Letters written during World War 1

Letters from Allan Francis Harding, later to become Field Marshal Lord Harding of Petherton, to his first cousin to Geoffrey G Pether ( British Civil Prisoner, Englanderlager, Ruhleben, Germany) and his Aunt Sarah Sophia (Sally) Pether (nee Harding)

Censored writing if legible is written in italics & is in brackets.

These letters were originally in the ownership of Mr J Pether, son of Geoffrey Pether.  Permission to publish was granted by both Mr J Pether (son of Geoffrey Pether) and the late Lord Harding of Petherton (son of Allan Francis Harding).  The letters are now held at the Somerset Military Museum at Taunton with the proviso that the letters can continue to be published on this website. 

1915

Post card – the remainder are letters

17.4.15

Dear Geoff,

You will probably be surprised to hear that I am in hospital with measles. There are several cases at the White City and of course I must needs catch them. I have been here a week now and am allowed up and out. I feel perfectly well and that is the most annoying part of it. I hope you are keeping well and are quite comfortable. I haven’t been over to Harlesden for some time now but I had a letter from Auntie a day or so ago saying that Baby was unwell with a cold. I hope she will soon be better. Things here are going on much as usual. There was a Zep over Kent last night and another over Essex (but very loud). I hope you got my last post card which I wrote from South Petherton at Easter. As you see I am still in England and see very little chance of getting out for some time now. I expect to move out of London very soon, probably next week. I’m afraid I can’t send you any books while I’m in here but when I get out I will try and remember to do so. I expect to be out in about a week. Well old boy, keep smiling it is only a question of time.

Your affect cousin

Allan

 

Letter – written on the back of the letter is “Batho, St Pauls O.T.C. Killed”

Alexandra

22.9.15

Dear Geoff

You have no doubt heard from Auntie that I have been punctured. I got it in the left leg on the 16th August but am now quite fit again and ready for anything. The wound was very slight indeed, the bullet went straight through and missed the artery and just touched the bone doing it no damage at all. After the first fortnight I was practically all right and had a very good time getting fit again. Now I am expecting to receive orders to rejoin my unit any day.

I can just imagine what you feelings on the subject of internment are. Rather lurid and not quite fit to express in a letter I expect. Still you must cheer up old boy. What a time we shall have when the war is over and we meet in England once more. What a number of wonderful things are going to happen when the war is over, and that still seems fairly distant.

Alexandria is rather an awful place in some respects but it has its decent parts and it is certainly an interesting town. The population is very varied and one meets Arabs, Egyptians, Negroes, Greeks, Armenians, Italians, Jews of every age and class. To say nothing of French and English people. Of course there is a large number of troops here as well.

I had a letter from Auntie yesterday and a post card from Viola. Auntie said you were feeling very restless and would like to be able to join me over here. As I am not allowed to discuss the progress of the war, I’m afraid there is little else that I can tell you.

It has been very hot here but it is fortunately getting a little cooler now. I found the heat very trying at first but soon got more or less acclimatised.

Well I must say goodbye now. Cheer up and don’t get down in the mouth because you can’t take part in the scrap.

Your affect. Cousin

Allan

 

Letter

162ND Bde HQ

54th Div

M.E.F.

14.10.15

My dear Geoff

I have just received your letter dated 19.9.15. It has been rather a long time on the road but better late than never. I was awfully glad to hear from you although Auntie writes to me regularly and keeps me supplied with news of your welfare and doings, it is not like receiving a letter from you direct. My luck has been in just lately. I have been promoted to be a temporary full lieutenant and got a job as brigade machine gun officer. That happened about a month ago and now my name has gone in for a captaincy, but whether I shall get it or not is another matter. I will let you know if I do.

I was very glad to hear from Auntie that Ken had made an attempt to join something, and had been rejected on medical grounds. I hope he will eventually get into something, or at least do some useful war work. If he doesn’t, he must prepare to be for ever d-d. Out here we are all very bucked that at last the unwilling ox is to be made to work. I suppose you have heard of Nick Drew’s marriage? I was very surprised. Thank heavens I am still heart whole and fancy free. As yet the beauties of the near East have not ensnared me.

Yes, I have often thought of our investigation of a pile of inoffensive shavings in the yard, especially when I have been in the trenches at night trying to discover what some apparently moving object is. On a real dark night the most sturdy bush or tree will move if you only look at it long enough. Many an innocent bush has been the recipient of angry bullets through this peculiarity.

You ask if I would pick up a few curios for you. Certainly I could pick them up in large numbers, but the great difficulty is carrying them about when one moves houses once a week or fortnight. One or two things of personal interest I have managed to carry about with me so far, and I will see if I can bring back one or two odd things for you.

I hope no one expired when you sang “I dreamt that I dwell in marble halls”. I can quite imagine how easily one gets bored and depressed when confined in any way. Don’t get depressed old boy or you’ll be sure to get ill. A large amount of sickness out here has, in my opinion, been caused by depression and lack of exercise. Than heaven I have managed to keep very fit.

Until a few days ago we were having quite good weather but recently we have had rather more rain than is pleasant. I suppose you have a very thin time in the cold and wet weather. I am glad Auntie Uncle and Baby are keeping fit and cheerful. I’m sorry to say that any letters from home don’t report any improvement in mother. In fact I fear she is rather worse than better.

I certainly shan’t be able to sit in an office and write stupid useless things in books after the war. I think you and I had better go into partnership, and try our luck abroad in one of the colonies or some new country. We might make our fortunes in a short while and have no end of a time. Who knows?

Well old chap, I don’t think I have much more to say. I drink to our early meeting.

Yours affec cousin

Allan

 

LETTER TO SALLY PETHER (mother of Geoffrey) which was sent to Geoffrey with a note saying “Thought you would like to see this letter, as you cannot have an argument just now dear.”

1/11th Bn London Regt, M.E.F.

5.11.15

Dear Auntie,

I have just received your letter dated 1st October which was forwarded from Alexandria. Many thanks for sending off the underclothing so quickly. I expect it will arrive in a week or so, but parcels are very uncertain, they take anything from four to six weeks to reach their destination. I hope by this time you will have received my letter in which I enclosed a letter from Geoff. I hope he is keeping fit and that he won’t find the winter weather too trying. I have been rather seedy lately and have not been able to do any work but I am feeling much better now and hope to be back on duty again in a day or so. I caught a cold and got a temperature with a touch of some slight form of fever which is rather prevalent here just now, there was nothing at all serious the matter.

I was made Brigade Machine Gun Officer soon after my return. This is rather a good job and I hope to be able to retain it. There is a considerable amount of responsibility and a fair amount of work attached to it, but I don’t mind that, for as you know, I have always been keen on machine guns. I hope I shan’t find that someone else has been given the job while I have been sick.

