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Extracts from letters 1914-1918 - from Edward PackeIt's not known who received these letters, as Edward Packe took extracts from them, obviously removing personal information, when he edited his diaries in the 1950's. They may be to Claudia Barclay. His diaries show that he frequently wrote to her throughout the war, calling her "Wogg" or "Bob", and they married in 1919. But some of the letters may have been written to his brothers or sisters. The full letters, on different webapges, are also indexed here.
1914August 8 1914 - Diary entry
As you will see by my address I have taken the shilling and am having quite an amusing time. I sleep on a bed comprising of things like carriage seats stuffed with coconut fibre, in a room with about twelve other men.
I enlisted in a hurry because I want to go out to the front and not muck about in barracks, but it isn't plumb certain now that anybody will go.
The language is wonderful but very monotonous because every noun has an adjective in front of it, and in about a minute they've been through their vocabulary and have to start again. Everybody has been awfully decent to me, both officers and men .
About 600 Reservists have come in since I arrived, and I heard one complaining that the Government had 'boned' his father to be a soldier.
At present barrack life is one of the most amusing things I have ever struck, the men are so amazingly funny and they are always so cheery and one or two of them have got such priceless laughs that you can't help laughing too.
There are some perfectly filthy rhymes written up in the 'rears' to while away the time spent striving with your inside, and every evening there, the old Regimental barber (who is an Irishman) holds a sort of gambling hell on the floor, illuminated by a guttering candle.
Yes! tell Ruth I am very pleased with myself, getting steady pay, and if we go to the front we get £5 Blood Money, the Government offer you that, at the some time hoping that you don't live to claim it.
They are doing their best to get us into training. We did the hell of a route march this morning, it isn't the distance, it's what we carry, including 120 rounds of 'ball', from which we are never parted now.
Nobody is allowed to step out of Barracks now. Our programme is Reveille at 5.30 am, Parade (Company Drill) 6.45am. Brekker at 8am. Parade (Route March) 9.3Oam. We get back in time for lunch about 1pm. Foot and Rifle inspection about 2.30pm. Tea at 5pm. Lights out at 10.15pm. So you see we get half of the day to ourselves and my word you want it after those Route Marches. I can scarcely bear braces on my shoulders when we get in, but I expect we shall get used to it by the time we go out. I don't think we move for about ten days.
August 21 1914 - Diary entry
Last Tuesady we left Colchester and came to Harrow where we have been under canvas since (eleven in my tent). This morning it has been given out that we cross the briny this evening so in future, address letters to me 1st Somerset L.I. 11th Brigade, 4th Division, B.E.F.
I'm jolly glad we're off because although this life is not bad, it's rather monotonous. If I write to you I shan't be able to say a word about our doings, but if I mention 'breakfast' in my letter it will mean that we are in Belgium, if I mention 'lunch', it'll mean France, if 'Supper' it'll mean Germany. I trust you both not to spy a word to a soul. If we are going into action I will put a cross after my name, like a kiss, and if we have been in action I will put two crosses.
September 16 1914 - Diary entry
I can't thank you enough for the cigarettes, we had started to smoke dried tea-leaves which is really rather a poor substitute. This is the first lot I have received because the posts are very erratic. It goes extraordinary well, thank you, in spite of not having had my clothes off for a fortnight I am as fit as a cart horse. Please excuse the grubbiness of the paper but we were in trenches last night and it rained like hell, with the result that we are all caked with mud this morning.
Have I had my 'baptismal fire' yet? I was under rifle, maxim, and gun-fire, in the open, five days after we left Harrow; and even now ‛οι βαρβαροι (quo vide Zenophon) are darned impertinent where they are dropping their shells. We saw an awfully exciting fight between two aeroplanes the other day, resulting in the Barbarian descending and being captured.
Please tell Ruth that I haven't learned to spit yet, but when I come home I shall be able to beat everybody at fast eating, because we don't know now if, when we start a meal, we shall have time to finish it, so we simply gulp.
I shouldn't at all mind being Freddy for a few days, it must lovely to be certain of your next meal at a fixed time, and decent clothes and a dry bed, but on the whole I am really enjoying it very much. I hope you are as fit as I am. I suppose I have slept in wet clothes pretty nearly as often as in dry ones; at first wet with sweat, and the last few days from rain, but I am as fit as is possible for anyone to be, I think.
September 27 1914 - Letter to James Packe - Diary entry
October 15 1914 - Letter to "Sis" - Diary entry
October 18 1914 - Diary entry
Yes, I saw the Black Marias firing shortly after I wrote that letter, they do make a bit of smoke when they burst certainly, they were Black Marias that were going over our heads and I said we called them the 'Steady Old File', only as they were bursting behind us in a valley we couldn't see much smoke.
We used to rest in the day time partly because of the heat, and partly because of the German aeroplanes. We used to be put into farms and barns but one couldn't sleep in that heat somehow, and at night four hours was the most sleep we had for ten days; most nights it averaged from one and a half to three hours, but we got along all right.
