107 Burlington St
Sept 4th, 1914
Dear Mr. Stringer,
May I take the liberty of writing what my feelings prevented me giving expression to this morning. I recognize that Egypt may not be your final destination & realising the sacrifices you are making I sincerely hope you may be preserved in health & strength, & whatever be the dangers through which you may be called to pass, or the arduous duties you have to perform, that the only fear you may know, will be the fear of God, in whose care you are.
May your actions stimulate us to make sacrifices in the same cause & remembering you & others before the Lord God of battles, & trusting in the righteousness of our common cause, may we look hopefully, for the time, when in the providence of God, you will be able to return home, to kindred & friends.
George Butterworth, 50 years old, was Science Master at Ned’s school, Ashton-under-Lyne Secondary School. Clearly, Ned paid a farewell visit to the school prior for departing for Chesham Fold Camp in Bury.
Sunday 6th Sept 1914
The enclosed came in today and as I thought it was an advert, I opened it. For this I am sorry but Wade suggested it.
We have definite orders to entrain tomorrow at 10:00am and my address will be:
9th Battalion Manchester Regiment
East Lancashire Division, T.F.
No notice came as to our station though several units have been allotted to such places as Khartoum & Cyprus.
Captain Okell asked me to get to his company if I could and Wade has placed me there.
It feels years already since I left home & I have fallen into camping as if to the manor born.
I hope you are still progressing favourably & that you will soon be fully restored to your health, but do take care & follow all advice.
Ann, I know will now be better. Give her my love & I hope she will bear all her troubles with her usual fortitude.
There is more camp news, J. Broadbent has joined again & comes in as my junior sub. He tells me he was glad to get away especially as his wife is again pregnant. It must have taken some courage to leave her in the circumstances.
From what I hear a second division is to be raised, so you will have a chance when you have fully recovered.
And now, lad, accept all my good wishes. I don’t need to tell you to look after Ann & believe me to be
Your more than brother
Capt. Ralph Lees was taken ill at Chesham Fold camp and had to leave for an operation at the Ashton Infirmary. After he recovered he was appointed Officer Commanding the Depot at the Armoury, Ashton-under-Lyne.
10th Sept 1914
My dear Ralph,
Colonel Wade & the Officers have asked me to again write you and give you their good wishes for a speedy recovery.
We left Bury last night after experiencing a most awful storm. The camp was like a stream & every tent was inches deep. Moreover, we had just examined the men’s equipment & their rifles, great coats, etc. were left out.
The journey here was a pleasant one. We started at 9:40pm & reached here, via Penistone and Nottingham at 9:10am.
I have been on guard and have just had tea. The grub seems very good & we have first class cabins.
The men’s quarters are wretched. They are placed in specially made rooms below. These will be about 6ft 6 high & there is no ventilation to speak of. It already smells like the No 1 cage Belle Vue and they are to sling their hammocks & sleep in the same room.
We depart shortly.
I now give you again my love & best wishes.
Please give it once again to Ann & likewise if you are writing Bert[ha] & Janet, enclose this letter.
May all of you keep well & may we all unite again this year if possible.
I am no sentimentalist as you know but I keenly feel leaving all those whom I so dearly love.
Get well as soon as you can
Love to Bob & Ned
Love to Ernest & Frank
Especial love to all the girls
1. “Bob & Ned” referred to Robert Saunsbury, his brother-in-law married to his sister Janet, and Edward Saunsbury his nephew born in April 1914.
2. “Ernest & Frank” referred to Ernest Kenyon, his brother-in-law married to his sister Bertha (known to him affectionately as “Bert”), and Frank Kenyon his 8-year-old nephew. The Kenyon’s owned a successful rope manufacturing business in Ashton.
3. “The girls” were his three sisters Ann, Janet and Bertha.
14th Sept 1914
My dear Girls,
It feels something of a dream to be out here, off Lisbon in company with 16 other troopships and two men of war. Surely one will wake up & find oneself in bed at Trafalgar Square.
We left Bury as I have told you arriving Southampton last Thursday at 9am. The Aragon left at 11pm and steamed due West to Off Plymouth where the various troopships assembled. This by the way meant a 24 hour wait.
The ships then steered South at six knots for hours in order to allow a collier to travel with us. The Bay of Biscay was rough & the slow speed caused a tremendous amount of sickness. The poor men were bad in their hammocks and below resembled a pigsty.
Needless to say, I was not bad, the only food I missed being a portion of chicken which was thrown violently off my plate, along with sauce, salt & all utensils from the unprotected centre of the table.
This is an A1 boat & we have first class cabins & the grub is as good as any I have ever shuck.
It is not suited to keep us in Bury condition however though we get a considerable amount of physical exercise from 6am onwards.
Three days ago, I was inoculated for enteric. Dr. Douglas, who recognised me, (& I had not known him) as an old Owens pal, carried out the operation. The serum is injected just below the clavicle and patients are sometimes very bad. I got up to breakfast next morning but was very glad indeed to return to bed at 10 & I stayed in bed until dinner. I had no temperature or sign of fever, but the left shoulder felt just as if it had been kicked by a mule.
