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           Home >  History  > Letters from World War 1  :

Letters From World War 1
Part 11

Alister Robison - 04/05/01

A young New Zealand soldier serving overseas writes to his family.

Heavy frosts, snow, shelling close at hand - an uncomfortable Christmas 1916 in France in World War 1.

Letter 32


Dear Everybody,
We are in a new place this time & arrived here on the 23rd. Its got no particular name at least our place hasn't because we are in an estaminet. I will be able to let you know more about myself this time as I have a green envelope.

I am attached to the 2nd Brigade Hqrs. Wherever they are, we have to have our office so we always have a safe position except where there is an offensive & then nobody's particularly safe.

We have good sleeping quarters with a stove in it, so it is quite warm. It is just as well because it is decidedly cold now a days. Yesterday we had the biggest frost I've ever seen & it was still on the ground till 3 pm when the weather suddenly changed & it has been raining ever since though still cold. The signal office here is in a dugout as there (are) several batteries round here - the nearest being only about 200 yards off. When they fire everything in here falls off the shelves from the concussion. I suppose they think Fritz might spot these batteries & shell the office in the endeavour - so to make things safe they made a dug-out.

We are using a new kind of phone now & messages are only sent by key so only operators are working them. There are 3 of us who are at present the odd men & we work 0 hours on 24 off, but this sort of thing can't last for long I'm afraid. We do a few odd jobs now & again however.

I got the biggest mail of my life for Xmas. 11 letters 4 Presses 3 parcels including 4 or 5 from you. The parcels were from Nana & Georgie, the Ruckers & one from you through Aunt Maud.

I also got the 10/- note for which I thank you & I desire please that every mail in future you send along a similar note "out of my money". If I'm getting too much here I can place it to my credit in London, where I have at the present moment £32. Dinna forget. It comes in deuced handy at times. I was longing for that 10/- while we were in rest for we only drew 30 francs. 40 francs is our usual.

I sent a few days ago a small photo of this section & am sending shortly a mounted one. Every one in this hut has had parcels so we have been having great feeds & suppers. Our cook is a good one so every (thing) in the garden's lovely.

On Xmas day the artillery were very active in reply to Fritz's peace proposals. It will be New Year in a couple of days now & I expect 1917 will see some stirring sights.

I hope you are all in splendid health & are all having some good tennis.
So with best wishes & best love

Letter 33

6th Jan 1917

Dear Everybody,
No mail since Xmas day & not much to say from here so this will not be much of a letter.

Its great how one runs up against old Nelsonians. Last week I met Harry Clark & 2 others & today I met George Hamson. I hadn't seen him since 1911 when he left College. He hasn't changed much & is only now recovering from his wounds on Gallipoli. He has had 2 spells of six months in England. Last time just before coming over here he saw and dined with both Don Harkness & Jack Booth.

On New Years day old Fritz put over quite a lot of shells - big ones too but none very near us. He was aiming at a couple of guns about 1/2 mile away but he was very erratic in his aiming.

We had another good dinner on 1st but nothing happened except the bombardment. The three of us are still doing nothing except odd jobs & are now finding it rather irksome.

We were missing a bit of our food out of the cook house so the 3 of us were detailed for a guard . WE had a revolver & an electric torch. We did it for 2 nights & then knocked off. On the third night about 9.30pm someone sleeping above the kitchen heard a noise & came down to investigate & caught the thief. If we had been on guard it would have been my turn to go on first so I would have had all the excitement of pointing the revolver & say "Hands up, you're my prisoner" or words to that effect. I don't know how steady I would have kept the revolver.

I am writing this lying in bed so my writing is not of the best as it usually is eh?

The weather has been pretty cold lately though no more snow.

We have a good billet & good fire so all is well as I hope it is with you all.
With love from

Letter 34

17th Jan 1917

Dear Everybody,
I got another letter of yours dated 24 Nov in which was 5/- for which I thank you muchly.