One village we drove the Germans from the other day was very cunningly defended. There was a slight slope down to a bridge over a river at the entrance to the village and on top of the slope there were two farms, one each side of the road; these the Germans set fire to so that anyone would show up against the skyline. On the bridge, they had cunningly arranged doors and shutters, studded with eight inch nails, with strings hanging down so that if you touched the doors, down came the doors. However we got round another way.
I bet your rumours are nothing to ours, we hear the most amazing things and now nobody believes anything unless they see it done.
I don't believe your letters are touched by the censor, at least they never show any signs of it.
I am feeling bitterly disappointed. I have discovered that what I took to be a bayonet charge on Aug 26th was only taking up a new firing line, but to the quickness with which the Germans got the range with their guns, we couldn't stay there and anyhow we couldn't see anything. I think it was quite an excusable mistake on my part. I could hear no order but seeing people fixing bayonets, I naturally concluded it was a bayonet charge.
I had seen about Kreisler and Carpentier but not about Doust and Mavro.
However bad the floor of your house may be it cannot be worse than the floor of my left boot which will shortly leave me for ever I fear. I believe new boots are coming anyway my name has gone in for some. Yesterday eight new shirts and one pair of pants arrived for our Section (13 men) so we drew for them, I got the pants. One of the most historic events of the war then took place; strong men averted their faces and wept for the sight was too much for them of me removing my trousers, the second time in two months since leaving England, to put on my new pants.
October 19 1914 - Diary entry
We are in reserve nowadays and have not been in the firing line since we left the trenches 'back yonder'. We move along slowly behind the firing line and have to keep handy, as they say, in case we are wanted. In a way it is rather rotten but we do get rather more luxuries in the way of sleeping accommodation, last night for instance we slept in a Railway Station.
There is remarkably little to tell you about at present. We are sitting on out equipment, kicking our heels in a field close to a village. The time is 1.40pm and we have been here since 6am. We can hear guns all the time and occasionally rifle fire. I cooked breakfast this morning for myself and my three 'mucking-in chums' consisting of bacon with bread fried in the fat, and the usual milkless tea.
October 20 1914 - Diary entry
We stayed in that field yesterday till about 5pm then we moved to a Rope factory for the night. I woke up about 3am and heard heavy rifle, maxim, and close gun fire; so I suppose there was a night attack on somewhere.
Since I wrote on the 18th I have met two other people who were with me that day (August 26th) and who also took part in that 'rush'. They say that it was a 'charge' and the result of it was to was to drive back a line of German sharpshooters who had crept up unobserved quite close to us. They certainly crept away unobserved by me. The real object of the Charge was to silence two big guns that were being thorns in our flesh, but what we were really playing at I don't suppose even the General himself knew. By the way I believe our Company Commander (Jones Mortimer) has been given the Legion of Honour for that day.
Please tell Beats that in a way I was thankful to have lost my 'pack' for on that Retreat it was a help to travel light. I have since got another one from a Private in the Seaforth Highlanders who was not in a condition to want it again. We lost our packs that day in this fashion. When we retired to the village of Ligny that day we were told to hold the village until the French arrived even if we all became 'stiffs' and this seemed quite likely at one time as the Germans seemed to be all round the village. We were ordered to take off our packs and use them as head cover against shrapnel and to this day I have wondered what earthly use they would have been. After that we were moved from place to place as the occasion demanded, and I was some way from my pack when we were taken away for good.
It wasn't me who first climbed the tree and saw the Germans at Roll Call: I did have a look one day but could see nothing but the trenches. Personally I have seen nothing of the Russians or the Indians but I believe the latter are floating about somewhere. I bet you don't know where we are now and although I don't believe the officers do read my letters before they franc them, it seems hardly fair to say where we are.
I have now got in my Possession the tin eagle from a German helmet. I am going to try and send it home if possible, as I doubt my being able to keep it undamaged for long as its very bandy.
October 30 1914 - Letter to Beatrice Pelly - Diary entry
November 9 1914 - Letter to Mr Hollins - Diary entry
November 17 1914 - Letter to James Packe - Diary entry
November 25 1914 - Letter to James Packe - Diary entry
December 21 1914 - Letter to Penelope Packe - Diary entry
1915January 17 1915 - Diary entry
I think it is most awfully sporting of Sis to step over to Dunkirk which by the way is some fifty miles from here.
Those bayonets (?) I believe show to what Company or Regiment the individual wearing it belongs, as there are several different colours.
Our company is back having a three day rest in a small town some five miles from the firing line, and the A.S.C. and R.G.A. chaps have got up a sort of dramatic society which gives concerts here twice daily and they are really most awfully good. They call themselves "The Follies" and are dressed up in the usual Pierrot costumes and are aided and abetted by two French damsels who I imagine are actresses. It is easy to see that one chap, a Lieutenant in the A.S.C. runs the whole show.
