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1915: Post Office Riflemen's Letters from the front

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 19 October 1915



We print below extracts from two letters received in Cuckfield during the past week from Post Office Riflemen who were billeted in the town last winter. The first is from a letter written to a friend by Rifleman G. R. Palmer, who is now in Netley Hospital suffering from wounds. He writes as follows :—

THe Post Office Rifles line up at the top of Cuckfield High Street (1915 - colourised)

"Many thanks for your letter and good wishes. Am glad to say I am going on nicely and hoping to be back again soon, for it's hard to leave all one's pals behind to do the dirty work. But I must frankly confess that it's real good to be at home in dear old England once again. What a treat, too, to see a village not smashed to heaps of ruins! And to hear the cheers of real English kids, when being brought ashore, was as good—yes, better even than the music of the shells at Loos. For that is where I got my wounds. No doubt a goodly number of Cuckfield folk think long and often of the boys of the P.O.R., and will be pleased to hear of their fine record in France. We didn't call ourselves ‘the blood-thirsty 8th,' nor did we dub ourselves the 'Fearless Fighters of Festubert Fame.' But there's a pleasure in getting recognition, even of such a sanguinary nature, for work performed. And what I saw at Loos in no wise minimises my humble opinion of the '8th' as fighters. But no comparison dare be made between any regiments out there.' I saw many regiments in that great fight, and can honestly say they were simply grand, but of course you will have read all about Loos and Hill 70. What a glorious eight it was to see the famous Guards tackle that job, and how stirring, too, to see the R.H.A. rush their guns over a shell swept road and into Loos as soon as the infantry had captured it. 

But I had better give you a few of my experiences from the beginning. I landed in France on Thursday morning, July 1st, and reached my billet a mile behind the line on Sunday, July 4th. Within an hour I had the sad experience of seeing some of my new comrades wounded by shrapnel, for the Huns were sending over their usual afternoon greeting. Truly it was a warm reception. A few days later I was actually in the trenches. How different were those nights to the happy evenings at Cuckfield I No concerts, no gramophone parties—just a deadly silence, broken only by the occasional boom of a gun and the screech of the shell. 

Happily those nights were but short. When not in the trenches we were 'at the back of the Front,' in villages, most of which were entirely deserted by the civil population, and all of which bore testimony to the ruthlessness of the German gunners. One village I remember very well ; a well-laid-out garden village ; and every house had had at least one shell in it. One has only to see this wanton destruction to realise what the Kultured Hun would do for our fair villages if he ever got over here. And one realises, too, the enormous debt we owe to our first Expeditionary Force. 

Well, I think I have written enough—you will be tired of reading, but I must tell you of a dramatic episode I witnessed. A youngster of one of the London Terrier Battalions was running through one of the battered streets of Loos. He had to pass two apparently dead Germane, when one of the 'corpses' turned over and lunged at this hero with his bayonet, utterly spoiling his trousers, but fortunately not drawing blood. In far less time than it takes to read this, our lad jumped on him, secured the bayonet and transfixed the too clever Hun to the ground. Then with a genial smile our lad took his helmet and also the one belonging to the other Hun. I met him coming home again on the hospital ship, and he told me he had been offered £5 for the helmet, but he said be wouldn't part with it for £500. 

Well, I most ring off now, and hope to see you as soon as I am fit again and get a few days' leave, so will close with kindest regards." 

Rifleman H. Fernee, a bomb-thrower in the Battalion, ivho was billeted last winter with Mr. and Mrs. Line at the Gas Works, writes :—"I expect you will be pleased to hear from me to know I am safe and sound. I expect you have read in the papers the account of the fight for the slag-heaps ; well, that is where we were engaged. Another regiment did the charge over a distance of about six hundred yards, and the ‘8th' bombers were called to their assistance, so over we had to go, under machine gun and rifle fire. There were a few of our poor chaps knocked down, but thank God I got through safely. We started work at once. The Germans were out of their trenches, and it was an open bomb fight for a time, but we soon had them back in their trenches and then drove them back at the run, and really they did run. These slag-heaps are about half-a-mile long and about fifty to sixty feet in height and width, and we captured about half of them.

One night the Huns threw bombs from the top of the heaps on to our chaps below, injuring fourteen. We then had to go up after them and stop their little game. We had four nights up there ; it was raining, and very cold, and proved a most nerve - trying ordeal. I was very pleased when we were relieved; however, we were not troubled further with them. We had a week in the trenches without a wash or shave, so you may guess we did not look or feel very presentable.

I think the Germans have had a bashing they will not recover from for a day or so; quite a surprise for them, I think." 



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