Monday, 2 April 2007

Letters from Percy to sister Maud and brother-in-law Dave Lade

The following letters, cards and postcards were written by my grandfather, Percy Smith between December 1914 and October 1918, from his arrival at Broadmeadows Expeditionary Encampment, to almost the end of his was in an Artillery Brigade Camp in Wiltshire. Between times there is correspondence from Egypt both pre and post Gallipoli (but nothign from Gallipoli itself (he was there for a short time only), and from France - the Somme and northern France, and Belgium. There are letters from Feb 1917 and Jan 1918 when he spent time as a guestof the Stephen family in Helstone Manor, near Camelford, Cornwall.

For a full account of his service, and the social and battle conditions, see the separate blog entries.

1914: Broadmeadows Camp, Victoria

(postmarked 2 DE 14)

Dear Maud

Just a line to say I arrived here alright at about 4.30 yesterday. I have not had my riding test yet, but expect it won’t take place for a few weeks. We had an easy day to day. About 5000 were taken to the Merri Creek for a washing day. We are at present located in a Y.M.C.A. tent at the furthest point of the camp from the walkway. My address is F Squadron Depot Military Camp.


(Postmarked 5 DE 14)

Dear Maud

I received your card yesterday. I think the best day for you to come out would be Sunday. I shifted into my tent yesterday and am now located at the very end of the camp nearest Melbourne. Ask for F Squadron Depot. I would like you to bring me out 1 pair socks, blacking brush and a tin of nugget.
We are having a good time here, and have splendid camp mates. This is all now
Good bye
Yours, Percy

Postmarked 12 DEC 14

Dear Maud
I was sorry I could not up to the train on Wed, but was having my riding test that day. I passed it alright. It has been raining to some time here yesterday and to-day. Most of the infantry have gone on to the boats and will be leaving shortly. There are rumours that all the light horse will be shipped to W.A. for their training. Of course I don’t know how true it is. I have not been out to Northcote since you were there. If you only saw the camp now you would not think too much of it. There is a foot of mud all over the place. I have had a bad cold this last day or two. I went to the doctor this morning and got a pill for it.
Yours as ever Percy.

1915: Broadmeadows

Letterhead: Church of England (Home Mission) Tent
Expeditionary Forces Encampment

Tuesday Jan 19 1915

Dear Maud,

Just a line to say I am still in the land of the living. We in the Depot have been reorganised, and I am now in B squadron Depot. There is another lot to go away on the 26th, then we will be the next, one month later. But there is just a chance that some of us will be sent this time, as there are shure to be a few deserters.
We have had some terrible days (north winds) here this last week, but it has started to rain now and looks like continueing.
Some of us went to St Kilda on Saturday, and had a most enjoyable in the baths.
I don’t think it will be possible for me to get up your way before I go, as I will have to go home, before I go.
I was out at Northcote on Sunday. Edna is out there – came down with Berta. Mabel is coming down this week to see about Edna’s eyes.
Well I think this is about all this time.
Hoping to see you before I go
Yours Percy.

Thurs 1.3 1915

Dear Maud

I had your letter on Saturday. I have been transferred from B squadron to A, but expect to be shifted again to-morrow to make one of the next lot of reinforcements to go away. It will not be necessary for Dave to come down next week-end, as it is shure to be some weeks before I go.
Should our squadron not be taken as reinforcements it will be formed with two others into a regiment to be part of the new contingent which won’t leave until May at the earliest. I might tell you three squadrons form a regiment and three regiments a brigade. That is, of course, Light Horse. Infantry form into battalions. I have not been able to get home yet on account of being shifted but will do so soon as we are settled again.
We are having frightful weather here lately – dust storms every day.
I have just come off guard – 24 hours – 6 P.M. Sat until 6 P.M. Sunday. This has occurred three times this last three weeks – rather unusual.
I have not seen any Strathites in camp yet, but there are a lot from Gipps that I know.
Well I must now conclude as I have to fall in shortly

Tuesday 16. 3. 1915

Dear Dave,

As you know I have been to Gippsland, but have now returned, and will be pleased to come down as I will not be leaving for a week or two yet.
I think the best way for you to come out here would be to go out to Northcote first and then come from there; or if you come on a Saturday I could meet you at Broadmeadows, as we do not drill as a rule on Saturdays, but then of course it would have to be in the afternoon, no visitors being allowed in early in the day. So, after all, it would, perhaps, be better to go to Northcote first.
I had a nice stay at home – seven days in all. I had a nice trip to the lakes one day which was very enjoyable.
Yours with love to all up there.
I hope Maud will be able to come down also. I am shure Stephen would like a visit very much. PS.