I'm glad the German's welcome for Sis was premature, as although these bombs aren't very fearful in the open country, I should imagine they are apt to set light to houses I should imagine.
We are going to have another bath tomorrow which is badly wanted by me; another tin of what you sent before might help a bit. There is no chance of my getting leave for months and months.
January 23 1915 - Diary entry
At Christopher's instigation I have applied for a temporary commission and it has been sent to the War Office. I rather feel I ought to stick this out but I bargained for three months of it as a Private, and for all I can see it looks as if there's good chance of it hanging on for thirty three months. I suppose the W.O. will take about that time to think it over but provided that they can decide, one way or the other some time before the war is over, I hope to get a few days leave on the strength of it.
I am sorry to say Jones Mortimer got a very bad wound from shrapnel and has got to have his leg off, and the chap who was so keen, or rather who got me made a Lance Corporal and wanted me to take a Corporal's stripe afterwards, was killed in action a month ago (Frankie Bradshaw). They were both splendid men and splendid Officers, and have been most awfully missed. Please tell Beats that Bonning, she'll know who I mean, was also killed. He twice got wounded bringing in the wounded and in the end got a third one in the head as he was getting back into his trench; he is another chap who'll be badly missed.
February 4 1915 - Diary entry
It is worked like this: we do three days in the trenches, three days in a village about a mile behind the firing line, three days in support in hutches in the wood just behind the trenches, and then three days back here in a small town about four miles back, and this is the only time don't do fatigues, but we do have to remove all the dirt etc. from ourselves, clothes, rifles, and equipment that we have accumulated during the past nine days, we also have route marches, and the time seems pretty well filled up.
The other day when we were in billets in the small village I dreamed I was in a house with shells bursting all around and sure enough, the next day the Germans did shove some shells over and the allied casualties were awful. I hardly like telling you but one shell pitched in next door's chicken hut and killed six hens. I saw the enraged owner going round afterwards stamping on the heads of the chickens that weren't quite dead, he was cursing like mad and didn't appear to be at all grateful that it was chicken hut and not his house, only a few yards away, that had been hit. I believe that the relatives of the dead chickens are sending an article to the 'Feathered World' about Germany's treatment of non-combatants.
Out of the 1100 men who left Harrow I believe there are only about eighty left who have been out all the time.
August 22 1915 - Diary entry
I expect you will have heard how I was mistaken for a spy and my advanced post mistook a putrefying cow for a gas attack. We had twelve days in the trenches and four in reserve and we are now back in our old place for a weeks rest (Reninghelst). I dined at Div H.Q. last night and Christopher came to tea here the day before.
The time is 11am and I have just finished a light lunch of pears and plums, we live like fighting cocks as our Company Commander (Hughes Onslow) has grouse sent out to him twice a week, and we get stuff sent out from a London firm; as Emily is sending a cake once a fortnight we really are feeding very well, certainly much better then Div H.Q.
That Hooge show was rather good fun, we were watching the bombardment from our trenches about three Kilos away.
I went into Ypres to see the sights, there aren't many but the most remarkable is a house is still standing and untouched.
September 25 1915 - Diary entry
I wonder if you saw in the papers a scheme for sending Munition Workers round the trenches, we had a couple come round while we were in and did our best to put the wind up them. The whiskey bottle and syphon hastily covered with sandbags, and we kept them in parts of the trench telling them how much more dangerous that part was than the others and how many shells had fallen there. I told them we seldom expected more than three hours sleep in the twenty four, as a matter of fact I nearly always get four or five. I gave one man a huge chunk of trench mortar to take home with him; if only we'd known they were coming we could have annoyed the Germans into putting something over.
Owing to an incautious remark to Christopher while lunching at Div H.Q. the other day which was overheard by Pilcher; the remark was about the absurdly small amount of shells the Artillery thought fit to send over by way of retaliation. Pilcher promised to take me to a hill from where a General Bombardment might be watched. This show came off about three days ago and was certainly a very fine sight, not the least amusing being a splendid view of German shells bursting on a farm which contained absolutely nothing, the nearest human being a civilian who was ploughing nearby and who lit off at an amazing pace.
October 7 1915 - Diary entry
Perhaps you've heard that I went back on a bombing course last time the Battalion went into the trenches, and when I returned from the course I found that they were coming out the following night so it was hardly worth my while going up so I stayed with Christopher at Div H.Q. for a couple of nights which was great fun and quite reminded us both of the East room at Feering. I had great fun on the bomb course; several people there had been in the last attack at Hooge, it must be an unhealthy place and I trow I never go there.
