Letters to kate and Jack, 2nd July 1918

July 2th/1918
32507/ 9th Batt Y & L
C Coy 12 Platoon
Dear Kate
I have received your letter and the papers with the writing pad. I was very pleased with it. I have had a letter from Ethel and she says they are getting on alright at home. The weather here is very unsettled and we get plenty of rain. You were right when you say we have been busy out here just lately but I am pleased to say I am going on alright and in good health and I hope to keep so. I am pleased to here that Jack is getting on alright I had a letter from him last week. I hope Annie does not leave home and goto work, well I think she would be better at home. I think she might be able to find a bit of work to suit her in time. Write as often as you can and let me know how they are all getting on.
With best Love

July 2th/1918
32507/ 9th Batt Y & L
C Coy 12 Platoon
Dear Jack
Just a line to let me know that I am alright and in good health. The weather here is very unsettled and we got plenty of rain.I hope you received my last letter in the green envelope. Let me know if you have. I am pleased to hear they are going on alright at home and keeping in good health. I think Annie is worrying herself about getting work but I don't think she as any need to both. (bother? BL). You will be glad to hear that Willie is getting a fine lad. I had a letter from Mr Leverton telling me about him. I will write a soon and let you know a bit more news. Hoping that you are both keeping in good health.
With Best Love to you both.
(P.S) Send a paper or two

A scan of a "green envelope". These were treasured by the troops as the letters inside weren't censored in their own unit. It meant that personal material that might be embarrassing could be included. BL

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Missed Christmas Card

As I mentioned in a much earlier post, I discovered a couple of cards that were missed out of the correct time sequence. I promised at the time to slot them in when convenient.

This is the York & Lancaster's Regimental Christmas Card for 1917 that Harry sent to... someone. "Glad you liked the card I sent you" says Harry in his letter to Jack of 30th December. This could well be the one he is referring to.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Off subject request to Readers for help! I am passing through Los Angeles at the end of July, staying for three nights. As a very inexperienced traveller, I would be grateful for any advice about where to stay,
or indeed anything that may help. Email BL (I knew this blog would come in useful one day!) BL

Letter from Harry to Jack, 19th June 1918

June 19/1918

32507/ 9th Batt
York & Lancs Regt
C Coy 12 platoon
Dear Jack
I hope you are getting on alright. I have received the book and was very pleased with it. I have not received a letter for a long time. things have been a bit rough out here just lately something unusual after beening so quiet. Our Coy was in close support about 200yards behind front line we were not wanted in the front line so we did not have to fire. I can tell you support line is worst than the front. The fight started about 3 oclock in the morning and Johnny Austrian started to come over about 7 oclock. Well he did get a reception I can tell you, them in the front line simply mowed them down and he got no farther than the wire. I went in the front line during the day to have a look when things had quietened down. The prisoners are the poorest lot I have seen and told us they thought that they were going to meet the Italians and where surprised to see our lads in the trenches. it was a big attack and he meant breaking through if he could. The prisoners had plenty of money, all notes and was pleased to to be made prisoners, well the biggest part of them. They were a mixed lot Austrians, Hungarians and a large number of Rumanians. there objective was to get on to the plain but I can tell you he got a good beating especially on our divisional front. I shall be glad to see you all again and I hope you are both keeping in good health. I shall be able to tell you more when I see you. I hope this year sees the finish of the war, but I think that the enemy is more fed up than what we are. I have had a letter from home and pleased to say they are keeping well. Write as often as you can.
With Love to you both
I am putting an Austrian note in I hope you get it.Click on the Images to enlarge.

Anyone any idea what the note would have been worth? BL

Asiago, Mid June 1918

No word has been heard from Harry for quite a while. Saturday 15th June 1918, the Austrian army's attack on the Piave river front that was started on Monday 10th was complemented by a second major attack at Asiago, where Harry was in the front line. The War Diary gives an account of the experiences of Harry's Battalion for this battle.

Consult the Battalion's War Diary for June 1918.

The Flanders Trip

First of all, many thanks to Mark of Soverign Battlefield Tours. The trip was organised brilliantly. Once the party was in his care, everything was sorted. There was nothing more to worry about – just relax and let Mark take the strain.

