First World War Letters
29th of September 1914
I have decided to join the army; our division is leaving in 0600 hours. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I didn't think you would allow me to go. I know the risks but I am respected in my community now! I will come back as a hero. Already I am started to feel the thrill of taking part of in this war. Hopefully, this war will end by Christmas and we can all celebrate Christmas together. We are going to fight the German and we have had lots of training. We were practising with the Lee-Enfield and it is unexpectedly loud.
Lots of love James Grayson
26th October 1914
We have had a tough couple of days since I had last written to you. We were walking hard towards Verdun just east of Paris. It is all so exciting and we had even more training on the move. We had firing practice, bayonet practice and even crawling practice. We practiced for all possible situations. The food I brought had nearly all gone so I will have to ration what I have left or trade it for beer. Oh the fun we have walking and singing all the classic tunes and entertaining ourselves. We could hear the German artillery exploding on no man's land from back here even though we must be at least a couple of miles away. I'm amazed that the civilians here still reside in this place; I would of left ages ago. Anyway good night all.
Lots of love James
2nd December 1914
We have started to move to our trenches and for our division; this is where our war starts. I will attempt to get some sleep as we are expected to get little time to get some shut-eye. Those cakes and biscuits you sent are well appreciated by me and the boys who stole some. I can't blame them; they only got a dried apple yesterday. If only we could grow biscuits. From our position we could see our entire network of trenches. The German don't seem to be very accurate with their artillery but I'm not complaining. Also, Happy Birthday!
28th January 1915
We have reached the trenches and it is nothing like the drawings we had saw in the propaganda. It is so muddy I'm surprised I haven't drowned in it yet. My friend Jacob peeked over the top of the trench to have a look at no mans and got sniped on his first day. You should see the amount of bodies littering no man's land and the stench in the trenches is horrible. The people there haven't washed for days! I fear I will come home as smelly as a doughnut. I'm sure you will get the joke as you were there on my birthday last June. I almost forgot to tell you about the rats. They are as big as cats and they seem to be everywhere. They breed by the millions and feed on us humans. Apart from the Germans and Austrians, these rats are my worst enemy. I managed to kill a few with my bayonet today though. So one nil to me then. I have heard rumours that the German trenches are somewhat better than ours so I hope rats will come and eat their ears off! Serves them right for getting involved. Sometimes I wished that no one had got involved so instead of a European war, it would be the third Balkan War. Doesn't matter now that they dragged us into it.
2nd June 1915
Sorry for not contacting earlier but I had no spare time as my commanding officer seems determined that we get no sleep. We all have to get up exactly one hour before dawn and we are drawn a cycle. We all have to take a day on the front line and then our next rotation would be near the back and then the rotations would see us near the front, and before you know it, we are in the front line again. The weather has been horrible here in the trenches, it is so muddy it is not unknown to have someone drown in the mud. Again, sorry for not sending a letter home. I have adapted to trench life though I fear I will not come home the same man as I had left. Give my love to everyone back home.
Love, your son, James
19th October 1915
I hope this war will end soon. I am already weary of this war. I do not feel the excitement of this war as the posters had led me to exist though don't get me wrong, i am still proud to fight for my king and country. There is a rumour going around that us, Britain and French are getting ready for a frontal assault on them. They will be slaughtered and we shall remain victorious. People say that if the rumours are true, it will effectively end the war and I can come home. I have also heard that this war has led to inflation as England needs money to fund our army. All the better to come home earlier to financially support you and my wify. As the day is dangerous as snipers can see clearly and to go out from our trenches is suicide, movement is restricted to nightfall where we can raid and spy to get information.
26th December 1915
I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year. I wish I could be with you enjoying this Christmas with my family but it doesn't seem like this war will end soon. Yesterday on Christmas, something interesting happened, it must have been the Christmas spirit that took over us as five of us Germans went over the top unarmed and five British people came over the top to meet them. Not a single shot was fired and we started to trade necessities such as bandages Not a single shot was fired yesterday even though a couple of days before we were trying to shoot and kill each other. After, us Britain had a big hearty meal and sang Christmas songs at the top of our voice and we heard the Germans do the same. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you about the massive fights we had but they were with snow! It was the most fun I had in ages and I felt some of my old excitement rush back to me like I was a little boy. I don't know how but our commanding Officer managed to get hold of some wonderful Stollen and we all had some. How are you and how was your Christmas?
22nd January 1916
I don't really have much to tell you now; it is the same as before just with more guns, more dead friends, more casualties, less sleep and more death. This is my reaction to war now. We recently managed to land an artillery shell in their trench and that must have given them a shock. We followed that up with a gas attack. I really believe we are on the front foot now. For Britain! For victory!
12th March 1916
I hope the weather is fine back there in England; the weather hasn't been kind to us here. A storm is coming and I hope I am lucky enough to survive it. Just yesterday, about 11 people in my unit got wiped out by two artillery shells. We have had to merge in with another unit. The good news however is that I have been promoted last week. I will come home with more honour than ever expected. I wish dad was here to. If only he didn't die of….diarrhoea. It even snowed last month but there was only resentment for the snow. The rat problem had got better but that is the only upside at the moment. Often I have watched movies or read books about war and I have often imagined me being in one and being the hero. Now I know that they are always exaggerated everything about war: The life, the death, the weather, the glory and the loss. I have had a miserable time in these trenches and I hope I will be sent home by early July.
My love for now
11th July 1916
Oh what can I tell you o'mother. So many hardships have befallen me since I had last written. You should be thankful I can still write. How can I say this? I start this "adventure" from the 1st July. We had been notified in June that we would take part in a massive frontal assault tipped to end this extended war once and for all. As you can see, this was a very favourable movement from my point of view. Our artillery had bombed their trenches for almost a week and we were ready for battle. When the day came, we were woken up just before the break of dawn and by half seven we went over the top. We were actually exposing our entire bodies to our enemies and we were all scared. We thought we were going to make it when they brought out their guns and the German's machine guns went blazing away. It was a dreadful sight and one that I do not wish to see again. The cavalry were torn apart by the German's hailstorm and then they turned to us, the infantry. We were falling down like dominoes. It was the most death I had seen in that one hour than I had ever seen in the last two years serving for the army put together. I know it would last with me forever. I myself got to bullets to my leg and one to my stomach. I felt dreadful pain and I wished for it to stop. I called out for you mother but you couldn't hear. It was almost a whole day of holding in the blood and trying to keep my innards from spilling. I was a mess when they finally got to me. The trip back was just as painful even though I knew the carriers were doing their best I cursed them for eternity. For a while I'm sorry to say I went mad. I had wet myself and started laughing and just talked to myself like I had never talked before. It must have gone on for hours before they knocked me out with some medicine. Even Now I can hear the guns outside as the battle is still commencing. Whatever the doctors did to me did the job. Apparently, I am now unfit for service and have been released from duty. It was a truly happy moment. Mother, Your Boy is coming home.