The Course is at a village about sixteen miles back (Terdeghem) and we went into a neighbouring town (Cassel) and had a jolly good dinner, almost like Oxford again. We started on Gin and Bitters followed in with Champagne and then 'Triple Sec'. There was a piano and a damsel who played various English songs and we fairly woke the echoes. I seem to remember Benedictine and a whiskey and soda and Corona cigars and I certainly deserved to be drunk but we were all quite sober but it did seem as if the war was over. There were quite a lot of Flying Corps people there and we got a lift back which just out a topping finish to the evening. Bye the way I have put in for a Regular Commission in the Dorsets to be transferred to the Flying Corps. I want to get into very much indeed, but you can't get a Regular Commission straight away without extra special influence and previous knowledge. Bombing is awful good fun and gives you an enormous amount of extra confidence.
November 2 1915 - Diary entry
I haven't thrown any bombs at a live target yet and I shan't start until they do. I have got two different sorts of German bombs and have got my eye an a third in front of our trench which I mean to get next time we go up. It ought to be quite easy as there are five dead men all round it, from the last attack, and if they put up a Verey light I shall sham possum amongst them.
November 21 1915 - Diary entry
It has rained a lot and frozen a lot and the trenches were in a damnable condition last time we were in, in places water and mud over your knees. Our parapets of course keep falling in of their own accord if you so much as sneeze against them and this is the time that the Artillery, or rather the Generals choose for the Artillery, to strafe and have what the Papers please to call an 'Artillery duel'. What really happens is that we strafe the German trenches and the roads up which his reliefs are likely to come up and they do the same to us. So we get no chance to rebuild our parapets or drain our trenches.
We are now back having a rest and are living in tents, it's awful cold washing in the morning. A German aeroplane flew over here a few mornings ago and dropped some quite good bombs doubtless they hoped and meant to cause no small panic and destruction. At first I thought they were shells and I was just putting on my shirt when one came down nearer than the others had been and I realised it was a bomb. I took off my shirt and got back into my sleeping bag, after all if one is destined to be killed by one of those clumsy muck dropping fools it might just as well be in one's bed. They only bagged one horse.
November 29 1915 - Diary entry
The Germans are making a filthy noise just now, just having a last fling before it gets dark.
December 26 1915 - Diary entry
I hope you'll excuse my not writing for Christmas, but I was getting no mail and I was rather busy, being in a new Regiment and there has been absolutely no news barring Fritz's stink show which fell so flat it's hardly worthwhile talking about.
An aerial torpedo is a vast trench mortar with fins on it like an arrow to keep it straight in the air, on reaching its destination it makes an unpleasant noise and a seventeen foot crater at about the same time. It is closely akin to Muck Shifting Minnie the Minenwerfer and makes a greater noise then Hellish Hilda from Hill 60, who is a 4'1 How, and nearly as noisy as Mud Mixing Mildred from Menin. The beast has been christened Bestial Bertha from Bellewaerde Bog as she is supposed to be sited on a small island in Bellewaerde Lake. However she travels very slowly through the air and can be dodged to a certain extent.
1916January 10 1916 - Diary entry
I have got the books you sent including the Thirty Nine Steps which was quite exciting and most entertaining and which I read yesterday afternoon in my present domicile i.e. the first floor room of a cottage, the only drawback to it is that the Church (about 300 yards away) offends the artistic eye of the Bosche and yesterday he strove hard to eliminate it with 6" H.E. with no small result.
January 20 1916 - Diary entry
This is to tell you that I have at last got into the R.F.C. I arrived this afternoon and have been singing Te Deums and 'Praise Mes' ever since. I am darned glad to be rid of the last lot of trenches we were in where the Bosche comes down to the Canal and with the French on our left (actually they were Belgians). All our trenches were detached and with no communication trench back so one was absolutely cut off in the day time.
I'm off the map where I am now, some twelve miles back (Droglandt).
January 27 1916 - Diary entry
Since I wrote to you last I have been up several times, it's just as nice as it looks. The first time I went up the pilot did various stunts including what is called a "stall" which consists of pointing her nose up and gradually stopping the engine till she starts to fall backwards, then putting her nose down and doing a tremendous dive. Another stunt is when you're going in one direction to suddenly bank her round at a tremendous angle till the bus is literally standing on the tip of one wing, and then diving sort of underneath your old course and going in the opposite direction, it's practically the same as a loop only you're going in the opposite direction: when this is done you absolutely lose all sense of direction and the sky might be the ground and the ground the sky, you feel absolutely no inclination to fall out. The longest I've been up for is an hour, we reached 8,000 ft.
I have got a bed and a mattress to sleep on in a nice hut and there are some awfully decent people here. I feel as happy as a bug in a rug nowadays, and at present I feel as if personally I don't mind if the war goes on for another five years, but I expect that when I've done plenty of reconnaissances I shall begin to get rather tired of it but at any rate, I've got a bed and a roof over it. When you come down in a spiral dive from about 5,000 ft it makes your ears sing like anything at first but one begins to got used to it about the third time.
The country looks like a huge map with tiny things crawling over it. On a fine day the thing seems absolutely still until the pilot starts to do a stunt. If there is any wind she rocks a hit but nothing to notice. The clothes would turn you green with envy, leather trousers and coat lined with a sort of felt fleece and by George you want them. When you do a spiral nose dive you are doing about 100 mph and if you stand up the wind seems absolutely solid and it's almost impossible to breathe.
