Ch 27: Hughie’s WWI Letters – Postcript

Through this series of letters, Hughie lives on.  And the story he has left us of his time in the Australian army as a Pioneer has, we understand, added much needed detail to war history records about the life of a soldier in the Pioneers in WWI.

The war journal/diary that Hugh mentioned has not as yet been found.  But we do know that Hugh left camp in England to begin his journey home to Australia late in 1918 on the SS ‘Takada’, finally arriving home on 11th February 1919.   He surprised his welcoming family by telling them that he had risen to the rank of Sergeant.

Hugh married his sweetheart Grace on 5th June, 1920 in his beloved Ballarat, at St Peter’s Church.  They settled into married life in Ballarat and had five children, three daughters and two sons, the first born son named Hugh Ramsay Gilchrist in honour of Hughie’s long lost relative Gilchrist.  We know of five grandchildren.  Hugh died in Ballarat in 1966 and is buried there – it was always his home town.

The camouflaged SS 'Gaika' on which Andrew returned from England in June/July 1918.

Both of Hugh’s brothers, mentioned in the letters, survived the war.  Andrew returned on 6th July, 1918 on the SS ‘Gaika’ after finally being repatriated with lung problems caused by gassing.  Andrew married Elizabeth Ethel (Et) Quayle in 1920.  He died suddenly in Kensington, Melbourne on 26th April 1947.

Jack left England on 20th April, 1919 on the “Poonah” arriving in Melbourne on 8th June 1919.  He never married.  He also died suddenly, in Ballarat in 1947, on 28th June.

And it is to Jack we give the last word in this series of WWI letters.  Although not a prolific writer like Hughie, he did communicate home using beautifully embroidered cards made by French women who were so very grateful for the way Australian soldiers fought for the freedom of their villages.  These cards were welcomed in Australia by wives, mothers, sweethearts and sisters.  Tottie treasured the ones that Jack sent her, keeping them as part of her special ‘treasures.

Card from France bringing Greetings from the Trenches

The writing on the reverse belies the beautiful scene on the front:

” Right on the spot. I don’t like it a bit. Too much like war. Am in fair nick but it’s going to be too cold – or HOT!  Wish Fritz would take a tumble and sling it in.”

From Jack to Tottie - his dear sister.

” All we want now is to get sent home.  Hope you and Alex are in good health.”

A card to thank Tottie for a parcel - "arrived in good order".

And thanks to Tottie, Jack’s cards and Hughie’s letters to her are also still in good order, ninety odd years later!

Remembering our Soldiers in France in 1917 during WWI

David Veitch Young  Canberra 2010


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Ch 26: Hughie’s WWI Letters – Convalesence

Excerpts of notes home from War Hospital, Northampton, August 1918

‘Suppose I’m going to get another row because of not writing.  If you do you will be growling at a disabled soldier.  Fact is Tot old girl we couldn’t write letters the days we were in the trenches and, after that lot, things were moving too quickly to start a letter.  Hope you get the set of pictures I sent you.  They gave me some trouble, I can tell you.  Good night……’

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‘Try and get hold of a good map of France and go to Hammel, absolutely the worst portion of the Australian front, dip a little south-east and Corbie forms a landmark.  This place was never taken by Fritz although he tried hard enough.  The cathedral is knocked about something awful. Villers Bretonneax ends a divisional sector.  Further east you’ll find Hangard as far as the Australian sectors run.

Now find Albert, trace the line east again as far as to Montdidier and you have the great BRITISH push.  But when I left France, there wasn’t a Tommie ( a Pom) to be found between these two places.  The Australians and French held the sector.   Then the Canadians came up and took over a sector and the French Canadians and Australians made the big advance.  Yet it is called a great BRITISH victory.  Absolutely nothing said about the Colonials.

It’s a dead nark to be classed alongside an army that runs.  You may have heard of the (British) 5th Army and how they let us all down.  Oh, by jove,  I’ve got some lovely yarns to spin over the Somme business.  You see, I happened to be amongst the first to arrive down there after Fritz had set the “Never Retreats” (the British) on the run.  By jove Tot old girl, it makes one mad when one gets to understand what a red tape affair the Imperial Army is.  Can you imagine an Army Corps (ours) stepping in and taking the place of an army.  That is what our Boys did when they were rushed headlong to that Somme.  Let the colonials do it.  You read the papers of how the Anzacs go so cheerfully and willingly to a raid, of how they take this and that – but you never hear how many get back.  I’ll speak on it again later.

