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           Home >  History  > Letters from World War 1  :

Letters From World War 1
Part 16

Alister Robison - 08/06/01

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

Back in France Alister is well and has time to play some sport, but tells of heavy German casualties.

Letter 55

27 th Sept 1917

Dear Everybody,
Since I came back on leave we have been having a good time. A mate of mine - an Auckland boy - who speaks French well, got to know some decent French people who have two nice daughters & also a tennis court. He took me down & introduced me & consequently I have been having tennis nearly every day which as you can no doubt understand suited me very nicely. It was something like being at home again. The girls played fairly well & one of them spoke English which gave me a chance of getting a word in occasionally. The other chap could jabber away to both of them which gave him a horrible advantage. He & I however weren't the only pebbles on the beach for there were a few interpreters & officers hanging round. The weather was fairly fine & we managed to get in a game or two on most days.

In this village there were blackberries galore - the best I've ever seen or tasted - & we used to have great feeds. The Frenchies don't seem to go for them at all on account of some legend or other. Thats the only thing I've ever seen them waste. However it was tres bon for the troops.

You have no doubt had ere this several dozens of letters from England all describing what I did etc & how well I looked etc etc. As regards the latter I am in perfect health & in pretty good condition for any hard work.

I got another parcel of tabacco the other day & which will keep me going about a week or more with normal smoking.

I am sending you out a book entitled "NZ at the war". It is all written edited etc by the boys "Somewhere in France". There were enough contributions to make 3 books so they picked out enough to fill 1 1/2 & let the publishers, Cassell & Co, to do the the final picking, so it ought to be fairly good. I haven't seen it yet & it doesn't reach here before late in November - but you ought to receive it before or at any rate before Christmas. When you have read it - please send it on to Gerald as he will probably like to see it, but get him to send it back again as I want it for a souvenir. I am also sending one to Ted.

Just opposite our present camp is a monastery full of monks who as well as not marrying do not speak to any one not even among themselves. They wear a proper monk outfit too with no half measures. They work hard however on their bit of land.

I hope you are all OK long before I write this Mother. It was a sad blow losing all those teeth after years of struggling against it. Hoping this reaches you as it leaves me (as some people say) & this doesn't get submarined. Did you get my letter from London.
With best love from

Letter 56

8 Oct. 1917

Dear Everybody
The cold weather has arrived at last and horribly sudden like too. In consequence nearly everyone has a lovely cold. It was just the same with the hot weather - hot one day & cold the next. The day it became cold we were moved from one place to another by buses. We had put our overcoats in the blanket roll - illegally of course. We were waiting in a field for the busses at 3 pm & were still waiting at 9.30 pm. Luckily for us there was a Y M C A near at hand, but that was soon bought out. At 10.20 we started & eventually arrived at destination at 1am. There was no screen from the cold wind inside & we were nearly frozen. This was after the stunt on Oct 4th which you've heard of before this reaches you.

Our boys did very well taking almost a quarter of the prisoners. That left 7 divisions to get the other half. The A's & one of our brigades had fairly hard fighting as it happened that Fritz was just going to counter attack himself when our barrage caught him. The casualties on Fritz's side were high & on a 1000 yd front the A's counted 1000 dead.

Since the 4th the weather has been bad and they are issuing our winter clothes as soon as possible & have started on the rum.

News is very scarce as per usual. You can bet your life that if there is any news I'd write it.

I've just been over some of your old letters just to see if I can get an inspiration, but so far no good. Horace seems to have had a good time on his leave & it must have been good for Nancy.

I will hardly be able to recognize Nancy when I get home 192-. She is quite different to me. I couldn't act for the life of me. Nancy will be 18 next birthday quite an engagement age & hair up year.

Ken Allen & Les Hair are in the artillery & they have a pretty rough spin occasionally & get in a deuce of a state especially when they are up with the guns. We, who only have a bad time during a stunt, get well back afterwards & never have much trouble about getting clothes.

While I think of it - we got some parcels from the Nelson Ladies Committee & all of our boys were exceptionally pleased with them. Milk & jam make a great difference to our rations. I'm not saying this because you are on the committee, for it is the truth. No more news.
With best love from
PS A cable ought to reach you before 25th of this month.