Febuary 2 1916 - Diary entry
At present I am having a very easy time, learning Morse and Lewis Gun and Co-operation with the Artillery. I have not been over the lines yet and the longest I have been up for at one time is one hour. I was up for ¾ hour this afternoon, we were going on a patrol up and down behind our lines, but when we got up to 6,000 ft it was so misty we couldn't see a thing, so we came home. The pilot shut oft his engine and did a spiral drop from 6,000 to 2,000 ft and when we flattened out, we might have been over Australia for all I knew till I caught sight of the aerodrome. My feelings the first time I went up were exactly the same as yours the first time you went in a motor, I'll bet. I mean I've seen enough of these people flying about to know they won't let one down, and it's just the thrill and excitement of a new thing, and when you've left the ground and are going along on the level, it's just like being in a motor. When the pilot does a deep dive, it's like sitting on a chair that isn't there, and when he flattens out again it's exactly like a lift stopping, only intensified about six times. I was very nearly made sick about three days ago. The pilot did an awful lot of stunts including swooping down in a village and then flattening out and flying round the church steeple it a bank that I swear wasn't for off ninety five degrees with the ground. It must have looked as if we were balancing on the tip of one wing on the weathercock; Then we went 'contour-chasing', going at about 70 mph at about 30 ft from the ground and swooping over the houses and trees as you came to them and down the other side, and then to cap it all, he took four shots before he got into the aerodrome because the engine throttle stuck.
February 13 1916 - Diary entry
I wonder if you could possibly come and see me some time. I believe you are close to Hazebrouck, we are about four miles due north of Steenvorde at a place called Droglandt. I wouldn't exchange this job for any other, it is a topping life. I went as escort to a reconnaissance on my first trip across the lives the other day and I had a priceless scrap with a Hun. We were five strong, including the reconnaissance machine, and fourteen Bosche machines followed us nearly all the way and the only one that had the guts to attack was a little Fokker who came beetling along behind me. He came up and up firing like mad, myself doing ditto, until he was only fifty yards behind, then he dived to our left and came up on our half left front and my pilot side slipped at him which brought us to within thirty yards of each other; then I think his gun jammed because he did an absolutely straight nose dive down. Of course I ought to have brought him down but I'm not much of a shot with a machine gun yet and it was the first time I had fired the gun out of an aeroplane. In the air, you can hardly hear the bullets like you can on the ground, so you forget you're being strafed in your exceeding great eagerness to bring the other chap down. Coming back my pilot and I interrupted a Bosche Aviatic who was endeavouring to drop bombs on Vlamertinghe, he also dived and went home; they always do, they know they've got the legs of us and always get away, and they never stay and fight unless they are about four to one. We had ten holes in our wings and tail when we got back, some from Archie and site from bullets. Archie makes a very funny noise and sounds more like a joke then anything else. You get used to the sensations very quickly, and it now seems just like going out in a car. Hooge and those sort of places are a sight from upstairs. St Eloi looks rather nice, with its mine craters too. There are such a nice lot of officers here which makes such a difference.
About February 7 1916 - Diary entry
Our machines are B.E.2C.s 90 hp and their speed varies tremendously but on the average it's about 70mph. I went on first reconnaissance this morning and coming back we nose-dived almost vertically at a Bosche Aviatik and our throttle was full open and we couldn't get near him although we were doing 120mph. We have two Lewis guns, one fore and one aft. On a reconnaissance one machine actually does the reconnaissance, the observer taking notes, and four machines go with it to keep the Bosche off, we were one of the escort. We crossed the line just over my old home when I was with the Dorsets and recrossed it just over my old home when with the Oxfords. We visited Roulers and Thorout and were 2½ hrs off the ground and at about 8,000 ft. The Archies (R.F.C. slang for anti-aircraft guns) threw up a lot of stuff at us. I had one priceless moment; there were fourteen Bosche machines following us all the way round and the only one that had the stomach to attack us was a little Fokker monoplane .... (see account of the attack in the entry for the 13th above). Whether I hit him or not I don't know but I don't think I was far off him. Its a glorious form of scrapping, you can hardly hear Archie, even when he's quite close, and with a Bosche machine you are man to man with a gun, even if our machines are dud compared to theirs. I honestly enjoyed that Fokker episode, you get wild with him and so excited that you forget he's straafing you too. I have been up about eight hours all told, and we reached 10,000 ft the other day which is the highest I've been. There was 7 degrees of frost at 6,000 ft that day so you can imagine what it was like at 10,000.
February 25 1916 - Diary entry
The weather has been pretty bad lately for flying, but I did another reconnaissance this morning but it was awfully misty and I couldn't see much. We didn't see a Bosche machine and there were very few Archies and on the whole it was rather a boring proceeding as it was awfully cold as you can imagine, but it all looked awfully pretty and would have been a jolly nice trip if it hadn't been so cold.
