Trenches: ‘up to our knees in water’

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

Jonathan George Symons, 10 November 1915, France. Born: 22 August 1875, Joined GWR: 28 October 1889, Regiment: 13 County of London Regiment (King’s Royal Rifles Corps), Regiment number: 6389, Died: 1941


Dear Bert,

Just a few lines to let you know I am alright, hoping you are the same… At the present time we are in dugouts. The weather is simply awful, raining day after day and especially night after night…To tell you the truth, while writing this letter I am wet through to the skin and not a dry thing for a change. We have got our winter fur coats and gum boots, but the latter cause more curses than you can imagine, for instance last night I was sent off to select dugouts for our platoon, which is number 37. It was pitch dark, no light allowed and in a strange place, well honestly I fell over at least 20 times got smothered in mud from head to feet and on the top of that wet though for it rained in torrents. On a round of inspection this morning to see if all were ‘comfortable’ I was ‘blinded’ up hill and down dale, ‘Sergeant this’ and ‘Sergeant that’.

How can you expect men to live in this, and then to put a dampener on the lot, was the language from the occupiers who unfortunately were in a residence that fell in during the night. They took shelter under a tree from 2am after looking for me for half an hour or so, but they could not find me, for the only thing that would shift me, after settling down, if I may call it that, would be a ‘Jack Johnson’ and then I would have no option.

While in the trenches last week John and I were up to our knees in water and got our gum boots half full. The line is a bit quiet lately and only now and again do we get a shelling, but one gets used to it. That, to give you an idea, is like sitting at Paddington and hearing the engines screech.

After our stretch this time I shall be looking forward for a short leave for I have been here nearly three months now and we stand a good chance. Well I must now conclude…Yours sincerely

Jack Symons

P.S. Every other home down near the rest camp is an Estaminet (small French café) where they sell what they call ‘beer’, and as much as I like a drop of good beer I have given the stuff out here ‘best’ for is awful muc.

Return to Letters from the First World War, part one