Yesterday three of us were in charge of the ship’s guard for 24 hours and as soon as the sun set one of the warships signalled that, for some cause, we must proceed with lights out. This we did, but inspection of 22 guards, placed all over the ship from the topmost decks to the armoury in the hold wants a bit of doing. Fortunately, I had managed to procure an electric torch.
We are now off Lisbon & hope to be at Gibraltar tomorrow. It is very hot indeed & we have no thin clothes with us. The only folks well provided for are a corps of Westminster Yeomanry. The officers & men are distinctly class, a Major being Lord Howard de Walden & there are so many honourables that I have not even noticed their names, so you see we are now in classy places.
Good luck to you all & may we have many more happy days together.
Love to each & every one
16th Sept 1914
My dear Ralph,
According to latest information, mails are to be taken off at 11pm tonight so I will add a little to what I have said to Ann.
The journey continues slowly but the hour is now very great & no drill was put on board as anticipated.
I am in very good training. We start with 45 mins good Physical Ex at 6am and the game goes on interspersed with lectures & parades of the men till 6pm.
All the officers send you their kind regards. Major Connery is very anxious to be remembered to you. He has had, or rather is having his troubles. From days ago, he was thrown through a door & fell on his head & side. There is nothing broken but he was very badly hurt & has had to keep to his bed since.
I trust by the time this reaches you that your own trouble will entirely have disappeared.
Please again give my love to Ann & accept some yourself. I seem to miss the daily sight and converse with you two more than anything else. However, we may soon be together again.
Remember me to all at Ashton & believe me to be
We think our destination is Egypt but don’t know for certain yet.
9th Batt. Manchester Regt
14 Oct 1914
My dear Girls,
We are now thoroughly settled in our quarters and training is proceeding at a very satisfactory pace.
The officer’s mess is not so satisfactory. It is run by Tipton’s Lad and costs us 6/- per day. The food is not good and when it takes nearly all one’s pay to live a change is required. We are trying a new caterer next week.
The War Dept. of Egypt seems as businesslike as any other military organization. They refuse to treat us financially as if we were other than an army of occupation, which means we draw no field allowances & are actually paid 3 /- per day less than we should draw in England. However, this will have to be altered or we shall see what can be done through parliament.
I don’t know Ralph’s opinion now, but I think we have hold of the wrong end of the stick and I am certain that if both men & officers had known what was in store for them there would have been practically no volunteers for foreign service with the Territorials. Any men who wished to fight would have joined other forces.
In spite of the dissatisfaction, the extremely rigorous training is making everybody extremely smart and we are a vastly improved battalion on our Bury form. At the same time, it hardens one & annoys incidentally to start at 5am, work till 12, then march from 8pm to 12pm, & stand again at 5. This we do twice a week.
Last Saturday I had a drive round with several others & we visited the Citadel of Cairo. This teems with interest, from Joseph’s time to the time when Saladin restored & rebuilt it when military men showed us remains of Napoleon’s cannonade, for he mounted cannon on a mosque 300 yards from the Citadel gate.
Flies, mosquitoes & other things still develop, in fact, I think we have got inoculated to mosquitoes. The barracks is on the Nile & here these pests breed & develop. One day last week my servant & I killed 23 mosquitoes, full of my blood, that had got through a hole in my mosquito net. This comes of buying cheap goods. John Broadbent bought 2 nets at 5 /- each & it is as much as they are worth. My face was blotched & bumpy all over but I carefully pricked each bite & rubbed in carbolic acid. This eased them and they are quite right now.
“Tipton’s lad” was Pte. 2086 Timothy Tipton who joined on August 7, 1914 after having previously served for 4 years in the Territorials. A collier by trade, his father was a builder and so perhaps widely known in Ashton at the time.
9th Batt. Manchester Regt
14 Oct 1914
My dear Girls,
I well remember, more years ago than I like to count, a man cleaning our front stones & one day Ann found lice on her which had come from him. Result, the man was discharged. If he had lived in these barracks he would have been rewarded for his cleanliness.
Up to the present I have been spared lice but J.B. [John Broadbent] who shares my room has not. We are having our rooms scrubbed out daily & I think we shall soon be free.
As I sit in the hall writing this, I can see half a dozen lizards running up the walls, I suppose in search of spiders and the like. The sands of the barrack square & the desert are also alive. Here ants are commonest, some very small like our own ants but others quite ¾ of an inch long. The sun may be good, but I cannot say I like its effects as well as I do in England.
We all hope, as I suppose the whole world does, that peace will soon be declared & we can leave this land. Tourists may like it as they live in luxury a short time at Shepheard’s or the Continental but I am entirely cured of any desire I had in the past of living in the East.
Let me know how you all are. I have only had one letter since leaving England. I trust that the improvement in Ralph’s health that Ann mentions continues & that the rest of you are well. Though it is only seven weeks since I left you all it seems long enough & I would give a few shillings for my usual midday meal at home.
However, what is, is & all things come to him who waits, so with the fondest love to you all, believe me to remain
Your loving brother
9th Batt. Manchester Regt
25th Oct 1914
My dear Ann,
Today is Sunday, our rest day which we spend in sight seeing. We have just returned from Barrage a place 10 miles from Cairo where there is a Dam for retaining the Nile floods.
