World War I Letter
Dear Elizabeth, How are you? How are Edward and Margaret? How’s life in England? How is Edward, is he still the naughty cheeky boy I knew? How is Margaret, last time I saw her she was only 6 months old? How are the children coping without a father? I miss both you and the children so much. A lot has happened since I last saw you as well. As you probably know, I am presently a soldier fighting in the ongoing Great War. When I signed up to fight Germany I was under the impression that the war would be over before Christmas, I never thought it would last as long as this, two years, and still not be over.
There were many reasons I joined the army. One of these was the Lord Kitchener poster. That poster was everywhere, no matter where you were all you could see was Lord Kitcheners finger pointing at you. This made me to feel as if I had to do something to do something to help my country. Another reason I joined the army was because I was promised that I would not get separated from my friends. This part was partly true, I arrived in France with all of them however after the first major battle we fought, the Battle of Mons, all of them died apart from Alfred, Harry and me.
The last reason I joined was because of the patriotic war fever that was going around. When I left home on 18th November, to go to a training camp I was shocked. We got sent to a make shift army training camp somewhere around Newcastle. In the training camp, the officers humiliated everyone. Do you remember Harold, the man who lived down the road from us? Well as you can probably remember he was rather a large man so he found it difficult to do one of the tasks that we were told to do, one of the officers humiliated him so much that he was almost in tears.
In the training camp, one of the biggest challenges was discipline. One of the things I hated doing above everything else was riding a horse that didn’t have anything on it. The excitement of war died down within the first couple of weeks of arriving in France, we were then faced with the reality of the war. The first time I was put onto the front trench I began to wonder if I would ever see you and the children ever again. The reality of the war was that it was miserable. One of the good things about life in the trenches is that everyone is friendly as we all share the same problems in life.
In order to keep everyone’s morals high we have little shows every week. It’s the little things like the shows keep you going in the trenches. The conditions in the trenches are appalling and extremely harsh. There were very few comforts. One of the worst things about living in the trenches in the lack of hygiene. We only get a bath every 2 months. The majority of the time we are just living in filth and dirt. On average we have to carry around 30 kilos of equipment around with us all the time.
Some of the equipment we have to carry around with us everyday are a rifle, woolly cap, spare socks, great coat, digging tool, pay book, toothbrush, soap, mending and darning it, bottle of water, a blade you can attach to the end of your rifle, your identity tag, 150 rounds of ammunition, respirator, service cap and your cap badge. These items are considered to be the necessities and you must carry them with you at all times, as you can imagine it is really heavy. We get a well balanced diet however when you eat the same things day after day it becomes boring.
This diet consists of the following foods: beef, bacon, tea, sugar, jam, cheese, butter, potatoes, bread or biscuits we also get small amounts of salt, pepper and mustard. It is very difficult cooking in the trenches. In order for me to tell you what life is like in the trenches I have to explain to you what exactly the trench looks like as they probably haven’t told you back home. The trenches are built in zigzags on the base; this is to reduce the affects of artillery. At the front of the trench there is barbed wire, this stops the Germans from running over.
Right behind the barbed wire is the parapet; this is a form of protection against bullets for the soldiers inside the trench. The parados is exactly the same just at the back of the trench. We use sandbags to told up the dug out and support the trench. The duckboard is just a board at the bottom of the trench that we use to keep our feet dry. The firestep is what we use to shoot the enemy. The dugout is the area that we sleep and relax in. The drainage ditch is a hole in the duckboard that allows the water to escape from the trench. Each trench also has a wooden periscope that is used to spot the enemy.
We are supposed to spend 6 days every month on the frontline trenches however this hardly even happens. One of my friends, Jack, spent 2 whole months on the frontline trench. I’m one of the lucky ones; the most I’ve ever spent on the trench in one month is 7 days, which isn’t too bad. There are many problems facing us soldiers in the trenches. Strange beetles with dangerous looking horns wiggled along dry ledges and then invaded dugouts in search of lice, which invested them. Another problem that faces us is lice; so far I haven’t caught it.
The lice leave red blotchy bite marks all over your body. The lice also create a sour, stale smell. There are many methods people use to remove the lice. One of these is to scrape of the lice with the blunt edge of a knife. Another illness that you can catch in the trenches is trench feet. When you get trench feet your feet swell up 2 or 3 times their normal size and then go numb your skin then turns red or blue. If you don’t loose your feet and the swelling goes down, then the agony starts. Many people have to have their feet and legs amputated.
My friend Alfred is still recovering from trench foot, he got it about a month ago. I’ve heard of some soldiers that have developed a psychological shell shock. They get this from been subjected to continual exposure to shellfire. Some of the symptoms of shell shock are tiredness, irritability, giddiness, lack of concentration and headaches. This illness then develops into the soldiers suffering from a mental breakdown, once this happens they are obviously unfit to carry on fighting in the war so they get sent back home. The general conditions of the trenches are very poor.
On many nights I have woken up only to find a rat running over me. I have also woken up to find frogs all over the place. Red slugs crawl up the trench walls. Many nights I have to sleep on the firestep. Do you remember William? He was chosen to be a sniper. A snipers job is to go through no mans land and shoot the Germans, unfortunately William, bless his soul, got shot one day while doing this job. I’m glad I’m not a sniper. Some of the dangers of living in the trenches are that if you stick your head out of the trench at the wrong moment you get shot by the enemy.
I’ve met some men who hate life out in the trenches so much that they try and get themselves injured not so serious that they’ll die but serious enough to get sent home. Although some of the soldiers out here want to get sent back home the majority of us know that it is our duty to fight and help defend our country and our empire. One of the biggest battles I have fought in is the Battle of Somme. As you may know is began on 1st July 1916 and lasted for 4 and a half months. We all had high hopes of making a major breakthrough. First of all we bombarded the German front line trenches for 7 days and 7 nights.
After those 7 days we all walked over No Man’s Land in neat, perfect lines and we then went over the top. Going over the top means cutting through the barbed wire and firing at the enemy. Most of the time when we go over the top we run through no man’s land as there is no where to hide or protect yourself from bullets and artillery however this time we were so confident we were going to win that we actually walked. The 7 days of artillery fire and hardly any effect on the German trenches as we found out when we arrived at the German trenches.
I was one of the only ones in my group to survive going over the top in the Battle of Somme. According to my friend, Harry, 57,000 of our men were either dead or injured on the first day on that Battle. When men die, there isn’t anything you can do. It happens so often that you no longer start crying about it, it just becomes part of everyday life. The stench of bodies rotting is all over the trenches as there is nothing to do with the dead bodies so quite often they end up staying in the exact same position they die in.
I feel really sorry for the young boys that lied about their age to get into the army; it was such a big disappointment for them. They were expecting the war to be over soon and to be portrayed as heroes once they got back home. However, most of them will never get the chance to back home, as this war is one that takes many lives each day. Anyway I hope that you and the children and everyone back home are fine. Although I don’t see an end to the war soon let us pray and hope that it will end soon so I can come home and spend time with my family, where I belong.