The transcribed letters below are from the personal papers of Rev. J.K. Best held at the Imperial War Museum. These letters are not included in the book A Prayer for Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Chaplain Kenneth Best. Rev Best’s letters are provided here to throw some additional light on the conditions experienced by the 1/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment in Egypt 1914-15 and Gallipoli.
A short biography, covering the appropriate period, follows to better set the context of family, locations, acquaintances and other references contained within the letters.
John Kenneth Best, son of Julia Joanna and the Reverend John Dugdale Best, was born in Wellingborough on 26 December 1887. He had an older sister, Elsie Kate Best, a younger sister, Margaret Gladys Best (often referred to in his letters as ‘Mar’), and a younger brother Oswald Herbert Best, known in the family as Herbert.
His father became principal of Chester Training College in 1890 and in 1910 left Chester when he was appointed Rector of Sandon, near Chelmsford, and the Rectory was where most of his letters were mailed to. J. K. Best was educated at Lancing College (1899-1900), Arnold House School (Chester) and Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he was awarded a first-class honours degree in mathematics (1910). After training for the priesthood at Egerton Hall, Manchester, he became curate at St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church, Lytham, in September 1912, and was ordained a year later. In mid-1914 he was appointed curate of Bolton Parish Church.
On June 3, 1914 Best’s older sister Elsie married Bening Mourant Arnold, a civil engineer teaching at Bradfield College and a Captain in the Hampshire Royal Garrison Artillery. Their first child, Margaret Emilie Stella Arnold, was born on March 30, 1915 while Best was serving in Egypt.
Upon the outbreak of war, Best’s younger brother Herbert was studying Law at Queens’ College, Cambridge but on August 5, 1914 he volunteered as a motorcycle dispatch rider and became a corporal in the Royal Engineers. Nine days later he deployed to France and was at Mons and the retreat. Later in the war he was awarded a commission in the ASC.
Best’s younger sister ‘Mar’ was studying medicine and eventually became a doctor.
In early September 1914, Best’s name was put forward by his Bishop for an Army chaplaincy. Best then received a telegram from Brigadier General Algernon D’Aguilar King, DSO, Commander, Royal Artillery of the East Lancashire Division advising him to apply to the East Lancashire Territorial Force County Association for a commission. Best’s application was successful and he was quickly appointed chaplain 4th class in the Territorial Force, with the rank of Captain and attached to the 1st/3rd East Lancashire Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
He sailed with them and the rest of the East Lancs Division to Egypt on September 10, 1914. There he spent four months based in a large tented camp at Heliopolis North East of Cairo, and was then sent temporarily to Ismailia to minister to troops stationed on the Suez Canal. He returned to Heliopolis in late February 1915 and embarked for Gallipoli, from Alexandria, on May 3rd.
In mid-July he contracted enteric fever and was medically evacuated to Alexandria and then Cyprus. He returned to Gallipoli in August where he quickly contracted dysentery and was ordered home. He was put on a hospital ship but instead of going directly home was disembarked at Malta and spent time there at the Cottonera hospital. He finally left Malta on October 16, 1915 bound for England, arriving at Southampton on October 23rd.
Letters from Egypt (1914-15)
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
October 20, 1914
I am afraid I write very irregularly, and am very conscience stricken at receiving your letters so regularly. It is a great joy getting news from England out here. The Egyptian papers are rather pessimistic about the war and the flavour of optimism which is contained in home letters is very encouraging.
There are two conflicting reports as to our movements in the future. One says that we are at present the army of occupation in Egypt, and shall therefore be stationed here for a year or two the other, which is supported by General Douglas, who is in command of the division, says that within six months we shall be at the front. There is also another opinion to which I don’t give much weight that we shall be sent on to India. I don’t personally take much interest in the question of the future. I am very interested in the work on hand and feeling very fit. We are trying to work up a good CEMS [Church of England Men’s Society] in camp. My great difficulty at present is that some big tents have been erected by the YMCA where the men can read, write and have sing songs. The tents however, were sent free by the Egyptian General Mission, a rabid nonconformist mission of the Salvation Army kind. Their views are narrow in the extreme, and of course all churchmen are without the pale, they take great exception to my statement that true religion is not feeling good, but doing good. They hold meetings every night Sankey and Moody hymns and gospel messages. You hear nothing but are you saved? Have you met the Lord and so on – with occasional praises to the Lord when a man says he feels something inside (cause probably organic) and is saved. I may sound very uncharitable, and I recognise that they mean really well, and that we are under an obligation to them for lending the tents, but being chaplain in charge of this camp, I am going to put my foot down and limit their meetings considerably. They are not doing, I feel certain, much good. They are driving lots of good fellows, who would love healthy clean sing songs and games, and who go instead to the foul haunts of old Cairo.
I have not come across Molesworth yet. He is probably Chaplain at one of the two civilian churches in Cairo. He is not Chaplin to the forces. How very curious that you should have assisted him at Peterborough. I will also look up Haines. It is very pleasant to get a bit of civilian life now and again. I was awfully sorry to hear about Percy Wyndham1. I saw his photo in the paper. What a grand number of men are volunteering. I sometimes wonder who will be left to carry on what business there is. It is very likely that we shall shortly move to some other quarters quite near, i.e., if this site is condemned as overused. There is a great deal of colic among officers and men (due it seems to infected sand) and they are afraid it turning to dysentery. I had a bad turn for 10 days after I arrived, but I am glad to say there has been no recurrence. If you do send out books, you might see if you can get hold of a number of pamphlets by Paul Bull on purity And I can get a few books from CMS depot here but there is not much variety. I will send a pic to Homby. I hope he will get a job; he would love it. There is an in exhaustible stock of work to do most of which has to be left undone. Last Sunday had five services and four addresses
Parade service 6.45 Heliopolis
Celebration in tent 8.15 Heliopolis
Parade service 10 am at Kasr el Nil, in Cairo
Men’s service 2.30 Heliopolis
Evensong 7pm Heliopolis
We are about 20 [minutes] by fast train from Cairo we travel half price which is one piastre each way (= 2 ½d). Not seen Sphinx or Pyramids yet. I will try to go this week; in case we are removed. I find I am not a territorial but a chaplain under Regulars’ conditions. The camp is such a large one that I’m forced to try to ride. I am not very graceful but I can stick on at a gallop. I hope with practice to improve.
Must close now with much love to all, and many thanks for letters.
Hope you will have received good news from Herbert by this time.
Your affectionate son Ken.
The mail leaves in a few minutes.
Note: 1. Lt. Percy Lyulph Wyndham, Coldstream Guards. Killed in Action September 14, 1914. France.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
October 31, 1914
My dear Elsie,
Tomorrow is your birthday. I cannot realise that I am a longish way from England and have consequently in such matters to think about a fortnight ahead. I hope you have received some letters from me by this time, I have written several. You ought to have got the first by October 15th at the latest. I have nothing to complain of. Budgets1 and good fat budgets come to me weekly from home though very few from elsewhere. You say, it seems funny to be at home with everything going on as usual while I am in stranger places. To me, it seems very funny that everything appears quite natural and ordinary out here. The sites are strange and the people very quaint, and yet I don’t appreciate their strangeness. It is rather disappointing to feel as though one had been born under the shadow of the Pyramids and been brought up in a house, facing an old Mohammedan mosque – for the result is that I don’t appreciate them or feel the fascination of the East. I suppose it is the presence of so many English troops, which makes me regard Egypt, as a sort of huge ‘White City’.
Today is an important Mohammedan feast, a sort of Xmas day. I have seen nothing of it as we have been confined to camp, not for any misdemeanour, but because there is a rumour that the Bedouins are becoming restless, and they make a raid to get guns and booty. All day long a native band has been playing just outside the camp. The drums just turn time as the fancy strikes them while the brass instruments, whine up and down the chromatic scale, each on his own. The effect is weird and soon becomes unpleasantly monotonous.
I saw a few things of interest last week, first the Citadel at Cairo. The old Palace, built by Saladin which is now absorbed in the military barracks and used as mess room for the 4th East Lancs Fusiliers. The mosque of Mohammed Ali, which I found not at all beautiful, especially since Kitchener Insisted that electric light should replace the old oil lamps. In Egypt, the only education is religious. The children learn off surahs i.e., chapters of the Koran by heart – they don’t, except those who are to be priests, learn to read and write. On the Mocattam hills, which command the Citadel, I could see the forts erected by Napoleon when he took the Citadel and also a long line of windmills, which he built to grind corn for his troops. Again, in the distance, were the Pyramids of Giza. The guide assured me that the Pyramids were not originally tombs of the kings, but were built in time of the flood and in them Abraham, his family, and all animals in pairs were saved. I also descended Joseph’s well where Pharoah is supposed to have (been) imprisoned after he fell afoul of his wife. it was used until quite recently for supplying the Citadel with water. The water was raised by the usual means i.e., the Sakia. An Ox blindfolded works a wheel in a horizontal plane which is cogged onto a wheel in in a vertical plane. Round this latter wheel runs a cord to which are fixed buckets.
[Sketch of Sakia]
One of these oxen kept at the bottom of the well disappeared. He was found a few weeks later at Jerusalem, having escaped through a cave which runs underground the whole way. A rather tall story.
On Thursday, I had my first military funeral. The military cemetery is in old Cairo, the native quarters. The time fixed was 4 pm. I arrived duly but no funeral party. I got ready and strolled about the cemetery until 5:30. It was a weird place. Dry and dusty with a number of palm trees, dotted about – kites and crows slipping silently from one to another. Two or three natives who could not speak English completed the scene. It had now become nearly dark. Then there arrived a native policeman on a motorbike to say that the funeral had got lost and would not arrive for another hour. It was quite dark when they arrived. We managed to find a candle and by its flickering light I conducted the service. Then followed three volleys and the last post. It was one of the most impressive services I have ever witnessed.
Yesterday I went to the Gezer [Giza] Pyramids. I went with a Captain from an Indian Native Mountain Battery (Artillery). We went by train and to our amazement when we got there it was raining. It has not rained in Egypt for 18 months. The Captain received orders to rejoin his Battery at once. They are probably proceeding to the front. The train went at 6:15. He was in a fearful hurry. We telephoned for a motor. It arrived just before six. There followed the most exciting drive I have ever had. It was nearly dark – the dust was frightful and we frequently topped 50 mph. We had some very narrow squeaks but arrived safely and he caught his train.
The Pyramids are not much to look at. In fact, I prefer to see them in picture postcards. I hope to pay the patriarch of the Coptic church a visit on Monday.
I have just had a beastly cold, but am recovering. Lost my voice for one day. We are waiting and waiting for the call to the front, though I fear it won’t be for a month or two yet as the men are not quite sufficiently trained. I hear Hornby2 has gone as chaplain to the front, i.e., he went to Dover to join the troops. Lucky dog! By the way, my commission is stated, October 10th or 14th and should be September 9th. I wonder if Daddy could write to the Chaplain General. I expect it will be antedated alright.
Rather scrappy letter but it will serve to show you I am alive – to send love to all and wish you many happy returns.
Your affect. Brother
- Possibly a reference to “To Girls: A Budget of Letters” by Heloise Edwina Hersey, (Etiquette advice and guidelines for young girls). Published by Ginn & Company, The Athenaeum Press, Boston and London, 1902.
- The Rev. Hugh Leycester Hornby was a pre-war friend, colleague and frequent tennis partner of Best’s.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
November 13, 1914
My dear Mother
I always forget my size in collars, but I fancy 15 ½ is the thing. Anything will do, paper or washables. I only have to wear them on Sundays at present I wear an ordinary collar back to front and it serves the purpose very well. I have an excellent washerman, a native, who does the things at half a piastre (= 1 ¼d) each. The small things such as pocket handkerchiefs I get my orderly to wash. The surplices coming dirty does not matter at all. The water here is excellent and plenty of it – sterilizing tablets are quite unnecessary. The powder will no doubt prove useful, though I do not have much walking. I usually move about on horseback. No doubt however the powder will be equally efficacious for saddle soreness, as for foot soreness.
I should be very glad of a few socks of medium thickness. I fancy I left plenty behind nearly all I brought away with me were odd ones. The parcel has not yet arrived. They keep them back for examination. It will probably arrive in the course of a day or two. I am getting quite happy on a horse now. I offered to take the Brigade staff out exercising horses each morning. I thought it was a good way of breaking myself in, but I chose an unpropitious moment. Usually, it meant walking the horses for about four or five miles. Unfortunately, the route fixed ran through a camel camp. The horses are terrified of camels so that when we arrived at the native camel camp, there was a general stampede. to make matters worse, the horses had ringworm. The connection is not obvious – it is this. Having ringworm, they were not allowed to be harnessed so that we were riding bareback. To my amazement, I found no difficulty in sticking on at a gallop though very hard when I managed to pull her up, and she continued to play the fool. A week of this has made me capable of sticking on a fairly reasonable nag.
My program for the day is something of this kind :-
6 am. Orderly comes to clean my boots, leggings and belt. I growl and send him off to the mess for an early cup of tea. This puts me in a better temper and by the time the cleaning is done and the water fetched, I am feeling comparatively cheerful. I have a sponge down in my collapsible bath (which usually collapses just when I don’t want it to) and rig myself out in uniform. The only time I do not like uniform is at this period of the day, for I have to get up half an hour earlier than I should do if I had only to put on civilian clothes.
Breakfast at 7 am. All officers of the Brigade, 26 in number, feed together in a big tent. At breakfast, we wait on ourselves, the porridge, eggs and bacon and jam being put on a sideboard or rather side table. At 8:30 (or sometimes 8 am) I go out exercising horses. It is grand and takes place while the day is still fairly fresh. Get back about 10 am. I have a drink and do any odd business connected with the officers’ mess which crops up. Then at 11, I tramp up to the camp chaplain’s tent (10 minutes heavy going across sand) where I am at home to any men who want to see me.
In the afternoon, I generally have to look up a few people which I do on horseback – or else I go to Cairo on some business or other. Once a week I visit the military hospital at the Citadel Cairo. There are a great many cases of dysentery and malaria, and an odd case or two of enteric. Most of the sick come from Heliopolis Camp. The rest of the troops out here are in Barracks and are consequently almost entirely free from dysentery. We ought to have been moved from here long ago. In King’s Regulations it is laid down that camps shall be moved after three weeks duration. Here we have been nearly 7 weeks with horse lines too so that the sand is badly infected and full of germs. The C.R.A. (Commander of Royal Artillery) Gen King1 seems to expect to be ordered to move soon probably to guard lines of communication in France. So many conflicting rumours are flying about that I don’t pay any heed to them.
Lunch at 1 pm.
Mess in the evening is at 7 pm. It is treated as a parade that is to say officers, unless excused, have to be present. This drags on till nearly 8:30 after this I generally go to the YMCA tent to see how the men’s sing song or YMCA lecture is progressing and turn in about 10 pm.
My tent is about 10 feet by 12 ground measurements and 8 feet high.
[Drawing/sketch of tent]
It has a double cover, which is a great protection from the heat.
The arrangement inside my tent is :-
[Drawing/sketch of inside of his tent]
- Small stationery box which I also use for carrying clerical vestments etc. or such things
- Iron cash box
- Canvas kit bag
- Dress suit case
Under bed, I keep my collapsible bath in front of tent, thus [drawing of front of tent]
I have two small patches of sand sewn with seed and surrounded by stones. It is such a relief to eyes to see a small patch of fresh green, if it be only a few square feet.
The Alpaca cassock will prove very useful here because it is cool or if we go to the front because it is light and we are only allowed 35 lbs. I will let you know directly anything is settled as to movements and our address. Heaps of love to all.
Yr affect son Ken
Note: 1. Commander, Royal Artillery: Brig.-General Algernon D’Aguilar King, DSO.
[Arrived Dec 19th]
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
Dec 1st, 1914
My dear Mother
Time seems to be a matter of minor importance in the East and I have fallen into this pernicious Eastern habit. The daily routine varies so little that days and weeks fly by without one realising it. I only woke up to this fact by seeing December on the Daily paper & I remember with dismay that I had overlooked two very important days – the birthdays of yourself & Mar. All being well I will try to get off a small package to reach home by about Xmas. I received all three parcels safely. The beggars charged pretty heavily for collecting douane dues [customs duties], etc. on the first parcel (12/-). Cooks, (the Tourist Folk), apparently have a monopoly. The other two together only cost 3/-. My pay is coming in at last so that I am comfortably off as regards pay, receiving about 18/- a day.
I was very glad to hear Herbert had been elected “man of mark” for the coming Dial1. I hope you will get a number of copies. I hope they will get a decent engraving of him for insertion.
This afternoon I buried a sergeant of the 1st East Lancs RFA2, an awfully nice well-read man – quite superior to the common run of Terriers – he was a librarian at some Burnley library. The cause of his death was Dysentery – a rather striking coincidence, was this that his home address is 9 Cairo Road Burnley, a prophecy of his final destination.
I must’ve given you an entirely wrong impression of our surroundings. Within 50 yards of my tent is a canteen where I can get chocolate biscuits, condensed milk – anything within reason, though they don’t supply anything which comes up to ABC standard.
