October 18th 1917

A second letter has been received from Lieut. Gus Hume-Gore (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders), who is with the King’s African Rifles and the British East Africa Expeditionary Force.

In addition to the extreme heat he complained about last time, he now catalogues a number of other difficulties the British soldier faces:

11/10/17 “Tinned rations that are mostly full of sand before you have finished eating them (aided by the worst kind of flies), the water in your bottle a bit more than lukewarm, and not the best of water very often at that; bottles have been filled from a stream and then dead bodies have been discovered roosting against a rock up-stream; sun that burns the eyes out of you; sun that makes you sick, that goes clean through your backbone and out the other side; sun that makes everything made of metal red-hot, so hot that it will blister your fingers if you give it a chance – and miles and miles of the ‘road’ that never seems to grow less and is harder and harder the farther you get.

When the rains come in about three weeks and then slack off for a bit, I gather that everything I have tried to picture may be multiplied by about ten.”

October 11th 1917

Lieut. Gus Hume-Gore (Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) was seconded to the King’s African Rifles with the British East Africa Expeditionary Force last December. Whereas many an Old Dragon is complaining of the mud so prevalent on the Western Front, Gus has very different but equally trying conditions with which to contend:

4/10/17 “I have just had my first wash and shave for seven days and feel quite respectable again.

We have just done a great push and advanced about 8 miles with some heavy fighing. The positions the Germans take up are terrible. They get well dug-in and then stick trees and spikes etc well round them, so that attacking over the open with a lot of machine guns firing at you is a nasty job.

The heat is overwhelming and makes even breathing difficult. My arms and knees are the colour of bronze…

We are simply eaten alive with mosquitoes, bugs etc., as we can’t put up a net when we are on the move. There is a lot of swampy ground around here.

I am trying to improve my German by reading German letters and books which are lying about all over the place.” 

One can forget that this war is being fought across the world, so we are grateful to Gus for reminding us of this.

 

February 23rd 1917

west-n-2

Capt. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment)

Another Old Dragon has joined our Roll of Honour. Nevile West has been killed. He had already had one lucky excape. You may recall that he sent us an account of his experiences in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.  He described how his camera was hit by a bullet that would otherwise have killed him.

Nevile’s bravery was recognised in the award of the MC ‘for conspicuous bravery‘ when he was twice wounded in an attack not long after the above incident.

It is understood that Nevile met his death on the night of January 16th when, in preparation for an attack, he and his company moved into position, where they experienced severe shelling. This bombardment claimed the lives of Nevile and one of his men, whilst five others were wounded.

Letters from fellow officers are always appreciated by family and friends alike, and it is inspiring to hear when one of our Old Boys is given such respect as Nevile was:

“His disposition was always bright and cheery, in fact he was the life of the mess, a good musician and a very fair artist, and up to the time of his death appeared to have led an almost charmed life, for he knew no fear or hesitation where duty called him and his one thought was the comfort and safety of his men.”

Nevile was somewhat reserved and diffident as a boy, as I recall, but had plenty of energy and ‘go’ and was much beloved by all who knew him at all intimately.

December 9th 1916

By a strange coincidence, on the same day Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) wrote to us of meeting Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Reg., now with 90th Machine Gun Corps), Leslie also wrote to us of an incident that had occurred the previous evening, when he was sitting in a small cellar of a largely demolished house.

grundy-glo25.11.16 “I heard the swish of a shell and heard a loud detonation. I went up the cellar steps to ask how far off it had fallen and was told that it had fallen about 200 yards away and that only a few splinters had come our way.

I had got to the top step of the cellar when I found a man in my way at the top. I had just touched him and was going to tell him to move aside when we all heard a shell coming. We all ducked instinctively, the man on the top step falling on me. I had lost my balance, but before my feet had left the step I was on, there was a brilliant flash and a terrific explosion.

I scrambled out from under the fellow who was on top of me and found myself at the bottom of the steps with the place full of dust. There were some cries coming from above. I lit a candle and found that the centre part of the roof of the cellar had fallen in and had smashed the table, but had missed the officer and the two servants who were in there and that they were only a bit dazed.

I then went up above and found men lying all over the place. I flashed my torch around and saw that five were obviously dead and that about six more were lying about groaning. Another man and myself got the two worst cases into the cellar and started bandaging them up.

I went up with another fellow and we got the third man down. As we were going down the stairs, another shell came and burst about 20 yards to the flank and, I found afterwards, smashed in half another cellar on top of three men, also killing three of the limber horses and wounding the fourth…

The shelling stopped and we went up to count the damage.

Right on top of the cellar was a huge crater, 6 ft. across and going right through the 3 ft. of bricks on top of the roof. It was not 6 ft. from where my head had been. Two small beams had apparently saved me. They were riddled with splinters, but apparently the force of the shell had gone in another direction.

