With the recent passing of my mom, my sisters and I went through her boxes, bags and kists and found some incredible memories, one of them being these letters from my dad’s dad to his mother during the first world war. My grandfather Andrew to my great grand mother who lived in Dumfriesshire. (We think her name as Henrietta – will need to do a family search) My grandfather was born on 1 January 1899 so was all of 19 years of age when these letters were written.
19 March 1918 from an address which looks like The Base – France
Still busy doing nothing under orders for the time now and ready to move off at a moments notice. Don’t worry I won’t be in the danger zone for a long time while yet. This is a very nice place – comfortable billets, good food, little to do and some magnificent weather. There is absolutely nothing to write about except that I am well + cheery. Will let you have an address to write to as soon as possible as I’m dying to hear from you. It’s a fed up job writing letters without being able to expect a reply. Keep your pecker up. I’m all right. Andrew.
With the current wars going on around the world with access to instant communication I can only imagine what my great grandmother was going through just over 100 years ago.
24 August 1918 – things must have been quite dire as all he was allowed to send was a Field Postcard with instructions ‘NOTHING is to be written on this side except the date and signature of the sender. Sentences not required may be erased. If anything else is added the postcard will be destroyed.
I am quite well.
I have received your letter.
Letter follows at first opportunity.
A Cowan 24/8/18
I have googled the date of the first world war as my recollection of exact dates is not that good 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918. So this letter is post war but still refers to fighting. * is when I have been unable to decipher his handwriting
Dear Mother 24/11/18 from Swanage
I’ve been rather busy this weekend and haven’t been able to write sooner. I was battery orderly office on Friday and had quite an exciting time. In the early morning I had to inspect a draft of horses leaving for France at 6am and see that they had all been fed, groomed and properly rugged up. I had then to ‘superintend’* the stable house from 6.30 to 8.30. In the morning I had to go round the camp inspecting the huts, canteens, workhouses and so on. Then I had to ride into town and draw the money to pay the men. I felt very self conscious riding into town with my groom riding a respectful two horse lengths behind me but I quite enjoyed the experience. I drew £114 mostly in silver and coppers and it was quite a responsible job to get it all conveyed back into camp. The mare which I ride is awfully nervous and she created quite a scene in the street when I was mounting her on the way home. The beast is very comfortable to ride but she has a very bad reputation as she used to be the majors horse and he had to give her up and take another one. The reason of course is that she has been badly ridden at one time or another. I have ridden her for the last three weeks and I think if I had her another three weeks she would be as tame as kitten.
On Monday last I had the honour to be chosen to command the battery on a field day on which the colonel was coming out to inspect and criticise the work of his young officers. Things passed off quite well for a good job and I think the old boy was favourably impressed. At any rate he didn’t pass any adverse criticisms on my work. Everybody gets at least one big job like that to do when staying here and I’m thankful to know that my stint passed off so successfully.
Doubtless father will be pleased that learn that I am keeping up the family reputation in the line of shooting as I am already a notorious shot with the revolver. Strange to say I shoot much better with my left hand than with my right. The first time I was out shooting was shortly after I came. The older fellows off course didn’t know me at all and accordingly they expected their particular crack to win the 1/- we had up on the shoot. When he produced his target with three bulls out of twelve shots they began handing over the praise to him until I showed my target with eight bulls on it. I have a very good revolver of the Government type with a long barrel which makes it very accurate. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have occasion to use it at the front, but it is a good thing to have in case the Huns should break through again as they did in Cambrai.
The major told us the other day how an officer who left here two months ago escaped being a prisoner in Germany by having his revolver with him. He was taken prisoner at Cambrai but succeeded in concealing his revolver while he was being led away through the village of Gouceaucourt he pulled out his revolver, shot the two Huns who were escorting him and hid among the ruins of the village until it was retaken when the Guards counterattacked. Of course we hope that the Huns will never break through again but things like that may possible happen when the expected big attack takes place.
Nothing has been said about the telephone course, but I haven’t given up hope yet. It may turn up just before I go overseas and so may delay my departure considerably. Even if I went overseas next week I shouldn’t go up the line for a while as all the batteries are overstrength just now. I should probably spend a short while at the base or even in an army school to get accustomed to the way of working things in trench warfare. I rather believe that when the bog attack comes off it will be the ‘Cillus’* who attack and not the Germans and for this reason all the training I have had here has been for open warfare and not for trench warfare. We are constantly reminded of that fact and whenever we do anything as it would be done in engaging enemy trenches, we promptly get jumped on on told that this is not the way it should be done on a moving war. It is rather significant too that we are trained horse and full artillery and that we practise running into action at a gallop, very quickly shelling a target for a short time and moving off again at full speed to shell shell the same target again from a different position. I think moving warfare would be much preferable to trench warfare and personally I believe that we will see it before this year is out.
In spite of what has happened in Russia I think we will bring this to a finish this year, at least so far as actual hostilities are concerned although no doubt negotiations will take a considerable time. However we must wait and see. Perhaps the Huns are nearer than we anticipate.