Tuesday 13. 4. 1915

Dear Maud,

Just a line to explain my wire. We received orders last night that we would not go before May but now they tell us we will be going on Tuesday next. We are supposed to be waiting for horses. However, when I am certain of going I will let you know as soon as possible. I sent a wire to Mother also. She was coming down on Wednesday I think Gus was coming also. I went out to Northcote on Saturday half expecting to see you.
I missed the last tram from Essendon coming back so had to “pad” it with three others, and arrived here at 1.30 A.M. rather tired.
We have had a lot of rain, so you can imagine what the camp is like on this black soil.
Hoping to see you soon

Letterhead: Melbourne Young Men’s Christian Association

Undated (but probably mid-April 1915)

Dear Maud

I received your card to-day.
We have been granted leave for three days, so I am going to Gippsland on Saturday evening.
There is no chance of my going away next week so you will be safe to come down any time.
There was talk of our going on the 10th but that is impossible now that we have been granted leave.
We have been having rather cold days here lately – showery and miserable.
I must now conclude as it is time to fall in for afternoon parade.

Yours in haste,

I was very pleased with your fine present, and thank you very much.


Wednesday (undated, but towards end April)

Dear Maud

You will think I have forgotten you, but I haven’t, so here goes.
I have had rather a bad time since Saturday and was unable to take advantage of a days leave we were granted on Eight Hours day. I was playing foot-ball and got it wrenched. It is swollen a bit still, but is getting alright now. We have had no definite news of going away yet. We hear all sorts of tales, the latest of which is Saturday, but I think the middle is next month is nearer the mark.
Charlie Keir (?) has been granted four days leave with the expectation of going away on the 6th of May; but if they do it will be rather extraordinary, considering it is not a month since they inlisted. There is a lady comes to see a chap in my tent and she has brought us all sorts of woollen things., including three pairs of home-knitted socks, woollen scarfs, caps, mittens etc – not too bad of her.
I have had my photo taken, and will send you one when I get them, which should have been to-day, but the man is not here, so will have to wait. Mother went home last Monday. I went in to the train to see her off.
If we do not go away on Saturday I might be able to get up to your place for a day or two, but I can’t promise you as there is no certainty.
The camp is very quiet at present, there being nothing of note going on.
I notice by the papers there is a great battle in progress, and the Allies are having to fight their hardest to Germany back. There seems to be no doubt now that the first contingent (Clives lot) have left Egypt and gone to Turkey, where we will follow I suppose. As I am in the reinforcements to the 4th which is the Victorian L.H. regiment in the 1st contin. I have just had my underclothing issued, and find it of good material.
Well it is dinner time now so

Tuesday 4 May (undated, but sailed on 6 May, which was a Thurs))

Dear Maud,
I received your letter to-day. We have had news of going away, and, according to present arrangements willl go on board boat on Thursday, leaving here on Thursday morning. We have had everything issued, including knife, fork, spoon, shaving outfit, brushes and comb, all sorts of underclothing (three of each) and mufflers, and field dressings. That is just for use on the boat and where we land, and then we get another outfit issued and put away for use when required, as you can see we are well looked after. The name of the boat is the “Palermo” and will probably sail from Port Melbourne.
My knee is much better and will be all right in a day or two.
I sent the photos home, so you will probably get yours from Mother in a day or two.
I thought I saw Dave Patterson on the Flinders St station on Sunday evening but before I could speak the train had come so I had to go.
Enclosed you will find a P.C. of myself: I got a dozen.
Should any of your folks come down on Thursday you had better go to Northcote and go with them to the boat. I will write to you as soon as I have a chance.
Yours Percy

