove’ will report him perhaps or give some lingering punishment. A better thing, I believe, is performed when the man finds himself dealing with such a personality that something makes him do as he is told and pay attention to his job - ½d worth of holy fear.
I think it’s the same old thing in “A God of love” or “A God to be feared” hell and all the rest of it; a man should be kind to whom kindness will not be abused, but must have some ‘devil’ for those who need it, (the majority). I cannot imagine Ella implanting holy fear into the heart of a child, and sometimes indeed it may be the salvation of such a kiddy. So M & T especially take to your hearts what your granduncle says….
Remaining pages missing (Click on map twice to enlarge)
My dear people,
By the time this reaches you holidays will be nearing their end. Good news will have pleased you and all going well. I should see you in October. I feel like a rest though there are points about this life. I don’t feel the least like letter writing so won’t say much besides thanks for cake and letters. I like chocolate best in separate chocolates.
Much love to all
My dear people,
Since for a brief period, the rigourous pursuance of the war does not depend upon my individual effort I will take up my pencil (or rather three, two points failed me) and hastened to assure you of the efficiency of my internal system and of the gaiety of my heart.
Optimism is the mode of the moment, here and (I am told) at home. The only real grouse here is that the men are not getting enough fighting! Truly I did hear “Old Bellamy” (from PUTNEY) the heart and soul of cheeriness say that he’d ever be quite right till rum issues started again, but he doesn’t look very bad.
Dance With Me(Betty)
Boy And Girl (Country Girl)
the latter two we had before and they got destroyed.
If you have not heard them you have missed something.
Today pipes came for every officer and man apparently a present from America.
B.E.F. (Click on map twice to enlarge)
There are two ways (at least) of looking at everything.
Here I am wasting the blissful days of youth and the radiant summer days in a dirty fly infested trench, my chief desire being to reduce the German population. My brain atrophies, my manners deteriorate and my only amusement is to write nonsense like this.
How glorious it is to live in the air. Assuredly this is the life! Horse and gun – to live with men of stout heart – to grapple with difficulties – to dispense with the insignificant difficulties of pecuniary circumstances – to see who are men and who are duds – what ho for the life of a soldier.
Major Roberts has been passed G.S. and hopes to be back in a month or so. Now Major Dankin of B Battery is getting 6 months leave – our present Major (Thorne) may go to B (his old battery for over 2 years), Major Elliot who has C at present would like A (his old battery) but there is a chance of Roberts getting it, and I must say I hope he will. The only thing is Major Elliot brought it from England (or rather 2/3 of it before batteries were enlarged).
I admire Major Roberts because in things that matter he does not “intend to do” and find “he can’t because” he just “does”.
This next letter is a folded pre-printed “postcard” in German, presumably found as they advanced through previously held German territory.
G A Hooke Esq., 3 Woodlands Road, Barnes, London.
Regret using this as am short of envelopes. The three cakes and many letters have come through splendidly. Am very fit and going strong.
This makes an interesting little souvenir being as you see a Bosch Field Post Card.
My dear people,
It is on the slope of a onetime glorious little downs, one of a thousand extending in every direction that I collect myself on a seat consisting of a board placed on two petrol cans.
There is much to be cheerful about – I am fit, news is good. Major Roberts is on his way back, a dump of bottles of soda water has been found near here and a very large one too. So large that though gunners carry away boxes and odd “infanteers” take what they can carry, yet still many remain. There are shoals of souvenirs easily obtainable, so common that one is bound to miss many.
I am at B again and have really enjoyed the change; I look forward to return when Major Roberts arrives and Major Thorne is coming to take over B.
Even if I have by chance mentioned it before in a hasty scrawl let this be the official notification of thanks for the cakes.
Ma’s letter arrived today and as it was written on an old school paper I was interested to see that s = ut + ½ft2 - this afternoon I saw this exemplified by parachutes; not a very unusual sight either, the time before yesterday.
I’ll forgive pa for not writing under his busy circumstances and this is real sacrifice on my part. Let us be self satisfied for two minutes; two minutes only, I’m sure it won’t do us much harm. You and I, Pa, are the stickers. I find there are only two other officers in the Brigade who have been permanently with it, and not sick, or otherwise incapacitated for as long as I. (wood is touched)
Mildred must send me a copy of her lecture on Industry and Science etc. since 1914 and I will send her some blatant criticism which will rouse her from idle self-satisfaction and prevent her becoming a “stagnant cow”. (Please forgive quotation)
I am afraid I have neglected to express my sorrow at Trixie’s behaviour. I hope she’ll pull herself together and enjoy youth’s irresponsibility once again. With regard to Ella’s one pipe a day I can say nothing. I hope the War Office will prove interesting, give scope for her high capacity, nor prove too wearying or dim the charms of Venus. Take care.
I have got rather a nice little Mauser, there are lots knocking round. Bosch automatics are much superior to our heavy cumbersome weapon – you have seen my Smith and Wesson – I am giving it the boot though I believe the automatics are forbidden by international law?!!
You’ll be sorry to hear that my old pony Bess got killed. Murray is home in England now.
I first invested £50 in War Loan and Cox & Co, drew my interest – I have further put £77-10-0 in War Bonds which seem preferable since one obtains compound interest and has no money lying dormant.
Well! Leave is not going now, but when it starts I shan’t be long. I should like to see England before the end of summer, but will wait as patiently as I can.
Very much love to all and special thanks and love to ma for her letter today.
11th September 1918
My dear people,From the unusual inscription of the date in full (and indeed a correct one to a few days at least) the more brilliant of you will deduce that my time is not so limited as it was. As a matter of fact this is not true. I have just returned from 24 hours duty had a wash and lunch and settled down. It’s wonderful how one gets used to moving about.
During the last three weeks I have never lived more than a day or two in one spot, but there are a good many “good ‘oles” and one dugout is nearly as good as another – that doesn’t sound quite right somehow.
Well I am quite fit and by my private statistics may hope to see you in the beginning of October. Of course these are not infallible and “things” are unreliable.
People at home seem to talk about the Bosch retirement, as a matter of fact it was a retreat because he fought all the way, and went back because he had to.
I enclose a selection from what I believe is the Bosch equivalent to Punch.
A rainy morning, a wood, huts, dugouts, a ruined village form my scene. 10.15am. is a curious time for writing letters but I find it a pleasant occupation out here if only because one’s supply of recreation is limited.
Major Roberts has arrived and I am reminded to tell you because he stands about two yards away now. I have been attached to B for over a week under these circs. Major Dorkin had gone from B, just before “the stint” and other officers going left them short and so one from A (me) and one from D were sent to B. Then Major Roberts returned and Major Thornes was coming to B, when he got a piece in the ankle. Yesterday some reinforcement officers arrived for the Bde and with thoughts of leave I was not sorry.
By the time I come off you will all be separated again so I suppose I had better come straight home. Pa will remember a chap who came on leave with me last time. He is now Capt and M.C. and recently got wounded though I think it was only slight. He was in T.M.’s but got wounded about 7 miles behind the line by an H.V. shell.
I have discovered recently many Bosch magazines and papers. It was interesting to see their descriptions of the fighting. I saw a picture of Bosch gunners manning the gun on Zeebrugge Mole.
According to the paper Hindenburg has decided to adopt the defensive instead of the offensive. If this is so it is a remarkably bad thing for them, because obviously it is a sign of weakness. It is difficult for ordinary human beings to discover how much the Bosch has suffered and what are his reserves. Mail goes so
There is a gap in correspondence when Cyril came home on leave.
2nd Lt C G Hooke - At War (Click on map twice to enlarge)