Most impressive was the real-time research that was done on the ground to try to locate the people and places that Harry would have known. We needed a lot of careful work, some inspiration and not a little luck, to enjoy the success we had.

I needed to visit the battlefields. The work on the blog for the last two years had left an enormous gap that could only be filled by a visit to the place where the terrible events took place.

What was the aim? I wanted to see the places where Harry fought. I wanted to visit the locations where the battles took place and to try to picture something of what he experienced 90 years ago.

Please refer to the folders of pictures to illustrate the account. Click to access the albums.

We visited the cemeteries. The row upon row of young men’s graves gave off a powerful message. Many times in the three days I felt the tears welling up as I thought of the sorrow that was there. Each stone marked one man’s death but signaled the grief, the tragedy for his wife, children, mother, lover, brothers, sisters and friends (delete where not applicable.)

We started to focus on Harry’s letters, the War Diaries and the maps, to try to extract details.

We tried to find the grave of the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bowes-Wilson, who was reported killed on the morning of June 7th 1917 – the Battle of Messines Ridge. The Commonweath War Graves Commission provide a computer database at the Tyne Cot Cemetery Visitor Centre that was easy to search.

Lieutenant-Colonel J.H.Bowes-Wilson was buried at the Railway Dugouts Cemetery.

Once we located the small cemetery, it was quite simple to follow the date sequences on the stones to find him. See photo Our first success, a very nice feeling.

Careful work with the “Operation Order” for the Messines attack (Actually written by Colonel Bowes-Wilson) led us to “Mount Sorrel” and “Hill 60.” Working from the old trench maps, it would appear that Harry was three or four hundred yards to the North of Hill 60, near the Battalion’s objective, Mount Sorrel. We had to relate the old trench maps to the modern topography to get the correct locations. I think we got pretty close. Photo 1 It was a strange feeling to think that Harry would have walked there some 90 years or so ago. Photo 2

The defensive action on the 30th September was a little harder to sort out. We started looking a few hundred yards adrift until “Bedford House” – from the war diaries - was spotted. Bedford House was named as the location Harry’s Company was to move from to relieve the troops in the front line trench. The house was destroyed but “Bedford House” was now the name of a war cemetery. If we found it on the ground, maybe that would help us with the location of the front line trenches for that day.

“the Captain got killed” writes Harry of the defensive action on September 30th 1917.

We went to the Bedford House Cemetery to try to find “the Captain’s” grave. We knew that we were looking for a Captain from the York & Lancaster Regiment killed on 30th September 1917.

There were over a thousand graves in the beautiful Cemetery, but luck was on our side. As soon as we located the date area for September 1917, there he was, Captain A. W. Sykes Age 42. “The dearly loved husband of Mary Sykes Netherleigh Huddersfield” Photo

“A jolly good fellow too” adds Harry in his letter.

This was powerful. Here was someone that Harry knew. Captain Sykes was in charge of C Company. He would have known each of the 100 or so men under his command personally. He would have known Harry.

We couldn’t really go much further with this one. It was only possible to guess the rough route that Harry would have taken from the assembly point to the front line trench.

We did many of the popular tourist sites. We experienced the Ceremony at the Menin Gate, Ieper (Ypres) on two evenings. It was extremely moving. The horror of that war comes a little closer when it’s realised that the 50,000+ names inscribed on the Menin Gate are those of men who were not found and buried. There was some comfort in the manner of the youngsters who came to pay their respect. Groups of tearful teenagers somehow gave hope for the future.

We visited Poperinge, a sensible distance behind the lines, for Talbot House - a haven for off-duty solders - and the "Shot at Dawn" site.

The whole experience was rewarding and emotional for me. Tears flowed. I felt such sorrow that men could cause this horror and carnage. A purely personal view – I realise that I am no different from the men responsible, yet cannot conceive circumstances where, given the responsibility, I could allow it to happen.

Yet, I am the same.

I must be far from understanding how it really took place.

Several readers have commented that this version is fine. Reading it, I don't think that I can improve it, however much time I spend. This is no longer a draft! BL