How is Baby now. I hope she is still doing well at school. I suppose I shall find she has grown tremendously when I return to England. As far as I can see at present there is no chance of our getting away from here this winter. The weather is glorious now, just like English summer, warmer if anything. We have occasional storms of wind and rain which rather spoil things. Yesterday was very windy and we had some rain in the afternoon, but one couldn’t wish for a better day than to-day.

I’m afraid there is very little to say. Things are very quiet here now, just a little artillery shooting now and then and the usual sniping, but practically nothing else. Of course we are very thankful there are no big shows on, but trench life becomes rather monotonous if you don’t have a scrap every now and then to keep things going.

I hope Uncle is keeping fit and that business is as good as can be expected. How are the Butlers? Please give them my very kind regards. Has Kenneth Brown joined anything yet? If he hasn’t I should very much like to hear you make a recruiting speech to him. I’m sure you could give a most effective one.

A great friend of mine who used to be in our battalion and is now in the 10th London was wounded very badly out here the other night. They are very much afraid he won’t live. It makes one feel awfully sick to hear of all one’s pals getting scuppered. Still I suppose its all part of the “game”. Still there’s no reason why I should burden you with all my woes, there are other more cheerful and amusing sides of warfare which people, blessed with a sense of humour, can fortunately see.

Well I’m afraid I can think of nothing else to say just now. I will write again in a week or so. We have just been told that all letters that we want to get home by Xmas must be posted by Dec 1st so they evidently expect a pretty big rush on the postal arrangements at Xmas. Please give my love to Uncle and Baby.

Yours affect.

Allan

p.s. I have just been promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant.

(Poorly drawn picture of an aeroplane with a face on it.

 

 

8.12.1915 – no address given

My dear Auntie

Many thanks for your letters of the 12th and 19th November which arrived together yesterday. Your cake arrived a few days ago and was very much appreciated by everyone. It is awfully good of you to take the trouble you do about me, you seem more like a second mother than an aunt. I am looking forward to receiving the parcel that one of our next draft is bringing out for me. I’m glad to hear that you get news of Geoff fairly regularly now, I will certainly write to him direct as soon as possible.

I am now at a rest camp at out of the sound of the guns and beyond the reach of the longest range cannon so there is no need to worry about my safety. We had rather a bad time just before we left the . All our heavy baggage such as blankets, kit, etc had to go two days before we left. During those two days we had a tremendous thunderstorm, a snow blizzard and more or less incessant rain. To keep dry was quite impossible and to get warm almost as bad. To sleep for more than half an hour was unheard of during those two days. I stamped about in my dug out, which fortunately had just been roofed with corrugated iron and got my feet warm, but not dry, then lay down in my great coat and got to sleep only to wake up half an hour or so later with stone cold feet and repeat the process. Still all bad things must end and we got our orders to move. By that time of course all the gullies were knee deep in mud and the hills as slippery as ice. Our march to the beach that night was made worse by a bitterly cold wind. It was really so amusing to see everyone slipping and sliding about the place. Men were continually falling down and were unable to get up without help owing to the weight of the packs and equipment. Still the men kept splendidly cheerful and laughed and joked about these things. We got through the tedious work of embarkation without mishap and arrived here in the morning, when we disembarked and marched to our camp, where we have now quite comfortably settled down. Fortunately since we have been here the weather has been warm and fine. The men are recovering their usual health and strength and we are getting fresh drafts from which we hope will soon make us up to full strength again. Where we shall go when we have rested and reorganised I don’t know. I should think we are here for at least a we shall certainly be able to celebrate Christmas here in a much more fitting manner than in the trenches.

It is a great relief to be able to walk about in the open without being potted at. It seemed very strange at first and one’s natural instincts were to take cover at all costs. We soon settled down to camp life and our only regret is the number of small wooden crosses marked “ London” which are dotted about on various parts of the . I am quite comfortable here and share a tent with another of our officers. A tent is wonderfully spacious after a dug out.

I’m very glad to hear that Ken has decided to do something at last. As you say better late than never. We have had all sorts of rumours about compulsory service in England but we have had no official confirmation as yet.

Thank you very much for the torch and the pudding which you have sent. I hope Uncle is keeping fit and well and is not having too strenuous a time at business.

The villages here would amuse you very much. You would be particularly interested in some of the churches and shrines which seem to be stuck about promiscuously all over the island. As a rule they are full of rather gaudy paintings of every saint, apostle and prophet imaginable. The women wash clothes splendidly but they charge awful prices and that is the case with everything. Can you imagine me trying to knock a …? Store keeper down (not literally) for a bottle of boot polish which anywhere else one could obtain for 3d and for which he wanted 10d. In the end I gave up the task and paid the price he asked. In England people talk of Jews, they must be princes compared with in this respect. The only native means of locomotion are donkeys. They carry tremendous loads and I often wonder their backs don’t break. Can you picture a poor little donkey with two huge bales of washing hung pannier-wise with a fat washer woman on top of the lot, toiling over very rough country with perhaps a small boy in attendance with a large stick to help the donkey up hills.

Now I’m afraid I must close. Please give my love to Uncle and Viola and my kind regard to the Butlers and Browns. Please excuse the writing as it has been done by candlelight.

Your affect nephew

Allan

1916

Envelope dated 18 Feb 1916

No address or date on letter

My dear Geoff

I was most awfully glad to get your letter. Auntie didn’t send me on the Xmas menu card, but I shall probably see it when I get back to London. It will certainly be quite an interesting souvenir. I am glad to hear that you don’t indulge in weeping and bemoaning your bad luck. I fear your mathematics are quite beyond me. I have forgotten all I ever knew of the subject, my head is full of rules and reasons about things that make unpleasant noises, and are apt to hurt, if not treated with due respect, and pointed in the right direction. I am afraid I cannot test your theory as to the dispersing power of the Boy Scouts war cry. If I tried it on a field day I should probably find myself under arrest, and if I tried it on service I should either be shot by my foes or sent to hospital as a dangerous lunatic by my friends.

Yes I was with some of the fellows who cleared out the other day. Many of us were rather sick at going, but what are we if not obedient to the great ones, who decide these things. Poor old Ken has been rejected by the sawbones I hear. I’m glad he made an effort towards the end. “Better late than never” Yes I heard you answer “But better never late”.

Well my lad I am now a shipper/skipper(?) and must be treated with due respect by an ordinary civil member of the community. I am at present basking under sunny skies, but of course have no notion how long such bliss will last. Be sure that you have my sincerest sympathy in your confinement. How I wish we could have gone through this show together. Still I have dreams of adventures in some new land when this wicked war is over. I shall probably have the deeds of partnership drawn up ready for your signature when you return to England. Can you imagine me sitting on an office stool deciding whether a postman shall be paid 6½d or 6¼d an hour for carrying mail bags after ten o’clock at night. It is quite as awful a vision as your designing semi-detached suburban villas at 1/6 each.. N.B. 1/6 is not supposed to be the price of the house, but your wage for designing such monstrosities.