I’ll write to Alex and write up everything that has taken place as I have it in my Diary.  Then, if he thinks fit, you can send it home (for all to read) but let it rest at that.  But Grace had better not see it, as reading the whole affair looks exceedingly over the fence but I can assure you that every part is true.  One has to be right in this war to realise what an awful thing it is.  But enough of the flaming argument, I’m fair sick of it…..’

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‘Tot old girl you can rest assured that a letter is posted and has been to everyone regularly every week.  Only once did I miss and I’m not going to talk about that – sufficient to say that I was extra very busy at that time.  And, I was nearly blind for a couple of weeks while in the hospital and was not allowed to use my eyes over much so that cut out a good few letters.

I’m waiting on that parcel of biscuits you are sending.  I would like to get them whilst I am still here as the food question here is rather unsettling.  To pass the time, the nurses are organising a whist drive tomorrow and I am Master of Ceremonies.  Bet your sweet life I am.

So (sister) Nell has arrived at the Diploma standard.  That bit was the most satisfying bit of news I have heard for quite a long time.  I don’t know whether I had any say in it, in fact don’t quite see just what she could do with that old 5 bob I left as my contribution, but all the same I’m some proud of my sister.’

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Back in camp. September 1918:

‘Suppose I had better write but I’m hanged if I feel like it.  You see I have been getting shoved here and pushed there for the past fortnight and my nerves are beginning to feel the strain.  Fact is Tot old girl, I think I must be fed up.  I’ve been in this camp nearly a week without a penny to my name, no letters and not a pal.  Of course, I have several of the latter now but they happen to be in the same  boat as myself.  Haven’t  had a word from Jack lately.

By hooky I got the shock of my life tother night, walked into the Canteen and was pulled up by a blue-haired dinkum Aussie named Bert Young as large as life and not a bit different.  He is waiting for a boat (to Australia), the lucky beggar.  He came over from France with the same thing as me but was able to convince the Doctor that a trip would do him good.  I couldn’t, my dial is against me.  Don’t think I could convince a grasshopper that (I’m not fit) to box-on provided I had my bayonet and rifle with me.

Met young Dick (Stan) here last night, so spent the day discussing Ballarat and Ascot Street in general.  I heard tother day that Bobby Leurs had been killed at Hammel, the flaming place I came away from.  I hope it is not true but I am afraid it is as young Dick had heard it too.  Rotten bad luck.  I was knocked all of a heap when I heard it.’

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October, 1819:  Your very welcome letter turned up t’other day and for same many thanks.  I reckon that Tobacco Jar will have arrived long ‘ere this, that is, if it is destined to get as far as Victoria.  I entrusted it to a pal of mine who was leaving France on leave and have had word to say that he got it away safely from London.  Am sorry I did not fill it up with the rest of my stuff as I was knocked out soon after and did not see any more of my souvenirs.  Am afraid the Jewel Box I made for Grace shall have to wait till I get back to France.

(When I left France), my pal Snowy got hold of my valise and saved the best part of my personal stuff – but some ‘kind’ guy had been there beforehand!  Snowy got the Keeper of our Canteen (dry) to take charge of them for me. He is an old friend of mine.  I guess they are fairly safe.  The chap who helped me make all these things is in hospital at Bristol, minus a leg.  Stiff luck for him.’

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‘I got a letter from Jack tother day. He says he was over here on leave in September.  By gum we both seem to be walking around one another don’t we?  The blighter went up to Scotland too and I was looking for a pal.  By jove, I’ve missed him at every turn.  He is still in the line.  I think his crowd must be the only Australians in the argument at present.  Andrew did have some luck getting home but I was some relieved to hear it all the same.  I tell you,  I did feel pretty small coming over here and leaving Ma and Nell (on their own) but now that Bowler (Andrew) managed to get back, I’m mighty relieved I can tell you.

Well, I’ll slip away now and warm myself.  It’s as cold as any old thing here at present.

I am   Your loving Brother

Hughie

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Ch 25: Hughie’s WWI Letters – Leaving “Hades” Behind

We had one night’s rest (before we) had to do an “important job” laying cables.  We left at dark and marched along the Somme bank past Aubigny onto the right of Corbie, did about 4 hours (pioneering) work and arrived home at daybreak.  This performance went on for 4 nights, only getting half a mile further every night.  On the fifth night we were kept home. A push was on.

