How’s mum? Are you taking care of her? Well the biscuits you sent me were just delicious, all my mates are asking for more, I love the notes you send me, they make me happy and help me forget about how difficult and horrible the war is. She must be having a hard time since you decided to join the army, as she already lost her husband me. I know you think its great, but to be honest it is not that amazing. I know what you feel like, you are probably bored of home, but trust me this is worse. Let me give you a little insight.
Our day begins at 5am after 3 hours of sleep in a damp dugout with 5 of my mates. We always start and end a day with a Stand To which is when the front line soldiers are sent to the fire-step with their bayonets fixed, which is very heavy to their hands and proceed to shoot at the enemy, the Huns. We then get our breakfast, which consists of stale hard biscuits that we have to soak in coffee or tea to be edible, and if we are lucky, some jam and bread. Then we are sent to sit in the dugouts, trenches set back from the front line. Here we wait and wait, full of boredom, until there is some action, then when we start shooting. Soldiers are rotated and move from the front line to the other trenches. In the communication or reserve trenches, we chat and smoke remembering home and the loved ones we left behind.
I really miss you and mum, it hard being away from home for the first time. At night, we take it in turns to fix the barbed wire and receive supplies. Behind this, there is a communication trench and a sap, which is a tunnel that leads to no mans land (land which belongs to nether side) which is where we fight. Behind this comes the reserve trench, which is where we wait to be called up and often sleep. When we change location and the troops move forwards or backwards we have to walk with backpacks that weigh sixty pounds, and boots that weigh ten pounds and a helmet that is some four pounds. A truly tiring experience.
Another thing you will miss is food from home. The food you take for granted. We hardly ever have any hot dishes. All we eat is tinned food because it does not spoil, and if we are lucky we get some vegetables. For lunch, we have corned beef, bread and cheese, which all taste the same. Water is often in short supply and so it is rationed. You do not take anything for granted here. I really cherish the hot meals mum made. I have started to smoke, to help me lose my appetite. I know it is unhealthy but it helps with the nerves calming me and taking my mind of the war.
Gas, Gas is horrible, I have seen so many people who have died from it, and there are two types of gases. The first one is chlorine that is a yellowish colour and you can die if you inhale too much. You could choke to death as you lungs get filled with a poisonous gas. Your face goes a blue green colour. Chlorine causes a slow death towards asphyxiation. The second gas is mustard, which is colourless, and you never know if it is around. In my opinion, it is the worst as you can go blind and you get blisters all over your body.
You can even die. The symptoms are vomiting; high fever and you cannot even swallow. I know this because one of my best friends died because he did not manage to get his gas mask on in time. It takes 12 hours before all these things start happening to you. It is awful to see one of your friends die in front of you. There is nothing you can do. Gas is very risky as you can only use it if the weather is not windy because if it is then the gas you through at you enemy will end up on you.
Another bad thing are the weapons; we sometimes have to share them if there is a shortage. My main weapon is the Bolt-action rifle. It would fire 15 rounds per minute, I once killed a kraut, which was 1400 meters away with my gun, and it is extremely powerful. We sometimes use machine guns, there amazing it fires about 600 rounds a minute. They take six men to run and it has to be on a flat surface. A soldier inside the machine gun died due to the heat that is created.
The krauts and us were stale mate which is basically when either of us can take each others land, we came up with a solution, there was a weapon called the artillery which is a large, heavy caliber mounted with field guns. It took us 12 men to work as the shells were extremely heavy. Shells caused a lot of havoc and damaged a lot of the enemies land. The krauts used the blimp, it was awful. They used to drop large bombs of hydrogen , and shot at us with machine guns, but once we got ready it was an easy shot for the artillery, and so our problem was solved. The same thing happened but with planes, they use to shoot at us and drop bombs.
No mans land is the area were we fight; it is between the krauts and us. So many dead bodies lay there, being eaten by the rats and mice, it is disgusting. At night when the enemy cannot see us we go and collect all the dead bodies, fix the wire and anything wrong with our trench. The worst battle I went through is the battle of Somme; a catastrophic number of people died and were injured, it was an extremely bloody and violent attack. I remember it so well, it happened July all the way to November 1916.
We were told by our officer that we had to go over the top, which meant that we had to cross no mans land, and if we did not do so then we would be shot by our own army. Due to all the bombings there were large pits in no mans land where we could hide and spy on our enemy. We would have to slide on our bellies so that we would not been seen or would be a hard target for the Huns, we used to call that the crowed tour on the tum. In the battle of the Somme, we released artilleries for 7 days 24 hours non-stop, it was so exhausting. It came to a time that we were stalemate for so long that the war became a contest of attriction; who ever lost the most men would lose that day.
So many men were killed in this war, I do not think anyone can keep count, and there were only four stretchers, between us, there were so many injured soldiers who died because they did not get the help they needed quick enough and so they die of shock. If you were a lucky one did get a stretcher you would still have to wait 3 to 4 days to go to the hospital, it was so aggravating to see that the soldiers could not receive help urgently. We were told not to help wounded soldiers but to help ourselves and to fight; it was hard to watch your best friend die. The nurses did not have the basic supplies and so were medically unprepared. Sometimes the war was so harsh that soldiers injured themselves a little bit so that they would be kicked off the army, we called them blighty.
Trenches were not the best thing in the world, in my opinion they were the worst. In October there was so much rain. Our trenches were completely flooded with water and
mud, we were drowning in dirt. There were so many diseases that we could not stop getting; one of them was dysentery, which is when the lining of your large intestine inflames, so you get diarrhea and stomach pains. It is awful, I once had it and I could not fight for 1 week. I had to drink I lot of water to make sure I would not die. Another disease was trench foot, it was a nasty disease that occurred because we were not allowed to change our boots and socks, so as we stood in waterlogged trenched our feet started to rot, swell and go red and even blue. If the case were extremely serious, you would have to amputate it. I remember once when so many soldiers had trench foot that it became part of our routine to change socks and make sure we were not infected. Another horrendous disease was lice. Once one Tommy had lice everyone did. Do you really want to experience all of these terrible tasks? If I had one wish, it would to be home.
You would have lice in your hair and clothes; you would have red blisters all over your body. You would put you clothes in a large vat to try to remove the eggs but it rarely worked. As well as itching lice carried, another disease called trench fever it causes shooting pains to your lower leg. Do you really want to go through all this? There is another disgusting problem which is when large swarms of rats come into the dugouts and trenches and feed on anything around them, they even feed on dead bodies. They are so fat and huge and produce so many offspring that all you can do is run. The good thing is that we had our separate dugouts, which were about 4 feet tall and 6 inches wide like the size of our living room back home.
The war was not only bad, I do have to tell you the truth, and I guess there was some fun, like joining up with a bunch of your friends. We all take it in turns to sit in each of our dugouts; we tell each other stories and play cards. There is more, people look up to us like heroes which is a good feeling inside and sometimes we even get medals and everybody crowds around you, it makes you feel special and strong. But most of all it a more exciting life, it is quite boring at home, I must admit, but I just had to tell you war is not as good or bad as you think it is. It is a bit of both.
John I am not trying to persuade you not to go to war, I am just telling you to think about it, it is a big descion that will change your life, and we do not even know when the war is going to end. If you are really, exited please wait until you are actually the age of 18. And remember tell mum to send me some more of those biscuits Thanks a bunch your letter made me happy. Send my love to mum and make sure she is ok.
Lots of love