LETTERS FROM THE GREAT WAR

 

Foreword

Letters from my Grandfather before his capture

Letters to my Grandfather before his capture

My Grandfather's account of his capture

My Grandfather's diary as a prisoner of war

Letters from my Grandfather after his capture

Letters to my Grandfather after his capture

The journey of the field ambulance

 

Return to Thorn Gent Home Page

 

Letters from my Grandfather before his Capture

 

¶1

Postcard, 21.5.1915 ; postmark: Lindfield

 

Dear FDR & H

Arrived 5.30 AM ten hours on train. Prettiest place I have ever seen. We travelled during the night from 7.30 PM Southport. Will write later and send address. Love to all, Frank.

 

¶2

…health when I come and we ought to have a good time together.

I've just been listening to one of the chaps reading a bit out of the 'News' (London) about Warsaw, that the Russians are still holding it and the Germans are bringing 75 cm guns and more troops from the West. I met two RAMC men from Horsham on Sunday and they said they came from a big convalescent camp there over one thousand wounded there. They told me that most of the convalescents were being put in such camps instead of hospitals, all the hospitals all over the country were being cleared ready for a big offensive in the West. It reminded me of these drafts, these will have been taken from all over the country too. They'll start soon and time they did. Russia has retreated as far as is safe.

Well I'll be able to talk a bit soon so I'll close. Love to all, Frank.

'Pimple' in real life was at Crowborough at the sports the other day, Randle.

This must have been written 31.10.1915, the day the Field Ambulance moved to Crowborough, and the day of Randle's death.

 

¶3

Postcard, 27.2.1916

 

Dear Mabel

Delighted with your parcel the things are fine. I will write to-morrow and enclose the money. Weather same here, snow now about 18 inches deep where it's not been walked on. I'm sorry it's so cold in Manchester, it makes it miserable in the shop I expect. So you and May are manageresses now, take care you lock up at night or you may find somebody under the bed. Best love, Frank.

This would be from Crowborough. (See photograph p. 62). The shop would be Auntie Emily's drapery.

 

¶4

Postcard, Colchester, 16.6.1916

 

Friday, 7 AM

 

Dear FMD & H

Out on a bivouac, slept in a wood last night and am writing this from our home made shelter. Had no letter for a week perhaps one at barracks. Weather cold but rain kept off fortunately (no tents). Too cold to sleep much last night. Continuing our journey this morning I don't know where to. Drop a line soon, they may send letters on from barracks. Best love to all, Frank.

 

¶5

Postcard, 6.7.1916

 

Thursday 6th

 

Dear FMD & H

Couldn't make up a letter so am sending this old post card (of the boxing night at the YMCA at Crowborough: Bomber Wells in the ring with Mick McCormick 5th Manchester) to let you know I received papers, thanks very much for them. Still doing well at front, though seem to be letting the French take the brunt again, more brilliant charges by the Scots and other 'cracks' after the poor Lancs have cleared the way I see, at Fricourt etc. Fine weather here now. Some rumour about here, tell you in letter. No more at present. Waiting to see you all again, until then best love from Frank.

 

¶6

20th September, 1917

Tent 8.30 PM

 

Dear FMD & H

I hardly know how I'm going to reply to all your letters, I've had them all and read them through a few times. It's true I've only had time for short letters and I'll risk a bit of explanation. The chap on the ward with me took sick and I was left to manage alone, it was a bit stiff but had to be done as we were very shorthanded through sickness. I got a bit run down, but did alright and now I've got someone with me again so will be able to write as usual. My old pal from the ward and Wilf Bradley who I've been with from joining have left us and been sent down to the Base sick. I was very sorry to part with them, but they may get to England with luck. Albert Ormrod is still here. I am quite well and not having a bad time, so don't get thinking I'm in the trenches because you only get a short letter. I'm a long way off at a Rest Camp as I told you. We've heard that leave is coming soon and has practically started, we go in batches a very few at a time and it will take time to get through us all, it may be one month or another eight or nine but it's there and that's like a whisper from heaven. The last parcel was in good condition and good as ever and I got all the letters and also Dora's long one before it and the 'John Bull' with the others. Miss Wagstaffe has sent me a nice little box of Cadbury's Chocolate with a short letter saying she's sending some cigs through the 'Daily Mail', I thought I'd never hear, I must reply as soon as possible. Well I will answer all your letters during the next day or two in the evening when I come off duty. It's fine to hear you're all well at home, I trust I'll find you so when my leave comes round. It will be candles out in a few minutes so I'll close and write to-morrow. Best love to all and God bless you, Frank.

'John Bull' was a popular magazine. It still existed during my childhood. Miss Wagstaffe was the survivor of the Wagstaffe sisters of Knutsford, close family friends of Dr Henry Gent. It was expected that one would marry my great grandfather.

 

¶7

Postmark: 13.11.1917

 

Saturday, 10th November, 1917

 

Dear FMD & H

Thanks for your letters, Dad's and Mabel's, which came safely, the 5 Fr also. I'm sending this to-night to all, I intended writing separately as you wanted, but there's no time as we're going up the line early in the morning for another do, in the same place as the last. So don't be expecting another letter for a bit. I'll send as many field cards as I can, so you'll know how I fare.

I enjoyed your long letter about the trip, dad. I'd like to see those places, I didn't know there were such so near to us. You did wonders and it speaks volumes for your constitution after what you've been through, that you should be able to outstay practically young men like W. H. and test Henry, I don't know how you manage it, you're a marvel, you know, but nothing saps the vitality like a long drag the same as that tramp, so be careful not to overdo it. I think I'd have been fagged out after it and it would have to be very interesting to induce me to do it voluntarily. I don't wonder at that envelope being burst open, it was very weak and too full, it's a wonder nothing was lost out of it. yes, I wish you would ask Edith to knit the socks, I'll keep 'em alright if they're good uns and wash 'em myself. I'll need them for the cold weather, they wouldn't be a great deal of use to go up with just now, as the ground is so awful feet are never anything but swimming in water. Write as often as possible, it will help to cheer me up while this stunt is on, to know that you're thinking of me. I hope everything goes on happily and comfortably at home, but Dora will see to that and I wish Mabel and Dora the best of luck in their new roles. I'll let you know as much as possible afterwards and if I get the chance I'll write you, Mabel, as per usual. Well, I'll get some sleep while I've the chance so good night and God bless you. best love to all, Frank.

His father must have been to Liverpool, to visit his brother's family. (Fred had died on July 17th, 1917). Henry was Fred's son (not the same person as Harry, his younger brother). Edith was Henry's sister, blind in one eye, and hence a spinster. He was surprised at his father's walk because he had been crippled by a tram in 1909.

 

¶8

Postmark: 26.11.1917

 

Friday, 23rd November [arrived Wednesday, 28th, night]

 

Dear Mabel

Just a few lines as promised I've just had a do in the line and am now a little way back for a rest and will be going up again to-morrow. I've had no post since the parcel and the registered letter. I suppose it will be waiting for me at Headquarters. I wish they would send it up for us, it's rotten being kept waiting and knowing there's a letter and perhaps a parcel here.

I've not heard from you Yet, Mabel, since you got your new Place, I hope it's a Real good one and you're happy there. It seems a good bit since I heard from you or Dora.

It was strange Dora should ask about Sid Forster and I should mention him last letter, he was badly wounded last time up. A big shell dropped near them while carrying a stretcher and killed one of our lads and wounded Sid and another. That was day before yesterday. It's hard lines, we shall miss him very much. I'll tell you about the place some time, it's the last word. Still, I reckon we shall have finished with this part soon and leave will have begun, one of the other Ambulances have drawn for it so it mustn't be far off. Well, I'll write again as soon as I can and I hope I'll get some from you all sent up. The weather has improved and it's not cold for November and that's a God send. I trust all are well. Best love to all and God bless you, Frank.

This is one of the coded messages: he was now at Ypres. There is a photograph of Sid Forster on p. 29.

 

¶9

Sunday, January 6th, 1918

 

Dear FMD & H

This is the first I've written since your parcel, I seem to be getting out of writing nowadays, it's getting such a job. Your parcel was extra and I enjoyed it very much, I didn't expect one so soon after the one at Xmas, after that letter you sent me from Rose Hewitt's I thought it was theirs, but that hasn't come yet, may as well give it up now. I was congratulating myself on getting something out of them too. Your little loaf always comes at the right time, we've had very little bread lately, mostly biscuits and eight or ten to a loaf. If you know how to go about it you can manage to buy some French war bread if you happen to be in a village or town and we've had pretty fair and given the ridiculous travesty of food called Army biscuits the go by. That reminds me of the cutting you sent, Dad, about the food in France, it was very exaggerated, the war bread is really good, but you seldom see much pastry in the patisserie shops, and cake is beyond our pay. We spotted some once and went in and asked how much, it was a piece about four inches square, ordinary currant cake, 2Fr 70 they wanted (2s 3d) Two fried eggs and a few chips cost 2 Fr to 2 Fr 50 and the chap who got 34 lb of steak must have worn powerful glasses. But I think they must be better off for stuff here than in England from what I've heard, there are certainly no queues, you can always get the food by paying their price, and I must say they don't pay as much as the swaddies do, most of them inflate the price for the especial benefit of the British soldiers. Well Dora, it isn't quite too late to acknowledge your letter I hope. I'm looking forward to seeing Eva some time, she must be one of the best. What a treat it will be to get a short leave, I'm anxious to see for myself how you all are, it's a long time to be away and I suppose I'll be sure to notice some changes. Harry more so, twelve months makes a big difference in a boy of his age; still, I hope everything is running as well as ever. Meanwhile I'm waiting for that wonderful period called 'sweating on leave.'

I got the 'Sunday Chronicle' to-day, dad, my post has been thin as yours I think, but I can't grumble as I give no one any opportunity of writing.

We are still in the same place, strange to say, but I will let you know if we go up again, though I don't think we'll go right up this time. We haven't had a bad time considering the job we're on and where we are and we've had an issue of a leathern jerkin which makes a big difference on our beds at night besides being fine and warm for the body, and also socks for the boots, not bad eh? That is two of the chief wants supplied, it's getting quite a good war. A pleasant little incident occurred last week, we all got an invitation to a free […] concert quite unexpectedly, it seems we had treated some strangers who happened to be far from home at the time of our Xmas do, to our dinner and the 'disgraceful' scene after it and they must have told their unit which is only a very small one with the result that they felt grateful for our hospitality and gave us a great concert and a rum issue and we had a fine night.

Well, I think I've told you all the news for the present. We haven't had a thaw yet and the snow which fell about a fortnight ago is still on the ground, beaten hard like glass with a few extra downfalls since, and it freezes every night, but it's nice to think we're getting through the worst of the weather. Don't be long in writing. Good night and God bless you all. Best love, Frank.

 

This is a bit of a Gotha which came and bombed us one night at &emdash;&emdash;, that unhealthy place we were at a few months ago. He dropped some bombs nearly on us and then they got him in the searchlights and blazed away like wildfire. He crashed down about a mile further on and the pilot and bombdropper were killed. The fabric is supposed to be non-inflammable.

'Swaddies': swad was a dialect term for a soldier. Eva is, of course, Eva Neild, later my grandmother.

 

¶10

[The last before capture]

 

France

[Tuesday] 19th March, 1918

[arrived 22nd]

 

Dear F M & H

I got your grand parcel yesterday, the one with the cakes from Sam Sharp's and the bun loaves, all were A1. I believe you must be making a great effort to send all these things. I don't know how you manage it. Now we're getting very good food here at present and it isn't fair you should make yourselves short to send me stuff. We get nothing like what you send of course, it's all miles superior in quality to what goes here, but still we get enough and therefore I don't expect the expensive boxes you keep sending in spite of what I say.

Well, we may argue it out before so long, for I think I can tell you pretty certain that I'll be home before the end of April, a big allotment has come through, they're wakening up and not before time. I don't know whether you've heard or seen it or not, but it was given out in parliament that any soldier who hadn't had leave before his first twelve months had elapsed in France, was either under penalty of field punishment or had contracted venereal disease&emdash;that looks well for me and for most of our unit, for that matter, doesn't it? Wilf Bradley went early this morning and has promised to give you a call, if able that is, it passes like a lightning dream they all say when they come back. Twenty men go this month and eighty next, and as I'm about ninety now, it's a cert. if nothing happens, I can't realise it. Another thing is the weather has changed completely, it's like summer now and even hot in the sun. I wish I'd more time for writing, that's the worst of it, we're at it all day messing about, twelve hours and there's little chance in the hour or two at night in the billet. But I've just heard that I'm going up to the Advanced Dressing Station to-morrow morning, not as a stretcher bearer, as a dresser, so I'll have more time there, it's quiet there.

Well, I'll close for to-night and get some sleep, it will be in the early hours in the morning we'll go. I'll send a letter or a card to-morrow certain.

Good night and God bless you all and best love, Frank

Of course, my grandfather never got his leave. This was the night before the big attack by German forces.


Letters to my Grandfather before his Capture

 

 

¶11

6th September, 1915

 

Dear Frank

For a long time I have not written but now I have some news. Football has started, United played away, City played at home they played Stockport County they won 3&endash;1 because Henry and Fletcher the backs played well. All the players wherever they were born or used to play have to play for their team for instance Smith plays for some other team. Beale has left. He has gone to Dundee Mew plays where he born Chelsea's goalkeeper Molyneux I don't know how

From Randle&emdash;he died on 31st October, 1915.

 

¶12

Tuesday, 7th September, 6 PM [1915]

 

My Dear Frank

I haven't much to say this time, but will fill up the rest of Randle's paper. I am glad we are having hot weather again, and you will like it better than the cold. This is truly 'Sweet September' I wish we were down with you for a week… but if we had come we should have only been a day or two at each place, I don't think I could stay at Dorking and I should have to pay for being anywhere but Southampton. I hope you are keeping well and that you will winter in England, in any part of it. They have had bitter cold in France during that cold spell and the Dardanelles is a mystery. I don't like you to go there.

I have been to-day to a house that is 'on view', previous to sale of furniture to-morrow, it is a beautiful place, Oakfield House, Burnage Lane, Levenshulme (this side of Stockport Road not grandpa's side). It belonged to your grandmother's cousin, John Taylor, the brewer of Ancoats (near the Star Hall, where you played). I went for ancient recollections.

I was at a party at his house about

his daughter's birthday or s

can guess Levenshulme was a

then. I don't even remember h

there would be nothing but wa

Well it was a great party,

impressed, they were wealthy

publican element always i

was a handsome girl, bu

and diffident in those days.

assert myself or stand upon

Father's professional position

dead and Mother and I were living

Well, I have never been at the

to-day, had even lost all reco

was. John Taylor's daughter mar

who was there that night, who

confident and assertive than me.

long ago. Now her father go

left I don't know, but house and

mansion in its grounds, sold

they must have lived there forty

Do you remember me trying to f

at Ansdell when we were

that was his sister, also Mothe

This and the previous letter are written on one folded sheet of paper. A piece has been torn off, but it is still possible to understand what is left of the letter. His mother was married from her cousin's house in Manchester in 1847.