Our Division had a Brigade in the stunt and, as we had been watching the preparations for the past 4 nights, we decided to sit up and watch the barrage.  I’ll try to explain the affair our artillery term ‘a barrage’.  Can you remember the last night of the old Band Contest (in Ballarat) when they used to raise Cain with fireworks?  Magnify that effect a hundred times and get a half dozen drums, let all the kids in the neighbour-hood belt them as hard and fast as they can and you might get somewhere near the mark.  Fritz gets the wind up when the (barrages) start and he shoots up Verey lights by the hundreds.  I saw every colour that night. It all this lasted about 2 hours before  the stunt was over.

Next day we had the result early – 1500 prisoners, 90 odd machine guns and several of his field guns (captured) and an advance of about 3 miles – Aussies again!  Fritz gives our boys first place in the Allied line of resistance, and by hooky, it seems to be right.  They certainly have been driven back a little in places but they fear us in their counter attack.  Our boys always got it ( the ground) back and in every case took a little more.

After this stunt we spent 10 clear days resting (before we) moved into the newly captured sector.  Our Company was supposed to be on back area work but we only got one night of that in and then had to go and dig trenches in the new land.

Memorial to Hughie's 3rd Division at the village of Sailley le Sec

All the towns in this Sector have been reduced to piles of bricks.  We were camped on the Bray-Corbie road and had to walk out through Verey to the other side to Sailly-le-Sec.  This place was continually under shell fire and I can tell you we didn’t waste any time getting through the village. And as Charles Bean recorded in his official Australian War History “Women, who during the past night had seen the flashes of the enemy’s guns, like summer lightening on the horizon, coming closer to their homes, and for the first time had heard the swish and crash of enemy shells, now in a revulsion of pent–up feeling, burst into tears and raised a thin cry of ‘Vive l’Australie’.  An old priest raised his hands and blessed the passing men.  Some, who had left their homes, turned back, and others, who had not left, stayed on.”  Sailley-le-Sec never forgot these soldiers.)

Five nights of this and our trench was finished.  We had a night’s rest and prepared to relieve our “C” Company on the left of Hamel.  We were in the line by 11 o’clock and just missed Fritz’s usual straf.  It was an awful place.  Snow and I were in the one post – went in at 11 o’clock Sunday night and came out at 2 a.m. Tuesday.  The third trip in the post like this was the start of this sickness of mine.  It started raining at daybreak and stopped when we knocked off, all of us had cold shivers, headaches and bad colds.  We had to sit all day in the dugouts in our wet clothes and go in again for the last trip.  Snowy was extra bad through the day and the others were in the same boat.  I only had the cold to contend with till 5 o’clock in the afternoon when Fritz got a 5.9 in the end of our post and laid the riflemen and 2 bombers out and blew Snow and I up in the air.  We were at the far end of the post and so escaped the splinters, but heavens, from that minute I cannot stand up or see a thing.  Snow was as deaf as a post and feeling queer.  We hung on till 2 o’clock.  Suffered a bit more shelling, stonkered a patrol of Fritz’s and stayed in the dugout another 24 hours.

The blighters wouldn’t let me go down to the A.M.C. by myself and it wasn’t till Tuesday morning that they considered me sick enough to see a Doctor.  They had to bring him up to me, and by hooky, the man went mad when he had taken my temperature.  He told our officers “off” good and hearty and had them running around looking for stretchers.  He went out himself and dug up 2 Yanks who wheeled me over 4 miles per stretcher, then into an Ambulance Motor and “tout suite” towards Corbie.

Fritz was strafing the blankey road we were booting along and we had just got into the middle of his 5.9’s when the darned old engine started missing and stopped dead.  By jove, thought that was the hardest bit I had had up to then.  To be leaving Hades behind and getting stuck up helpless in the middle of a straf.  The chap going to hospital with me had shell shock and the S.B. had to climb in and sit on his head to keep him in the car.  Some infantry came along and pushed the whole concern clear of the shells and the driver got to work on the engine and soon had the flaming thing going again.

