10 April 1917

Archive Ref: IE IJA /J2/83Letter to his father_(121)_(7/7)

B. E. Force

FRANCE

10/4/17

My Dearest Father

Here I am for the past week in rooms + have not had the opportunity of sending you a letter of Easter greetings. Drink? Over Eating? Laziness? the whole bunch perhaps, but the real reason is I have had little time to myself. The “Line” is a spot and a beautiful one some 15 miles from the sea, where we have come to rest!! and go through a course of training. The morning is given up to various exercises one of which is the storming of dummy trenches to the accompaniment of fearful blood curdling yells enough to terrify the bravest Hun. The afternoon is spent at football and other sports so that the men are having a good if strenuous time. So is the poor padre! My two regiments are quartered in two villages some miles apart. They form companies of each regiment in different hamlets and to make things more convenient still the two platoons of each company, 32 in all are distributed is as many farmhouses.

 

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You can realise I have no easy task to get around to see all my men which I am anxious to do so as to make sure that every man if possible gets to his Easter Duty. I have mass every morning for them with many communions daily – seventy today in one church+ then in the evening having finished devotions in one village + heard the men’ s confessions. I ride over to the other for rosary and benediction with more confessions. In addition to this there are many stray units stationed about in various places machine gunners trench battery men etc., etc. who with the instruction of converts prevent me from feeling time hanging on my hands. However I an enjoying our rest here immensely .It is such a relief to be out of sound even of the guns. To be sure of a quiet night rest without the possibility of waking up with a Boche bayonette sticking into your ribs and in addition the country is very pretty, undulating and well wooded though too early in the year to look its best. Just like you we have had and are having very cold and wet weather with much snow. From time to time you get a beautiful warm day and then

 

back again into winter shivers, but on the whole things are not that bad. Perhaps it will be best to talk of events as they occurred. We left Belgium on Saturday, before Palm Sunday a glorious morning dry under foot with brilliant sunshine. The Brigade of four regiments made a gallant show each headed by their band of pipers and followed by the transport etc. We were the first to move off and came in for an extra share of greetings from the villagers who turned out to see us pass as fine a lot of sturdy lads as you would wish to gaze on not to mention the gallant chaplain.

Our march for the first day was not a very long one, something about 20 miles, but as every pace took us further and further from the trenches the march was a labour of love. At noon-day a halt was called for dinner, which had been cooking slowly in the travelling kitchen which accompanied us and in few moments every man was sitting by the road-side negotiating a big supply of hot meat and potatoes with a substantial hunk of bread.

We poor officers were left to hunt for ourselves a hunt that did not promise well at first as the people in the “estaminets” were

 

Were anything but friendly and said they had nothing to give us to eat. The reason I determined later was that some British officers had gone away without paying there bill a not an uncommon thing I’ m sorry to say. Eventually with the help of a little palaver and my bad French our party sourced some excellent bread and butter, coffee and a basket of fresh eggs. When I left the table the officer next me was attacking his 6thegg at which stage I deemed It prudent to retire fearing an explosion which I dislike. On again after an hours  rest. Marching with a heavy rifle and full kit in no joke hence our pace is slow. I often wonder how the poor men “stick it” and stick it they do most of them at least, Til I have seen them drop senseless  in numbers by the road from sheer exhaustion. As a rule they are left there to follow the division as best they can, for if they learn that falling out meant a lift not many of the regiment would reach their destination on foot. To make matters worse we had to tramp along the rough paved roads which must be an example of the old boy  to torture people. At first the road feels like this, mmmmmmm then after ten miles MMMMMMMMM, til at last you are positive that they have paved the way with…..

 

spikes instead of stones, something in this fashion ▲▲▲▲▲▲. My poor feet!!!

At last the town we were bound for came in sight+ hopes for a good rest were high when word came along that we were not to stay in that haven of peace + plenty but trudge on another three miles. The camel is supposed to be a patient animal, but Tommy can give him points anyday.

Our lodgings was a mutilated country farmhouse dirty + uncomfortable, the less said about it the better, but everyone was too tired to care much even though we officers snoring on the floor, felt inclined to envy the sardines in their comfortable box. It was impossible to have mass for the men in the morning, even though it was Palm Sunday, as there was much work to be done in …………. [the rest is heavily censored] ………and we had to be off early. I got away to the little village and offered up the holy sacrament for them, bolted down a couple of eggs, congratulating myself that it was not Friday emptied a coffee pot and fell into my place as the regiment marched off. That was a hard day. We were all stiff + sore for want of previous exercise and in

 

addition were well scourged by sleet + rain and snow, though at times the sun did its best to brighten things up a bit.

Our lucked turned when we reached our night halting place a good-sized town with comfortable billets. A big party of my men were quartered in the public ball room which contained an automatic organ; the last I saw of them was a score of “couples” waltzing round quite gaily, without a sign of having the best part of a forty-mile march to their credit. Head Quarters was billeted with one of the nicest families I have met for a long time, every one of the family doing their best, in such French style to make us comfortable+feel at home. Wither it was the excitement of our coming, or the polite attention of the officers in their home, the barbarous attempts to speak French or all three together, he eldest daughter went off into hysterics but was soon brought to her senses by our doctor who was present, and the evening ended merrily as a marriage  bell. Monday saw us early afoot nothing of great interest except the country was becoming more hilly+prettier, the stones harder, our feet and shoulders sore and quite a longing

 

for the repose of the trenches springing up in many a heart.

That evening ended our tramp, and here we have been ever since and we are to remain for some time longer much to our joy. Probably we still return to the same place we came from but no one really knows our future movements.

I am very comfortable with the good Curé, a very excellent priest who has been really kind. I gave the men a hint on Easter Sunday to make his collection a good one and the dear old man tottered off to his home lugging a sack of copper and silver with a liberal sprinkling of five franc notes and I suspect a varied assortment of trouser buttons! He has gone away today, probably on a “Big Bust”.

I must finish up finish up if you are ever to get this.

One little incident before I’ m done,

On Spy Wednesday evening after Benedictions, I told the men I needed nine volunteers to watch an hour during the following night before the Altar of Repose, I had only finished speaking when the whole church made a rush up to the Altar rails+ were keenly disappointed when I told them I would only take the first nine, though I could have had 30 an hour if I wanted them. I was touched by the poor fellows generosity,
for they

 

had just finished a long hard day of work with more before them, I got the nine men to bring their blankets into the little sacristy and while we watched the others slept. Surely our Lord must have been pleased with his guard of honour and will bless them as only he can.

I’ m done! Bill of health perfect, I strained my leg a bit mounting my horse the other day; it was rather painful but practically all right now.

Would send you an Easter egg if I had one but enclose an extra packet of love instead

Ever dearest Father

Your own loving

Will

Your long most interesting letter arrived on Sunday. You are very good to write so much to the poor exile. Piles of letters too from everyone. Thanks all.