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           Home >  History  > Letters from World War 1  :

Letters From World War 1
Part 18

Alister Robison - 22/06/01

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

The last letters from France, two from behind the lines, one from hospital after gas damaged his lungs.

Letter 62

15th Jan 1918

Dear Everybody,
I wonder if my cable of about 4th Jan reached you in time, that it got there before your birthdays. I hope you had better weather for them than the kind we are having now-a-days, but it is not so bad here considering it is winter. I got your first letters via 43* about 4 days ago & they arrived ahead of other ones so keep on sending them that way.

In every letter of yours you make complaints about my letters reaching you. Well I write as nearly as I can to every seven days. Sometimes it is not possible to do so for when our brigade is in the line it is hard to get letters censored & unless one has a green envelope its hardly any use writing. But it is rarely ever over 10 days between my letters. In future I am going to send a cable every month because I may be short of money or I may have forgotten to send it.

Several of our company have been on Paris leave lately & they all rave about it & say they will go there instead of England - if they can work it. They get 9 days there & it doesn't affect one's England leave in the slightest.

Look here, Mother, both Dad and Nancy tell me you are making a martyr of yourself over these patriotic affairs. Consequently you get run down & worry them at home & it worries me too. So to put it in polite soldier talk "Its time you took a jerry to yourself".

You always say you won't do it again but you always take it on again & they always "swing it on to you" & give you the hardest job.

I was amused at your description of Mrs Harrison's patriotic attempt & can just imagine how both Mrs & Bark looked but was sorry to hear of Bark's ending the day by breaking some of his bones.

Fancy Dad taking on bowls. I should have thought that that game didn't have enough exercise for you for you used to like such violent exercise.

By Jove! Nancy, fancy making prefects do **impots. Absolutely ***infra dig eh?

No more news.
I have plenty of warm clothes & blankets so don't worry about me being cold.
With best love to you all

* No 43 refers to No 43 Cornwall Gardens the address of the Pember Reeves family in London.
** Impots are school punishments, most likely short for impositions.
*** Infra dig is short for the Latin phrase infra dignitatem which means beneath one's dignity.

Letter 63

4 Feb 1918

Dear Everybody,
Today I sent a cable to you saying "Well". Before this letter reaches you, you ought to have had a letter saying that I was going to send a similar cable every month, as in nearly every letter I get from you you complain about not getting my letters. It is most unfortunate that they should all get lost or sunk. I know the feeling when no letters arrive.

I was having a quiet afternoon yesterday when who should blow in but Seymour - at least Capt. Colbeck His company had just gone up into the line & he had just returned from a 6 weeks course at a place about 60 miles from the line. So it amounts to a 6 weeks holiday. It amused me to think of him being a company commander. I was told that he had done good work in the Passchendale stunt.

I saw Rungi Jervis the day he went in the line. He looks well & is now in the Snipers. He is in same battalion as Seymour.

Our Major has cut leave down from 12 a week to 7 a week so my turn won't come so quickly as I expected. I was hoping to sneak in about 5 months as my last leave was in September. I saw Arthur Shaw today & he expects to go shortly on leave.

At the present moment we are out of the line & out of harm's way. We have a snug little billet with 4 bunks & stove & plenty of fuel. So we can make supper & toast etc. at our pleasure. It is fairly chilly now-a-days, but compared with last year it is summer. This year there has hardly been any freezing - it must have been an exceptional winter last year if this (is) a normal one.

We are getting issued with service chevrons - one for each year's service. The main body have a special one - a red one I think but there are not too many of them now a days. I suppose the signal company have as many body men as any company, though a lot have gone away for commissions lately. In our section of 25 we have 4 mainbody men, but that is an exceptional proportion.

Our blankets went away today to get the lice taken out of them & they have just got back. When one's blankets get lousy it is practically impossible to get rid of the pests. We are continually moving into different billets & as some have been going since 1914 they (billets) are horribly lousy. I've never caught a great mumber in one sitting, but I've seen a chap kill 200 or so in his singlet alone. I suppose the old saying that a few fleas is good for a dog might now be changed to a few lice is good for a man. I was very annoyed to find, after getting new gear to go on leave with, that I was still lousy. I'll keep a few samples on me till I come & show you what they are like. I'm sure you'll be interested Mother!!!! & I'm positive Dad will. I only discoursed on that pleasing subject because news is scarce.

I suppose Don is now in Nelson having a great time with all the girls. How I wish I was with him.

I am in the pink & I trust you are all the same & that Mother is overworking herself at patriotic stunts or because there is no servant.
Heaps of love to you all
from Alister

Letter 64

13 March 1918

Dear Mother Dad & Nancy
I am writing this from the hospital in France where I have been just over 3 weeks. My eyes are alright now but the gas affected my lungs a bit & I've either had congestion of the lungs or bronchitis I'm not sure which as the doctor has told me I've had both. At any rate by the time this reaches you I ought to be at our base in England, for the doctor has told me every day that as soon as my temperature is normal I shall be sent to England.

Bravo Nancy! By Jove you did do well at College this year. Here's my congratulations though they be a few months late. It was a pity about the tennis though wasn't it? Why should I be ashamed of you?

I'm glad you have seen Don & he has let you know all about me. He seems to be a most important person doesn't he? I can just imagine him nearly busting when listening to Horace's letter. Dear Mother although I never call you what Horace calls his mother "Queen of all etc.", Yet believe me I love you just the same. It is not my way to be so effusive.

Yesterday & today I have been allowed out in the sun which is a welcome change after being inside for 3 weeks. The weather is marvellously warm for this time of year. We have had nothing else except sunny days for a long time.

March is supposed to be such a cold month.

I was much amused at Nancy's attempt to bank her money at the P.O. I remember when I first started work in Auckland & had to go to the Post Office with various things, how mixed up I used to get. There is always a crowd there too.

We are all treated very well here & the food is very good. This hospital is considered one of the best for food. The sisters are very nice & look after one well.

Alister Robison
Alister Robison
I shall cable you when I arrive in England.
Well good bye all with very best love to you all from

P.S. I got N.Z. mail about 4 days ago & it included a letter form each of you. Mother's dated 12 Dec. Dad's 14 Dec & Nancy's dated 30 Dec. Thank you for the postal order Mother.
Remember me to Don & all my old friends.
Once again best love

There are no further letters from Alister.
In due course he was repatriated to New Zealand where he convalesced and made a partial recovery. He had recurring problems with his lungs and periods in hospital. For a time he worked for W D and H O Wills, the tobacco firm. Work on a tobacco farm in the Motueka area allowed him to get time out of doors for his health's sake. Alister Robison was born on 9 November 1895 and died of his lung condition on 28 January 1934 at age 38.

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 17

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