1916: Private JG Wynter, with the Army Ordnance in France, writes to a friend in Haywards Heath

Updated: Oct 18, 2020

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 25 April 1916


"OUR HALF-DAY PASS" IN FRANCE.

CUCKFIELD SOLDIER'S LETTER TO HAYWARDS HEATH.

Private J. G. Wynter, a Cuckfieldian with the Army Ordnance in France, writes as follows to a friend at Haywards Heath:-


It was the "MID-SUSSEX” that suggested a subject which will be quite harmless to me and yet I hope interesting to you. I saw letters in there from Egypt and Salonika, in which the writers briefly stated that they "had had a pass into the town close by,” so I thought an account of an average afternoon's pass here would perhaps prove acceptable reading. But I think that a short foreword is needed to suggest the reason for these passes being issued. Have you ever realised that one of the diseases which we have to guard against is that of “fedupness!”

This appellation of the malady was given to us by a Scotch clergyman. It is when anyone lets the disease get the better of him that the malady is infectious, and all the pills catalogued by the Authorities would not arrest the progress of the disease, even though they were given to the accompaniment of "light duty," and so it is my suggestion that our weekly half-day pass is given as a tonic. Well, the first step to be taken towards the realisation of this half-day of rest, which, by the way, is usually very strenuous rest, is the procuring and filling up of a pass form. These forms are given out at an office by a chap who believes, judging by his manner, that it is he, and he only, who is able to carry out this important work of transferring a piece of paper from his hand to another's, and after one has put the necessary particulars on it, it is taken back to the office, where it receives various signatures, from the Major's down to the Staff-Sergeant's, so that when the owner receives it again it resembles a page of an autograph album, minus the usual verse.


Well, after dinner sees the possessor of the pass actively engaged for some time in the operation of cleaning up, and, if he has decided to have a real afternoon out, he is ready by two o'clock to proceed to town. The distance is about a ten-minutes' ride at the rate the trams go, and for the sum of one half penny one can be transported into the heart of the town at a lightning pace—at least I suppose the French consider it so!—and one has also the privilege of a bell accompaniment, as the tram driver is quite at the mercy of the traffic. This never seems in any great hurry to draw off the line, and consequently there are, at times, some “compliments" exchanged between the various drivers, which, happily, owing to my ignorance of the “finer phrases" in the language, I do not understand. Eventually, if nothing untoward has happened, you reach your destination, and alight in the busiest commercial thoroughfare of the town.


From this point I had better confine myself, to the doings of a friend and myself during such a visit a week or so ago. The afternoon in question was delightfully fine, the sun shining down from a cloudless sky. and, the beauty of the district on such a day being outside the town itself, we traced our steps to a cliff railway, which in a few minutes elevated us an extra few hundred feet above the sea level and brought us to delightful country surroundings, which reminded us very forcibly of England. To help us to make our fancy more real, a mist hung over the town and sea, thus hiding from our view all that would remind us of our daily life during the past six months. We strolled along a country lane for some distance, passing on our journey a funeral procession wending its way along the dusty road, and after a short time we reached a large cemetery, the side of the street opposite to which was composed of monumental masons' and flower shops. We walked through the cemetery, and the thing that struck us most was the magnificence of the monuments compared with those of English burial grounds, and it is here and also in the churches that one sees the other side of the French character- that of the devout Catholic.


Many of the graves had small shrines or chapels erected over them, with just enough accommodation for the family of the deceased. The windows of some of these chapels were of stained glass, and the sun made the effect very beautiful at certain places. Other monuments, of a less imposing character, bore a copy of the deceased's photograph, and nearly all were adorned with a peculiar artificial wreath of violet-coloured leaves, which seems to be a favourite offering, too, at all funerals. We came upon a strange contrast in one corner of the cemetery many lines of bare mounds of clay, each surmounted by a small wooden cross, denoted to us that this corner was set apart for soldiers who had died for their countries. There were the graves of English, French, Belgians, one Russian, and standing a little apart from these, were three, probably, of Indians. Each had its name-plate, and, naturally, I looked for the Sussex Regiment. I found one—No. 1448 Pte. W. Walton, 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment.


In connection with these graves it may interest you at home to know that units in the vicinity of this town are having collections at church parades for is upkeep of them, and we had the plasma knowing that up to last Sunday we bead the list with 101 francs. It may be some comfort to relatives of the men who are buried in "these corners which will be ever England," as they have here aptly described, to know that their resting places are not forgotten, although they cannot have the attention which the French people bestow on the graves of their relatives.


Having completed our tour of the cemetery, we choose the tram as a means of again reaching the town, and this proved hardly a joy-ride. One must not think of comparing these French cars with those of Brighton, for instance, as the trams here have platforms is front and behind, each providing standing room for fifteen passengers. We got on the front beside the drivers—for there were two—and each had both hands on a number of handles, and whilst the car was going along with jerks and jumps, these two drivers commenced an animated conversation about some subject, with the result that one turned the wrong handle, the car stopped dead, and the unity of the French and English passengers was very close for minute or so! For the rest of the journey a French colonial soldier standing behind me gripped my belt with both hands, but we eventually reached the bottom of the gradient without any further incident. During the ride I did not agree with the local “poet`" who wrote :


Some people like their bully beef,

And some their Tickler's jam,

But let me have my heart's desire—

A ride upon the tram.


Our next thoughts were turned towards a “glorified tea,”, which is a happy medium between a tea and a dinner, so we hunted up a small French cafe which was out of bounds to bully beef, biscuits and “Tickler's Stoneless Plum"—the latter a kind of jam which always has a happy knack of turning up at our mess table at breakfast, dinner and tea. As my friend knew six words of French while I only knew four, it was left to him to order tea. He said something to the girl, which she replied " Ah, messieur, Blanc Mange "—at least, that's what it sounded like to me—and having had a dinner of bully beef, I could not let this go unchallenged, so I asked my friend if be knew what he was asking for, and eventually we solved the question in the usual way by pointing to a board with the fare written in English


After tea we paid a visit to a picture palace where, by the way, smoking in not permitted but, judging by the number of English Tommies smoking in there, we shall never to know the meaning of "Defense de Fumer” "No smoke" the ticket collector said to me as we went in, I having a pipe on. "Ne compre," said I, and we went to our seats being so innocently ignorant of everything French that the manager never troubled any further. The films exhibited at these places are much in common with those at Haywards Heath, and the French children go as mad as English youngsters do over the funniosities of Charlie Chaplin.


We came out at seven o'clock, and after doing some necessary shopping, which is not a difficult matter now, as most of the shops employ an assistant with some knowledge of English, we think of returning home, as our passes have to be returned by nine o'clock. One can always be sure of some excitement in the tram on the homeward journey, as the car is usually packed with English soldiers and French civilians. We stand with our arms down straight and sway in a body with movement of the car, and probably one of the Tommies will start a popular song, which is taken up by all of us, while the French look on with a wondering smile on their faces, evidently surprised at the joyous disposition of their English Allies. So we reach "home" again, to peruse the daily round and common task for another week.

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