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           Home >  History  > Letters from World War 1  :

Letters From World War 1
Part 9

Alister Robison - 20/04/01

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

Many moves including up to the front line.

Letter 23

28th Sept 1916

Dear All,
I have not written for some time as there have been no officers in Camp to censor them. At any rate there hasn't been much to say.

We had a bit of rotten weather for about 4 days about a week ago. You've heard of the Flanders mud no doubt. Well you want to believe it all. It only takes about 5 minutes rain to make it decidedly slippery. After a night's rain the horse lines are lovely as you can well imagine. We had wet feet for 4 days but no one seems the worse for it & there are no colds. Except for the 4 days the weather has been glorious - hot in the day & mighty cold at night.. During the wet days my harness had to go 2 journeys & it got into a frightful mess. We had to wash it in the river the other day. The leather part is all right now but the steel will give me a few hours work.

I had to go to the "Green Dump" I spoke about in my previous letter about 3 days ago. We go there alright & delivered our goods & were just coming home when we were ordered to take some wire to another station about a mile away. We'd got about 1/2 way when the Huns started 'straffing' some guns near the track about 300 yards ahead of us. Their aim wasn't too good & most of them landed on the road. We got about 200 yards from the shots when a piece of shell hit the waggon so we about turned very quickly & discreetly retired 200 yards or so.

It didn't last long however & we got there & back without further trouble. You can't imagine the shell holes - the number and size of them. Some a horse could hide in. From the lip of one crater to the lip of the next in any direction on average was about a yard. And that's everywhere not just at this place we went to.

It was a rummy feeling hearing the shells coming. You think everyone is coming at you. However as they were bursting ahead of us we could see the explosion before the whizz finished & then you felt alright.

The NZers are doing very well now & have always achieved their objectives. In fact everyone is doing well. Combles (and) Thiepval have been taken 2 days ago. Had 4 letters today. 1 from Mum, 1 from Nancy, 1 from Aunt Effie, & 1 from the office.

I got the results of the election last mail & this one you still had a week to go Mum. I bet Mrs Adams will rub it in & also will be highly amused at the Harris tales.

Do you recognise this paper. Its a spare page from the letter I had from the office.

Got the 5/- in last weeks letter O.K. It equals 7 Francs. Many thanks.

Tell Ted that the cape is terribly useful now that I'm with the horses.

What do you think of Con getting interned in Holland after getting the DSC. His people will be pleased no doubt?

Alister Robison
Alister Robison aboard ship
The light is fast failing
so good bye & best wishes to you all

Letter 24

8th October 1916

Dear Everybody,
Since I wrote last week stirring things have happened for yours truly has been an interested spectator on the Big Push. The day after I wrote last (on the 28th Sept) I got sent up to a place near the Green Dump - I've mentioned before. I came in at 4 pm after exercising the horses & was told to be ready at 4.15 pm & go up to the 2nd Brigade. I got up there at 6 pm & was told 2nd Bde was in the firing line, but was to report to the signal office & the officer said he'd make arrangements to have me sent up. I didn't like it a bit to tell the truth.

However I reported at the signal office which was in a deep dugout & found a couple of chaps I knew down there. I got shown another dugout for where I was to sleep. I waited there 5 days & never got word to go up. I got a job in the office & we used to do 4 on 8 off. The section had a cook so that saved me a lot of trouble, so I was well off having a place to sleep & not having to make a bivouac.

Though we were well back from the front line there were shells all over the place all day & night. I was sitting in the sun one day when a bit of the shell whizzed past quite close & landed about 4 feet away. I picked it up & it was quite hot & it was about 4 inches long & 1/2 inch thick. Another occasion we were having tea in the dugout when 2 shells came over & wrecked a dugout less than 20 yds away. So I fared very well to most of the boys.

The NZers did well & never failed once & never lost what they had taken either.

The mud is something frightful even after a little bit of rain.

On the 3rd Oct the boys were relieved after having 23 days in the Push. On either side of them the Tommies were relieved 2 & 3 times.

We had to go to a details camp first which wasn't very far away. We stayed there for 2 days & then we marched to the train about 4 miles away. We had got up at 5 that morning. As we were going to be billeted I carried a heavy pack. We trained a good few miles & then got out at 7 pm. After marching till 11 pm we eventually got to this place where we are sleeping in a big barn. It is rather airy but quite dry. The boys including myself were well done up after the last 3 weeks work.