I have had rather a new experience this week for I have for the last 3 days attended a Sanitary School of instruction. So when I return to the section I will no doubt be called "O.C. Stinks" & get a good sally. We have a couple more days yet. We've been learning how to make (cut out by censor) in the most modern styles. Also we've been making destructors & learning all about the habits of the fly & all things of that sort. The army is making big efforts to keep things clean & prevent disease in the summer. Most of the things we've learnt apply to battalion men but there are only 40 odd of us & not about 1000 & things don't get in such a mess so quickly. For Heavens sake don't tell everyone or anyone that I'm the nightman.

We've had 'some' snow lately & the whole country is covered over with about 2 or 3 inches of snow, so its been fairly cold. The snow has been there about a week. Previous to coming here the 3 spare parts were out helping the linemen who were having a lot of cable laid up to Brigade Hqrs & it all had to be buried 6 feet. The infantry do all the digging of the 6 feet business but we have (to)lay out the wire & tie it together & lay it in the trench. We also had to dig away the top soil so that we could have the soil on top so that the enemy aeroplanes couldn't find out where the trench goes to. It was fairly cold work in the snow, but when you once got warm in the hands it wasn't so bad.

I'm afraid that thats all the news so au revoir
with best of love
from Alister

Letter 35

28th Jan 1917

Dear Mother Father & Nancy,
By Jove it has been cold for over a week now. Every drop of water has frozen & the wind is a terribly cold one. However the days are fine with the sun shining - not that that makes much difference though.

We have had a nasty trick played on us. We had just started our 16 days rest - 2 days of it - when we had to pack up again & off into another part of the line where we are now.

I heard a good yarn about a sniper - one of ours. This sniper was standing waist high above the front line potting at some Germans 300 yard away. He said "These Fritz's are getting cheeky blighters aren't they?" The Fritz were running between 2 bushes & this chap standing up potting them.

I had Mother's letter of 5th Dec & Nancy's of the 2nd. It was very hard to read as she said it would be. By the time you get this the Matric results ought to be out. I hope she passed & held up the family's name better than her brother did. This new place is not much good for the cook house and some of the sleeping quarters are about a quarter of a mile from the Sig office, but we may not be here for long. I hope not at any rate.

I have just had a parcel from Miss Murray which was good of her & a couple from the Ruckers.

Well good bye all
With best of love
Fom Alister,

Letter 36

7 th Feb 1917

Dear Everybody,
I haven't had any more letters since I wrote last but I've had a "Weekly Press", the one with Gertie Clark's photo of the "Silver Bullet" competition.

The weather is still mighty cold & everything frozen hard. There is a strong wind blowing today which gets one on the ears & the nose. When there is no wind it is not so bad.

We are still in this new place where I told you we had to come so quickly from our rest. I think they must have expected Fritz to attack but if he does he will fall in right up to his dirty neck. I wish I could tell you all about the preparation we've made, but as you see by the green envelope we are put on our honour not to do so.

We are only about a mile or so from the place we had when we came back from the Somme & we go in there almost daily for a walk & see all our old flames.

I had a parcel from Phil yesterday consisting of cigarettes, raisins, chocolate etc. He has been very good to me all through.

I find it hard to get decent tobacco to smoke, so will you send please now & again, small parcels of Havelock (Aromatic) or Golden Eagle or Welcome Nugget or better still, if you can get it, Cameron's Havelock Mixture.

I had a P.C. from Mrs Parker the other day. She wanted to know if I had seen Jeff or Louis but I haven't as they were both wounded down at the Somme. I've answered her.

I can't remember the Bidwell's addresses so that is why I haven't written, so please send them along if you want me to write.

I also heard from Gerald l'autre jour & am glad to say he is better.

The green envelope
The green envelope
Click here for a larger version

Remember me to all my Nelson friends including Mrs Adams & Jeff Shallcrass.

I hope you are all O.K. like me.
with best love to you all
from Alister

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 10

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 12

Watch for more in this series.

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