Only ten years ago, Jack Smyth, aged 12, was recovering from a serious illness. For two years he had blown up like a balloon, whilst getting weaker and weaker. His recovery was almost as sudden as its onset. His nurse, thinking he was dying, decided to offer him whatever he would like to eat and for some reason he chose a steak. Although this surely cannot have been the only reason, it proved a turning point and by the Easter Term 1905 he was able to return to school.
After Repton and Sandhurst, Jack, who did not have the private means to consider a British regiment, joined the Indian Army. The bill for his kit, when he spent a year with the Green Howards in 1912, was beyond what he and his mother could afford, so I and a number of others stepped in to help.
Now he is with the 15th Sikhs, involved in the continuing trench warfare. We received two letters from him last week, dated the 11th and 15th February:
15.2.15. “I am writing this in a German trench and am too filthy and muddy and disreputable for words. As I expect you saw in the papers the Indian Corps captured a German position the other day, and here we are holding on to it for all we are worth. It is more interesting here in a place where the Germans have been for about four months; the place is quite dry, a captured pump tells us the reason why; they did themselves pretty well as all the dug-outs are littered with old bottles of champagne etc., and photos of the Kaiser, and letters and food, etc. Our men rather fancy the German boots and I have one of their haversacks.
There are about 100 of their dead lying just outside my trench where they were discovered creeping up to try and recapture the place and were promptly laid out by a machine gun.
I haven’t taken off my boots for five days and am a sight for the gods.”
Clearly, his kit is still a matter of concern for Jack!
His earlier letter tells a remarkable tale of good luck enjoyed by a friend of his.
“About five years ago, an old mullah in India gave him a silver charm, which he said would bring him luck and also save his life. He went home on leave the other day and was promptly married (I suppose that was the luck) and yesterday, from a good position behind a big tree, he was having a good look at the German trenches, when a bullet came through the tree (not bullet proof) and hit the bottom button of his coat, smashing it to bits and winding him, but never penetrated his body. The charm, which he always wore and which was underneath his shirt, was squashed flat, but beyond a very sore tummy, he is none the worse and is now fairly convinced that he will see this show through all right.”