Monday, 29 April 2013

A nice cup of tea behind the lines

Everything stops for tea!
It's easy to think that life on the Western Front was one long round of battles, booming guns, mud and screaming shells, but there were lulls in the fighting and also periods of rest for soldiers away from the frontline when life was slightly easier.

In July 1918, Private Tom Fake made the most of his rest period and looked up an old friend from home who was billetted nearby. The account he sent his wife almost made it sound like peace time!

'I went and saw Mr only took me about five minutes to find him, I got there in good time too, they had just made a good drop of tea so I had supper with him, bread and mutton. Well, I should say mutton and bread as the meat was most - about 1lb of breast. T'would have made four good chops.

'I got there about 7.30 and left about 10 o'clock or just after and it was dark as pitch. I felt in a bit of a fix as I could see no mark to get my place, but found it in about 10 minutes. My mate was at the top of the house ready in case I should shout, so as to give me the direction.'

While away from the fighting, Pte Fake took the opportunity to get his teeth sorted out - dental problems were a constant problem for servicemen - but his wife must have winced when she read about it:

'I told you in my last letter that I could not get my teeth taken out as we had no forceps. Before that letter had hardly left my hands Sgt Small came to tell me he had got a set that day, so last night I went to him and had two of the brutes out. I am not smoking much now, I have taken to cigarettes a lot lately as at times I have a job to hold the pipe between my teeth.'

By 1918, Pte Fake and his fellow soldiers were old hands at looking after themselves, especially when army rations were meagre:

'What money I have I spend on food, for instance sometimes we can get some potatoes. If about 30 of us put together we can have a good extra feed for about 1d or 2d each for one meal, you see I keep on learning how to make the best of hard times.'

Although there was still plenty of hard soldiering to be done during that final summer, hope was also in the air: 'I don't think it will last many more months,' wrote Pte Fake on 1st August 1918, 'I look at it like this. Germany must be getting played out, we are played out or getting on that way, and here is America [who joined the war in 1917] just starting...'

He was absolutely right. Three months later it was all over.

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