I was in different clearing stations every hour or so till I finally landed at Crewes, about 15 kms. behind Amiens.  There I lay for a week in high temperature and one day found myself bound for Rouen.  Travelled all night per Ambulance Train and hit a Yankee hospital middle of the next day.  Here two days and shot away for Blighty.  I couldn’t believe my ears when Sister told me that the Doctor was sending me to England.  More travelling per train, more stretcher and then the boat.  Southampton next day.  A short wait and train up to Northampton.  Everybody as nice as possible everywhere. Haven’t we just left the big push and weren’t we given Fritz a rough time?  We were it!

It is wonderful to sleep between white sheets again, the first I have seen since I left home.  Now, I’m to the end of my letter and shall have to make a third edition.  This part is rather mild as I have not detailed it as well as I could have done, but there are some things I would rather forget and writing them in a letter would drive me dilly.  I have kept a diary of everything and shall send that home some day.

 

The people of this area have never forgotten the brave Australians of the AIF 3rd Division.

 

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CH 24. Hughie’s WWI Letters – At Villers Bretonneux

From Daours we moved into Blangy-Tronville and relieved our 2nd Division.  Four days of waiting for orders, then a rush late one night right up to the liveliest sector on the Somme, to wit, Villers Bretonneux, the scene of hard fighting by the 4th Division.

First night in, we camped on a railway bank just behind Villers Bretonneux and sat all night in our gas bags.  Next night we moved closer up and lived in an open trench for 24 hours.  We were under shell fire all night and the best part of the day.   Snow and I were blown out of this trench at 6 o’clock next morning.  Luckily both of us were unharmed, but very shaky for the next month.

Third night in we were moved into Villers Bretonneux and I was lucky enough to get a cellar almost as soon as we took over our section of the town.  The blighter dropped about hundred shells into the place whilst our chaps were still being shown their particular holes in the ground.  Snowy and I were separated here and he was dodging shells for the best part of an hour before he found his den.  Several of our chaps were caught and one killed and the rest of us were dressing wounds all night.  Next day we were allowed to sleep in  – of a kind.

It would be hard to describe a town which has been bombarded by both the British and Germans;  the British because it was only recently that we obtained possession of the place, and the Germans because they had lost it. It was the Key to Amiens.  Every place in the town had a great shell hole in it somewhere, that is, every place that remained standing.  Whole lengths of streets were levelled to their foundations.  The place I lived in stopped about 30 shells whilst I was there, and had stopped heavens knows how many before.

We had nine clocks going in our cellar and I amused myself seeing how many I could rake together.  One day I was out wiring windows and doors and blew into a house that had somehow escaped damage and found a piano and a great grandfather clock that started chiming the old Ballarat Town Hall chimes as soon as I wound it up.  I rattled that piano until I brought the whole platoon up to the spot and a concert started right away with the old familiar “So Long Lettie” and winding up with the “Long Trail”, the only two tunes I could remember.  Fritz must have heard the chorus ‘cause he knocked the chimney down and became quite unpleasant and we had to clear out of there “tout suite” -my French.  I managed to get my clock home, and by hooky, I could almost swear that I was back in Ballarat every quarter of an hour.

After hanging on and wiring this place for nine long days we were relieved and left the town by (what we thought was) the quickest possible route, but heavens, it proved the slower.  We walked into a shower of shells and two more of our chaps were carried out.  We camped in a railway cutting that night and moved off before breakfast next morning and finally came to rest just off the Amiens – Roye road, in a woods by the name of Bois l‘Abbe , a woods with nine roads all meeting in the centre forming what is now called Clock Face.  One could stand in the centre of this wood and look down nine different avenues.

Our platoon had a week’s work cutting down great oak trees to be used for dugouts.  This wood was overrun with strawberries and cherries.  Of course I left them alone.  It was while in this wood that I gained much fame as an engraver.  Souvenirs were turned out by the dozen and many later found their way to the War Curio Exhibition in Blighty.

Working in the woods.

Our job as foresters came to an end much too soon.  We had dugouts to make up in the reserves.  We had about five miles to walk every night over the roughest tracks around Villers Bretonneux.  We soon adapted ourselves to mining and at the end of a week had a drive deep enough to stop anything Fritz could put on top.  Every night as we left the work for home, that Blighter would start strafing and we would have to walk miles on a narrow, winding track.  We were chased home every night or rather morning.