1915 - 1916:Egypt

Heliopolis Egypt
10th July 15

Dear Maud

Yesterday was a red-letter day with me, as I received my first letters from home, except one or two that were here before me. I had two from you, two from mother, three from Will, and one from Mabel, besides papers from Mother. I expect you have heard from me by this time, as I have written to mother every week – sometimes twice – and to you and the children several times.
There is talk of our leaving for the front shortly, but I cannot say for certain if it is true.
I have already written you or Mother, a description of what I have seen, so will start from then and tell you what I saw yesterday. I think it will be interesting. I went to what is called the Citidal. It is a great place of worship near Cairo, and was built many years ago. The person who built it received a large sum of money on its completion, and then had his eyes put out, so he could not build another like it. No person is allowed inside with boots on, and we had to pay 1 piastre (21/2d) for a pair of shoes. Inside there is a great thick carpet – I should say two or three inches – which is wonderful in itself. The main temple is quite round, and I would say about 80 ft in diameter. All round it is lighted with electricity – over one thousand lights in all. This is the second best mosque in the world – the best being in Constantinople. (I hope I will be able to see it too)
Just inside is the well that Joseph was put into, and , as you would imagine it is sacred also.
About three miles from our camp is a well called the Virgin well where jesus is said to have rested. There is a little church or chapel there and you can get a drink (?) the water that Jesus sweetened. All the water in the wells about here (???) salt or brackish, except this one, and it is splendid to drink, having been sweetened by our Lord during his stay there. There is also here a great tree under which Jesus rested from the sun during the heat of the day.
I went with a chap to a place called Heloun where there are a lot of wounded. This chap’s brother is there wounded, and he showed us all around. The building is a great big hotel, where all the wealthy tourists stay, and I must say it is a grand place. Most of the chaps are able to get about and do for themselves, but as they are so well looked after there is practically nothing for them to do. Their meals are all set down for them in a great dining room – nearly a thousand sit down together and their food simply splendid – everything they could desire. Of course they deserve looking after, as they had a hard time at the front, and did some splendid work against big odds.
There is no doubt the Aust did great work, and you want to hear the English chaps that are here wounded sing their praises. I expect you have seen a lot of casualty lists by now. There are a lot of wounded compared with the killed, and the most of them go back to the front after a while.
According to the papers here recruiting in Aust is on the up grade again – over 6000 one week in Victoria. But this is rather hard to believe. I can tell you there are some troops here now – 90,000 passed through Alexandria on their way to the front the other day – mostly English.
I was sorry to hear about D. Green – I saw it in a paper before I got your letter.
Well, I must close now. Remember me to all your folks.
Yours, Percy

Letterhead of The Young Mens Christian Association with H.M. Mediterranean Expeditionary Force in Egypt.

Heliopolis Feb 3rd 1916.

Dear Dave

As you will know before you receive this I am in Egypt again. I was sent to the convalescent home at Helouan, about twenty miles up the Nile from Cairo, and after having about a fortnight there was allowed to rejoin my regiment here.
I could have gone home if I had wished, but as I felt so well I did not care about that, there being so many more in need of a trip than I was. The doctor was doubtful about letting me stop, as they make a point of sending typhoid cases home for three months; but here I am, and hope I will be able to see the war through before being sent home sick or wounded.
I got another batch of delayed letters yesterday - about a dozen in all including one from you, one and a postcard (view of Strath) from Maud, and one from Hilda. They were very old ones - written mostly in September and August.
Will Ross is a lieutenant in my regiment, and although I have seen him once I have not had an opportunity of making his acquaintance.
I also met Dave Patterson, and he wished to be remembered to you. He has been sick, but is better again now.
Will tells me that they have started what is very nearly conscription in Australia, and is not sure but what he might be called up.
I think myself that Australia has done quite her share now, and will not be doing much good by sending her young married men away.
Everything is very quiet in Egypt, but as you know there are possibilities of stirring times shortly.
However, I cannot say much about that, as the censorship is very strict at present.
We are having perfect weather in Egypt now, but I expect it will soon be getting warm again.
I was glad to hear you have had such a fine season in Australia, and I suppose it was most welcome after last year.
You said in your letter your nephew Perce was in the 13th L.H., so he will be in the same lot as Dave Patterson. It is not far from where I am so will try and see him shortly.
You said you were a great believer in prayer for soldiers, and I am sure it will interest you to hear what fellows in the trenches have told me.
I have been told by the most hardened of men that in the hour of greatest danger, they have offered up a prayer - the first in most cases since they were children - and have been surprised at the benefit they received.
This is about all this time.
Yours truly, Percy
Remember me to all your people.

