Stopping a Jack Johnson

5th December 1914

The Dorsets remained in billets at Dranoutre for the day.

Going back to Frank’s letter from the 3rd, the mysterious and continuously ill Jess continues to torment us.

Jess has been ill but is getting on alright now have you heard from her lately I had two letters. Tell Aunt Mrs Coats old man is still with us, yes I would sooner be filling her scuttle and out here only a dream.

Frank mentions another Brixton man: A Mr Coats by the sound of it. I’ll have a look through the records when I get a chance.

We are still on the go and doing our bit to polish the Germans off, what does Albert think of it.

Searching through the family tree I can only come up with one possible Albert. He’s Frank’s cousin by Herbert Webster and his wife Mary. Albert is only 11 so I imagine the war would seem very exciting to him – anyone like Frank in my family would have had immediate hero status in my eyes at that age (and this age of course).

Have not heard or seen them chocolates yet, had a letter from Bert and have answered it said that he stopped the blue bag. I told him that was only half his luck, better than stopping a Jack Johnson.

Here’s another mention of my Great Grandfather, Carl Robert Debnam. He’s currently back in England with the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was stationed at Fort Picklecombe in Cornwall in August 1914. I shall return to him later on. He still hasn’t sent Frank any chocolate.

His letter has a mysterious phrase in it: “stopped the blue bag”. The only explanation I can give to this (and I am probably missing some obvious military reference) is that Bert has mentioned that he got stung by a wasp or a bee. It fits Frank’s following reposte of “better than stopping a Jack Johnson”, which, as we all know now don’t we class, is a German high explosive shell. Why a wasp? Blue Bag was a make of laundry whitener which people used to treat bee and wasp stings. It’s an alkaline so would theoretically counter the acid in the sting. Bluing was a way of adding a blue tint to white laundry – a blue tint takes away any grey or yellow hue.  It was probably a throw away comment in Bert’s letter and Frank’s using it as a hook for his joke. Boom boom.

The more I read about Tom, the more I think he is connected to Aunt Carrie and Uncle Matt in some way. Whether he’s a relative or not remains to be seen. Tom has apparently been helping to make the Christmas Plum Duff “he said he was making some Duff am I right” so is he staying in the same house as Mabel? It would be easy to assume so. Tom is home on leave, so we can also assume that he’s in the Army or Navy already. We’ll come back to this at a later date.

The end of the letter mentions that the Dorsets have been spoken to by General Sir Smith-Dorrien. Is this a reference to his visit on the 22nd? Just what was said and why would it be in the newspapers?

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