A truce to this folly, these are times when one’s duty is to serious. The best way to be serious is I find to treat things lightheardedly and avoid pulling a long face over seeming disasters. You will say this letter is full of platitudes or feeble attempts at platitudes. Think not on that account that I am getting old and staid, and have lost my sense of humour and youthful powers of enjoyment. No, if you want to enjoy life and cultivate a somewhat undersized sense of humour, join the army my boy.

I hear from your mater nearly every week and she gives me all the latest news of you. I’m glad Auntie, Uncle and Viola are keeping fit. I fear there isn’t much improvement in mother’s health. She has to go about in a wheeled chair now. One can only hope that she will be cured some day very soon, although it seems to have almost past hope now. Everyone else seems very well. I don’t know what Cyril is doing, something useful I hope.

Well goodbye old boy. I drink to our very speedy meeting. Keep cheerful and remember that depression and idleness means sickness for you. Above all things keep fit.

Your affect cousin

Allan

P.S. You will notice that in one passage of this epistle I address you as “my lad” and in another “my boy”. This I claim the right to as I have now reached the mature age of twenty and have attained the rank of captain in MCamp(?)

 

16.5.16

My dear Geoff

Many thanks for your postcard dated 5/4/16 which reached me about a week ago. I am glad you received my letter, I was rather afraid it wouldn’t get through all the various censor hands successfully. I have got my captaincy now and I have also got command of a machine gun company. I had to form the company and get it going, needless to say there was and still is a tremendous amount of work to be done, especially clerical work. Still I think I managed to scrape through the formation all right and have got things going pretty smoothly now. How splendid it would be if you could be with us. Would you be content to serve in my company? I’m afraid your opinion of me as a soldier is rather low. Anyway it would have been great if we could have got in the same show.

It is most frightfully hot here at present. Yesterday we had a temperature of 110 in a bell tent at 2p.m. My usual garb, except when riding, is a shirt, a pair of shorts, boots, socks and puttees. When riding of course I have to change shorts for breeches. Even in those clothes one can sit in a tent and sweat any time between 11 am and 4 pm. The one great salvation of this place is the bathing. We are not allowed to bathe between 11am and 4pm for fear of sunstroke but after 4pm we have great times. The water is by far the most buoyant I have ever bathed in and it is possible to stay in for an hour or more at a time. It is the only cool place in fact. Of course the evenings and early mornings are very fine here. We are working at 5am or soon after every morning and we do nothing from 11am to 4 pm.

I was glad to hear that Chubby Culling is keeping fit in France. There are all sorts of rumours of where we are going. I hope they will send us to France before the show is over, and I hope you won’t have to wait until Doomsday for that.

I hear from Auntie Sally regularly and she keeps me posted with what news she gets of you, but it is better of course to hear from you direct. Dad spent Easter at Weston with Margaret and Cicely, I am sorry to say that Mother doesn’t get much better but we are all hoping for an improvement in the summer. I hope you are keeping fit. I am as fit as possible and almost as brown as a nigger.

I don’t know how to regard your proposal to teach me the Italian foil. Are you busying yourself learning how to use it? Do you have any work to do apart from looking after your own portion of the camp? If all your time is your own I should imagine you would find it difficult to fill. We had some excellent sports on Easter Monday and we have now taken up hockey with walking sticks and a tennis ball. We play every evening after bathing and have had some great games.

Now I fear I must say goodbye. Please write again as soon as possible. Cheer up old boy.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

N.B.. I have now got an excellent Arab pony with a flowing tail as per usual pictures to which I sing “my beautiful, my beautiful”, as in the old days I sang it to you.

23/6/16

My dear Geoff

Many thanks for your last postcard. I was glad to hear that you are keeping as fit and cheerful as possible. Glad to hear that you are carrying on with your studies, I shall be quite afraid of you when we meet again. I fear I have forgotten everything I ever knew and what is more I have lost the inclination to learn many of the useless things I swotted at before the war.

No there is very little doing here, of course I cannot tell you anything really interesting because of the place of your abode. I am saving up my interesting facts for the great re-union. By jove what a time we’ll have then. I am sure we join with you in hoping that this year will see the end of the war but it will have to be a satisfactory end for us to be pleased. We don’t want to have another similar show in a few years time.

Auntie tells me that you would like a photograph of me in uniform. I am sorry I haven’t one at present, but if I get one I will send her a copy to transmit to you.

I was sorry to hear that Viola was seedy a few weeks ago but I believe she is fit again now. I am glad to hear, as far as you can tell from letters, that Uncle and Auntie are keeping well. I’m afraid Mother is showing no signs of improvement. I’m as fit as a fiddle, and as brown as a berry. Plenty of bathing, riding and outdoor work of every description keep one very fit. We have fairly sweated here lately. The temperature in the middle of the day in a tent is anything between 110and 120, and we get hot winds every afternoon which are rather trying. Fortunately we can get ice and plenty of

liquid refreshment, and we do get rid of some liquid I can tell you. Our motto is “If you don’t drink you can’t sweat, if you can’t sweat you’ll die. Therefore drink – not to excess but sufficiently”. I have got a very cheery mess and am getting along well with my new job which I daresay Auntie has told you of.

Well keep your pecker up old boy. Lets hope we shall soon meet once more in England. Cheer up.

Your thirsty cousin

Allan

P.S. Please don’t put Temp. on front of my rank when writing in future.

 

15.9.16

My dear Geoff,

Many thanks for your postcard of 22/7/16 which I was very pleased to get. Glad to hear that my letter reached you safely, but am afraid several have gone astray. I was awfully bucked to hear that they had been taking an interest in you. I suppose the American Embassy is responsible for that. Is there any chance of an exchange? I sincerely hope so, you must be horribly fed up after nearly two years. Still cheer up old son, lets hope it will soon be over.

This letter must necessarily be short as the things I should like to write of and which you would care to hear are of course barred. I am still in the land of sand and little rain – sorry to hear that you have been having such beastly weather. I hope August was a decent month. Auntie sent me on the programme of the Camp’s “Assault at Arms” in which I was very interested. How did you get on in your contest? I hope you proved victorious. You will have to instruct me in the noble art of fencing when this beastly war is over. Things have been rather devoid of excitement here lately but we are looking forward to getting a shift soon. I have plenty to occupy myself with.

I suppose you know that Auntie, Uncle and Viola have been staying at Weston. Dorothy is busy doing farm work. By the way what are we going to do after the war? I can’t picture myself going back to the office. Have you any plans – if so may I share them? My own idea is farming either at home or abroad, preferably abroad – somewhere where its not too cold and they don’t get a superabundance of rain.

Well now I must shut up. I am very fit and hope you are the same. Cheer up old sport. May we meet again very soon.