No 4th Auxiliary (sic) Mumps Hospital
March 1st 1916

Dear Maud
As you see by this address I am in hospital again, this time with the mumps. I came in last Friday 25th and am getting on alright now, although my face is still a bit swoolen. I think they will keep me hear three weeks as that is the time they allow for isolation of mumps cases.
A great number of the soldiers here are getting mumps for some cause or other.
I had a number of letters the day after I came here including one from you and one from Dave. They were both written in Oct. though. However I had some later news from Mother also one from Berta. They were written in the middle of Jan.
By the way I am to congratulate myself I suppose on the possession of several new nephews.
I expect you would be disappointed - Mother especially - when you heard I was not coming home after all, but I think you will agree I did the right thing, as it would not be too nice returning when there was nothing wrong with me. In any case I would only have meant coming straight back again.
We had just finished three days sham-fighting in the desert before coming in here. It was very interesting and exciting while it lasted although hard work.
We used to get up early march out about five miles - sometimes further - and then double about in the sand all day. By the time we got in at night we would be tired enough. The 4th L.H. is very much over strength so all those who have come back from hospital lately have gone in what they call the details, and have no horses yet. The details consist of D + E squadron. I am in D squadron under the command of Lieut Ross.
I was speaking to him for a few minutes the other day. I was to go to his tent and have a yarn with him but have not been able so far. He wished to be remembered to you and Dave. He is looked upon as a good officer and got the most points with his men in the sham-fighting.
Auntie Sarah and Uncle Arthur are getting quite gay in their old age running about to the lakes and so on. I have not heard anything of Eric lately. Have been wondering if he has enlisted. Berta too was down Gippsland she says. I have not come across any more Strath boys. I fancy they most of them are down on the canal somewhere.
We have a chap - Sgt Major - in our lot name of Purves. He comes from Yea, and used to visit Henny Yorston at Strath. I wonder if you know him.
I have also seen Jim and Arthur Knoop. Arthur is in the next tent to mine and Jim is in the 8th L.H. Also one of the Collins from Break-a-day is in the 4th and a Pat Nelson brother of Mrs Mitchell of Strath.
All these chaps belong to the late reinforcements.
I think this is about all this time.
I would tell you a lot more that would interest you, but the censor won't allow I'm afraid.
Hoping you are all well

I wrote to Dave about a fortnight ago.

1916:France and Belgium

24 April 1916

Dear Mother
I sent you a letter the other day …there is to say I had a trip to the hot water baths to-day and I can tell you it was acceptable after weeks of "grey-backs". I see by to-day's paper some Russians have landed in France, so things are looking up. What do you think of this card? It is hand worked. Remember me to all. Wishing you many happy returns of your birthday.
Yours Percy.

Letter from Percy Smith to his sister, Maud Lade:

May 17th 1916

Dear Maud

It is quite a time since I have written to you now, but as I write to Mother pretty often it is not so bad.
I have had a splendid time in France (Flanders) up to date, and, with the exception of about three weeks of last month when it rained incessantly. The climate is all that you could desire. These last few days have been absolutely perfect, and it is marvellous how quickly the mud drys.
This is the middle of spring now, and I can tell you the country is beautiful. The trees are in leaf, and all the hedges just a mass of white, and the fields just a mass of buttercups. The farm-houses are quaint old affairs with their thatched roofs and white walls (The thatch is over a foot thick on most of them)
The people are most homely and you just walk into their houses like your own. Of course we pay for everything we get.
One can spend a most enjoyable evening in most places. Nearly everyone can speak a little English, and, between their English and our French (about on a par) conversation is most amusing.
We have not been doing a great deal of work lately. Carting mettle for roads and transferring horses and mules from one place to another is all. I was up close to the trenches with mettle on several occasions last week, and although there are hundreds of guns round about, never saw a shot fired, except the anti-air-craft. Of course one never knows when a shell will come along, and the roads and villages are torn about some. The farmers go on with their plowing just behind the trenches quite undisturbed, and it is nothing to see the shells land quite close to them, but it never worries them.
The Germans have sent gas over on several occasions, but although we had our helmets ready, it did not reach us. It is only a waste of energy sending gas now, as the helmets are so safe. They are funny looking affairs, and go right over the head with two glass places in them for the eyes.
There is a rubber tube to exhale with, and although you can exhale through it no air can come in. It is like the valve of a bicycle tube. There is some sort of mixture inside like tar, that preserves the good air for some hours, and the gas seldom lasts more than fifteen minutes. You can see it coming just like smoke on a damp day - rolling very low along the ground.
It is most interesting to watch the aeroplanes duelling in the air. Most of them are fitted with a machine-gun, and you can hear it cracking away, hundreds of feet up in the air. Some of the 'planes are very daring and fly quite low over the trenches. The German gunners are not nearly as good as ours, and although their machines never come so low, they lose more than we do.
As you know there are all sorts of troops in France now - South Africans, Canadian, West Indies, Aust., New Zealand. Russian and others as well.
I have not had a letter since I landed in France although it is now about eight weeks. The 4th L.H. are pretty slow at sending them along.
We are taking a lot of sick horses to the Vetinary hospital today and it is nearly time to start must close, with love to all

Field Service Postcard
To Mrs D Lade

I am quite well
I have received your letter dated 16th March
Letter follows at first opportunity.
June 18th 1916

Field Service Postcard
To Mrs D Lade

I am quite well
I have received your letter dated 26th June
Letter follows at first opportunity.

