“The Germans are murderers, not clean soldiers”

A selection of letters from Reading soldiers at the Front, in England, and in Egypt, which were printed in their home church’s magazine.

Letter From the Front. Come out and help.
When we are out of the trenches on a Sunday (like to-day) we have a short service which come as a luxury and which reminds me of old times when singing in the choir at S. Stephen’s. I had a scarf sent out to me by my sister which was made at the Girls’ Club, I understand, but it is very handy when we have nights out, which we often do, for it is very cold at nights. We have been out here practically eight weeks, and I suppose have seen as much of the trenches as any battalion out here during that short time. I never thought that when I went to see you when home on leave from Chelmsford that we should have been up in the firing line so quick as we were….

We are always thinking of all the friends and people we have left behind, and I know that you are thinking of us while we are away from everybody doing our bit. I hear that you call the names out on a Sunday and I know that there are quite a number, but I hope that before long that list will be twice as long, for the more men and young chaps we get out here the sooner it will end, and I am sure that we all want to see that as soon as possible.

Poisonous Gases.
Just at present we are having a very troublesome time with the Germans. They are trying their very hardest to break through and we have very hard work to keep them back because they are using those poisonous gases which is something terrible for our poor men, and you can’t do anything at all with them. I think myself that the Germans are murderers, not clean soldiers.

The Comfort of God’s Presence.
Doubtless you have read of the big battle which has been in progress for some weeks now and when I tell you we have been in the thick of it all you will readily understand we have our hands full. At the dressing station we were working night and day, snatching a few hours’ rest whenever we could, and at times going hard at it for thirty hours at a stretch. At one time it seemed as if the wounded would never cease coming in. Of course you will realise that the sights one sees in a dressing station are very very sad. It is quite impossible to describe some of the cases, so awful and terrible were their wounds. A week ago to-night the Germans sent some shells over into the town where we were. As a matter of fact they had been shelling it for some days, but somehow or other they had not touched our building. However, on this particular night one shell burst in a building we occupied, so we had to evacuate all our patients as soon as possible. Those of us who were not on duty at the time had to pick up our blankets and sleep out in the open fields. The next morning we packed up all our medical stores, &c., and opened up another dressing station on the outskirts of the town in a backyard, where we are at present….

Few experiences, I should imagine, are calculated to bring out all the faith one possess as this does. To have one hands fully occupied and to have shells bursting within twenty yards is not at all pleasant, and yet I can truthfully say, I have never felt nearer the Master than at these times. His near Presence brings comforts to the poor human frame and nerves it. The sense of His Presence is very real, and oh! I long that everyone should have the sense of His nearness even as I do. It would not be too much to say that one actually feels His Almighty arm strengthening, guarding and supporting.
L.V. Fowler.

Experiences in Egypt.
I thought you would like a line from one of your old Confirmation pupils. I am in the Berks Yeomanry and as you know we are stationed at Cairo in barracks….

After we had landed at Alexandria we were camped on a sort of desert place – I believe it was the start of a desert. It was very enjoyable, but the dry sand was very annoying at first. It got into your boots and sleeping blanket and also the food, but you get used to all these small troubles on this game. After a week under canvas we were sent to Cairo to garrison Kasr-el-Nil Barracks. Barrack life is very different to life under canvas. We have 16 men in each barrack room and the rooms are very big and airy. Of course we have inspections nearly every day, and each man has a bed and two shelves and a box, so we have special rules for inspections now. When a room is ready for inspection it looks very nice. Out here in the heat and bright days you can keep your ‘kit’ nice and clean. We have to do several guards in the town, so the guards have to turn out spotlessly clean- all polished brass and leather &c. It means a lot of work I can tell you, and when you can lie on your bed in the afternoon and ‘sweat buckets full,’ you can guess what it’s like when you have to groom a horse and clean-up in the heat. It was 108 in the shade a few days ago, and the temperature doesn’t alter much; it is a little cooler at nights, but there is not a great deal of difference….

