Postcard from the edge


Addressed to Miss M Crawshaw, 29, Strathleven Road, Acre Lane, Brixton London, England

– no address, but date stamped Army Post Office 28(?) August 1914 and stamped Passed by Censor No 137. Ordinary postcard with pencilled message above space for stamp “Will pay the other end” with another ink stamp Paid 8 Sp 14.

Dear Till

Thanks for your welcome letter which I was pleased to receive. We are in rather warm quarters at present. I am getting on alright up to now, remember me to all at home and give them my best, did Aunt get that PC which I sent her. The weather we are getting over here is not hot and we we have had not much rain. Thank May for her letter which I was pleased to get. We have been here over a fortnight now and I don’t know when we shall pack up. Now I must conclude trusting to hear from you soon, send me out a tooth brush mate (?) Don’t be long in writing.

Frank x

So here is Frank’s first surviving letter home. It’s only a quickly scribbled, ordinary postcard but it must have been like gold to Mabel. You might have noticed that the postcard is possibly marked 28th August. As I don’t have the originals, only transcripts, I can’t be sure of the exact details, but I think it much more likely that it was written on the 29th August. Today was a rest day for the Dorsets, their first since arriving in France 10 days previously. Frank says 2 weeks but he must have been exhausted. By my calculations they have marched about 120 miles already.

Most of these letters are to Mabel, his sister, and all address her as Till. The Aunt is probably Caroline Webster (1879-1967). She’s also referred to as Carrie or Auntie Muff. Geoff remembers an Auntie Muff form the 1930s in his notes to these transcripts. May appears to be Mabel’s best friend although Frank hints at an earlier falling out between the girls in a previous letter.

All he refers to about the last few days is “rather warm quarters”. This reflects the British Army stiff upper lip but also Frank’s sense of humour, which is very dry and full of double meaning. I think the “not hot” reference might be a typo and possibly “hot hot” because the weather was still sweltering.

Frank’s request for a new toothbrush highlights the amount of kit the troops had lost. Lyn Macdonald in her book, “1914 –The days of Hope” describes the detritus left behind by the retreating BEF, as they try to lighten their load on the weary retreat. “They dropped greatcoats, ground sheets, spare shirts, clean socks, mess-tins, mugs, knives and forks.”  The Dorsets had already lost their packs in Mons, along with their greatcoats and spades, in the first trenches they defended.

Mons retreat
One of the excellent photos posted by zombikombi1959 on Flickr. A halt during the retreat about 31st August 1914. Lt-Col. Bols (sitting), Sgt. Miller standing and leaning by him. Maj. Roper (with pipe), 2 i/c. Capt. Fraser commanding ‘A’ Coy. Capt. A.L. Ransome (1st Bn. Dorset Regt.). Date was 29th August. We halted most of the day but had to move soon after 5pm.

The Dorsets remained in Pontoise, in an orchard on the southern bank of the Oise. New kit was requisitioned and equipment got a good clean. Casualty lists were dealt with for the first time. Sadly, their idyll came to an end at 5:30pm, when they got orders to march to new billets in Carlepont, only 4 miles away. Due to a mix up between the 14th and 15th Brigades, the Dorsets ended the night bivouacked along the main street and “got little rest”. It was a depressing end to a day that promised a small return to normality.


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