Harry's letters about Battle of Messines Ridge

June 11th /1917

…. Dear Jack
I was very pleased to hear from you and that you are going on all right I have been to the place you mentioned in your letter we went there for our bath about a fortnight ago. The part of the line and we are in is straight forward so you will know where I am. We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so. We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success. I will tell you more when I see you. Mention the name of the place you think I am in and I will tell you whether you are right but I think you will know one of the worst fronts on the line but I think we are having a change of place. When you receive this letter write back and let me know all news you can. It is a rum job waiting for the time to come to go over the top without any rum too. The C.O. got killed and our captain, marvellous how we escaped. The biggest part of our company are scotch man from the Scottish Borderers. I can’t tell what they say they are not like Yorkshire men and we were the fifth wave over. I am glad they are alright at home and getting on well. The little book you sent is very nice it will come in useful I will read it. Glad you have wrote to Kate. My address is the same Y & L. I will write againAnd soon and let you know how I am getting on.

With best love from Harry

could you send me a small tin of salts or lemon something to put to water only a small tin, anything that will not take up much room.

June 11th /1917

Received 21.6.17

Dear Kate

I was very pleased to receive your packet everything came in a very useful. I was very pleased to hear you are going on all right did you receive my letter. We have had some very rough times up here lately especially the last time we were in the trenches you see we had to go over the top. its a rotten time waiting for the order. we had to go over at three in the morning. the bombardment was awful lucky to get out but I’m very pleased to say I am alright and hope to remain so. There was a parcel waiting for me from Ethel and Annie when I came out, it was nice to have some cake and tea. we never had anything but water for about a week, biscuits and bully a bit of Jam but never mind I got over it. I am very pleased Connie is going to school I do hope she gets on alright-I think they all keep well at home. The weather here is very hot I wish it was a bit cooler. Do not be long before you write. My address is 32507 ninth York and Lancs Batt C Company L. G. section B.E.F. France. There is nobody in my company from our way not that I know of you see a mix them up now there is a lot of scotch men with us you can hardly tell what they say. I have been a with the Lewis gunners the last month but I don’t know for how long. It was only three of us came back out of our section after the last fight. I think this is all just now, I will write again soon and tell you more.
With love from

9th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment

War Diary entries for the Battle of Messsines Ridge

June 7th At 3.10 am (zero hour) our artillery opened up a terrific barrage on the Hun front line & simultaneously the mines under Hill 60 and the CATERPILLAR were blown. At zero +1 (minute) the first wave consisting of B Coy on the left & A Coy on the right went over, and were followed by D Coy (moppers up) & C Coy (Harry's Company) in support at short intervals. The attack progressed very favourably and by zero + 30 the Bn had reached its objective and began consolidating. Very few casualties were sustained in the actual attack. At zero + 3hr 40mins the 8th Bn York & Lancaster Bn & the 8th Bn KOYLI on the right and left respectively, went over from our objective and reached the final objective of the Brigade.

June 9th The Bn remained in its objectives until the evening of the 9th. During this period the Bn underwent heavy shelling & sustained many casualties. B Coy also relieved the 8th Bn Y & L in the front line on the morning of the 9th. On the evening of the 9th the Bn was relieved by the 1st N Staffs Bn. The total casualties sustained were officers - killed 4 (including the C.O.) wounded 6. O.Rs - Killed 39, wounded 211. Died of wounds 9. Missing 18. **

Night of 9th/10th June On relief the Bn moved by motor lorry from KRUISTRAAT to SCOTTISH LINES. Capt. D Lewis took over temp command of Bn at midday on June 7th* from Lt Col Bowes-Wilson, killed in action 7.6.17. Coys at O.C Coys disposal for cleaning up and re-organisation

* Added in very small writing as a superscript.

The very last line took a bit of understanding. To decipher; "Companies are to do whatever their Company Commander feels suitable to clean up and to sort out the organisation".

I would suppose that the gaps due to casualties needed to be sorted.

**To understand the scale of casualties, the battalion would consist of around 1000 men. Over a quarter were killed or wounded in this "successful" attack.


99jon said...

It must have been good to have loved ones back home so ready to please with little treats but above all comunications.

Anonymous said...

I've been studying up on WWI in my spare time and have found that the things that cement the details -- horrible and otherwise -- are the stories of the individuals, like your grandfather. I've bookmarked your excellent site and look forward to continued reading. Thank you!

russellrussell said...

Your grandfathers letters are wonderfull, such an important account of the terible conditions these brave men had to endure, you must be so proud of him. One can only be inspired by their selfless call to duty unlike some of their senior officers who hid behind their labels. Their actions could not of been seen at the time to be so instrumental in shapeing the democracy and freedom we take for granted to-day. And some might say was it really all worth it?

Anonymous said...

I read "Birdsong" which I believe you mentioned the first time I saw your site. It was excellent and reveals the particular horrors experienced by the WWI soldiers. I suppose each war has its somewhat unique brand of horror. My mother (born 1906) lost her only brother on a bombing run over Germany on Easter Sunday 1944. But at least he was in comfortable lodgings when not flying. In fact, a couple of wealthy English spinsters entertained his crew on leave several times. My mother's parents passed away soon after WWII ended but Miss Violet Rhodes wrote to my mother for many years after the war was over. Neither my mother nor any of her 5 sisters ever got to visit Uncle Ken's grave in England. But I've inherited her copy of his picture, which has an honored place on my bookshelf. I barely remember him home on leave holding me in his arms and "dancing" with me.
Oregon, USA

Anonymous said...

My Great Great Grandfather Was in this battle and I found Harry's letters very insiteful of what my Great Great Grandfather went through. He died on the 7th of june 1917. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

My Great Great Uncle (and namesake) Hemi HILL, was killed in action (K.I.A) in Messines on 7th June 1917. He was a Kiwi soldier and his older brother Robert served in Ypres around a month later.

I am currently writing a book about my family's military history and these letters have helped immensely. Great site!

I will be going to visit Hemi at his place of rest in Wulvergehem just south-west of Messines in December of this year.

Brent James 'Hemi' Kerehona