September 10th 1916
Dear Mother

We have had another move since last I wrote and at present are in very pleasant quarters. The weather has been grand this last few days. I saw Clive the day we arrived and last night I met him again and a long talk with him.
Harvesting and hop-picking is in full swing here at present, and after tea some of us go out and help a bit. At least we are supposed to be helping. Hoping you are all well.

Field Service Postcard
To Mrs D Lade

I am quite well
I have received your letter dated 29 July, 13 December 15
I have received your parcel dated 22 June
Letter follows at first opportunity.

Sept 26th 1916

Dear Maud

We are having a very quiet time just at present and this past week enjoying beautiful weather in rather comfortable quarters.
I have not had any letters for over a week now, but I believe there is a new mail in and hope to get one or two from that.
We are making preparations for the winter in the way of building huts and stables and in the course of a week or two hope to be very comfortable.
In our battery we have a man by the name Tom Neil, a cousin of J Neil of Broadford. He knows Perce Lade very well and is going with me to-night to see him. I suppose the Tom Neil that is with us is some sort of relation to the Lade family.
I have just received a letter – 20th August – from Will. It is the first of the new mail I wrote of previously. I have had a slight cold in the head this last day or two. The first I have had since being in France.
Sept 29th
Since I started this I have received a small addition to the mail – a parcel from Mother and a letter from an old 4th L.H. mate of mine. The parcel was sent early in June and addressed to the D.A.C. so you see it has been sometime on the road, although it arrived in good condition and was most acceptable.
The letter included an invitation to call on my mate’s people in England (he is an English chap) should I ever get there. You may be sure I will do so if I get half a chance. The address is Mrs R Stephens Helstone Manor, Camelford, Cornwall, England.
Yesterday I met a chap who was on the peninsula with me and left sick about the same time (typhoid too). He was more lucky than I was, and went to England direct from the peninsula, only arriving back to duty a week ago after almost twelve months doing nothing at home. See what I missed by a stroke of bad luck.
I did not go to see Perce Lade the other night – was out all night with ammunition to the guns instead – but will try and see him some other time.
Yesterday I had to take a despatch through a certain town not far from our battery. It was the first trip I have had through the same place in daylight although we often go through at night, and really it is terrible to see all the damage that two years of bombardment has caused. The views you see on post cards give very little idea of the real state of the city.
Remember me to all
With best love

Letter to sister Maud Lade December 1st 1916

Somewhere in France
Dec 1st 1916

Dear Maud

I am writing this in comfort thanks to a young French lady who very kindly invited me into write by the fire. Our billet [Sally: Naours] is very good to sleep in but there is not much convenience for writing.
We have been out of action since last Saturday and although we had a rotten time for three days travelling about I am not sorry to be away, but am afraid it won't be very long before we are back again.
We went into action on the 29th Oct and spent over three weeks in the mud and rain to say nothing about the frost and snow. We only had one day's snow, and I must say it was better than the rain and rather nice once ones feet got a bit warm, although it is hard to see much beauty in anything at four in the morning when your feet are several degrees below zero.
Then one or two mornings when the wind was favourable Fritz decided to make things a bit more unpleasant by sending over a large number of gas shells in addition to his usual supply of 5'9" + 4:2'. However the bad weather didn't affect me very much, as I didn't even get a cold. Some of the chaps suffered a good deal though with swollen feet and bad colds.
After coming out of action we travelled by road for three days and are now billeted in a village well behind the line.
I am beginning to think lately that we are descending into something like the savages - go into the line and fight for a time, then out again and off some-where else to fight again.
Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable day in a large town close by (eleven miles).
? they ? ? got the enjoyment was three good meals and a bath. Also I went through a fine old church which is quite as good if not better than the one I saw in Malta.
I have been getting my mail very regularly lately and the day before coming out of action had one from you, mother, Laura, Bill + Cila. ? ? were all written about the 26th of Sept.
This is the first time I have done any writing for some time so you mustn't blame the postal people if you don't get any letters for a week or two.
During the time we were in action it was quite impossible to do much writing.
Must close now
Love to all