 

¶13

Sunday, December 9th, 1917

 

Dear Dolly

My sincere apologies for the length of time I have taken to answer. It did not think it was a week since you had written, never mind a fortnight, anyhow, better late than never. Well, you sent me a fine long letter last time, and the sketch of yourself was very like (I. D. Y.) While I am writing this we've got a gramophone on playing 'Two sad grey eyes' and it reminds me of your singing it here that Sunday&emdash;do you remember? Mabel got it off a young lady who is at Brown Bros. She wanted to sell it and some of the records, so Mabel got dad to buy it (marvellous to say) and they went up for it yesterday afternoon to Ashton where the young lady lives so that in spite of 'The Sisters Do Nowt' we've got music in the happy home. Who is the youth? Mabel was busy recognizing you when she descended to lovely earth with a resounding bump. It was funny. We were all on our lonesome, as you saw. Not that that is anything fresh, for we always are now, except when with Eva, for we never see any boys now at all, and were quite surprised to see one last night viz the one with you. I thought you went out with your mother every Saturday night. If I had known I could have made plenty of appointments for M[abel] and I to see you there, that is when you haven't anyone to see. You glowered fearfully at me last night every time I caught your eye&emdash;what's the row&emdash;what's the row at all, at all.

Frank has been in the firing-line again but is having a short rest at the base at present. He writes to say the things he has seen are worse than anything he has ever read or seen, even worse than the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and there's some terrible experiences written by him. Well, we've just got back from seeing Eva off on the bus and it's divilish cold out tonight. I've a long, long list of woes to recount, firstly: Frank does not expect to get leave for Xmas. We've just smashed the gramophone through over-winding it, and it won't act. We've got no currants, raisins, sugar, lemons or anything for Xmas, so we'll have to do without lemon cheese, mincemeat, plum pudding, Xmas cake and trifle this Christmas. I'm a cold miserable wretch this weather with chilblains and am going villainously ugly. Am frightfully short of cash and still owe lots. The decorator hasn't been when expected and we've had the stair carpet up and our bedroom stripped for two weeks now, and have to go to bed in a room that echoes on bare walls. I've wasted four hard-earned bob on a rotten hat. Both my feet go in on all my shoes, so I'll have to be wearing irons soon. Am fed up with being at home. Well, I feel a bit relieved after that little lot. I think everyone gets a bit fed-up at times&emdash;don't they? How are you going on for Xmas fare? Well I'll have to finish now, and will perhaps be able to write a more cheerful letter next time.

Yours to a cinder, Dora

I don't know who Dolly was, just a friend. The letter does recapture my Auntie Dora's personality, and the atmosphere of the Gent family household. There is a reference to my grandfather's experiences but, of course, no details.


After the Capture, 21st March, 1918

 

¶14

This is the account of his capture that my grandfather wrote for his Regimental History which was published in 1930. He based it on the diary he kept through 1918.

 

History of the

2/3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance

The Story of a 3rd Line Territorial Unit,

1914&endash;1919

 

The following account of the experiences of a Prisoner of War has been kindly written by Private F. Gent. It throws interesting light on an aspect of the war most of us luckily escaped.

 

As described in a previous chapter, upwards of twenty NCOs and men of our Unit were taken Prisoners of War at the Advanced Dressing Station, Templeux, situated between Bernes and Peronne. On the morning of March 21st, 1918, an intense bombardment was set up by the enemy, and it was soon very evident that something of no mere importance was about to happen. A thick mist lay over the surrounding country, making the work we were doing a matter of the utmost difficulty. At this time we were working in support trenches and quite close to the front line. As we groped about in the mist, gas shells were coming over in great and ever increasing numbers. Well I recall a young Infantry lad, limping badly, crying out, 'The place is swarming with Jerries!' It was terribly true. The overwhelming numbers of Germans had, by sheer weight of men and guns, proved that the tenacity and courage of British troops was of little avail when our line was held by a much lessened force.

In our work of succouring the wounded we chanced to let on a rudely-built dugout and had hardly entered the hole when shouts were heard above. Intuitively we were aware that the voices we heard were those of the 'Jerries,' and at any moment we fully expected bombs to be hurled into our midst, but by some stroke of good fortune the worst that happened was two or three shots that hurt no one. After a hurried consultation the seven or eight of us decided to go up into the open and take our chance. On gaining the top of the dugout, the sight confronting us was eerie. Looming up like spectres in the mist were a score of grey forms, each pointing a bayonet at our defenceless bodies. Machine guns were rattling on all sides, and every moment we fully expected being mowed down. We were made to stand in a circle and a German NCO detailed a party of men to take charge of us. A tremendous bombardment now commenced&emdash;probably from our own guns&emdash;and the 'Jerries,' who had no great liking for our artillery hurried us under cover. We were searched, and afterwards, much to our relief, we were marched back through the lines of the advancing enemy.

It is only just to set on record that our guards, unlike many we met later, were kindly fellows. Not only did they hand over their water bottles, but they also defended us when passing troops sought to do us injury. Marching through thick mud for what at the time seemed endless hours, proved to be a tiring ordeal, but we managed to find some relief in our amazement at the severe losses experienced by the enemy in this final desperate attack on the Allied lines. We saw guns and men being rushed up with feverish haste. Regiment after regiment passed us on their way to the broken line. As showing the losses sustained, guns were being hauled up by ill-matched teams of horses and mules&emdash;in some cases we saw heavy cart horses harnessed to small mules. At one halt we beheld men cutting up horse flesh for the mid-day meal. On arrival at Estrees we passed into a large field wherein were hundreds of British prisoners, and here our escort left us. Here we were allowed a few hours rest, excepting those of us who were rounded up to assist in the unloading of ambulances. I was not an unwilling helper in this work, and I was gratified to have by my side Will Dibb and Alf McNulty. Later in the day most of our fellows were detailed for work in one of the German hospitals, and in the four days we remained we had probably more experience of hospital duties than we had received on our own side of the line. It was not satisfactory experience. Drugs, dressings, equipment, were all short and of poor quality. Our food consisted of horse meat stew, biscuits, and coffee.

On March 25th, the arrival of wounded ceased, probably because the Germans had opened up hospitals nearer to their advanced position. We were marched to Le Cateau and on arrival in the town had the doubtful honour of witnessing the Kaiser and little Willie, both resplendent in gay uniforms bedecked with medals, journeying to witness the progress of their troops. A handful of cigarettes was showered on us by Willie junior as the royal car passed by. After a short stay in Le Cateau we marched on to a town, far behind the line, Quesnoy, and entered a Prisoner of War Cage containing hundreds of prisoners. A raised platform was in each corner of the field, and on each platform a guard stood heavily armed beside a machine gun. Round the cage marched guards carrying guns spiked with saw-edged bayonets. The display of force was totally unnecessary, as all the British prisoners were unarmed, weary and hungry. Our plight was pitiable. Darkness came on, and after a few scores of men had been housed in barns, the great majority of us were left to bear the discomfort of a night in the cold and never ceasing rain. The following day we had practically nothing to eat and for eight hours we stood about waiting for a train to take us to somewhere in Germany. Through all the tiresome waiting we were splendidly kept in good spirits by Pte. Charlton.

At 11.30 PM, by Charlton's watch, we moved by train, travelling forty in each truck, and five days later we arrived in Germany at a place called Haltern. Several men died from exposure on the journey. In the internment camp we were again searched and questioned closely, but we received little food, indeed meal times were generally occasions for baths, medical inspections, inoculations, and vaccinations. A large number of Russian prisoners occupied the camp with us, and deaths amongst the Russians were of daily occurrence. Much to our annoyance, overcoats were withdrawn.

Drawing the veil over several weeks following, all of which time we were all in a starved and wretched condition, there arrived a day at the end of April when I was marched by an armed guard through the village street of Rheindahlen. I was being taken to a farm. At the time I was mad with hunger and badly in need of a shave. My clothes were covered with mud, but when I reached the farm I endeavoured to create a good impression, and this I did by respectfully removing my hat when I stood before my new employer. My coming had been expected, for a meal had been prepared for me, and I sat down and ate as much as it was safe to consume at one sitting.

I settled down to work on this farm all right, but I never managed to do full justice to the job because I suffered from being unable to speak the language of the farmer. The loneliness of my position and the absence of letters from England were tremendous sorrows, both of which grew bigger and bigger as the weeks rolled away. I found the work very hard, probably because I had never been accustomed to labouring on farms. At every turn I was followed by a guard. One day the fellow lied to the farmer that I had been asleep in one of the fields. Meals were served twice daily, but I never managed to get as much as I wanted, and I am not ashamed to confess that I 'borrowed' a good many eggs. After a few weeks I had become adept in swallowing raw eggs and discreetly hiding the shells.

About the middle of June I was taken away from the farm. At a place near Coln I joined a number of other British prisoners who were working in a Brickette works. Here I was rejoiced to find McNulty in the party. Adjoining the Brickette works was a coal mine and I soon discovered that not only had I been transferred to this place as a punishment for supposed disobedience on the farm, but I was to work in the mine. If it was a punishment, I much preferred my new job, for not only was the food better, but Sundays were rest days. I found many friends in this camp, amongst them being Canadians and French, and one of the latter gave to me a worn shirt and an old razor, both wonderfully acceptable.

The camp contained a number of prisoners who had been here for a long time and we soon discovered that they regularly received parcels of food from their friends in England and elsewhere. Why no parcels were coming through to us was a continual source of worry. The summer went on its way and the rations grew worse and worse. Occasionally we saw the mid-day meal being carried in to the commandant's quarters and we knew from what we saw that he was worse off for food than the prisoners whose rations were augmented by food parcels received from their home folks.

At the end of July a peculiar kind of sickness broke out in the camp. Over 300 men were down the first day and many, especially Russians, went under. During the time the sickness raged it was wonderful how in the camp, which had no medical man, the men looked after each other. Food parcels were pooled and those who were the less ill looked after the very bad cases. After about three weeks the fever (?) abated, but the toll in life had been very great.

My first parcel of food arrived about the time of the armistice and it was welcome. Strange as it may seem, we knew nothing about the ending of hostilities until about three weeks after the armistice terms had been signed. Our first intimation of the event was comical. One morning, instead of being wakened for work at 6 AM, as usual, we were allowed to rise at our own convenience. On going outside our huts, no guards were in evidence. The gates of the camp were wide open and the Commandant told us that we could go. We went!

¶15

The Cages at Le Quesnoy&emdash;written on a scrap of a Christmas card from Mabel

 

We arrived at Le Quesnoy from Le Cateau at 2 PM, March 27th, under guard of Lancers, after a tiring march of twenty-odd kilometres. It was a typical march day with bitter west winds. We were marched to the cages, just barbed wire enclosures about one hundred yards square in a bleak, desolate spot, and left there. Very soon we were frozen after the heat of the travelling and had to keep running or walking about to keep warm. We got a bowl of soup at 4.30 PM. At dusk a driving rain started and the Germans fell us in and packed us in one or two barns, sheds etc., the only bit of humanity they showed us at this place. I was lucky and slept in an old room on a tiled floor. Immediately dawn arrived we were turned into the cage again and were given some coffee, the usual, very weak and without milk or sugar, and some dry black bread. We remained there all that day, which was Good Friday, and tried all ways to escape the wind; many of the men, South African Scottish Black Watch, wore kilts and had no overcoat. Luckily I had my coat but had foolishly discarded both vest and cardigan the night before capture. A few who had blankets hung them on the barbed wire on the windward side and huddled together behind it; others scraped holes in the ground and piled the earth into a parapet to break the force of the wind and rain. Alf McNulty and I got hold of a shovel and made a hole about four feet wide and two feet deep and made a ridge round against the wind and managed to get snatches of rest, a few minutes at a time, from marching round the cage. By dusk to-night we were getting exhausted, though we had two more bowls of soup that day. We hoped against hope for the sheds again, but time went on and they left us all night in the cage. How nobody was frozen to death by morning is a miracle. I kept walking the whole night and could hardly stand by morning. The coffee and dry bread received as another day wore on somehow and we began to wonder if we'd ever leave the cage alive, when at 3 PM on the 29th we were told we were going. We crowded round the gate and at 4 PM were marched out across the fields on […road?]. By this time it was raining heavily. We gathered from our guards that the train had not arrived. The rain continued and hour after hour passed with no train, until our condition was getting terrible, we'd had nothing to eat since eleven o'clock in the morning and it was now about 8 PM. Men began to drop into the wet soil of the ploughed fields at the side of the road, and the taciturn guards had to keep ordering them up. Things grew worse and the men began to get out of hand, refusing to rise and swearing at the guards; worse could have happened but no one had the strength. The guard changed several times while we stood, drenched and stiff with cold and later… [here there is a section missing] …the guard was doubled. It was not till 11.30 PM that we moved again off the bit of muddy road and it was after midnight when our party of forty entered a cattle truck en route for Germany, after a wait of nine hours. We threw off overcoats and boots and dropped in our wet things, and slept till morning. The next meal was some barley stew at 11 AM, 30th, which put us right. We slept practically the whole of the time in the truck, and it speaks well for our constitution that few of us felt ill effects, though two men afterwards died in hospital as a result of exposure, and some were unable to leave the train when we arrived at Haltern.

¶16

Diary kept by my grandfather as a prisoner. This is written on a Christmas card too. On the back page he wrote out a calendar, crossing out every day until October 12th, 1918.

 

March 21 Taken prisoner at Villerette.

March 21&endash;25 Working in field hospital at Estrees.

March 25 Marched to Le Cateau. Saw Kaiser.

March 27&endash;29 Marched to Cages at Le Quesnoy. Arrived 2 PM (27th). Left 12 PM (29th). Rainy and cold, got wet through in open all night.

Good Friday 28

March 30&endash;31 Entrained en route for Germany, crossed border night of Easter Sunday.

April 1 Travelling eastward into Germany, through Namur, Verviers, Naspraue, Dolhain, Wanne. Arrived at Haltern, marched to Camp.

April 2 Slept the night in huts. Baths, fumigation, settled in barracks compound.

April 3 Breakfast 6 AM. Parade, heavy rain. No cigs and ravenous, medical inspection, vaccination and inoculation. First emergency parcel, great rejoicing, one parcel for two men.

April 4 Routine as usual. Meal from parcel with partner (Alf McNulty).

April 5 Put on Medical Staff, went round dressing wounds etc., felt done up, getting weak. Dodged second dose of Inoculation.

April 6 Went round dressing as before, brighter day, but find time goes quicker dozing inside.

April 7 First writing day Sunday, great trouble in getting a post card, bought one for two cigs at last. Nice little church service in hut, going again tonight.

