March 22nd 1916.

My daughter Kit is proving a good correspondent and writes most interestingly from her YMCA hut near Havre:

“Do you remember me telling you about the literary miner? He is in ‘Blighty’, having been badly wounded in the head. He has sent me out Ibsen’s ‘The Warriors of Helgeland’; he writes that he has just discovered Oscar Wilde and is devouring his plays…

Kit Lynam 1912The others all tease me about young Davie Curry; the poor boy has had almost everything the matter with him; he has been blown up and is now lame, but he still has a delicious twinkle in his eyes, dimples, sticking out ears and a brogue of the very finest. He was eighteen the other day, having joined when he was ‘saxteen past’; he has got no parents and used to work in the Belfast shipyards…

I heard that he had lost his pay-book and could not get any pay, so I asked him as nicely as I could if I could help him in any way, and immediately he flared up, ‘Who’s after tellin’ you I had lost it? Shure it’s no matter at all, I have got plenty money.’ Though, of course, I knew he had not got any…

Next morning I asked him if he would help me clean Betsy (the car) as she was so dirty, and he polished her well, but was quite reluctant to take the ‘bulls’ eyes’ I offered him.

Since then, he has taken Betsy under his especial care and ‘shure he forgits’ everything I tell him, but I could never be cross with him, his smile is much too captivating.

He and some other Irish boys found a young boy wandering about and brought him in to their Sergeant. This young kiddy of ten said his father and two brothers had been killed in the Belgian Army and his mother in the explosion at Harfleur. The Sergeant took him to the C.O. and asked permission to adopt him – it was granted and he became the mascot.

He was called Jimmy Ulster and we all bought him clothes; the tailor made him a khaki suit, he marched at the head of the Band and we all spoilt him thoroughly. He was most vivacious and sang French songs, soon learnt English ones and he used to entertain us immensely; and help us too, with opening match boxes, peeling potatoes etc.

Then the end came, his father was discovered in the worst slum in Havre, no-one knew of his mother and all his tales were absolutely and entirely untrue!

He was taken home, but returned to camp immediately. He was put into the guardroom under arrest and finally was marched off between two burly Sergeants as an escort!”

December 31st 1915

Christmas for our gallant old boys, stationed in numerous theatres of war, has varied considerably.

Capt. Geoffrey Carpenter (Uganda Medical Service) is currently somewhere in the vicinity of Kabale in Uganda:

“Xmas Day passed without any excitement and our mess managed to put up quite a decent dinner. Tinned tomato soup, herrings and jugged hare, a guinea-fowl (shot with a rifle) to take turkey’s place – they are as good eating as any bird I know.”

Capt. Charlie Childe (Gloucestershire Regiment), in a billet near Richebourg St. Vaast, on the other hand, has had no relief from the day-to-day realities of the war:

Charlie Childe“From 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve till 5 p.m. on Christmas Day all our batteries had more or less carte blanche and all started blazing away at midnight.

I went in on Christmas Day after tea and there was a great deal of whizz-banging and salvoes of shrapnel all night. I was quite pleased when I got back to my dug-out, as it was rather a poor game wandering about over the open in the pitch dark, and wet, with all this hatred breaking out from time to time.”

Lieut. Jack Smyth (15th Ludhiana Sikhs) is now in Egypt, defending Alexandria from attack by the German-supported Sennussi tribe. No Christmas spirit to be found there either:

Jack Smyth“I spent the most exciting Christmas Day and the coldest Christmas night I have ever spent in my life; the whole day was spent in an attack on the Sennussi position. I was doing Adjutant duties and as I had only a few days before come out of hospital in Alexandria, I was almost dead, not counting the additional ‘almosts’ from bullets…

I should love to have been able to get back to Oxford for Xmas, but must not think of such things till the war is over…”

2nd Lieut. Maurice Jacks (King’s Royal Rifle Corps), whose location is given simply as “this dreary corner of North France” has ascertained that the Boche may be suffering somewhat worse than our troops:

“A deserter came in the other day and to his amazement the men gave him cigarettes and tea, and Headquarters a dinner; he was feted all round, but we could not let him off without displaying a little ‘frightfulness’ and the whole battalion having just had a Xmas dinner of goose and plum pudding, we asked him, ‘I suppose you had goose and plum pudding on Xmas Day. We all did!’

He threw up his hands in amazement and was green with envy; he apparently had not even had a sausage!”

Lastly, my daughter, Kit Marshall (St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley, near Havre) has been helping entertain those Tommies behind the lines, who were able to celebrate in some style:

KIt Lynam portrait“This morning we were all taken to the Irishmen’s and RFA dining halls to see their Christmas dinner and the decorations. They had turkey, geese, plum puddings, some given by the Ulster women, and beer.