Yours

Allan

1917

27/1/1917

My dear Geoff

I was very bucked indeed to receive your letter yesterday, and if I could I would draw down blessings on the head of a censor who brings me so much pleasure. Glad to hear that you are of the same opinion as to the advantages of an outdoor or indoor life, and are game to turn your hand at something with me. A number of fellows that I know out here are keen on my applying for a commission in the regular army. I don’t think I shall experience much difficulty in getting in as a 2nd Lieutenant but I want to get in a bit higher up than that if I can manage it. You ask if I manage to make both ends meet now. Yes it is quite easy to do so and I have done so ever since mobilisation. Under these conditions one doesn’t need the money one does in peace time. Yes I suppose I am lucky to get a captaincy at my age. Glad to hear that you have plenty of reading material and get plenty of exercise. For goodness sake don’t do too much work with such results as you mention have happened in other cases.

I have been in hospital with a sprained ankle and have only been back with my unit for about a week. I sprained the beastly thing on Christmas Eve but refused to go into hospital until after Christmas. Its not quite right yet but it gets stronger every day and I can do my job all right. I got very fed up with the hospital although they treated me very well. We had a very cheery Christmas in spite of everything. What sort of a time did you have?

Yes I often think of the things you mention. We shall have to slosh some red paint round the town when we get together again. Do you remember the night you discovered a “baby” in the wood yard and we turned every one out of bed to look for it, and the Sunday afternoons when we used to get Ken in such a mess, our schoolboy amours etc. Good days those were. We have some priceless rags now and you would laugh to death if you could have seen a rugger scrum in one of the Battalions mess last night. Majors, captains and subalterns all scrapping in the sand, upsetting the furniture, etc. We make periodical raids on other messes. The great thing just now is to raid a mess and put every member out through his own windows if they have any, if not through the door. We’ve got a very cheery crowd and have great times.

I too shall have to be very careful about my language when I get home again. Its red blood-red out here at times. You ask how many lads we have – roughly about 150 with 9 like myself. Yes, I still have a horse. I will get a snap of myself a cheval taken and send you a copy.

How are you really. Do you realise that we haven’t seen each other for nearly three years. Have you grown vertically or horizontally? Have you got a moustache, beard or side whiskers? Are you going grey or bald? Do you still take an age to dress in the morning and talk “a dog’s hind leg off “at night after retiring? How is your music going? Has your taste in literature undergone a change? What are your views on social economy at present? If you get a chance to write another letter tell me all about these things.

While I was in hospital I read a number of H G Wells books. “Bealby“, “Tono Bungay“, “The Passionate Friends”, “The Food of the Gods“, “The Research Magnificent” and “Ann Veronica“. I also read “The Dop Doctor” for the first time, “Hints to Critics” by Shaw and “The Relentless City” by Benson and “Simon the Jester” by Locke. They are all worth reading if you can get hold of any of them. If you don’t agree with Wells don’t get angry with him when he moralises or puts forward political theories. Remember he’s a crank but think over his theories. Now I’m getting in deep water so must stop.

Cheer up old son. I ain’t got much money but I am seeing life at present and we’ll tell each other all about it when the “good days” come again. Never say die and by the living tinker we’ll get ‘em cold yet. Some day we’ll jog around this old world together and see and do things that men see and do. That’s the great thing in life. Au revoir old sport.

Your ever affect cousin

Allan

19/5/17

My dear Geoff

I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of 5th Feb. which reached me a short time ago. You will probably have heard from your mater that I was slightly wounded again on 19th April. I am quite fit again now and have been back at my job for a fortnight. My arm hasn’t recovered its full strength yet but that is only a question of time. Sorry to hear that you have been having such beastly cold weather but hope it has improved now. Yes it is quite warm out here, in fact it is beginning to get unpleasantly hot in the middle of the day. How on earth I shall ever stick a cold climate again I don’t know. I’m afraid I can’t give you much news but I will try and answer some of your questions first.

Yes I have seen Bairnsfather’s cartoons, they are absolutely splendid, especially if you have seen some of the things and characters he draws. I came across an absolute facsimile of “Old Bill” in our trenches a day or so ago,. One can appreciate the humour of “If you know of a better ‘ole” after a little practical experience, I think that his very best effort.

Many thanks for your congratulations on my coming of age. I celebrated it on trek, we must have a proper celebration when this b—-y war is over.

I have read a good deal in the paper about an exchange of prisoners, but I fear nothing is likely to come of it. I can in some part imagine how irksome and trying you find the restricted movement.

No I am not getting any civil pay but I find my army pay sufficient, at any rate for my present needs. I have still a horse thank goodness, I had enough of foot slogging in my early days in the army. Our rations are good and plentiful and although parcels of grub are always acceptable they are by no means essential. I don’t know whether you would consider us far removed from civilisation or not. If distance were the standard we are but we are within a week’s postal distance of shops and one can get back to civilisation in two days – if one gets the chance.

I had quite a pleasant rest in hospital. My wound gave me very little trouble and healed extraordinarily quickly. The bullet went in above the elbow joint and came out in my forearm, without damaging any bones which was very lucky. The muscle and nerves were a bit torn but they soon recovered.

Glad to hear that you have something in chemistry literature etc to interest you and that so far your nerves haven’t suffered. I only hope your estimate is true and that we shall meet as soon as you expect.

I have met a good many Old Paulines at various times. There were two in my battalion but they have all been men who left before you went there – some contemporaries of Bewshire who was an ADC in the Division we mobilised with but I think I have told you this before.

We have been pretty quiet here for the last week or so but I have had plenty to do and not much time to spare. Have you ever seriously considered what you are going to do after the war? I have applied for a regular commission and think I shall get it with a certain amount of seniority so that I can stay on in the army if I like it and can see my way clear to do so.

There is a Khamsin blowing at present which makes things rather unpleasant. A Khamsin is a hot dust and sand laden wind which blows up from the south about this time of the year. It is almost stifling at times, thank goodness they seldom last more than two or three days and the period during which they blow is short.

Well old chap I’m afraid there isn’t much else to say. Keep cheerful and lets hope we soon meet again.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

 

9/9/17

My dear Geoff

I was very pleased to get your letter of 7th July which arrived yesterday. I feel an awful rotter for not having written to you for such a long time. First of all I want to talk about what we are going to do after the war. My reasons for putting in for a regular commission were that I have no intention of returning to my old office job and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t out of a job of some sort. I don’t for a moment think that I shall be able to afford to live in the army, but if I can stick it for a year or so after the war it will give me a chance to have a look round. I would far rather take up some farming stunt with you than stay in the army and we must certainly stick together whatever happens. Its really not a great deal of good my making any definite plans for the future as I may get my light put out any day. Still one mustn’t be pessimistic and the picture of you and me on some farm or jogging round seeing the world forms a very delightful castle in the air.

I was very pleased to read in the papers some days ago that there is a possibility of your being exchanged or of some better arrangement for you. I only hope it comes off and that you will be able to get home.

