Dardanelles: ‘heaps have cameras taking photos’

This is one of many letters sent by staff of the Great Western Railway Audit office at Paddington who had enlisted to fight in the First World War. (RAIL 253/516)

Thomas Harold Watts, 23 November 1915, Dardanelles, Turkey. Born: 28 August 1884, Regiment: Drakes Battalion, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Died: 1953


Dear Arthur,

I really must make this effort to write to you and let you know how I am progressing. Well so far as a little internal trouble I’m keeping fairly fit now that the cold weather has started, and on my present job I can doctor myself, I am prepared to stick this campaign until further orders.

We are now in our winter quarters and a very nice place it is. Right on the edge of the cliffs, with a beautiful sea below, it reminds me very much of Cornwall. Then just across is the island of Imbros, and the sunlight on those mountains is sometimes marvellous. On a quiet, warm day, with the birds singing, one wonders if there is a war on, but the blooming shells soon drive that idea away. It’s jolly cold now though, but we have been served out with nice thick underclothes, and waterproofs, and top boots and except for always living in the ground, our comforts have been looked after as far as possible. Our food is as good as anyone could want, also I’m now used to a lot that before I’d turn my nose up at, and so long as the ships can land the goods I don’t think we shall be so badly off.

Mind it does blow, and the sea gets awfully rough and then no ships can come near us. We have the sea on three sides and the Turks on the fourth, so we are truly between the devil and the deep sea. The Turks still find some ammunition from somewhere whether our guns and the warships knock the very dickens out of them. It’s very exciting to watch a battle especially now it’s on our side the guns are not like at Antwerp where we were the ones potted. Now I am too sleepy to continue and as the firing has quieted down I’m going to sleep and continue tomorrow.

5/12/15. I’ve not had a chance to finish this letter before, so here goes. We’ve had snow and rain and thunder and such lightening, and Lord it has been cold, everything frozen and even the water in my water bottle. But today has been beautifully mild and calm, almost like summer again. I have just received a packet of letters from my wife, written at different times since May, so am still in hopes that there may be some more back dates knocking around the world for me. We had three men killed last night in a little spasm, and today our guns and the Turks have been flinging dirt at each other. We used to duck once upon a time, as the shells came over, but now everyone seems curious to see what sort of a burst it will be and how much dust is knocked up, and heaps have cameras taking photos.

Enclosed is a bit of heather which grows in great profusion all over the peninsular. And the troops use in the trenches to boil their dixies on. And now about the office. Do you know but, it’s quite an effort to remember the routine now…

I suppose Mr Millow is still with you and is there any chance of H.R.H. Goff joining say as a S.C. (probably Senior Clerk)? There is now a singing in the air and bang just as I write they’ve dropped one over to us. Sometimes a shell bursts, and when we are working at something we don’t even know it’s come along. It’s funny what you can get used. But to get back to the office. I expect you have heaps of ladies there now, lord I haven’t seen a woman since April. What do they look like? I expect they scent out the office, and how careful you all must be not to swear. We often laugh here at the thought that if ever we do return to civil life again, we’ll be digging a little hole in the garden to live in and stirring up our tea with a bit of stick or our finger and just spit on the floor when smoking and if a little tickling in our shirt, just hopping it off in the street.

I am out of paper (he is writing this on envelope), but it don’t matter. How are the lambs going? Here’s one that’s doing a little doing a little bleat far from home. I’d like to come you know, and have a rub at a bed and a roof, also a drop of beer perchance. Living in a hole for seven months now and the blue sky above gets a bit monotonous at times especially when the dirt will persist in falling on your face when you are trying to sleep and when it rains you’re up to your knees in no time, and that’s always at night. We had rum served out tonight and do you know, I can’t bear the stuff, just pause and think by the wayside, I can’t drink rum, in fact I hate it. How we do change by time. Now how is everyone down the club? Remember me to Emmie and Mrs Fellows and May. I understand that Mr Welsh and Mr Davies have been awfully kind to my wife, and I reckon its jolly good of them. This war seems to have found me so many kind friends, I don’t know what I’ll do to repay them all if I live through this…

What has become of Beaumont and Jackson, and is my pal Jimmy Edwards still alive,… Bert I’d like to send you a Turkish shell but the post office won’t accept them for transit, anyhow perhaps I’ll bring home a nose fuse for a paper weight. Do you know back in the summer I had a shell drop just off the seat of my trousers and it did not explode. Kaw! It was a bit of luck, I didn’t stop to pick him up though, in case he changed his mind later. Well now I’ve tried to remember everyone, but do you give heartiest good wishes to the office for a Merry Xmas and a victorious New Year and trusting you’ll all be safe from Zeppelins. Yours very sincerely,

T. Harold Watts

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