Thursday, 2 April 2015

'We're tired of being crumped in the trenches day and night'

In some ways the spring of 1915 was not dissimilar to ours today - at least in Britain. The Meteorological Office's report for April told the same old story: 'During the first ten days of the month the weather was unsettled and the wind blew with considerable force at times.' Easter Sunday fell fairly early that year too, on 4th April. And then, as now, newspapers were always on the lookout for fresh ways to present long-running stories. With this in mind, the Sunday Post (right) had lined up some new ideas for its coverage of the Great War, which were revealed to readers on Easter Day 1915:

'For next week's issue you will be interested to know further new features are in store, arrangements having been made with more popular writers of the day to contribute to its columns. In addition to all the very latest news from the seats of war, our military and naval correspondents will again present their illuminating comments on the progress of the war. Then, you will get a splendid up-to-date Map of the Near East. This Map gives a clear outline of the scenes of war-like operations in that part of the world including the Dardanelles, Bosphorous, Smyrna, and the Aegean Sea. It will enable you to follow with thorough understanding the movements of the Allied Fleets in the great enterprise in which they are at present engaged.

'There will be another deeply interesting article on the subject of 'Germany from Within'. These articles supply that information which is now eagerly sought by the British public. Cartoons will again be a feature. A selection is made from all the best caricatures of the war published throughout the world. A Special Article of absorbing interest will be contributed by Constance Elizabeth Maud. It is entitled 'Our French Friends' and illustrates a phase of the war upon which, in the past, little light has been thrown.'

Newspapers like The Post endeavoured to entertain as well as inform, with interesting and colourful items that readers could follow while tucking into toast and marmalade at the breakfast table. But everything would change when the post thumped down on the front door mat, for letters from the Front told a rather less glossy tale. Soldiers like Private Philip Luxton, of Abertillery in South Wales, were tired of living cooped up in trench dugouts. He wrote about boredom, exhaustion, fear, discomfort; he yearned for tasty food, and to be able to take off his boots that were stiff with mud. And he longed to know for sure that he would see his wife and two young daughters again...

2 April 1915 (Good Friday)

'You said on your last letter for me to look out for a parcel of cakes. I can promise you I will do that for it will be a rare treat to have some cakes, for even bread and butter is a luxury here among we soldiers.
Dear Wife, this is my eighth day for me not to have my boots and socks off my feet and I cannot tell you when I will have them off and I tell you we are all beginning to feel the effects of tiredness for it is very tiring being crumped [sic] in the trenches day and night. Now I must close having no more to say at present.'

A scene from the Western Front: 'We are all beginning to
feel the effects of tiredness,' wrote Private Luxton
5 April 1915 (Easter Monday)

'Just a line in answer to your parcel of cakes and ham I received on Easter Monday morning so I had cakes for breakfast and I am going to have ham for tea and I know I will enjoy it. Dear Wife, I had the pleasure to take off my boots last night for we have come out of the trenches at last after eleven days and nights and I can tell you we were very thankful to get anywhere for a rest but they have not took us very far, but they intend to take [us] further away in two days time. Dear Wife, I should like it if you could see me now for you would never forget we are like rabbits buried in holes in the ground. Me and Fry is in one by ourselves for they will only hold 2 or 3 men and we must not come out from there in day light for fear of being shelled ... Dear Wife we had a very busy time on Easter Saturday morning at 4 o'clock and I am glad to tell you I came out of that scrummage [a reference to his pre-war days as a rugby coach ] safe and sound thank God, but cheer [up] and I am sure we will meet again for my spirits are very well considering the time we are having. Now I must close for I feel like having a rest, from your loving Husband Phil.'

Private Luxton, who served with the Welsh Regiment, was killed in action in October 1915.

Copyright ©1915 Jacqueline Wadsworth / Anne Holland

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