One morning, four of us had just left the track and were moving pretty quickly along because of bursting black shraf (shells) over on our right, too close to hang about.  We thought we were clear and eased up a bit when they altered the range and got the first about 12 feet above my head.  The concussion knocked me along the ground and rattled my nerves but that was all.  The other three chaps all got wounds, one pretty seriously.  I happened to be directly underneath, the other three in single file in front of me.  The crowd behind us came up about 20 minutes later and found the four of us in a heap on the ground.  We were carried to a dressing station where I awakened to find I was not punctured, convinced the Doctor I was all right, and went home ( to camp).

Snowy thought he was seeing things when I dragged myself through the wood.  They thought I was a sure thing for Blighty.  I couldn’t hear a thing and had a bad head and several aches for weeks after.  The Doctor had issued me with a note that gave me a weeks spell and light duties for two weeks, so I didn’t have to go out to work for three weeks and then only for one night as our Division was due for relief. We left the Villiers sector, glad to get away, but (we left them) very short in strength.

 

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Ch 23: Hughie’s WWI Letters – “Stepping Out” in France

Northampton War Hospital, England,    12.8.1918    As I consider myself top of the morning again, I reckon it is nearly time I started to give you an account of myself over the last eight months… after I stepped over to France last February.

It was raining when we stepped off the paddle steamer at Le Havre – the landing port of all troops entering France.  From the first, we marched through Le Havre to our Base Reinforcements Camp, seven miles on foot through deep mud.  Luckily the weather broke and our two day stay in camp was more pleasant than expected.  (But with) more equipment and weight to carry, off we went back through Le Havre to the station – or rather goods sheds.

Packed in trucks and an all night trip didn’t appeal to us at all, but, come to think of it, that was quite pleasant compared to some of the travelling we did afterwards.  In Rouen early next morning, we marched to rest camp and had four hours leave to have a look at the old city.   I dived straight to the Cathedrals.

Massive front facade of Rouen Cathedral

I simply cannot describe just how wonderful these old places are.  Great steeples and Biblical figures set in pillars – a mass of statuary.  I think the ‘Froggies’ must have thought I was from the bush.  I could only gape in wonder, and yet these places, or such as these, are being destroyed day after day by a nation that is trying to ram ‘Kulture’ down our throats.

Inside Rouen Cathedral

 

I often wondered just why I came over to this war, but I have only to see one of these cathedrals and the surrounding buildings and imagine myself back in Australia, under conditions similar, and I become as patriotic as ever.

I was reluctant to leave  Rouen but we left this city early in the afternoon, travelled all night and found ourselves at Etaples at daybreak.  A few hours here and it was back to the line at Hesdigneul-lès-Boulogne where I got the brightly coloured sketch I sent home.  A few more miles and we found our Reinforcements Camp at Desvres.  Two days here and a motor ride to the Battalion about eight miles away.  I managed to book myself down for the same company as Snowy and was nearly killed with the extravagance of the welcome he gave me.  A few hours to settle down and off I was dragged to partake of a Blowout.

Next day I was sent to a Lewis gun school and managed to get in the same platoon as Snowy.  Ten glorious days of bonny weather and, then, a ‘stir’ one morning found the (time here) at an end.  We were told we were going forward as Fritz had started to push.  A couple of days march, five days on and off trains brought us to Castre Fernand (?).

After a few miles march, we were billeted outside Steenvoorde, about five miles behind our front line touching the Belgian border.  A night’s rest, a short march and then 30 miles per Motor Bus found us at Ebblinghem from where we marched to billets at Rechinkem (?).  Two days rest and another stiff march to St Omer, then packed in trucks like sheep, heading south.  Things were very bad down the Somme and Australians were being rushed headlong to take the place of a broken army.

Next morning we started out to stop Fritz per foot.  Nobody seemed to have any idea where we were going to find him.  Every body we met seemed to be possessed with just one idea – to get away as far and as fast as possible from the Somme.  Two days later, our Infantry came across the ‘flighty joker’ making his way merrily towards Amiens.  Our 40th Battalion was the first to meet him and there and then proceeded a beautiful dustup.  This (40th) Battalion is reckoned on being the hardest set of ‘Knuts’ in our 3rd Division and Fritz came across a snap (met his match).  Soon our Division was dug in and ready for anything.