Training here gets quite formal. The men and officers are improving wonderfully and you would scarcely recognise them as the raw party which left Bury.
I am glad Ralph is better and delighted to hear that he is doing useful work at the Armoury. In fact, I read in the Reporter that the battalion saluted our house in their route march.
As normal I want you to do something for me. There are all kinds of rumours as to when we shall leave here, any time being stated up to January. Personally, I don’t think we shall leave for France at all unless things get much worse for England at the front. As this is the case, I feel I should like some clothes. They are expensive & poor here. I know that I shall not be asking too much when I ask you to send my last new suit, 3 shirts, & 6 collars including some new ones.
These will come in about a fortnight and will be very acceptable.
In your last letter you let me know of Tipping’s settlement but did not say what to me is much more important, and that is how you are yourself.
When you next write be sure to tell me this as your health as you know is not what it might have been.
Please remember me to Miss Idle & Miss Whitehead & all others. Both officers and men will be delighted to hear from him.
Your affectionate brother
The reference to Major Connery’s young son is probably a reference to assistance provided by Capt. Lees to Arthur William Field Connery receiving his commission in the battalion after returning home from Argentina.
9th Batt. Manchester Regt
1st Nov 1914
My dear Girls,
We are still quartered here & have no information as to what will be our next move.
Yesterday we learned that Russia had declared war on Turkey and there seems some likelihood of us having trouble here. The Egyptian Army mobilised and it is said that the Dervishes are gathering in the desert near Khartoum. This may or may not be true, but on Thursday night we worked from 11pm to 4am and there were to be no parades on Friday. About 12 an order came from headquarters that no one must leave the barracks until further notice & we are cooped up here like a lot of criminals. Moreover, we have got up a full defence scheme of the barracks & of Cairo. Many Indian troops including camel corps are coming to Cairo, so it seems as if something might happen.
On Saturday we had a divisional route march, all carrying ammunition. The men looked excellent and no one would have imagined that we were a citizen army.
Cairo is a place that grows on one. As I have got to know it better, I like it and now we have got accustomed to the food and heat all is well.
I can imagine Ann here, enjoying herself as is her custom in the summer fly killing. There are millions and millions & the more you try to knock them off your face, the more they return to the attack. The natives seem to take no notice of them at all.
Mosquitoes are not now so bothersome. We seem to have got inoculated & the bites merely appear as red spots now our room too is clean, thanks to daily washing out with IZAL and the use of tons & tons of Keatings.
For food we have porridge, fish & omelets for breakfast, decent meal & cheese for lunch & a quite reasonable dinner. The fruit we get is rather disappointing and fruit is unfortunately the chief vehicle for the conveyance of typhoid.
Letters come here badly & I am sure there must be some on the way, in fact there must be many travelling both ways. Up to the time of writing I have received 4 only so if you receive several from me in a bunch don’t be surprised.
I hope to be with you all at Christmas but don’t think it possible now unless the war suddenly collapses which seems unlikely.
Let me know how you all are from time to time, don’t blame me for not sending more items of interest – there are none here – and believe me to remain
Your loving brother
For Ralph Ernest & Bob:
Beer very dear & bad. 1/- 3d per bottle
Whisky good. Usual brands. 2/- 6d per bottle
Soda Eng. 6d per bottle. Native 1d
Too warm to drink before sundown.
Cigarettes good. Cigars rotten
1. IZAL disinfectant was manufactured by Newton, Chambers and Company, Ltd. of Sheffield.
2. Keating’s Powder was used to kill bugs & fleas.
3. Ralph, Ernest & Bob were Ned’s three brothers-in-law.
22nd Nov 1914
My dear Girls,
Since I last wrote to you there seems to have been no change in the military situation in Europe. Cairo is very quiet, but North of Suez we are at present in touch with the Turkish troops.
Along with my Company, I spent last week under canvas on the desert at Abassia where there are shooting ranges. I did not exactly qualify as a marksman though practice may rectify this.
It is very hot still during the day, but at night, on the desert it gets bitterly cold, in fact, almost freezing. These extremes are causing much sickness & make Egypt an ideal place for pneumonia.
Tomorrow we are going into the desert towards Memphis in a three days trek. We carry all our food & water with us, bivouac in the desert, and I anticipate, generally have a rotten time.
Much fun has been caused by the letters which appear in the Reporter. Wade played Hamlet with Shaw & Wood because their people had been foolish enough to let the Reporter man see their letters, & then to crown all one of his own appears via Brownson.
It is also amusing to read the lies told by some of our men about shooting Arabs, etc. These descendants of Munchausen have been unmercifully chaffed by their messmates that I think the punishment fits the crime.
As a battalion we are receiving a tremendous amount of unwelcome attention from the brigade staff. The Brigadier seems to have made a dead set at the 9th, and I feel sorry for Wade. He is so worried that he is getting nervy and completely out of sorts. These are the times when I feel there is a not inconsiderable advantage in being a junior sub.
The hard graft is unsettling many others. Hilton has been in bed this week & Egbert Howorth is so ill that he has been sent to Helwan for a few days. He has been ill now for a month & does not seem able to get well.
Personally, I am fit & full of energy. I can march with the best and after a hard day’s tramp frequently play ten sets of tennis; and from this I feel less discomfort than I did at twenty.