The milk tablets will no doubt come in useful if we move. Also, the papers have given you a wrong idea of the military state of affairs here. It is true there has been a little fighting but it is so far only a small encounter with Bedouin raiding party who are out for loot. At least that is what we are told. I found over 100 Indian troops wounded at Citadel Hospital when I visited there last Friday. it seems no English troops have been engaged so far. I gather that trouble may arise here from fact that Indian, Ceylon Tea Planters and other troops coming through the Canal destined for the front have, much to their sorrow, been detained here.
There are rumours galore – it is becoming a camp joke. One of our Camp comic singers, when doing a little song suddenly turned to the pianist “Hast gotten any rumours, Richard?” But two fairly reliable rumours state that a strong party of Turks is moving across the Sinaitic peninsular & that the Bedouins are beginning to move in the NE. I am contemplating getting hold of a secondhand army revolver (15/-) if I can, for if the light was not good – or if they got a bit flustered – the Bedouins might not realise I was a non-combatant.
Life is really very easy here – in fact, the sort of life, which would suit an old Parson, who wished to escape the inclement English winter. My chief pastime is hide and seek on horseback. It is as follows :-
I receive a note from a dear simple old parson saying I commend Smith who was once a choir boy in my parish to your spiritual care. I understand he is probably in Egypt, and perhaps at Heliopolis. I get my nag and sally forth to find Smith of Oldham among 4,000 men. Sometimes I find him. Sometimes hunger forces me to retrace my steps & leave the quest unfinished. It becomes quite chilly at night now – you would call it mellow autumn evening but we are becoming sensitive. I fancy the Tommies felt it tonight, or perhaps it is because we have come to December, for they are singing “O come all ye Faithful”. They don’t usually sing hymns. I have been bothered with a tooth lately. It gave me such a rotten time that I woke up the Brigade doctor whose tent is next to mine. He, after four or five efforts, succeeded in breaking off the crown. I was sent next to a Cairo dentist, an American. For the week, he simply aimed at reducing the inflammation caused by the doctor’s efforts, and then after digging and cutting got it away. But it, or rather its surroundings, are still rather painful. Many happy returns heaps of love to all. The doctor is just going into Heliopolis and will post it if I close.
Yr affect son Ken
- “The Dial” was the student magazine of Queen’s College, Cambridge and Oswald Herbert Best, Rev J.K. Best’s younger brother, was featured in edition No 21, covering the Michaelmas Term of 1914, in the “Men of Mark” section.
- 1302 Sgt. Herbert Gladstone Booth, Burnley Battery RFA (TF) died in Egypt November 30, 1914. Age 31. Buried at the Cairo War Memorial.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
December 12, 1914
My dear Margery,
As I omitted to write to you and congratulate you on attaining your ?th year I am sending you this short note. I could not for the life of me conceive why so many troops were being dumped down in Egypt until I heard of fighting on the canal near Ismailia. Reports are rather vague and I fancied that the brush had been with an advanced party of the Turks. I found out later that it was merely a Bedouin party of Brigands. So that solution failed, then I received Capt. Rasch’s1 piece of information concerning 200,000 Japanese troops. On reliable authority, for aircraft has been scouring the Siniatic peninsular, we learn that the Turks cannot arrive for at least 2 months. I can only conceive now that Egypt is being used as a training ground and that most of the troops are here not for purposes of defence, but to prepare for the front. This is borne out by the almost universally accepted belief that we are to return to England early in January for guns etc., then to proceeded to the front. I wonder if this will come true. I hope to goodness that Herbert gets out here whether we have gone or not for I don’t fancy there will be much trouble and he would get a bit of change and rest. I must be off now for a tour round the camp to see a few men.
Heaps of love to you all and best Xmas wishes
Your affectionate brother
Note: 1. Possibly Capt. Guy Elland Carne Rasch, Grenadier Guards. Born at Sandon Aug 15, 1885.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
December 21, 1914
My dear Father
Thank you so much for making enquiries concerning date of gazetting. The answer appears to be fairly satisfactory. The date is not so important, so long as the pay comes in alright to keep me going as far as I can gather an Active Chaplain receives pay simply and solely i.e. 10/- a day and no allowances. Up to Oct 14 – no! that won’t do –
It was Sept 25 when we arrived in Egypt, and from that day I ought to and indeed have received allowances camp, colonial and ration. Unless I am gazetted as Chaplain from Sept 25 I shall, I fancy, have to refund the allowances between Sept 25 and Oct 14. Up to Sept 25 it is immaterial as to which capacity I was serving in because food and lodging was provided on ship. I will see the Senior Chaplain here about it and then let you know how things stand.
We had a chaplain’s meeting on Friday to discuss ways and means for finding harmless and wholesome distractions for the Tommies. I have had a rude awakening as to the prevalence of immorality in the army. It appears to be regarded as perfectly right and natural. If evil consequences set in – it is bad luck, not a judgement. We are trying to get a large number of English residents to have ‘At Homes’ for Tommies – It is this sort of refining influence they need when herded together away from the influence of good women, in camp or barrack. We then got onto the question of approaching GOC in Egypt with a resolution that certain disreputable quarters should be put out of bounds and certain houses closed. The discussion grew heated. Some, affirming that only personal influence could combat the evil and suggesting the formation of a body of men, (e.g., CEMS), get to work and barter their respective requirements. Others, that legal measures should be taken to abolish all quarters of ill fame. I was strongly with the first party. The Capitulations1 make legal measures futile and even though the Capitulations would probably be abolished under new regime, yet force can never prove as effective as persuasion. I mean, putting places out of bounds is useless. Men don’t know the weird names of [the] best of places.
One chaplain gave pathetic instances of innocent youths finding their way into these quarters, and then being unable to escape when they realised where they were. I should have believed this a few weeks ago. There are next to no ‘innocents’ in the ranks. In the midst of this heated discussion, in walks the new Bishop of Jerusalem. He managed to pour oil on troubled waters by suggesting that both methods be tried.
The Bishop seems an awfully good fellow. He has promised to hold a confirmation whenever I can get a number of men prepared.
I hope that reports will prove correct and that Herbert will be sent out here – or at any rate that they will give the 1st Div a well-earned rest. I fancy we shall soon be on the move though unlike Herbert I find 99% of rumours are absolutely false. The folk in England will have had a nasty shock over the Scarborough and Hartlepool affair. It was confounded cheek on German’s part, but I wonder what our Navy were doing and whether they would now collar them. Curious that your letter predicting such an event should arrive the day after I saw in the paper that it had actually occurred. I fancy however, it will accelerate enlisting instead of preventing the sending of more troops to the front.
We hear nothing of the Japs and lots of folk here strongly deprecate any such thing. They don’t want Japan to get a footing in the West. I think however it might bring to an end, the awful state of things the sooner and I would that that happened at almost any cost. The question always occurs to me, why do men try to reach justice by the sword? Brute force seems to have no connection that I can see with Justice. In this particular case, it may turn out all right – but I hope there will after this be some better means found for settling disputes.
I cannot quite follow Herbert’s letter as our queer map does not contain all the places mentioned. He must have had a hot time.
Will write again soon
Heaps of love to all
Your affectionate son
Note: 1. The Capitulations system was introduced into Egypt in the 19th century and was an extraterritorial legal system for foreigners in Egypt. Best clearly had no confidence in the Egyptian legal system even if the Capitulations were abolished by the new Sultan, Prince Hussein Kamel, who was installed by the British on December 20, 1914, the day before Best wrote the letter.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
Jan 1st 1915
My dear Mother,
I have just received your letter dated December 16th saying that you have not received any news from me since November 13th. I am not an enthusiastic letter writer but I always try to get off a letter each week to someone of the family. I fancy they must have contained so much treasonable matter that the censor to save time had them put in the fire. However, this shall be a New Year’s resolution that I will write once a week whether I have news or not, and will in between drop a postcard in the pillar box.
Your papers at home seem to be inventing war news from Egypt. Everything here is as peaceful as can be. A warm sun and gentle breeze by day clear starry sky at night. The only thing, apart from Xmas and New Year festivities which breaks the even course of life are my periodic excursions on Tram Ticket (the latest mount which the Brigade has put at my disposal). He does [not] care a jot for camels – unlike former mounts – but he has a mouth like iron which I did not discover till he had got me inextricably tied up in the tent ropes of the Battery lines. However, he has got a most comfortable gait and we are getting used to one another. Side view, he is a nice looking horse – front view he is almost invisible. I think he must have at some period of his history got under a steam roller. His figure has gained him his name. We had a delightful Xmas. Of course, the climate somewhat spoilt the Christmassy feeling and yet it was much more pleasant than the mud and rain which one associates with Christmas nowadays. English skies will appear very dull and cheerless after this. I fancy we are the only people who are sacrificing nothing at the present time. We are as wealthy pleasure seeking folk who winter abroad to avoid the cold and wet.
On Xmas day, we had Holy Communion at 6 am, 8 am and 10 am in the Chaplain’s tent. The General Officer commanding Royal Artillery (GOC RA) has given me 2 tents which put together seat about 100. A kind lady from Heliopolis on her way to Jerusalem on CMS work has made me a nice green and white altar front and cover. A fitter has made me a wooden cross which another man has gilded. Two candlesticks I purchased from a quaint place in the native bazaars. Altar linen lent by All Saints Church also hymn books from same source and American organ hired out of celebration collections completes the outfit. It is not bad. We have no kneelers in it and use horse rugs for kneelers where communion rails should be.
[diagram of the tent fills the rest of the page]
One gets tired of recording rumours and you must get tired of hearing them. The latest is that we shall have a smack at the Turks and clear them out of Palestine. It is not likely. I fancy we shall stay on here as Army of Occupation for some time yet. On New Year’s Eve as the Artillery Officers went down on the spree to Cairo, I joined [the] officers and sergeants of the 6th Manchesters. We had a jolly evening. At midnight a gong sounded 12 times. The oldest man in [the] regiment left the tent with exit 1914, the youngest drummer boy entered with a prosperous and happy 1915 on his back. The drummer then gave the Old Hundredth and then the whole party joined in the second verse. Then we had Auld Lang Syne in which I was wedged between the Old and New Year.
The Sergeants are jolly good fellows and always when I am there are very careful not to indulge too freely in drink or swear. The hymn also was continued partly to please me.
Must stop or you will never get this letter.
Heaps of love to all
Your affectionate son Ken
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
My dear Mother,
Thanks awfully for the Times Weekly. It is the very best paper for what I want. The Egyptian papers are perfectly stupid though of course they print some of the latest telegrams. But the telegrams only inform us as to the movements of the troops and as nearly always the places mentioned are not to be found on our maps, we are none the wiser. The Times Weekly caters for one’s ignorance by providing a map. I do hope Herbert gets out here. He deserves a trip to the sunny climes of Egypt but why we should be dumped down in this much sought after winter health resort before we have done any dirty work I cannot conceive. There is not the slightest likelihood, as far as I can see, of serious fighting out here any more than there is in England. In fact, there is far less judging from recent events. What beastly cads the Germans are yet it must have aroused new enthusiasm in recruiting circles. The Turks, we hear this morning, have had a sound thrashing from the Russians so they won’t trouble us on this side for they have their work cut out to save their bacon on t’other.
Yesterday I went out on Divisional Field Day. We got enveloped in a sand storm of which I suppose we shall have frequent repetitions for [the] next month or so. It was like a London fog with a cold wind and a stinging sensation thrown in. Old Tram Ticket, my horse, seemed to enjoy it. Nothing would hold him in so I let him have his head and go across the desert track and then back again ‘till he had worked off a lot of steam. By this time the batteries had disappeared but I came across the Red Cross wagon which put me on the right track. We were out from 8am to 4pm and I found your Horlicks malted milk tablets uncommonly good. When I returned, I had to dig my boxes, etc. out of the sand. My servant had not properly pegged down my tent or banked it up round about. I told him off pretty sharply as my bed was a dust heap and I was nearly smothered when I woke this morning. However, he has worked like a black this morning – put tent right and cleaned it up and now it is quite respectable once more.
I take the enlisted boys once a week in religious instruction which I really enjoy. They are topping chaps. One had a nasty fall in the sand storm. His horse, one which no one else had courage to ride, bucketed him over its shoulder. His foot got wedged in the stirrup and before the horse was captured it had dragged him some way and kicked him. He is quite cheery today. I have just taken him an exciting novel to read. He had a nasty kick on the knees and a badly sprained ankle. Another man had his ear bitten off by a horse. I think the sand must have made them vicious.
At Heliopolis Camp there are only 2 chaplains, myself and a Wesleyan. We both went out for field day. He always said it is much better to go on foot and not to get mixed up amongst galloping horses and guns and limbers. So, he went with the Infantry. Yet fate is a curious thing, I was of course in the midst of the horses while he was miles away. One of the horses took fright and after careering some miles came across the Wesleyan chaplain and knocked him down, hurting him rather seriously so [the] report says. I am getting awfully keen on riding and am going in private to try a few small jumps for this reason. Tram ticket rather fancies her jumping powers and in order to show off he purposely mistakes tufts of weeds and shadows for ditches. This penchant of his always leaves me in a most undignified position, affectionately embracing his neck, to the amusement of the men.
Heaps of love to all
Your affectionate son
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
January 18, 1915
My dear Father,
I don’t know whether this letter will reach you by the eventful day. Many happy returns! I hope you and mother are not getting in the dumps being by yourselves so much. I fancy the chaplains to the forces at home have a very slack time. Cannot you make them do some work for you? Hornby told me that all he had to do was a church parade or two on Sunday. He was very sick about it. Don’t the YMCA w? up entertainments and provide reading and writing material for the men in your district? They have at last got a man of the right sort here. At first our entertainments were simply bribes to lure men to religious meetings of a Salvation Army type. Now we have got a man of the Chas Kingsly type and things are going like smoke.
Now to explain why I am feeling rather bucked. First of all, I have got a topping class of Enlisted Boys, some 20 buglers and trumpeters. They are top-hole little chaps, as plucky and sporting as any I’ve known and real good little Christians. One was thrown the other day, dragged in the stirrups and badly kicked. Fortunately, no bones were broken but he was badly bruised.
Last Thursday there was a big Field Day and nothing would prevent him turning out and he rode the same horse which had thrown him – a vicious beast that no one else would tackle. His cheeriness and pluck has made him quite a leader in his tent though he is only about 15 years old.
There are a good many cads and bullies in this camp and if a fellow gets into such a tent and appears a bit religious it is Tom Brown’s Schooldays again. Chatting with him one day we got on to this topic. I asked him what his experience was. Why of course I say my prayers nothing unnatural, nothing heroic did he see in it. Of course, he did them just what he would do at home. It really does one good to know a boy like that. So different from average careless man and so different from the pious hymn singing methodists. Just a natural healthy cheery but deeply religious fellow.
Also, I have got together quite a nice little body of confirmation candidates. Four of them were baptized yesterday. A question of church law arose – a RC wished to join C of E. I believe most Bishops rule that there should be no rebaptism or confirmation, merely a formal renunciation of the RC tenets, which C of E holds to be false. However, I reasoned that among other things they are baptized into a certain faith and that renouncing a few additional dogma does not reduce RC faith to C of E. Therefore, I baptized him.
The real difficulty is that the Artillery are probably moving to Ismailia on the Suez Canal. This takes away most of my Confirmation Class and of Enlisted Boys. They will be scattered all over the place. How I am to complete their instruction and arrange for Confirmation by Bishop in Jerusalem, I hardly know. I am going to try to get sent down to Ismailia but rather fear they will not let me go as the Infantry half of Heliopolis Camp are probably not moving and Heliopolis is my parish so long as troops are there. It is hard to say what exactly will be the outcome of present unrest.
The general opinion at present is that the Turks under German officers have arrived somewhere near the Canal. That there are plenty of India Infantry but that some more Artillery are required. The Artillery are prepared to move within 5 hours and will probably go tomorrow unless the whole thing is a ‘wash out’.
The English mail goes tonight and so I shall probably not be able to inform you of events ‘till a week or so later. I rather doubt myself the report of the advance of the Turks and fancy that it will mean bivouacking at Ismailia for a few weeks and their returning. That is, it may be only a “trial”. We shall have to wait and see.
Heaps of love to all
Your affectionate son
Lest the letter should not have explained already the reasons of my high spirits. It is (1) keenness of Confirmees, (2) the Enlisted Boys, (3) prospect of getting a move on.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
January 18, 1915
My dear Mother,
I don’t quite know what my future movements are to be but I fancy that I am going down to Ismailia with the Artillery on Wednesday. The question arose as to which of the chaplains should go down but that was speedily settled for it was essential for the chaplain to ride as the various units would be widely dispersed. Fortunately, I was the only one who has done much riding since coming out and therefore I had the honour to be chosen. It seems that the Turks have toiled across the desert mainly by rail. They only have a certain amount of rails and therefore they pull them up behind and lay them in front. They are said by the aircraft to be in a woeful state, starved and absolutely worn out. There are heaps of Indian Infantry already at the Canal so that I fancy the E. Lancs Division will only supply Artillery.
I don’t know how on earth I am to put my kit together. I have accumulated such a lot of rubbish. Nor do I know with whom I shall be quartered but I fancy I shall get a tent. Only those in the firing line will have to bivouac. It is rather a pity that the camp should be broken up just a week or so before the time fixed for Confirmation. I had got quite a nice class going. I shall have a try to finish it all somehow and get the Bishop of Jerusalem to come down and hold the Service somewhere near the Canal.
I am sending this off tonight in the hope that it may catch the mail.
