Letter to Jack -29th January 1918

Jan 29/1/18
32507/9th Batt Y &L
C Company
12 Platoon L.G.S.
Dear Jack
I have received your long letter and tin of salmon which was very good. I was sorry to hear the bad news about Uncle and Jack Bonser. I did not know he was died but I heard he was wounded very bad. I was glad... (turn over)... to hear that you and Kate went to the funeral it was the least you could do. I am also pleased Mrs Higgins liked the letter which I wrote. We are on that part of the line you seen in the paper and it is quite true except for the long march after but they left the rum bottle out which they never forget to take .... (new page..) ... Their is five or six parts of the river they have to cross before they get to the other side it is very wide and the farthest away from the enemy I have been when in the front line. I have not had the job yet but might get it any time a fighting patrol mostly as a lewis gun and three or four of the team...(turn over ...) with them our batt as had no luck yet, mostly get spotted. I was pleased you found Willie and Connie alright, but we can except (expect?) dad being bad I think he has been very lucky I hope he gets better. I hope the war is finished before you have to come out their are plenty of younger men.
Write as soon as possible.
With Love from

This is a strange letter that doesn't quite make sense. I've indicated the ends of pages so that the reader can make their own judgement as to any interpretation. I wonder whether there's a page missing or the rum bottle that was "left out" has something to with it. I hope the latter!

According to the Battalion's War Diary, Harry was in the front line when he wrote this. I suspect it was a bit calmer than the front line in Flanders.

A Milestone.
Yesterday, 28th January, Harry's blog recorded its millionth page load! While not too exceptional in WWW terms, it is way beyond anything I imagined when I started publishing the letters.

Note for the enthusiast. "B.E.F. Italy" (British Expeditionary Force - Italy) has just changed to "I.E.F." (Italian Expeditionary Force) in Harry's letters' address. I gather this was an "official" change to reflect the involvement of the other allied armies. I've seen quite a discussion on one of the forums! BL


Anonymous said...


I have not commented previously, but I do check regularly. This letter does discuss a death (Uncle Jack) and a decline in health (dad). I agree that it is maudlin especially the last bit about the younger men - even critical to some extent. Any chance that you might scan a page to allow us to judge from the handwriting. I enjoy your efforts. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the sentence about the long march is confusing because Harry's "they" refers in each case to different groups. Assuming that Jack, in his letter to Harry, mentioned news reports of battles/troop movements, asking Harry if they were true (tho Harry can't say where he is in his own letter). And, assuming that the journalists of WWI would not mention the rum bottle on the long march, here is what the passage "might" mean":
"We are on the part of the [battle] line you [read about] in the [news]paper and [this report] is quite true[,] except for the long march after [the battle] but they [the reporters]left the rum bottle out [perhaps the news report did not mention the long march afterward during which troops obtained and consumed rum rations, or, perhaps the report mentioned the long march but left out the rum?] which they [battalion members] never forget to take [with them after a battle/when abandoning trenches in a hurry?].

elhaf said...

except, which you have as expect might also be accept.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the reference to rum in the letter is actually referring to the newspaper, which printed certain "facts" about Harry's battalion and omitted others:
"We are on that part of the line you seen in the paper and it is quite true except for the long march after but they left the rum bottle out which they never forget to take"
So, they are on the part of the front lines that the paper featured. The paper may have added something about a long march, but omitted any mention of alcohol (which the boys would never leave home without)? I wonder if the paper he refers to is The London Times? Or perhaps another paper whose articles are available electronically? (sorry, do not mean to suggest additional work for you).

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that the letters keep coming, so late that I heard about this great blog!

I sure hope that he has survived the war, even though I realise that that's exactly the happy ending millions of people desired at the time, largely and sadly without being heard...

Anonymous said...

Hey there...I found this blog through a link on the Canada.com news site...brilliant!

As for this letter...It almost seems the (flipped)last page should be the continuation from the first.

"rum bottle out which they never forget to take .... "
I think should attach to:
"with them our batt as had no luck yet, mostly get spotted"

How the salutation and signature got put on the bottom here...unsure. A quick hypothesis maybe...Harry finished the letter without putting the closing salutation and signature. When submitting it to get delivered, he realized he didn't sign it and just grabbed a page to sign? (ya...a little out there, but who knows... :-) )

Keep up the great work BL.

Calgary, Canada

Anonymous said...

First, thank you so much for all the effort you're putting in to this, it is fascinating.
I just wanted to say I like that you've started putting your comments in blue, to stand out from Harry's letters. Very easy to distinguish.

Anonymous said...

I'm not positive, but the 'rum bottle' might be something that was offered to soldiers who volunteered for/were about to be sent on dangerous missions. Sort of a "we who about to die, salute you" thing.

-Gustav's great-granddaughter

Anonymous said...

With the help of the 2nd poster here the Letter makes more sense.

In a world, in witch lag is measured in milliseconds, a delay of 90 years can bring you back to basics.

Aunt Wiki tells me there will be bad things ahead :(
(Pardon for my broken English)

And I can't help but wonder now Willie McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the cause?
Did you really believe them that this war would end war?
But the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame -
The killing, the dying - it was all done in vain.
For Willie McBride, it's all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Anonymous said...

Does the phrase "rum bottle" actually refer to alcohol? I noticed in previous letters that Harry uses the word rum to describe something pleasant (eg a rum chap). And as the previous guy mentioned, he might be refering to a battle. I first warmed to Harry when he used this unique and rather endearing, lost terminoligy, although I find it dificult to understand how any battle could ever have been pleasant! I haven't read any of the Battalion's war diary so forgive me if I've got my wires crossed, but did they have a particularly succesful day on the battle field? Rich

Abel Granda said...

¡Bravo Carlitos, veo que te has puesto las pilas!
Esta mañana, en cuanto te escuché en "En días como hoy", me vine pero aún no habías colgado ni lo de Rambo ni lo del soldado inglés.
Afortunadamente podré leerlo, y prometo seguir la saga. Enhorabuena por la iniciativa. Ya te contaré.
PD: ¿Seguirás la fecha de las cartas?; si así fuera, te pido un último esfuerzo, que publiques una lista con las fechas previamente (por supuesto sin revelar ningún desenlace a ser posible. Salaam.

Guido G. said...

Ha - I'm happy to see Harry still doing well! Scary thought if he should get "the job", but I'm not sure if this means he would have to do "fighting patrol" which "mostly get spotted"... I might read it wrong - in any case a scary thought.
I agree with the interpretations of the rum bottle from previous comments and don't think that a page is missing.

Greetings from Germany,

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there are actually parts of two different letters here. It is a bit hard to tell from the scan but the folds on the first two pages seem to be different to the last two pages.

I think the paper described the march but left out reference to the rum (that the troops never left behind - perhaps for the cold?)

Great work - thanks

Anonymous said...

I realy liked you blog