By Jove there are stacks of things you will have to teach me, fencing, jiu-jitsu and some of the hundred and one languages you have learnt. You speak of my acting as your guide and pilot when you go avisiting, I fear it will be a case of the blind leading the blind. My table manners are atrocious and my language lurid in the extreme, anyway we shall be companions in crime.

The weather isn’t too bad where we are now. Its pretty hot of course but we have broken the back of the hot weather and have the cool times to look forward to. You seem to be having beastly hot weather, I’d no idea it got so hot in your part of the world. Unfortunately we are too far from the sea to get any bathing now. Things are pretty quiet but there is always plenty to do and I have had a very busy time lately.

I agree with you that Kenneth’s reasons for not joining up sooner are rather thin but I suppose alls well that ends well.

I sent Auntie a photograph which I had taken in Cairo for you but I believe she decided not to confide it to the “tender” mercies of the international post. I should very much like one of you – a recent one – if you have such a thing to spare.

Uncle, Auntie and Viola all seem very pleased with the new house and the surroundings. We shall have to make a thorough exploration and report when we get home. I’m afraid we shan’t go to bed at all for the first few nights. There will be such stacks of things to talk about. Mother, Dad and Margaret and Cicely are at present on a three weeks holiday at Weston. Dorothy is busy picking apples etc. I’m glad Dad went away as he was very badly in need of a rest and a change.

My wound was in my right arm. It has healed completely long ago and has been just as strong as before for two or three months now. I unfortunately had my servant killed about a month ago. I had had him some time and he was a very good fellow indeed and I was awfully sorry to lose him.

Well old man I’ve about stumped myself for news. Cheer up and lets hope the war may soon be over and we can both return to Blighty.

Your affec cousin

Allan

p.s. I am frightfully sorry I forgot to thank you for the magazine in my last letter. I received it and was very interested in it. Thanks very much.

 

 

 

7.12.17 – censored – very, very badly. Letter consists of three strips of paper + one slightly larger piece.

My dear Geoff

Well how are things going old boy. Are you keeping fit? It really is too much to keep you penned up all these years while there is so much going on. What sort of news do you get? I suppose you hear about most things that happen from various sources.

I daresay Auntie has told you that I left the old company a short time ago and am now with Divisional HQ. At first I liked the change but now I am getting rather fed up and should be glad to go back to the company again.

How is the fencing going? I suppose you lay claims to be an accomplished fencer now. Can you do all the tricks and use all the weapons of the fellow in “Micah Clarke”. Do you remember the chap I mean. How are the languages progressing, you will be a very distinguished linguist as the papers say when the war is over.

Really it is a nuisance that censor’s rules and regulations prevent our writing about the really interesting things that have been happening recently. What a lot we shall have to tell each other when we’ve finished off this rotten old war and get home again. I have heard pretty regularly from your mater and she and Uncle and Viola all seem very fit.

Well old boy I’m afraid interesting news not of military importance is scanty so I will end with wishes for as happy a Christmas and bright a New Year as are possible in the circumstances. Cheerioh and may we soon meet  in Blighty.

Yours

Allan

1918

10/1/18

In 4 pieces – 1st & 4th pages are obvious – not sure of the order of 2nd and 3rd page.

My dear Geoff

I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of the 25th Nov, which arrived a few days ago. I was very sorry to hear that your eyes are giving trouble and that you have had to take to glasses. I hope you have nothing serious the matter with them. It seems an awful shame and such awful rot too that they can’t arrange some sort of exchange of civil prisoners. However, old boy I hope the end is not very far off now and that we shall soon meet again in dear old Blighty.

You ask me to propose plans for the future. I don’t think I can until one has some idea of what conditions will be after the war. I agree with you and am all for the waste spaces of the earth. Towns and cities are unbearable for any length of time.

************

My word for it that it will be well worth doing. I know most of the country we should traverse and can’t imagine January and February or March spent in a better way.

Books are scarce here. They are heavy for a limited kit so I haven’t done much reading lately. Your books on the occult sound interesting. What an extraordinary well read fellow you will have become. I fear I am losing ground rather than making any headway in that type of education

*************

*************

I have just applied for home leave and if I get it hope to get home about the middle of next month. They are however not very liberal with leave at present and I’m afraid the odds are very much against me. Still a very good motto for young officers is always apply for leave in the end you will acquire a right to it. Of course if I go on leave I lose my acting rank of major but I don’t mind that much.

I’m afraid there isn’t much interesting news that I can give you. Most of the interesting details of my life here must be kept until we meet, then we will have a real old buck together.

I don’t think you need to worry very much about the future – your command of languages will always get you a good billet and as for being a drag on Auntie and Uncle I’m sure it would annoy them immensely if they knew that you worried about it, so you mustn’t do so.

.Now I have written enough so goodbye for the present.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

 

9/2/18 – a bit of a mauling by the censor

My dear Geoff

I was very bucked to get your letter of the 17th November. I have just returned from a few days leave . I tried to get English leave but the powers that be decided that my reasons were not sufficiently urgent to warrant the trouble and expense of sending me home. The change was very pleasant and I was able to restock my somewhat depleted wardrobe. I met heaps of fellows I knew also on pleasure bent and really had a very enjoyable time. is fortunately devoid of many of the restrictions that I believe exist in other places.

I’m afraid your Christmas was not a very cheerful one. We had quite a good time the country we are in now is more productive than anything we have been used to and it is a great help to be able to get a certain amount of stuff locally. Also there are houses and towns here where one can live in the bad weather – a decided improvement on .

How are you keeping now fit I hope and not too depressed. How are the eyes? You must be careful with yourself. It is just ages since we met and I am longing for the times when the war will be over and we can have some of our old talks.

I don’t think we need worry very much about what will happen after the war. As far as I can see there will be the whole world to remake and rebuild on better lines and there will be plenty of work worth while for young and energetic fellows as I hope we shall be.

War is an appalling waste of time in many ways, there are times when one has just nothing to do and there are other times when one is frantically busy. But all work in war is either directly or indirectly destructive. I want to do some constructive work don’t you?

Do you know Geoff you are the only person that I can write to on these matters with a sure feeling that I shall be understood and the pity of it is that we can’t carry on a continuous conversation on any subject because our letters take such ages on their journeys. I am glad you are unmarried and have no ties other than parental. I should be jealous of your wife or fiancé if you had one. Good gracious what rot I am writing.

The only fellow I know out here named Church has a brother in the army in France but as far as I know he hasn’t been taken prisoner so I don’t think it can be the same man as you refer to. Do they have any prisoners of war in the same camp as you or are they kept entirely separate.

The weather here has been pretty bad since I returned. I don’t think I have ever seen such heavy rain or such vivid lightning. The wadis – dried up water

courses – flood very quickly and roads become deep in mud so that unless one has to get about a lot one stays at home and confines ones energies to officer work.