Since writing the first two pages I have made arrangements for food for the trek. We shall have bread and bully beef the first day, & the second & third days bully beef and biscuits. We are also taking a large quantity of cheese. Not such a masonic banquet, is it? Still, we keep on keeping on, and like hard labour it does one a power of good.
I am getting to the end of my paper and must therefore conclude by again wishing you all everything that is good. I am afraid I shall not be home by Christmas but I assure you that you are never out of the thoughts of
Your loving brother
Major Arthur Hilton was the battalion’s Medical Officer. He died in Egypt on March 4, 1915. Ned and Major Hilton both belonged to the Minerva Masonic Lodge in Ashton.
2nd Dec 1914
My dear Ann,
I received your parcel today. Everything was quite in order including the chocolates for which I thank you most kindly. It was quite characteristic of you and brought home to me most vividly the innumerable little kindnesses which you were daily doing for me when I was at home.
We have had a rather rough though enjoyable week since I last wrote you. Our Company was ordered to go on a trek in the desert, and we departed carrying what we could on the backs of 12 camels. We managed to put in our valises and sleeping bags with one blanket each for the men. At night when we bivouacked, we dug a hole in the ground and nestled together. For food we took tinned meat, tinned jam, biscuits, cheese & butter. Bread was only taken for one day as it does not keep & we also had water for one day and a plentiful supply of tea,
As usual we forgot to look after officer’s canteens and we were forced to cut our own food up with our knives & drink out of empty condensed milk tins.
After the first day we were only able to get filtered Nile water & I disgusted our cooks by making them boil this for half an hour before making tea.
The desert in the day is extremely hot but at night it grows so cold as to freeze. No rain had fallen since we arrived in Egypt but we got it the first night and as we lay there was a regular downpour. This did not affect me in the slightest but I am sorry to say that Frank Hamer at once began to complain of pain in the side and since we returned, he has developed pleurisy and is now at the Citadel Hospital, doing as well as can be expected. Nearly every other officer has been ill though we were the only Company to go on the trek. Egbert Howorth has had a complete breakdown. He is now at Helwan and seems making a slight improvement, though he was very much down in the dumps when I saw him last Sunday. Another officer, Cooke is in hospital with scarlet fever & Hilton & Wade have also been ill. Up to now I have not been on the list.
We are making arrangements for 20,000 troops from Australia and shall shortly leave here for Abassia where we shall start Divisional training.
I should like Ralph to get out, when he has time, how much it has cost him to replace the many things I took from his kit and reimburse himself from any money which may come in for me.
Your last letter seems quite cheerful and I am glad of it.
I intend having my photograph taken as soon as I can get out and will let you all have one for Christmas. It seems funny to talk of Christmas with the sun blazing hot at mid-day but it is quite on the cards by six o’ clock. It is this extreme variation of temperature which is giving us much trouble.
There is no real news here of the war, for what we get in the papers is obviously cooked. It seems to me the 9th will be a long time before it gets into action, though the trains of wounded which come in from time to time prove to us that fighting is going on not far away in Sinai.
Keep up your spirits old girl and look after yourself. You can rest assured I am now quite capable of looking after myself. Give my love to Ralph and the girls – may we all meet soon – and believe me to remain
Your loving brother
P.S. I learn that we shall be at Abassia Barracks for Christmas, so address any letters.
9th Batt. Man Reg.
6th Dec 1914
My dear Girls,
I wish you all at home a most happy Christmas.
I hoped to be home with you but instead shall spend the holiday on Divisional Training. The 9th has been allotted the main Barracks, Abassia, Cairo and we take over next Monday. These quarters are no improvement on our present ones. The rooms are unfurnished, and the men will have to sleep on the floor. I don’t suppose they will mind a bit – they seem to be able to do anything now.
I learn from letters from Ashton that I have been ill and am being invalided home. This may be sarcastic, but I don’t like it as I think I have the cleanest bill of health of all the officers.
You will be pleased to learn that Frank Hamer has completely recovered from his illness. He returned from hospital last Monday and seems thoroughly himself again.
I hoped to get a photograph taken for you for Christmas, but have not had time up to now. As soon as possible I will have one taken.
The things enclosed are worked by natives in the bazaars. I saw one of the trays finished and it is quite interesting to see the men inlay the silver.
Ralph, Ernest & Bob must wait till I can find anything for them, but I give them my heartiest good wishes. Ned will have to wait also. They don’t seem to do anything for children here but manufacture them, and in this they are distinctly successful.
The table centres I hope you will like. The small things I took after debating on the price in a manner Egyptian, for discount.
We know nothing of our future work but whatever I get, and whatever may happen, I hope you will all enjoy yourselves as much as you can, and 1915 may see us all reunited in one happy family.
Again, Good Luck to you all
Abassia Main Barracks
26th Dec 1914
My dear Ralph,
I got your most welcome news of Ann two days ago. It was rather funny. Two letters form you came in the same batch & I read the one in which you said she was convalescent first. The house must have resembled a hospital, but I think that you were wise in employing a nurse.
We finish our brigade training on Wednesday and return to Kasr-el-Nil on Thursday. The training has been extremely hard as we have had a march of from 5 to 7 miles each day to the rendezvous. Much improvement has been shown by all units, but there still remains in my opinion great room for far more.
