George’s war letters: The First World War seen through the letters of George Power OBE
Imogen Power’s Great Great Uncle George
Richard Power’s great uncle George wrote a letter home to his wife Marion virtually every day during the First World War.
Richard has created a blog and will “post” each letter on the centenary of the day it was written, with a brief explanation about the places, battles or things mentioned in each letter. There are over 300 letters. The first letter was written on 20th December 1914 and the last on 29th June 1919 when George’s Battalion, 2nd Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment, finally arrived back in England.
The blog is at www.georgesww1letters.com and can be seen at Georges First World War letters
Here is selection of the letters already posted.
22nd December 1914:
“This, be it understood, is a Christmas letter. We wish you all a Merry Christmas. D. Burges and I are, this night, at a railway goods station rather cold and dinnerless and the prospect of being up all night for no reason at all. We had a very tedious journey in the train, also rather cold, but by filling the carriage up with hay we managed to make it very comfortable in the end. We stopped for a short time at a certain place you and I know. It was the terminus of a very pleasant trip we had just before we were engaged, when your Aunt Alys was so amusing. When this row ends we will go back and have tiffin at the same cafe. Now we are in billets in another town. The men are in barracks but the officers are in the town. I am billeted on a maker of paints; my arrival was rather comic. Knowing how much French I can speak you can imagine the scene, I expect. The landlady is very small and rather plain, wife of maker of paints. We had a long discussion as to whether she could give me some space to cook or not. It was eventually decided she could not, so we proceeded upstairs to view the chamber. Quite a nice looking room in which a charming-looking maiden, in an extraordinary dress, was making the bed. The room was evidently hers & she was very fed up at having to turn out, and when I could not understand a remark of the land-lady she repeated it at the top of her voice. I expect she will trot back again tonight as I am on this outpost job. Funny world. I took an hour to shave this morning not having to do so since we left England. I have come to the conclusion that a diary is beyond me, because (i) in this division we are not allowed to refer to places in a private diary until the event is a week old, therefore (ii) I should get horribly out of date and become inaccurate. I think that supplementing letters is just as good in the end. Please send me a refill for my oriflux lamp on receipt of this – The lamp is most useful…..”
3rd January 1915:
“…..Your letters 28th-30th have arrived and the parcel with the socks and re-fill for lamp. But I think that the groceries with the Quaker Oats & my half pound of chocolate & the change of underclothing you sent have got delayed somehow. We are still en l’air and shall be anyhow for the next day or two…. Very wet here. I expect Ion will be home soon. We are all very fit here and doing a lot of work, chiefly horticultural
10th January 1915 (Belgium):
“I wish I had time to write a decent letter, but since leaving our last resting place five days ago there has not been time really to collect one’s thoughts. We had an awful march of 16 miles over pavé – very trying to the feet. The Belgian roads are worse than the French a good deal. We are at present in a farmer’s cottage. The kitchen, where we all feed is very small and the whole thing very amusing, the place swarms with children, who howl all day long……. Please send me a complete change of underclothing – The ones you have sent have not turned up and are urgently needed! Also get me another pair of boots from the Stores – The chocolate has not arrived, I think that too has gone astray – Shelling goes on pretty well all day. Yesterday we watched them potting at a German aeroplane – Awfully interesting. Our trench is a perfect brute. Over our knees everywhere in mud and in some places nearly to your thighs! Tell Dad that the waterproof trousers he gave me are simply splendid and that I should like a pair of waders if he can manage it. Please send me another bottle of Mars oil, will you?……
14th January 1915:
“I have not had time to write for a day or two. We have just finished our first whack of trench work. It is not pleasant by any means. Our trench is an old French one and thoroughly bad. I have already told you about the mud. The day is the worst time and you sit and watch the blighters burst and have nothing to do. The shrapnel does not worry one a bit in a trench, but the high explosive is pretty bad. We were very heavily shelled all our first day, but they were all about 100 yards over so nobody was hurt. Thank you for your letters of the 2nd-9th, also for the 4 parcels of groceries which arrived last Monday. My underclothing has not arrived. Will you please stop sending rice in the parcels of groceries and substitute a pound of the Harrods chocolate – it is awfully good. We are all very fit, but rather tired. It is a sort of game that requires a good deal of getting used to! We are worried a good deal at night round our part by snipers. They seem to get all round the farm and pot everybody – so far we have not been able to catch them. I don’t think you would have recognised your husband when we came out that bally trench. Caked in mud up to his thighs – hands and arms thick with it; in a sou’wester with a cap on top, a muddy Burberry over a goatskin coat and a long willow staff! and last but not least, a beautiful beard. It is the pride of the company. We all use those staffs, they are very useful for sounding the mud in the trenches and spotting shell holes in the road at night. We have not seen any Zeppelins and only a few aeroplanes! I am going to try to write to Mother to-day, but in case I cannot, please thank her awfully for the sweets – They are most welcome especially the acid drops which are good when you are thirsty – Funnily enough, drinking water is scarce here……
19th February 1915:
“I have not been able to write for four days. We had our rest cut short by one day as Fritz began making himself a nuisance. We spent a very wet and muddy night in some sheds near here and then the following night moved up nearer. We have just come back from the trenches. They are in rather a bad state in every way. I had your letter of the 13th to-day. The Headquarters Mess has received your cake and thanks you awfully for it. Vicary is going to write to you and thank you. The D Coy one has not come yet. Please tell Uncle Frank that another parcel of baccy has arrived, but with this rush we have not been able to distribute it yet. Rain with bright intervals is what the lady in the Daily Graphic would say about the weather. What we want is a nice drying wind. I got rather a fright last night as my watch stopped! Happily it went on again after about 10 hours rest – like Master…… Damn Fritz & all his works, I say! One night we spent in rather a charming house or rather what remains of it. There was rather a lot of nice Chinese porcelain there. Three of us lived in a small kind of summer house hollowed out in a mound, on the top of which was a small temple, very like the Trianon one. Quite comfy, but Fritz began dropping shells into the garden rather close to the temple, so we hopped into the cellars of the Mansion. Much to the disgust of the Regimental H.Q. whom we found in the kitchen. It was rather a crowd but safer. In these trenches the Germans are pretty close. About 30 yards from one of mine. I prefer them further off. Alas I never saw Ion. I am so sorry. I shall be glad when the next consignment of chocolate arrives as I have only got local stuff which is rather sweet. I think there are some parcels waiting to be delivered here. Of course our quick move absolutely spoilt our fine dinner party – The hen had to be left behind, but the curry powder was saved. We had bought a bottle of starboard light, that also was saved and drunk in lieu of whiskey! Before all these excursions and alarums, we used to look on our little rests as certain & almost as sacred as the Thursday holiday abroad, but now we have no sooner got in than we prepare to go out again! Most disturbing. If the mail comes in to-night I will write again……
18th March 1915:
“Your letter of the 14th has come. Ion told me he was sending home a rifle. I am glad it has arrived. Quite a fine trophy, isn’t it? Once more I am a member of C Coy and will partake of the things you send out……….Poor Peter, I hope he won’t be bad. He is rather liable to have colds and things. We have got a funny little billet. A very small room in which it is just possible to lay three valises. The kitchen is quite impossible owing to an old man of disgusting habits. They have got a milk churn worked by a dog which runs round and round inside a big wheel outside the house. Just like the donkey wheel at Carisbrooke Castle. This morning, while performing my ablutions, I placed all my gear on the churn not knowing it’s evil ways, and suddenly the dog outside started to run round and the whole lot was deposited on a very dirty floor. Very annoying, wasn’t it?…..The boots you sent me are lasting very well indeed & are awfully comfortable. I have had the first A & N S pair resoled and so I have two thoroughly good ones now.”
20th March 1915:
Your letter of the 15th has come. Alas, poor dear old “Father” Harrison was hit in the head the night before last, when we were digging behind the fire trenches & the poor old man died yesterday morning. Although I had not known him for long he was a good friend and a jolly good subaltern to me. We buried him this morning. I am afraid it will just about do for his wife, as she is so ill that they could not tell her that he had been ordered out.
All yesterday it snowed and blew great guns. In fact a regular blizzard, the wind is bitterly cold and we seem to have gone back to the bad old days of January, except for the appearance of several little primroses. To-day is a bit better but the wind is still bad. There have been a lot of German aeroplanes over here today & guns have been popping at them without any success that we could see. It is nice being back in C Coy.
“More aeroplanes, this time the Germans are doing the popping. The worst of it is that you can never really tell what they are, as they say the Germans have little blinds – that they pull over the black crosses – which have the allied circles painted on them. One that dropped a bomb here one day had the rings on it. Old Dinham was not very far off and he ran like a hare to his billet. Yes, it is all clouding over again & it looks rather like rain. We are in quite a nice billet, with a little garden behind, nothing much in it. Apparently the people here grow a heap of parsnips; great big fields of them. Some of the fields are quite green now, but the trees have not come out at all yet. I suppose it is rather early. Do you know that the birds were singing all through that show last Sunday? It was rather extraordinary. Old man Fritz was putting them into our wood pretty thick, but the birds did not mind. The pheasants and hares were a little bit worried about it, but they were the only ones. Now I must close – there is no news – Bye bye till tomorrow”
24th March 1915:
“Things are moving in such queer ways now that I have not been unable to write since saturday. We were pulled out to go into the trenches on Saturday night and have been there until early this morning: now I think we are trekking, but where nobody knows. Such a lot of letters came to-day……. It is beastly wet again, although the last few days have been heavenly, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Sunday was a wretched day. I sat in a new trench all day & night. Very wet and not much shelter. New trenches very rarely have. Dug outs & other luxuries gradually spring up after some time of occupation. The most uncomfortable part was when our anti-aircraft guns opened on the German aeroplanes. There were a whole heap up and we got all the stuff coming down; distinctly annoying. It is bad enough being shelled by Fritz, but the back splash of your own guns is the limit, isn’t it? One more alas – Poor Croft was shot that night and died the next morning – He and Harrison were shot on almost the same piece of ground. It is very sad, isn’t it? We are getting rather short in “C”! as Rummins has gone sick with water on the knee or something. We are at present in a wooden hut in a wood a little way back. Where we go or when nobody knows or if they do they do not say so. We are doing a kind of rest now, but not at our old spot,which is rather a shame, as it was quite comfortable. Heavens we were dirty when we turned up here. Nobody has had a bath for three weeks and I have not shaved for 6 days now. A beastly sight. I think I shall try and get a bath somehow to-day, but where remains to be see.”
25th March 1915:
“Your letters of the 21st and 22nd have come. Awfully wet again. The hut does not leak much, which is something to be thankful for indeed. Last night we sang, why I cannot think; perhaps like Tommy A we were all feeling sentimental and it certainly was raining horribly hard. The Colonel did not like it! We started with the ”Preacher” for Major Corner’s benefit! Several deputations were sent from the Regimental HQ Tent to know if it would soon be over, but they had no effect. I think people, who have the rough time of it, when we are in front, should be allowed a little latitude when we get back; don’t you?……. This afternoon I am going to make a desperate effort to have a bath. The shave was accomplished yesterday and your husband looks a little less piratical than he did. So they censored one of my letters did they? They do open a certain number, I know, but apparently, they have escaped so far……..”