Lot 327 - WWI - Battle of the Somme. Autograph Letter Signed, 'John', Hut A5, Duke's Hill Con[valescent] Camp
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WWI - Battle of the Somme. Autograph Letter Signed, 'John', Hut A5, Duke's Hill Con[valescent] Camp

Sold for £260


 

WWI - Battle of the Somme. Autograph Letter Signed, 'John', Hut A5, Duke's Hill Con[valescent] Camp, Woldingham, Surrey, 27 August 1917, to his brother Alex, in pencil, a vivid and harrowing account of his experiences at the Front with the Durham Light Infantry, the letter begins with a description of his current health and problems with his head due to discharge caused by a small piece of decayed bone and hoping not to have an operation and a plate, before continuing that he will explain as best he can about his experiences, 'but it seems rather a difficult job and what was to me the worst kind of experience may be insignificant to others', going back to last October when he was transferred into the DLI from the Yorks and their travel from Etaples to Enoncourt, before soon recounting various deaths and the destruction in the landscape, 'On Nov 1st we left camp for the trenches 2 companies going into the 1st line and ours into close support living like rabbits under cover all day and trudging through mud knee deep at night taking up rations and ammunition to those in the front line and more than once I have almost prayed to be killed to get out of it all. Then came the preparations for the great 5th of Nov attack on the night of the 4th we had to start off to relieve those in the front line and be ready for going over the top at 8.10 a.m. we were timed to reach the front trenches about 5.30 a.m. and be all prepared for the attack as soon as the barrage started, but the conditions were so bad that we were in the sunken valley at daylight & Fritz could see us going into the trenches and I was in my baptismal fire more than a few were knocked out before we got into cover and it of course made Fritz prepared for us. Under the conditions it was a great mistake to try to advance but it was time and over we had to go many men were stuck in the mud and could not move then one of the best pals I had all the time in the army was killed and I had to walk over his body, from then I must have lost all fear and almost went mad I think we were at close quarters for a time. (By the way Butte de Warlemort was our objective) and we were so thinned down that we could not hold the position the 8th on our right withdrew, the 9th lost the imprisoners and we were in No Man's Land untill dark it was raining and we dare not move either way, all the officers were lost but one and we tried to get the rest of the men together and go out to dig an advance trench to try and hold out untill morning and reinforcements came. We were carrying 250 rounds ammtn 2 hand grenades 4 sandbags & a shovel down the back of our equipment so you may guess that it was no easy task. After getting about 2 ft down we came into water and had to retire to our starting point as best we could, twice I saw the man next to me killed and our last officer was wounded and then we had to stick out untill night and relief was due. By the time I was just about half dead not had a bite from the night of the 4th and now was the evening of the 6th the only water was the rain we could catch I was one to go out and meet the 5th Yorks & 4th N[orthumberland F[usiliers] to guide them in and relieve us. The meant about 2 miles of trenches with mud up to the thighs in places and dead and wounded lying all over I had got to the stage where nothing was a surprise and quite indifferent to any kind of danger except machine guns & how these always seemed to be my only dread. After going down the trench about half of a mile I was stuck in the mud for a time and lost my rifle in trying to force myself out, it was sunk into the mud when I got loose a 2nd time I went over the time and thought I may as well be shot as drowned in mud. While stuck fast I think I had my narrowest shave of all a shell dropped less than 2 ft away from me I closed my eyes and never expected seeing anything more but it did not go off as the ground was too soft for the concussion to be effective. Fortunately I managed to get to my destination and while waiting for them (the reliefs) coming to Hdqtrs the Fritz's started another bombardment and killed about 40 of the NFs before they got into the line. After getting the new Brigade posted we were allowed to return to camp independently as we are all in a terrible state and had about 10 Kilo's to go famished & covered from head to foot in mud and not a dry rag on. I landed into camp about 2 o'clock the next morning and was one of the first in we had hot soup and tea waiting for us. We had bell tents to sleep in but no boards at the bottom and sunk about 6 ins in mud but I think I slept as well that day as ever I did in my life... ', continuing in similar vein describing further horrors of the Front and saying, 'It is undoubtedly not all beer and skittles out there though a good deal of sport can be got out of it after we get away from the line. Wherever we got to for a rest the first job was to find a field and fix up goal posts and have matches between platoons and Coys & Batts but don't think we had nothing else to do... ', the letter coming to a close when he was hit by a sniper resulting in his return to England and the convalescent camp where he is now, 19 pages on 10 leaves, a few spots and marks, 8vo

(Qty: 1)

An unusually open, uncensored and harrowing account of life at the Front during the First World War. The Battle of the Somme took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916. More than three million men fought in the battle and one million were wounded or killed, making it one of the deadliest battles in human history.

Provenance: Collection of Jack Webb (1923-2019), London.

A typed transcription of the letter and a stapled photocopy is included with the lot.

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Auction: Military & Aviation History, Medals & Militaria, Thu, 20th May 2021

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