12 May, ’17.
My dearest Lal: —
I hadn’t intended writing again till we came out. Rumours seem to be rather persistent that a little more is expected of us, in fact that there is to be a show, more or less big, and we must — I mean our outfit must — pull off the stunt. Of course we hope otherwise. I can’t even tell you any of the details of what I have heard; but something is going to happen, I guess, and so I thought I’d better write you. We move up to‑night, without our kits or anything, into another of those delightful ditches misnamed trenches, where there’s no cover and damn little protection; where the whole works “stands to” all night and endeavours to sleep all day. We shan’t have a kick unless we have to perform the over-the-bags stunt. I’ve seen an aeroplane picture — these are shown us regularly — of what’s in front of us, and there’s a row of machine gun emplacements connected up like this [drawing added to the letter] running right across the picture.
H’ver, long before you get this, the scrap will be old, old news; and anyway, maybe they won’t need us — this time.
Last night quite suddenly we loosed up one of our wonderful bombardments. No words can ever describe it; the air all trembles, and there is no distinction whatever between the shocks, yet so many guns take part in these displays that I am told one individual gun never fires more than four rounds a minute, and more likely only three. Of course they are more than wheel to wheel; they are in bunches, behind and around each other. When this starts, Heinie always gets the wind up for fair, and his trenches all along send up every S.O.S. signal he has: green flares, red flares, strings of all colours and shapes, and what with all these and the light in the sky from the guns and the roar, it’s a scene like nothing that has ever happened before.
I have been under shell fire in the open and in trenches when only a few batteries were working, and it’s rotten, to put it mildly; so we can all understand just what is happening when our guns turn on him with a regular performance. Frankly, I don’t know what he does; I don’t see what he can do. In his newer trenches he certainly can’t have deep dugouts, and without these he’s helpless. Funk holes are no good. So it’s certain he must suffer terribly. Some day I expect these bombardments to break his spirit and cause a rout. I told you, I think, how he massed seven lines of men to retake Vimy Ridge and we caught them down in the plains below. They never even got within five hundred yards of it.
Though there is little to pack up, it seems to keep every one busy the day before a trip in, getting everything shipshape. I’m going to take two water bottles; I have a hunch there’ll be rows this time. I have some candles left. We’ve been able to have a fire here, but of course one will be napoo up there. And we swiped some dry tea this morning. I don’t think we’ll be in long, anyway, even if we go over —
In less than a week I’ll be writing again.
Au revoir, Lal dear. Remember I shall be thinking of you — you both — all the time.
I’ve had a lovely shave and wash. The towel, soap, powder, also the Gillette blades were an inspiration. After that I strolled over to the next trench behind us where B. is and lay in the sun and talked. Such are active service conditions — when the weather’s fine, and Fritz is strafing some one else.
Casualties occur even here. While lining up for breakfast, this morning, a fellow just in front of me picked up an old, undischarged flare light. It went off in his hand, taking nearly half of it off. There’ll be bad accidents here for years; the ground is a mass of unexploded bombs.
Did I mention in one of my letters about sending some of that cocoa, sugar, and milk stuff? They put it up in small tins, quite small. Send two or three at a time, four or five of those plain bars of chocolate, one can of Oxo, same as before, a small towel just the same as the last, no socks — got plenty — a few candles, and cakes. And cakes. And then cakes. Early and often.
Do you know I’ve come to the conclusion that you’re a very lucky girl. I don’t know any one else that writes letters, except when they are out. K. is engaged to a sweet-looking girl — at least her photo is sweet — yet he doesn’t write as much as I do.