Five men were lying round the entrance dead. Three of them were in my company and two belonged to the other company. One of my best sergeants and two of my best men. The two others were guides.

We took the personal effects of the five to send to their homes and put them in a shell hole not far away. We buried them this morning. The three horses are still lying across the road. Two of my wounded have since died in the dressing station. In all I lost about ten men killed and wounded, and the other company about seven.

Incidents like this are happening every day on all parts of the front and they happen pretty frequently around here, but you seldom hear about these small details, so I thought I would tell you about one of them – not so much for the morbid interest of the thing as to give you some idea of what war is like…

I am very fit at present with the exception of slight deafness and headache caused by the explosion.”

Certainly, such details are not to be found in our newspapers or, from what Jack Gamlen told us, Brigade Intelligence Reports either.

 

 

December 5th 1916

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) was last in touch back in October, to tell us the story of his regiment’s involvement in the Somme battle in August. He said then that the Somme trenches were “very horrible.” His latest letter tells that, for the time being at least, he has escaped them:

23.11.16. “When you have been wet through for a week, have just come out of the trenches and are standing in the main street of a horrible and historic village, looking through glasses at the German lines, it is pleasant suddenly to have your elbow jogged by your Commanding Officer and to be told that you are to report forthwith at the Brigade Headquarters. Every so often a subaltern is detailed for attachment for instruction in staff duties…

As I approached Brigade Headquarters, I remembered that I had neither washed nor shaved for a week and felt very much ashamed of my appearance…

I was conducted into the presence of the Brigadier, a young and very handsome man with many medals. He was reading the ‘Times’ and told me to sit down and eat.

After a pause he put down his newspaper, looked long at me and in a mild, tired voice said, ‘Soaked through I suppose!’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And the men?’

‘Soaked through all the time, Sir.’

Then he gave a very refined groan and went on reading the paper.

It was not long before I learnt that this Brigadier was as ready to be soaked through as any of the men, but, at the time, he seemed an exquisite being, remote from war, and mud, and hardship.

I made myself presentable by lunch, when we were joined by the OC Machine Gun Company, no less a person than L Grundy OD. He is my junior by many years and we had never met before. Now we meet nearly every day, but have not yet found time to talk much about the School…

By night I was mostly at Headquarters, but by day I often went out with the Brigadier on his visits to the various Battalion Headquarters. We were frequently shelled and once or twice had quite narrow escapes, but the Brigadier’s personality is such that I think no shell would dare to come too close to him…

My chief job was to write the daily Brigade Intelligence Report, which goes on to the Division. To do so sometimes made me shiver at the cold-bloodedness of my task. It is one thing to put down, ‘The right-half Battalion sent out a patrol between 2 and 4 a.m. which did so and so,’ and a very different thing to go on patrol oneself. The same is true of ration-carrying parties. How well I know them! One must see the game oneself in order to realize how much hardship, danger and often heroism, is compressed into six cold lines of an Intelligence Report.”

 

August 26th 1916

 

Benham, Frank

Captain Frank Benham (RFA)

Frank has died in Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank, London.

He received wounds to the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder on August 5th. He was able to write three short communications to his wife on arrival at the No. 2 Stationary Hospital at Abbeville on the 8th and it was thought that he was being transferred to England on August 11th.

There was considerable confusion as to his whereabouts, until he sent a telegram to his wife saying he had arrived in Southampton on August 2oth. The following day he was transferred to Queen Alexandra’s.

He had in fact spent the week following the 11th at the No.2 General Hospital at Havre, it having been decided that he was too exhausted to continue to England. On the 14th he suffered a minor haemorrhage from the neck wound. It stopped quite quickly, although the cause of it remained unexplained.

On August 22nd, Frank suffered another haemorrhage and underwent an unsuccessful operation to save him.

His wife was at his side when he died.

August 13th 1916

Edmund GayCaptain Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) was declared missing a year ago.

The Daily Telegraph reported about ten days ago that our Government understands that there are only nineteen officers and 359 other ranks known still to be in Turkish hands as Prisoners of War.

With regards the 290 officers (amongst whom Edmund is numbered) and 9,700 other ranks still missing, they feel that there are no longer any grounds for hoping they might be prisoners,

“and therefore it was consequently decided that the missing officers and men not accounted for must be officially accepted as dead. Effect is being given to this decision after due consideration of the circumstances of each individual case.”

There has still been no official confirmation of his death given to the family however, and until such time we will continue to list him as “missing.”

* * * * * * *

Benham, FrankCaptain Frank Benham (RFA) was wounded by a German shell hitting his dug-out on August 5th. At the time he was in charge of a battery at Mametz Wood on the Somme.

On August 8th he was strong enough to be able to write to inform his wife of his situation and the matron on his ward has also written to say she hopes he will be strong enough to return to England shortly.