Leeds Mercury 1914: Letters from the Front: 11th December

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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.


Mrs. Hargreaves, who is now staying at Burley in Wharfedale, sends us extracts from a letter she has received from one of her sons who is acting as an interpreter under the Red Cross at Nogent, near Paris.

“Since I last wrote, the battle of the Marne has been fought and won, and it seems impossible to imagine that a few miles up this peaceful river that flows just outside the gate there are numerous battlefields, scenes of carnage and ruin.

One dare not think of all the misery, sadness and sorrow that greets one where the fighting has been

Lifelong efforts and struggling dashed to the ground in the space of an hour or so.

You quiet English folks, with your beautiful homes and orderly lives cannot realise what a modern war means.

You must spend night after night in cattle trucks, where groaning, dying men are lying on straw; you must imagine the interior of those trucks, only lit with a dripping oil lamp; you must see the pale drawn faces and the red stained limbs; then you must stop and ask yourself if you are really in the twentieth century or if you are not dreaming.

“How one gets to love the light and the sun after such nightmares even when the Germans were so near and that with the dawn we knew the sing song of the cannons would start again.

I could have yelled with joy at the first signs of daylight.

One night, as I was going to the station to take my post, our car was stopped on the Bry Bridge which was barricaded and mined.

We had to produce all our papers and when I inquired the reason of all this extra precaution they told me that two German spies were knocking about dressed as English officers and it was feared they were going to try and blow up the tremendous viaduct that bridges Nogent Station to the other side of the Marne.

Everybody knows what that would mean, especially at that time when troops were continually being brought up.

The excitement during that night was at a tremendous pitch, cyclists coming for orders continually;

It was a grand sight to see those boys with their grim faces and rifles slung over their backs, go out into the dark to try and trap those “espious”.

The Taubes still honour us with a visit from time to time but if you could walk along the crowded Boulevards in the afternoon you would see what small effect they make on the Parisians.

Sometimes you could nearly think yourself along the Strand to see all our smart “Tommies” walking up and down, talking and laughing as though they were on a holiday instead of the eve of departure for the Front.

One forgets for the moment all the pain and sorrow with these jolly dare-devil boys.

With the French, it is still the same old song -

“Luckily we have those smiling laddies for victory is sure to be ours”


Private J. Macdonnell, of the 18th Hussars, writing to his parents who lived for over twenty years in Hunslet and are now at Tholthorpe, near Alne, says:-

“I only got back to the regiment a fortnight ago after being missing for five weeks.

I was with the French cavalry ten days out of the time I was lost.

These French troops are good fellows and think a great deal of us English.

The only thing wrong with them is that they cannot speak a decent, civilised, understandable language and they like frogs and snails which I don’t.

I shall have a lot to tell you when I come home after smartening up the Germans.

I am longing to be in England again.”

In a later letter he says:-

“I never felt better in my life. I think active service agrees with me. I have a big beard and moustache. There is no hot water for shaving - in fact it is three days since I had the time for a decent wash.

I have just been getting a swill now and again at a pond or stream.

You would not think the troops were on active service to see them all look happy, well fed and healthy.

All they need is a good wash, bath and shave to make them look respectable.

“All we want now is to see the old folks at home and sit down to a good old English Sunday dinner.

We have got the Germans on the retreat now and hope to keep them at it.

It looks as though we shall have to go to Berlin before the War will end.”