On Christmas Day we gave the men a good feed. The Mayor sent £80 and we gave them a good do. The men thoroughly enjoyed themselves and there were very few sober when the job was completed. It seemed to do them good to let themselves go and all were becoming a bit stale with the continuous training. Today sports are being held for the Military and we should put up a decent show at them.
I am very sorry that you seem so unsettled at the Armoury, but you have the consolation that no one in this war has a bed of roses. Goodness knows we have enough to do and quite as much as we are physically capable of, and in addition to this there is nothing but harassing criticism from the brigade staff.
Wade sprained a muscle in his leg last week while running after a mule that had broken loose and he has had to be up for some days. I think he is now fairly on the way towards recovery.
The State Express Cigarettes arrived safely on Xmas Eve. They were good and I much appreciate them.
I do hope Ann will take care of herself now that she is on the way to recovery. No doubt she is worried about things in general but rest will do her the most good. I trust that she will soon be able to carry on as usual.
You seem to have had some trouble with Tipping’s affairs. Don’t bother about these things please. They can wait for some time at any rate. If the Promissory Note is of any value, you will find it on the right-hand drawer of my dressing table. Ann has my keys.
As regards what will happen to us, I cannot give you any information. We are, I think, where we shall stay for some time, if not to the end of the war. There are 30,000 Australian troops in Cairo. They are men of fine physique but seem to be almost undisciplined. These will, in my opinion, be sent on to the front when they have finished training and we shall remain.
Of course, we are seeing something of the war from the Bedouin & Turkish forces. A fortnight ago an engineer officer & seven men who crossed with us on the Aragon and who were quartered at Kasr-el-Nil, were all killed by an explosion on the Suez Canal. We only know if their deaths and no explanation of the manner in which they died is forthcoming.
The news which we get is very poor and unreliable. The papers are always stating that great victories have been achieved and correcting the news the next day, so that we don’t know where we are.
Last Sunday part of the battalion – in which I was included – took part in the ceremony of annexation of Egypt when the Khedive was deposed & Sultan Hassan placed in the throne. It was not much of a ceremony but historically very important and nice to be at.
You don’t say in your letter how you are keeping yourself. I trust you have had no return of your trouble and that you are now quite well.
Give Ann my love. I often think of you both & wish I were back in peaceful Ashton. I feel well, keep very fit indeed, and don’t altogether dislike soldiering.
I again wish you all the good things I can & remain
Yours as ever
29th Jany 1915
My dear Ralph,
I was delighted to receive your letter of the 10th yesterday.
With regard to the business portion. I apologize for, & at the same time heartily thank you for the trouble you have taken for me, and you have just done what I should have suggested if on the spot. The result of the half year’s divi is excellent & I hope all participants realise as well as I do, how much they have to thank Ann for this. I enclose the signed form & hope you will carry on your suggestion of transfer of cash.
I suppose we finished our divisional training yesterday. It has been decidedly trying. On one day we travelled over 26 miles of sand & stones to & from the maneuvering ground, & the next day over 20 – that is those who were left, for the men had to fall out by the score & one of the 5th [Manchesters] died the same night of heart failure. Things now seem to have been a steadier & last week’s work has been fairly easy.
We go under canvas tomorrow at Heliopolis, a few miles from Cairo, in readiness I think for rapid transit to the Suez Canal if we are required. Some of our division, the 7th Fusiliers are there now, and our artillery was in action two days ago, so that things are getting lively. All officers throughout the training carry their equipment & carry rifles, so that with revolvers, etc. we shall be able to give a Standout Exhibition on our return and I think one and all have had quite sufficient of military life.
You will be sorry to hear that Archbutt is in hospital suffering with gall stones. I don’t think he will see much more service & he seems to be ageing rapidly.
There are many more things I wish to tell you when I have time & I am now waiting to hand over the barracks to the 10th, so I have enough in hand.
Be sure to draw from my a/c the money I owe to you for kit, etc. Don’t forget this.
Tell Ann how glad I am she is on the improve & no one will be more glad to return home than I will.
P.S. Hope you enjoyed the St. John.
1. Ned’s father died in 1900 leaving £5,277 to his widow, daughters Ann and Bertha, and Son Ned. It would appear that some or all of this money was invested and paid a bi-annual dividend.
2. Major William Henry Archbutt suffered a heart attack and died in Egypt on February 8, 1915 after a short stay in hospital.
1st Feb 1915
My dear Ann,
Your letter arrived today and I was not surprised to hear that Jack had joined the Lancers. What I don’t like about the job is his manner of going. I really don’t know what to suggest as the best course, for I do not know details, but I fear that his affairs must have got in a bad state indeed. Do not excite yourself and above anything else, don’t throw away money needlessly for the benefit of wholesale firms with whom an arrangement can be made. In fact, I should let Ethel & the Staffords take the matter in hand and you and Ralph keep out of it. I wish I were home to do something myself.
There may be enough to pay all his debts, at least there should be except amounts owing to his wife’s relatives & us & I think the splitting up of that home was certain to come sooner or later.