Auntie, Uncle and Viola all seem very fit. Viola will have grown out of recognition by the time we get back. I’m afraid Mother’s rheumatism doesn’t improve, the wet weather too is particularly trying for her. She is wonderfully brave and never complains, her letters to me are always very cheerful. Of course you know that Dorothy’s engaged to Henry Hebditch. Cyril has left Petters in Yeovil and gone to some firm in Glasgow I believe. Poor old Leslie was killed in France – the last thing on earth he was meant to be was a soldier.

What are your theories about my trade? Can they be put into writing if so I should be awfully interested to hear them. Experiences goes a long way but new ideas are always wanted.

I’m sure I shall be interested in your stock of books. Service conditions are not very conducive to serious reading so my attention has been chiefly confined to novels of a lighter nature. I have consumed most of H G Wells novels also a lot of Mark Twains lately.

Now I am stumped for anything to write about. Cheer oh for the present old boy will write again soon.

Your affec cousin

Allan

 

28/3/1818

My dear Geoff

I am afraid it’s some time since I last wrote to you for which many apologies. I have been pretty busy lately and look like being busier still in the near future. How are things going with you these days? I hope you are able to pass the time away with as little boredom as possible.

At last there seems a possibility of the end of the war being in sight. I am beginning to think that the thing will be decided in the course of the next three months. Of course hostilities may not cease for some time after that but I think the end of the year ought to see peace declared. I suppose it will be some time after the end of the war before they take us home from this part of the world but a short time here under peace conditions will really be quite pleasant.

What is the weather like with you now? I trust that the cold and wet have finished and that the weather if nothing else is pleasant for you. It is beginning to get quite warm here now. The weather has been very variable and almost like that at home up to the present but now I think we have got to the end of the rain and cold and it will soon be getting quite hot.

You will be surprised to hear that they have given me a Military Cross. Goodness only knows why as I have never done anything at all brave to my knowledge. I suppose the powers that be must have been hard up for a fellow to hang medals on. I had to attend a presentation the other day at which I received the medal and had it taken away again to be sent home for engraving. It was quite an interesting ceremony really but very nerve wracking for bashful people like your cousin.

I am glad to hear that so far ……………………………….. and I sincerely hope they will continue to do so. Viola will have grown out of recognition by the time we get home and will be quite an important young lady and I suppose we shall have to treat her as such and deal summarily with her numerous admirers. We shall have both grown up quite a lot by the end of the war and have modified our views on life a little I expect. I am very eager to talk again with you on the subjects we used to discuss at such lengths.

I am afraid you will find this rather a dull letter but it’s rather difficult to make it anything else when the object of universal interest – the –war – is a subject that can only be touched on in a very general and uninteresting way.

Well old boy, I’m afraid I must stop writing and do a job of work. Keep fit and hope for the speedy end of the war. I feel sure our hopes won’t be futile now. The best of luck.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

18/5/18

My dear Geoff

The postal services are rather erratic these days and I fear some of my letters may have gone astray. I was glad to hear that Auntie and Uncle had been able to gain some first hand information of you through one of your late companions and I hope you will soon be home yourself. I see there has been some further talk of an exchange of prisoners which I hope will materialise.

How are things going with you now. I trust that you manage to keep fit and well. The confinement must be extremely irksome but there seems hopes of the ending soon old boy. Keep your heart high.

We are beginning to get rather warmer weather now and the demand for liquid refreshment is increasing with leaps and bounds. Fortunately the supply here is quite equal to the demand.

I have got a new job since I last wrote to you and I think it would be best for you to write to me through your mater in the future. I am very comfortable and have been having quite a cheerful time lately. As you no doubt know we have not been particularly active recently and have been able to devote some

time to games and sports. I am just starting to learn polo. One of my ponies is quite useful at the game but the other I fear is a large and clumsy horse and quite impossible for polo.

I haven’t done any serious reading lately. Mess life as led here is not very conducive to reading and it’s difficult to settle down to anything more serious than a “Wells” or similar type of novel. As far as I can see there will be some very interesting problems to discuss after the war and I am sure most of us will look at life from a more reasonable standpoint.

I suppose you will have heard of Dorothy’s marriage before this reaches you. Heaven preserve me from a similar fate – at any rate for the present. It was a great surprise to me and I’m not sure that it was a really wise move on their part – still as Mother said the war has altered many things.

I hadn’t time to finish this letter last night so please overlook the fact that it is disjointed. Do you ever hear from Kenneth Brown now? Does your dear friend Margery write to you. She sent me a Christmas card which I fear I hadn’t the courage to acknowledge except through your mater.

The old days at Harlesden seem a long way off now and it would be splendid to get back to normal conditions again. You will find this letter uninteresting in the extreme I fear. The things that I should most like to write to you about are unfortunately taboo. What a treat it will be when one can write freely of one’s doings without a chance of breaking the censorship rules.

Well goodbye for the present old boy. Cheer up and hope for the best.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

 

18/6/18

My dear Geoff

I wonder will you receive this letter or will it go the way of many others. Our mails are rather erratic these days but all things considered we don’t actually lose many although they are often very much delayed.

How are you these days. Of course you are bored with continued confinement and its marvellous that you manage to keep as cheerful as you do. Things are looking very much better now and I really think that we shall see the end of all this stupidity in a very short time. Anyway there can be no doubt of the issue and its only a question of time.