April 8 Same job. Parcel nearly done despite desperate economy. Very thin day for food, continually hungry. Shared a Woodbine between three. Dodged third inoculation.

April 9 Dressing all morning, very tiring. Things going worse. Men not quite up to the mark, fainting from weakness. Got an issue of one pair of socks (English).

April 10 Wooden Dutch clogs issued, managed to stick to my boots on account of work. Parcel finished. Had tablespoonful of mussels with soup last three or four days.

April 11 Getting more used to diet, but am very weak and have to reserve strength. Dodged fourth inoculation through being out dressing etc. Had bread ration stolen.

April 12 Dressed wounds etc. in the Hospital (Lazarott). Was given a piece of white bread by one of old RAMC men.

April 13 As usual. Said to have finished quarantine, but not removed. Second parcel, one between four men this time, and one small tin of bully between seven. Given some broken biscuits Army type at Hospital. Red letter day indeed.

April 14 Shifted quarters, all separated to different Barracks and Groups. RAMC and RSB's put together in one hut. Food 100% better since Belgians were moved (viz. Belge books). Church 2.

April 15 Food deteriorated again, two basins of soup like water and couple of 12" slices of bread.

April 16 Went to Hospital again, very little to do. No nourishment in soup at all, had two tablespoonfuls of mussels. Feeling starved and downhearted tonight.

April 17 Busy at Hospital for a change. Brought clogs and shirts and pants and were issued with them. Had to give in overcoat after 312 years. Rumoured leaving place tomorrow.

April 18 Breakfast at 4 AM, coffee and usual bread. Left Dulmen by truck at 10.30 AM. Crossed Rhein at Bonntor at 6.30 PM. Next meal at Bonntor at 10.30 PM (eighteen hours). Very cold in truck during night and packed like herrings. Glad to get to Limburg at 5.30 AM.

April 19 Arrived fine town of Limburg at 5.30 and marched through to Camp and had huge bowl of mangel and barley. Had enough to eat for first time since capture. Mangel stew again for dinner, and maize meal sweetened for tea. Issue of stale British rations, biscuits, mouldy bread and tin of tripe and onions between eight. Relished them all.

April 20 Breakfast 6 AM coffee and bread. Walked about outside till dinner to keep warm. Curious cow mixture for dinner, all chopped greens etc., solid but not filling. Issue of soap, barley and mangel for tea. Better food than last camp, but filthy lousy billets and one blanket.

 

A continuation of the diary, written on a German Prisoner of War's letter form.

 

May 8 Very hot day. Gendarme reported me to farmer for going to sleep on job in field, which was a lie. Had a bit of a row and told farmer straight gendarme a liar. Finished just after 10.

May 9 Thursday, Ascension Day, like Sunday (nix arbeit), good job, absolutely dead beat this morning. Walked over in afternoon to see pals at Hilderach, lovely little spot.

May 10 Work lighter through row with farmer, not on speaking terms. Also discovered my little thefts are detected, through boy who is a little spy and jackal, duly noted. Feel rather ashamed and decided to stop. Miserable day for me.

May 11 Talking to farmer again, though can't understand much. Worked in garden very hard till 9.30, and then cows.

May 12&endash;17 Nothing special occurred, all as usual, had some stiff days, days fearfully long, but a week soon goes.

May 18&endash;26 Everything going as ever. Friday the easiest day up to now. Weather gone very cold and stormy all at once, no work in the fields. Expected some post to-day, Sunday, but disappointed again. Getting paid every Sunday 3 marks 60 pfennig to-day, bought cigs, soap and pencil. One of pals taken off farm for tailoring work, only Alf and I left in district. In terrible state for underclothes, one shirt torn and ripped, and one cardigan too lousy to wear. Got huge appetite, never can get sufficient, yet eat as much as others, they're tight.

May 27&endash;29 Helped to plough field for Cappus plants, dug up one end, terrific work. Noon and night planted the Cappus, three thousand plants in one field and another smaller one for six of us, finished in seven hours continuous work. Had grand supper to finish at 9.30: mashed potatoes, soup and lettuce.

May 30 Thursday. Holiday, flags and decorations, religious procession for Catholics in all villages, fine shoe, lanes lined with flags and sprigs and strewn with sweet-scented flowers and leaves along the ground. Called to see Alf in afternoon, after a visit from him in morning, going in wood to boil some eggs.

May 31 Loaded manure from cow dump and horse dump, cleared both in day, nine huge cart loads, from 8 to 8, then spread in field till 9 then [………paper creased] hardest day yet here and of course in my life.

June 1 Finished spreading manure and then planted cappus for rest of day, a much easier job.

June 2 Sunday again, Alf called this morning, told couldn't go walk but went to spite them and nothing said, rotten lot. Went for razor to barber but had none to sell, so let us shave ourselves in fine shop. Went for walk with two fraulein at night and spent most of night with them (visitors from Rheydl). Expected some post to-day, but getting sick with always being disappointed.

June 3 Overslept a trifle and had to be called three times. Felt bad in stomach and sick, but stuck work. Ate little dinner and had row with lad and clouted him, thought it would be serious. very ill and had to lie down in afternoon. Caused quite eruptions. Old cat said I was dodging work. Did cows and went to bed without tea or supper. A wretched day in which the people proved their character, shouldn't like to be ill too often here.

June 4 Quite right again, worked in fields all day, working from 6 to 10 practically every day now.

June 5 In fields again to do with sheep [?]

June 6 Did some early hay making, beautiful day, finished a little earlier.

June 7 Worked in Bonen (bean) field the whole day, very monotonous all alone. Grand day again. No spuds to-night, seemed short.

June 8 In the forest the whole day gathering up dry mould from under the roots of dead trees for the cow stall and afterwards fine manure. Then double cartload of grass, nearly 11 when finished.

June 9 Started miserably for Sunday, homesick fit. Three visitors at night speaking English, had fine time. Piece of rhubarb cake for tea. One of friends is going to send me English-German Dictionary, gave me lesson in German. Treated better to-day than for a long time, and I've been telling boy […] Limburg etc., etc. Still nothing from England.

June 10&endash;16 Had bad time at farm, unpleasantness etc. Shifted suddenly on Friday 14th to Grouenlnich near Coln Briquette works. In hut with ten English, Aussies, Canadians etc. and pal, fine to be with lads again, very kind, had several gifts, but food at camp as usual bad. Worked in pit Saturday.

June 16&endash;23 Worked in pit every day but Sunday off again. Not too hard at all, very dirty, looking after length of railroad for big mining machine. Many gifts of food from pals, and two shirts each and razor.

June 23&endash;30 Another week's work down the pit Saturday six of us carried three hundred sleepers, also some line sections, dead beat. Had some salmon to-day, Sunday. Stew awful, but have to have it to keep hunger off. Still no packets.

July 1&endash;7 Worked on Bagger Machine all week, hard, gruelling work, choked and blinded with coal dust, Saturday night very welcome. Got some hard, stale and mouldy bread from chaps, soaked and baked in oven, and enjoyed immensely with some sardines, and also dry. Still no post, now 312 months.

July 7&endash;11 Some very hot weather. Soup wretched stuff this week and not had anything from other chaps for some time, practical starvation and getting very weak again. Soup made from turnip tops, some common beans like stewed grass.

June 12&endash;13 Two very hot days. Getting fearfully weak still. If no parcels soon will go under, nearly go to sleep standing up. Had two accidents 13th, got trapped in stomach between trucks in morning and had arm injured in afternoon. Mac also had foot run over and had to leave work and is lucky in getting Hospital job in future.

July 13&endash;15 Nothing fresh.

July 15&endash;22 Sickness broke out in camp. Three hundred men down. Helped to take temperatures. Ill myself, in Hospital Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Diet some thick macaroni and bread for all day. Lost appetite and eaten nothing but dry bread and water all week. Fearfully thin and weak, can't work, have to dodge.

July 22&endash;23 Still at work, but can't eat, miserable condition, weigh about eight stone now, soup and jam impossible to eat, vile stuff. Oh, if packets would come. Managed to do hard day's work on Bagger to-day, goodness knows how, got drenched this afternoon.

July 29 Worked again to-day, everything as usual. Raining every day.

August 4 Sunday again, off this time. Got some stuff from Limburg pending parcels arriving last Sunday night.

The diary is written in pencil in the tiniest possible handwriting. The work was hard on the farm, and he was isolated completely from companions, except on Sundays, but he did manage to spend much of one Sunday night trysting with Alf McNulty and two Rhinemaidens. He much preferred his time at the briquette works, though.

 

¶17

Meals on well-to-do German farm where they work hard from 6 in the morning to 10 and 11 at night

 

Breakfast Coffee made from burnt oats without milk or sugar, two or three rounds of black bread smeared thinly with a kind of black treacle made from turnips.

Dinner Thin vegetable soup and potatoes boiled, with a little lettuce and vinegar or potatoes and cabbage mashed together. About twice a week 2 oz of meat, smoked pork or boiled mutton with this.

Tea Three half rounds of black bread and three of best bread if which the flour is made from potatoes, the smallest suspicion of a smear of butter is put on and the usual treacle and coffee.

Supper (10.30 PM) The best meal of the day. Meal soup made from grain with a little milk like very…

 

¶18

Instructions to Prisoners of War.

 

…alteration in the ill treatment will cease until the English government has consented to the Germans' request. It is therefore in the interest of all English prisoners of spite to do their best to enable the German government to remove all English prisoners of spit to camps in Germany, where they will be properly treated with food, good clothes and you will succeed by writing as mentioned above and then surely the British government shall consent to Germany's request for the sake of their countrymen. You will be supplied with postcards, paper and envelopes, all the correspondence in which you explain your hardship will be sent as express mail to England. Your address Name Rank Battalion POW

Gefangenlager Wahn, Germany

I presume these were the instructions from the Camp Commandant to the newly arrived prisoners of war. Express mail never seems to have materialised&emdash;it always took around two months.

 

¶19

On back of Christmas card from his father; the two previous items are written on inside.

 

Read this while a prisoner 26th May 1918 and wonder what the future will bring, how soon will I see England again.


Letters from my Grandfather after his Capture

 

 

¶20

The blue postcard, announcing his capture.

 

I am a prisoner of war in Germany

Captured 21.3.1918

 

¶21

Dülmen i. Westf., the 7th April, 1918 [arrived 13th May]

 

Dear FMD & H

Quite well and in comfortable quarters and being well treated. I'm allowed one post card a week and one letter a fortnight, full letter next week, all news as possible. Will you send a little money, enquire at Post Office, and some cigs if possible. Cheer up, all is well and I'll be exchanged in six months or before, I'm on staff medical duty at present. Write at once, I believe it takes a month to come. Very best love to all and God bless and protect you, Frank.

 

¶22

14th April, 1918 [arrived 3rd June]

 

Dear FMD & H

This is the first chance of writing, unless you got the blue postcard, which I don't know whether reached you or went to the War Office. I shall be allowed a letter every fortnight and a post card every week, so you will hear every week from me. You see by above where I am, but I will address to Mabel now and again and let her know how I go on. Well, dear ones, they got me on the 21st March and we came through some dangers through the mercy of God that day, we were marched across no man's land and right back and then left for duty at a German Field Hospital, about twelve RAMC lads and two Medical Officers. We were treated with respect and every consideration here and worked tremendously hard for five days and the food was plain and rough but plentiful, we got the same as the Germans themselves. After that we were sent with many more prisoners, Infantry etc. etc. a long march to a guarded building, fed, and slept, and next morning another long march to an open cage. Things had changed now, we were prisoners. At the hospital we had no armed guard and went about at will almost, we spent a bad time in the cage and then entrained for Germany and landed at this camp. I've kept a diary of everything and will continue to, so as to show you afterwards. We are in comfortable quarters here and at present under ten days quarantine, bathed, fumigated, vaccinated, inoculated etc. then we'll be put on different jobs. I with two others have been put on the medical staff of the Camp and have been going round dressing the last two days. We get our food augmented by parcels from Prisoner of War Funds, an emergency parcel we've already had, bully beef, cheese, dripping, tea, cocoa, milk, one parcel between two, it isn't much but a God send for all that. You won't be able to send me any boxes from home now, only through some Prisoners fund. I hope you'll make enquiries and see what can be done; letters I don't think there's any ban on, so you know what to do, all. Well, this is my 25th day and in six months I will be safely home again, this is quite true, there are several RAMCs here about to be exchanged after five months and others have gone before them they knew, so buck up and don't worry. I'm with four more chaps out of our Ambulance and our work will keep our minds occupied to a great extent. If you can send a little money and some cigs do, but food is the most urgent, it's a bit thin at first, but when settled down alright. Very best love to all and God bless and protect you. Your loving Frank.

 

¶23

Postmark: Dülmen, 13.5.1918

 

Pte A. E. Ormerod

2/3rd E. Lancs Field Ambulance

RAMC

BEF

France

 

14th April, 1918

 

Dear Albert

A line to tell you the lads and myself are safe and sound. Dibb, Chapple, McNulty, Taffy Thomas, Moir and some 2nd F.A. are here, I don't know where Sergeant Miller and others are. Well, Albert old pal, we've been through a lot, but are settled now and I'm on the medical staff of the Camp. Let me know if you're alright and who's copped, we're quite in the dark, how did Parkie go on? Being treated better than I thought. Best luck Frank.

See ¶72. This postcard was forwarded to his father reaching him in August.

 

¶24

Postmark: Limburg, 25.5.1918

 

5th May, 1918

 

Dear FMD & H

Nothing reached me yet. No chance to write, no paper or cards through all travelling and changing. I am now on a farm in Rhineland, dropped on my feet again you see, beautiful country. They are the hardest working and most economical people on this earth. I work on the farm, cows horses and fields [c. six lines obliterated by German censor][last line in pencil illegible]

¶25

14th June, 1918

 

Dear FMD & H

A letter at last, but little time to write it. Well, more changes, I'm now at a factory, coal and briquettes, only came to-day but it looks like mining, but it will be easier than the farm. Seven weeks on a farm has altered me for the better with good food, but the work! 6 in the morning to 10 at night, at it like steam all the time was killing until you got used to it, you may guess. I don't know the reason of the change, the food will be different, but I believe it's a step towards exchange as RAMCs go from here. It isn't because I didn't work, I worked like a black on the farm. A strange experience it has been, isolated from week's end to week's end, not able to understand anything and never hearing a word of English, also knowing nothing about farming, it was extremely difficult to get on at all, but gradually I picked up the lingo and gained strength for the work, though misunderstandings were always occurring and I didn't get on well. I had just the same food as the farmer, wife, boy, family at same table, nice bed etc. The window was barbed wired and I had to report to the sentry every Sunday, which was the only time I saw Alf McNulty, my only pal (128, Sewerby St) I heard that strange language English. On Sunday I could go a walk in the woods and country which were beautiful. That may be the reason I'm here as they were afraid of us escaping with so much liberty and so near to Holland but I shouldn't have risked that. I was well off at the farm and working hard knowing that as soon as proof came through that I was in the medical Corps (Sannatator) the deutsch government would keep their pledge and see I was exchanged. I fully expected being at the farm for the season as my work was good and always getting better as I learnt but I expect it's all for the best. It's with sorrow I leave the farmer, he was a fair good man to work for, though some of them used to make it miserable for me at times. At present I'm among friends, twenty-odd English chaps here getting pals and good natured as ever, of course, I sadly missed company at the farm. What a treat it will be to get a letter from you, it will be a tonic to see the dear old writing again; three months is nearly up now, I shall be hearing any time and I'm living for it, I pray every night all is well and that I shall see you all as usual again before so long and I believe it will be answered. I'd felt the change coming for the past fortnight. What notice did you get? That I was missing, or missing believed prisoner or what? I got it through as soon as possible. I got a German officer at the Hospital where we worked at first to promise to send a post card I gave him, did you get it? The post is frightfully slow. I've written you every week except last when I could get neither post card nor letter, the lads here have been kind enough to give me this, they cannot do too much. I tell you, it's good to be among comrades again, food and cigs they've given us from their scanty store. The French are also the best of friends, made us coffee and gave us a tin of sardines between the two of us. Well to-morrow we start work here for better or worse, though it cannot be harder and it's only a twelve hour day which should be a lazy life for me now. So until next writing time I must close as I've written a great deal and [……]

Good night and God bless and protect you all. Your loving Frank.

