"A" Company 20th Battalion County of London Regiment
Writing to his former pupils at Milton Council School
Dear Senior Boys:-
When someone told me yesterday morning that a big parcel was waiting for me at our dugout in the firing line, I went there at the very first opportunity "at the double!" We always glance at the post mark before opening our penknives. It seems to have an effect upon the speed of removing the string."Oh! Sittingbourne," I remarked eagerly. " Some parcel!" suggested someone on my left. Congratulations to the packer. Every article came quite intact. It was quite a pleasure to examine each article, read the name of the sender, and pass it on for further investigation to those who were standing round. Then came the letters all full of interesting news.
More than one expressed either in thoughts or words that "you wish I were teaching at Milton Regis." It is very good of you all to think of us out here and send such welcome luxuries. Thankyou very much indeed. Both the parcel and preceding thoughts are very much appreciated.
Well now, I've written the first paragraph, and before starting the second there was a pause to change the place of writing. About a quarter of an hour ago shells whistled high overhead, becoming fainter and fainter until we heard the bursts half a mile away. Gradually the screeching became more of a shrill and the bursting nearer till one came in a building quite close. Thinking that discretion would be the better part of valour, about twenty of us occupying a large classroom at a school, made hasty steps for a large dugout or cellar at the back. We were scarcely all in when the very next shell burst with a terrific bang in the very room in which we had been. We do have some marvellous escapes. They make us all feel the presence of a supreme power, who in some mysterious way bridles the course of this unnatural destruction.
Having waited until this little bombardment ceased, there were two other shells fell near the school. We went to have a look at the damage. What a sight! The floor was smothered with brick dust, plaster, cement. The shell must have come in through the roof and fallen very steeply. The hole in the floor was about a yard in diameter and resembled a ribbish heap. To distinguish rifles, equipment and clothing was well nigh impossible, they were all one colour, dusty grey. That meant a spring clean for us, before we could separate the serviceable articles from the useless. Overcoats were full of holes, towels torn to shreds, the handles and blades of razors had parted company, rifles resembled old umbrella sticks, packs full of stuff would pass well for cast off house flannels. One man dressed up in his coat and equipment just as he had found it. He looked like Robinson Crusoe just returned from a deadly fighting expedition amongst cannibals. His rifle looked as if it had gone cheaply at 6d bazaar sale, and where he would be in case of an attack I don't know, for the point of his bayonet was missing. The box of things you sent me was filled up with a layer of soft fertile soil, soon removed. Everything was seperately wrapped and quite alright.
Another break in writing, The Captain has decided that the school is too warm a place to live in, so to avoid a restless night, the sergeants and corporals have ordered us meek and willing privates to prepare another place to sojourn. The question was where to look for one. Ruined houses to right and left, scrap iron and timber wherever you turn. There's a coal truck deserted on rusty railway lines, grass and weeds growing among the spokes of the wheels, but that won't hold a section, less still a platoon. Happy thought! theres the very hiding place for thieves and robbers - two or three cellars to be let unfurnished across the way. But there was a good hours work to clear out the rubbish. Loose bricks, old bottles, three tree trunks, two boxes, a large cupboard door and a heap of rubbish paper form part of the interesting collection of souvenirs down there. It was necessary to knock part of the wall down near the skylight, or we might be playing blind mans buff, just as there was 10 minutes to get everything strapped together for the next parade.
So here we are in another of the many queer billets we have lived in since March. For some reason it has often been our lot to stay in schools. The rooms are usually rather large and very light. Windows open towards the East and West, so that the sun shines directly in at early morning and late afternoon. The walls and ceiling are white. A stove is usually right in the middle of the room, the wide pipe going up to the ceiling, being not very picturesque. It appears to be the idea here to build schools in a long narrow block, there are no side class rooms, but by swing doors you can pass from room to room as though they were carriages of a corridor train. This method of building allows of a room being added at a later date without spoiling the general structure.
Well I wonder how long it will be before I find myself in a class room. One furnished with desks,
books and boys I mean. I think I must drop a postcard to Kitchener for information! Now I must come to the end of
this little talk. These smooth pencils you sent together with a good supply of paper seem to run away with one's
thoughts. Once again thankyou very much for the parcel.