“The narrowest escape I ever want”

A Reading man reported on his experiences in the trenches, transporting food supplies under fire – and one very narrow escape.

IN THE TRENCHES “SOMEWHERE IN BELGIUM”
EXTRACT FROM LETTER FROM HARRY CHANDLER, 4TH ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT

I am writing this letter in the trenches while off duty for a short time. We marched from our last place yesterday about eight miles; the roads are very bad here for marching, being all cobbles in the centre and mud at the sides.

I do not get much time to write letters or do anything for myself.
There is plenty of hard work to do and I will tell you what we did after coming out of the trenches the last time, that is, the four days we have spent at the ‘Piggeries’.

In the morning we were subjected to a very heavy shelling from the Germans – quite a warm time and not at all pleasant, and you never knew what was going to happen next. After dinner we packed up and when the other company came in about three o’clock to relieve us, we gave over our trench and departed for the Piggeries, arriving there about 4.30, had tea and a wash, and then at 7.30 paraded in drill order and marched to a place where all the stores, rations, water jars, and in fact everything is placed for us to carry to the trenches. There you see piles upon piles of timber, mountains of food of all descriptions in tins, all ready for us to carry the distance remaining between the firing lines and the trenches where the transports cannot go. When it is dusk, if you look carefully, you will see numerous parties of men drawn from all the companies waiting by the side of the roads for the signal to take up something or another and move off. I am in A Company’s party, and when the QMS gives the signal our party slowly moves up and each man receives a load; perhaps it is with another fellow to carry a very large sack of bread or coal, etc, one at each end of the sack; perhaps, if your luck is in, it is only 75 lb of jam in bags in tins, or a side of bacon – of course with these last things you get no help, but carry them yourself all the way. Please remember we are in drill order carrying our rifles slung over the shoulder.

When every man has his load we slowly move off and another party takes your place and so on nearly all night. When you get along perhaps a quarter of a mile all sit down and have a rest, and then go on like that till you come to apart where you are out in the open, under rifle fire from the enemy, and then there is no stopping unless they turn a Maxim on us which nearly always happens, then we lie flat down at once until it ceases. Of course no smoking or talking is allowed.

After you arrive at your destination and deliver your goods you return with the empty water jars, etc, and this goes on all night.
When you arrive at the end of your last journey you are stiff, tired, weary, worn and sad, and are not even allowed to take off your boots and puttees, so have to sleep in them after marching all day. It takes us ten minutes when we wake up to find our feet they are so numbed and stiff. We have not had one complete night’s rest for six weeks.

The other day we went into N—, a distance of 4 ½ miles away, and all of us had a hot bath. Just fancy marching nine miles for a wash!

While I was on sentry duty recently in the trenches, it was just time for all the fellows to come out, when buzz – over came German shells bursting all around us; dirt, sand bags, wood, etc, flew, and we were smothered. It was a very lucky escape for me as one shell burst about two feet from me and I picked up the top of the shell with the time fuse, etc, complete, which I shall be sending home shortly.

The last time I was in the trenches I had the narrowest escape I ever want. A sniper was firing and one of the bullets came through the earth which we were throwing up and just grazed my face, the dirt going in my eye. I really thought for the second that I was done for.

We are now going for four days to a rest camp up on the hills. I am pleased to say I am in the best of health and feeling merry and bright. Certainly my four years in the old Volunteer Cyclist Corps has stood me in good stead.

Please remember me to all friends.

Broad Street Congregational Church magazine, July 1915 (D/N11/12/1/14)

We are nothing better than worms – but mustn’t grumble!

Sunday 4 April 1915 was Easter Day. The parishioners of Reading St John (now the Polish Catholic Church) had sent Easter greetings to their young men at the Front. It resulted in a number of letters from the recipients describing their experiences.

Letters from the Front: replies to our Easter letters and cards.

Cards similar to those recently seen on the Church notice boards were sent with covering letters for Easter to some fifty men at the front at the request of their relatives. The following are extracts from some of the replies received by the Vicar:-

A Terrible War.
Here is a much-needed reminder of the seriousness of our task:
‘Two of my men I laid to rest yesterday, just put their heads too far over the parapet; of course killed instantly. It is a terrible business and we are nothing better than worms, dug in and stop there, but hope that happier times are in store and very soon. We all hope and pray for it every day. I don’t think the people at home quite realise what a gigantic task we have; but we mustn’t grumble, but do it.’- GILES AYRES.

Valued Cards.
‘I wish to thank you very much for the good thoughts and wishes of yourself and everyone who remembered us on Easter Day. Thank you very much for the card. I am sending it home to-day so that I shall not lose it.’- A. L. BLAKE.

‘The card you sent me I have hung on to the wall and it shall go where I go. I shall always remember Good Friday, the day I received it.’- D. CAMPBELL.

Neuve Chapelle.
Speaking of the welcome letter just received, the writer adds: ‘Just lately we have been engaged in a big battle at Neuve Chapelle, and it was something awful and also a terrible loss on the German side.’- L.H. CROOK. (more…)