Trenches: ‘a veritable maze’

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)

Gilbert Williams, 6 April 1916, FranceBorn: 18 April 1894, Regiment: 1/6 Seaforth Highlanders, Regiment number: 2175, Rank: Private, Died: 1967. Note: Williams also fought in Second World War and returned from war on 15 November 1948


Dear Mr Hunt,

Thanks very much for your letter which I received a week or two ago, also for the magazine.

We are in the trenches just now. In fact we seem to spend about three times as much time in as we do out. Also we are in a pretty warm spot, it was about here, towards the end of last summer that the French and German had some of the fiercest fighting of the war. The country around about is a veritable maze of trenches. The fighting at one time was so fierce that there was only time just to bury the dead in the sides of the trenches, and now that the trenches have crumpled one is constantly seeing the bones of men’s legs or their boots, or skulls sticking out from the sides of the trenches, pleasant, eh? There will be a pleasant smell here in the summer. I only hope we are not here then. In places we are only about twenty yards away from Fritz and company. Consequently all times the air is pretty thick with bombs, grenades and trench mortars. These last are pretty hellish sort of toys. They have an explosion like about ten earthquakes rolled into one. But even these are not the worst we have to put up with. The trenches being so close together there is of course any amount of mining going on. So one never knows when the particular lump of earth one is standing on is going to take a trip through the solar regions. When a mine does go up, there is some excitement knocking about I can tell you. Suppose for instance we were going to explode one, all the artillery in the neighbourhood is ranged on the spot and directly the mine is exploded, there is hell let loose on the crater. Of course as soon as he gets the range the enemy replies, so that the air is fairly full of everything that kills quickly. One can on these occasions always rely on a good many casualties. Since we have been in this spasm there have been five exploded in this neighbourhood, while others are expected to go up at any time. So much for conditions here.

How is everything in town? Pretty quiet I suppose. I see you’ve had the zepps (Zeppelins) over again? Is it a fact that one dropped in the Thames? (Lines censored.) That is about all the news, so will close, kindest regards to everybody. Yours very sincerely,

Gilbert Williams.

Return to Letters from the First World War, part two