Two days later the 4th Division pulled in on our right and then the 2nd on the left.  Our whole Battalion was working like slaves digging trenches for miles behind the new front line.  We were billeted at Heilly and used to walk five miles through mud and slush every night till we had the country a network of trenches.  On our tenth day on the Somme, our Company moved forward to Buire, a village about 300 yards from Fritz.  I spent nine days at this place doing outpost work, took part in stopping a rush of Fritz’s, moved back to Ribemont and took up more pioneering.

After eight weeks in the line our Division was to be relieved and towards the end of our time, our 10th Brigade decided on a hop-over and so we (the Pioneers) had to connect up the new ground taken.  We got into our front line about 11 o’clock and stayed there.  Fritz evidently got wind of the stunt somehow, because he put a barrage down on us and we sat in this until nearly daybreak, when we sneaked off home.  Next night we had another go.  Saw the infantry go over the top and followed them.  Then we were digging for life until each man had a hole deep enough to afford him some protection.

Next morning we moved out for our “spell”.  The spell consisted of a march of about 15 kms., drill every morning and an occasional bit of trench digging.  Our billets were right in Daours, the subject of the picture I sent lately to Tot.  While in this place Fritz started shelling and got a good many Pommies, but none of our boys; why? for the simple reason, we always look for the deepest cellar in every billet we take, and I am beginning to think that is why our losses are fairly light.     (To be Continued)

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Ch 22; Hughie’s WWI Letters – Long, Hard Months at War

( Finding himself back in England, in hospital, Hughie has time to tell Tottie something of  where he has been over the last few months in France in his quest to help to ‘ stop Fritz’s little game’ near Amiens.   DVY)

Northampton War Hospital   England     Dear Tot

Have written to nearly everybody this afternoon and left you till last so as to take my time over it.  It is nearly a month past since I was last in a writing mood and in between times I have not written to a soul, even Grace suffered so you can see things have not been too brilliant my way.

I’ll start from the jump off of our entry into the Somme battles where our Division had the pleasure of stopping Fritz’s little game.  Late in March our Division were undergoing what is termed a months spell at a delightful little place called Belle- Houllefort outside Bologne.  On the 10th day of our “spell”, disturbing rumours came through to the effect that Fritz had broken the British lines in front of Amiens and was making a free entry across the Somme.  Before evening we were under orders for fighting order, heavens knows to where.  We marched for days before entraining in Flanders direction.  We thought we were only going north to be there in case Fritz tried his dodge up there.  Things evidently were much worse than first thought down south and before we had time to think we were being hustled off to the Somme to stop Fritz’s little gallop.

After eight days travel and little to eat we planked ourselves right down in Fritz’s way and then there started the prettiest little box-on I had yet seen.  Two days later our Forth Division put in an appearance then the 2nd and 5th Divisions – and Fritz was blocked by Australia.  Our Pioneer Battalion blew into Heilly and set to work building trenches, bridges and any old thing to make things a bit lighter for our Infantry.   Rations and the like were exceedingly limited owing to the general dis-organisation of everything pertaining to transport, but we lived on salvaged foodstuffs and lived highly.  I chased a turkey from Heilly to Bonnay and dragged it home for dinner next day.  Turkey, Bon.

From Heilly, our Company moved forward to Buire, a village about three hundred yards behind the line.  Being a Lewis Gunner, I was sent out on post duty.  Not too bad at that period.  Fritz had had enough of ‘Wattle Blossom’ and was quiet except when our artillery felt like stirring him up which they did very often.

From Buire we moved back to Ribemont and proceeded with our trench digging and wiring stunt.  On the completion of the eight weeks our 10th Brigade decided on a final hopover – we were getting relieved – and our B Company had to dig a communication trench from the front line to the piece of trench they took off Fritz.

The night came and we were marched into the C T leading up to our line.  The blighter must have got wind of the affair ‘cause he straffed us something awful.  We were kept in the C T about 6 hours and sent home.  The stunt was off.

Next night we again got behind our Infantry.  And off they went and stonkered Fritz, then over the top we went in one long line till we had caught up; then dig, dig, dig, for dear life till we had a hole deep enough for protection and were able to ease off a bit.  Next day we went out for 10 days rest.

We marched to Daours the name of the sketch sent (to) you lately, then to Blangy-Tronville.  More long walks and hard work.  Four days of slog and into the line at Villers-Brettoneux as Infantry.  Nine days of this and back to Pioneering, then out of Villers sector, 10 days rest and into Corlize-Bray sector where I had my first taste of fighting.  Nine days later I found myself in a hospital ticketed for Blighty and here I am as large as life, a few aches and expecting to get up any old day and enjoy 14 large days sick leave with a 12 pound balance in my pay book.