Excuse hurry, lucky to get a letter card, but better next time.

¶26

Postmark: Limburg, 10.7.1918

 

23rd June, 1918 [received 13th August]

 

Dear FMD & H

Just a post card this week but I can tell you this has been a change for the better [three lines obliterated by German censor] They have been real comrades, given [Alf?] and I two shirts and a razor and many articles of food etc. and it makes things far happier than the farm to be with them. I'm only anxious about you and once I start hearing can bear it all until the good time comes. We're in a hut with the other English and seventeen French all tres bon, all the rest of the concern is done by Russians, the whole country is full of them. Well, over three months gone and quickly too with so many adventures, another three months and old 69 I can feel it coming. Till then God bless you and protect you, Frank

'69' is home: 69, Lloyd Street South.

 

¶27

30th June, 1918 [arrived September 26th]

 

My Dear FMD & H

I'm allowed one letter a fortnight again now, and the boys French and English have given us some post cards and letters. It's even harder to know how to write here than it was in France you may guess and I thought that bad enough. I wonder whether you've received all my letters etc.

I haven't heard from you yet, nor received any parcels from the Prisoners of War Help Committee, though some of the chaps in another compound who were captured in March have started getting parcels, but it's from you I'm so anxious to hear.

Well, I'll just tell you briefly how I'm faring here and risk it getting through. [ten lines obliterated by German censor]

We have two hours for breakfast one hour for dinner in which we have to come to the hut and go back, about one mile each way and half an hour from 3.30 till 4 and finish at 6 at night. We get a big bowl of soup at 12 and the same at 6 when we finish and about 8 oz of bread with a little jam or sausage at 8 PM for the next day's issue. We aren't allowed out of the little compound in which our hut is situated, of course, except to go to work and we are constantly under guard, but all the guards are decent fellows and never bother us. We manage to keep cheerful in spite of the restrictions and conditions, though of course it will be better when your letters and parcels and the Help Committee's start coming, the Frenchies and our chaps spend lots of time cooking and warming stuff from their parcels, toasting their army biscuits etc. and it's rather hard to have none of your own, though they've been very good and we've had little bits of extras from them at times. And we're all good company, in the same boat as it were, all I've to do is to copy Mr Micawber and wait for something to turn up and the sooner the better, all we hear in the way of exchange is hopeful, there are no RAMC men here but us two, they've all left after a month or two, so I believe that when proof comes through from our War Office that we are non-combatant (and we know how long it takes from our experience) that I'll be home again. I can't tell you how I'm looking forward to that first letter. I'm looking out every time any post comes now and it gets a bit disappointing. Some of the men get so many cigs a month through some firm like Martins, you used to send them to me in France, I wish you could do the same, the comfort of a smoke you get to want more and more. If you haven't sent the money I asked for at Dülmen, don't now, because it's practically of little use, as we can't spend it to any advantage.

Well, I must close until next Sunday's post card and by then I expect to have heard something from you or had some post at any rate, so God bless and protect you all.

Best love from your loving Frank.

 

¶28

Postmark: Limburg, 1.8.1918

 

[Sunday] 21st July, 1918 [arrived 24th September]

 

Dear FMD & H

Was too late with my letter last week, but there was nothing new. I've had the 10/- you sent [two months' journey] dated Princess Road 14th May and I was very thankful to know you'd heard from me by then. Nothing else has arrived since, but it's a start and I was very grateful. More next week.

God bless and protect you all, Frank.

 

¶29

Postmark: Limburg, 7.8.1918

 

[Sunday] 28th July, 1918 [arrived 24th September]

 

Dear FMD & H

I received your letters on Friday night, the first ones. To think you never heard from the War Office. It has made a world of difference to me since I got your letter. I'd been afraid of bad news and was very anxious. Goodness knows where the parcels are the RAMC have sent, not one has come yet, though most other regiments have got them through to their men who were captured same time: G.W. Parkinson was a good pal in France, I thought he'd been captured. Awfully sorry about Ivy. Keeping well and fit. Letter next Sunday. God bless you, Frank.

The reference to his cousin Ivy is in response to his father's letter telling him she had been diagnosed as suffering from incipient consumption (see ¶47).

 

¶30

30th July, 1918 [arrived 12th September]

 

Dear FMD & H

I told you in my post card that I'd got your letter and Harry's and I was very delighted to receive word at last. You should have had word from the War Office very soon to say I was missing. I expect you thought it was all up with me that's why I tried to get something through to you as soon as I could, one post card was sent on March 27th from Le Cateau as we went through that place, and the next from Dulmen, which is the one you got. You must have been to endless trouble and it's a wonder my parcels are so late, as they must have got to know through you very early that I was a prisoner, I can't understand it. But still, I suppose they're mixed up somewhere and on Sunday they sent some stuff from Limburg for those who hadn't got any parcels yet and I got some oatmeal, tea, sugar, bully beef and tinned maconachie and a tin of jam with a small packet of biscuits and I can tell you I've enjoyed life this last three days. I'll do my best to get you a pipe, but we can't get out at all and our money is in check form, all the same I'll manage it. Did I tell you, I had a fine new pair of boots ready for bringing home when I came on leave and I left them with Edward, and I expect he had to leave them when they evacuated, so that's off it's sad to say. Your second 10/- came on Sunday I got 12 marks for it [six lines obliterated by German censor] If anything happens as regards being repatriated I'll let you know at once, these moves happen very suddenly and our time is nearly up here I think. Yes, Pontefract was captured the same day as me but I never saw him. George Parkinson was a particular pal at the time in France. I thought he had been captured too. I shall drop him a post card. Oh yes, my wallet, cigarette case and photos are still intact though the worse for wear, I've stuck like glue though everything else has gone for bits of food. I can't say how glad I was to hear you were all well as ever, may God keep you so. I'm in good health and bucking up now and as well as ever except for dropping a little weight. I weigh about 8 st in my clothes but when my packets come I'll soon put it on again, all the English prisoners look fine and plump and healthy [looks like it]. I've had to rush this so please excuse it. Well, I must finish quickly and try and make more time next letter. Thank Harry for his letter and I am looking forward to Mabel and Dora's also, as Harry says they are writing.

So I'll close with best of love and God bless and protect you all, Frank.

'Maconochie' was tinned meat and vegetable stew for soldiers, a standard item of diet. His reference to his weight is, of course, ironical. Hunger was his greatest problem whilst a prisoner, even when on the farm.

 

¶31

Postmark: Limburg 15.8.1918

 

[Sunday] 4th August, 1918 [arrived 10th September]

 

Dear FMD & H

The second 10/- arrived safely and your letters of June 1st came to-day. It's great to be in touch again. I don't feel so lost. I'm still keeping well but no packets come for me, though nearly everyone else are getting theirs. I wish they'd let you send something it would have been here now. You don't need make the letters quite so short, the other came alright. The address is to Limburg, Fil. 1, not Dulmen now, but so long as they keep coming I can stand the brevity. What are R.[ose] H.[ewitt]'s sending Mabel? Nothing come! Letter next week. God bless and protect you all, Frank.

 

¶32

Postmark: Limburg 22.8.1918

 

[Sunday] 1[1]th August, 1918 [arrived about 13th September]

 

Dear FMD & H

Delighted to get your letter from Dad and M[abel] to-day. I'm glad to hear about R.[ose] H.[ewitt] & Co. it may mean more stuff but up to now nothing has arrived from either lot. Your letters are coming fine now, three from home and one from Dora. If you can send some Capstan cigs please do as they often get lost out of the other packets, you can do it through the Red Cross. Letter later in week. All OK. God bless you all, Frank.

 

¶33

Postmark: Limburg, 29.8.1918

 

[Sunday] 18th August, 1918 [arrived 17th October]

 

Dear FMD & H

I got two letters on the 15th, yours and one from W. J. Parkinson. I don't know him, you've got the wrong chap, Dad. My pal is George W. P. (17? Pinder Street). Well, time is wearing on, five months now. If I'm not moved before this post card reaches you, I shan't know what to think. Could you get to know from Edward if any of the other lads have been returned. Beautiful weather and keeping well. Partner got more parcels and sharing them with me. Mine nil. More in letter. God bless and protect you, Frank.

The letter from the wrong Parkinson is ¶51.

 

¶34

Postmark: Limburg, 10.9.1918

 

[Sunday] 1st September, 1918 [arrived 22nd November]

 

Dear FMD & H

Letter day again but nothing to reply to from you to-day, it's about a fortnight since I got your last letter and then you hadn't had anything beyond my first post card. That makes six letters I've had all told, three from home, two from Dora and one from that J. W. Parkinson (whom I don't know). There is nothing fresh [three lines obliterated by German censor] The weather is […] pleasant this time of the year here, nearly always raining and none too warm. I wish you could send me some papers, but it isn't allowed, but photos you can send, the other chaps get them. I'd just like to see a letter issue of the 'Weekly Despatch' etc., we hear all kinds of rumours of happenings on the Front, but get nothing really definite, we are told to expect the end of the war in two or three months, is that so? Well no news of exchange or any sign, we seem to be forgotten here. In our paper the 'Continental Times' there was a lot about an agreement of prisoners exchange, but the paragraphs suddenly ceased, did you hear anything of it. Well, my ill luck still clings to me, Alf McNulty is getting his parcels regularly now, and though I've been with him, next name and number to him, ever since capture not a single one has come for me yet in spite of the fact that you say they started sending May 14th, there's only an odd one or two left without now and of course I'm one. I spent two marks on a lottery with Alf McNulty and he got fifty marks prize with the next number to mine. He still has the nice job in the hospital which he luckily got through being sick just when they wanted one, so I may be excused for looking out for a bit coming my way one of these dreary days. My pal still shares half his parcels with me and that makes me more anxious for mine to come. Could you write to the Committee in Grosvenor Square, London and tell them and give them my right address, so as not to delay in Dülmen again if possible. The Northumberland chaps' packets see us through for splendid additions to our food and to-day we had a grand dinner for Sunday, having to work delayed it, that's all. I feel quite different since I started hearing from you and I don't mind things as long as that privilege is still allowed. I reckon patience is a thing I've learned. Well, God grant we may be together again very soon. I trust all are as well as ever, just as you were seventeen months ago, when I saw you last.

God bless and protect you all. Best love from Frank.

Don't forget those recipes Mabel and Dora and keep up the letters all and Harry not excepted.

Five packets came after 1st September, since then they have arrived regularly.

My grandfather always reckoned he was unlucky, whether it was raffles or anything else.

 

¶35

Postmark: Limburg, 19.9.1918

 

[Sunday] 8th September, 1918 [arrived Thursday, 10th October?]

 

My Dear FMD & H

Got both letters from Mabel and Dad. My parcels have started and I've had two fine one from the RAMC Fund London, both sent in July, I suppose all the earlier ones are held up somewhere. Will reply to your welcome letters next Sunday (letter day). Nothing fresh, we must be patient at both ends and trust that all be right soon. I am better off now than any other time since capture, so there's nothing to worry about. Write again soon. Good night and God bless and protect you all. Very best love, Frank.

 

¶36

Postmark: Limburg, 25.9.1918

 

15th September, 1918

 

My Dear Mabel

Just a line as PromisEd yOu'll Perhaps get my LettEr at home as well. I hope your cold is Better it will hAve had time During the time this takes. I had a few days off lAst week but am alright again now and feeling any amount better since my parcels stArted. Yes, it was lonely on the farm, it was awful but that Lot's fine nOw. Write again Soon and I'll answer more fully next Time. Good night and God bless you. Best of love from loving brother, Frank.

Here's one of the secret messages, but I found it hard to decipher.

¶37

Postmark: Limburg, 25.9.1918

 

Sunday, 15th September, 1918 [arrived 14th November]

 

Dear FMD & H

I've had Dad's letters dated 15th June and 3rd July and Mabel's dated 8th July, all came week before last. I didn't get one last week, but I'm looking forward for something next week, also from Dora and Harry. Well, I expect you'll be getting some of the post cards I wrote from the farm just now [four lines obliterated by German censor] we've bought some more stationary to-day. Though it's no easy thing here and a lot less freedom I thank goodness I was taken off the farm. Now my parcels have started, I'm not doing at all badly, it makes a great difference, it's a grand novelty at present and something to keep looking forward to. I've had three up to now, all sent in July, I expect May and June's are held up somewhere but will come soon. They are grand parcels, different every time, there are from eleven to thirteen articles in each: jam, butter or dripping, soap, bully beef, pork and beans, meat and vegetables, biscuits, salmon or sardines, camp pie or sausages (and onions), puddings, bacon, Quaker Oats or rice, tea, cocoa or coffee and sometimes milk and sugar besides condiments. We should get a box of bread biscuits every week, which when soaked in water and put on the stove, swell up and soften and are like bread, but we've only had an issue sent from Limburg, no boxes yet, but they all come eventually [one line obliterated by German censor] my parcels have been in fine condition. My pal has got his clothes too, mine will be coming any day, he got three pairs of socks, three shirts and undervests, three handkerchiefs, suit and overcoat, pants, cardigan, boots and braces. So you see we are looked after like spoiled children. It makes me feel sorry for the Russians, Rumanians, Servians etc., the French and Belgians and Italians do get something but we are the best off people in this land. I see you say the four months is up, Dad. Yes, the six is almost up now and no sign, but as long as we all keep safe and well, we ought not to grumble, just bear up with patience, I've not much time to worry and I'm glad of it [two lines obliterated by German censor] I'm sorry I never got those […] sent just before I was caught, as long ones aren't allowed now. So you got my first postcard from the farm and that was all they let through. Oh, well, it's nothing, it can all wait. I got your letter Mabel and am dropping you a card to-day, instead of this letter, you know. I don't know how I'll go on about R[ose] H[ewitt]'s parcels, only so many are allowed, perhaps the money is going to the RAMC Fund instead of the Lancashire POW Fund as the three parcels I've had have come from the RAMC, Grosvenor Square, London.

