Trenches: ‘an awfully desolate spot’

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. Image shows part of letter (RAIL 253/516)

R.C.S. Frost, 22 May 1915, France. Born: 30 January 1888, Regiment: 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, Regiment number: 1998; 300470, Rank: Private; Second Lieutenant, Died: 1962

Transcript (extracts)

… I am much nearer the front now, and we moved here last Tuesday. It was a long march and of course done at night, and our present billet is a farm (or the remains of one) in a large village about ¾ mile from the trenches, more north than we were before, and nearer the Belgian frontier.

It is an awfully desolate spot and constantly under shell fire. This morning I was trying to get a sleep on the grass, when a shell burst in a tree, not fifty yards away, and sent a shower of leaves to the ground. Fortunately no one was hit, another burst in the same field ten minutes afterwards, then I thought it was time to shift! So went into a barn. There are a number of dugouts around, but they are so cold, and you might get buried inside. The farm is a vile place, with a lot of stagnant water around, and a lot of German soldiers are buried here. The barn where we sleep would be improved if a shell struck the roof, and ventilated it, in our absence! As the smell inside is bad, and makes it nearly necessary to wear a respirator! The rats seem to object to our company as they often have a free fight on top of us.

Last night was my first experience in the trenches, and we returned to billet this morning. The din is simply awful, and just lately the big guns have been giving the enemy ‘beans’ every night. I am glad to say we had no casualties, although the rifle fire was heard at times, especially on our left, where the Germans made an attack on the Indian troops. The British gun fire was simply terrific, all night, and the Germans did not reply very much. It was fine to watch the flashes of our guns at our backs, although the screaming of the shells overhead is at first rather ‘scaring’ to say the least of it!

However the news we hear from day to day at this part of the front is very cheerful, and encouraging. Yesterday I came across an Indian soldier who could speak English very well, and he thought another month would see the war over, also a German officer captured near here, said it could not go on very much longer. I for one hope these remarks will prove correct!

The church here is practically demolished, just some of the walls and tower standing, and the churchyard is in a bad state. Great holes have been made and bones exposed. In these holes is water sufficiently deep to drown anybody. Great stone vaults have been opened, and coffins and bodies can be seen.

Of course the place here is not inhabited except by soldiers. I have been through some of the big houses, and plenty of good carved furniture, pictures, fittings etc. still remain in them. I also have been in some of the gardens, and roses just coming into bloom can be seen in great numbers. I should like to see them at home!

Well I must close now, and hope you are all keeping well. Again thanking you all for our good wishes. Sincerely yours, S. Frost

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