Then at 3 p.m. we went to their concert. The men from both dining halls crammed into one… and they all joined in the choruses – ‘The little Grey Home’, ‘The Sunshine of Your Smile’, ‘Ragtime Cowboy Joe’ etc.

The pianist was splendid, played anything in any key; the voices were somewhat husky, the result of a huge dinner and a very smoky atmosphere. They had been given churchwarden pipes, too, by the Ulster women and the scene was most picturesque – all these men standing and sitting under the elaborate wreaths of different coloured paper and evergreens, all singing lustily.

Now I am sitting in the pay-box, having a slack time, as most of the men are down dancing in the lower Hut. All those under 5 ft. 6 ins. are decorated with ribbons, which shows that they are ladies…”

For these men, Kit’s old school (after the OPS of course!), St Leonard’s, provided Christmas presents:

…The men came up to the platform, each in turn, and dipped into a huge bran-pie for a present… 1,465 presents were given away and still some did not get any. They were awfully pleased with the things they got: wallets, handkerchiefs, socks, pocket-books, knives, pipes, purses, cigarette cases, cases for matchboxes etc etc. The School and Seniors gave the money, about £68, and Miss Grant chose and sent all the presents.”

 

 

November 20th 1915

It is some time since I last mentioned my own daughter Kit on these pages. The story following the most happy event of her wedding (see March 1st) has been too painful to tell until now.

Her marriage to Lieut. Marshall lasted less than three months. He contracted meningitis and died in hospital in Portsmouth on May 12th 1915. During his illness and following his death, Kit showed great fortitude. May I leave it at that?

Only five months later and she is, I am proud to say, in France, driving a car and working in connection with St. Leonard’s School YMCA hut, Camp 18, Harfleur Valley,  near Havre.  Albeit behind the lines, she has been seeing a lot of the Tommies and it is most interesting to hear about them in her letters.

KIt Lynam portrait

Kit Marshall

27/10/15. “Lots of our men went up to the Line tonight; it is rotten saying goodbye to them… I wonder if we shall ever see them again? I picked up and took three men down to Havre who were going to ‘Blighty’ this morning. One man had been blown up by a trench-mortar and had had one side of his head dislodged. Another man had had cholera and enteric on August 21st in hospital at ‘Eatables,’ came down here for a rest, and had been doing fatigue for three weeks, though his nerves are gone.”

Kit has also noted that Tommies doing fatigue get a shilling a day, whereas the local navvies get three times as much. She comments,

“No wonder our men get fed up. A lot of things want straightening out.”

29/10/15. “The King visited the camp yesterday, and he looked ill and worn. Only a few of the soldiers around saw him, as they had been on fatigue the day before in a downpour of rain, and of course were soaked to the skin. They have no change of clothes and consequently could not appear properly dressed, so had to stay in their tents till he had gone.”

It must have been soon after this that the King was himself injured.

As with our young subalterns, Kit is meeting the sort of people she could not have got to know in normal life. She has been asked to help write their letters and deal with tales of domestic woe.

“One man came and told us a most pathetic story yesterday. He had been home on leave and when he got to his house, he found it was shut up and his wife and ten months old daughter had gone off with a Belgian refugee…”

The Tommy who has surprised her most is a strongly built north country miner, who was able to quote Shelley and Keats to her and wanted her to teach him Latin (“I have got a Latin grammar in my tent,” he told her).

How did he come to be so educated?

(7/11/15) “You see, I like my books better than women, and they call me a woman-hater – It is funny I should be telling you that, isn’t it? But I have been living in lodgings, and I have never met a woman who liked poetry.”

Having had 23 teeth out recently, he could not return to the line until a new set of false teeth arrived, so Kit got to know him even better and has found that he has the most extraordinary knowledge of poetry.

“…he floors me completely in all save Swinburne and Kipling, which two he does not know. But what surprises me is that things we have been educated up to, such as Milton’s sonnets, Dante, Spenser and the like, he has discovered and read for his own enjoyment.  He has never discussed poetry and his opinions are entirely his own. Ever since he was ten he has lived in lodgings, thirty-five of them, and he is now twenty-five…  Browning he quoted freely, Tennyson, Longfellow etc, but Shelley and Keats he knows to perfection and just glories in them.

One day he said, ‘Have you read Kubla Khan?’ I told him it was one of my favourite poems. He said he thought it was the one inspiration Coleridge ever had and was most interested to hear it was a dream…”