I have been thinking rather a lot lately about life after the war. I have got a regular commission in the S.L.I as a Lieutenant but I am inclined to think that peace time soldiering wont suit me over much and I don’t know if I should be able to maintain myself in the army. I should very much like to go into some joint enterprise with you, there will be so much useful work to be done after the war that it seems a pity to devote the whole of ones energies to the destructive work of soldiering. I have a scheme its very ethereal at present and the barest outlines only exist. This is my idea and it may or may not coincide with any castles in the air that you have built. First of all I feel sure that we were made for the big open spaces of the world and not intended to be cooped up in a stuffy town. Productive work is what is wanted after the war and especially has the production of food got to be built up. Why shouldn’t we turn our attention to that. In other words why not become farmers. The question of course is how are we to do so. As you no doubt know Dorothy has recently married Henry Hebditch who is a farmer. We could arrange to attach ourselves to him for a while to learn some of the practical side of the work, and at the same time we could study the theoretical side. After all in these days of cheap editions one can learn an enormous amount from books. You ask how are we to keep ourselves during this learning period. Well I have managed to save a little money out of my pay and if we lived simply and worked hard I reckon that we could amass sufficient knowledge in a year or eighteen months to form a groundwork for our enterprise. The next thing is to discover our field of enterprise – the world is still full of empty spaces, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia, all are possibilities. The definite decision must come later. Having made our decision we have to get there and here again if we have been careful my savings will help. On arrival we must attach ourselves to and work on a farm of the type we intend to establish in order to gain experience of local conditions and methods. Whatever we earn must be saved and placed in the capital fund to purchase our land. I know one reads endless tales of the emigrant being unable to get work but I cant believe that two healthy young fellows could be long without getting a job. Then again comes the question of raising the wind to get a grant of land, enough capital to purchase land outright will be impossible but there are such things as government grants and all colonial governments have offices in London where information on such points can be obtained, and of course we must have our campaign properly planned before starting. Hard work and determination are I’m sure the key notes of the success of such a plan. Perhaps your criticism will be that we both shall be hoary headed old men before we can even start to pay our way. Well that may be but better to have lived a strenuous useful life than to have been stewed and mangled through a town life. Now old boy bring your level head to bear critical enquiry into this scheme which sounds so like lots of novels and let me know the result. The great thing to my mind is to start the thing immediately the war is over. There will be a big cry of back to the land after the war and we must get in before the crush begins. Many people will dilly dally about for a bit before taking any steps, we must have our minds made up at any rate as regards the general lines we intend to work upon. You will be curious to know what amount of money I have saved that I speak of using so many times over. At present I have £150 invested in war bonds and before the end of another four months I hope to have added another £100 to that. Of course its not really a large sum but it should help. May be I shall have saved more before the war ends. I have a very well paid job now and expenses on active service even on a Corps HQ are not very great. You will perhaps say you cant help spend money I have saved. That’s nonsense its just capital that I put into the fund and takes the place of the extra learning that you have got. Whatever you say against this will make no impression on me so don’t make that one of your criticisms. This of course is strictly confidential.That is my idea and now I want to hear yours. I am going to do my best to get hold of and study any books on agriculture, cattle raising etc that I can and perhaps you will do the same. Of course the army may refuse to take my resignation and a thousand other things ……………..

remainder of this letter is missing.

4/8/18

Red pencil across the first page –not quite sure why

 

My dear Geoff

Since I last wrote to you I have had another change in occupation. I am now back with my old Division and am commanding a Machine Gun Company again. I keep my rank of Major which is a good thing. I came back for reasons which I can’t give here I’m afraid.

How are things going with you now. I trust that the efforts that are now being made to effect an exchange of prisoners will be more fruitful than previous ones have been. It seems such awful rot that they cannot come to some agreement about it.

I hope you are able to keep fit in spite of the very adverse conditions. We are having quite a pleasant time at present training and spending our spare times at sports. We have taken to playing polo, our colonel is a cavalry soldier and is awfully good at the game. We are of course beginners and our ponies are not trained polo ponies but we are improving and are getting some quite good games. It’s an awfully fine game and well worth learning. I feel an awful rotter writing to you about such things as I feel you would simply love the sort of life we are leading here and instead you are cooped up in a prisoners camp. We shall have to teach us other lots of different things after the war.

Its pretty hot here now and the flies are becoming a beastly nuisance. How is the weather with you. The news has been much better lately and from all accounts the people at home are full of buck and hope for the future,

Its awful to think of the waste of lives and time and that the fifth year of this wretched war is now starting.

I hear that Kenneth is with the RNAS but not flying. I suppose he has changed to the Royal Air Force now that it has been started. Do you remember our model aeroplanes? What tremendous strides have been made in the flying world since the war started. I suppose after the war there will be regular air services. At any rate there are boundless possibilities for its further development.

I suppose Auntie has told you about the pigs and allotment. I cant quite imagine Uncle as a gardener and farmer. Its really remarkable what people can turn their hands to when the necessity arises. The way in which women have taken up every kind of work during the war is really wonderful.

Well old boy I haven’t much news to give you and I’m afraid you will find my letter dull and uninteresting. We shall have plenty of interesting topics to discuss when we meet or when censorship regulations no longer exist.

The very best of luck and may you soon get away in an exchange.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

 

G C Pether Esq, British Civil Prisoner, Box 5, Barracks 8, Englandlager Ruhlaben. Then sent to 13 Craven Road, Harlesden, London and then to The Rest, Bedford Avenue, High Barnet, Herts

20/10/18

My dear Geoff

I was awfully bucked to receive your letter of the 6/8/18 forwarded from Barnet. I’m sorry to hear that you have been laid up with flu and hope you will be able to avoid sickness and keep fit through the winter.

As you may have read we have been having stirring times out here and have more or less justified our existence. Details I’m afraid I cannot give just yet but if events continue in their present strain I hope soon to be able to write without restriction of the events of the past few years. Needless to say we have been very busy for the past few months and have had some strenuous times but all the way through our luck has been in and we haven’t done too badly.

Books on a mobile scale of kit have to be reduced to a minimum and I have only got Lambs Essays with me but soon I hope we shall settle down and get up the rest of our kit. I haven’t read the books of GKC’s that you mention but shall make a point of getting hold of them. The only books I’ve read since the show started last month are “Mr Britling sees it through” by H G Wells and “Somo” by Stephen MacKenna. Both are war stories, the former I can thoroughly recommend and suggest you obtain it at once, the latter is not so good but still worth reading as it raises many interesting points for thought and discussion.

I had a most amusing account of the pigs and the allotment from your mater, apparently Uncle has become quite a “know it” in the local agricultural and horticultural world. We shall have some very good fun when we get home after the war pulling their legs about various things.

What do you think of the Representation of the People Act or haven’t you heard anything about it. Behold in me a voter in the County Borough of Somersetshire. I have – while with the force – to exercise my citizenship by proxy and the number and variety of forms to be filled up is surprising. One inclines to the opinion that its an awful nuisance being an enfranchised citizen of a nation at war. Still I suppose its rather a national duty to utilise one’s vote.

I should like to discuss many after the war problems but time and space don’t permit. I agree that government by one caste is a mistake – on the other hand – capital we know makes many grave errors but can labour do no wrong think you.

Well old boy goodbye for the present. I hope to see you within a few months. I hope you will be able to read this as I have a septic hand which is covered with bandages. Cheerio the best of good luck and good health.

Your affec. Cousin

Allan

 

29/12/18

My dear Geoff,

I was delighted to get your letter of Dec. 4th and to know that you had arrived home safely. I can quite imagine how overjoyed you were to get back. and how difficult it is to fully realise that the whole rotten business is over and that you are free at last. You will have to take things very quietly at first until you are really strong and well again.

I’m afraid I shan’t get away for a bit, but I hope for a little leave to England in a month or so.

Demobilisation is a long and difficult process, and the serving soldiers will all be wanted for foreign services very soon, so I don’t suppose I shall be home for long unless I chuck up the army. I don’t think its much good doing anything hurriedly and I want to talk to you and all sorts of people before doing anything definite. I have applied for the Egyptian Army but they wont take me until I’m 25 although they have promised to take me then if I still want to go. It is a well paid service, and, if you get up in the Sudan there is plenty of interesting and useful work to be done.