Toot, toot Tot old dear.  Guess I must have been born lucky.  This is only a small outline of my doings over there.  I will finish off that large letter to Grace and very likely she will let you see it.  Must hop away now, the (hospital) sister is roaming.

Toodle-oo        Your loving Brother        Hughie

p.s. Regards to Alex and Norman.  I’ll make your hair curl next letter. This is only the good side of the argument ( the war).


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Ch 21: Hughie’s WWI Letters – From a Hole in the Ground

(From a hole in the ground, where Hughie shelters each night, he writes to tell Alex of a tobacco jar that has made from a tank shell.   Now that the engraving is finished, the problem is how to send back to Alex in Australia.   DVY)

France    6.6.1918      Dear Alex

Should have answered your letter nearly a fortnight ago but we had to go on another job which lasted twelve days and I hadn’t any paper or writing material of any kind with me.  In fact yesterday was the first time I had seen my pack for well over the fortnight, and today here I am well up to my neck in it.  I’ve got a(n) awful lot to make up.

Have spent the last few days making you a tobacco jar out of two Fritz shell cones fired from his first tank to be in action and which was stonkered by the Aussies at the last place we were in.   Our boys were there for nine days and I for one was much relieved to be out of the place.

Our present abode is a two by six by three hole in the ground with a couple of waterproof sheets for a roof, into which Snowy and I crawl every night.  Do not know how long this caper is going to last but hope we are taken back shortly.

To go back to the tobacco jar.  I have engraved it all over and every design on it means something I have seen.  (Drawings of the jar and details of the engravings below. DVY)

I think I will write to Dick Forrest and ask him to take charge of it as a Lieut.  Would have more chance of getting anything like that away.  I, myself, have not the least.  I keep it in my pocket wherever I go, it weighs about three pounds, so the sooner it is on its way over, the better.  Do you think he would mind sending it for me?  I would like to put something else inside but it might make it a bit too heavy so I’ll trust to luck.

How is business at the shop lately?  Trust things are regaining their normal again.  Hope your Mater is keeping in good health also Mrs Gray and Mr Young.

Love to Tot and Norm     Best of Luck   Yours   Hughie

p.s.  letter from Mr Gilchrist.  He does bounce them in some; about two a week.

(Written in pencil addressed to Mr Alex Young, C/- Bright & Hitchcocks, Tailoring Dept, Moorabool St. Geelong,  Victoria  Australia)

Sketches of tobacco jar made by Hughie from German Tank Shell.

Symbolic images used in design on front of tobacco jar

Design for engraving on back of tobacco Jar.

And from France  on  21.6.1918  to Dear Tot

One of yours to hand day before yesterday just before I set off for work.  Also, got one from Auntie Kis with the usual ten bob enclosed.  She is a brick.  She said that I hadn’t mentioned getting any previous ones but heavens I wrote her as soon as I got one of her letters.

Say Tot, that Cpl. business is as far as I can see, knocked on the head.  A last arrival hasn’t an earthly (chance) in this Battalion.  I dropped my stripe as soon as I joined the Battalion and that is the end of it.  Perhaps after I have been here about three more years I might get a look in.

Haven’t heard anything of that Dick Forrest of yours.  I was going to send him a Tobacco Jar I made for Alex and ask him could he manage to see it safely on its way home, but now I don’t think I’ll bother the man at all.  I would like half his luck anyhow.

Fancy young Norm, a college chum, Eh!  Hope he makes a go at it.   Have not heard anything of Andrew yet.  Suppose he must still be in Blighty.  Shall have to enclose this in the Green envelope again, hope you do not mind.  Have about a dozen letters to answer and this is the last of the paper.  How am I going to manage?

Have just sent Alex an Aussie paper with a sketch inside.  The sketch is just as I stood a few nights back.    Wait till you see Grace’s Jewel box if it ever turns up, also the bangles.  Brass one but made in the field from shell cases.  I’m risking them in a parcel soon.  Must stop now for lack of paper.

Your loving brother      Hughie

(Y.M.C.A. envelope  O.A.S.  to  Mrs Alex Young, 50 Gheringhap Street, Geelong  Victoria  Australia    No stamp.  letter written in pencil)


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