1917: England and France

Helston Manor
Jan 31st 1917

Dear Maud,
I wrote to Mother last week - the day after I arrived from France and told her about my journey across. The trip across (sic) was not very pleasant but you more than make up for that once you get here.
I spent three days in London and had a look at all the sights - St Paul's Westminster Abbey, the tower of London and all the rest - and then came along to this place where I only intended to stay a couple of days, but have been nearly a week now. I promised the son of these people I would come and see them should I ever be in England and I am glad I did for they are very nice and have given me a splendid time. The day I came here my mates went to Scotland, and I was to join them there in a couple of days, but this is too good to leave especially as you loose such a lot of time travelling about.
Camelford is quite a small village on the River Camel only a few miles from the sea, and the place where I am, Helston Manor, is just what you would imagine an old manor to be. The family (at home) consists of a grown up son, a boy going to school, and two girls, who have been taking me to see all the sights about.
On Sunday last one of the girls who is the organist took me to a little church about two miles from here, and I don’t think you could imagine anything so old fashioned as it is. The church, the people and the vicar, who by the way is about eighty-four - all seemed to be part of some by-gone age.
Monday we did the "block" in Camelford, Tuesday we went all around the country side, which is very nice even now. It must be lovely in the summer. And yesterday (Wed) we went to see some old slate quarries not far away. I don't know what is on today - at present it looks very like another fall of snow - but to-morrow I return to London, as I go back to France on Friday (2nd Feb)
The day before I left France we had just come out of action and expected to go to another part of the line, either somewhere near Thiepeval, or else right away from the Somme altogether, most likely to Armentiers, so we might take a day or two to find the battery again.
I was sorry to hear of your illness but hope you are better again now.
I have been keeping very well and have put on a lot of weight since coming here. I am somewhere about twelve stone now.
The war still continues but I hope we shall see the end this year. Germany will take some crushing, but I believe we are now in a position to do it. The coming summer will tell anyway.
Must close with love to all

Somewhere in France
April 18th 1917

Dear Maud,
Was pleased to get your letter dated 18th Feb. It is the latest mail we have had, and I was lucky in that there were only a few for the battery of that date, and I got a couple, one from Mrs Roberts of Cowwarr besides yours.
You mentioned having heard from Mother of my being in England so imagine she must have had the cable I sent from there, as there has not yet been time for me to have answers to letters I wrote.
We have had most awful weather this past month, and some good as well. It is a most peculiar climate this - one day is a perfect spring day (beautiful sunshine) and the next is driving snow blizzard followed by frost + rain.
I can tell you it hampers the troops too and gives the Germans a breathing space. They want it too, and will want a lot more which they won’t get a little later on in the summer. I expect you know all about the latest big fighting and our fine successes in France this past week or two. I have written several long letters to Will lately telling about our doings since the beginning of last month so I won’t repeat to you as I expect you will have the letters sent along in due course. If you don’t get them write and ask.
A chap by the name of Wood from Newcastle N.S.W. and now in the 15th Battery called to see me the other night.
He had received one of Eva's parcels sent through some league or other, and she had written a letter in which she gave my address, and asking him to look me up should he happen to be near our battery. She also gave her brothers' address but I don’t expect he will run across them as they are in the infantry.
I have not seen Perce Lade yet although I know he is not far away from us, but then we have very little time to go looking for people. As a matter of fact even when not actually on duty you don't want to be far away in case of a call out which will come at any hour of the day or night.
We are faring fairly well still in regard to rations and besides we have our canteen in good working order again so generally we do very well. Lately we have been buying flour custard-powder + jellies, and you should see the dishes we turn out. There are five of us mess together in a hut we built from old German iron out of a ruined village. We have also a German stove, and can generally get coal from along the old railway lines about. Last Sunday for dinner we had rather a decent pudding made by another chap and myself. (We take joint credit for its success). Instead of the usual currants and raisins which we couldn't get we put dryed figs cut up very fine with the suet and although I say it myself it was beyond reproach. Then we make pan-cakes, and instead of eggs we use the custard powder. For supper every night we manage to have custard and jelly + café au lait (coffee + milk). So all things considered we do very well. I had a fine parcel from Cornwell the other week and expect another shortly.
This evening I had a small parcel from Mrs Roberts - just a pair of socks and some cigarettes. The cigs. I gave away but the socks needless to say are very handy.
Despite the severe winter (the worst in Europe for many years they say) there is comparatively very little sickness among the troops especially Australian. A doctor was telling me the other day that there has been less sickness among the Aust. Regiments than any other single regiment in the British army with the sole exception of the Guards who have hardly been in the line. When you take into consideration that we have been in absolutely the worst part of the line on the whole front it says a lot for an Aus. Power of endurance. It was only when the worst of the winter was over that we had any decent accommodation in the shape of huts built for us. As I have told you before we just had to scratch for ourselves in the way of sleeping accommodation.
Must close now with love to all
Yours Percy
Tell Stephen I was glad to have his letter and will send him a card as soon as I can get somewhere to buy one.