Heaps of love
Your affectionate son
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
January 18, 1915
My dear Margery,
I have treated you perfectly abominably as regards letters. The truth is there is so little to relate and when I sit down, I am burdened with the realization of an address to be delivered to Confirmation Candidates, Enlisted Boys, CEMS, Bible Class or Parade Service. But mother will say ‘why not drop us a pc?’ [postcard] For the reason I feel always that tomorrow I shall have more time and will really write a good long letter and feel ashamed to send a miserable pc.
Well! I simply don’t know what to talk about. I have only been out of camp twice this week. Once to put mess cheques in the Bank, the other time to Saccara Pyramids. The first was wholly uninteresting. I arrived in the Military Dept at 2pm. I worked my way through the crowd and arrived at the counter by 4pm. The transaction was completed by 5pm. In between times I beguiled the hours by explaining to newcomers the money system. I am becoming quite an expert in converting English to Egypt or vice versa. The other outing affords more scope. On Wednesday last I arranged to go to Saccara Pyramids from Giza Pyramids. That is 8 miles across the desert on camels. Then on by Memphis (transitioned to train) to Bedrasheen and back by train to Cairo. Unfortunately, just I was about to start off a fire broke out in camp. It looked like being serious at one time as everything is very dry and inflammable in camp. Fortunately, they managed to prevent it spreading and only one tent and 13 men’s belongings were destroyed. This little incident made me a bit late. So, when I got to Cairo, we thought seriously of giving up the trip as I had to be back by 7 for confirmation class. Then a happy idea came to me. I had heard there was a train to Bedrasheen at 9:30. With a great effort we caught it and so went to Saccara via Memphis and returned the same way. This sounds less interesting but was in fact for more pleasant. The 8 miles across desert is somewhat monotonous, desert scenery is rather dull and lacking in beauty and interest. Also, a long ride is apt to produce ‘mal de chevaux’ [horse sickness] (is the plural correct?) an affliction I hear as unpleasant as its cousin ‘mal de mer’. [seasickness]
At Bedrasheen we got donkeys. My mount was called “Ginger Beer”. All the donkeys are named Ginger beer or Whisky and Soda. I never realised what a comfortable ride a donkey is before. I came back sitting tailorwise as the natives do. It is for the best position provided the donkey boy does not come up unnoticed and smite the beast. However, I discovered after the first incident of the sort to look out of the corner of my eye for his shadow and so was prepared. The guides which are usually chartered are horrid frauds. I was lucky enough to hit on a donkey boy who could speak English better than the average guide. He showed us, in addition to usual sights, the Pyramid of Unas inside which is a chamber whose walls are covered with cuneiform inscriptions which are texts describing ancient ideas of a future life. The donkey boy was also quite an accomplished humorist and all the way was imitating the Yankee tourist. He got the accent to a ‘T’. Also, to my amazement he sang ‘Yankee Doodle’, Long wat to Tipperary, etc. and got the intervals correctly which I thought was impossible for the Eastern. I cannot describe the sound, it would take too long. The bas relief on the underground temple walls were marvelous – in most parts the original colours still remaining. Nearly every department of life of the life in Egypt thousands of years ago was depicted. The King in whose honour the temple was erected is always about 10 times as big as the figures except his wife, who is about half his size. This is meant to indicate their relative importance. Everywhere the King is represented as receiving gifts and food. He must have had an abnormally good appetite. At Memphis were two fine recumbent figures of Ramses II. One has been presented to the English Government but is so huge that the Engineers have not yet succeeded in moving it. I wonder if that is why the canny old Mohamed Ali made a present of it. He might almost as well have told them they could have the moon if they would take it away. The day was perfect and the sunset behind the palm trees and pyramids was simply beyond description. I beguiled the way back by learning Arabic phrases and firing them off at the natives who we passed. Denis Fletcher1 was my companion – brother of the headmaster of Charterhouse, Chaplain to E. Lancs Fusiliers. I do not take to him over much but all officers are tied during the week and I am on Sunday. Hence it was Hobson’s choice. Still, he afforded as he seems to rather fancy himself as a chaplain but he cut a funny figure on a donkey and was in agony lest he should fall off.
In order to kill two birds with one stone I will carry on the rest of this letter addressed to Daddy.
I hear you are contemplating taking up the nursing job seriously. I fancy it will prove jolly interesting work. Often do I wish I knew a little about medicine and surgery. The weather is beginning to get warmer. The days are like summer, the nights like winter. The cooks who start work about 3:30 or 4am have reported ice on the buckets. Feeling fit as a fiddle and quite bucked with life. I will explain the reason of the latter in letter to Daddy.
Heaps of love to all. Tell mother I shall never dare to write to her now that she has begun to put my foolish ridiculous letters in a book.
Your affect brother
Note: 1. Rev. Denis Fletcher Chaplain 4th Class (TF) Attached 5th Lancs Fusiliers 14 Oct, 1914.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA (T)
February 1, 1915
My dear Elsie,
Fancy two of my letters being pessimistic. I must be very hard to please. Up to now it has been a veritable picnic and if I have growled and grumbled it must be because either I have eaten something which I ought not to have done or else because I had been thinking of the rough time Herbert and others were having at the Front and wondering whether we should ever be able to share it. You will see my quarters are changed. We have come down to the Suez Canal. I am the privileged chaplain; the rest have had to stop behind at Cairo and Alexandria to look after the morals of the Infantry. The reason for the choice was twofold, (1) that I was more or less attached to the Artillery who are now all stationed along the Canal, and (2) that I was the only Chaplain who has had any experience of horses since coming out. Ismailia is a perfectly delightful place and my work here is more interesting. At Heliopolis I was more or less cooped up in a hot, dusty camp about a mile square. The chief respite from this being a visit to Cairo by train – interesting at first but stuffy and dirty when the novelty of Eastern customs and architecture began to pall.
I am quartered on the edge of a spinney of palms and firs – surrounded by Indian encampments. As Herbert says, there is a considerable difference between the various Indian types. The most marked being between Sikhs and Gurkhas. The latter are exactly like Japs – brisk, cleanshaven, sturdy little fellows. The Sikhs are tall, very thin, bearded solemn philosophical looking folk. The various races are always mixed so that there may be no sedition. They are always ready to give one another away. They are wonderfully disciplined and compared very favourably with the indifferent and free and easy manner of the Colonial troops.
We were the first British troops to come to the Canal, except for a few RAMC and Engineers. Now the New Zealanders and Australians are beginning to dig in, much to our sorrow. However, they will probably be needed.
From aeroplane reports, the Turks considerably outnumber us and are in part at all events officered by Germans. However, our position on the Canal is undoubtedly a strong one and the Indian troops are very well entrenched. They are grand soldiers and inspire one with confidence. I would as soon be behind them as any other troops, at any rate of those out here. Aeroplanes are busy flying backwards and forwards all day reporting the movements of the Enemy. Up to now there have only been slight skirmishes with the Enemy. They are evidently putting out feelers to see how our guns are placed. Later they will probably bang into what they consider the weakest point in the line of defence. Up to now they have not been able to draw on Battery fire and so find out their position. Only the gunboats on the Canal and the Mountain Batteries on the East of the Canal have been in action and, of course, as they are not fixed, no information has been gained. As to my work, I have a celebration at 8am and evensong at 5pm each Sunday at a Mission Room in Ismailia (the only church is RC). Also, I have church parade at 18th and 20th Batteries which I reach by horse, about 16 miles riding across the desert. During the week I pay visits to the other Batteries by train and launch on the Canal and hold short services and celebrations if desired and chat with any men who wish to see me. The Bishop of Jerusalem has promised to come out here and hold a confirmation, if no serious fighting is going on, in about a fortnight. One of the aeroplanes had a narrow shave yesterday. Shrapnel bursting on either side of him. One bullet pierced his propellor but he continued to land on the safe side of the Canal. The Indians are wonderfully keen and alert. I strolled across the desert on Saturday evening about dusk to collect my thoughts for the morrow, coming back by mistake I got nearer than I intended to an Indian Camp. Halt! Came through the darkness and I was soon surrounded by a number of bearded Sikhs. They talked a bit but I could not of course make out a word. They talked a bit and they listened slowly without a gleam of intelligence in their faces. I began to fear I should miss my supper for I knew if I proceeded without satisfying them, I should get plugged. Fortunately, and interpreter arrived later on and I was able to explain I was not a German Officer.
I hope Bening won’t be foolish and leave his present job. He is undoubtedly of more use where he is than at the Front. Since writing to you last, we have had our winter and are now getting into warmer weather. Either I have been very remiss in my writing or else the winter here is very short. A bit of both I think. The Turks will probably be forced to make a desperate effort soon as the big sandstorms will soon be starting and the water supply, never very good, will get worse as summer approaches. If we can drub them, as I have no doubt we shall, then we hope, DV1, to get on to the Front, (perhaps via Jerusalem), about April or if Germany gives in by then we may by God’s providence all meet again at Sandon to celebrate another bond between Elsie, Kali and Bening Mourant. Fancy making mother and Daddy grandma and grandpa already. I hope you see old Robin2. ‘Give him my love and tell him to send kind messages to Mrs. Hayes from me’. Also, kindest regards to Flabby.
Heaps of love to you and any of the family whom you are entertaining or whom you meet
Your affectionate brother
- D.V. is shorthand for ‘Deo Volente’ which is Latin for God Willing.
- Robin Arden Hayes, MA Cantab. Friend of Best’s from University.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
February 2, 1915
My dear Father,
Time passed fast at Heliopolis Camp – here it simply flies. We have been at Ismailia a whole fortnight. It is grand. A nice palm and fir grove prevents the glare and dryness of the desert. The Lake Timsah – part of Suez Canal – allowed grand bathing. The Batteries have also been bathing in the Canal but the sharks are rather a source of danger there so I fancy that will have to be stopped. With perhaps the exception of Port Said this is generally regarded as the coolest spot in Egypt. Of course, immediately you get outside on to the desert it is as hot as anywhere, or will be in a few weeks. Also we now feel we are getting to business though being on this side of the Canal we are more or less spectators while the Indians (and shortly I expect some New Zealanders) are doing the dirty work on the other side. So far there has only been outpost fighting. That is not so now shrapnel us fairly whizzing over the camp. The horses have been moved and I fancy the whole camp will soon move, at least temporarily. Order comes to move so I must leave writing you a letter ‘till later.
Permanent address same as before
February 3rd 7pm
My dear Mar,
I am afraid my letter to Daddy was unfortunately rather brief. The Turks with their German officers managed to locate our headquarters and gave us a rather hot dose of shrapnel so we moved hurriedly to a rather more sheltered spot. On Tuesday I went to the 20th Battery and had a celebration of Holy Communion. Most of the men were busy but about 10 attended. We had the service in a tent which had been dropped to within 4 feet of the ground to escape the observant eye of the enemy and there was a huge sandstorm raging outside, yet it was a grand service and the men very reverent. I had to ride back in the teeth of a stinging sand gale. Fortunately, the horse seemed to be able to pick its way so that I was able to ride along the Suez to Port Said railway line. I had an exciting moment when a train suddenly whistled behind me. It was very near me before it spotted me and then a shriek terrified my nag and I did a John Gilpin across the desert – my knapsack flying out behind – clinging on to the reins in one hand and my bag with vestments in the other. Finally, I pulled her in and was contemplating feeling my way back to the railway when I discovered to my joy, I was on the Ismailia Caravan route. The rest of my journey was uneventful and unpleasant.
This morning at 6:30 I was awakened by heavy firing. Had breakfast and watched the battle from wireless station for an hour or so ’till suddenly the enemy got our range and started dropping shrapnel on us. We struck camp and returned to a more protected spot. I fancy we shall spend the night digging “funk holes” in case of a repetition. All the Batteries had a very hot time. The enemy have got some 9-inch Howitzers which we didn’t reckon on and their firing is uncommonly and uncomfortably good. After lunch I had a funeral of two RAMC men1 who were buried alive in a trench by falling sand. It was a very tragic sand. The funeral was like my first – weird and very unlike those at home. The cemetery was next door to a Moslem Cemetery where a funeral was taking place. The shrieks and wails of the mourners and the doleful chant “There is no God but God” on one side, the roar of battle on the other forming a very eerie setting. Likewise, the bodies were simply rolled up in their sleeping blankets as there were no coffins to be had. Finally came the “Last Post” with its plaintive and yet hopeful final note.
I must close now as I want this note to reach you all at the same time as Daddy’s which was quite unintentionally of a rather alarmist character.
Heaps of love to all. You might send out half a dozen films for the 30/- vest pocket Kodak if they are procurable. Egypt has gone dry. How do you like the photo taken by native at Cairo Cemetery.
Your ever affectionate brother
- Probably 240 Pte. Alfred Lorimer and 199 Sgt. Evelyn Frankland, 2nd East Lancs Field Ambulance. Killed February 1, 1915 and buried in the Ismailia War Cemetery.
- A contemporary newspaper article describing the events on the Suez Canal in the early morning hours of February 3, 1915 is provided here.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
February 3, 1915
My dear Father,
We have again struck a bad patch. Things were just becoming interesting and I was hoping to be able to send you news, provided the censor was not in a bad temper, when the silly Turks turned tail and fled back the way they came across the desert. It seems hard to believe that they tramped all those weary miles on short rations and poor water supply with guns, boats and other impedimenta for the one solitary attempt to cross the Canal. Their leaders are no fools as is shown by the clever way in which they chose their positions, the good gunnery and the wonderful forethought in providing beautifully made sheet iron pontoon boats, trenching tools, etc. Also, the Canal is undoubtedly swarming with spies, (as of course the Turks proclamation of a Holy War has had its effect upon a good many Moslems, though the more intelligent see the absurdity of the title when they are led by German Officers), and the Turks must have known pretty well what they had to face. The prisoners say that they were given to understand that they were the advance party and that a few hours later the main body would support them. The main force never arrived, or things might have taken a different turn from what they actually did. Why? Perhaps disaffection, perhaps they were too far away, the attack being made too previous or perhaps the main force was an imaginary quantity. However, their losses were enormous, not perhaps in numbers but in proportion to the total attacking force. They would undoubtedly have been greater had their retreat been followed up but reports came in through secret service of approach of strong supporting force and so we were overcautious. Information must have been supplied by enemy. They fairly had us on toast. However poor beggars had a bad enough time as it was. They are now apparently at least one hundred miles away. This looks as though it were genuine. They have left no outposts. Things have happened which were not calculated for when the invasion began. This may account for so much ineffective and wasted energy. The force may, as Germans state, be going home to resist the Russian advance – though why Germany should trouble to tell us the truth I cannot imagine. The heterogenous mob comprising the invading force had undoubtedly been told they had only to march to Cairo and plunder to their hearts content. When they found lead instead of loot, they may have turned on their officers and gone back of their own accord. Provisions may have been running out or no more boats. Some force may have been landed to cut them off on the rear. Whatever the reason, if any, they have gone for good and that we shall soon be back in Heliopolis. I hope not for long, though I rather fear it may be ‘till war is over. However, we can say that for one day, at all events, we were under fire. I enclose a fairly good account of the fight which has probably appeared also in London papers.
The Bishop of Jerusalem came over on Monday and held a confirmation. I found some quite nice civilians who kindly put him up for the night. The service as very impressive being made all the more so by the circumstances. Nearly all the candidates had been under pretty heavy fire and were very earnest. I am going to start new classes as the Bishop will certainly not be able to go to Jerusalem yet a while and there are a number of men who wish to be confirmed. I am finding the Bishop of London’s ‘Men who Crucify Christ’ [Published by Wells Gardner, Darton & Co, London, 1902] very useful for Lenten talks. The Navy are doing great work. The account by a middy of the fight off the Falklands was most thrilling.
I hope Herbert gets home for a bit as he anticipates. I wish he could pay me a visit. I was very amused to hear of your organist’s effort. I cannot understand your churchwarden’s ‘There’s nowt so queer as folk’ as they say in Lancs. So, Willie Gilmore has gone and done it. I hope he will settle down. I am glad Sandon is in part doing its duty, (I expect Teddy(?) Turner’s appearance helped a bit), but how disgusting are those narrow minded, selfish village vegetables. They need a General Botha to take them off ‘by Commando’ and plant them in the trenches. When I am visiting the poor boys who have been wounded or burying the dead it makes my blood boil to think of those selfish brutes who grumble because they have to put out their lights at 5:30.
Heaps of love to all. How is the ‘flue’? I hope you are taking care of yourself and not going traipsing out on cold wet nights when you are not up to the mark.
So glad to hear that Elsie is doing well and Mar engrossed in her new work.
Your affectionate son
P.S. I am putting on stamp Indian Exped. Force as it may become interesting some day.
3rd East Lancs. Brigade RFA
March 22, 1915
My dear Mother,
We have a bad epidemic running thro’ the camp. It is not a very harmful ailment though one battalion, I hear, has made it a crime punishable with 7 days defaulters. To be on defaulters means that a poor weary fellow gets no rest. When off duty & parade he has to turn up and report himself every half hour. He is liable to be called upon for fatigue duty, that is any odd job which has to be done. He may too be given “pack drill” which means he is kept marching around the square – right turn, left turn – about turn ‘till it makes one dizzy to watch them. On a hot day, in full kit, it is not much fun. Well, I am sidetracking off the point. The epidemic is rumours. Really a rather pleasant malady.
