|A pack horse is led through the mud at Beaumont Hamel|
in Northern France, November 1916
I was warm and I was safe, unlike those poor souls in France 100 years ago who found themselves soaked to the skin not just by rain but mud and blood too - and with no end in sight, except perhaps their own (always a possibility too close for comfort).
It wasn't just the rain. Once winter set in on the Continent, there was freezing weather to contend with too. January 1917: 'We are having real winter weather snow, colder than anything we experienced last year.' wrote one soldier. 'There has been quite a depth of snow lying for the past 10 days and the ground is frozen hard. The temperature could not have been much above zero this morning which is very cold for this country.
'Fortunately we are not in the trenches but in billets in a village behind the lines. It is none too comfortable in billets but I hate to think of what it must be like in the trenches. The day the snow started we marched 10 miles in a thick storm. A very hard wind was blowing and the storm at times looked almost like a blizzard. The roads are now covered with ice and frozen slush. This mess makes very bad going for the horses.'
In such conditions, animals were often the only way to get stores up the front, as this soldier explains in October 1917: 'The last stunt we was in was one of the toughest jobs we have had since coming to France. As we had the wet weather and mud to contend with one would bog [sink] almost waist deep in the mud, and we had to use all pack animals in getting the supplies up to the boys as the wagons were out of the question and the pack mules would even bog at times and fall into a shell hole ...'
There then follows a story which would melt even the hardest of hearts, but I shall give no more away. You will be able to read the letter in full in my book.