Jack has never written to me. I think even with his easy-going temperament he feels at times a trifle ashamed. Doubtless soldiering will suit him, for the existence is easy when the physical fatigue is taken out. At any rate, he has shown some pluck in joining the army & it is much better than if he had just disappeared.
Today’s paper tells of submarine raids near Liverpool & we seem to be a long way from Tipperary yet. At the same time, I should not be surprised if things collapsed rapidly as soon as our armies can begin the advance.
The weather here is lovely at present. Rather unpleasantly hot in the day time – about 90o – and I think that summer on the desert, as we are at present, will be almost unbearable.
Ralph seemed more cheerful in his last letter & I hope he will go on taking things as they come & not all he can as he always does. You sound better yourself and must take all the care you can. Get away as much as you can. The half year divi was splendid & to think that this income has been frittered away by Jack makes me angry. Still, I suppose one cannot keep money & spend it.
Give my love to all my friends & relatives & keep as much as you are able to yourself. All things will come out right in the end if we have luck.
Goodbye, I think of you often & often both during the night & the day & pray that you may soon get back your health & strength.
“Jack” is Ned and Ann’s youngest brother John James Stringer. Jack married Sarah Ethel Stafford in 1911 and evidently the marriage had its issues. Jack joined the 17th Lancers and first deployed overseas to France on September 30, 1915. He survived the war but his marriage did not.
4th Mar 1915
My dear Ann,
Your letter arrived yesterday and I am extremely glad to learn that you have been able to stand the very trying time that must have undergone.
I hope Ralph is not sent out here. His great determination and strength of mind, which he has especially shown since war broke out, would carry him a long way, but Egypt is no place to send a man in the hot season. OKell wishes to stop now and of course you will know whether the change has to take place before you receive this.
Poor Albert Hilton, as you know, died yesterday and we have buried him in the English cemetery at Old Cairo today. He has not shown any sign of improvement since we left England but has had many days of sickness from time to time. Last Sunday he went to the Canal battlefield, returned to Camp about midnight & on Monday he was taken with what was thought to be enteric fever. He was removed to hospital on Wednesday and he died Thursday from meningitis, so that his old complaint claimed him at last. I shall miss him much as he & I have been very pally since we came here & such men cannot be replaced.
As regards other things, the socks have given general delight to all the men with the exception of Golightly. I have told him three times to call for them & he has not yet been. I need sincerely say that, unless he has a good explanation to give, he will get no socks.
Jack has written me. He said nothing of his affairs at home. I know Ernest will deal well with matters and the loss must go by the board. We must not be then skinned & foolish but let matters take their course for this job would have come on with or without the war.
As regards school matters, do not excite yourself more than you can & remember this, no loss is sufficient to cause any one on earth to weaken in any degree the frail hold which we have on life. Let things go on & ask Ernest & Bob to act for you if Ralph is away. They will manage things.
Now Ann you seem to be bearing up well. Keep on and we shall all pull through. If Ralph is not with you, give him my love & all the good wishes I can express. For myself I am very well but I shall be glad to again see you all.
Believe me, dear Ann, to remain
Your loving brother
1. Captain OKell’s first and only son died after a few months of life in early 1915 without OKell ever having seen him. He struggled to deal with this and was eventually invalided from Gallipoli to England suffering from a mental breakdown. The reference in this letter is the first indication of the mental strain he was under.
2. “Golightly” is Pte. 1345 Eric Golightly.
11th April 1915
My dear Ann,
I was very pleased to hear this morning that Ralph has been given another job and is not coming to Egypt. Your letter, along with one from Ralph reached Camp yesterday & I am sure that neither you nor he will be sorry that he is to remain in England.
We are under orders to move to the Canal and we expect to go in a day or two. The Turks are again massing & we are to occupy the defending trenches. This is not a pleasant prospect for summer, for today it is 83o F in the shade & the sun feels to burn one up.
I still keep well & wish I could have a weekend with you all.
Ernest has written me & he seems to be fairly worried to death with ill health, Jack’s business & other things. I am sorry I cannot be present to give a hand at arranging things, for it seems a great deal for Ernest to tackle alone, although I am sure things could not have been put in better hands.
There is little news here to tell either about the war or anything else. Training still goes on; we march up the hill & down again daily & sleep out on the desert from time to time. I enjoy greatly, in a manner, the outdoor life, but it feels nice on Sundays to come to this hotel & do oneself well just for a change.
Food is good here & something like one gets in England & there are few flies. In Camp there are so many of these now that life is almost unbearable.
I hope you are feeling better though your letter shows me that you are not so grand. You must keep up, whatever happens, as well as you possibly can. Ralph will doubtless get an opening with the new 3rd Batt. I hope he gets his Majority for this he fully deserves. Now that he is not coming here, tell him how glad I am, for I am convinced that he would never have been able to stand the terrible heat without a gradual toasting such as we have had.
Remember me to Miss Idle & Miss Whitehead. At any rate you are blessed with friends to give you kindly help while we are away. Don’t worry & let matters take their course & believe me all will be well in the end.
Au revoir, I wish I were just coming in for my Sunday dinner. Good Luck to you both & believe me to remain
Yours as ever
28 Apl 1915
We are now really on active service and – why I don’t know but it is an army order – we have on no account to disclose our position.