Carte Postale
Somewhere in France
June 18th 1917

Dear Maud

Yesterday I had from you a letter dated 9th April. It was part of the first mail we have had for some considerable time. Many must have gone under. We are having a spell just at present, but except for being able to have a swim every day, one is just as well in the line. This so far has been a remarkable summer in France – practically no bad weather since the early spring. I have slept out every night for a month now and saw shorts only. So you see it is slightly different to the winter. Love to all, Percy

Field Service Postcard
To Mrs D Lade

I am quite well
I am being sent down to the base.
Letter follows at first opportunity.
I have received no letter from you lately

August 19th 1917

Dear Maud,
I wrote you a short letter or a card just after I received your last letter which is some time ago now. Since then we have been having rather a busy time, mostly night or early morning work carting ammunition to the guns.
We have been in this spot just a month now, and are not too far from where we were last Sept & Oct. The line has advanced some since then however, and, although there is still a small salient, it is nothing like so great as it used to be. Our infantry are not in the line yet + for convenience the artillery (three divisions 1st 2nd & 5th) is attached to the 24th England division. The 3rd & 4th divs. Are a little further round on the right of us. Our infantry have had a well deserved spell of about four months now, but am afraid it is nearly at an end now.
I was at the gun-pits with ammunition last Thursday morning [16 August, my note] when a big bombardment opened previous to the good advance that came off some time later. [“Battle of Langemarck”, my note]
We had just unloaded and were leaving when they started - a quarter to five I think it was. On some rising ground between the eighteen pounders (ie field -guns) and the heavies I saw what was I think the best sight I have seen in France. From the heavies in front came a continuous roar & the flashes lit up everything, while looking back at the field guns the flashes seemed to shoot out of the ground in a thousand places. Besides that there were the numbers of all-coloured lights the Germans send up as signals to their artillery for support. Our infantry send the same sort of signals for artillery support. S.O.S. signals they are called. S.O.S. means, save our souls in army code.
The "stunt" considering the mud and previous bad weather was very successful and a few more will leave us in a good position for the winter if the war lasts that long which I am much afraid it will. There is no appearance at present of it being over before.
I have not met any of the Strath boys who are here.
Clive has been a couple of times to see me lately. He looks well and expects to get home on furlough shortly. I hope he is not disappointed, but it is rather a large order to send men to Australia from France on leave, especially now that all possible shipping space is required for other things.
A lot of our mails from Australia lately have been lost consequently letters are few & far between. We are expecting a big Aust. mail in a few days time. It has arrived in England safely so we are sure to get it now.
I think I told you previously I received the photos of the children you sent. They are very nice.
Must close now with
Love to all at Hazel Dell
Yours Percy

I had a nice parcel from Cornwell not long ago - "tres bon for soldier" as the French say. Tres bon means very good, tres being pronounced tray.

1918: England

Helstone Manor

January 12th 1918

Dear Maud

As you will by the heading I am in Blighty again on leave. It is not quite twelve months since I was here before. I came down here yesterday afternoon after spending one day and two nights in London. I left the battery on the 8th and got to Calais the same afternoon after a train journey of three or four hours. We stayed in Calais one night and crossed to Dover the next afternoon arriving there about two-thirty. It is only a short trip – an hour and twenty minutes – but nevertheless I was very sick as it was terribly rough & stormy. I saw the white chalk cliffs of Dover but was too sick to appreciate them at the time. We arrived in London Victoria station at about 5.00 the same afternoon & after getting a clean rigout were free to go where we liked. I went to bed early & in the morning was quite recovered from the sea sickness.
The next day I went to see a mate of mine who was wounded at Ypres. He was at No 1 Auxiliary Conv Hospital Harefield which is about thirty miles out of London. I found him alright and just about ready to return to France. It is not so cold in England this year as last. The country around here looks very much brighter than before.
I told you in previous letters about our leaving Ypres on the 22nd Nov after just four months in action, on I think the worst front we have yet been on. Well we went to a place called Steenwerck just near where we were when first coming to France and after nearly a month there went into action again near Messines.
Just at present it is a very quiet front & we have done very little since getting there. The infantry are doing a lot of ? and other work such as building strong-points & putting down a lot of wire.
We are expecting to leave there about the middle of this month & when I return to France I expect I shall find the division somewhere else. They have been sending one division at a time to Bolougne for a rest. The fourth, fifth and third have been or are there now , so it is now our turn. Probably the Americans will be taking over from us for a time. There is a lot of talk in France of our going to Palestine, but I hardly think it is likely that we will be sent to such a hot climate right at the beginning of summer after winter in France. Still they want men there & as the Americans are getting a big army in France now they will be able to spare us easily. I believe the Americans have over a million men over now, as well as a large fleet of ‘planes.
There is a decided shortage of certain food-stuff in England just at present, due of course to the loss of shipping during the past twelve months. There are an enormous number of ships required to transport the American army and that of course means less for us. But still England is a long way from starvation, and there is not much shortage in France yet.
Must close now with love to all