The East Lancashire Division is concentrated in Cairo which is the Base of Operations for Dardanelles and near East. Many seem to think this implies that most of the Division will soon proceed to the Dardanelles or perhaps Alexandretta. I am at present cut off from the Artillery who are on the Canal while I am back at Heliopolis with the Infantry Battalions 5th & 8th Lancs Fusiliers, 4th E. Lancs and 9th Manchesters. It seems to be an established fact that a considerable number of Kitchener’s Army will soon be established in Alexandria, whither the New Zealand and Australian Contingent will proceed. On the Canal are still Indian Division and our Artillery. An act that 250 Australians came back from Alexandretta wounded. They got cut off and badly mauled. I was awfully sorry to hear of those 3 battleships going down in the Dardanelles – especially the Ocean. The Ocean with the Minerva formed the escort which brought us out here and again on the Canal, she joined us in repelling the Turks. I was always running across her ‘till I gained quite an affection for her. Now she has gone. We hear now that the Turks never retired to any great distance from the Canal but have been hovering about there ever since the attack. If so, I fear we shall not get away from Egypt yet awhile.
On Saturday I went to dinner with the High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon. When I received the invitation, I felt rather uneasy for I found that neither the Artillery, to whom I was attached, were going nor the other Chaplains. Consequently, I was afraid of appearing in ordinary uniform (for I have no dress kit) and finding myself the only one not in full dress kit. However, an invitation from such a quarter is a command. Fortunately, there were several like myself, yet not altogether, for I found when I got back that in my hurry, I had forgotten to put the stars on my shoulder straps and the Maltese Crosses on my collar. It was like appearing without a tie. It must have looked very funny. Fortunately, I was in blissful ignorance all the time, so that I thoroughly enjoyed the dinner. It was at the Embassy, Lord Kitchener’s abode, a gorgeous mansion. Native flunkeys in brilliant red and gold native dress served the dishes. To say grace in Lord Kitchener’s dining room amid such surroundings was a rather interesting experience. At dinner I found myself next to a Colonel Cummings – a staff officer who turned out to be a brother of Cummings Solicitor at Chester. The Col. was adjutant for the district around Chester in the old days of Volunteers and of course knew Daddy and the College very well. It was rather a curious coincidence.
One of those woolen head gear would prove very useful even here at nights and would be still greater blessing if we get to a colder climate for our blood is getting very thin out here and we shall shiver if the temperature falls below 80o Fahrenheit.
Sir Henry McMahon looks very young, (apparently not more than 40), for his important position. He and the Colonel were simply blazing with medals, ribbons and various “orders”. It must be an awful bore to him entertaining lots of men whom he never saw before and probably will never see again.
Heaps of love to all
Your affectionate Son
P.S. Give Bennie [Bening Mourant Arnold, Elsie’s husband] my heartiest Congrats. I fear despite his keenness, military affairs are taking a poor second place at present.
April 11, 1915
My dear Elsie,
Heartiest congratulations at the glorious news which I have just received in a short note from mother. Up to now I have felt like Peter Pan, unable to grow up, but now I suppose I shall have to live up to my new office as uncle, become staid and sober and put away childish things. I hear that you have not repented of your decision but still wish me to be godfather. It is a mistake. I have only once before acted as godfather and failed to appear at the Christening and now once more it will be a proxy. A broken reed you see, but I will try to mend my ways later on. However, it is an ill wind which blows nobody good. I shall love Margaret far more if I see her first when she has passed the first stage and started to grow hair and show real signs of intelligence. You will be very cross with me for speaking like this and say that she is the most beautiful and intelligent dear little thing created and I am a horrid brute. Don’t forget I am only a selfish bachelor and such people cannot appreciate or see the hidden depths of beauty and form and character in a little morsel which only eats, sleeps, wriggles and cries.
Mar will feel a great responsibility to one who is her niece and namesake and doubtless takes upon herself to direct little Margaret in the way she should go. You will have to be jolly careful that the aunt does not usurp your prerogatives as mother. However, Mar’s stern demeanor will no doubt be very useful when you are tempted to treat the failings of your progeny too leniently. I can picture Mar glaring thro’ her specs at her rebellious niece and can see the salutary effect it will have.
It will cheer mother and daddy up immensely to have a squalling babe in the Rectory. What strange taste some folk have. I should keep say ‘Oh brother the little brat’.
Herbert is having some extraordinary experiences. Funny coming of age and becoming an uncle within a week and both on the field of battle. I was awfully amused at his description of a sham attack on the Dardanelles. We cannot with the united ingenuity of our camp invent any interesting amusements. Tents and the desert don’t allow much scope for such things. For a few brief moments I had hopes of going to the Dardanelles. The Expeditionary Force were short of Chaplains and the Chaplain General asked if one of us could go. The senior chaplain in Egypt has however vetoed the suggestion saying that we are short handed as it is. We are soon, I fancy, to be on the move – but it will apparently not be something in the nature of a “General Post”. No part of Division is likely to leave Egypt but some will probably go down again to the Canal where another attack is threatened.
I know Dr. Jays & Grundon quite well and have often met Gardner. Jays is in charge of YMCA in the camp and I am at present having all my meals with him. He is a rather famous lay missioner in CMS. Grundon is curate, (assistant chaplain), at All Saints, Cairo and has helped me much by lending books, communion linen, etc.
I have just finished my third service today and counted out the piastres in the collection and now I must set to work to get my tonight’s sermon clear in my head.
I may leave Heliopolis in the course of a day or two but a box will be left there and they will forward letters. I hope to go to Luxor on 3-days leave with Fletcher1, another Chaplain, on Monday.
My humble respects to little Margaret and love to all the family
Your affectionate brother
Note: 1. Rev. Denis Fletcher Chaplain 4th Class (TF) Attached 5th Lancs Fusiliers 14 Oct, 1914.
April 14, 1915
Though no doubt you are a most precocious kid yet I don’t fancy you will appreciate a card from Luxor. I felt as I was writing home my godchild must not be forgotten.
Your affectionate Godfather
April 20, 1915
My dear Family,
This is probably the last time I shall write to you from Heliopolis Camp. I have just received orders to pack up and go to Abbassia Barracks. I had hoped to be sent down once again to the Canal though I don’t suppose there will be any fighting. There are I suppose some 5,000 of our Division scattered over a front of 40 or more miles and one Chaplain to deal with them. Absurd! At Abbassia there are about 7 or 8,000 but they are concentrated within a very small campus and surrounded by conveniences such as Soldier’s Institutes, Homes, halls for entertainment, Garrison Church and have 2 Chaplains. I therefore assumed I should go to the Canal. It was not to be so. For some reasons I am pleased. [illegible sentence across a fold in the paper]
I shall, after 7 months of field work get into a building for services, and it ought to be healthier. Kantara would probably have been my destination on the Canal and Kantara is situated on swamp and breeds mosquitoes and fever. Also, the East Lancs Brigade and Artillery seem to be planted there for good for defence work while it is just possible – tho’ not very probable – that if the operations in the Dardanelles prove speedily successful, we might take part if not in the actual scrimmage at any rate in policing the country. It all depends whether a relieving force is being sent out here. The Colonials could not be left to do garrison work. They are not reliable and are so wild and undisciplined that they would soon cause internal trouble with the Mohammedans. A week or two back they carried out a regular Cambridge ‘Town and Gown’ on a large scale in Cairo and of some rumpus in a low quarter of the town. There was none of the ‘Town and Gown’ humour about it and in view of the present situation was a most abominable procedure imperiling the lives of the Christian civilian population by an internal rising. For this crime, which the Terriers picket quelled, the Australians have to their great satisfaction been moved on, while the Terriers are still ‘Confined to Camp’. I feel awfully sorry for our lads. They really appear to be fagged out with their heavy training without any objective in view, but they are sticking to it heroically.
Had a most interesting time at Luxor, visiting the temples of Luxor and Thebes on Tuesday, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and Colossi of Memnon on Wednesday and Abydos, and Barrage at Assiut on Thursday. It was pretty heavy work but well worth the effort. I thought before going there that I had considerable experience of heat but I soon found out my mistake. A temperature of 110 in the shade and a moist atmosphere is appalling. I shall never forget riding up the Valley of the Kings on a donkey with the blazing sun powering down and being reflected from the white rocks and sand.
The 2 Emaues [Colossi of Memnon] are still wonderful but I can hardly conceive how gorgeous they must have been before the earthquake and that old brute Cambyses played havoc with them.
The colouring on many of the mural pictures still remains though it has been exposed to the atmosphere nearly 4,000 years. Many of the tombs of the Kings have only recently been discovered and then the paintings and bas reliefs are as fresh as if they had been finished this year. A good many of my photos seem to have been successful judging from the negatives though I have not had any prints made yet.
I am keeping very fit so long as I can avoid being ‘liverish’. This I might be able to do now as I had succeeded in getting a real lively horse from the Australian Remount Depot. He goes like the wind. When I get to Abbassia I propose to get a ride each morning, early before the day gets hot. This jogging up ought to keep me in good fettle. I shall no doubt meet Major Sheppheard when I get to Abbassia as he is quartered there.
Did I tell you that when I dined with the High Commissioner of Egypt (Sir Henry McMahon) I sat next to Colonel Cummings who used to be adjutant to Forces around about Chester? He was the brother of the Solicitor at Chester.
I am just beginning to feel it is about time I had a visit to Sandon and somehow, I feel the war is getting near the end. In a month or so Constantinople ought to fall and the Allies seem to have got the Germans well in hand and are only waiting in order to sacrifice as few lives as possible.
I must now proceed to pack up my things ready for the arrival of the transport wagon.
Heaps of love to all including the new arrival.
Alexandria Merchant Seaman’s Home
Monday May 3, 1915
My dear Family,
Another move and a rather more important one this time. On Tuesday last, we (I am now with the 1/5th Manchester Battalion, Infantry) expected shortly to move down to the Canal. The East Lancs Brigade had gone and part of the Lancs Fusilier Brigade followed them but were only there one day and came back actually while fighting was going on! This suggested that some very important and urgent work was to be done elsewhere and this of course meant the Dardanelles.
On Wednesday we had orders to be ready to move within a week or so. On Thursday within a few days. On Friday the move was fixed for Monday following. On Saturday afternoon we were ordered to entrain for Alexandria on Saturday evening. I wired to the Senior Chaplain and was told to remain at Abbassia. Sunday was one of the strangest I have ever passed thro’. The whole Barracks were astir with troops drawing kit and ammunition, etc. The Parade Services had to be cancelled but I got a goodly number at the 6:30 and 7:30 celebrations and at 6:30 for voluntary evening service. It was a very busy day for me as I had been left all by myself at Abbassia. The Senior Chaplain being at Alexandria and my colleague Fletcher having gone off with the Fusilier Brigade. In the morning I was busy trying to get a saddle for my horse and seeing that Church Hut property and Camp Library would be looked after in case I moved and also trying to make arrangements for return of borrowed property. At lunch I received Senior Chaplain’s order to remain. This I did not much care for so I saw Colonel Cummings (AA & QMS) i.e., chief assistant to General Douglas who commands the Division. He said I certainly ought to move lest the Brigade (i.e., 4 Infantry Battalions) about 5,000 men should be without a Chaplain. He advised me to see General Douglas personally. I went and Douglas said yes certainly we would and go and tell the Senior Chaplain, or anyone else, that you have direct orders from me to go. By the way, Colonel Cummings had had influenza badly, has been before the Board and ordered home as medically unfit. I am awfully sorry he is going. He is extremely kind and pleasant. He has kindly promised to get safely to you a box of antiquities. I had no means of keeping them here and PO would not insure them. So as their value was £20 or so I was very relieved when he promised to take them with him.
It was a wonderful sight to see the troops leaving Abbassia at night in dead silence. They looked very solemn and grim. I don’t know how I got off. At 5pm I received my orders to go. I had to pack a valise with a few necessities (field equipment) weight only 35lbs to go to the Field Base (i.e., somewhere in Dardanelles). Kit Bag (100lbs) with reserve store to be left at Alexandria and the rest of my belongings to be packed and left in somebody’s care – until I returned or else sent home. In the midst of this I had the Evening Service which I found rather an ordeal. I hardly knew how to speak to men who were about to face some very firm work. Just beneath me was a clergyman whose face I knew very well. He turned out to be one I knew fairly well at Cambridge. He has just come out to superintend Mission to Jews in Cairo. I eventually with help of Wesleyan Chaplain, got my surplus luggage packed – leaving it in his charge ‘till further instructions. I could not catch the first train at 12:30 as packing was not done until 1am. I went by second troop train at 3:30am leaving Abbassia and going through Cairo just as dawn was breaking. Cairo withheld its best for the farewell. Had a comfortable journey and arrived here at 10am. Our transport, a German prize boat, was being scrubbed down, being in a most repulsive state. It had just come in with 500 wounded. I went on deck and some nice rough Australians gave me some potatoes, onions and tea without milk in a tin can. It was very good. While I ate and drank, they gave me an account of the landing of the Australians. They had to jump off pontoons into water – often up to their necks. Before they could get onto dry land nearly half of them were wounded. I hear that casualties are estimated as high as 60%. They stuck to it and drove the Turks back at point of bayonet. No prisoners are being taken on either side just now. One hears from all quarters of German Officers dressed as English and Australian getting into lines and giving false orders, viz to charge in a Battery with result that a whole Battalion is mowed down. Kerby1 should have gone out with the Manchester Brigade but I have just found a parson (that describes him rough, uncouth, beastly accent fellow) who is working in connection with Seaman’s Home. He tells me that Kerby has received orders to stay at Base in Alex. I therefore shall try to go on with the 5th Manchesters whom I much prefer to the 3rd East Lancs RFA.
I had better skedaddle now and see what is happening. I have wired Senior Chaplain to say I am on Quay 44 Alex and he may come and give it me hot for disobeying his orders. I had scribbled out a line for Margaret Evelyn’s christening. I will send it along for correction when I have time to write it out. I don’t know what my address will be. I think best would be 5th Battalion Manchester Regiment, East Lancs Division (T.F.), Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
I shall try to see a bit of Alex this afternoon if as it is reported we don’t leave ‘til midnight.
So glad to hear Margaret Evelyn is flourishing and such an exceptional baby.
Having been up for 32 hours or more without a rest, my head persists in dropping on the table. Therefore, I will relieve you of any further trouble.
Heaps of love to all.
How goes Herbert?
J K Best
Note: 1. Probably Rev. Edwin Thomas Kerby, M.C.
Somewhere off Gallipoli Peninsula
In Bay of Saros
Thursday May 6, 1915
My dear Family,
Having lost sight of the Artillery I tacked myself on to the Manchester Brigade hoping to discover the Artillery later. The arrangement seems to have been wise as the Artillery will probably be split up and different portions attached to the various Infantry Brigades.
On Monday afternoon I drove into Alexandria and then took a tram car to Palais Ramleh, (about 6 miles off), to see the Senior Chaplain who was staying there. I missed him but had a glorious ride passing camp after camp of soldiers newly arrived from all over England. Most noticeable was the huge collection of Yeomanry. We were all onboard by 6pm but could not push off until midnight owing to difficulty in getting together the crew. The don’t like entering the danger zone or having shells fizzing around them. There were some Australians onboard who gave us thrilling accounts of the Australian landing. The death toll was appalling when compared with that at Mons or Neuve Chapelle. Casualties about 60% it is estimated. Largely, as they themselves admit, this huge loss was due to their impetuosity tho’ the landing was bound to be costly. The Naval guns did their best to cover the landing which had to be effected by wading, waist deep, in water in which were laid barbed wire entanglements and faced by heavy artillery fire. When the troops were on terra firma they charged with fixed bayonets up the hill driving all before them. The Turks are very clever snipers but don’t like cold steel. Unfortunately, nothing could hold them back when they started on their revenge and they advanced so far that the Queen Elizabeth’s covering shells landed in their midst and did great havoc. Spies are a terrible difficulty, owing to them the Turks seem to know just where to expect us. They have actually been mingling among our men and giving false orders such as to charge into a battery of Maxims over the open and so on. The cruelty of some of the Turks is abominable and the Australians are giving no quarter in return. I don’t know whether we are to support Colonials or British troops. I fancy and hope the latter at Cape Helles – as they are a crack lot – 29th Indian Brigade, Munsters, Dublin Fusiliers, Lancs Fusiliers, Scottish Borderers and Batteries. It will be a great honour if this Division is allowed to combine with them.