Well, it's a treat to hear all are well at home, that is a mercy I pray for every day. That's the next best thing to seeing you and I trust it won't be long before that happens. Anything you want to know and I can tell you of course I will do, so don't fail to ask in your next. All your letters have come intact so far, nothing crossed out. Photos are allowed and I long to see some, Dora and Harry must be grown up by now, it seems to me. Well, the longer away only makes the joy greater when the good time comes along. Write often, I must close now.

Good night and God bless and protect you all. With best love from Frank.

 

¶38

Postmark: 3.10.1918

 

22nd September, 1918 [arrived 22nd November]

 

My Dear FMD & H

Very delighted to get three letters yesterday, Mabel's and two from Dad. Besides I've had a parcel from RAMC and one of biscuits, a good week, eh? I'm in hospital at present, had a slight accident [two lines obliterated by German censor] I've had a nice week's rest [………] I'm right, it was only outward injury, very welcome, in fact, for a change. Your letters haven't broken any rules, for I've had them all good […] I'm looking forward for the 200 smokes you've sent, we're very short. Yes, I was disappointed about letters for long after that, it was a bad time but happy enough now, it is wonderful how well your letters come. Letter next Sunday. God bless and protect you all. Best love, Frank.

The details of the accident are in the diary (see page 16, June 13th, 1918). My grandfather suffered from this injury for the rest of his life: he was never able to straighten out his right arm.

 

¶39

Postmark: Limburg, 10.10.1918

 

30th September, 1918 [arrived 22nd November]

 

My Dear Father Mabel Dora and Harry

I received Dad's and Mabel's letters alright on Wednesday and also one from Edward same time. From what he says the old Ambulance did wonders, getting through an astonishing number of wounded British and German, there was no time to get the equipment away, so all that was lost. I learnt the fate of many pals, some got the Military Medal, some got captured like me, while some were caught in the barrage, so I'm not of the unluckiest. I thought Edward would have told you all about it himself, but I was surprised to hear he hadn't had his leave yet. And I've been blessing my luck at being captured just as I was about to go on leave and I shouldn't have got it after all. Yes Mabel, I know you can't send any parcels like the old ones in France, all you can send is one every quarter or three months, it was perhaps hardly worth it as you say, the only things I want really are razor, brushes, comb, muffler. But, smokes I want you to send as often as possible if you will every month and risk it. Well, Mabel I see you've been decorating the old home, how I should like to see it, it is approaching two years since I last saw it now. You'll have to play some soft touching music, while I recite the 'Wanderer's Return' (The Old Home&emdash;How things have changed etc.) when I come again. Can I swim, well, I could. I got across a lake when we were at Arques in France and did several marvellous feats in the sea at Braydunes, my strokes were breast and back, if I tried any others it depended how deep the water was, the distance I swam for I always sank to the bottom. But still, I was doing well and messed about miles out of my depth. You'll do it both you and Dora if you stick it, it took me a fearful time and it was delightful to feel oneself actually floating for the first time. Alec McCleod's touch is a grand piece of luck nowadays Mabel. I'd give something for it and his place. Well Dad, I knew of no rule about putting both addresses inside, but it perhaps is so, neither have I heard any of the other rules. The only wrong yet was your last letter which had been delayed a little but kindly sent through after. There was a note saying you must write clearer so I hope you will in future, as I can't afford to miss any letters. I hadn't noticed your letter being joggy as you say, what was worrying you at the time, don't worry about me, you have no need to fear, I'm with the best of fellows. I've not heard from Dora lately, or Harry, but I'm glad to hear all is well with them with all. I'll try and write more to them next time after I've heard.

Well, everything as usual here. I soon got out of hospital and only feel a little sore now, which will soon pass off. How are you faring, as well as when I left? And when will the war be over? That's another question. I had better close now, next Sunday I'll send another post card, so until then, good night and God bless you all, very best wishes, your loving Frank.

 

¶40

Postmark: Limburg, 17.10.1918

 

Sunday, 6th October, 1918 [arrived 21st November]

 

My Dear FMD & H

At last it has come. On Friday I had an interview with three representatives from Switzerland and they tell me in a week I shall start for Limburg, then to Switzerland and dear old home. I can hardly realise it, I've been seething with excitement ever since. Well, I've had two letters from Auntie Emmie and one from Dora (and also three more parcels) since I last wrote, so let them know the good news. How long will it take before I finally get home, I wonder, not long once started. Will write when I can on the way. So good night and God bless and protect you all. With my best love, Frank.

 

¶41

Postmark: Limburg, 25.10.1918

 

Sunday, 14th October, 1918 [arrived 4th December]

 

My Dear Father Mabel Dora and Harry

The last letter I had from you was one of June's, this was a bit late bit I've had most of them very regularly and I don't think a single one has been lost. I owe thanks to someone for I should have felt very lost without letters, they've made a great deal of difference. Well, I told you the good news in my post card last week, another day or two should see me off to Limburg and after getting everything settled journey to Switzerland and then home. That's what the men told me anyhow. They said in about a week I should be in Limburg and in a fortnight start for Switzerland, it's two days over the week since they came, so I'm expecting to be off any time. Everything is the same here, the weather is grand for October, although it has been rather cold in the early mornings. We're all in the best of health and living in the hope that peace may soon come to all the countries at war. If we happen to see the German Red Cross men who are coming in exchange for us there will be some congratulations. I had another letter from Auntie Emmie and one from Wilf Bradley. So Edward hasn't had leave yet. Well, the hope that perhaps he had taken that new pair of boots I had for you, Dad, is squashed, in fact I don't suppose he ever got away with them as everything was left, equipment, stores, packs etc. they were so busy with wounded at Bernes, but trifles like that don't matter at all, I shall get some more very probably. All are well at home by your latest letter and Auntie Emmie (whose letter came very quickly and which is by far the most recent) says the same. That's the best news I could wish for, may you all keep so. I have indeed a lot to be thankful for, I'm quite aware of it. I grumble about my luck but it is better to be lucky in the big things than in trifles. Well, I will close for the present. Should I be able to write on the way you may be sure I will as often as possible. So good night and God bless and protect you. Best of love to all, Frank.

Love to Auntie Emmie, Uncle Albert and Ivy and tell them I was very pleased to get the letter.

 

¶42

Postmark: Limburg, 31.10.1918

 

20th October, 1918

 

My Dear FMD & H

I had no letters from you last week and its the first time I've missed for some time. I'm still in the same place, I expect things have been delayed. This is the hardest time, waiting day by day for the hoped for order to go to Limburg. But I don't give up hope, something will happen before long and I shall see dear old England again and be with you all by Christmas. Very wet lately here. Well, better news next Sunday. God bless and protect you all. Best love, Frank.

 

¶43

Postmark: Limburg, 7.11.1918

 

27th October, 1918

 

My Dear FMD & H

Perhaps I was a little previous with my rejoicings for I haven't had the expected order to move to Limburg yet. It was just after I'd had your letter saying you'd heard from the War Office that I was to be exchanged that I saw the Representative from Switzerland. They promised we should be on the way in a fortnight, but although I should know by now that these exchanges take a long time I was over eager. Well, we must trust it will come soon. I've not heard from you for a fortnight. All's well here. God bless and protect you, Frank.

The Armistice was signed a fortnight later, on 11th November, 1918. The exchange never happened: the gates of the Camp were just left open, and the prisoners set off. I presume my grandfather walked to the Dutch border.

 

¶44

Postmarks: Venlo, 24.11.1918, London 2.12.1918 [arrived 4.12.1918]

 

My Dear FMD & H

We crossed the Holland border to-day [Friday, 23rd November] I come through Rotterdam and will be home in a few days. Best of love, Frank.

Venlo Saturday

 

¶45

Postmark: Venlo, 27.11.1918; London, 4.12.1918

 

Venlo, Tuesday, 6 PM [3rd December (wrong, must be previous week), arrived 6th]

 

My Dear FMD & H

Just another line while I'm here. We're having a good time, but not allowed out of barracks as most of us arrived in an unenviable state from Germany and we're in a kind of quarantine. So it may be a few days before we leave. We've been supplied with underclothes, good food, chocolate and cigs and been treated with the finest hospitality by the Dutch who think the world of us, but I'm all excitement to get home. I expect we'll have to be rechecked, inoculated etc., etc. before then so it won't be for a bit yet. Very best love, Frank.

 

¶46

Postmark: Venlo, 1.12.1918; London, 2.12.1918

 

Venlo, 30th November, 1918

 

My Dear FMD & H

Still here you see. We're held up for some reason or other. We're alright but I'm impatient to start on the homeward journey. There's about ninety of us put up at the District Casino a fine place and we're looked after by the British Help Committee. About 150 British soldiers are in Venlo all waiting to go to Rotterdam, some have been here ten days. It will be fine if I can get home for Xmas. They'll have to move us as more prisoners come through I expect. Best love to all, Frank.


Letters to my Grandfather after his Capture

 

 

¶47

Stamped on back: 12.7.1918 Limburg

 

May 14th, 1918

Tuesday

 

My Dear Son,

At last I am able to write to you again now you have sent me an address which only arrived this morning, thirty-seven days after it is dated. Well, to begin with I thank God you are safe and well, and to hear that you are in charge of such just and friendly officials. I say again, I am fervently thankful for all these mercies when you might have been beyond our reach from this world for ever. Well, if you only meet with people like my old and revered friend Mr Voigt, the Prussian who came and prayed with your beloved Mother through her last tragic days, you will be blessed indeed, as we know he was a saint on earth, if one could ever be known.

I cannot tell you all my fears and efforts since the 21st of March. After your letter of the 19th I thought you were right in the zone of danger. I went up to Ormrod's many times and wrote to Edward and the Lieutenant Colonel, the British Red Cross, the RAMC Record Offices in Woking and London, the RAMC at Chorlton Road, three people at the Record Office at Preston, the Territorial Headquarters in Salford and more still advertized in the 'Evening News' and yet withal your first post card was as early as any news I got from them all. You can believe how profoundly glad I was to see your own handwriting again. So then I began to make all enquiry if I could send parcels etc and find it is not allowed, but I am told that the Prisoners of War Society has sent and is sending you parcels, but I wait to hear more particulars from you. We are only allowed to send one private parcel per quarter and the things in it are nothing but trash, no eatables whatever. I shall send the two things you mention (cash and cigarettes) you may be sure, but the RAMC Comforts Fund write me that they sent 100 cigs in each parcel, do they or not?

Edward told me the RAMC prisoners were repatriated in four months by mutual agreement between Germany and England, and that matter also I have enquired into most exhaustively and am most pleased to hear by your post card also that it is correct. You were disappointed of your visit home in April, but you have I trust done better than that four two months of captivity has gone already. Well get some of your guards and patients to teach you German and bring me a German pipe home if you are allowed enough liberty to buy one.

Many people have been to see me (whose sons were with you) after my advertisement. A Mrs Pontefract from Chorlton and others and some G. W. Parkinson has written to ask me about you. Is that the red-haired chemist you once had at home? I hear that Edward and Wilfred got your last parcel, it got there some time in April, they say the stuff had gone rather bad but they cut off the outside and ate the other gladly. Will Boor of Bishop Street, whom you knew, was killed this month. Ralph is in London yet. Dora is still at Emily's, little Ivy is pronounced by the doctors to be in incipient consumption, which it is to be hoped is not so. I went to spend a Saturday lately at your Uncle Percy's new house at Eccles Old Road, it's the finest house they've ever had. Arthur and his wife are there too. I don't know where Clarry is now. Arthur is still as dotty and imbecile as ever. I often wish I could run over to see you and have a day or two but I'd be a prisoner too then instead of having mugs of lager with you, so we must wait till you come to us. Have you got your wallet of photos still, and your flask and other things, or were they lost? In your last letter (19th March) you said 'a good allotment had come round,' did they pay it you or not, you told us no more about it?

I am looking forward with avidity to your full letter and to hear all the details you are allowed to tell us. You can still write to Mabel as of yore. She will be glad of any news as you used to once remember her. Well I intend to write you each week so you will have a succession of letters after this month passes and you can send each fortnight. I suppose you are attending both the German and English wounded, have you got interpreters and have you difficulty with the language. I shall be glad to hear.

I must close now to get this letter off the same day as yours came, so with my blessing and prayer for your welfare I remain with best love your ever loving Father.

God bless you.

My great grandfather must have been so relieved to discover his son was still alive. He had already suffered the loss of his wife and younger son. His wife's relations figure large in the letter. Ralph Hargreaves was her sister's husband. They lost all their children. he survived the war and they settled in America. Uncle Albert appeared in the pageants with his daughter Ivy, who suffered from consumption. Uncle Arthur sounds distinctly odd. I met Uncle Clarry, Clarry Wilkes, in about 1960, when he came to visit my grandfather who was visiting us at Manley Road. He was suffering from cancer then, and sat on a special ring. I believe his father, Percy Wilkes, was a violin maker. I kept in touch with uncle Clarry's widow Dora for several years. Her daughter married a Czech and had children there. We have lost touch now.

 

¶48

132, Langworthy Road

Thursday, 12 PM, May 17 1917 [sic]

 

My Dear Frank

I was delighted to find your last post card when I went home yesterday, with your address and to know that we could at last write to you. We heard nothing of you for a month, and were in miserable suspense. Every time I went home there had still been no letter, then we heard the Germans had taken Peronne, and we knew you were somewhere near. Dad wrote all over:&emdash;to the Red Cross, your CO, Edward and others, and received back a letter from Edward, saying that you had been at a little place called Bernes (or something) when Peronne had been taken, and that you were missing, but that he thought you had been taken prisoner. Well, the idea of you being reported missing was awful, and devilish, it might have meant that you were killed or very badly wounded. Well, three days later we heard from one society to say you were officially reported Prisoner of War. Well that was a relief, at any rate, then better still we had a printed post card from you yourself from Germany. The following day week we had another from you, in your own writing, and then, at last, the last one. If you are as well etc., in all ways as you say, I am thankful you are out of the fighting. By Jove, if it is true that you get back in a few months, home here, it will be worth waiting for. We are all looking eagerly forward to your first letter. As you can only send one letter a fortnight you won't be able to send me any here, so just scribble a line or two for me at the bottom of the letter you send home&emdash;please! Well, if we could write all we felt it would be a dashed lot, but oh! we're awfully thankful you are all right and well and everything Frank old chap.