What got me down was that there is a railway only 2 miles from here & we had to walk a dozen, but thats the military all through.

There is a chateau here - small but very nice, with plenty of ground & lawns & bush. From the chateau there is a lovely view looking on to a lot of little lakes.

Leave to London or England has started again so I may get a chance soon for there (are) a good few old hands still to get leave.

Well this has finished me for news.
So goodbye
Everybody OK here & ditto to you all
With best of love

Letter 25


Dear Everybody
Last week I wrote from a barn in a chateau & this time it is from the chateau itself. Luckily it is in fairly good order. From the first place after 2 days spell we moved on to a place called ----- & after being billetted there 2 more days we motor lorried to here. i.e. ------the place where the NZers were before they went down to the Big Push. Of course everyone knows now that they have been down on the Somme.

The view from the first place was great. It was built on a hill commanding a great view for miles. One would have thought he was back in England. Another chap & I went into Abbeville, which is about 6 miles away. There we got all we wanted viz wash feed & haircut. We went & had the haircut first. There were a few waiting when we went in but we had to wait over an hour. The French barbers are the slowest I've struck & ever want to. They chatter & go & have their "bocks" every 5 minutes & yarn to each new customer.

Then we had to wait a deuce of a time for our bath where we got rid of the Somme mud. After that we slipped into about 6 Omelettes each. Then we went to the station & found there was no train till midnight. There are trains every ten minutes really but as we couldn't get a guarantee that they would slow down at our station we had to walk or wait. Luckily it was a beautiful night so we decided to walk. It was full moon no wind & cloudless & the 6 miles seemed to go in no time. When we got home & looked down from the hill it was a lovely sight.

Next night we moved on to ----- after a nights trip in the train. We were lucky and slipped into a third class carriage while the rest had only trucks. We really had to walk 6 miles to ----- & got out of train at ----. I saw the first wind mill I've seen in motion. However, like the aeroplane, one soon gets used to them.

After our march to ----- we had an appetite so a few of us went & had a feed which consisted of 8 poached eggs and bread & butter & coffee. One chap had 12 eggs but he's died since so I heard unofficially.

While there we heard who had been awarded the M.M. There were 8 in Div Sigs altogether 3 out of our section.

We arrived in ----- on the 13th about 4pm. On the 14th another chap and I had to go out to Battallion HQ (Canta) & we are now working on the wires doing 6 on 12 off.

Our possy is pretty good. We have a stove & table & spring beds & a big room.

I find there is no more news. It is difficult to get letters censored at present so this & previous ones might be late in arriving.

It is very quiet in this sector now & so far Fritz hasn't been firing much.
Good bye
& heaps of love

P.S. Have been getting your mail O.K. One from or rather through 43 Cornwall Gdns.

Letter 26

29th October (1916)

Dear Everybody
This one should reach you before Xmas - we are told it will.

Tomorrow we leave this place & go to Brigade HQ. I'm sorry in a way as this is a good possy & the work is easy. However there are some good possies there too so it won't be so bad.

I have had a long letter from all of you & in two of them were two notes on 10/- and 5/- respectively for which I am duly grateful & I am bold to state that I trust that nothing will prevent you doing so again in the future. Quite right Dad, about that money & if I ever cable for any always do the same. Mother's & Nancy's letters were both amusing and long & I'm glad to hear that you both had a good time at Longwood.

I dropped Mrs Adams a Xmas card today. Bye the bye ring up Mrs Harrison & say I wish her & Bark a Merry Xmas etc. (I'd like to see Bark "merry").

Its been very quiet up here since I wrote last & there's nothing doing to write about.

I also had 3 parcels last mail. One from the Ruckers & one from Aunt Maud & one from Betty by that money of yours Mum. All were good & were eaten only too quickly.

I think it a bon idea if you sent letters through Aunt Maud as they would get here sooner I think.

I suppose you've heard by now that Uncle Norman was wounded. Its not often I see a casualty list by it was strange that the very one his name should be there.

Had a letter from Georgie today & she's had a rotten spin for two months - no doubt you've heard all about it by now.

Well A Merry Xmas & a happy New Year to you all & cheer up for you can bet your life we'll have a great "to do" over here.

Aurevoir with best of love
from Alister

Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 8
Click to read Letters from World War 1 - Part 10

Watch for more in this series.

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