Say cheese


30th November 1914

Letters home
Captain R.E. Partridge’s Coy. Orderlies (D Company), in trenches opposite Wychaete in November, writing letters home.

This remarkable photograph, taken by Captain R.E. Partridge (our goose hunter from a month ago), shows two sergeants in D Company of the Dorsets. If the date on the photograph is right then it must have been taken between the 26th and the 30th November 1914. You can see from the clutter behind them how temporary the trenches were at this time, with tarpaulin slung over sandbags as breastworks.

It’s remarkable because personal photography was very much frowned upon by the BEF who banned cameras from Christmas 1914. Thankfully for us, this rule was flouted and there’s an interesting collection of personal photos available to look at on the Guardian website.

Conversely, the Germans encouraged photography. There was a great documentary on BBC4 a while back called Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs which focussed on the photographs of Walter Kleinfeldt. They remind me of the incredible American Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady.

The Dorsets came to the conclusion that the German trenches were strongly held. Perhaps they had sent out a patrol in the night which would explain the outburst of rifle fire recorded yesterday. But no mention of this is made in the Dorsets’ dairy so perhaps they made simply an informed assumption about the enemy’s strength.

Rather abruptly, the Dorsets began to be relieved from 5.30pm by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and a Company of the Bedfords who took over part of the right hand of their line. The relief was finished by 11.30pm whereupon the battalion returned to billets in Dranoutre.


Woollens for your Walloon Warriors

Field Service Post Card to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strethleven Rd – One penny stamp franked Army Post Office 21 No 14

I am quite well. Letter follows at first opportunity. I have received no letter from you lately.

Signed Frank and dated 21-11-14

21st November 2014

Another one of those multiple choice postcards arrived in Brixton a century ago. Frank’s written another letter home to Mabel so keep your eyes peeled over the weekend.

The Dorsets remained in billets near Dranoutre having another day’s rest.

In the Telegraph the Special Correspondent (Central News) for Flanders makes an accurate prediction. After writing about the Allied line holding throughout Belgium he comments:

 Germany strategy will be hopeless bankrupt will be: “How long? At what cost?”

As things are, there is little doubt that the Allies have broken the back of the German attacks on the Western Frontier.

They also recommend sensible Christmas presents for loved ones fighting in France: good woollen underwear, gloves, shirts and socks and coats lined with fur or lambskin. Presumably they’re presents for officers.

Less wealthy folk will examine the vests that promise warmth and comfort, and such articles as thick rugs and sleeping bags.

Other ideas include vacuum flasks, little valises with knife and fork and spoon, collapsible cups and miniaturised smoking kit like pipes, lighters and tobacco holders. Bavarian china is definitely out of the question.


Snow rest for the wicked


19th November 1914

At 5am the Dorsets formed up to the west of Ploegsteert wood at Petit Pont, exactly where they had stood sixteen days ago. Although their experience in the woods had been fraught and miserable with danger, cold and damp, it must have felt like a holiday compared to La Bassée.

Now the Dorsets were on the move again and into the care of 14th Brigade. They marched at 7am, this time four miles to the northwest, via Neuve Église to Dranoutre (now Dranouter*), into billets and rest. Major Fraser resumed command of the Battalion. Heavy snow fell that day, which settled and froze solid by 4pm, according to the 14th Brigade’s diary.

* I’m using the old French terms for these towns. From 1921 onwards, Belgian place names changed into Dutch. For instance Neuve Église is now Nieuwkirke and Ypres is Ieper.