Matty is now courting Alex McCloud from next door or dashed nearby. I'm still on my own, which suits me best. We are going to have a frightfully busy time this week-end in the shop as Whit Week time is the very busiest of the whole year for us. Mabel and Aunt Frances are coming to help us. It is much the same here, only queues are a thing of the past nearly. Uncle Ralph went to France on Tuesday, at last he has had a final leave. The confectioner's shop on the next block is our enquiry office, because they have two sons who have been prisoners of war for ages and they can tell us this, that and the other. They say that you are not allowed to write long letters to Germany only short notes or they will never be delivered to the soldiers. Is that so? Anyhow I'm not risking any more in case it doesn't get delivered to you which would be awful, but I will write as often as I possibly can. It is now 12.30 PM and I'm writing this upstairs so will write more tomorrow but will get this posted in the morning, so Good Luck, and very fondest love, from your loving sister Dora.

P.S. When you feel a bit off, think you see Scott and Whaley. They have been over here again.

 

¶49

Stamped on back: 5.8.18 Limburg

 

Prisoner of War

F. Gent

Group 3 Block C

Comp. 54 Barrack 123

Gefangenenlager

Dulmen i Westf

Germany

 

May 23rd, 1918

 

69, Lloyd Street South

 

My dear Son

I have been looking for your letter ever since your post card came ten days ago but no news yet. We both find it very painful waiting and I wish to write you every week so think it best not to wait longer till yours arrives. We sent you a long letter on 15th May and I sent you 10/- through the Post Office same date, so you will be getting them both, then you can tell me if you need more sending. I have been unable to find out if I can send you cigs myself, but I am told they will send them in the parcel you get from the War Prisoners Comforts Society.

I had a letter from Rose Hewitt asking for your address. I see Mabel tells it to you. I saw Mr Kelly and had long talk. Parcel going to be sent to you and to Frank Hardman, three every fortnight I believe, through the Lancashire Prisoners of War Society so I suppose that will do away with the parcels from the RAMC fund, as they most likely know what names are on the list of each fund. I think it will cost Rose Hewitt £9 per quarter each of you so it is very much to be thankful for.

I am longing to hear from you more fully and more often, and do trust you will be repatriated at the four months' end as per the agreement of the governments.

Mr Clarke's sons write home how fit they are keeping and I read the letters and see their photos and think how much more sensible they are by waiting patiently that fellows who attempt to make the captivity shorter by a little by trying to escape and so risking so much by their folly.

This Whit Week has been intensely hot till today, Thursday. We were going out with McLeods today to Dunham but great thunder storms set in so everyone disappointed. All of us were going, we seem to have got very thick the two families since Alec was over and so keen on Mabel.

I am trying to teach Harry to read a bit, slow work. I put him through Æsop's fables, lesson in reading and lesson in wisdom at the same time, have just been going through the oak and the reed in the storm, the oak sneers at the reed's bending humility in the face of a stronger force. The oak is too proud to bend, so is cast down wrecked, and when the storm has passed the reed bobs its head up again but the grand huge oak is done. Very good moral, eh, never be too proud to yield to the inevitable.

Well things at home about as monotonous as ever, longing for you to be home again. God grant us that joy soon. I don't think there is any fresh news, so with my dear love and blessing I am your affectionate Father. God bless you.

 

¶50

23rd May

 

My dear Frankie

Just a few lines to let you know that all is well. I hope you are alright. Have you got the parcels that are being sent to you through the Red Cross? You should have had several by now. Rose Hewett's have written asking us for your address. They are going to see about sending you boxes, three every fortnight. Isn't it good of them? You will have got our letters by now, won't you? We all wrote last week, so I hope you will have had them by the time you get this. Last night we had a terrific storm. The thunder and lightning was fearful, I was awake half the night. We have had some lovely weather though up till now. What is it like where you are? We are all anxiously waiting for your letter. It is miserable waiting for letters, isn't it? I suppose you are getting quite despondent with not having any news from home for so long. It is much worse for you because you are alone, but it is no use we have simply got to wait patiently until the end. It seems to last a long time. It is Whit Week and we were going to have had a day in the country. McLeod's were going to have come too, but the rain put the ky-bosh on it all. We will go tomorrow if it is fine. I think it will be as the glass is going up. Well I wonder if we will get a letter tonight. I hope so. I will write again soon.

With best love from your affectionate sister Mabel.

¶51

Postmark: Manchester, 30.[5].1918; Limburg, 9.8.1918

 

Private W. J. Parkinson

168, Moss Lane East

Moss Side

Manchester

 

Dear Friend

Just a few lines hoping you are keeping well. Your Father called and asked me to write to you but for the life of me cannot bring your name to mind but probably it was my brother you knew, but we heard that he was killed six months ago.

I am pleased to say I am keeping fairly well myself but have not properly got over my gruelling yet, and am afraid that it will be a long time before I do.

If you know anything about my brother Bert I would be glad if you could let me know as it would put my Mother and Father's mind more at rest to know what exactly happened to him.

Well as I say I cannot bring you to mind but I have got a terrible bad memory now. Hoping to hear from you soon.

I am yours sincerely

W. J. Parkinson

I have put my private address on as I expect to be home any time.

 

¶52

Postmark: Manchester, 31.5.1918; Limburg, 9.8.1918

 

Private F. Gent 354198 RAMC

Nº des Filiallagers 107198 Limburg

or: Group 3 Block C Comp. 54 Barrack 12B Gefangenenlager

Dülmen i Westf

Germany

 

Friday 31 May 1918

 

My dear Son

Your post card arrived this morning written Sunday, 21 April stamped Limburg 2nd May, eleven days after writing, arriving here twenty-eight days after that. A weary length of time. I was expecting it every post for the last week, as it was seventeen days since the post card before that one and I thought you were allowed one post card every week and one letter a fortnight, so I thought it would be a letter this time. I have sent you two letters and a money order for 10/- to Dülmen since your postcard on May 13th… Now you say on this post card you are at some other place so I shall put both addresses to be safe. We didn't write as often as possible when we could did we and now we see what it is to be unable to? I don't think we are allowed to send you either papers or photos, tell me if any use getting any for you? Edward writes to ask the news of you. Oh how I wish you were home with us this glorious weather, I was assured you know that the RAMC men of both nations were certain to be exchanged at or near four months as it was the usual custom between Germany and England and you say the same on your post card. How can it be expedited. If I can do anything, tell me. I suppose you have got the parcel from the RAMC Comforts Fund, the first one, I mean. Rose Hewitt is sending through the Lancs Comforts Fund. Eva was here a few times lately but I'm tired of going to Northenden. Mabel has gone to see Dora and Dora comes here most Wednesdays on her day off. I am so thankful you are keeping well and trust you may be allowed to tell me even a few things of your every day life. As you say, one has to possess one's soul in patience, waiting for our letters. Were it not for faith and hope we should be undone. I think I told you Ralph went over to France so Edith won't go over there to see him, eh.

Well it's over two months now, it seems positively ridiculous that it takes four to five weeks for letters to pass to and from the prisoners of both countries. I am sending you another 10/- today same as before through the Post Office. Be sure to say if you get both and if it's enough, and whether you are still on hospital work. I believe clothing is sent out to new prisoners, are [you] rigged out by them yet? I expect you are. Oh have you heard from Parkinson. I left your address at his father's very near the Alec. When I get your letter it will be a guide as to what is permissible in the correspondence and I am so longing to know if any of the old pals are with you. Did you ever read a more joggy letter from me? I've had a few hard days this hot weather with Mr Thatcher and this is my first quiet day this week. Oh how I wish we could meet for a day or one hour and then back, each at our place, it would cheer us both up for weeks or months again.

I am grieved you cannot have parcels from us now but hope the official parcels will be decent. Do let us hear. Harry is quite well, one pair shoes from mending and another new pair this weekend, so he rackets about, you will see.

May God bless you and keep you in honour and purity is my constant prayer for you, and for your restoration to us. So with my best love and blessing I am ever your affectionate Father.

The letter of 21st April is lost.

 

¶53

Saturday, June 1st, 1918

 

My Dear Son

I wrote you yesterday (the third letter since you sent your address) but I learnt to-day that it is necessary to put your address and mine in the letter as well as on the envelope so I hasten to send another with this order fulfilled to assist the other letters to reach you. I hope they will. You did not tell me to do this and I did not know before. I also hear we are only expected to write short letters so I must observe that in future. I have sent you two remittances of ten shillings, one on May 13th, one May 30th. I will send this letter very short, I said all in yesterday's.

So God bless you and with my blessing and fond love, I am your affectionate and loving Father.

 

¶54

132, Langworthy Road

Seedley

 

Dear Frankie

Just a few lines to you hoping you are keeping very well under the circumstances; we hear you are on a farm but we hope not by yourself as you must feel dreadful lonely not being able to speak their language, the time must seem dreary to you. Uncle Ralph is in France and longing for the war to be over. I had a letter from Clarry this week and he has had a bad knee but is alright, he says he has come across some chaps who belonged to your ambulance so they told him about things, it is three months since you were taken prisoner, Clarry says you will be released in six months so you have only three more months let us hope so, there is a boy who lives on our road who has been a prisoner for three years and he writes home, he is also on a farm.

Grandma is keeping very fair, Uncle Arthur is about the same, Ivy and Uncle Albert are going on alright, I have had an attack of cold but am alright again, Dora is writing to you so you may get these letters together, hope you get the letters alright, could you say if you are receiving any or not.

So no more until I write again, hoping you keep in the Pink. I remain your loving Aunty Emily. Love from Grandma and all at home.

 

¶55

132 Langworthy Road

 

Dear Frankie

We were all sorry and surprised to hear you are a prisoner of war, but we sincerely hope and trust it won't be for long and that you are being treated alright. Dora told me you can receive letters from us, so I thought I would write a few lines. Well Frankie, things are much about the same here, we are all keeping well in health, Ivy seems to be getting better, she is away at Blackpool for a month or two, and grandma and Arthur are with her for a week or two. Uncle Arthur doesn't seem to improve at all but we keep hoping for the best. Uncle Ralph is now in France and we hear Clarry is still alright but one never knows, but keep up, surely there will be an end to all this some day. I dare say your experiences would fill a book. I wonder when you will get these letters. Dora is writing one to you also, same time. There is not much fresh news to tell you at present but I will write again soon with love from all here. I remain your loving Aunty Emily.

 

¶56

1st June

 

My Dear Frankie

Just a few lines to be going on with. We were very glad indeed to get your card and are anxiously waiting for your letter. It must be terrible for you having to wait so long, but it will be alright when the month or five weeks have passed then the letters will be much more regular. I hope by the time this reaches you that you will be settled down in a regular job. We are dying for news but we must have patience and wait same as you have to. The weather is glorious here. We have heard that we will only be allowed to send short letters and as we are afraid if we do otherwise they might be destroyed we will do what we are told is best. Tell us if this is so when you write. I wish we could send you stuff. Do you get the parcels that Rose Hewett is sending you? If you think it wise perhaps you will write to me. It is nice to get a separate letter for myself. You know. Just consider it. I will close now. Good night and God bless you. I am your loving sister Mabel.

She is requesting a coded message.

 

¶57

132, Langworthy Road,

Seedley,

Manchester

Tuesday, 4th June, 1918

 

My Dear Frank

I was delighted to hear we had received a letter from you at last. Mabel brought it up last night for me to read. Thank heaven you will be returned in six months at any rate, and not after the war, for goodness knows how long the war is going to last. Six months is a very long time though to wait and see anyone again, and I am longing and looking forward to seeing you again. As you are allowed about, is there any possibility of you being able to get your photo taken, if so, will you do so and send one? Are you with any of your old friends?

There are plenty of scandals about here. Last week there was a great sensation about a soldier's wife going about with another married man, both sides were well known, thrashings were rife for several nights. This war is going to be the means of all sorts of rotten things. Do you have much pleasure or spare time?

Aunt Emily was at Blackpool all last week and I was in charge of the shop which I was able to manage alright for we were very slack. The weather here is beautiful. Harry is very well, and Mabel. Dad is alright except for indigestion now and again. Grandma is at Blackpool with Uncle Arthur this week and for another fortnight. Uncle Ralph is in France. Fred Adams is exempted absolutely. Uncle Arthur does not improve at all, and wanders aimlessly about Blackpool, Uncle Albert says. We still meet Eva and are going to the baths with her tomorrow. It is lovely at Northenden at present. They have lots of great roses&emdash;white, yellow and red, but later on it's better still. It seems nice to me, coming right from filthy Salford.

Well, I've no more news this time, but will write in a day or so. With fondest love, your loving sister, Dora.

P.S. I hope you have received my first letter.

 

¶58

Postmarks: Manchester, 6.6.1918; Limburg, 8.9.1918

 

Private F. Gent

Group 3 Block G Company 54B Barrack 12B

Detachment Nº 55525

Gef. Lager Dulmen i Westf., Germany

 

Thursday, 6 June, 1918

 

My Dear Son

We got your letter on Monday the 3rd. It was a great joy to get a letter again and to hear details of your doings. How thankful I am you are doing well and in good hands and well treated. I got all your postcards also two blue ones, the white postcard sent on April 21st telling me you got to Limburg (I suppose) on the 19th to be put on jobs got here some days before the letter which was dated 14th a week earlier than postcard. But no matter as long as they do arrive. I am delighted to hear you will be repatriated in six months but I have heard the medical corps were always allowed four months. Which is it? I again give thanks that you are safe after reading your letter and hope you have not had a bad time through vaccination and inoculation. Surely that was needless, you had been through all that before. I am surprised you may keep the diary and very pleased also, but you will know how to be always discreet. I hope you will soon get our letters sent on 13th May and subsequently, I did not know till after to put both addresses inside, so hope it will not cause delay or miscarriage. Have you got any of Rose Hewett's parcels I wonder yet through the society. I have made every enquiry possible my dear lad, you bet on that, but I believe I am prevented by rule from doing more, they send cigs they say in the parcels and I have sent you 20/- say when you want more and amount. I wish we could send private parcels, as you know. I fancy you would think my letter of 30th May just like your old letters to Mabel, it was joggy right through, did you notice it. I was upset with many little things all the way in it. You'd be sure to know I was not in form. A lady has just been here to ask me to ask you if you can find her husband if he is in Dulmen Camp, name Reginald Bromley, Platt St, Moss Side ELFA, RAMC. She has heard that he is a prisoner there but has never heard from him.

Mabel has heard this morning that Alec McLeod is in hospital wounded in foot. I do hope to hear more next week and trust you may keep well, and always be in God's protecting hand. Let any paltry materialistic little wound laugh who please. None but fools presume to do that, they don't laugh when the bill has to be met. So this above all, Frank, unto thyself be true, a peace above all earthly dignity, a still and quiet conscience.

How I long to have you home again. Keep straight and look to that day. Post time now. So God bless you always and with the knowledge that you are with […] circle in memory always. I am your affectionate Father.

[Note from German censor: Write to your correspondent that letters must be written quite clear, otherwise they cannot be delivered.]