The observer sits in front of the pilot, sometime the pilot has one gun and sometimes the observer has both: it all depends on the pilot. When the pilot has a gun it is always fixed and he just points or rather steers the machine so the gun is pointing at what he's shooting at. The control levers are very simple, there is just a stick coming up between his knees with which he alters the elevator and also do the banking, the rudder is worked by his feet. The petrol is just a single lever on the stick, so you can drive the machine quite well with knees and have both hands free for the gun. The observer always uses the rear gun and when escorting a reconnaissance the observer kneels on the seat the whole way round and keeps a look out to the rear and the pilot keeps a look-out to the front. The time I was attacked by the Fokker I had both guns I'm glad to say. There is plenty of room to shoot between the wires and things, the difficult thing to remember is not to shoot in the propeller, because of course you can't see it.
March 4 1916 - Diary entry
We've not been very active lately as the weather has been pretty rotten but we go on these reconnaissances across the lines every fine day. I went up for a joy ride yesterday, the clouds were only about 3,000 ft and we climbed through them into the sunlight above and it looked simply topping, a sort of sea of billowing white clouds.
March 29 1916 - Diary entry
Our present aerodrome is rather jolly, just on the edge of a wood, our huts are in the wood which at present has a lot of cowslips, wood anemones and wild daffodils and looks awfully pretty. Also there is a rookery so we shall get some rook shooting with revolvers. I enclose some photos, the chap with me on the haystack is my flight commander with whom I work, he in an old regular and was in the 'retreat' (Paul Maltby). The one of the crash is typical, the pilot made too fast a landing and ran off the aerodrome into a ditch, smashing his undercarriage, prop and engine; not bad for one day's work.
May 4 1916 - Diary entry
It is ages since I wrote to you but we have had a spell of topping weather and consequently heaps of work, sometimes 6½ hrs in the air and photos to be plotted out when one is down. The trees are coming out in the wood in a marvellous way and nightingales sing their hearts out night and day, the swallows have come in earnest and I heard a cuckoo about a fortnight ago: altogether life it very pleasant.
The drawing in of the squares for photos is all done with mapping pen and indian ink and is some job, but I have got it under control now and only have to put in the photos taken daily. One simply reports what one sees and leaves it to the 'gods' to decipher the meaning of it. It is topping being up in the air when you are ranging a battery and to feel that you are in charge of that battery, as you really are, and can do what you like; it makes me feel that I am getting my own back on the Bosche for the first time I was in action and it is very satisfactory. I enclose the 'diary' of my first shoot also a note from the Gunner who was actually loosing off the cannon (6" How). My second shot hit the Church (Beaumont Hamel) and raised a glorious cloud of dust.
I have only had one go at a Bosche machine for a long tine and she was almost out of range and just cleared off when she got fed up.
June 24 1916 - Diary entry
I met the pilot on board and we had a very nice crossing. We didn't starve but we did thirst, like mad. They gave us tea with our supper on board, and we had nothing more to drink till 1 pm the next day when the train stopped at a place where one could got coffee and an omelette and some white wine. The pilot had a flask full of a mixture of three of brandy to one of water, and my flask was full of neat brandy. We had very nearly finished both flasks when we boarded the train and slept like logs, luckily getting a carriage to ourselves. We got back here about midnight on the 19th.
1917June 24 1917 - Diary entry
I believe Henri flying is I believe one of the finest forms of education for flying.
August 31 1917 - Diary entry
We fly de Haviland 5s and our job consists in flying low on the lines, not over 4,000 ft to protect our Artillery and Contact Patrol machines, and attempting to strafe the Bosche two-seaters. We also did some of the diving down on trenches stunt during a 'push', but they've stopped all that as it's almost impossible to tell who you're firing at.
The war has changed absolutely and completely and of course it makes you feel rather out of it all. It's awfully hard to spot Hun machines from above as they camouflage them wonderfully.
My first patrol I nearly blew a Belgium out of the sky and last Sunday, on early patrol when it was still nearly dark, I escorted a Hun machine from their side over to ours before I discovered he was a Hun; and then I failed to bring him down because I couldn't shoot straight.
The Hun two seaters are very nervous and don't scrap much if they can help it, and their scouts come over high up in droves.