I have not had any letters for a long time & have not had the Xmas mails yet.

Heytesbury Wilts

Dear Maud

I have been waiting for a mail from Aust before writing you, and yesterday it turned up – six letters in all including two letters & the photograph of the little girls on the pony. The latest letter was written on the 21st Nov and came straight from the base post office. In London without going to France. I have only had one lot of letters go to France since coming here, and they were sent in mistake to the 11th battalion instead of 11th battery. They were Feb letters and owing to the mistake, I got them just a month late – after I had received the march ones. However better late than never.
I have been having not a bad time since coming here and it has been beautiful weather all the time, with the exception of odd days of rain. So far this is easily the best of the three summers I have spent in this part of the world.
I had a weekend leave to a place called Farnborough a fortnight ago. Spent a most enjoyable time in very good company. I told Mother & Laura about it last week as no doubt you will hear from them. On Tuesday I am going on two days leave to London. I will tell you how I came to get it. In this camp they are very particular about the soldiers being well dressed & polished up, and as a sort of incentive they give the one who is best dressed going on guard or picquet two days leave. As you can imagine there is rather keen competition, for a couple of days in the summer to go where you like are worth having. As a rule the chaps who, like myself, come over from France for a spell, don’t do duties of that sort, so I had not had an opportunity to get it, and it was only as a favour that I got the opportunity this time. I had previously applied for two days leave and was refused, but the major told me if I liked to go on picquet and have a try that way I could., so the result is I am off to London on Tuesday morning returning by midnight Thursday.
In your letter you mentioned about the great battles going on in France, and since then as you know there have been others equally as great; this time it is the French who are bearing the brunt of them. How well they are bearing them you will know long before this reaches you. I told you before how lucky or unlucky our division was to miss the main part of them. The other divisions (four) and the New Zealanders did great work on the Somme and in the north too, and the French give them all the credit of saving Amiens. The fourth div. especially did great work. The morning they went into the fight they marched (poised) twenty-four miles, sometimes across plowed fields, and without a spell beat off twelve attacks in massed formation. The thirteenth time they, with the third division me the attack half way with the bayonet and drove the Huns back some distance. That is supposed to be the greatest bayonet charge of the war. Anyway it was the end of the advance on the Somme. The French thought such a lot of the work that they gave the fourth division as a whole the right to wear the Croix de uerre, which is a great distinction. Croix de Guerre means Cross of the War, and is more than equal to our military medal.
For some unknown reason The British government wouldn’t allow them to receive the honour, but have given them something of their own. They are now called the royal fourth division.
I notice by the morning’s paper that Mr W.M.Hughes has again arrived in England. He received a great welcome in London, and was met by his son who is a private in the A.I.F., and who is at present recovering from wounds received in France. There is one thing the Anties can’t accuse Hughes of, i.e. he didn’t want to send others where he wouldn’t send his own son. There is no doubt he could have got his son a nice job somewhere here in England where he need not have gone near the firing-line. There are plenty of such jobs about - too many in fact.
I am glad to know that you are having such good seasons. It is some comfort to know there is some prosperity in the world. Just at present I am afraid there is very little this side.
Must close now as it is almost time for church parade. We have our church parade in the village church of Heytesbury. The church is the best thing about the village which is very small.
Love to all

Christmas 1918 – small card
From Percy to all at Hazel Dell

Enclosed with the Christmas card was a small photo wrapped in paper, upon which was written "Uncle Percy's Gun Battery". There is no indication of where or when it was taken, but I assume it is the 11th Battery, 4th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Division.


Pam said...

Well done Sally - what a treasure

Pam Ballarat

Pam said...

Well done Sally - what a treasure

Pam Ballarat