21st. Jan. 1916 56th Field Coy R.E
My dear Barbara
I have just received your letter of the 17th.inst. telling me of your father’s death. I am very sorry to hear it because although one expects this, when the wrench actually does come one feels it. I don’t think you need reproach yourself very much for not writing, as it must be some time now since letters conveyed anything to him, and I am sure death meant nothing to him except a happy release, at his age life is only a semi-concious sort of stupor. As regards mourning, nobody wears it now , if they did the whole of England would be in black; you are always quietly dressed; besides the expense is not justifiable, the needs of the living are more important than this fictitious show of respect for the dead. I am sure I would not wish you to wear it for me.To me it seems such a stupid thing to wear, as it were a placard saying look! I have lost a relative by death.
I have been in the dug-out for ten days this time and return to billets tomorrow; this has bee, if possible, by wire when I know for certain. Somehow I am not so overjoyed at going away now as I should have been in another month’s time though this is a beastly life and everybody loathes it and fervently prays for a “soft’ wound to get away from it.
I have a feeling I shall not return here and so I shall take all my kit with me. The Division goes on “Rest” a few days after I am due back and so it would be rather pleasant being with them. However we will leave it to the Fates.
What was the matter with Dick that he could not go to the “Party”; was he very sick about it?; I am so looking forward to seeing them in their “Jack Tar” suits, how funny Pat must look with his little square figure. Ruth has been at school two days now which must be a great relief to you.
If I leave here on the 26th morning I shall be in Victoria the same afternoon and you could come up the same day or the next morning as convenient. I shall have to stay in London the next day to sign these papers and also as I intend going to the W.O. and possibly Friday also. We will go to a quiet hotel.
I have had some exciting times lately as practically all our work is done at nights now the Hun having become too aggressive during the day, shelling our working parties wherever they started.. I have had to reconnoitre the ground leading up to one of our fire trenches with the object of building a new communication trench to it, and I was told that there were some ten of our men killed some time ago lying in the open, and four Frenchmen with their Chasseur helmets at their heads; so I took a corporal and a couple of men to bury them; they were practically only skeletons though their uniforms and accoutrements were sound enough; it was a bright moonlight night and as the Hun lines are on a ridge only a hundred & fifty or two hundred yards away they evidently saw us & before we knew where we were they opened up a machine gun on us, so we threw ourselves down and not a soul of us was touched but it was a narrow squeak. After a bit we crawled away & now are going to wait for a darker night to bury these poor fellows; they must have been killed when the grass was very long, and so they were left, as it is a dangerous part and the whole of it overlooked by the Huns. The Artillery fire is constant and gives us no rest, night and day they go at it hammer & tongs; one does get fed up with the noise and the shocks.
I received the Punch, Bystander, & Land and Water you sent me the other day & thanks very much for them.
Yes I knew Burke the Asst. Chief Engineer and liked him very much; he was assistant to Lavis the American Chief Engineer of that crowd. I believe Burke used to be in India at one time before he went to the States; where is he now? is he serving?. So Brown’s sister is married to Mrs Burke’s cousin. I believe the Burkes had a couple of youngsters. I had a long letter from Thornton the other day, & he said that Cabrett was much interested to see me at the centre of that group taken at Chatham. Its funny that Wiley has never written & so I have asked Clarke to send me all particulars about the house. I think I should like to get a decent job in B.A. but I am afraid that they are few and far between there . Liddle of the Pacific wrote me the other day & I have a good mind to enquire from him regarding Mendoza & Burrows; I wonder if he (Burrows) is still there. I saw in the paper that the widow of Silas G Burrows of Hartfield Conn. U.S.A. had just died in Switzerland, it must be Burrow”s mother, aged 78 I think
This time up in the dug-out I am with another battalion of Infantry as the infantry relieve each other the same day that we do & as I have stayed on I am meeting the new crowd. They do not seem as efficient as the other lot , the C.O. being a nervous and excitable sort of man (an ex regular)whereas the other C.O. a civilian is a calm quiet fellow who knows his job & worries nobody. It is extraordinary the difference in the men of various battalions varying in accordance with the character of the C.O. and there are some of the most utterly useless inefficients in command of some battalions that could be found anywhere. One is a low grade type of man who is always putting himself on the stage as it were and acting & his battalion is a byword; another battalion is simply splendid from top to bottom, and nearly all short service men not regulars. Really the regulars are not shewing up in this war & now you never see them except at the back on the staff, which is notoriously the weak point of the B.E.F. I really believe it would be much better if we were either taken away from France to fight on the Servian front or the whole lot of us put under the French Higher Command. How slowly we English act and yet there is a slow improvement, a gradual sifting out of the non- efficients, but it is so slow.
Of course you will not send those photos now of the children, it is hardly worth while before I go home. I suppose you have not done anything further about the house; if you like your house it seems a pity to change. Anyway we’ll have a good talk about it. Oh! how I long for a good soak in boiling water and really clean clothes; this farmhouse washing leaves me in doubt as to whether are the clean ones or the ones left off.
Well good-bye old girl cheer up; things will soon begin to move now that I have had my experience.
Much love to you & the babes from