Letter of 21st April is missing; letter of 14th is ¶22. His father seems to be hinting he had sent a coded message, but I cannot decipher it.

¶59

6th June

 

My Dear Frankie

We have received your letter. We were delighted. You have had a rough time, I fear. I was glad to hear that you had been kept on at your old job, nursing, and to know you were with two others. It would be awful to be alone in a strange country. You ask us to see about sending you parcels. Well you know Frankie that we are not allowed to send you any ourselves. The Red Cross Prisoners Fund have got all particulars. They will see about sending you things. You should get three a fortnight. It is hard luck not being able to have anything sent from home, but from what I hear, the parcels you do get are very good. I hope it is true. When you write to me perhaps you will tell me. Well Frankie all is just the same at home, waiting for you. I have been dabbing white paint around today on the window ledges etc. Can you swim Frankie? Yesterday Dora, Eva and I went to the baths. I tried to swim. I had a few deep drinks. It made me feel pretty rotten. I sort of lost my balance and went to the bottom several times before I could get a footing. I had a letter from Alic McLeod this morning, he has been wounded in the leg with shrapnel. Poor lad. His Mother hopes he will get sent to England but I don't think he will. Have you heard from Dora lately? We want this letter to catch the post so I must close now. I will write again in a day or two. With fond love, I am your loving sister, Mabel.

 

¶60

Postmarks: Manchester 11.6.1918; Limburg, 29.8.1918

 

15th June 1918

Saturday

 

My Dear Son

It is a week or two since your letter (the first letter). We replied to it immediately, and have been hoping for another letter or post card. How I hope you are safe and well and long to see you again. The four months will be up the end of next month, July, I suppose it will be that date by this reaches you. I pray you may be repatriated by about then in accord with the agreement you speak of and which I have heard of so often. Day after day, morning and night I look for your letter and disappointment makes me sad and weary, but you have to go through the same and more. I hope you are bearing up in the prospect of happiness with us again soon. Mr Clark's sons at Münster have sent photos home from the camp and they look well and they are not in the RAMC. Don't take any notice of what I said in the first letter about bringing me a pipe or mug, I only said it to cheer you up a bit and knew you would have something else to think of than paltry trivialities. I hope you are getting the parcels from the Lancs Prisoner of War Society and the money, and that cigarettes are in the parcels. I am told they send six parcels per month and 100 cigarettes in each parcel but your one letter received (dated April 14th) says you had but got one parcel to then so I hope you have had four since then. Anyhow I'm aching for your next letter to tell me all this and how you are and when we shall have the joy of your return. All is stagnant here, no news, and nothing but the constant craving for you home again, as your thought will be oftenmost in the little four walls of the cot which shelters us. We got a letter returned yesterday from your Lieutenant Colonel that we wrote you on St Patrick's day, four days before your seizure. We wrote several, but that is all we have got back. It was a very long one so I am sorry you didn't get it.

I suppose all your letters may be censored by both sides, so I don't want to risk them being destroyed so I put nothing but family matters. I do so wish the letters took less time to travel but there is nothing but patience for us both so cheer up my dear Frank, you are never forgotten by your loving Father.

God preserve you and bless you always.

The first letter requesting a pipe is ¶47.

 

¶61

Postmarks: Salford, 19.6.1918; Limburg, 2[].9.1918

 

18th June

 

My Dear Frankie

Just a few lines to tell you all is well at home. We have not heard from you for a fortnight. I look forward to every post and keep being disappointed. I hope you are getting our letters safely by now. Are you. I am looking forward to my letters, but I must have patience and wait. I hope you are getting the parcels. I only wish I could send them as I used to do. I can't say much to you in a letter nor can you. I lie awake thinking at night all sorts of things about you, wondering where you are and how you are. Oh if only you were home again. Then all this anxiety would be over and we would know for sure then that you were happy, while at present I know in my mind that you are not. How can you be, it isn't possible. I know, my dear, that you are not a grumbler. You would not complain in any case. However, you must hope for the best this war can not last for ever. Let us hope the day is not far off when we all meet again in England. Have you heard from Dora lately? I am going to see her to-night. Harry has got a gathered finger, so I have kept him away from school today to poultice it. He doesn't like pain.

Well Frankie I must not write much or else the censor will not pass it, so will close now with much love from your ever loving sister Mabel.

 

¶62

Postmarks: Manchester, 3.7.1918; Limburg, 20.8.1918

 

My Dear Son

I wrote you last a week ago and immediately after that I got your postcard written on 5th May telling me you were on a farm in Rhineland in beautiful country, among horses, cows and fields, and people very hard working and economical, that was all I was able to read on the card, so you will know in future that whatever was the other matter you had written is not permissible. Well, the four months will be up this month and is it possible for you to be allowed release by then? If you have to be six months before repatriation that will be the 21st September. I hope you may come home before that, it does seem so long since you went. I am so rejoiced to hear you have got to a good place, which I suppose is what you mean by saying you have dropped on your feet.

Edward wrote me from the regiment to say I could send a parcel to you myself. So I have written to ask him to tell me how, as I have enquired of every place here and am told I cannot do so. I do hope you are getting the parcels Rose Hewitt pays for, three a fortnight, costing £8 18s 6d per quarter, containing cigarettes, bread, tinned stuff etc. I do wish I could hear oftener from you and the post was quicker. Fifty days is such an awful time for letters to take. All is well at home so don't disturb yourself about us. I pray God may bless you and that you will get with friendly people and do your best for them. I dare not make too long a letter lest I give the censors too much trouble with my acrobatic calligraphy and it gets ruled out.

I am longing to hear if you have got my letters and money and if you want more and if you get Rose's parcels. I find that lots of people whose lads were captured in March have not yet got anything but the blue post card, so we are a bit better than that.

With my fondest love and constant prayer for your welfare. Always your loving Father. God bless you always.

 

¶63

Postmark: Manchester, 8.7.1918; Limburg, 30.8.1918

 

7th July, 1918

Sunday

 

My Dear Son

Your post card of 19th May only got here on the 5th July, the one in which you say you are living and looking well and that they pay for you a shave and beer on Sundays, which I am grateful to hear and thank them heartily. You are getting 212 marks a week and can get a few cigs. I wish your parcels would arrive as they contain cigs. I am sure you must have got parcels and letters and money by this date, seven weeks after your postcard. You say in post card of 19th May that the next Sunday is nearly sure to bring you a letter. I am very grieved that you would be disappointed for long after that. I wrote you my first on the 13th May the very day I got your first post card with your address so I don't think that would reach you till near the end of June. Since then I have written about six times. I don't suppose this will reach you till middle of August and hope and pray you may be coming home then. Since your post card of 19th May received 4th July I have been up to Prisoner of War Society to tell them you had not got parcels and they say you would only be getting them by about now. You say you had a visitor who spoke English so I conclude you have none of your old pals with you, it will be dreadful for you if that is so. I wonder how to get to understand what to do if no one talks English. I am glad you have the photos still to look through, we are not allowed to send photos (only unmounted), no newspapers, no parcels, but find I can send cigs by special permission through a dealer in London, but when I had got the permit and then ordered them and they had sent them it would be another fifty days so you will have got the parcels from the Society with cigs in them long before that would reach you and you would also I trust be coming home by then. I do so long to hear you are coming soon. It is four months on the 21st of this month. Surely you will be allowed to come in August at any rate. Don't forget my advice to wear a belt in crossing whenever that is, through danger of any floating mines etc.

I never cease thinking of you night or day hardly and give thanks that you are with good people and trust you may be comforted and supported in your loneliness in a strange land. My blessing is always with you, live a good life, do right, fear God and you will be helped and protected.

May God bless you and bring you safe to us soon. Best of love from Mabel, Harry and your loving Father.

 

You will see I don't know how to address your letters, your post cards from the farm show no new thing but Num. des Fil 1560. So I keep putting all the old address on as well, lest if I put less it fails to reach you. Don't fail, write every week.

The postcard of 19th May is lost.

 

¶64

Monday, 8th July

 

My Dear Frankie

You will wonder when I am going to write so I will start now. What a treat it was to get your card. I was so glad to hear that all is well with you. I dare say you have a lot of hard work to do, but even hard work has its advantages, it stops you from brooding. I wonder if you have got any boxes yet. I hope so. All's well at home. I have got a cold. There has been an epidemic of influenza in Manchester. Many people have died with it. I judge by your last post card that you are alone because you told us you had met someone who spoke English and you had been in conversation with him, so by it I gather that you must be separated from the others. You will be awfully lonely, no one to talk to all day long. Oh Frankie, how terrible. You must learn German as quickly as possible, but I hope you will soon be returned then you won't need to. There are tons of questions I would like to ask you but I am afraid you could not answer them. You will tell us all the information you can. We are looking forward to your letter now it holds more than a card.

Well dear, we must be content with just a few lines. I would write a lot more but perhaps it is not allowed so I will close now with best love from your affectionate sister Mabel.

 

On back, draft letter with code from Frank:

 

Just a line as PromisEd, yOu'll Perhaps get my LettEr at home as well, let me know what date in your next. I hope your cold is Better, it will hAve had time During the time this takes. I had a few days off laSt week, but am alright agaIn now and feeling any amount beTter since my parcels stArTed. YEs, it was lonely on the farm, it was awful, But that Lots fine nOw. Write again Soon and I'll answer more fully next Time.

God bless you

Your loving brother, Frank

 

Message: People bad s[i]tate [b] lost

The influenza was also probably the 'mystery illness' that went through the briquette works around July 15th, 1918, according to my grandfather's account and diary. The postcard with message is ¶36.

 

¶65

Postmark: Limburg, 1.10.1918

 

Sunday, 14th July, 1918

 

My dear Frank

I hope you haven't been thinking harsh things about us all for apparent neglect because it seems so very long that you have been away from us. But Albert only received your postcard date 14th April about two days ago, and we have been in the dark entirely as to your whereabouts, so you can pardon seeming neglect on this account.

I returned from leave alright spent a bon time over there which I needn't dwell on. I intended calling to see your father and he did come to see me but unfortunately I was out when he called and I only spent two days in the old town and the rest of my leave was spent at the seaside Llandudno to wit. I did the best possible thing in the circumstances and wrote your father reassuring him and telling him all that I knew about you, which wasn't really much after all, as I realised that things must have changed after I had left. We spent an anxious time until we had definite news of you, Frank, and I got the surprise of my life when I returned and found you missing. In all, Frank, twenty three were missing, Ruan, Millett, Walker (water duty), Linfoot, Sumner, Jack Harrison, Teddy Smith, Richardson 7, Melville, Pontefract, Morhead, Adshead, Surrey and Jones and others besides those with you. I think all have been officially posted as prisoners of war except Millett of whom nothing has been heard.

We are still altogether here, although of course there have been plenty of changes. You will have heard about the promotions because Captain Wells told me he had mentioned them in his letter to Dibb.

I am glad to hear that you are having a good time, and keep smiling Frank. All here are A1 and trust you and all with you are keeping fit. Let me have a little line if you can possibly write, but if it is a case of only being allowed an occasional letter, write home and don't bother about us as we will understand. We can get all news from your father.

Cheero and good luck, Frank. With all best wishes.

Yours as ever, Wilf.

Private W. Bradley

Private Millett was in fact killed.

 

¶66

14th July, 1918

Sunday

 

My Dear Son

Your post card of 26th May to hand to-day. So write back, as usual, same day. Again it has taken forty-nine days to come, I grieve to read every time, that you have been expecting our letters, in vain. Because I only got your first address on May 13th and replied same day, so if it took forty-nine days to reach you, that would be 1st July for you to receive it. I am sure you would feel very distressed and hope you were given fortitude to bear the anxiety. Do you think I have not groaned in spirit for you daily, and prayed for your welfare and that you might be with good people who would so treat you as they would wish their own son to be.

Well I know that by this date your weary waiting and suspense is relieved. You will have had both letters, parcels and money so as I said in my last I am longing to hear that you have done so. I am glad you say you are a little easier, and having supper one hour earlier, and that the food is 'very good.' So when the slow going parcels do begin to arrive you will get a bit more change and variety. You are right in saying that work keeps you from getting 'nervy' and brooding and so on. I know it absolutely. I myself even, at home here, should not feel the anxiety nearly so much if I was more occupied. So I can quite understand your feeling. I think you may trust that I quite realize everything in your letters so rest content that your father is with you in sympathy and heart. I hope and pray you had strength to bear the loneliness from May 26th, date of their [?] card, till my first letter came which I think would reach you July 1st. After that you would know we were alive and well.

I saw Henry off to London from Liverpool last Sunday week to his government appointment, and he commenced his travelling the second day. Train specially stopped for him as government servant and every possible consideration. We have had no more photos taken yet to send you and by the time this gets to you it may be the end of August, so you will then have been away nearly six months if you have not been released before then. The Royal Army Medical Corps informs me that the prisoners of that corps of either nation are repatriated in four or six months so I look forward with certainty to you being released very soon from now. So cheer up and pull yourself together as I know you will. I got a permit from government to send you some cigs through the dealer so I sent you two hundred a few days ago, which I hope will reach you safely. I should send you more money (whatever you require) but don't know if it would reach before your release.

I will stop this letter lest the censor swears at my contortionist writing and gets vexed at me. All is well at home, but very cold summer here. With fondest love and my blessing and may God bless you is the hope. Your affectionate Father.

[Two lines at bottom of page obliterated by German censor. Note in father's handwriting: 'Returned 26th November.']

The postcard of 26th May is lost. Henry spent his life as a civil servant, I believe, never marrying. My great grandfather's handwriting was affected by the serious injuries he suffered when run over by a tram in 1909, which almost severed his right thumb.

 

¶67

Postmarks: Manchester, 25.7.1918; Limburg, 9.9.1918

 

France

July 15th, 1918

 

Dear Frank

Just a few lines hoping this letter finds you in the best of health as it leaves me at present. I received your very welcome post card which you dated April 14th, 1918. It was handed to me July 10th, 1918, so you can guess how long it takes to come. Best part of the boys are now down at the base, but hope very soon to be attached to unit again soon. Parkinson came through alright he is one that is with us at present, he is writing you soon and Wilfred is also forwarding you a letter to-day. There is not much to mention about the changes, only Jim Seddon and Bill Manners have both been given a stripe each, with the same pay as I got for mine. Charlie Bowkett received about two weeks ago the DCM and Sergeant Dale MM also little Jock M.T. received DCM. Charlie got his for the time he was in Belgium, and Sergeant Dale got his for the last do. Same with little Jock. Captain Bounds received the MC The following men are reported prisoners Lindfoot (Walker water duty) Adshead (young Ted Smith) Johnny Moorhead, Surrey, Sumner, J. Harrison, Pontefract, Fred Richie. Sergeant Millar. I cannot just think of the others. Millet is reported missing. Poor lad must have been caught in the barrage. The concert party got to be very good, they improved on that medical sketch. And Lawson got a good many more songs off, but sorry to say that it is now broken up. We lost a great deal of stuff at the place you left me, in fact we lost all of it, my music included. We were too busy with our wounded and German wounded, Frank, the Field Ambulance works excellent, you must have been very hard worked because I worked at a different post and know what it was like, but everybody who came to our dressing station received the best attention. No Field Ambulance could have done better, although I say it myself, and to think that we lost such a good lot of boys. Never mind, Frank, cheer up. I am pleased to know that you are being well treated. Kindly remember me to the boys and give them my kind regards. I haven't been home yet, Frank, but if I do I shall without fail call and see your Dad and all at home. We have been very unsettled lately or else I should have answered your card before now. We left Sergeant Early, Fred White, Nobby Roberts and Bridge with another party. So you see the football team has gone west. I am sending a photograph to you through your Dad. You won't have much writing matter, Frank, so always write to your Dad and he will let us know how you are going on. I will now conclude Frank but will write again soon. So goodbye for the present. With much love from your pal Edward.

