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Sergeant Cunningham


Harrogate Herald - 17th February 1915

W H Breare letter

In returning by the 3.25pm Great Northern train from London on Wednesday night, I met a man from the Front you might know. He was shown into the compartment of a through carriage to Harrogate, in the course of the journey, and was told he would get through without changing. I knew by that he was one of our boys. I let him get his breath, then spoke to him.

It was Sergeant Cunningham, of the 2nd West Yorkshires. He was going to see his mother, who lives at Studley Roger, Ripon. When he discovered I was a Press man he closed tight, remarking : "We are not allowed to tell anything". I told him the Press Censor kept us well supplied with confidential letters, instructing us what not to publish, and that I should not seek any information the Press was not permitted to print. He thawed, smiled pleasantly, as our boys do, and answered my questions. Thus I am able to tell you something about him. "Never so fit in my life," said he. "We are not short of anything, have all we want and more". To hear him speak of the way the boys were fed, clothed, and looked after in every way, made my interior warm with pride and satisfaction. The pride I felt was in him. His downright, genuine honesty and appreciation. No grousing about anything. Excusing and explaining away discomforts, I mentioned, with light-hearted generosity, even the weather, the wet, etc., he presented nothing but sunshine, not a cloud on his honest, intelligent, brown face. He would not even speak against the German foes - one remark in this direction alone did he utter, and that was : "You cannot trust them!" Even this he said regretfully rather than angrily.

I discovered he had been eighteen years in the Regular Army (had three more to serve), and yet he looked a young man. Two years he spent in India, the rest in Malta and other military stations. He was withy the International force in the Balkans, twelve months, during the previous trouble there. It is a peculiar and admirable trait of our boys that they do not hate their foes, as people naturally suppose they do. They show no anger regarding them outside business hours. They are too genial and generous to bear malice, and yet when it comes to fighting they do fight for the honour of their country. Yes, Tommy is a peculiar mixture, but a good one. Life would be the better if civilisation were more largely imbued with it.

Apparently our people have been rather lenient with the snipers. Cunningham told us of a case wherein a sniper could not at first be located. The officers suspected a man, apparently an agricultural labourer, who was ploughing in a field. He was watched. Caught in the act. He had a rifle fixed to his plough. That man was merely taken prisoner. I should have been disposed to find a shorter way. Appoint his immediate funeral and see that he was ready. Yet, I suppose, we ought to emulate the Germans. Perhaps it is better to err on the side of leniency. We at home, however, are inclined to feel rather vindictive. Like the hen with chickens. We ruffle our feathers at the sight of danger to our boys at the Front and on the seas. If any of them are hurt we feel the pain. Thus acute is our sympathy.

My informant seemed to think that German shells of late have lacked explosive force. Perhaps they are not as well stuffed as they were. We are under the impression that the enemy is running short of many things. At all events they have advised their children to do without meat at the midday meal! Cunningham was in no manner of doubt as to the superiority of our guns, and as for bayonet work, the enemy cannot stand the British boys at close quarters. They are limp at the first sight of English steel. He does not believe those accounts of fraternising with the enemy on Xmas Day. He saw and heard nothing of the kind in his trenches. The Germans snipe our boys if they go out to succour even the German wounded, he said. The "Jack Johnsons" are of no use save to go at fortifications, I understood; whilst the howitzers made "a big cry for very little wool".


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