They have no fear in them

### 16th November 1914

In the yesterday’s letter, Frank reports that the first snow has fallen. The weather was definitely turning. Gleichen reports that at the time “the weather had turned beastly cold—snowstorms and sleet during the day and a hard frost at night”.

Frank gives Mabel his location by referencing the London Scottish. They had achieved the dubious honour of being the first Territorial battalion to see action. They lost nearly half their strength preventing the Germans breaking through the allies’ lines on the 31st October at Messines. He also mentions the Indian Corps which would have been from his time at La Bassée and seems especially impressed by the Gurkhas, who allegedly terrified the Germans “with their knives in their hands coming after them they have no fear in them when they start”. The letter is the most expressive of all the letters so far. His description of the hopelessness of men trapped out in the open is very moving.

Frank mentions a winner of the “French Legion of Honour who was killed.” The truth of this story is quite tragic. The battalion was awarded a Médaille Militaire, a French award that could also be given to foreign nationals. Lieutenant-Colonel Bols had decided it should be awarded to the machine gun section for its work on the 26th August at Mons. It’s not clear what date this happened or why the battalion won the award. It’s a story I will return to. Private Thomas Anthony Skipsey was selected as its recipient by the rest of the machine gun section. He remarked that he “would be the first to meet trouble”. He wasn’t wrong. On the 13th October Skipsey was shot and killed. The medal isn’t listed on his Medal Card, nor in the Medal Rolls, but it is noted on his CWGC casualty details page.

The Dorsets began to withdraw from their positions, getting ready for welcome relief. D Company went first, assembling at Battalion HQ with C Company at 6am. The machine gun was withdrawn from A Company’s trench.

At 2pm tragedy struck B Company. Some high explosive shells burst in one of their their trenches and buried part of a platoon. Men from C Company were sent to support them. At 6pm A and B Companies were ordered to withdraw from their positions but that was cancelled just half and hour later.

11th Brigade had already been informed that the Dorsets were to remain in their command for another day so all this movement seems to have been rather a waste of time. The 11th Brigade’s diary also rather testily notes that snipers had infiltrated the lines behind Hill 63 and the Dorsets are ordered to catch them. Lieutenant-Colonel Butler “suggests” the Dorsets assign observation posts on the top of the hill. The lack of any mention of this in the Dorsets’ war diary suggest to me that this “suggestion” carried a bit more weight than that.

I get the impression from the 11th Brigade’s diary that they had a less than favourable impression of the Dorsets. Whether this was due to inter-divisional rivalry or that the Dorsets’ reputation was tarnished from their disastrous time at La Bassée it’s impossible to say. I might be totally imagining this but the Dorsets’ star has definitely waned since the broiling heat of September.

The Dorsets’ diary reports 5 killed with 2 wounded. CWCG lists 5 men killed too. One of these men, James Henry Budden aged 34, came from a Peabody Estate in Vauxhall. I’ve just come home from one on the Old Kent Road. That is all.

Postcards from the edge (of a wood)

13th November 1914

13. Field Service Post Card to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven Road, date stamped 18 No 14 – message dated 13.11.14 Multiple choice card on which sender could delete inappropriate phrases and sign (Frank) and date.

Undeleted message reads “I am quite well. I have received your letter. Letter follows at first opportunity”.

Field Postcard
Field Service Post Card / Army Form A2042

Today’s post is something of an anomoly as we get another missive right after Frank has written a letter. This is one of those multiple choice postcards beloved of bureaucratic institutions. In times of great hurry, you simply crossed out the bits that weren’t relevant with a pencil and stuffed it on the post. It was called the Field Service Post Card or, more grandly, Army Form A2042. Here’s one filled out from a post on The Great War Forum. I did see a joke one somewhere but I can’t for the life of me remember where it was. The Wipers Times is the probable source.

The Dorsets endured more shelling throughout the day. In the evening D Company was assigned to the Royal Engineers for digging duties. Later on, at 10.55pm to be precise, B Company was ordered to move to a new position south west of Point 63 to be easy for digging at daylight. I’ll update the map tomorrow. According to the diary 2 men were killed and one wounded. The CWCG lists just one man, or should I say boy:  Harold Mead. He was just 16 years old. See the comments below for more discussion on his age.

And,so, back to yesterday’s letter

Yes I expect it is alright on that records, yes I know the song well, we did have a good reception when we arrived in France but we have had some bad times since, and lots of these fellows you can hear singing have gone since then worse luck.

The Tenor John McCormack
The great Irish tenor, John McCormack

Mabel must have asked Frank whether he knew a particular song. Was there a record of the troops singing released in Britain? Or was this just a popular song sung by the troops on the march? At the moment I am not sure. This could have been something popular like “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” sung by John McCormack or an early version of “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. This article explores the music that was played at The Royal Albert Hall. Land of Hope and Glory was sung there in October, sung by Clara Butt and conducted by Elgar himself in front of the King and Queen. They must have swung the crosses off of the Union Jack that evening, by Jingo.

I’m putting in a photo of a 1923 painting of an incredibly louche John McCormack because you can never have too much William Orpen in my opinion.

Wallie is working in the City I bet he fancy his luck a what. So Muff received my letter alright I have not heard from there since and I have forgot the address, don’t forget to remember me to them all, and let me have their address and also Toms I have not heard from him yet. Have answered your Bert’s letter, but have not received the cigarettes yet buck him up. How is Ciss going and did she receive my PC have not heard from her since. Glad to know that all are in the pink at home and that Uncle Matt has got plenty of work, how is Albert still doing the Tango remember me to him and tell him I will drink his health when I see him which I hope will be soon. I have just has two letters from Jess she has been ill this last two or three weeks but am glad to hear that she is getting on alright now.

We rattle through the usual gang. He’s forgotten Muff’s address and we’re still asking after the mysterious Tom. There’s my great grandfather mentioned by name this time – Frank has christened him Bert and is still teasing Maud about him. Ciss is probably his sitter Doris, or it could be Caroline, his aunt, as she’s married to the next in line, Uncle Mattie, Matthew Webster. Albert doing the tango could be another cousin, Albert Webster, son of Herbert Webster and his wife Mary. Albert is 11 so I am not sure about this. I’ve never toasted an eleven year old. But then again Frank likes a drink so he could toast anyone – or anything after a Red Biddy or two. Jess hasn’t been well but infuriatingly there’s no more information about her identity.

I’m off for a tango.