Saturday, 14 February 2015

'Fancy seeing us galloping over the trenches picking off Germans'

The surroundings of this place is very pretty,' wrote Jim Swasbrick from  Salisbury Plain (above, with
Stonehenge in the background) where he was based at army camp in 1916

Jim Swasbrick
Continued from the previous post...

After months stuck in Egypt when he was desperate to join the fighting, Australian Jim Swasbrick finally made it to Europe in the summer of 1916, writing letters from army camp at Salisbury Plain (where he was joined by his brother Dave) and then from France. Jim's story had begun in such high spirits: 'I will bring a piece of the Kaiser home for you to have a look at,' he wrote to his sister shortly after enlisting in 1914, but sadly there was no happy ending. He was was killed at the First Battle of Bullecourt, France, in 1917. Jim is one of several Australian soldiers whose stories and lively correspondence you can read in my book Letters from the Trenches. More details about the book can be found by clicking the tab at the top of the page. But for now, let me hand you back to Jim...

Park House Camp,
Salisbury, England
21 June 1916                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
My Dear Sister
Just a few lines to let you no [sic] Dave and l arrived safely in England, we had a good trip over and it is a very nise [sic] camp that we are in. It has been very cold hear [sic] this last few day but we have nice huts to live in so we don’t notice it so much, the surroundings of this place is very pretty, it is hard to discribe [sic] so l will send you some photos of it and you will see for yourself what it is like.

We are going to have a holiday and we are going to make the best of it as we are amongst the Germans hear, so one don’t no how long he is going to last as they are fighting very hard, but it is only in vain, they are beat and will soon give in. The Russians are running them down it's a good sign that they are tiring out.

Dave is keeping well, he and his mate is cooking for our squadron, and they are dishing us up...roast meat, mashed potatoes for dinner every day, sausage meat and bacon for breakfast, so you see we are not doing bad...Hoping you are all well as it leaves me the same.

9th Lancers cap badge
England, mid-1916
(only one page surviving)

The badge that you can see on this paper is the nineth [sic], Lancers badge [9th Queen's Royal Lancers], that is the regerment [sic] that we are attached to. They are a fine lot of boys to be with, you can fancy seeing us galloping over the trenches picking germans off on the point of them, it aught [sic] to be good sport...Remember me to all at home, poor old Dave get very home sick at times.

Tidworth, England
17 August 1916

Dear Maggie, Just a few lines trusting that you are keeping well, as Dave and l are in the best of health at presant [sic]. I sent a cable to you seven weeks ago [asking] for thirty pound and as l have got no reply I don’t no what to make of it. If you did not get the cable let me no by return mail and l will stir some of these heads up or l will get my money back. If you haven't sent the money before you get this letter would you kindly cable it without delay as it miserable been hear without any money. I hope you won't dissapoint [sic] me in delaying sending it along. I haven’t received a letter from any of you for four month now so l don’t no what the divel [sic] is going wrong. Dave had a letter from you a few days ago, you said that you sent some hankerchiefs [sic] to him and I, but they have not got hear yet...Well l will close for this time, remember me to all.

Some Where in France
10 December 1916

My Dear Sister
Just a few lines in answer to your ever welcome letter that l received today. I was very pleased to hear that you are all in good health as it found us both the same...You might think it hard not hearing from us but it is no fault of ours. The heads would not allow any letter to be sent away. All we could send was a field card and Dave sent some to all of you. We only come out of the trenches two days ago and this has been the first chance of writing a letter and the mail closes today so one don’t get much of a chance to write many letters. This mail l have got quite a lot to write. l got nine letters last night, it was the most letters l got in one lot since l've been over hear.

Well Maggie, we had nine days in the trenches and come up save  [sic] and sound. It was very cold and damp. Dave took the shell fire very well for the first time but he did not seem to realise where he was for a while...The first evening we went up to the front line Dave must stand on top of the parapet and have a look around not thinking of what he was doing. I looked around and saw him and l did roar him up for it and he has been careful since.

Well Maggie l received the pair of socks that you sent for me and they where what l wanted. I got the letter that you sent the hanckrieff  [sic] in, but there was no hanckrieff in it. Daves was missing too. Well l will draw this to a close for this time as Dave is waiting for the pad to write some. Give my love to all at home tell them l am alright. Ta Tar with fondest love. Wishing you a merry xmas and Happy New Year


That is the final letter of Jim's that still survives. The Swasbrick brothers remained together on the Western Front until 11 April 1917 when both took part in the Battle of Bullecourt. 'Their unit lay in snow before going over the top at 4am. It was murderous. Although some men managed to find their way into the German trenches they were driven back by a counter-attack later that day,' said Richard Crispin, Dave Swasbrick's grandson. Red Cross reports record Jim being hit by a machine gun on the barbed wire and after the battle he was posted missing then, later, killed in action. His body was never identified but his name is remembered on the wall at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

Dave was wounded but returned to his unit and survived the war. He married a girl from London in 1919 - Richard's grandmother - and they moved out to Australia. 'What a shock it must have been for her, from inner London to the back blocks of Australia, no electricity or running water, and bringing up nine kids!' said Richard. 'I remember her fondly as a lively and happy old lady. I was too young then to ask her the questions I would like to ask now.'

(Copyright ©  2015 Jacqueline Wadsworth / Richard Crispin)


  1. Very nice story , we will remember them !

  2. Jim & Dave were my great uncles, I love reading Jim's letters, they bring he & Dave back to life. They are never forgotten & are spoken of often. On ANZAC DAY 2012 many of the family participated in a march in their honour.

  3. Great to hear from you Lorrie. I loved reading Jim's letters too and was touched by the obvious closeness of the brothers - Dave must have been devastated when Jim didn't come back. Which Swasbrick brother / sister are you related to?