Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Scratched Head in the Trenches

Sunday 28th February 1915: Mrs Gertrude Longuet-Higgins has continued to receive regular news from her son John who is serving as a captain in the London Regiment at the Front. Extracts from his letters give a flavour of his life there:

10th February
Weather greatly improved and everyone is beginning to say that it isn’t such a bad life out here after all. Plenty to do, plenty of fresh air, and a certain amount of excitement. Came out of trenches last night again, but must go up again this morning to walk round and show people what has to be done and the order in which things are to be done.

[Later] Have just come back from going round the trenches and had a chat with the captain of an anti-aircraft gun on the way home. It is a most interesting toy and very cleverly concealed. It is rigged up on a motor lorry and they have run this into a ruined cottage with no roof. They have put straw all over the engine and parts of the lorry they do not use when working the gun. They fire a 13lb shell at ranges up to 500 yards. Am feeling very fit after my walk. It is good to be alive in weather like today’s.

As I was going round the trenches this morning one of our officers had a very narrow escape.[1] His cap was just showing over the top of the parapet and Mr German sniper put a bullet right across the top of his cap. It left a mark about 6 inches long across the flat top and in the centre grazed the officer’s head just enough to make it bleed. I am sending the cap home to you to keep and am ordering a new one. Please don’t worry about me in the slightest for I now have not even a headache.

11th February
Just a line to reassure you of my perfect health. I should have said nothing of my being scratched yesterday, unless I had thought you might have some exaggerated tale from some other source. We are going to have a little concert tonight in billets got up by the men, and a team from our regiment is playing football against the neighbouring artillery. We shall get an awful kicking as the artillery have some members of Aston Villa.

16th February
Many thanks for your letter and parcels. All very welcome. Marmalade is a great treat and the other things are just what I wanted. It may be I shall appear in the casualty list because of my scratched head. I don’t think I shall but if I do you will know what it is and please don’t worry.

25 February
We had a very sad day yesterday. Captain Thompson our adjutant was killed. He was showing the Brigadier round trenches at the time and got shot through the head. Though he lived for about ½ hour he was never conscious. I do not know whether Kenneth [his brother] has yet really started and am afraid I am rather late in thinking of him. Please if there is still time let him have anything at all of mine that would be of use to him, new or old boots, gaiters, underclothes, uniform.
[Later] Have just buried Captain Thompson. Beautiful fine sunny afternoon. The General came and three of the Colonels of the Brigade were present. The chaplain read the service and the Colonel placed on the grave an evergreen wreath he made this morning.

Source: Letters of Captain John Longuet-Higgins HG12/10/129-132

[1] It soon becomes clear that Captain Longuet-Higgins is referring to himself. 

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