Wednesday [ 28 April ]. - We went to the trenches by road through Ypres. Got there without much damage been done to us.|
Spent in trenches from Wednesday night to Friday night, 12 o'clock, being under heavy shell fire all the time, several being killed and
wounded. This was the first line trenches, we could see the Germans occasionally, but they kept away out of range. We were relieved on the
Friday night and went into some Reserve trenches. These were not so badly shelled.
So many of us are told off each night to bring rations up to the trenches, going for them as far as the Transport dare fetch them.
We had an odd shell or two over us. It was grim and awful night to meet stretcher bearers with their burdens of suffering. Also others,
not so badly hurt, plodding along the roads to Hospital with bandaged heads and legs and arms.
Saturday night now. Hardly know yet what the night may bring for us. May God still protect and keep us.Amen.
Saturday [ 1st May ] night we spent "standing to arms", expecting to be called out for a long march. This is as tiring a job as marching,
standing with all our equipment on, having each to keep awake. It proved we were not to be called out then.
Sunday morning. Early on a mate and me rose early, not being able to sleep very well. Lit a fire of sticks and made a couple of dixies
of tea. This was 4 o'clock in the morning. My mate too fried some bacon and we thoroughly enjoyed our early breakfast, being very hungry.
After partaking of this, most of the other lads were woke in the trench and we couldn't help but exclaim on the beauty of the morning
and of the place round us just then, when all was peaceful. The cuckoo was heard calling to his mate, the blackbird and throstles were
singing in unison and even skylarks soaring up to the heavens with their song, with the roar of shells bursting occasionally, to recall
us to what was a grim reality.
Strange but true, the beauty of the Sabbath morning seemed to draw our thoughts more to God than ever it did during the week of strife,
causing us with one accord to join in singing together some of the songs and hymns loved by Soldiers and then I couldn't help but close by
a brief prayer, giving thanks to God for his sparing mercies and goodness up till now.
Sunday afternoon. 2 o'clock.
P.S. One of the biggest blessings we found in the trenches, was after digging down a bit to find plenty of good water.
This proved a Godsend to us, as all will recognise.
On Sunday night our Reserve trenches were badly shelled by the enemy. They used both shrapnel and big guns, but worst of all came when
they poured into our trenches shells full of poisonous gas. These were most awful, almost suffocating us. We had to use respirators over
Then orders came for us to reinforce the first line trenches. This proved almost worse than our first attack. Maxim guns
and rifles cracking out their doom amongst us. It was like Hell let loose. They bombarded us heavily all night and the London Rifles
Brigade, whom we reinforced, lost an awful amount of men.
Incidentally, I may mention here, that the wind changed a bit while they used their poisoned shells and it blew back on their own men,
sealing their doom more so than ours. We considered this an act of God and a judgment on them.
They were so short of stretcher bearers, some of our own men had to go and carry in the wounded to Hospital to be looked after.
This was a dangerous job for they were shelling roads and firing unceasingly. After I had been twice, a distance I may mention about a
mile and a half from firing line, they still had a lot of wounded lying about and I volunteered again to go the distance.
The mates who had been before were paid out and it was getting near daybreak.
The most dangerous part of the day, for it is then generally an attack is made, or at sunset.
We accomplished the distance again and the thanks we received from the wounded men was unbounded.
I believe in the old saying - "Cast thy bread upon the waters and it shall return after many days."
In getting near the trenches again, morning had dawned and I received a fusillade of bullets all around me, but by God's goodness, I
again escaped and got in the trenches safely and then found I had to dig myself in. I was beyond dispute almost knocked up. I dug a
bit and then laid down in the trench, wet as it was and slept fitfully, dreaming of home - to waken up disappointed.
After being in the trenches all the next day, we retreated.
I mention here the difficulty experienced in getting rations up to the trenches. It was a most dangerous job. We had to go without
food except a few broken biscuits, some of us carried. I may say here the biscuits are awfully hard and a few weeks after, I broke one
of my false teeth off in tackling one when hungry.
