Address: 9th East Surrey [Regiment], 24th Division, British Expeditionary Force, France. Sherriff has not yet been to the Front but has already ”…seen enough of war to disgust me”. He can hear the noise of machine guns and shells at the Front, and does not look forward to his first experience of being under enemy shell fire. Tomorrow he will lead a working party of 50 men who will make some repairs [to a communication trench] near the front line. The shed he is living in is infested with rats and mice, but he is enjoying reasonably good meals at the officers’ mess. There are currently two captains and six lieutenants in [”C”] Company, who are ”…all very nice”. He admires the men’s cheerfulness despite the hardships they endure. Sherriff notes the impossibility of buying anything but ”…chicory and coloured glass vases”, and asks his father to arrange with his mother for food parcels to be sent.
(SHC ref 2332/1/1/3/88)
9th East Surreys
British Expeditionary Force
I have now spent close on a week in France and it seems months since I sailed.
I have seen plenty to interest me and enough of war to disgust me without having been into the Front Line yet.
At present I am on what is termed a “quiet part” of the front although at certain intervals during the day there is enough banging away off in the front line (half a mile or so away) to let you know there is a war – and at night you here the machine guns going “tap tap tap” like some impatient person knocking at the door.
Yesterday I made a journey up the line to find my away about – the ground is just as it appears in photos – absolutely honeycombed with shell holes which are now covered up in some places by rank looking weeds.
All the way up the trenches you here a bang behind and then a fearful screeching as the shell flies by and a second later a dull crash as it comes down behind the German lines.
The support line where I am has been free from bombardment up till now – and I hope it will remain so until we leave – I expect the first time under shell fire will be far from pleasant.
Tomorrow I am in charge of a working party of 50 men going up near the front line to do some repairs – they were shelled today so I may get a dose tomorrow – but the “baptism of fire” has got to come and it may be as well to get it over.
I have told you, I believe, how we are living here – in a shed which is quite comfortable if it were not for the Rats and Mice – one (with maybe an accomplice) got into the haversack which I was using as a pillow last night and bit through the liner of my emergency ration, marvellous feat considering the thickness of the clot – I heard them busy scratching about in the night.
We have quite a comfortable Mess – it is a dugout with a table down the middle and little sleeping bunks down the sides – we have quite good Meals too – bacon or sausages for breakfast and porridge cold tongue or salmon and bread and butter for lunch, and tea at 4 o’clock with dinner at 8 o’clock – there are 8 of us to the Company – 2 Captains and 6 Lieutenants all very nice.
The rain is very unpleasant as regards making everything very sticky – I have to inspect my mens rifles in their dugouts when it is wet – the men are wonderfully cheerful when considering the hardships they have to put up with – they get wet through and then set about getting dry before the little cokes fires under the most trying circumstances treating it almost as a joke.
We all wear steel helmets which are rather heavy until you get used to them – but now I am touching on military matter and must get off them quickly or will be letting out secrets.
My chief worry is the impossibility of buying anything here – of course it is quite out of the question in the lines, but even in the rest billets it is almost out of the question to buy anything except what you don’t want – chicory and coloured glass vases seem to be the chief articles which french people specialise in.
So if you could arrange with Mother to send me out parcels periodically – deducting the Cost from my account book I shall be very glad – it seems the custom here to get parcels and share some of the contents at Mess.
Chocolate, peppermints or anything of that nature which are difficult to get here would be very acceptable.
By the way – I expect my private account has run rather dry – so will let me know what I owe and I can send you a cheque so that you will money to get these things.
As I write I can hear trench mortars firing which make a noise like rolling a big square tank along.
We do not have very much to do here unless detailed for a working party – so I occupy most of my time in reading and writing.
Washing is rather an awkward procedure when up the line here as water is rather deficient to procure but on the whole we are living here in reserve almost the same we did in rest.
Things have moved so quickly since I left home that I expect I have only given you a pretty hazy idea of what has happened, so as it is all bound stand well in my memory I will not recount anything of my journey bringing me here reserving that for another time when I hope I will be able to tell you all about it on a walk down Cromwell Road at some time I hope not far distant. I will write to you again as soon as I can, so goodbye for the present and I hope shall hear from you or mother soon – I know it will take quite a week to get any letters at first on account of my changes of address, so will not expect any till I get them.
From your loving son