Our Brigade Chaplain is a very nice man. He will do anything to help you and we always have two services every Sunday. Sometimes duty stops you from attending morning service, but you always have a chance to go to evening service. We also have confirmation services very often which is very nice too. It helps a fellow to keep straight out here as the temptations are very great, especially as a fellow gets into a low spirit sometimes and longs for something to cheer him up….

It was a great day here when Italy declared war, because there were several Italian soldiers in Cairo. The people had a procession and cheered outside the Italian Embassy, which is just outside our barrack gates, we could hear them from our rooms.

A Message from H.M.S. ‘Melbourne.’
I have received a very kind letter from the Vicar which I should much like to answer but I have no pen and don’t care to write to him with pencil. Will you please thank him from me and tell him how much I value it and appreciate his kindness.
[Please note, letters gladly received written with any old pencil stump!- T.G.R.].

Our Bible Classes again.
I am pleased to hear that so many fellows from the Bible Classes have joined the colours, and, as you say, it is only right that every available young man should volunteer to do his little bit at such a time as this, and I’m sure that the young fellows of S. John’s have responded gallantly.

A Green Wash!
We were out all last night packing ammunition and supplies, returning just after daybreak and turned in for a few hours’ sleep. When I went out for a wash just now I heard that the building we had packed the supplies from had been shelled whilst we were asleep and was razed to the ground, so we got our supplies out just in time. By the way, the wash I had was in a ditch of nice green water. It’s pretty hard to get water out here, at least just where we are at present, and we have to put some preparation of some sort in it, and you can taste it in everything you make with it, especially in the tea, it’s just like drinking chloride or lime – still, I guess we either have to drink that or have fever.

Strange Quarters.
We are at the Bristol Lunatic Asylum, which is a very large building sufficient to hold 1,000 or 1,200 beds, and of course we have our joke about it especially as my room is next to a padded cell: I seldom go there though.’- DICK ALLUM.

(Though this is not from the front it is much too good to omit. Dick is serving in the R.A.M.C and has been joined by Leonard Reeves.)

Amongst the latest volunteers are Arthur Lansley and Archie Childs, who has joined the Signalling Corps, and Wilfrid Norman, who has joined the Royal Berks Yeomanry.

Our old friend Victor Saunders was made a full corporal on the anniversary of waterloo! So the day was celebrated after all.

Egypt Again
I thought you would be interested to know how I am getting on and where we are stationed, also a little bit about the country and its people. After having a very enjoyable voyage of ten days, we reached Alexandria on 21st April and had a stay there of ten days. Then we had another shift. After travelling all night in very uncomfortable carriages, very crowded, we arrived at Cairo early the next morning and had four or five miles march to the barracks we have been in since, and I think are likely to stop for a considerable period. They are huge barracks situated alongside the Nile. It is pleasant of an evening to go and sit in nice easy chairs alongside the Nile and get the only breeze it is possible to get. The heat is getting terrible and next month they tell us is the hottest of all, so we shall know what it is to feel warm…. It seems very funny to be in tents on the sand at Alexandria with a beautiful outlook of huge palm trees and buildings and the various coloured natives of so many casts, which amuses us all very much at first until we found them out, and we have to treat them carefully as they are so very deceiving and uncouth – I mean the ones we come in contact with at the barracks. Some we get in conversation with in Cairo are very nice and it is interesting to hear what they have got to tell us. Soon after we came here the officers took us for a ride to the Pyramids, and most of us went inside the largest; I shall try and go by car one evening and have a good look round and see the Sphinx…

Mother sent me one of your sermons, which I though was exceedingly nice, and makes me think of the good old times I had there, which I shall appreciate much more if I am spared to come home after the war. Since I have been out on this job at every place I have been to I was able to go to some place of worship once and very often twice a day, which has made this business much more happy in every way for me, and not only myself but my parents and friends.
Harry Taylor.

Reading St John parish magazine, July 1915 (D/P172/28A/24)

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