I was very surprised to read your account of the conditions prevailing in Germany. I imagined that things were pretty bad, but I had no idea that they were nearly as desperate as you say. It is to be hoped that their sufferings will have the effect of eradicating their preposterous ideas, and that with a reasonable form of government they may improve.

We are at a place called Helmich now – about 20 mins train journey from Cairo. It is such a good camp and we have settled down quite comfortably. The army has turned itself into one big school and everyone is concentrated on education. At present the whole scheme is in a very elementary stage, but

with care and proper organisation it should prove a very useful thing, and have a lasting effect. After four and a half years war everybody’s brain is a little fuddled about ordinary civilian matters that have now become of paramount importance. Our main objects are to get the men to use their brains, that is really teaching them how to learn, and to broaden their outlook on life in general. Whether we succeed or not remains to be seen.

In the afternoon we play hockey, football and polo, so we are really having quite a good time and are keeping very fit.

Well old boy I hope to see you soon and talk over all sorts of things. My love to Auntie, Uncle and Viola. the best of luck.

Your affec. cousin

Allan

1919

G C Pether Esq, The Rest, Bedford Avenue, Barnet, Herts

2/2/1919

My dear Geoff,

Very many thanks for your letter of 6th and 20th January, which, at any rate in the case of the former, I ought to have answered before. There are such a number of things that I want to write to you about that I don’t quite know where to start.

I am glad to know that you are feeling stronger now, and I hope that you will soon have recovered your full strength. There is a rumour running round these parts that all regular officers are to be given two months leave. It is only a rumour and personally I don’t place much faith in it but it would be delightful if I could get home, and spend a couple of months with you in the country.

You think I have left the Machine Gun Corps as I am temporarily commanding a battalion. No, machine gun units were organised in battalions nearly a year ago and became divisional troops. If it is of any interest to you I will briefly trace the history of the organisation of machine guns during the war. As you know in August 1914 we had two machine guns with each infantry battalions, organised as a section. As soon as the number of guns manufactured permitted it the section was made up to one of four guns. At the same time most – in fact I think I might say every – brigade had a brigade machine gun officer who organised the training of the four battalion sections. His powers depended entirely on his Brigadier, some brigadiers often used their machine guns for concerted actions under the brigade machine gun officer. In March 1916, this date applies to this country, as do any other dates I may mention hereafter; we were always behind the people in France – brigade machine gun companies were talked of, and in April they were formed by forming the old battalion sections into a separate unit, called a machine gun company, under the orders of the brigade machine gun officer. This unit was entirely self-contained and operated under the direct orders of the brigadier. I might say, in passing, that command of a M.G. Coy is in my opinion one of the best billets in the army for a young fellow, my reasons are too complicated to give here. Soon it was found that machine gun work was playing such an important part in all operations that some coordination of the work of the three machine gun companies in the division was necessary. To meet this demand a curious hybrid creature was found and called a Divisional Machine Gun Officer – I was once one of these things and I speak with feeling. His duties corresponded very largely with those of the old brigade machine gun officer, except that he dealt with companies instead of sections. He wasn’t exactly a staff officer but he had no executive command, he was called a technical adviser and coordination was his task. In this country he lasted about six months and then it was thought – this was about March 1918 – that owing to the more concentrated nature of the fighting a higher organisation of machine guns was desirable. To obtain this they formed the machine gun companies of a Division into a battalion administered directly under the Division, and forming part of the divisional troops. In France a fourth company was given to each battalion, but personnel and material did not permit of that being done here. In any operations the M.G. battalion commander prepares a plan for the employment of all the available machine guns, in consultation with the infantry brigade commanders and the artillery commander. His plan is submitted to the Division for approval or disapproval according to taste, but once settled the Br commander is responsible for the proper execution of the plan. Of course the plan often, indeed one might say always, involves allotting some companies to brigades; but the opportunities for using guns under divisional control and greater than the casual observer might think, except of course in fighting of a very open nature. The present organisation has a very large number of advantages and disadvantages and it is a subject that will be largely discussed after the war.

I should like to hear what fellows in France have said about it – they have had it working longer than we have and have had many more opportunities of judging its real value. I’m afraid I have bored you and have told you many things you already know so lets change the subject. I’m just going out of my tent to look at the sunset which is more than usually fine tonight.

You asked whether there is likely to be a Palestine Civil Service or anything of that nature. At present the parts of Palestine and Syria that we are administering are run by what is called the O.E.T.A., Occupied Enemy Territory Administration – which is a purely military concern. It will undoubtedly develop into a kind of civil service in time, but I very much suspect that most of the fellows at present serving in a military capacity will be offered, and will accept, corresponding civil appointments, when the nature of the government of the country has been settled. The question of the government of Palestine and Syria, the status and extent of the kingdom of the Hedjaz is not going to be the simplest that the Peace Conference will have to find the answer to. There are so many conflicting interests – Syrian Jew and Arab. Then again the country is of immense strategic importance. Imagine a through railway route from Paris to Cairo – it only requires the conversion of gauge of some few hundred miles of railway to make that possible. The broad gauge line runs as far south as Rayah and the broad gauge line from Egypt will soon run as far north as Haifa. A narrow gauge line at present connects Tul Keram – on the Egypt – Haifa line – to Damascus and another narrow gauge runs from Damascus through Rayah to Beirut. Again the Baghdad line passes through the Taurus Tunnel north of Aleppo. Syria is the key of the railway routes to the East – Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and to Egypt and the whole of Africa from Cairo to the Cape. A big dream you say but a few years as time is counted now may easily see its completion. I haven’t time, space, or ability, to discuss here other questions about the countries we have recently conquered and so opened up. The peoples, customs, possibilities and probabilities of Palestine and Syria even as I have seen them in a short stay in the country would keep me writing for days.

We are getting plenty of games here and keep very fit with the liberal amount of exercise. Football, hockey, tennis and polo form our chief amusements. We are fortunate in having quite a number of ponies that by care and training we have turned into quite passable polo ponies. So a liberal government provides us with, and feeds for us, polo ponies. The thing that we are so fed up about at present is that there is, I believe, a proposal to sell government horses locally. You have read an absurd poem about an Arab and his beautiful horse – Steed I think it is called. Very few of the Arabs, Egyptians or Jews that I have seen in these parts, deserve to have horses at all from the way they treat them. We hate the idea of the horses who have been our valued friends during the hard times of war being sold to be ill treated by some Cairo cab river or Arab peasant.

Well old boy I have bored you quite long enough for one day. The next time I write I will try and answer some more of your questions. I will honestly try and write more regularly in future.

Give my love to Uncle, Auntie and Viola and thank them for their kind wishes for my birthday. By jove I am getting old, twenty three seems an awful age. Cheerio, I hope to see you some time soon. Take care of yourself and don’t try to hurry your cure.

Your affec. cousin

Allan