On Monday officers were busy cutting off their stars and braid making themselves indistinguishable from Tommies – for sharpshooters have done deadly work in picking off officers. Then we got our heads shaved – we are a funny sight – a villainous looking set of cut throats. In spare time I made up a means to sleep. At night arranged for a celebration of Holy Communion in the Library at 6:45. I asked the Dean of Sydney (Talbot, late Dean of Stowell Memorial Church, Manchester) to celebrate while I assisted. Talbot is over with the Australians. He did not land but came back with the wounded and so was making his second journey. We had 100 communicants. It was most inspiring. All day were passing thro’ the islands of the archipelago taking a rather roundabout route to avoid mines. We passed two dummy cruisers who signaled ‘all’s well’. Spent the day arranging a concert party to enliven the last evening. Taylforth1 and Valentine2 both old Chester students (Sergts. in 6th Manchesters) were invaluable help. Dean of Sydney presided over one end of the boat and myself the other. We had a very jolly night. At 8:30pm we had another celebration. Several said how sorry they were that they missed morning service, so I took my first evening communion. We only expected a dozen or so and arranged to have it in a small office. This was packed out at 8:15 so we removed to the purple room. Again, we got over 100. We sang ‘Just as I am’ and while communicating ‘Abide with me’, ‘Sun of my Soul’, ‘Glory to Thee’ and was a very lovely service. Afterwards I went and had a chat with Talbot. He said towards the end that shortly he expected their Precentor at Sydney Cathedral will be retiring – they had been waiting for some time. He thought it would suit me so would I keep in communication with him. It means looking after the musical part of Cathedral services and being headmaster of the Choir School. If the offer comes and all is well I should feel very inclined to accept. The Senior Chaplain also wants me to become a permanent Army Chaplain. That I should not I think care for. I don’t feel quite cut out for such work. It is all right for a time – and for such a time as present – but permanent garrison work must be most dull work.
Thurs Morning – Where we are I don’t quite know. There are dozens of gun boats and transports lying round, among them Queen Lizzie. In the ridge of hills running up from sea the shells from Turkish guns are shooting. They seem to be searching the whole hillside down to the sea. I suppose our troops must be entrenched there – but we know very little.
I have borrowed the writing pad from the Ship’s Captain and am getting him to post it on this return to Alex.
Hope you are all well
- 142 Sgt. William Taylforth, 1/6th Manchesters. Killed in Action May 31, 1915 Dardanelles.
- Probably 141 Sgt. George Hamilton Valentine 1/6 Manchesters. Survived the war.
Letters from Gallipoli
1st East Lancs Division (TF)
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
My dear Family,
Will you scribble a line to Canon Hawkins, to WA Leigh Esq, Bank House Lytham, F. Grundy Ansdell Bridge, Lytham, and Miss Heys, County Hotel Lytham saying that I will try to drop a line soon but being stranded on foreign shores an having a pretty hot time there are bit few opportunities of writing and getting letters off. Whether I shall receive any in still more doubtful.
We have been rather rushed with the result that I have got nothing beyond what I stand up in. I can generally pinch a blanket from somewhere for the night. The nights are perishingly cold after Egypt. I dig myself a hole for night quarters. I have found the best way of spending night is to spend 10 minutes in hard exercise and then sleep an hour or two while the effect wears off. If I lie down all night, I become too cold to sleep. Wonderfully healthy life. The Naval guns and artillery kick up a deafening row, but one gets used to it. Except for the sad side of war, I am enjoying this experience immensely. One sees wonderful acts of heroism and most amazing pluck and cheerfulness. At times it is absolutely uncanny. You see an Irishman with one arm off and full of wounds dragging himself to Regimental Aid Post – a man offers to help him, “Nay, get thee along to trenches laddie, they need thee more than I do”. He has even got witticisms for those he meets. I am not of course allowed to tell you what is going on. Weather is good and I am well, only I should like to get a change of clothes or pick up a razor. I had a grand swim in the sea yesterday which was very refreshing.
Cheer ho. Will send active service postcards from time to time. I am trying to get the last parcel you sent as I badly need a woolen helmet, now I have lost the head protection provided by nature.
Heaps of love to all
Monday May 31, 1915
My dear Family,
It is usually very difficult to find much to say which will not offend the vigilant eye of the censor. I have not received any letters for the last 5 or 6 weeks because I have been a homeless vagabond attached temporarily to first one unit and then another. At last, I appear to have secured a settled abode so I have sent my address to Bolton Artillery and also to the Military PO and hope to receive most of the letters. I shall have a regular feast when they all come in. You see we have been rechristened [On May 25, 1915 the East Lancs Division was renamed the 42nd Division]. I suppose it simplifies matters to substitute numbers for names but it is very utilitarian and gauche and takes away a good deal of romance from the war reports.
I wonder if you hear anything in the paper of our doings. We don’t get many papers here – the only regular issue is the Peninsula Press of which I enclose a sample. It is rather a dull unenterprising production. It takes the sparkle of the Daily Mail and does not contain much in the way of news. One appreciates papers as never before. To discover a stray page of Tit Bits is a great triumph. One reads it totally thro’ – not omitting the advertisements. I shall know all the virtues of quack medicines – Doan’s Back Ache pills, etc. – by heart if we stay here long. I am rambling hopelessly. The only news I can think of which is not censorable is a record of financials, but that would be too depressing. To relieve the monotony, we shall have to adopt, or rather adapt, the novel scheme of certain eminent nonconformists of marrying by proxy.
I had the sad privilege of burying a nephew of a dear old lady friend of home at Lytham the other day. His brother was out here, being present at the funeral. The only time that I met him before was at the last lunch I had in Lytham when he was staying with his aunt.
I hope before very long we shall meet the Australian troops. I do so badly want to see old Waggle1 again. He must have had a terribly hot time. I hope he has come through safely. My horse and I were just becoming great chums. We squabbled defiantly for a bit as to who should be master. When we left Egypt, the matter was more or less settled and Dinkum was becoming reconciled to the fact, (Dinkum is an Australian expression used when he wants you to believe some tall yarn as the sober honest truth. I therefore gave my horse this name because the crafty old villain goes along quite quietly and then when you are off your guard tries one of its colonial tricks). Now I have lost him. I lost absolutely everything except a great coat. By great good luck I have recovered most of my things – some kind person took what suited him from my saddlery. It is everyone for himself here and I suppose he thought he needed it more than I did. Well perhaps he did. Dinkum is probably at Tenedos so I may see him again. I should love to buy him if he is brought to England.
My average day is from 7am to 9pm. Three times a day I sit down to eat. The rest of the day I am more or less on the tramp – going up to the trenches or wandering round the reserve bivouacs. The men talk a lot of home as is only natural but they prefer this to Egypt. It is a grand open healthy life with no foul spots such as Cairo. The only buildings we see are in ruins and when one gets accustomed to it the danger is far preferable to the deadly monotony of the desert. Lastly to get back to hedge and green fields once again reminds one of England and what that means after 7 or 8 months of sand and flies you can hardly realise. I was beginning to regard the weather here as ideal, so it is as a rule, but last Wednesday was an exception. It rained – well I have never seen rain like it before – it was tropical, a regular cloud burst. I had strolled up to the firing trenches (don’t think I am being foolhardy; it is the safest place on the peninsular) and was just beginning to find my way home among the maze of trenches when the rain began. Within half an hour the trenches were 3 feet deep in water or rather in a mixture of water and mud of about the consistency of thick pea soup. I was a lovely sight when I got back to my dug out – it was barely a dug out, rather a pit of water with my belongings floating on top. I got into shorts and bailed out diligently for two hours and then picked out the various articles which had subsided at the bottom, out of the mud. We were just facing the problem of how we were to spend the night under cover from shells and stray bullets and get out of the water when orders came to move. We retired back about ½ mile and found to our joy that not a drop of rain had fallen and that the dug outs were quite dry. This was a mere lucky chance. The picks and spades had been sent down on the first transport and so when the torrents came washing down the hill side the men were able to direct its course away from our bivouac. Had the spades come last then our new bivouac would have been under water. I forgot to add an important item in my daily routine – a good swim in the sea. As one is very rarely able to change clothes this is an unspeakable boon.
I have sent to Cairo for envelopes and managed to get some paper so that my epistles home should be in future more regular. One cannot make bricks without straw nor write letters without paper. If you discover any fairly long or detailed account of operations here, (you will guess the place), I should be very glad if you can put them aside. It will be interesting to compare the official narrative with the actual thing. I hope my letters will soon reach me. Six weeks is a long time to wait for letters especially with Herbert at the front. You might send all letters to my new address.
Italy seems to have entered the arena and we hope that Greece will after General Election June 18th. It will help us materially here.
Heaps of love to all
Note: 1. The Reverend Canon Leonard Martin Andrews CVO, MBE, MC, MA, Queen’s College, Cambridge 1906. Initially joined the 1st Field Ambulance, Australian Expeditionary Force (as Private 1750) but was later commissioned in the British Army as Temporary Chaplain 4th Class.
[Early June 1915]
My dear Family,
As on the Canal, so here one can explore the whole of the battle area and so gain a pretty clear idea of the progress of operations. I don’t know to what extent you have been initiated into the mystery of the Dardanelles, but I do know that it is useless for me to try to inform you. We are very isolated here and know nothing of what is being done outside our own little area. We feel certain Italy has joined the Allies. We hear Bulgaria has entered the lists and there are rumours that Austria has sued for peace unconditionally and that America is on the verge of a declaration.
I have written to various people trying to get my mails sent on here but as yet without success. I have received no letter for 6 weeks. I suppose there must be a large budget somewhere in Egypt. A few days back [May 31] a new batch of C of E Chaplains arrived. They look very pretty – their boots nicely polished, clothes brushed, hair neatly parted and beautiful white dog collar. They did not realise I was a Chaplain but took me for an officer’s batman (servant). I was not surprised. It would have taken a thought reader all his time to discern anything clerical about me. I was caked in dry mud from head to foot, my boots worn out, collarless – a muffle round my head for a helmet with a dirty handkerchief hanging down behind to protect the back of my neck from the sun. I am now better off having got an issue of Army boots and having picked up Sunday articles of attire in the trenches. I also collected some rather interesting Turkish and French relics. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, my luggage is a nuisance. Somebody relieved me of them. To return to the Chaplains. The face of one seemed somehow familiar to me – I could not fix him and yet I felt sure he had something to do with Chester. He turned out to be Kinloch1, Dean of Eccleston, [Cheshire] and as he impressed upon me very carefully, Chaplain to the Duke of Westminster. I remember him in connection with the Eaton Hall cricket team. I fancy he thought that his work would take him to a nice comfortable town, as in France – far away from shot and shell. He did not appear to be enchanted with his surroundings. Curiously enough, he has been attached to our Division to look after the odd units, such as RAMC, transport, RE, etc. The life out here is very curious and yet extraordinarily fascinating. I started by holding largish services but things have become hotter and I find it is mere suicide to do more than get together a dozen or two men in a trench or dug out. I fear that when (DV) I get home I shall be up to all sorts of antics. Someone will bang on a door and you will see me dive headlong under the sofa, or pile up cushions as if they were sandbags. If the wind whistles in the trees I shall order the congregation to take cover while I bob down behind the pulpit or reading desk. It is extraordinary how soon one settles down to new surroundings – one gets quite used to anything in time. Even to dying, as the Irishman said. The life is really great and amazingly satisfying. Whenever I pay my next visit to Sandon, I shall have to hire snipers to pot at me all the way from Chelmsford to Sandon and see if I can prevail upon some Terriers to drop a few shells to beguile the monotony of the walk. I wonder if you will be able to spare me a little room in the kitchen garden in which to dig a hole. I shall return a perfect savage and shall have to be broken in gradually otherwise I shall disgrace myself by dipping my knife into the jampot and throwing what is left on plate or in cup on to the carpet. The sight of a bath or a pair of clean sheets would bowl me over.
The boys have been rather badly mauled, but their spirit is wonderful. I came across half a dozen Darwen lads wounded, some very seriously. They had been lying out in the open for two days. They knew that at all costs they must keep each other’s spirits up so they formed themselves into the Darwen Debating Society and so I found them hard at it suffused in the argument. They dearly love a cigarette. Twenty yards in front of their firing line lay a dead German officer. He had on a wrist watch, sword and all sorts of trophies. One boy said he was going to fetch him in. The others tried to dissuade him. It was mere suicide they said. The Turkish trenches were only a few yards off and the ground was simply swept with machine gun fire. The watch, etc., were not worth the risk. “Eh lad, dost think I want them things? Gosh no! Int he’ll likely have some cig papers on him thou knows”, and he went off to get them.
We have got an Essex Regiment and some East Anglian RAMC. I wonder whether any Sandon lads are among either lot.
I wonder how you are all flourishing. I am very anxious to hear about Herbert. Has he got his commission in the ASC? And is he still fit!
Most of the officers whom I liked best have gone under. Two nephews of a Miss Allen who I knew very well at Lytham have gone and I fear the son of Sir Harry Hornby of Blackburn, cousin of Hugh Hornby who was to have gone to Bolton Parish Church as fellow curate with me. Hornby was badly wounded and could not find a trace of him in any of the Field Ambulances records. What a mad world this is! I suppose we shall soon come to our senses and settle the matter which might just as well have been settled without the carnage. How much wiser were the Israelites and Philistines when they settled their dispute by single combat of David and Goliath. Well Cheer ho – my very best respects to my niece and goddaughter. I hope she is not spoilt by mother and acting mothers.
Note: 1. The Reverend Michael Ward Kinloch, temporary Chaplain to the Forces, 4th Class. 25th September, 1914.
June 28, 1915
My dear Family,
Another Sunday has gone. It is hard to distinguish Sunday from other days out here, except that on that day there seem to be rather more poor fellows to bury. It is impossible to hold a big service – we should be wiped out in a very few minutes. The best one can do is to collection ten or a dozen men in a dug out or bit of a trench and have a few short words with them. Some prayers and a short lesson. At night, if it is darkish, we are able to have a celebration of Holy Communion. It is very touching to see the response to whatever little bit of spiritual work one can do. Never before have we realised the wonderful power of Holy Communion as we do here. Everywhere I am met with the same question: ‘When can we have another service of Holy Communion?’ We need so sorely the gift of strength, courage, comfort and peace of mind and we find we get it. I ask no questions regarding a man’s particular persuasion – even if I had the conviction of the Bishop of Zanzibar, I should not have the heart to refuse this wonderful gift to men all of whom may at any moment, and some of whom certainly will very shortly, meet death. Even with churchmen who are not confirmed I feel the deep longing, as confirmation is impossible, shows them to be fit to receive. Theoretically I may be wrong and untrue to church principles yet the practical result convinces me that under exceptional circumstances exceptions may be made. I am wonderfully happy among the boys in the trenches. They have done marvelously but have suffered terribly. There are plenty of Chaplains down at the Base and at the Field Ambulances so that I am able to spend most of my time with the boys in the trenches. The only time I cannot go with them is when they charge. I should love to go with them then, but I could be of no use so I wait ‘til they have got into their new position and then join them as soon as it is possible. It is then that one sees the real horrors of war. The trenches are full of dead and dying Turks, Germans and our own boys. Their moans and cries for help are simply heartbreaking. I hope to goodness we shall soon be relieved for the sake of these poor lads. They are played out. The ghastly sights and foul smells on top of incessant work day and night have overtaxed their endurance. We are hoping daily for a sleep even if it be only a temporary one. We hear rumours that Greece have joined the Allies and we are wondering what action the Balkan States will take. We hear also, and this pleases us still more, that Peace Conferences are taking place. But all our news is very doubtful and indefinite.
I must dry up now as I have got some short notes to write to mothers of the dead and wounded. Only let me say that I am thoroughly ‘enjoying’, (that is not the right word – it makes me appear very heartless), this life. I mean that I hardly even remember feeling so happy and contented as I do out here. When things are quiet (that is I suppose when the Turks are looking after their own men) and one does not see the poor boys being slaughtered and mangled before they have even reached manhood it is a glorious picnic full of amusing episodes. Three times has my home been destroyed. Fortunately, it only means an hour or two with pick and spade to restore it. First by flood. I came back to find my belongings floating in 3 feet of water. Second by fire. A piece of shell dropped in and set my blanket on fire burning most of my kit. That again was not hard to remedy. A tour round the trenches enabled me to replace most of the necessities – coal, blanket, ground sheet, mess tin. Lastly a shell came and wrecked the dug out completely. I therefore thought the time had come for a move and have sought a more secluded spot.
I am so glad you have written to try to dissuade Herbert from taking absolutely uncalled for risks. If he could get a commission in the ASC, he would do admirable service. Serving as I do among the men in the trenches, I know how much depends on efficient ASC officers. If it is bungled the fighting men are very severely handicapped and sometimes rendered almost useless. I am afraid I did not receive your two previous letters. The only letter I have received for 8 weeks were yours and Margery’s dated May 17th and a postcard from mother a few days previous to that. Did I tell you that Kinloch has left the Peninsula? I think he found it too much for his nerves. Fortunately, he left a Government Communion Set behind in his haste which I have possessed myself. Canon Hitchens of Jerusalem, who took my place temporarily at Heliopolis when I was on the Suez Canal, has curiously enough succeeded him. He is brother of Robert Hitchens the novelist.
Heaps of love to you all including Margaret Emilie Stella.
July 2, 1915
My dear Family,
I think I have received most if not all of your letters. Those that were addressed to Abbassia arrived a few days ago, somewhat in retard, but much appreciated notwithstanding. I wonder if you get mine. As far as I can remember I have written once a week but on no particular day of the week. In future I will try to send one off each Monday and if I can find time in between to scribble an extra note I will mention it in the letter following. You will then have a check. I received a belated letter from Robin Hayes with the budget forwarded from Abbassia. He addressed me in his usual style as Teddy Bear. If only he could pay me a visit, he would soon see reason to change this form of address. Brer Rabbit would be very apt. I can well appreciate the failings of Mr. Rabbit when he bolts for his burrow – small shot must be to him what shrapnel is to us. If this is so, the analogy is a true one. I don’t feel so sorry for him as I used to do, his life must be brimful of excitement. And in addition, his natural home being underground, and his dress being adapted for such an existence, he will not feel the discomfort of dirt and dust continually dropping in his eyes and down his neck. Also, he can get deep enough to be absolutely secure from lead and flies which we unfortunately cannot.
