Graphic accounts of war in Christmas letters home from the trenches

Nostalgia - from The Standard's archives
Nostalgia - from The Standard's archives

A graphic account of experiences on the front line was sent in a letter from a Mr H. Cooper to the Boston PSA.

Mr Cooper was serving in Northern France, attached to a construction train.

“We had a German airman over us last week dropping bombs, but fortunately for us he didn’t reach our train,” he wrote.

“Two of our airmen gave chase, but he was brought down near St Omer by one of our 4.7in guns. A party of men off the train went to do some repairs to a bridge which had been blown up by the Germans and were billetted in a school.

“Two hours after they left, the place was shelled to the ground. It was supposed that a spy had been in the place overnight.

“I have seen some awful cases on the Red Cross trains, some of the poor fellows almost blown to pieces, but they bare up bravely. Hundreds of operations are being performed in cow sheds, they are then put into the train and sent out to different places.

“I spend Christmas fairly well under the circumstances. We paraded for a roll call, and received Princess Mary’s Christmas gift, also a supply of tobacco and cigarettes.

“The French people spent Christmas very quietly. There were no festivals of any kind and you could not tell it from any other day.

“I am just doing my bit for King and country, hoping for a safe return and to be amongst you all at some future time.”

The first Boston fisherman to fall victim to the mine-sweeping in the North Sea was Thomas Strickland, a trawler skipper from Boston, who was killed off the coast of Scarborough.

While sweeping was in progress the vessel he was on was struck by a mine, buckled up and sank. After the explosion the skipper saw Mr Strickland with his hands clasped to his head and his face covered with blood. He shouted to him ‘For God’s sake jump Tom!’. But he made no move, and it is believed he was already dead.

Two letters from the front line was sent from Sgt George Mowbray to his brother Mr W. Mowbray, of Main Ridge, Boston.

“Well, I suppose by the time you get this Christmas will be over,” he wrote. “But in case not, I hope you have a peaceful one, and I hope we remain where we are now as I am as comfortable as can be expected.

“The farm I am in is not large but sufficient for my troop. The weather is very bad - rain and sleet. We can’t keep things dry.”

In the second letter, dated December 27, he wrote: “We had a pretty good Christmas considering. On Christmas Eve we were orderly regiment which meant we couldn’t move from our station, and had to be ready. By jove, didn’t our guns give them a peppering on Christmas Eve! I see they got one in at Scarborough but you can back your bottom dollar we shall get them back for it.

“Don’t be surprised if I drop a surprise visit one of these fine days.

“There is nothing much to say.

“I am getting fat. You would be surprised to see me.”

“Our time has come. Be brave and die like a man. Goodbye.”

These words were uttered by an officer of the Royal Flying Corps to John Baker, of Boston, who was in an aeroplane with him when the engine stopped 2,000ft over Boulogne.

Both were seriously injured and were reported to be in hospital. Mr Baker was writing home to his parents at Threadneedle Street, Boston.

A Boston man received a letter from his son about how troops sung to the Germans from the trenches on Christmas Day.

Cpl George Brocklesby, of D Company, 2nd Lincs Regt, wrote: “Just a line to let you know that up to the time of writing I am A1. We have backed a winner out of the trenches for Christmas.

“The weather has been rotten this time - raining every day. One trench I was in we were up to the waist in water, and stood in it for about 24 hours.

“You would not have known who it was the state we were in, covered from head to foot with mud, but we sung a song or two to the Germans at about 5 o’clock that morning. It is very quiet here, but the other night there was the very devil to pay.

Shells from our own guns were going over us like ripe cherries. It was Hell on Earth for about two hours. There could not have been many Germans left.

“I hope you have had a good Christmas and I hope you have a good New Year.

“The people have been extraordinarily good to us, the stuff coming from England for us in galore.”

A rather jovial letter was sent by Cpl G. Brocklesby, of the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment to his father in Boston.

“A happy New Year - and let’s hope it is a lucky one for all of us.

“Well Dad, I am about the same - wet through and smiling.

“I got the parcel from the Boston papers, so will you thank them for me.

“You don’t feel like writing much out here - you never know when a German shell or bullet is going to upset the inkpot, and make an awful splash.

“I am writing this letter in the trenches while the bullets keep hitting the bank.

“But you are fairly safe here .”