West Norfolk men write home from the trenches

Soldiers in the trenches at The Somme. EMN-140210-091341001
Soldiers in the trenches at The Somme. EMN-140210-091341001

The Lynn News has been looking back 100 years to its archives to find letters written by soldiers in the trenches about the famous Christmas Truce of 1914.

Mr R Bloom, of 18 Checker Street, Lynn, has received the following letter from his brother, lance-corporal H. Bloom, of the 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment:

My dear brother Reggie, you ask me to tell you about the war. Well, we spent Christmas looking over the ground. Of course, I must be very thankful it was not under it. I think the Germans are about done.

About 8 o’clock on Christmas morning they showed themselves above ground. They were unarmed and they wanted us to go half-way between the trenches. Of course we did, just to have a good look at them. They did look a very sorrowful lot and they told us they were fed up completely. They seem to know there is not a chance for them.

But of course you have to be very much on the alert as they are very crafty and you cannot trust them. We had two hours of that. Our own artillery was going all the time. They gave us little souvenirs and we gave them cigarettes which they enjoyed.

They then wanted to play football, but we did not have one, so we passed our time away talking. I expect they would have liked to play some of their little games, but we were all prepared for that. One thing about them, their Jack Johnsons [large German guns] are not so bad now.

Mrs Cook, of 8 Coronation Square, Lynn, received a letter from her husband Private W. C. Cook, of the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment which was published in the Lynn Advertiser on February 12.

My dear wife I have just got time to write to you as we have come from the firing line for a few more days rest.

I received the parcel you sent me all right and I enjoyed the chocolate immensely while the bullets were whizzing all around us.

The weather is very cold, freezing and snowing and raining all sorts of weather. You talk about cold feet, well I had three pairs of socks on and a pair of knee boots and I still couldn’t keep my feet warm.

You have to be very careful where you put your head or else you would soon get a bullet through it, so it makes you think of home sweet home and those you have left behind.

Still, we all have to take our chance.

I hope it won’t be many more months before I see you in reality, if some German does not put one through me. Still, I hope not.

Private Alfred Burrows, who went out with the second Expeditionary Force to join the 1st Norfolks, wrote to his sister Mrs H Crowe, of Mill Fleet, Lynn:

It is now nearly six months and the time has flown. We have had a lot to put up with, especially the dreadful weather; up to your knees in mud and nearly wet through in the trenches. There you have got to stop perhaps four days and nights, but we are well looked after.

Of course there are times when we all grouse.

On December 21 we went forward to the trenches and the German trenches were only about 60 yards from ours. The next day one man next to me in the trenches was shot through the head.

We buried him at dusk, with the captain reading the burial service over him, with the old Germans firing all the time.

It was from these trenches that we spent Christmas Day.

On Christmas Eve I went on patrol duty for the Engineers between our lines and theirs and then had to go on duty at the “listening post”. It was very sharp and at about 2am I took my water bottle to have a drink and found it all ice inside.

During Christmas Day no shots were fired by the Germans and we could not understand what was up.

They came out of their trenches and we got the order not to fire so we made a sociable day of it shaking hands and later having a sing-song.

We buried some French and had a service over them. I covered one with my waterproof and after he had been laid in his grave the Germans put his hat on top and burned candles.

Not a shot was fired in our trenches or theirs for two days after. I and Duke Earl had a cigar with a German officer.

One of the Germans asked me if we thought he would get back his job in London after the war. He said he had been in France six months and had not fired a shot, nor did he intend to do so.

This is all correct. I was there myself.

My dear mother, so many thanks for the splendid Christmas parcels which have just reached me.

All the boys of the “C” sub section send their best wishes to all for Christmas. Really we cannot thank you kind ones enough.

You would have liked to have seen six of us gathered round a small piece of candle sharing out the good and ripping things that were sent to us from dear old King’s Lynn. Please thank the kind person who sent the home-made toffee. My word, it was simply grand! I bet you could hear us smack our lips a mile away.

Had about six of “Little Willies” burst about twenty to fifty yards from me the other day.

No damage done I am glad to say. Two or three of them gave us a run for nothing. Someone shouted: “Look out boys here is one coming.” I made a dive for a bit of a ditch, but what a disappointment we had. The shell never burst.

There is no doubt about it the German gunners can plough fields up alright. They ought to be dished out with ploughs instead of guns. They are finding out that we are not such a little army as they imagined.

You said in your last letter that some of our boys were getting a short leave from the front. Well I know you would all like me to be able to get one.

I myself would in one way, but I have been out here since the very beginning of the war and after sticking it so long I think my heart is good enough to stick it to the finish.

More duty, more honour, you know. If I came home for a day or two I might miss a good scrap.

Well Mother dear don’t forget to wish all my kind friends a very Happy and Merry Christmas.

Mine will be a jolly happy one fighting Germans on Christmas Day and having the honour to do so for our Country’s sake thinking of you at home and the times we shall have when I return.

Now ask yourself: “Could anyone spend a happier Christmas?”

Well I must pack up now and do a little”biz” with Kaiser Bill. They tell me he is ill, poor chap, and he wants a little shrapnel pill.

Best love to all wishing you all the best of luck your loving son Frank.