How extraordinary! As I am writing this my orderly came along with two letters from you dated June 16th and 17th. I was recalling the jolly days when I used to tramp round the fields with Toddy and Louis1 after rabbits, then opening your letter I read the sad news. Poor fellow he was so kind, unselfish and modest. I will certainly do my very best. It ought not to be difficult except that owing to the heavy casualties it may be hard to find any who were near him when he fell. I should be very glad to receive names of any whom you know, or know of, out here and to give information to poor anxious folk at home. It is a little job I could do without much loss of time as my work takes me thro’ most of the trenches and bivouacs. The area of operations here is small and I have had every opportunity of learning the geography of the place. I wish I had met Luis out here – but perhaps his work was done before we arrived. Poor Jaylforth is dead and Valentine wounded, I fear seriously. It is the same tale everywhere. Very few that I knew are still with us. How mournful I am getting. An empty stomach maketh a gloomy man. That sounds quite like a proverb but whether or no it has the merit of being true. I feel in quite a cheerful vein once more, having had some lukewarm tea – very strong and well stewed, (the men believe in getting their full ration of tea and getting everything they can out of it including the tannin; I shudder to think what my inside will soon be like), and a slice of bread and jam. We have now a field bakery in full swing. It knocks off work occasionally when the shelling becomes heavy in which case, after much deliberation, we select our strongest set of molars and entrust to them the attack of the ‘Army biscuit’. Already they have shattered two of my strongest redoubts. (My spirits have again risen with a jump. A RAMC cook has just attempted a rissole out of bully beef, a few onions and bread and wanted my opinion on the result. I have had better at Sandon but none I have eaten with greater relish). I keep wandering. The jam is in tins on which the honoured name of Tickler is inscribed. Perhaps the name sounds commonplace to you in England but here with bated breath it is whispered – a name to conjure with. For is it not to the jam tins of Tickler, emptied of their palatable contents and filled with an unpleasant mixture of lead powder and fuse, that we owe many a Turkish head.
As you say, the poor old 6th M/Cs have suffered, so have the whole Division but not quite so heavily. The sixth are very fond of describing the banquet which the Major is going to hold in honour of their return. He sends his peroration thus ‘Your fame has gone out into the whole wide world, from East to West, from North to South your praises resound. And now may I have the honour – the greatest known, I deem it, that has ever fallen to my lot, of shaking hands with both of you’. The two survivors are generally reckoned to be the Quartermaster and a staff officer. They are the swagger battalion of the Division and were known at home as the “Collar and Cuff” brigade. In Egypt they formed a concert party and gave entertainment after the style of the Follies. They were very good.
My wants out here are few. Half a dozen pocket handkerchiefs, a couple of white linen shorts and a cheap pipe will meet my requirements. It is no use sending a camera. My little pocket Kodak tried to swim and is now a casualty. Another has been sent off from Egypt by Senior Chaplain but I fear has been confiscated. Some Van Houten’s Cocoa and Keatings would always come in useful. We have an ample supply of baccy, 2ozs a week.
I must now be off and try to find the Collingwood Battalion as I have to be back by 7pm. I will write to you or Mrs. Tucker if I can glean any information. I fancy I am receiving letters promptly and regularly but the more the better – so I heartily approve of the new scheme.
Best of luck to Mar and also Thiam in their approaching, or I suppose by now passed, exams. I wish Herbert was in for ASC, it is a much safer job. The RE from what I see have a pretty rough time of it. Undoubtedly it is one of the finest services.
Heaps of love to all
Never mind about a pipe. My batman’s father is sending one and a Corporal in an Australian Battery has presented me with a homemade one.
Note: 1. 2/Lt. Louis Egbert Tucker, R.N.V.R., “Collingwood Battalion” R.N. Division. Killed in Action June 4, 1915. Son of W.J. Sanger Tucker and Katherine Louisa Tucker, Chelmsford.
I suppose it is you whom I have to thank for the Times Weekly [Edition]. Would you instruct them to send it to my new address. Also, could they send Land and Water.
July 6, 1915
My dear Family,
The usual sad fate of good resolves! The very first Monday I failed to write the promised letter. I was just about to write it when I was summoned to take a funeral over the other side of the peninsula. When I got back it was dark and my precious little bit of candle was a pool of grease. I have since collected the grease and worked it up again with quite a respectable amateur imitation of a candle but I was too weary to do it last night. I paid a visit to the RND trenches. Only one officer of the old Collingwood [Battalion] (in addition to Transport officer) is left and he is a mere lad. Louis T. went out with a digging party behind the attacking line on that terrible 4th of June. The Collingwood advanced about 300 yards but owing to the French on their Right being unable to advance they found themselves hotly enfiladed by rifle and maxim gun fire and were forced to retire, taking the digging party with them. It was during this retirement that Louis was hit in the head and killed instantaneously. He lies now between our lines and the Turkish, I fancy. I wrote to Mrs. Tucker and gave her all the information I have been able so far to collect. Of course, I did not tell her that his body has not been recovered. He was known as ‘Tommy’ which proves his popularity. The last surviving officer spoke very warmly of his courage and industry and also of his great dry humour.
The Peninsula is swarming with Scotch and the last batch in kilts. Their influence is beginning to tell on me I fancy. It was not for several hours that it occurred to me how Louis got his nickname. I was wondering on whom I could sponge for a supper when the Nursery Rhyme suddenly floated through my mind. I began to chortle. I was passing among some newly arrived troops whose faces were very long for shells were falling round about. They cast pitying glances upon me. I fancy they thought I had gone crazy with the strain. They will soon find that the strain which at present they feel so intensely disappears after they have lived an animal life for some time then finer instincts and feelings will be lost and they will have no realization of the danger which surrounds them. It is wonderful how nature provides for all sorts of contingencies. Still, we wish sometimes for a taste of civilization. It is now 10 months since I slept in a comfortable bed under a roof. Ever since I landed in Egypt my lodging has been on the cold ground. As for myself this sort of life is quite in my line. I enjoy being a savage but it is different with the men. Most of them have never left home in their lives and now they have been away for nearly 12 months. When they are relieved from the trenches, instead of getting rest and change they retire just behind the firing line, live in dirty holes plagued by flies, with endless fatigues – roadmaking, communication trench digging, etc. Of course, it cannot be helped, the circumstances make it inevitable but the boys become envious of their confreres in Flanders and France when the read of leave home ‘granted’, of recreation tents, canteens and accoutrements provided for men directly they are relieved from the trenches. It’s all in the day’s work to grumble and grouse in true soldierly fashion but we are willing and ready to see it through. I wish I could remember all the quaint things the Jocks say – those I can understand, for as a rule I am quite lost as to their meaning. When they first arrive, they speak very contemptuously of Achi Baba as ‘Yon wee hill’ and vow to take it in a few hours. A week later they have a wholesome respect for it. I remember one remark which has since become a byword on the Peninsula.
The old type of sniper who plagued us so when we first arrived has at last been cleared out. He wore green clothing, painted his hands and face the same colour and even went so far as to deck himself out in leaves and twigs. He was a terror. Having supplies of food and drink sufficient for several weeks and often 2,000 rounds of ammunition he would live in a deep hole near a thick tree or bush. So, he was left behind the firing line. He was a picked shot and I hear usually carried a rifle specially fitted for marksmanship. He did deadly work. Among the trophies found on him were often a dozen or more identity discs. I suppose if he escaped, he hoped to receive so much a head. He must also have wounded and killed many whom he could not reach, for instance when he picked off officers out with their company. One can write of them with pleasure now that their reign of terror is over but it allowed an element of excitement too intense to be pleasant when one was going about looking up different regiments. The place of the sniper’s bullet has been taken up by shrapnel, lyddite and ‘ovens’ from the Turks’ firing lines, which though I suppose account for more lives, are not half as trying to the nerves. The sniper’s work is now restricted almost entirely to the trenches and that leads me back to the remark of a Scotsman. Edging my way along the trenches, stepping over sleeping men and avoiding dixies, picks, shovels, rifles and other trench impedimenta, I was addressed by a Jock, who in an excited and awed tone, whispered ‘Keep yer head doon mon! Keep yer head doon! There’s a laddie just been hit in the foot here’. The other day I was touring the trenches looking for dead whom it was possible to fetch in and bury. They were the trenches in which I had often been before with our boys, but now the Scotch were there. I fancy the constant whistle of stray shots going over the parapet, they took for shots from a sniper’s rifle. Anyway, they swore the greater part of the trench was marked down by snipers and insisted that I should not only proceed with my chin under my knees but that I should do it at the double. My! I have never been so dead beat in my life and so thankful when I got to a trench empty of Scotch. It was a true ‘double’ in both senses of the word.
Heartiest congrats to the Woolley’s. Harold seemed a top-hole chap and I don’t fancy it will spoil him. I always feel this about V.C. that for every one received at least a hundred deserve it and some of them have died far more than the actual recipient. I am not referring to the case of Harold Woolley of course, but to the principle of V.C.s in general.
A few more needs: a pair of tinted glasses, an enema, some handkerchiefs and (if you know of any such) some concentrated form of a powder of lemonade or an acid drink – I believe these are now procurable, some tinder boxes which do not require methylated spirits but with wicks which just smolder. Thanks awfully for those two prayers which you prepared for the memorial service. I use them at nearly all my services with slight adaptation. I saw in a Copy of the Pelican (Perse School Mag) that Charlie Laidlaw1 has died of wounds in Flanders. In every family I know at all well, who have suffered loss it is the best (i.e., in my opinion) who have been the first to go under. Perhaps a case of ‘Whom the Gods love’, etc. I woke up in the middle of last night at midnight and was still in a dream. My dirty bug-infested dug out was transformed into a fairy cavern studded all over with bright green jewel-like lights. I had been visited by a tribe of glow worms. I found next morning that these insects, so beautiful by night, were the nasty slimy little fiends I had been trying to exterminate. A flock of crows are flying about cawing, dismally trying to find a resting place. From time to time, they get a shrapnel [burst] into their midst. Already they are growing perceptibly less. I wonder how many will be left by evening.
Heaps of love to you all
Rumour hath it that we may return shortly. Many things seem to point to a furlough – a refitting and then France but facts are apt to be distorted and deduction false where a strong desire be behind.
P.S. Will you try to get a kind of tinted motor goggles to fit over ordinary specs?
Note: 1. Pte. 3375 Charles Glass Playfair Laidlaw. Died of Wounds April 3, 1915. Bethune Cemetery. Educated at The Perse School, Cambridge.
July 16, 1915
My dear Family,
Behind the opening sentences of your last letter, I read a half-scribbled note. Herbert writes often and cheerily. The circumstances and condition of life are not favourable to letter writing. When sitting down during the day one requires not a single hand but half a dozen pairs to prevent the amorous fly from showing her affection and consequently it is really impossible to spare a hand for writing letters. The fly disappears with the last ray of light and then as a rule it happens that either the light would be visible to the enemy or that I cannot by any manner or means become possessed of a piece of candle and so the night likewise normally offers no opportunity. My chance has now come.
For the past few days, I have been feeling rotten and yesterday I sent to an M.O. who saw at once that I had got fever of some sort and sent me to the Forward Base Hospital, i.e., on the Peninsula. I have a stretcher for a bed, three blankets and greatest joy of all they provide pyjamas. A month or two in the same clothes is the limit.
I cannot get at your letters and so don’t know if there are any questions to be answered. The thing I remember I am not of course going to accept the Dean of Sydney’s offer offhand. In fact, the old precentor is still going strong and will probably hang in for a year yet. The 2 things which appealed to me were (1) the music, and (2) the charge of the choir school. Hornby says that his work as Chaplain has altered his outlook and plans for the future. I wonder whether he means a calling with men appeals to him. To most is a hideous nightmare. I know something of a soldier after living with them for a year. Old Cairo – the foulest spot on God’s Earth and then as I see these soldiers climbing over the parapet for a charge, I know that just only about 400 out of 1,000 will come back untouched. The life is glorious for its excitement but its ghastliness outweighs it. In peace time an Army Chaplain must be dull by reason of the absence of variety – dealing just with men of a type, almost standardized. No, all being well I shall just carry on at home.
The Scotch made a glorious charge from the trenches just on one night the other day. I was up in our firing line and by looking through a loophole could see the whole operation from very close quarters. It looked just like a field day except that here and there a man would fall. One saw very few actually fall and yet the line was very speedily thinned out. The most terrible sight was that of several wounded Scots hobbling back across the open. A vicious pull of dust just near and he no longer hobbles but crawls and a second vicious pull and he is still. A man stops on his way to carry a wounded comrade into the next trench. He gets him right up to the parapet when a shrapnel bursts and they are both down. It was extraordinary how in the charge man after man would stop to look at a dead [man] or speak to a wounded comrade. Never have I seen anything so thrilling – never again do I wish to see anything so tragic.
I feel very muddleheaded but my mind will clear as my temperature descends and I hope to be able to write several letters during the next day or two and so make amends while I get the chance.
In the trenches the smell is beyond words – dead bodies lie all around – occasionally hanging over the parapet themselves and it is there I spend the day. My dug out lies in the midst of buried bodies and it is there I spend the night. I must make a few alterations when I get about again.
Heaps of love to all
Hospital Ship No. 1 The Soudan
126th Brigade Headquarters
[19-20 July 1915]
My dear family,
It took me some time to discover that dead bodies as companions are not conducive to perfect health. I don’t suppose I ever should have found out – such deuce beasts we become in this barbaric life – had it not been impressed upon me by an attack of fever. Then my head clanging like a blooming ships engine room and aches and pains all over my body I saw quite clearly, (wonderful discovery!). I was a fool. At night I had slept among the bodies of the buried dead. In day I had lived among the bodies of unburied dead – lying between and in front of trenches – some indeed hanging over the parapet. There my batman was a lazy young beggar and got my water from the nearest and not the safest well. However, the world deals very quickly with and mercifully with fools. Directly I got onto the Soudan I began to pick up. I only feel jolly weak now – most of the pains and aches have bid their adieux. How glorious it is to be in a bed – what do headaches and pains in the tummy matter when the question of sleeping between sheets and having a hot bath. Yet in a few days the novelty will have worn off and I shall be longing to get back to Gallipoli. I still love the trenches but I hate now the wear of living in a dirty, smelly bug infested hole. I rather fear the boat is off to England so that we shall probably get shifted off to Alex or Mudros (Lemnos). I am having a right down good time – which will improve as I get nearer convalescence. The nurses and attendants are very considerate and businesslike and not a bit fussy. The boy who generally attends to me brought me my milk this morning. Informing me that it contained a little brandy, he proceeded forthwith to justify this usage of intoxicants for medicinal purposes. His first ground was Biblical, a little wine for the stomach’s sake. He got no further for I succeeded in breaking in and informing him that tho’ a parson, I was not a T.T. [Teetotaler] at which he seemed puzzled.
I am only writing this because I hear that a mail leaves this afternoon and Mother will get into a wondrous state of mind deciding what mortal sickness gripped me. It is just a light touch of the enteric. The inoculation has apparently proved quite effective in reducing its virulence. I don’t know what I shall have to write about during the next few days.
Heaps of love to all
Letters from Egypt (1915)
No 15 General Hospital
? July, 1915
My dear family,
I am having a really good holiday, no aches and pains, but lump and lazy, just the very mood for thoroughly enjoying a slack. The simple life is all very well when carried out with moderation but it can be overdone and then it loses most of its charm.
It has the advantage however that enable one to appreciate the value of civilization. I always used to despise civilization and reverence the savage. Perhaps it does make a nation soft but it is wonderfully pleasant. I go to bed now. I get into a clean pair of pyjamas, slip between the sheets, pull over the mosquito net and sleep. How different from crawling into a dirty hole half underground infested with centipedes 6 inches long, tarantula spiders, which can break a twig with its jaws, and creeping things innumerable in the same filthy clothes one has been wearing for 10 or 11 weeks. Then the meals. No longer the eternal Bully Beef and Tickler’s Jam and dog biscuits which one hurriedly crams down one’s throat so as to swallow as few flies as possible, but now glorious meals, drinks, smokes all free clear and plentiful. Instead of stumbling along filthy smelling trenches one lounges in an armchair reading paper and novels. And, greatest luxury of all, a hot bath followed by a cold shower very day. I feel very mean when I think of the poor chaps I have left behind and I do feel also that despite its joys that it is rather a dull unprofitable kind of existence. I long to get back and hear the screaming shrapnel and the whistling bullet. Funny isn’t it. Yet it is solemn truth not mere convention. Far more pleasant sounds are they than the howls of natives and the eternal tom toms as they keep the feast of Ramadan. It seems to be a fast rather than a feast. When the gun goes at Sundown you should see the little kiddies scamper off for grub. The day’s fast ends with the setting of the sun.
