In light of this month's release of the paperback 'Letters from the Front', we are going to be blogging some extracts from this arresting and incredibly moving collection of letters. The book contains correspondences from British soldiers to friends and family, from World War I right through to recent conflicts, and today's extract is from Ypres on the Western Front of the Great War.
This is a letter from a Mr Charles Tame, serving with the 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company in Ypres, to his sister. It is a sad and frank account of the brutal reality of combat on the Western Front, yet it includes the affection and endearment you might expect in a correspondence between two loving siblings. It also gives a flavour of the day to day life of an ordinary soldier; the practical difficulties of just trying to exist during the Great War.
1t Battn HAC
British Expeditionary Force
My darling Hilly,
How can I thank you for your kindness to me on so many occasions, my wants you have so quickly supplied in such extremes as these. The medicine which has just arrived is appreciated more than words can say, and in fact you have done for me as much as mother could do. I shall always be very grateful to you and when I return I shall worship the ground upon which you walk…
Now this is my private letter home, I therefore intend to tell you everything concerning this Great War and myself. We have just been through a very rough fight at Ypres, capturing three German trenches under very heavy shell fire; we were in the charge with the Royal Scots, First Rifles and Worcesters. I am sorry to tell you two officers have been killed (Stone and Dathow), two officers wounded, including the colonel, the doctor, Capt Lancaster, Capt Osmond and Capt Boyle, 250 men killed, wounded and missing. I do not know who they are yet, but no doubt you will see the list in the daily papers before I shall. Please send it out here.
Thanks to you for your good prayers. I am unhurt, the chap next to me had the back of his head blown off, and the fellow next but one on my left was shot through the right lung. Seven of our transport horses were killed, three were blown to atoms.
‘Owen’ is quite well but did not like it I am sure, as he pushed me over on my back twice in his excitement. We were under shell fire for eight hours, it was more like a dream to me, we must have been absolutely mad at the time. Some of the chaps looked quite insane after the charge was over, as we entered the German trench hundreds of Germans were found cut up by our artillery fire. A great number came over and offered themselves as prisoners, some went on their knees and asked for mercy, needless to say they were shot right off which was the best mercy we could give to them.
The Royal Scots took about 300 prisoners, their officers told them to share their rations with the prisoners and to consider the officers not with them, the Scots immediately shot the whole lot, and shouted ‘Death and Hell to everyone of ye s---‘and in five minutes the ground was ankle deep with German blood and this is the life we had for two days. All that I saw were men and horses all mixed up in death, it was as I have said just like a dream, I could not believe my own eyesight, and could not realize what I saw to be reality, only a dream, or, I might say a nightmare. War makes every man turn to his God, and asks Him for help. He is the only protection he has, it also helps him to understand death more clearly, his life out here is not worth a blade of grass, unless God says otherwise. IT does seem indeed very strange to me to be in such a position as to see dead men and horses, and to smell them all day and night, everywhere, and at all times, it is really an awful life and an unnatural one…
They are badly in want of officers out here, I do not want promotion, I want the war to finish and go home. The weather now is getting very hot indeed, most of our chaps sit about in the fields naked, the poor horses feel it very much also. We are having a rouble with the water supply which is very short. I believe someone is trying to have it pumped inland from the coast, the man who succeeds should receive the VC. The water we are now drinking is absolutely thick and muddy, but yet it seems to do us no harm so it must be good. I drink as little as possible. I have found a new invention which suits me very well and quenches my thirst better than anything else, it is to chew a small quantity of long grass and then put the old pipe on.
Ypres is absolutely in ruins, churches, mansions, convents, monasteries and streets of homes are no more, all are in piles of bricks and the once beautiful town, the capital of the region, has been destroyed by German artillery fire. I tis this place we are now helping to hold were the Kaiser is trying to break through the British lines so as to march on and capture Calais, of course this he will never do. The British are losing 2,000 a day on an average in deaths, wounded and missing, the Germans are losing three or four times that number…
Well now my darling old girl, I think I must draw to a close, after writing a good long letter which I know will interest you very much. I wish you and the children the best of health, and good luck, keep smiling as I am doing, and I hope we shall meet again shortly…
Your affectionate old brother,