Leslie on getting injured on the front line –
‘Just a line to let you know I am quite well, although I have been slightly wounded in the head with a piece of shrapnel shell.
‘I went to hospital but I am out now, and I am doing guards over the German prisoners at the base. I have not heard from you yet because I am not with the Battalion and they cannot send my letters on because they do not know where I am, so do not write again till I tell you. I have not much news to tell you, except that the battle I was in was simply awful, beyond description.
‘Well Phine dear I will close now. Hoping your Mam and Dad are quite well and my best wishes to them. With fondest and best love to my dearest Phine, from Leslie. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.’
In response, Phine write: ‘For goodness sake try not to go back yet, if you can manage it stay a little while longer, then perhaps the worst will be over, it is too terrible. I am really pleased you are wounded if you were up there you might have been killed so I hope it has happened for the best, I do hope you will get this letter I have sent ever so many but you know it is not my fault.
The front cover of Stay Safe My Grenadier by Stephen Pearmain
‘I have sent you some cigarettes also but I don’t suppose you will get them now, never mind, so long as you are all right.’
On conditions in the trenches –
‘We are still having bad weather, we had a heavy fall of snow yesterday, and it is very cold.
‘We have had so much to do lately, hardly a minute to sleep what with digging, sand bagging and bailing water out of the trenches.
‘We are still in the same trenches, the same old thing over and over again, nothing of any importance happening. It is becoming rather monotonous, I shall be glad when we make a change, although we are cheerful and happy enough. We are still having a fairly quiet time, the Germans are about 400 yards away from us, but there are not many shots fired during the day, it is mostly artillery duels that do all the damage. Still plenty of mud.
‘I do wish the war would end or at least let us make a move. It is so monotonous these long trenches. We dare not move about in daytime, in case we get shelled, we can only work at night so we have a long day of about 16 hours, sleeping and thinking of home and what they are doing there. It is awfully tiring but still it will end someday, and very soon, I hope now.’
On his close escapes –
‘I had a narrow escape the other day, I was crossing a field on my own to reach the dressing station, when I stooped down to pick up a piece of an exploded shell, and just as I bobbed down a bullet whistled just over my back.
‘I thought about keeping the piece of shell as a mascot. But it was too heavy.’
Phine responded: ‘My word, what a narrow escape you had, what a good job you stooped down, you would have bound to be hit perhaps killed!’
On the fighting by a French village –
‘As you will see by the papers we have had an awful fight in taking the village of Neuve Chapelle, but thank God, I came out of it safely. We were at it four days and four nights and now we are resting, so you can guess how thankful we are for the rest.
‘I had a narrow escape, one bullet went in the back of my right shoulder across my back, and then out under my left shoulder, it cut all my under clothing, but did not even graze my skin. Don’t you think that God was watching over me? I do. Still I am trying to forget that now, and trusting in the lord for the future.
‘How is it in Warley? I am always wishing I was still stationed there, I am sure it was the best years soldering I ever did and I suppose this is the worst.’
On delays to their correspondence –
‘I felt such a brute when I read your last letter, I know how you feel when you do not have a letter from me. I am so sorry but I am so awfully busy here, and fed up with the place, still I know I am to blame and I feel ashamed of myself for not writing you more often, but I will do so.
‘I felt quite hurt when you ask me if I have forgotten you, I think of you a hundred times a day, and simply long for the time when I forget you dear I shall forget everything in this world, and I hope that will be a good long time yet. I wish I could be at home with you dearest, I feel quite sad to hear that you are miserable. Oh roll on this blessed War, so we can all get home again I hope it will not be long now.
‘When I read your letter and you said nobody could take my place, I loved you more than ever, if it was possible, because truly speaking sweetheart I am awfully jealous of my girl, and there is nobody in this world could take your place. Ever since the night I first see you at the Cpls first dance I have loved you.’
The horror of Passchendaele –
‘I have received your letters alright, but have had no time to write before.
‘No doubt you know the reason now by the papers, we had a big part in the great push. I am glad to say I have come through alright with the help of God. We had beastly weather and it hampered us a bit, we should have gone much further if it had not rained so. It has not stopped now, when it does no doubt we shall be off again. We are up to our knees in mud and water, owing to the ground being churned up with the shells.
There is no doubt we have old Fritz properly beaten now, it will not be long now before the War ends. I am very glad to hear you are doing your bit in the Munitions Factory. I hope you like the work alright. You say it is hard, do not overdo yourself, especially on night work, but from what I remember, you are quite strong enough, at least you used to be with me.’
Phine on an air raid –
‘Dear Leslie, I thought our last day had come last night.
‘We had another air raid last night, but they did not get to London, they were beaten back, but we got it instead. They dropped five aerial torpedoes on Shenfield Common and our works shook like anything.
‘I had such an awful dream about you again last night, dear.’
At the time his beloved was being bombed, Leslie was out winning a medal for bravery in the field. Unfortunately, why he received the medal has not been recorded. He was typically understated about his achievement with his partner.
‘I was very surprised today, I received a letter from one of my old school-masters congratulating me on getting the medal,’ one of his letters notes.
‘I wondered who on earth the letter was from at first. Anyone would think I had done something wonderful because I have got that blessed old medal. I shall think a lot more of the 1914 bronze star that they are going to give us now. There will not be very many about to wear them.
‘It is a bit too rough the way old Fritz carries on. I don’t mind going in the trenches, but I always start worrying when I read that the planes have been over London and Essex. I am always wondering how you are.
‘I hope it will not be long before I can go to the dances with you again. The only dance I know now is the ‘French Crawl’, and I am pretty good at that, keeping well down to dodge old Fritz’s souvenirs.
‘No doubt you are wondering how I am, not having wrote you for such a long time, but we are having about the fondest time of our lives just at present, and not a minute to spare to write letters. I have sent a few field cards to let you know I am alright, and I am afraid you must be content with those, dearest, until this big push simmers down a bit.
‘There is not a bit of truth in that yarn that we have been out cut up terribly. We have had casualties certainly but he has not pushed us back a yard, except where we had to drop back on our own to conform with the remainder of the line, although he has attacked us and tried hard to get through.
‘I don’t think I could ever stick another War after this awful lot. Still I don’t suppose there will ever be another like this.. Roll on dear when we will not have to put these crosses on paper.’