I had an argument with the Doctor here. That is to say I argued that I was fit to go back. He simply answered ‘I have put you down for Cyprus. You must have a rest before going back. It is no use you talking, what I have written I have written!’ So, I suppose I shall sail for Cyprus shortly. I am hardly in a position to criticize now that I have crocked, but at all events I had 11 weeks of lead, smells and discomfort so I ask ‘Why are they now, after the worst is over, sending such crowds of Chaplains so that Alexandria is full of them and officers are asking if Chaplains are paid to sit in the club reading papers all day long’. And why do they send men who are absolutely unprepared for considerable risk and unfit for roughing it? In this hospital alone where I have only been a few days, two Chaplains living in comfort in Alexandria have come in as patients. Several have just set foot in the Dardanelles and gone straight home. If this be anything to go by, and it is because I heard the same from one who has the organizing of our department, then surely there ought to be some sort of selection and medical examination? Egypt is one of the worst places imaginable for the wounded – the air seems to be full of germs. Countless are the cases of men with slight wounds who progressed well for a time and then their wound turned septic and they lost their lives or a limb. Neither is it ideal for the sick. However, we cannot change the climate and can only hope that the whistle will blow for “full time” and the dirty game will stop.
You might address letters to me as follows for a while:
Rev J.K. Best, C.F.
126th Brigade M.E.F.
Officer’s Convalescent Camp
Then if they arrive after I have gone back, they will probably find me. Good bye for the present. I am enclosing a letter for Robin Hayes for two reasons (1) it may contain some news, I forget what is in it, (2) I don’t know his address. Read it if you like and then send it on.
[Below is an extract from the letter to Robin Hayes that describes Best’s passage from Field Ambulance to Hospital Ship. Soudan Much of the remainder of the letter is the rambling product of Best’s feverish mind.]
I have fevered visions of being carried clad in pyjamas and blanket up a cliff, pushed into a wooden wagon, my nose screaming uncomfortably close to the top. A little jolting, taken out and left in clearing station an hour or two. A few people asked me what was the matter. As it was written I did not aid their laziness. I secured to hear a few shells fall near but could not be bothered to find out what thing they were doing. Another jolt in van and then two dirty darkies, I fancy they were Greek, took charge of me. They left me on an erection of wood called by courtesy a pier, while workmen poured over me libations of coal, flour, mixed dried vegetables as they carried them past. Then when all had made their offerings, I was lowered with regal dignity into a lighter – a very dirty smelly one, but it didn’t leak. I was soon covered with sick and wounded but when the tug got us out to a little steamer and they had sorted us out and disembarked everybody else I found I was still there and so was my headache. I slumbered fitfully and feverishly on steamer for 3 hours or so then woke up to find myself in mid-air. A crane on the Soudan had lifted me up and was swinging me round. I was very near bliss. In one minute I was between lovely white sheets – all was peace and quiet except my head which would bump.
And yet after a day or two when I began to improve, I began to loathe the peace and quiet. I listen for the roar of naval gun. The shell from the howitzer singing overhead. The mighty crackle of the rifles and machine guns. Distinguishing the slow dull rattle of Turks from quick metallic rattle of our own, and deducing the proportion of Turk rifle shots to our own by the stray whistling over our heads and so concluding what is happening. It is all very fascinating and now it is gone. I long to be in the thick of it again.
Letters from Cyprus
Officer’s Convalescent Camp
August 7, 1915
My dear family,
I cannot quite remember when or from where I last wrote to you. I fancy the letter was written mainly on the Hospital Ship Soudan and finished and posted from No 15 General Hospital, Alexandria. I am now in Cyprus and as the mail only leaves once a week this is the first chance of sending a letter.
We left the hospital at 9am Saturday morning and got on board at 10am. Then we waited (my inkpot has disappeared) ‘til the Cairo contingent of sick and wounded arrived at 3pm, soon after which we steamed off. It was glorious to get a breath of fresh air after the heat and musty odours of Alexandria, yet even at sea it could hardly be called cool. It was so hot in the cabin the first night that I had my bedding put on top deck the next night. We read a little and slept a lot. On Sunday we had an evening service. Most of the men and officers were present. I talked to them of a picture I had seen advertised in several papers. ‘The Great Sacrifice’ it was called. Most of us had seen it again and again in real life and its message went home that wars will never cease so long as selfishness is one of the strongest powers in the world. Only self-sacrifice in everyday life will make wars cease. At 6am Monday morning we had a celebration of the Holy Communion. My rest on Sunday night was rather broken. The deck was much cooler that the cabin but unfortunately it was swarming with rats. They scampered along the rails, up and down rigging over deck and bed. It was fortunate however for it enabled me to see the sun rise over the hills of Cyprus and the fever mists, which hung in the valleys like rolling drifts of snow, melt away. Cyprus looked rather barren and uninviting in the grey light of dawn and even when the light grew stronger and revealed a little vegetation it seemed almost as dry and thirsty as Egypt.
The first party left the boat about 9am. They disembarked 3 officers and party of men at a time so that it took them four days to clear the ship and fill it with men going back. I went on the Monday afternoon so that I was able to have a swim before leaving the ship. That shows I am a bit of a p and posing as an invalid. We had rather a rough passage getting ashore in the little boats but no one got further than looking a bit queer. We waited at the Customs House for 2 hours. Customs House sounds fine. It was a dirty little cottage thro’ which hens sauntered. It possessed 2 cane bottomed chairs with the bottoms and nothing much else. Troodos is about 36 miles from the landing place and a jolly stiff 36 miles for it rises from sea level to 6,000 feet. It was the most glorious ride I have ever been on. Perhaps coming almost straight from the smell and hardships of Gallipoli intensified my enjoyment but the pleasure became so great as to be almost painful. While we were waiting, I tried to take photos of some of the natives. They looked as if they had stepped straight out of ‘Le Roi des Montagues’ which we read at school – regular brigands in appearance. They were not particularly pleasant. One sultry old fellow when I tried to snap him shook his fist and marched off with the most coarse attempt to look dignified.
The beginning of the ride was not very promising. The land appeared dry and parched – the vegetation seemed to be struggling for its very existence. Up above the mountains looked bleak and almost barren. Also, the motor was running badly and stopped before we had got far, on a very gentle gradient. The driver seemed to think the only thing to be done was to send a message by the car which was still behind us for another car to come and fetch us. That meant a wait of at least 8 hours. Fortunately, after letting the engine cool a bit, we struggled on to a village and there gave it a drink. This seemed to make a world of difference and she did the rest of the journey in good style. The driver was a bit nervous however and so took the corners at a tremendous lick – corners of this shape [sketch of a hairpin bend] with a precipice on the outside and a sheer cliff on the inside. It made me feel more queer inside than high explosives did. I thought I had come through it all only to be hurled down the cliffside.
As we ascended, the country became prettier each mile and the people more friendly. They had been mainly Turks down below and we were now getting among the Greeks. The valleys were green with crops, pasture and trees among which the little red shanties nestled. One might have been in Switzerland had it not been for an occasional more pretentious building such as the village inn which was Egyptian in style. When we had gone about 20 miles the sun began to sink. We were just leaving the last cottages. You can imagine what a glorious sight it was. Even the Tommies stopped smoking and talking and simply gaped spellbound. And then would come as a relief a little comic episode. First it was an old man riding gravely along on his mule. We came upon him rather suddenly round a corner and hooted. He gave the mule a sound whack to get it out of the way but it did not have the required effect. The shock of the stick and the noise made by the motor horn were too much for the Donkey’s nerves. Its hind legs collapsed and its rider unceremoniously deposited on the ground. We pulled up while the pair sorted themselves out and went their way. Another time it was a man, woman or child in a frenzy of anxiety trying to keep half a dozen mules, goats or pigs well into the side of the road. The last part of the journey was almost the best. As we left villages and people behind, we got into glorious pine woods with bracken and berry trees beneath. The sun had set and the wonderful eastern sky twinkled through the pine trees. I wish I could describe it. I think it was beyond description. When we were about 8 miles from the Camp, which is at the top of Troodos we stopped. Refreshments were brought down to the men and I went up and had a drink, some cakes and a smoke with two most hospitable people. I think they were Swedish. Then little kiddies who were absolutely sweet had been allowed to stay up to see the soldiers. The ride ended at 9pm. The officers were serving a dinner to the civilians so that we started off very well. We take things very easily here – sleep, eat and stroll about. Go for rides on ponies or mules. Once I tried to play tennis but I am not quite up to it yet. When I was in Ismailia a certain Mr. Lewis was church warden at the little mission room in which we held services on Sunday evenings. To our mutual surprise we met again here at Troodos. The world is very small. We are expecting every day to hear that Achi Baba has fallen. I am afraid I shall not be there. How I should love to see that beastly hill fall.
I struggled up Mount Olympus the other day. The summit is only about 2 miles from our Camp. The view was magnificent.
There are lots of interesting antiquities on Cyprus but unfortunately we are not allowed out for the night and hardly any can be reached in a day. I bought a daylight developing outfit in Alex. I tried it last night for the first time and was fairly successful. I must try to get a few prints to send along by the next mail. How is Herbert doing? I hope it won’t be long before we have a reunion at Sandon Rectory.
Heaps of love to all
P.S. Don’t send any letters or any more letters to this address as I shall probably have gone before they arrive.
Letters from Gallipoli (Aug-Sept 1915)
[Written on Windsor Hotel, Alexandria writing paper]
August 30, 1915
My dear family,
The last letter I last wrote was from Alexandria on the eve of my second trip to Gallipoli. I had gone onboard at 10am in accordance with my orders but discovering that there was not one chance n a thousand of sailing before evening I strolled back to the hotel. Waggle Andrews had in the meantime made the acquaintance of a lady who turned out to be an aunt of Jimmy Cleworth and incidentally mother of an officer in my brigade. I was therefore hauled over to their hotel, ‘The Majestic’, for lunch. With another long spell of bully beef and biscuits in prospect, made the most of it.
We set sail that night – I should have said steamed off. We had onboard wounded and sick who were returning fit, (more or less), most of the survivors of the Royal Edward and a few new drafts. Their feelings varied considerably. The old stagers were passive. They knew what they were returning to. There was no shouting, singing and jollification but just a trace of grim satisfaction in that they were going to the help of their old pals. They lay about resting and sleeping, wishing neither to chat nor even to read, just laying in a state of sleep against the time when they would get very little of it. The survivors of the Royal Edward’s chief desire was to get clear of the sea where they had had the unpleasant experience of being torpedoed. The fresh drafts, full of excitement, wishing to see the peninsula and see what was going on.
From the moment of leaving Alex harbour there were constant life belt parades in which we were detailed off to our various boats and instructed what to do in case we were sunk. My boat was right astern and my cabin forward. So, I decided at once I would not attempt to push my way through the men who would be swarming in the opposite direction and gain the boat but get clear of the ship as soon as possible. However, happily nothing of the sort was necessary. On Sunday I had a celebration at 6:30am, very well attended. The Wesleyan padre wished to assist but I explained shortly our position and principles and he took his place among the congregation. We divided the morning parades. He took half on port promenade deck and I the other half on starboard. In the afternoon we got into Lemnos harbour – one of the finest natural harbors in the world. It was full of gunboats, hospital ships, transports, mine sweepers and other smaller craft. It was a wonderful sight. I took some photos but fear they will be a failure as the camera stuck and did not come out far enough to focus the image on the film. The evening service was an informal one in which a YMCA worker, the Wesleyan and myself took part. I talked to the YMCA man, who was taking a lot of literature, writing paper and food stuff to the Base on Lemnos, about doing something for the men in the fighting area. They do much for the man who has opportunity of buying books and writing material etc. but send nothing out to the men who really need it. He promised to send me papers and some books but I am not counting much on it.
They kept us at Lemnos until Wednesday night. Why! Goodness knows. We cannot afford to keep the fit doing nothing. During these two days I had a nasty swollen gland which forced me to fast rigorously.
From the transport we were put onto a smaller boat, the Ermine. A beautiful little ship built last August which plies in peace time between Ireland and W. of Scotland. By the way, the transport which took us as far as Lemnos was called the Huntsgreen. I found on embarking that it was the old Derfflinger1 which took us out for the first time early in May. The origin of its new name is this. The German prize boats are renamed; the names begin with ‘Hun’. The man who saw the boat was ‘Green’. Hence Hun-ts-green.
It was very funny to hold a church parade in lifebelts. The Ermine landed us on the Lancashire Landing pier. The pier is formed by a series of ships sunk end-to-end. We arrived at 10pm and disembarked 5am next morning. The senior chaplain was away, so I took possession of his home and made myself breakfast. Then I proceeded to look for my Brigade. Discovered them on Gully Beach nullah. Gully Beach is about 3 miles from Lancs Landing on the West shore. There I found a church tent just vacated by a chaplain who had gone off sick. I have installed myself there. It is much more comfy than a dug out and comparatively safe being situated at the bottom of a deep ravine. The only drawback is a weary long tramp to and from trenches each day. By the way, anyone who has been in the trenches will tell that with proper precautions it is the safest place on the Peninsula. You may be sure in that if the Turks came over, I should not stop to shake hands with them. So, you need not have the slightest anxiety.
The Brigade Headquarters unfortunately forwarded my letters while I was in hospital, and touring the Mediterranean at the Government’s expense. Consequently, I have received no letter or parcels for six weeks except the tin containing specs, etc. all of which arrived intact. Thanks very much indeed. If you are sending again, you might fit in a cardigan jacket as I fancy we may Winter in this ill health resort.
What a nuisance this red tape business is. It is harder to get through official red tape than through the thickest and spikiest of wire entanglements. I have had Herbert’s experience over documents. The date is not in the right place. Sender’s name is at top instead of bottom. Officers rank and unit is inserted when it should not be there or absent when it should be inserted. The ink is the wrong colour or pencil should be used and so on. I hope he will stick at it ‘til he succeeds.
The Yeomanry of our Division have been in action as foot sloggers and have been mauled pretty badly I gather. Colonel Sheppherd2 (I don’t know how it is spelt) is reported killed. I never went to see them after all, but I fancy it is Major S3., his brother, who comes from Baddow. If so, he is still safe in Cairo.
I enclose a few photos. I have not sent any heretofore as I never thought they had a dog’s chance of getting through. I will try to send two little songs which the Māoris sing out here. We hear all sorts of rumours. One that 4 German Army Corps are coming down to wipe us off the earth. Two that French are trying to take over all this side of Achi Baba. Three that Italians will shortly land troops. Four that Greece and Bulgaria have joined the fray. Five, and this is a chronic rumour, that we are going to rest and reform (in the military sense).
Best of love to all
- The German Merchant ship SS Derfflinger was captured by the British at Port Said in 1914, and used as a troopship, and renamed HMT Huntsgreen.
- Temp Lt.-Col. Samuel Gurney Sheppard, D.S.O. was killed in Action August 21, 1915 in Gallipoli.
- Major Edward Byas Sheppard indeed lived in Great Baddow, Chelmsford Essex. He survived the war.
[Written on Windsor Hotel, Alexandria writing paper]
Monday September 6, 1915
My dear family,
The above address in print is of course out of date. In only one small item does it still hold good: ‘Facing the Sea’. There is little or no tide in the Mediterranean and consequently no yellow sands. Between me and the sea lies a road only, at least a foot deep in fine white dust. This is the only drawback to my present habitation and it is a considerable one for the autumn winds are rising and there is a ceaseless stream of traffic. Somehow or other a stray stretcher has wandered into my tent. I shall utilize it for a bed. Out of boxes, my new orderly – another little drummer boy, (better than the last because [he has been] well licked into shape by a tyrannous Sergt. Major), has made a table and a stool. It is a great improvement on a dug out. I hope the Brigade does not move and cause me to revert to my former discomfort.
I already made a request for a woolly or a cardigan jacket against approaching winter. It is quite conceivable, though a good many fancy we shall be relieved, that we shall take part in a winter campaign. We should not be heartbroken if we missed it. We are well prepared for gassing. Shell cases are fixed up all over the Peninsula as gongs to warn us in time. We also have an improvised protection, a sort of diver’s helmet. One man was away when the new issue was given out and so he had only the old respirator to cover mouth and nose. Yesterday at a parade, the order was given to fix respirators. One man gazed at his little pad in complete bewilderment and then glanced wildly at those round about him but could gain no tip from them. He alone had the stupid looking little pad. Eventually, in desperation, he placed the pad on the top of his head and tied the strings beneath his chin as if he was putting on a bonnet. The resultant was worthy of an illustration in Punch.
I have just received a regular budget of letters which have toured round Alex and Cyprus after me. Their dates are June 29, July 7, 17, 18, 22, 27, 28, 29 and Aug 5. Also, both parcels arrived safely. Miss Heyes, Mrs. Tucker have also written. The letter which Elsie sent off with photos of Margaret has not arrived. Is she, I wonder, of much military importance in the defence of her country that the censor refused to pass her photo?
I am rather confused as to the Sheppards. There are apparently several of them, for I hear one Colonel S. was killed near Suvla, another has gone home, and yet another is still in Cairo looking after the horses. The senior chaplain tells us that one Padre is up at Suvla and has been making enquiries for me. Unfortunately, Achi Baba and a lot of unpleasant Turks lie in between us so I cannot go and learn the latest about Sandon.
