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           Home >  History  > Letters from World War 1  :

Letters From World War 1
Part 13

Alister Robison - 18/05/01

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

Sleeping in a barn full of rats and smelling of the pig sty, inspection by General Godley, the Kiwis' stage show, gun battles at night.

Alister Robison
Alister Robison
Letter 43

May 5th 1917

Dear Everybody,
We have been away from our base for sixteen days but are now back again. To get to the place we went to - I told you last letter - we had a 3 days march with full marching order. The roads - at any rate the main roads - are rotten for they have this beastly pave. You saw these kind I suppose. The stones are so uneven that in a very few kilometres your feet get sore. The first day's march I rode a horse as I had been on duty from 2 am. The other two days & it was drizzling most of the time I marched & wore my boots out. The weather for the first day or two was cold but after that the temperature went up every day until now it is as hot as we want it.

I wont mention anything about the training as that wont interest you. It wasn't particularly hard for us but pretty solid for the infantry. I am now as brown as a berry all in a short fortnight.

We had a big barn to sleep in which was full of huge rats & they used to go mad every night. Several times I was awakened by them walking over me & jumping onto me. On one occasion one of them jumped on to my face. I wish I could have caught that rat.

We had another four footed animal sleeping inthe barn too. Dennis was her name & she was a pig. Unfortunately for us one of the walls of her boudoir was broken & the eau de cologne that used to waft through that gap was something colossal.

The number of cross eyed maidens I saw in those 3 days march was surprising. Whenever we stopped near a town or village these maidens come out in scores to sell one chocolate etc. About a half of these were cross eyed.

On the way back the first march was 14 miles. We got there 2 hours ahead of our time. We stopped in a chateau - at least at a chateau. There was a nice big lawn there which was surrounded by trees & shrubs which kept off the slight breeze. So we stopped off & bathed & sunbathed & dried our clothes of sweat & looked through them to kill anything of the bug species that had wandered in them.

After tea we had a small athletic contest such as jumping, hop-step & jump etc.

On the last march we started an hour earlier as we were going to be inspected by Gen Godley at B......... Just before B we had an hours spell so we would be fresh. While waiting there we saw four planes (there is an aerodrome there too) doing tricks.

They were only small planes but they were absolutely marvellous. They looped the loop in 3 different ways. They went this way and that way. (Two diagrams here showing a forward loop and a backward loop) & also from wing to wing or sideways would explain it better or like man lying on a hill & rolling over and over. They also did steep spiral glides & dives so steep one thought they were falling. It was great to watch them.

I suppose you have been hearing a lot about our losses in aeroplanes. Well we always have two or three times the number of planes up that Fritz has. Also if our men are looking for a fight they have to go over into Fritz's territory & run the risk of getting hit by anti-aircraft shells first. Nearly all our planes lost are over in the enemy's line. That's why they are always missing. While we were marching past Gen G. the official photographer took some photos - snapping them not moving ones. He took one of us. I was on the outside nearest to him but I think I was looking the other way at the time. At any rate you might see the picture in one of the weeklies. I was in the 4th row from the front & second from the front with leggings on.

The weather still is glorious & pretty hot.

I am in best of health. I hope you are too.

Yesterday I had a letter from Mother (avec 5/-) which came at right moment, one from Nancy. Nancy you were quite right. Compris. One from Mrs Sadlier dated Feb 7th. 5 Presses, 4 parcels from England 2 with cakes & one with tobacco which I ordered. Don't forget to send over some Cameron's Havelock Mixture if you can get it otherwise the other brands I mentioned previously.

I think sometime back I wrote in anticipation of Nancy passing Matric & congratulated her. In case you have forgotten I do so again.

This is the longest letter I have written for months isn't it?

If Horace is in NZ when this reaches you tell him my address & number & tell him to give me his number & address otherwise I can't write to him. I thought he was in camp long ago & that it would be no use in writing.

With best love from Alister.

Letter 44

18th May 1917

Dear Everybody,
Just received your letter Mother of March 21st. That's just 2 months ago so that it is about a fortnight overdue. Thanks for the postal note - they come in very handy always.

I don't know whether you know that a £1 note is worth more than a sovereign. The former gets 27.25 francs & the latter 27 francs. I suppose it is to stop the hoarding of gold. The price of a franc has just gone up. We usually get paid 40 francs a fortnight equal to £1-8-8 but now it is £1-9-4. We used to make about 1 1/2 p on every franc. I'm not hunting for notes but thought you might like to know.

Another thing I don't think I've mentioned & that is the "Kiwis" or "Pierrots". They are absolutely good. When they first started they were rotten but now they have improved out of recognition both in acting & in singing. Mr Kenny is in charge & a chap called Tresize is stage manager. He was a leading man under Geo. Edwards at Daly's I think it was. He knows the run of the ropes, of course, & he has made a great difference. They have any amount of costumes & the stage effects are marvellously good considering the conditions. They have been travelling around a bit & have worked up a great name. They have a hall holding 500 when packed. I went last night & to show you the crowd that gets in, I got there at 4.50p(m) & got in at 5p(m) & got the back seat & the show starts at 5.30p(m). I've waxed enthusiastic about them but fair dinkum they're worth it.

I suppose you remember how all the main roads in France have big trees growing on both sides of the road. Well now the foliage is well out & the crops are well up it makes the country worth looking at. The change has been so sudden too. You've no idea what a barren show this place is in the winter. It is now 3.30 am & I have to go on till 4 am. I struck the worst shift tonight 12 to 4 as it breaks your sleep. To give you an idea what a hard war this is at present I shall get my breakfast in bed tomorrow & shall go to sleep again till about 11 am. Then I will get up wash, shave & have lunch & pass time away till 8 pm tomorrow night. Of course that is the advantage of being at Brigade H Qrs 2 or 3 miles behind the line. A contrast to that is the poor infantryman. He works from daylight till dark & all night too at times, even though he may be "in rest" as it is called when he is not in the line. A lot prefer to be in the front line, where of course they don't get so many fatigues.

I wish you could see what goes on at night. Its great to see the lights go up all along the line. They are made of the stuff that photographers use when they take a flashlight photo. They make every thing as bright as day for a hundred yards or more on both sides of it & even back here make quite a difference. When there is a bombardment on or a raid you see coloured lights of the opposing side go up. They are S.O.S. & their own artillery get going then. Then what with the flashing of the guns & the row they make & the flash of the bursting shrapnel the whole place gets lighted up. That doesn't occur every night of course but while it lasts it is very spectacular.

I had a letter from Arthur Shaw & he is now in France again after nearly 9 months in England.

By Jove Nancy you did well in Math. Congratulations. You have shown your poor brother up haven't you.

Well no more news so
With best love from

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 12
Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 14

Watch for more in this series.

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