I may say however that apart from the risks of a bullet the place is much healthier & cooler than Cairo was. Our work is lighter, and I feel much less compunction in facing the summer heat than I did before.
We are living on men’s rations plus some imported tinned goods and I think this is better than eating so much a la stuff from a caterer. At any rate, it suits me & I feel as well now as I ever did in my life.
I received a letter from Ernest a few days ago. He deserves our many thanks, for he seems to have worked well in the interests of us all – Good luck to him.
Bertha says on a p/c that they have been with Janet & Bob and seemingly had a nice time; but the most welcome thing she says is that you are better in health. I am glad of it – let the good work go on apace.
In yesterday’s orders it stated that Ralph had landed in Egypt and would forthwith join us. How the error arose I can’t make out, but during my temporary absence from the mess, bets were freely exchanged, settlement following when I appeared on the scene. I do hope his health is better but from what Harold Hyde & Frank Marland have written me I doubt it. I did hope his operation would have made a wonderful difference but doubtless his many worries have upset him. At least he has the good wishes of all.
Now Ann don’t worry. We are all in the lap of the gods & can take anything that comes however unforeseen. I think of you many times a day & very often in our dark lonely night vigils but all will come out right. Believe me to remain
Yours as ever
2nd May 1915
We have not had a very long stay on the Canal. The Turks have retreated again towards El Arish and I think they will be some time before they again attack the Canal.
This must also be the view of the authorities for we are on the move again. This time we go somewhere near the Dardanelles & I suppose our experiences of this terrible war will get worse & worse. However, we can only hope for the best but many must be left behind in Turkey. We have no use for many things and the amount of luggage we are allowed is decidedly limited, so that I thought it best to send home my mufti & other goods.
I am glad Ralph is not here. Food & water are bad. The best food is tinned stuff & our water is got in canals from the Nile & filtered. Needless to say, the health of the men is fair only & to add to our discomfort there are millions & millions of flies. I don’t think our new move will make us any worse from a health standpoint.
My letters will now be few & far between but if anybody gets through, I think I shall.
I suppose I am suffering from a bit of home sickness, but I should so like to see you all once again. Still, this cannot be and I give you all my best wishes & love from the far-off desert. I have had a rough time since I left you all, but all things have only brought home to me our mutual love which will continue to the end of time.
Good luck to you all & may we meet again soon.
Believe me, dear Ann, to remain
Yours as ever
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
May 28, 1915
My Dear Bert,
Your welcome letter arrived today and as I am “resting”, so called, I have time to reply. We have been three weeks here & during this time I have lived many lives. We saw a bit of fighting on the Canal and then came on here. As we arrived, we found the whole British fleet in action and hundreds of guns replying. I never realised how real Belle Vue fireworks were but this bombardment which I suppose is the biggest that has happened in the history of the world was terrible.
At any rate the army is now well fixed up on land. When we landed, we were heavily shelled & an old South African soldier said he had seen more shells aimed at us in 10 mins than he saw in the whole South Africa war.
We advanced and occupied trenches and all through the night realised what rifle and maxim fire was. Later, we dug ourselves in the earth and then lived in dug-outs in the earth for some days. At last, we occupied the firing line & at the end of five days when we could not sleep, my company was given the job of making an advance. Each man took a pick and shovel and we rushed out in front and began to dig a trench 150 yards forward. We of course got head cover as soon as we could and by 2am were fairly well established though machine guns tried their best to remove our cover and get us at all points. We struck a spring about 3am and the water got above our knees and to add to our discomfort a heavy storm broke over us.
We worked on however, as only men who fear the worst can and they could not relieve us until 3pm next day. During those 30 hours I lived a lifetime and the feeling came that anything was preferable to a continuance of things. Now in the rest camp in delightful sunshine by the sea in a country resembling Marple things seem brighter.
Of our many casualties and trials, I will say nothing but I think all actually fighting & realising what war is, want peace – peace with honour but not too unbending an attitude.
Of the many thousands of England’s best lives lost I say nothing but no one can realise what privations men on service have to go through.
Give my love to all & may we meet sometime again.
This serves as a reply to all letters. As regards business matters, they must go by the board. I am in agreement with any action taken. Money matters so little now that it might not exist at all.
Again, I give you all my love & hope to meet you again before very long.
Ever Yours, dear Bert
Tell Ann the paper may be a bit faded before I see Trafalgar Square.
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
June 7, 1915
It is my painful duty to inform you that Ned was killed in action on the evening of 7th inst.
On the morning of the 7th our Co. was ordered to charge the enemy & clear them out of two trenches in front of the firing line.
On the left were other troops not belonging to our Bn. who had a similar task to perform.
Capt. Hamer and Wade were to charge one trench and Ned & I the other trench.
I was posted a little to the left to give the signal for the advance.
I gave the signal shortly after 7:30 and with a mighty cheer our troops advanced.
Immediately the enemy opened a terrific rifle and maxim fire but Ned & I succeeded in reaching the trench. Unfortunately, the enemy were able to open enfilade fire which made the trench absolutely untenable.
We had to retire but only about four of us succeeded in doing so to safety.
