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In his monthly letter, published 17 November 1916, Rev Whincup says: People here are settling down in earnest for another arduous winter campaign. As far as physical comfort is concerned, those of us who happen to be with the regiment in the forward area do not appear to be in for a time of great luxury, to say the least of it. Last autumn and winter the British Army in France and Belgium was very stationary and for those who were not continually in the trenches it was possible to get hold of a moderately comfortable billet. Things are somewhat different now, both owing to the much greater congestion of troops and the gradual advance into territory previously held by the Germans. But despite all untoward circumstances it is astonishing how expeditious human beings can be in providing for themselves more or less comfortable quarters when necessity demands it, even in the most strange and uncongenial surroundings. Consequently those at home may rest assured that we shall all make the best of things and probably not fare quite so badly as some people might be inclined to imagine. Wayside village Certainly it is not very exhilarating to arrive at a wayside village at about 2 o’clock on a cold, wet autumn night after so many hours marching and to be told that this is the destination for the next twelve hours, but that there are absolutely no billets and the open fields alone remain in the way of accommodation. Things are not generally as bad as this but this is the state of things at times. During the recent great offensive very many of our gallant soldiers had to stand all night through in the open trenches, at
times in the soaking rain, waiting for the moment of attack next morning, there being no dug outs or any protection of any kind. This must be a truly wretched experience but one which is quite unavoidable at times in modern warfare. When the ambulance which is connected with the regiment amongst which I work moved up the line for the great offensive, for the first few nights there were no tents or billets of any description so we had to do the best we could. After a time the weather broke very badly. It was a strange experience to feel the rain pouring down during the night and yet after a while sleep came, sound, deep sleep, which evidently the rain was incapable of disturbing. Many of these adventures seem to be far worse than they are in actual experience although they are not exactly heavenly. One of the chief difficulties out here is getting clothes dried. In the trenches this difficult is almost insuperable while tent life, especially on the sodden damp ground, is scarcely conducive to dry clothing. In summer the sun is a great power in soon putting things right again but as the days grow shorter, the difficulties greatly increase in this respect. It is certainly a hardening experience for those who can stand it. Bedlam You will have read of the fall of some of the German fortresses. Judging by the awful noise of the bombardments and positive ‘bedlam of racket’ which at times
has gone on for days and nights together, it is not at all surprising that the fortress opposite where we were did indeed fall, the wonder being that there was anything at all left to fall. A great many German wounded and many prisoners came through the advanced aid post where I was after the fall of this strong fortress. Some of them were terrified out of their wits. I don’t know what they took me for in my chaplain’s uniform, possibly a bird of ill omen. At any rate I was greeted with a most obsequious and propitiatory sweep towards the ground which I tried to return with a becoming military salute, a feat at which I scarcely excel. A most militant looking British General, with rows of ribbons, paid us a visit at the aid post during the course of the day. I thought that there was no wonder that the Germans came to attention and looked ready to drop into the ground when they confronted this General. The General had had some very close experiences with these people, he reeled off to us stern denunciation of their various iniquities and his chief concern seemed to be as to what it was possible to do with this degenerate company now we had got hold of them. Prisoners The German wounded were treated with the same consideration as our own wounded and many little kindnesses of one sort and another were shown to them and the other prisoners. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of these German prisoners on their way straight from the battlefield. They are indeed a strange mixture. Most of them appeared to be
thoroughly indifferent to their surroundings and they seemed quite worn out and broken spirited. But they showed few signs of any liking for the British as they sullenly made their way towards the rear although they were very grateful for any kindness. The battalion with which I am specially connected had a bad time of it on one occasion last month (September). We had many casualties and several officers and men are reported missing. Missing soldiers I am afraid that the relatives of these missing soldiers must be having a very anxious time; and it is not possible to relieve their anxiety at present or else we would gladly do so. The word missing may mean so many things and we cannot get any definite news, although all kinds of efforts have been made. The terrific bombardment of these last months have been most nerve wracking at time and how the gunners endure it in their constant close proximity to the guns I can’t imagine. I hope to be able to come home on leave sometime in November but it is very uncertain because there seems to be a great difficulty in obtaining leave at present both owing to the continued British offensive and the large number of officers and men who are on the waiting list for leave and who no doubt deserve it far more than I do
“During the recent great offensive very many of our gallant soldiers had to stand all night through in the open trenches, at times in the soaking rain, waiting for the moment of attack next morning, there being no dug outs or any protection of any kind.”
Preparing for another cold, wet winter