Letter 57

4 November (1917)

Dear Everybody,
In five days from now I shall have reached the great age of 22. That will be the third I have celebrated whilst in Khaki.

I got quite a large mail for me the other day - 6 letters all told. One from each of you, one from Jeff & one from Phil telling me of his engagement. He says he feels much happier & also points out that as far as beans count it will (be) several years before he can manage the next step. It amuses me vastly to think of him as engaged but if he feels happier I suppose its all right. He apparently writes to you a lot Mother.

Re that little slip of paper about Hope Gibbons of Wanganui - No that is not "Gibbons converted" but his uncle. You have a good memory Mother.

British Postal Notes are all right as I can always can them at the B'de Post Office. I got two more of them last mail which increased my reserve by 25 %.

Nancy will be hard to recognise when I get back. I suppose her hair will go up very shortly. You must send me a photo if she does such a rash thing. Perhaps her hair is not long enough yet?

I was amused at the snub the "custodian" gave you You very seldom get that done to you mum.

I had a note from Horace who is in England. He was apparently enjoying himself & liked the country. He mentions a mumber of Nelsonians who are there.

We have started football again & play our first match today after 2 or 3 practices. We wrote & asked the YMCA to see if they could help us in the way of gear & we received 15 pants & 12 jerseys one football with 3 bladders. Needless to say we were much surprised.

We have had a nice easy time for the last fortnight & hope it continues so.

Alister Robison
Alister Robison
Am OK here & hope you are all the same.
Best love from

Letter 58

16 November (1917)

Dear Everybody
It is over a week now since I wrote but we have been on the move for a day or two & didn't get much of a chance to write. Today I am just a week over 22. The day I was 22 there was a small celebration amongst our boys as one got the D.C.M. & two others the M.M. Our officer turned on some whiskey so we had a small concert. He presided & was quite one of the boys.

Our footy team is not so good as last year & so far have not won a match. Altogether we've played 3 games & drew one & lost 2 by 3 to nil & 5 to 3 respectively. However we enjoyed the games & that's the main thing isn't it.

The weather is fairly wet but so far has not been very cold which is a good thing.

When I was in England I bought a pair of gum boots (knee high) & left them at Aunt Mauds. I said I'd write for them when the wet weather settled in I wrote for them about a week ago & got them today. I'm very glad I bought them too, because it gives one a chance to get ones boots dry & it doesn't matter how much mud one walks in. (That sentence, if Mr Fowler saw it, would get me full marks. The more &ones& in a sentence the better.) The only trouble about gum boots is that perspiration can't get out & ones feet get rather damp after a bit.

Re that £20, I couldn't make head or tail as to how I had that much more in my account but now I know. I never cabled until I had been in England a day yet that money was there before I arrived there because the first thing I did was to make for the Bank. So now when I think of it I don't know any more about it than when I arrived in England.

During the last few days I have seen a large number of old boys - at least 10 I hadn't seen before. About 2 days ago Lawerence Chaytor, Bunny Young, George Hampson, Mace & myself had a great yarn. Lawerence tells me that Jack is in hospital in Birmingham with a crack in the thigh & suffering from blisters from sitting in a mustard gas shell hole. He is apparently getting on alright.

I saw Arthur Shaw today - the first time for over 6 weeks. He is attached to the artillery sigs, but in same company as I am so that shows how scattered we've become.

Look here Mother you say that that sentence of mine "we couldn't sleep read or smoke etc" haunted you. Well that was only one night during a stunt & the only time we have a bad time is during a stunt. All the rest of the time is good & we have a very easy & quiet time, so don't worry about me any more. I'll always cable after any stunt - before the casualties come out - see.

Re that little riddle about a serpent & a flea. I think if the last word was "Louse" it would be more appropriate for out here any way.

Nancy's drawing at the end of her letter which I received on the 9th representing George Clark's latest occupation at Featherston - never left the issue in doubt.

I hope you had a good time up at Featherston. You ought to - seeing you know so many people there.
Good bye all
Best love to you
from Alister

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 15
Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 17

Watch for more in this series.

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