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Private A M Simpson

 
 

Harrogate Herald - 22nd December 1915

Private A M Simpson gives an interesting account of his journey to the Front in a letter to Mr Cawood, of Harrogate. He says : 

Dear Mr Cawood, I thought you would like a line or two just to let you now how I was getting on. To start with we left Codford early one Saturday morning, and after two hours travelling we found ourselves on the docks at ------. Well, with my usual luck, I landed in for loading the mules and transport waggons. We embarked at 7pm, and started our voyage shortly after. We had a very calm voyage, and after eleven hours we found ourselves at a French port. Here we spent the day at a rest camp three miles from the docks, and in the afternoon of the following day we set off for the station. Here we entrained (in cattle trucks) for a fifteen hours' journey. When we reached our destination it was pouring with rain, and we had seven miles to walk. We were billeted in barns and cowsheds, but we made the best of it. Then we had three days' rest, waiting for the remainder of our Division to come up. We then set off on a five days' marching to the Front, billeting in villages on the way. We reached our destination (the base), then we had two days' rest. We then got orders for the firing line, so about four o'clock we "fell in", and after two miles marching we were told to "halt" and wait while it was properly dark. While we were waiting a shell struck a farmhouse, and the whole lot toppled inwards, so we thought it was time to be moving, as the farm was only twenty yards away. We set off at last, and before going very far we were blinded by one of the flare rockets, so down we had to go, in the mud, on our stomachs. After these flares there are always a lot of rifle shots, so you have to make yourself as much like a turnip as possible. We went three hundred yards further on, and here we had to put up barbed-wire entanglements, but the flares were too near and the shots whistled past your ears, but we kept on working until a maxim gun started peppering us, and then there was a rush. We all made a dart for shell holes, so our captain said it was too dangerous to do any more, as the work was not particular. We then crawled behind a hill and into the communication trenches, and back we went to our billets, and thought we had done something big. We were doomed not to sleep that night, for just as I was getting into bed the alarm whistle blew, which meant we had to turn out in full pack. We heard on going outside a regular fusillade, and thought the village had been attacked, but we found it was one of the barns in which the troops were billeted was on fire, and the ammunition was exploding. As every man carries 120 rounds of ball cartridge, and there were a hundred men in the barn, you can tell what sort of row there was. We soon got it under control, as there were hundreds of us to fetch water. Well, that is all I have to tell you that is exciting, so I will now tell you about other things. We got our money all changed before coming off the boat, so I was not bothered with English money. It is a bit puzzling at first - you get mixed up with the shilling and the franc (10d). however, you watch what you pay before putting your money down. Well, you have to pay for everything out here, and when you don't get any wages you are soon on the cadging system. We stayed at a farm where there were a few chickens, and we were up one night at 2am roasting two of them. When we want bread we have to say, "Du pan", and pay a franc for a Zeppelin-shaped affair about two feet long. We have to buy cigarettes very often, and they are cigs - you are poisoned with the first whiff; and the matches! - I hardly dare think about them without fainting. You strike a match and nothing happens for a bit, and then there come the most awful smell imaginable. There are three more Harrogate lads in our company - Tom Bradley, Tom Hogan, and a chap called Woodhall, who used to be a carriage washer. I have told you all that I think will interest you, so now I will finish. I had better send my kindest regards to Mrs Cawood, May Amvill, and all the lads, not forgetting yourself. Remember me to all my old workmates, and wish everybody as happy a Christmas as we could have under the circumstances.

 

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