I wonder if Eric Preston1 was with the Cheshires, (in the 13th Division). If so, he was quite near us for a few weeks but has now gone North like the rest. We are having a very quiet time. In fact, we are almost expecting some enterprising firm to run tourist trips to the front. A shell has not dropped within a hundred yards of me since my return – except once, last Sunday night. We feed boldly in the open mow with a lamp on the table. We were eating away solidly on steak and onions when suddenly with a scream and a crackle several shrapnel burst over us and bullets came spattering around. We soon doused the light and decided we would forgo the second course (which is always rice). The Turks followed this up by a dose of high explosive. We had a very interesting evening squeezed into a dug out smoking and watching the shells. It was pitch dark so that we could see the fiery course of shells which passed overhead and the blaze as they exploded. Fortunately, the H.E.s did not come so close as the shrapnel or our little home might have been wrecked. It is curious what phases of feeling one passes through. Shot and shell at first inspired us with intense awe and respect. Later they proved amusing, adding a little pleasant variety to the rather dull routine of watching, marching and digging – always of course providing they missed their mark. Now we regard them as annoying and irritative. We are getting stale. The men are so worn out that they fall asleep as they fire. Last Sunday we had a communion service within 50 yards of the Turks. It sounds a rather silly, theatrical thing to do but it was the only way of giving men the chance of attending. They showed they appreciated the chance – only 20% could be spared without weakening the firing line overmuch and that 20% came, to a man. – and was in reality safe and quiet, except for one Turkish sniper who would persist in putting bullets into a sand bag quite close to us. There was barbed wire and a good solid wall of sandbags to protect us and the Turks are not keen on attacking during the day.
Heaps of love to all
Note: 1. The 8th (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment landed in Gallipoli as part of the 40th Brigade in the 13th (Western) Division in June 1915. Best’s reference is possibly Eric Collingwood Preston, born in Chester in 1890, but he did not serve with the Cheshire Regiment and so was not at Gallipoli
My dear family,
I have found some ink powder and a pen and so am discarding the indelible pencil for the first time on the peninsula. First of all, would you instruct W.H. Smith always to direct papers to the above address and not to send them to temporary addresses. I find the former is invariably the best method wherever I may happen to be.
I have just sent a few photos by a Sergeant to be developed in Alexandria. So, in the course of a few weeks, I may, if they are successful, be able to send you some prints. The Sergeant has gone to collect the kit left behind at the Base Stores in Alex which looks like Xmas in Gallipoli. Also, schemes for heating Winter quarters are being discussed though be it noticed no plans for Winter quarters themselves are out and the indents for necessary building material have been returned. We decide what sauce we will have but forget to order the meat. What a way we have in the Army. Nothing of interest has occurred hereabouts except a heavy shower of rain last night. Fortunately, it was not accompanied by wind. My tent therefore stood firm and I remained dry and cozy. I should not have said ‘firm’ perhaps because half of the pegs came out and the tent had a decidedly ‘half seas over’ appearance in the morning. One forgets the elementary rule of slacken your ropes at night in these hot parts. A shower of rain sounds a most unimportant matter no doubt to those who live in brick houses but to us it is the harbinger of Winter and consequently a matter of grave concern. I fear we shall not see England’s cloudy skies and muddy leaves yet awhile. There is a feeling floating around that shortly a supreme and final effort will be made to solve this thorny little problem and avoid a Winter campaign. It may be, but another instance of the wish being father to the thought. If you want news from Gallipoli, please apply to someone you know out of the division recently arrived. We appear to have been relegated to a backwater and we are not sorry. A destroyer comes up each day and lies near in to pump shell into the Turks. She is a regular little spitfire. Occasionally the Turks reply and then I don’t go bathing for the shells drop far and wide, some very near the beach. Now and again a battleship rolls up but she does not hang about long – a target for German submarines. The French batteries are interesting. Their ammunition is inexhaustible. Night and day they pester the life out of the Turks. There is very little rifle fire during the day. When it goes dark there is generally a little rattle of musketry. Some sentry fancies he sees something suspicious. A few shots are fired in that direction and then the firing spreads like an epidemic along a few miles of the firing line until some flares are sent up or the ‘Evil Eye’, (Turkish search light), of Chunuk swings round and it is seen that nothing is moving, there is no attack and the firing dies down. Otherwise, all is quiet. The enemies just look at each other’s parapets through periscopes and amuse themselves by having pot shots at each other’s loopholes and then signalling washouts, (i.e., misses), when the bullet hits with a thud into the sandbag, kicks up a puff of dust, off parapet, or even as occasionally happens hits a poor chap who happens to be looking or firing through at the moment. I fear our target markers are not absolutely reliable, or the Turks’ either for that matter. We put sticks up at times, or let the top of an old helmet appear above the parapet. It gets drilled through in no time. Men out trench digging now and then get hit by a ricochet off their spade or pick. As it appears above the trench, the Turk gets on to it and then after it has appeared several times lets drive. They are remarkable shots. I used a periscope rifle the other day but the Tommies announced I had not even hit the Turks parapet, only 30 or 40 yards off, so I gave up. The idea of it of course you will know. To fire over the parapet is certain death, to fire is risky and means firing obliquely at a part of Turk’s trench rather distant, for a hole square to enemy’s trench would have bullets humming through it continuously. The periscope rifle is therefore used. The theory is shown in this rough diagram – the framework which enables one to sight the rifle and hold it more or less firm and steady is given in the second diagram.
Ray of light from object to eye is shown by dotted line. Trigger pulled by wire.
I received a lot of cousinly attention this week with letters from Joyce & John and from Winnie, magazines from Hester. I received this morning a letter from Elsie dated 30.6.15 and yesterday one from her containing a photo of herself and Peggy dated 21-8-15. The first of course had done the tour of the hospitals. What a cheery little brat Peggy looks. If things don’t look up here a bit, I shall not see her ‘till she be “growed up”. Herbert also writes 7/7/15. Very cheery and amusing. He seems to be providing for the future. I advised the ‘special dispensation’ degree. The mental training at Cambridge plus the knowledge of human nature acquired in Flanders should be qualification enough with cramming up a lot of technical knowledge of no practical use. But of course, the Boards who appoint may have different views and therefore he would do best to consult his coach (was it Oliver?) and some appointment agency, who know better what is required. For I must admit, I do not quite know what a “quasi military colonial appointment” is. Would not Herbert’s degree rate as an honours degree? Or would it be ordinary. At all events, as he says, there will be a bit of a scramble for all such appointments whatever they are and he who marks time will lose the plums and get only the crumbs which fall.
By the way, it would be as well for you to know that I have some money, probably about £150 in the Anglo Egyptian Bank. I have sent for pass book and then will give you the exact sum, or perhaps better, have the amount transferred to Lytham for the present. Also, C.R. McGregor Bank & Co. should have been collecting my pay and allowances in from May 1st at a rate of 17s/1d per day in summer months and 17s/9d in winter. I believe my April pay in Egypt may put into McGregor and not to Anglo Egypt. That works out at about £32 I fancy and is not included in the £150 at Anglo Egypt, but would be paid in probably sometime in May and probably to McGregor. You will of course, well, if necessary, take charge of it all and do with it as you see fit. W. A. Leigh at Lytham will always tell you how my account stands there. There is not much in it I fancy but he and others have personal belongings of mine. Also, chaplain Philpotts, the Wesleyan Padre, has charge of a big wooden box and dress suit case of mine. His address is the Polygon, Abbassia Barracks, Cairo. I don’t know his initials but being a regular chaplain, he is easily found. At the Base, Moustapha Barracks, Alexandria, in the charge of Major Whishaw 42nd Division, there is a kit bag, a set of saddlery and probably very soon a leather writing case, a valise and a luncheon basket which I am ordering from the Gyppy Stores. The kit bag contains various oddments of no special value as far as I can remember. I quite forgot in the hurry, to tell you all this before when it really might very well have been needed. Also, Cannon Chapman has my watch and chain.
I get a dip in the Aegean Sea each morning and am doing very well as regards feeding, especially on Sunday when the Divisional G.O.C. came to my service and took me back to lunch.
Heaps of love to all and thanks for the numerous letters
Hospital Ship No 10
Off Mudros, Lemnos
September 25, 1915
My dear father,
I never felt so fit in my life as I do at the present moment. I cannot understand it. I am still in the grip of dysentery but thanks to the excellent work of ipececuana [ipecacuanha] pills (I don’t know the correct spelling) and emetine injections, my interior is quite comfy. Emetine is the active principle of ipec… (that beastly word again). I had four pills, two injections and several draughts of bismuth, etc. I put etc. because I don’t know what the other ingredients are. I don’t by any means feel a suitable candidate for a month or two’s leave but we will see what we will see. It is a fraud[ulent] thing to be an invalid and not to feel an invalid. I wish I could remember the contents of your letters and the questions, if any asked. As regards Billy Morgan, he is as you say a cheery individual but when you have said that you have said all. He lacks polish, finish and, (however you may express it), that elusive quality which characterizes the good old English Gentleman. I had no time to look up Kenneth Preston. Perhaps next time. We are to be pitchforked onto the Orsonia [Ausonia] (so the name sounds to me) sometime today. She is a Cunard-er fitted up for Hospital work. The Gascon goes back to Gallipoli. There is, you would judge from the movement of the Hospital Ships, a “stunt” (Colonial for engagement, movement, operations) on soon. I have been desperately unlucky lately missing all the issues of work.
There is a delightful and fascinating uncertainty about this active service mode of existence. It relieves one of quite a load of conscious thought. You cannot take thought for the morrow because not knowing where you are likely to be, or doing, you cannot lay plans for the future. I shall cut down my forethought to a minimum if I get through this thing; it saves so much mental energy. The Col. Indian Medical Service has just been in. He booked me down for the Ausonia. 300 are to go on to the Ausonia. The rest onshore. The Ausonia is bound for home. Hearing this, my inside and general feeling of fitness forced me to tell him I hardly felt the right man to be invalided home. Therefore, I don’t know what will happen. I gather now that I am for home but whether that means just a sea voyage there and back with perhaps a few days in Hospital or Convalescent ward or whether it really means what it says, ‘home’ I cannot say. Nous venons Tout à l’heure [We are coming soon]. I don’t suppose there will be a chance of letting you know where or when we are due to arrive. Nor if I do arrive, how I shall get to Chelmsford. I should get run in as a vagrant with my boots worn, my clothes filthy, and a dirty old jacket belonging to a Tommy which does not fit me. I should have to sneak in, in the dark. But I suppose I shall have to report first thing at the Chaplain General’s. Perhaps if I were, you could meet me in London and show me the way and take me home. This is all assuming I do get home. Why not enjoy even fancies when one can.
Your affectionate son
September 27, 1915
My dear family,
Homeward bound at last. We are I gather due in at Plymouth about Thursday Oct 7. We shall then, all being well, be transferred (I shall transfer myself as I now despise a stretcher) to a hospital train, borne off to a London Hospital, be interviewed and probably sent on to the hospital nearest home and then allowed to find our respective way home. This is assuming we are found to need no more treatment. Lest we should completely disappear we have to report at hospital once a week. This much I gathered from a sister on the ship. How I am to combine this with instructions received from Senior Chaplain, I know not. Those instructions say all sick and wounded chaplains to report to S.C.F. [Senior Chaplain to the Forces] immediately on disembarkation and will wire directly I find out when I can be met.
I am writing this before breakfast as I woke up too soon forgetting that the ship’s clock moves back ½ hour at midnight. Some time during the morning we should reach Malta and I will post this in the hope that some mail packet [mail ship] will pick it up and overtake us. We are coming back on a transport (all hospital ships being required at Gallipoli for the ‘final stunt’. I wonder what we shall hear of it when we reach Plymouth) and therefore have to run the gauntlet of submarines. I think we are more or less out of the danger zone now.
Heaps of love to all
The Latest Edit
September 28, 1915
My dear family,
The former order seems to be cancelled, at all events temporarily. I am going in a hospital at Malta. Sorry to have raised false hopes but I thought I was quite safe to write as I had been definitely told by the SMO [Senior Medical Officer] I was for home. However, I shall now see another little bit of the world. It looks a rather jolly place from the sea.
Will write again when I hear what is really going to happen to me. The future is all dark and mysterious on active service but I will send you plans when they come.
Letters from Malta (1915)
126th Brigade MEF
October 6, 1915
My dear family,
The last two days have been comparatively interesting. We were allowed out for an hour or two in the afternoon and so a Major of the RE and I drove round Valetta in a carrozze [carriage]. We saw the Chappel of Bones, St John’s Co-Cathedral and the armoury at the Governor’s Palace. Perhaps we were not in an appreciative mood. I was disappointed. This was more than counterbalanced by the sight of Waggle Andrews with a grin of welcome worthy of the Cheshire cat. It seems the Bishop of London is trying to get him a commission as Chaplain and in the meantime, he is supposed to be looking after the Australian portion of the Recreation Camp at Lemnos. I presume to troops taking part in the winter campaign [who] will in turn have a rest there. Unfortunately, the Hospital Ship steamed away without leaving Waggle the chance of going ashore; she just stayed in the harbour an hour or two and no little boat came near. Therefore, Waggle, not very disappointed I fancy, went on to Malta with the ship. So, I met him.
The previous days were not bristling with incident. We lay in bed, slept and read in a dreamy kind of way. Occasionally we would have a look out of the window and catch glimpses of Floriana and Valetta between the leafy branches of a plane tree. We were visited by three people. The Chaplain. He came with design to get me to take his service in the hospital. I refused for last Sunday as I had not done myself any good taking 2 services on the Ausonia the Sunday previous but I promised to be responsible for next Sunday if I was here. He was an average innocuous curate with a clerical voice and manner and hailed from Birmingham. Next came the Surgeon General who expressed sincere hope of our speedy recovery. Lastly came the Governor of Malta, Lord Methuen. He chatted a bit about Gallipoli and then discovering I hailed from Lytham he became reminiscent. It seems he was at a private school with Harry Clifton, father of the present squire. Lord Charles Beresford was also one of their members. Lord M. said that he and Charles B. were the fools of the school.
October 8, 1915
Latterly I have been loafing about in carrozzis. I had intended to take a few photos but unfortunately the first photo I took happened to include a Maltese policeman in the group. In broken English he invited me to accompany him to Valetta Police Station. There they very politely informed me that to take photos without special permission from the Governor was a serious offence. With many and humble apologies they possessed themselves of my camera and films. I have given them my home address so that when they have duly satisfied themselves, they may send the camera back. Yesterday evening we had a delightful concert. The VAD (Volunteer Aid Detachment?) who looks after our ward sang very beautifully indeed. The daughter of an Admiral Lympus played ‘Hejre Kati’ of Jeno Hubay and Schumann’s Reverie with excellent execution and a considerable amount of taste for an amateur. The concert itself was kept going by a private in the London Territorial RAMC1 here who at home is a member of the Follies. He took part in two duets quartettes and played most of the accompaniments in addition to singing numerous humorous songs. It was a top-hole concert. I don’t know where I shall go to convalesce. The ‘board’ sat upon me yesterday but are very secretive. I will ask them today then I will scribble another line to you telling you what address to send letters, etc. Don’t destroy any of your own letters to me which return to you. As regards parcels, I hardly know which will be redirected to Sandon. I was expecting Field Glasses and some music. These you might send on if you can make pretty sure of their arriving safely or can register the glasses for about £10. Possibly parcels may arrive from Egypt – from a Mrs. Bancroft, Rev. Philpott and from Moustapha Barracks. The parcels from the first two you might briefly acknowledge and explain that I am still being shipped about from place to place but that you will forward to me. The luggage sent by Mr. Philpott will probably come through Thos. Cooks & Son or Cox & Co. Then when I can find out my destination, I will cable to you the address and then they will reach me before I leave again. I shall, I hear, have a month’s convalescence somewhere.
Heaps of love to all
Note: 1. Probably 170 / 508156 Pte. Peter Dauvergne Roland Upcher, RAMC, 1st London Field Ambulance, a stage singer and actor who became a minor film star in the early 1920s.
October 9, 1915
My dear family,
For two or three days I have been doing the most energetic things. Walking through catacombs, tobogganing down flights of stone stairs (unintentional. Many of the streets in Valetta are merely long flights of stone steps), appearing in the Police Court and on top of it all come the verdict of the Medical Board ‘Invalided Home’. Rather humerous! I could have gone to Florence to convalesce but I have had about enough of sight seeing for the present and prefer to take ‘home’ into my next tour. Florence can be left over for a Cooks Tour. Now for a warning. Don’t expect me ‘til you see me. This caution is perhaps hardly necessary as already you have seen one slip ‘twixt cup and lip. It may be some time before a berth can be found for me on a homeward bound ship. The programme in England will probably be as described already in a previous letter. That is to say our first resting place will almost certainly be a hospital in London. I cannot wire before-hand which, because we never know ‘til we get there. What happens is this: We get out of hospital train, are dumped into a motor ambulance and driven from hospital to hospital ‘til beds can be found for us. This is my experience. Possibly London may be full. In that case I have no idea where we go.
However, in any case, I will wire as soon as I find out definitely of any place where I could meet you. The above information is to the best of my belief reliable.
Heaps of love to all
The Reverend J. K. Best continued his war service in France and was awarded the Military Cross in the King’s New Years Honors on January 1, 1918. The image below is on the day of his award presentation.
A Prayer for Gallipoli: The Great War Diaries of Chaplain Kenneth Best, Edited by Gavin Roynon. Simon & Schuster 2011. ISBN: 978-1-85720-225-3
These letters have been transcribed from originals held at the Imperial War Museum. Their transcription is provided here under Non Commercial Use License and remain the copyright of the IWM.
The original papers are catalogued here at the IWM.