September 22 1917 - Diary entry
We generally do two and sometimes three two-hour shows a day which fills up the time wonderfully and makes you feel, while you're on the ground, like you do when you get out of school. We had a strenuous day on Thursday. On the first patrol, flying at about 500 ft only and dodging showers was the programme. The air was stiff with our machines and it was very misty, so why there were no collisions I don't know, and why we didn't get direct hits from shells I can't think, as the whole place was packed with guns and it was supposed to be the biggest barrage of the war. It was much too misty to see what was going on on the ground. At midday I had a more or less ordinary patrol, just on the lines sort of thing. In the afternoon, five of us did a road strafe, which consists in flying over their side pretty high, looking for their machines, and then diving down on certain spots where men for counter-attacks were likely to be detraining, and shoot them up. There was a forty mile an hour West wind which added to the unpleasantness of the job, and our leader mistook the spot we were going to strafe. There was a thin carpet of clouds at about 300 ft and he brought us down through them on a place five mills East of where we should have; however we shot it up with great energy and then made off West with the utmost speed. We got a bit scattered and I was last but one and feeling perfectly miserable at not being able to see the others and suddenly some blasted Hun scout appeared from nowhere and started shooting me up the tail. However we got back safely bar one chap who had both tanks shot through and only just managed to reach our lines. Later on, the leader of our patrol and I caught a Hun scout on its own. He dived (the leader) and had to pull out with a jamb, I dived and after firing a 100 rounds got a jamb and had to pull out; then the leader dived again and sunk him, which was satisfying.
October 9 1917 - Diary entry
The enclosed snap may amuse the family, will you ask Sis to keep it for me as two of the people in it have since been killed and one of them was rather a pal of mine. The scar in my forehead was not caused by bursting shell or shrieking bullet but from playing Fighting on Horseback in the Mess. They have the sauce to come and bomb us now and again, but they've done no damage up to date. There's been another big 'push' today and pretty successful from what I could see, but the weather has done in any hopes of making a big gap.
I was playing about by myself this afternoon just over the lines and I was set on by six of Richthofen's people; luckily there was a big cloud handy and I slipped over to our side in it. It's really very like playing "Tom Tidler's Ground".
November 30 1917 - Diary entry
An ever wise deity has decreed that we no longer write our addresses on the top of our letters, but when necessary "they may be included in the text". Sometimes I remember and sometimes I forget, but not very often, anyhow it's a fool's rule.
It's rather jolly as I seem to have friends in nearly every Squadron for miles around and it makes all the difference to be able to get away and have a cheery evening. The authorities I'm glad to say know this and encourage us to go out.
T saw a certain amount of old Sir Claude de Crespigny while on leave. He seems quite a decent old chip really but very full of himself. He's got a most wonderful collection of heads.
I've discovered Christopher at last and had tea with him the other day, but he's rather a long way away and is very busy. We pass over his home on our way to and from patrol, and I often bring the patrol down low on the way home and dive on him: but he lives under about twenty feet of earth and masonry, so I never know if he's appreciating our efforts or not.
December 18 1917 - Diary entry
At the moment it's most shiveringly reasonable especially when you've only got a limited mount of fuel. The poor devils in the trenches must be having hell, especially up here where there are no proper trenches and they just sit in shell holes. We send our servants out at dusk to pinch trees which we burn and so far we haven't been caught. It's precious parky in the air too these days. I got up to 10,000 ft this morning after a Hun, you don't notice the cold at first but gradually your finger tips and toes go dead. A lot of the observers in the fast two-seater squadrons who take photos and do reconnaissances at big heights get most awfully frost bitten.
Our Mess bill is only about forty three francs a week which is pretty good as we live quite well. We have a most wonderful gay time. Last night we went into a neighbouring town (Poperinghe) to a most awfully good show and then had dinner in the town (5a Rue de Dunkerque) and in spite of the fact that it is often shelled and more often bombed, we had:—
which I call wonderful. When we got back we brewed up an excellent rum punch.
I have been up to Dunkerque several times to dine with people up there and next chance I get, I will try and find him (?). I wonder if he's with No 10 RNAS. because I know the C.O. of it and one or two of the pilots. I've just noticed that you say he's got a Rolls-Royce so he won't be with No 10 but will be further away.
1918January 8 1918 - Diary entry
I am present on a course of Aerial Musketry at a place quite close to Le Touquet; all my Flight are here too and we have quite good fun. We shoot at all sorts of things and it's like a glorified White City. One practise consists in firing at a silhouette of an aeroplane on a pond. The pond was frozen over when I was firing and the bullets cut up the ice and sent it flying all over the place. I must have dived pretty low because a piece of ice caught me a devil of a welt on the head and for a moment I didn't know if it was Piccadilly or Wednesday, as they say: and it's raised a bump like you see in the comic papers.
Sopwith Camels are obsolete now and have been washed out.
January 28 1918 - Diary entry
I got rather badly had the other day; the wind changed and a whole lot of low clouds come up and hid the ground. I'd been sort of ragging about and I thought it was time to go home when through a crack of the clouds I saw Menin which is about 8 miles over the lines and I'd only got two new pilots with me. At that moment seven Hun scouts appeared from behind some higher clouds and proceeded to attack us. Luckily I was able to pull their legs so that they left us alone and I then steered hard for the sun until I thought I was over our side of the lines and then came through the clouds to find we were over Plugstreet at 800 ft. I managed to collect the other two and we came back.
