A hot bath in Armentieres
France 10th April, 1916
Just a few lines in answer to yours of 7th and 21st – fancy Nivens being a bit hit up for employing Germans! I can't say I agree in all points with the idea of sacking all of German birth.
It's fumy, since the evacuations, four casualty lists were published – none of us were in action but were enjoying the rest promised to us.
I'm sorry they messed you about over the money at the 63rd. They ought to have given it to you but the military is nothing but red tape from start to finish. I've had plenty of time to find it out too.
I have received letters from Bill but by this I think he will have left Melbourne.
I have just sat down from watching the Germans bombard a battery and some houses a hundred yards away, and I am afraid they have done some damage for there were hundreds of soldiers running away and many of them were either carrying children or else helping the mothers and the womenfolk. Why the people are allowed to stay here I don't know. Of course the Germans are quite within their rights, for the place is full of soldiers, every barn holds some. Many of the women have come to this house from whose bakery I am writing this epistle, or apology for one.
The Germans are better gunners than the Turks, who always gave us plenty of warning when they intended to bombard us with heavy guns by the time they took to get the range. Also, the Germans use, I think, T.N.T. In their shells, which is a pretty solid explosive I can tell you although it has not the terrifying crash our Howitzer shells on the Peninsula had, which I think were Lyddite. It is strange to watch the shells bursting here (shrapnel). You see the shell explode and after hearing the gun fired, then the long drawn whine and then the crash and all the time the shell has done its work already. They are now starting to give the trenches some hurry up. Whack oh!
We'll be in there tomorrow night, but this place is far quieter than Gallipoli, but soon I'm afraid we'll see something. There are thousands and thousands of troops here. We are just a few kilometres off Armentieres. In fact, I was in there for a hot bath but there will be awful slaughter when any movement takes place, and we expect the fun to begin any day now.
The German's trenches three hundred yards in front of ours, which is a lot further than the Turks were, and to show you what the place is like, yesterday morning was a bit misty so some of our chaps went out and chopped a tree down between the trenches and chopped it up for firewood. Nothing like that ever happened on the Peninsula. It was sudden death to show even the top of your cap for a couple of seconds.
The Tommies here tell us that when the Prussians Guards are in, that things become lively, but when relieved by the Saxons, they never trouble you unless you start the show. The Artillery is the worst here, but the line is so immense that unless they concentrate on one particular spot, it's only isolated portions that get hit, and then the shell has to come right in the trench to do any harm.
There is a battalion of Royal Scots here and I was speaking to one and he was telling me they have been here since January and have lost twenty men, and like Anzac, the safest place is the trenches. A party of us marched in to an old factory of some sort in Armtentieres this morning for a hot bath. I don't know what the factory was, but there are huge vats into which about thirty of us got into, half filled with hot water. It was dead funny but very acceptable. We will be only a few days in the trenches here at a time – not a fifteen week stint as before, for which we are very thankful, for even the strongest are apt to develop nerves being constantly subject to shell fire.
I must close. I don't know when I will be able to post this, but as soon as they accept letters, in she goes.
So. Bon Jour
No newspapers for the past few mails – I don't know why.