See photograph of Concert Party on p. 30.

 

¶68

Postmark: Limburg, 9.9.1918

 

22nd July

 

My Dear Frankie

It is high time I wrote to you again. We received your card last Sunday. The one telling us what your food consists of. The parcels would be a treat for you if you were getting them, but so far none have reached you. I do hope things are better now, by the time this reaches you you will have been a prisoner five months. Won't it be simply great of you are released. I can't realize it in another month. I bet the work is terribly hard on the farm. We are looking forward to your letter as it is a week now since we heard from you. Time is flying, isn't it Frankie. Just think I am twenty two tomorrow. I took Harry to Northenden on Friday, we had a fine time gathering blackcurrants and raspberries. Harry might go for a few days on his holidays. To-night I am going to meet Dora to help her choose some shoes, and some print for bathing costumes. We are going to Blackpool for a few days together. We both are in need of a change. This will be the first holiday I have had since the war. Well Frankie time is going on and on, soon I trust we will all be together again and all the past will be like a bad dream. So cheer up, dear, brighter days are in store for you and all of us. I am afraid I will have to come to a close now with best love from your ever loving sister Mabel.

God bless and protect you and bring you safe home again.

 

¶69

Postmarks: Manchester, 26.7.1918; Limburg, 30.9.1918

 

My Dear Son

I have heard nothing from you since June 3rd, your post card to say you went to Limburg on 19th April to be drafted to jobs and your letter dated a few days earlier from Dulmen in which you say that I should hear every week after then. It is now over three weeks so I am at a loss what to think and be sure I am very disturbed. Edwin wrote me on Friday and told me about some Sergeant captured about same time who has written to his brother in your old corps saying how well he is treated and Edwin says some chappy Charlton in your lot is also with you and they miss you both very much and send kindest wishes to you both. Edwin gave me Charlton's father's address in Leeds. I wrote him and he replies that he hears from his son four times a month so that makes me surprised again that I have not heard from you. I do hope all is well and that you are not ill with any of the vaccination or inoculation you speak of.

Mr Charlton says his son is at Limburg and he seems very satisfied. He will write me again as son as he hears any more. Oh how I crave to hear from you. I look for every post but nothing comes. I wish I could wire a cable or anything to you to get to know. Shall you be released at the four months' end? That is end of July. You told me that it would be less than six months anyhow. If all is well and you are sent home let me remind you now and don't neglect my advice, wear a belt coming across from wherever you embark as there is continual danger from floating and drifting mines so don't forget my instructions. You know you will never suffer by listening to all my advice.

I heard from your cousin Henry the other day, he is appointed one of the travelling auditors and accountants under government and will be in London three months and then travel anywhere he is required in the land. It will be a very good position you will know. I'm going to Liverpool this week end to spend a day or two before he goes. All is well at home. I am only waiting most anxiously to hear that it is the same with you. I do so long to hear if you have got the money and letters, and if parcels arrive.

May blessings attend you is the perpetual longing in my heart. God bless you. I am ever with dearest love your loving Father.

Is this in the right envelope? The date appears to be wrong, as the contents indicate it was written before ¶66 and the trip to Liverpool to see Henry off.

 

¶70

Postmark: Manchester, 26.7.1918; Limburg, 10.9.1918

 

Friday, 26th July, 1918

 

My Dear Son

I have been waiting a fortnight to hear from you since your last postcard of 26th May telling me your menu etc. and saying you had supper there at nine. Mabel wrote you a few days ago and yesterday I sent off a letter Edwin sent me on for you. I have seen Pontefract's mother and aunts and they have never heard from him or his cousin since the first blue card after their capture and I hear of crowds in like case. It seems very strange. I have written the War Office about you but have no reply yet. I can't say if it will do any good but be sure I have done all I am advised to or can think of. The headquarters of the RAMC and Preston and Geneva etc. but I am hoping you will come before long and shall not be surprised if you get here before letters. If you do, don't forget all my advice re sea passage. You could phone from London to W. Newhall, 550 Rusholme, to give me a bit of notice. By this reaches you I guess you will have had the 200 cigs I sent you through the bonding stores and I hope that you have already got letters, parcels and money. It says in our papers that the German prisoners on farm lands here get 5d and 6d an hour and Eva Neild tells me it is so. I heard yesterday that if we write on both sides the paper or fasten up envelope that letters are not delivered. I wonder if true, if so I have sent a lot wrongly. We are always hearing further rules and orders. Why were not all orders issued complete at first?

We are all well and I hope and pray that you are and will be released very soon now as the four months is now expired. I am longing for a letter from you on Sunday when the fortnight is up and you said it would come each week. I wondered if you were ill, or if you had said something which the censor would not pass. You do not say if you are alone on the farm or if any more of your fellow prisoners are with you and I've no idea of your location so am very distressed for you as you know but for ever pray for your coming back to me; till that joyful day God preserve and bless you and with that joyful day God preserve and bless you and with my blessing and fondest love I am your affectionate Father.

The postcard of 26th May is lost. I presume Edwin is a mistake for Corporal Ormrod (Albert Edward).

 

¶71

Postmarks: Manchester, 30.7.1918; Limburg, 13.9.1918

 

Tuesday, 30th July, 1918

 

My Dear Son

Your letter came last night. I was delighted to hear after fifteen days. It may not be any use sending this if it takes forty five days to reach. I hope you will be home considerably before then. You have had an experience, sixteen hours a day on the farm. Very many hours longer than prisoners work on our farms and they get 6d an hour. It is very strange the difference in treatment. I am glad to hear you are drafted to the camp preliminary to coming home. Your letter dated 14th June shows you have been there seven weeks now, so I guess you may be on the road home any day. I hope that you will be repatriated immediately, the deutsch government are assured you are in the Medical Staff as we are sure they will do. I long for you to get letters from us more quickly and wonder if you will come before they reach and if you will not receive letters, parcels, cigarettes and money or if you will miss them all and what will become of them. You will I hope have had my first letters telling you how we heard. I went to see McNulty's last night when I got yours and saw some of them half an hour. I hope you are not in a mine, we never thought you would have to embrace that dignified vocation, but one becomes acquainted with hard experience in war or in adversity.

I have done all I could and am grieved it has been so useless, owing to the weary length of time it takes the post to reach but I pray you may soon be home with us in peace and happiness.

God bless you and grant us all that joy, your loving Father.

The letter of 14th June is ¶25.

 

¶72

Postmarks: Manchester, 10.8.1918; Limburg, 20.[].1918

 

10th August, 1918

 

My Dear Son

I hope that you will now have received letters, parcels, money and cigs some time ago. Edward sent me your postcard to him to read. It is now a fortnight since I got your big letter (of 14th June) when you were sent to the factory, that is the last date received from you. You say you have sent every week but I have not got more than seven or eight letters and post cards since the first blue card notifying me. I wonder if it is any use writing now as I am fully hoping to see you home before the time it takes these letters, I pray that may be so. I wonder what use it was Rose Hewitt sending parcels if you have not got them.

I wrote the War Office about you and just got a reply saying they have requested the German government to return you but cannot give me specified date, so I hope to see you very soon as you say the Deutsch government will exchange you at once as per agreement upon being notified that you are Sannatator. Just had a letter from Mrs Thomas at Tredegar saying her son asks her to write me to say you are together but she has received four cards etc. at once, taken nine weeks to come. I'm longing to hear that you have got the £1 and cigs and parcels and letters, unless you come yourself first. I think you would get things after 24th June and onwards but you have not had enough time for letters to tell me to reach me.

There was another pageant in that park behind Percy's old house on Bank Holiday. I went alone as the rest were away but it was a lonely, weary do, not as good as M[abel's] and D[ora]'s. Albert was on again of course, the inevitable Red Indian. Ivy was got up as the Indian's child and looked well. They got first prize, brass plant pot. Well I hope to hear from you to-day or to-morrow and that you are being kept and preserved in health. With my blessing and with fondest love from Father. God bless you and bring you safe home.

Edward's postcard is probably ¶23. See photograph of the Pageant on p.31.

 

¶73

Postmark: Army Post Office, 21.8.1918

20th August, 1918

 

Dear Mr Gent

Have you heard anything from Frank, please? I am forwarding letter to-morrow. Hoping this card finds you all in the best of health.

I am your loving friend, A. E. Ormrod

¶74

14th September, 1918

 

My Dear Son

I have this morning got two post cards of 4th and 11th August, so the 11th post card has only taken a month, that's good. I'm delighted you have got letters and cash at last. I had written General Post Office why money not there and they wrote to Holland about it, so all right now. I have done my best about your parcels from RAMC from Rose Hewit so hope they have come too. I had been told must make the letters brief but if not so will gladly write more. The Record Office kept writing me that you were at Dulmen and then Limburg and so on and your letters said Limburg so I kept putting on both addresses.

I wrote for permit for RAMC to send you cigs myself, as I told you, and got order to send you them through Walker's of Liverpool and I sent 200 which I hope you have got by now.

Your last post card before these of this morning was written on June 23rd day before Midsummer now the next is 4th August, six weeks later, so where are the last six weeks' cards? I have been so anxious. I have seen McNulty's who have heard three times since then, saying Alf was in hospital with foot injured, so I guessed you were now separated. I have written Record Office again for news of you, written Thomas's mother and Chappie's father.

We have been expecting you to walk in any day or night and hardly know if it is any use writing you as we hope to see you immediately as the six months is up in a week, but you say nothing of coming in these cards to-day. Edward is over, spent some hours with us on Monday 9th, and M[abel], H[arry] and I went there to supper Wednesday the 11th, a big musical evening. Corporal McCann and wife, Mr and Mrs Henshall, two Miss Lillies and others. I guess you will be home either this or the last letter reaches Germany but write lest you are not.

You said in your previous card, which got here 13th August (a month ago) that you'd be at home in three months from June 23rd date of writing so I hope and pray to see you in a few days. Whether Rose Hewit will have to pay for the parcels whether they reach or not I wonder? I thank God you are safe and well after all this month of anxiety and look with joy to having you home. So God bless you and bring you safe. With best love from H[arry] and your affectionate Father.

The postcard of 4th August is ¶31, 11th August is ¶32. The confusion over addresses may have arisen partly because it appears that all my grandfather's letters went through Limburg for censorship.

 

¶75

France

November 2nd, 1918

 

Dear Mr Gent

In answer to your letter of the 24th ult., I am very sorry to hear about poor Frank. The Germans have been very cruel to our men out there I know, and if Frank has lost all that weight the damn scoundrels have neglected him in food. I'll never forget in which the way you described to me respecting their character and actions every word you spoke was quite true. Since I saw you last I have experienced more than ever of their murderous deeds. For instance, this is one. When our Division captured several villages two weeks ago we released thousands of civilians. Now then when the Germans got away a few miles from these villages they absolutely poured their rotten shells into these places. They soaked them with gas [?] wounding the poor, helpless civilians, those that escaped wounds were gassed. Mind you, the Huns knew that these people were in, because they (the people) as you know have been under their rule since 1914. I carried one poor old lady with both her legs wounded and fractured, and she also had been gassed, her age was 84. Another old lady died on the stretcher. She had been gassed, a few minutes later her daughter was the next gas patient. Just fancy, they are asking for an armistice and at the same time carrying on with their bloody work. If it wasn't for losing our boys I would say carry on with the war, and get an indemnity by blood and treasure. When I look back on those dark days of 1914 when they plunged themselves into war against the world with every type of machinery of war and to get their objective by blood and to stop at nothing it makes me think that they should suffer on their own soil (you know it can be done). They have never got a victory by fair means. I was reading an article in one of the papers. I think it was one you sent me, and the writer suggested one way of getting an indemnity, and that was by being paid off by coal. Well, to my mind it doesn't sound so bad, but it would take a great amount of coal to pay the debt, right enough it would keep down the military and naval power from increasing, but it's a very mild way of getting our own back. Mr Gent, I have been very busy and have been away from the line some time, rather an outlandish place, a place where it was difficult to get away any post. The boys that were captured with Frank have not yet been released. I am pleased to know that Frank has received parcel and letter from you, that is a great relief to both. By the time you receive this letter I hope peace has been declared. I honestly think that they will treat our boys in Germany better now as our government has threatened them. George P. has received a letter with Frank's address enclosed.

Cheero Mr Gent I really think it will all be over in another two weeks' time and then Frank will be released immediately. I dare say that he will be home before me.

I will now conclude wishing all the best of health and good luck from your loving friend Edward [Ormerod].

I am going in the line tomorrow for the big stunt.

 

 


Progress of the Field Ambulance until my Grandfather's Capture

 

Manchester August 4th, 1914

Littleborough September 9th, 1914

West Derby November 7th, 1914

Southport November 15th, 1914

Enlisted November 18th, 1914

Lindfield May 21st, 1915

Peas Pottage June 26th, 1915

Burham September 24th, 1915

Crowborough October 31st, 1915

Colchester March 19th, 1916

Wyvenhoe Park July 11th, 1916

Lexden November 4th, 1916

Sailed from Southampton March 1st, 1917

Le Havre March 2nd, 1917

Lumbres March 5th, 1917

St Venant March 7th, 1917

Zelobes March 14th, 1917

Béthune March 16th, 1917

Locon May 10th, 1917

Essars May 24th, 1917

Marlez-lez-Mines June 22nd, 1917

Petite Synthe June 26th, 1917

Teteghem July 9th, 1917

Bray Dunes July 25th, 1917

Wardrecques September 29th, 1917

Brandhoek October 2nd, 1917

Ypres October 5th, 1917

Brandhoek October 11th, 1917

Arques October 13th, 1917

Queue d'Oxelare November 1st, 1917

Wippenhoek November 9th, 1917

Caestre November 25th, 1917

Hazebrouck December 26th, 1917

Poperinghe January 11th, 1918

Harbonniers February 8th, 1918

Bernes February 28th, 1918

Taken as a prisoner of war March 21st, 1918


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