I'm going to lecture to the Officers and NCOs of the 8th Division sometime on the duties of the Royal Flying Corps. Can you imagine me getting up and facing a hangar full of Red hats and Colonels; it ought to be rather amusing and the C.O. (John Russell) has promised to lend me the Squadron car to take me to Boulogne when I go in leave if I'll do the lecture.
Do you know that the machines our Squadron ought never to have come to France. It wasn't meant for a fighting machine because it can't see behind it, owing to the backward stagger of the wings. It's now the slowest machine on the front and its performance the worst. Its highest speed near the ground is 95 mph, and we have to cope with machines that do their 120 mph and climb two feet to our one.
February 26 1918 - Diary entry
I went and saw Hunter Western yesterday, he was awfully genial but I believe he gives his staff absolute hell, they all looked as if they'd got shell shock. I should also imagine that his bark was worse than his bite or rather more frequent than the bite, but that when he did bite, it would be "the man it was who died".
March 10 1918 - Diary entry
We have at last got our new machines, all of them, but the weather has been rather beastly and although the last few days have been beautifully sunny, there's been a sort of ground haze which makes it awfully hard to find the aerodrome especially when it's a new one, and you don't know the approaches.
I went for a walk yesterday and came across one of those Army Pigeon Cotes, and the Corporal in charge was only too pleased to show off his pigeons. It was really rather wonderful, about forty pigeons in quite a small hut, each one with its own little compartment, some of them with eggs and some with young. They were Homer pigeons, not Carrier; apparently Homer pigeons are much faster than Carrier. He said they often came back jolly badly wounded, but they nearly always got back.
Our new machines are great fun but will take a lot of getting used to. I haven't dared stunt one yet, as a matter of fact I've only done about an hour in them so far.
April 4 1918 - Diary entry
How perfectly amazing about your Shock Absorber friend, I thought something like that had happened. Of course some Officials must know we had them, or rather that they (D.H.5s) were still in use because a new Squadron came out with them as late as October. We were the last Squadron to have them out here. I believe because they can't turn out the better machine fast enough. Unfortunately the Hun new machine, Albatross D.5. is faster than most of ours, although one or two machines can beat them. A couple of days ago I was shooting up a wood and I happened to look over my shoulder and I saw nine Albatross D.5s dropping on me like a cart load of bricks, so I beat it for the lines like mad and just got there. Most of the Huns pulled out as some more of our machines appeared, including two of my patrol who'd lost me, but several of the Huns came on and pursued another machine which they shot down. However I got on to one of the Huns who by now was down to about 300 ft and chased him back over the lines at about 200 ft till both my guns jammed. He was pulling away the whole time and I was never close enough to expect to hit him; I was doing 120 mph and he was gaining height on me as well as pulling away.
We now carry three 20 lb Bombs (Hales), and bomb and shoot up trenches, men, and transport or anything that takes our fancy: it really is capital fun but you've got to keep your eyes pretty wide open. I've already crashed one of the new machines, I was coming back from patrol and the engine went back on me and I had to land in a field, it was an awfully windy day and a gust turned her over; that makes my fourth total crash.
The aerodrome we moved to first (Bailleul) was quite nice at first but they took to shelling it with 15" high velocity guns and we were jolly glad to move. We are a long way back from the lines here (Ferme de Bellevue) and it's an awfully amusing war down here because the country is just as it was left and is not covered with trenches at present. In one place there's an aerodrome, complete with hangars and huts, in No Man's Land.
I believe they are going to conscript Ireland, if Christopher gets an Irish Regiment of Conscripts - heaven help him.
June 28 1918 - Diary entry
(93 Sqn Tangmere) Good luck to your Army job and mind you get one with a good screw and a car thrown in, I believe they're going for the asking but I can never get hold of one. This is quite a good place but a bad Mess, but we are not overburdened with work. I've completely crashed two machines since I came here: the first time I got off with a stiff posterior and a bruised knee, but yesterday I bent my face on the windscreen and at the moment am wearing a thrice enlarged nose and a wonderful thing in black eyes. We do see life.
August 14 1918 - Diary entry
Trains are no place for anybody this time of year. I came back from a Course the other day and it took five hours to get here from London: we came via Brighton and from Brighton there were fifteen grown-ups and I think three children in the carriage. Very few of them, I should imagine had a ticket of any sort, except a pawn ticket, and those that had tickets weren't a bit likely to have had 'firsts'. The Course I was on was to teach people how to instruct, which everybody goes on when they came back from France. As I had already been instructing for nearly a year before going to France, it developed almost into teaching the fair sex how to bathe or at any rate how to duck their heads, as my instructor and I used to fly along the beach about five feet up from Hearne Bay to Deal and put the wind up people bathing, incidentally he used to put the wind up me too. When we got bored, we used to land in a field and smoke a cigarette, and then go on again. It was an awfully nice Course with very easy hours and they had a very nice Mess (Manston) and there were a nice lot of people there too and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Life goes on here much the same and during the hot spell the air or the water was the only place to be.
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