Hamer and Wade were subject to cross fire and poor Hamer fell before he had reached the trench. Wade succeeded in capturing the trench and held it until about 2 in the morning. I was of [the] opinion that this trench would be enfiladed as soon as dawn came and ordered the men to vacate the trench.
All the Bn was shocked at the terrible news. Ned had made himself a favourite with the men and also with his brother officers.
We all send to you our deepest sympathy.
I may add that we had 18 or 19 killed and 25 wounded out of 120.
I will write you again in a few days’ time.
Yours very Sincerely
G. H. Okell, Capt.
A slightly edited version of this letter was published in the Ashton Report on June 26, 1915. This is the original unedited version.
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
July 30, 1915
We got the order to attack two saps leading to a gully, about 7 o’ clock pm and we were to attack at 7:30. There was no time for preliminaries, and I never saw Noel after about 6:30. The Company moved to position, and I was ordered to go down the sap which lay on the left with my cousin Ned and his men. This sap met the other sap to be taken, in the gully. Both saps and gully were occupied by Turks, and we were informed that another party was to clear the gully before we attacked. This attack was not successful, and led to our heavy casualties. Capt. Hamer, Lt. Wade, and Noel’s men, and Joe Harrop’s men, went over the top and stormed the other trench across the open. We had just to nip over the parapet into our sap, one after another. Ours seemed an easy job, but a little lower down it turned out a bit of a death trap, and when I got to the bottom, after stepping over one or two, and passing out one or two wounded, cousin Ned, who was then hit in the shoulder, ordered us back. A maxim gun was firing up the sap out of the gully, and another was firing up the other sap, and of course the two fires crossed at the bottom. Out of those who got past the cross fire, only two: Eaton and a chap called Kenna, returned unhurt out of nearly twenty. I came out immediately Ned ordered me back, as there was no more cover near, and to tell the truth I don’t know how I managed without being hit.
It was some time before the other sap was opened to the trench, and I was able to obtain any information of the remainder. They had fared very little better than our party, and as there were more of them, they had too, a good number of hits. Amongst those who had failed to gain the small cover afforded was Noel. Where he was in the charge I don’t know, except that he was on the left of the Captain. And now the only thing that has worried me is this. We have not been able to recover any of the killed, and we don’t know whether they are still lying in the open or not. I should like to have seen them decently buried, but it is out of the question now, unfortunately, and it will be impossible to get any article from their clothing to send home.
From our point of view the object to be gained, was the thing, and although only partially successful, the Turks have not ventured there since, so I understand.
[237 CQMS Henry Stringer]
1244 Sgt. Walter Steuart Eaton. Discharged to commission in 1917.
1389 Pte. Charles Kenna. Discharged in 1916 no longer fit for active duty.
1125 Sgt. Noel Duncan Braithwaite. KiA June 7, 1915.
1126 Sgt. Joseph Cox Harrop. Discharged to commission in 1917.
9th Dec, 1915
Dear Cousin Ann,
I received your welcome letter on 4th Nov two days ago, and saw Potter yesterday, and he showed me a letter from his sister informing him that you had kindly called and paid the £4. Potter wishes me to thank you very much for your kindness in the matter.
Ned certainly had a deal of money with him when we were knocked about in June. Before we went into action, he asked me to pay his servant what he owed him, and said he had several pounds in his pocket. From that day to this, we have not been able to approach the spot where most of the men lie, and only a short time ago I sent a Sgt to the place to make enquiries, but no results came. We have a rumour that the bodies of several have been recovered and buried, but we can get no definite news from the troops now occupying that position of the line. It is possible that at one place a few bodies could have been recovered, as a new sap has been dug, but Ned was not in that neighbourhood. I shall persist in my enquiries, because in addition to Ned, I must try to find something of Noel Braithwaite and some of the others whose mothers have written to me for information.
I sincerely trust that Jack will come through safely. It’s a terrible war, and few families now are not touched by it. However, we are fighting for home, and for those who are dear to us, and not least of all, for those who are coming after us, and we must bear all to win through in the end.
All at Colwyn seem to keep pretty well, and I have sent your kind remembrances along. By this time, it is possible mother has been over in Ashton. The last letter I had said she was thinking of coming over, and if so, I hope you have seen her.
All of us out here fully recognise the good work Ralph has done, and the draft men all speak highly of him, and this in spite of his superior officer, who seems very well known and is disliked indeed. I am sorry his illness still keeps a hold on him, and I am afraid his quality of being a glutton at the good work he is doing, won’t help him much. He does too much and I should certainly like him to be in the pink to welcome us home, which he will not be if he insists on taking too much work on his hands. Can’t you get him away on leave for a month?
The sooner we get compulsion, the better it will be, and I for one would like to see a few Stamford Street M.N.C. out here, just to tame them a bit, and let them realize what life really means.
The old officers still decline, and of those who were in the Battalion before mobilization only Major Connery and Capt. Woodhouse are left.
Major Connery wishes to be remembered kindly to Ralph and yourself.
With kindest regards, and best wishes for Christmas and the coming year.
Yours Very Truly
These letters and personal papers have been transcribed from originals held at the Imperial War Museum. They are provided here under Non Commercial Use License and remain the copyright of the IWM.
They are catalogued here at the IWM but note that they are misnamed and somewhat inaccurately described.