This made our task a hopeless one being without food for some of us could only sleep an hour or so at a time, taking our turns sentry,
looking out for movements of the enemy.
Then we got orders, I believe, for a general retreat on that part of the line, being in a place like a horseshoe enfiladed on every side.
The movement was made to nonplus the Germans, who never found out till late next day that our trenches were empty.
When they did get there, they did get a warm reception,for our Engineers had been busy mining the trenches during the night and blew them
and the Germans all up. Besides them being subjected to heavy Artillery fire from our guns, which played havoc amongst them.
We retreated in order, one after the other leaving the trenches, not losing a man. We marched a distance then of about 8 miles and spent
the night in some wood huts, a few miles off Poperinghe.
In the morning we left these huts and spent part of the day in fields, expecting to march off sometime during the day to rest camp.
We got shelled again in these fields a bit, but they hadn't quite got our range and we took no hurt.
I mention here casually that one of our Majors speaking to another Officer said our attack made on Saturday April 19th was the first
open action in the field since November 1914.
These notes up to date May 4th, Tuesday.
In the evening of Tuesday we marched from the field where we had spent the day on to Steenvwrde [Steenvoorde] a distance of 14 miles.
Leaving field half past 7 o'clock, arriving at above place in the early morning 4 o'clock a.m.
We were straggling along the road for miles, some coming in hours later, some 10 o'clock during day. Lots of men fell out on the way.
The meagre food we had had and the awful crossing of some fields at the start off, up to boot tops in puddle, and the distance accounted
for this. We looked a very sorry lot, lack of washing and shaving too, made us all look a disreputable lot, in looks fully earning the
name of Gurkas [Gurkhas].
P.S. Our Officers suffered the same discomforts, only odd ones riding and they told us the places we had occupied had been the hottest
in the whole campaign, if not in the whole War up to now and thought we as a Company should consider ourselves lucky at the casualty list.
There were some shirkers, who pleaded sickness and sore feet, who after we had gone were soon alright again. These the Officer said had
forfeited the clasp for Service in the Field. He was ashamed of them and they got all the fatigues and orderly duties for a long time
after, while we rested.
During this rest period Joe sent the following letter to his fiancee. It appears to have gone to Barton on Humber, Lincs and been
Thursday, May 6th, 1915.
I expect by now you will have received notice of my safety,by the card I sent. I am glad to say I am keeping champion up to now. You will
have seen already by the daily papers that we have been in action and acquitted ourselves well. I was up in the first firing line on
that first attack and saw the lot of it. We have seen more service since then and been in danger many times from shells and bullets.
The Germans using poisonous shells, which well nigh choked us, several having to go to hospital to be looked after, some I believe
died. God has blessed and kept me up to now and I still trust him for the future. I have proved more than once already that His promises
are true. That as thy day, so shall thy strength be. I was carrying wounded to hospital in last affair going three times a distance of
about a mile or so from firing line, volunteered 3 times. It was daybreak the last time I got in, the most dangerous part of the day and
bullets were whizzing past me all round and still I got back safely. We are resting a while now, out of reach of guns.
I hope you
and all your folks are keeping well, for I haven't heard from you since we left Newcastle. I've sent 2 or 3 cards and a letter. Hope
you got all safely. I can't tell you how eagerly I look for news from you dearest, but I hope soon to hear from you. I've had 3 or 4
letters from home and they are all well. They told me of you having been over. I'm glad you can get some times. It will cheer you all
up a bit to compare notes. My address is the same as under. Pte J P Howe 2364, No 12 Platoon, 4th Bn Yorkshire Regiment, York and Durham
Infantry Brigade, Division T.Te. British Expeditionary Force.|
I pray God to soon cause this awful slaughter to cease, so that I can soon get home to see you and all loved oned. May God bless and
keep us ever till we meet again.
I remain Ever Yours, Joe. xxxxxx