Leeds Mercury 1914: Letters from the Front

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Readers who received letters from men on active service were invited to submit them to the “Leeds Mercury.” Any extracts published were paid for, with the promise that letters would be carefully and promptly returned to the senders.


Gunner J. Archbold, of the 47th Battery Royal Field Artillery, now in Netley Hospital, writes:-

“The battery I joined has been through the whole of the fighting with the Second Division of the First Army Corps.

At Mons our battery was sent on to the right flank

The batteries that engaged us were dropping their shells about a hundred yards on our right.

We retired, everyone being cool, calm, and collected.

The Germans followed us up and at Landrecies we were shelled and those who say that the German gunners are not good should read the casualty list.”

“We fell back to about twenty miles from Paris, and then we got to know what we had been up against.

What a cheer went up at the news that we were to take the offensive.

It was mingled with the old cry “Are we downhearted? with the cheery answer “No!”

“We started on the advance from the Marne to the Aisne, where we found the Germans strongly entrenched.

Our “contemptible little Army” as the Kaiser called us, were in the centre and what a time we had! It rained for the best part of a week; so you can guess the state of the troops. The mud was over our boot tops. We stayed in our gun pits for thirteen days.”

“The German infantry will not face ours. They think every British infantryman has a small maxim gun with him - at least an officer who was captured said so.

It is the fire control that puzzles the Germans, who attack in huge columns making good targets for our men.”

Most of our men’s wounds are caused by Shrapnel bullets from their quick firers but I think our gunners are quite as good as the Germans.”

“The airmen are a great feature in this war. When they find a battery that is doing them damage they hover round and then drop a fireball just like daylight fireworks.

We had a splendid position at Vernule, with good pits and good cover, but their aeroplanes found us after we had been there a week.

Then their artillery started. What a time we had!

We shifted our position about 200 yards to the right, and rigged up a dummy battery in our old position.”

“It was good to see them open up on the old carts next morning with us only 200 yards away.

I was wounded on the thirteenth day of the battle, but it is not serious - only a bullet in me left side. I hope to be all right soon and if the war lasts to rejoin my battery.”

“France is a grand country but the Germans are looting right and left. It is quite different from what I thought a civilised army would do.”


Private McDonnell, of the 18th Hussars writing to a cousin in York, says:-

“I have been lost from my regiment for over a month, and only found it four days ago.

For eight days I was in the middle of the Germans, hidden in some caves and I couldn’t get out.

Eventually, they had to retire and I joined the first troops coming by, who happened to be French cavalry and I stayed and fought with them until I could report myself to the British authorities.

“The Germans are catching it hot and fighting a losing battle.

I am hoping to be back in England before Christmas if God spares me.

You must not believe all you read.

The worst our troops suffered was at St. Quentin and Mons, but the Germans suffer more than we do ten times over.”

“We are lucky to be able to get our food and tobacco regular, and the Germans, I believe, are almost starving, and they deserve it.

The villages I have been through would make your heart bleed to see their state. The homes of the French people have been burned and robbed and destroyed.

OBJECTS OF DESIRE: Curator Sebastiano Barassi surrounded by works in the Becoming Henry Moore exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute, in Leeds. PIC: Simon Hulme

Leeds’s own Henry Moore is coming home in new exhibition