My Dearest Olive,
I am writing this letter in a small dug out on the side of a mountain. There is very little room to move around, but it has been made fairly snug by hanging blankets abound the sides and over the entrance while the roof is covered with logs. This afternoon, it poured with rain and, after a time, the water started to drip through the roof and we were threatened with disaster. However Fellowes is very good with his hands and, in a short space of time, the leak was mended and our house was dry again. Others were less fortunate – Pat Howard shares a dug out with his platoon sergeant, Frank Higgins, and they had to bale out, while the roof of Sergeant Major’s dug out caved in, but very fortunately he was not inside. A number of others were swamped. I had thought that the bad weather had finished but it looks as if we are in for some rain. During the day, the sun is quite hot and everything dries very quickly.
I write by the aid of a hurricane lamp beside me and my torch shining down from the roof. Outside is the constant sound of machine gun fire, and at the moment someone is firing Tommy Guns some distance away and our mortars are firing. Every now and again comes the crump of the German mortars and then perhaps a short spell of silence. Just as I wrote this, there was a tremendous burst of MG fire on our left and the crash of mortars on the right. More MG fire has just started, and also the rain which is more annoying to us at the moment than the MG fire. Everything is having a go at the moment, and this, incidentally, is a normal uneventful night “in the line”, and no special attack is occurring. It is just what happens every night. (Our artillery has just opened up).
It is curious that, unless one is being affected by the actual attack, one can take no notice and, in fact, just sleep through it. Last night, the Germans put down six mortars in quick succession about 100 yds away and I never heard them. Yet, if one of my platoons had opened up fire or being fired upon I would have been awake instantly. That, I suppose, is experience and it is a good thing that one’s mind can become attuned to the surroundings and seem to realise what is important and what is not as, otherwise, it would be almost impossible to gain any sleep. (More MG fire). Actually, our positions here are very secure and we are not overlooked by the enemy.
Incidentally regarding casualties, at times, they are very nasty but in order to get the matter in the right perspective, I may say that I commanded ‘A’ Coy during the last 3 days on the Sangro; ‘B’ for two months, five weeks of which we spent in “the line” and ‘C’ for 7 weeks and I have not had one solitary casualty during the whole of that time. It just indicates that, while war is obviously very dangerous and highly unpleasant, at the same time one has very reasonable chance of survival.
Douglas is very well and doing quite satisfactorily. He is a great man for his comfort even under the most adverse conditions and he and my Sergeant Major are rather apt to clash on occasions. Douglas does tend to interfere a bit in what is not his job, and he occasionally forgets that he is not still at Brigade when he had a Defence Platoon of his own. Sergeant Major Norton feels that he should not take orders from anyone except the Coy Commander and in that I quite agree, and the old story of, “too man cooks” and, in any case, there is naturally a special relationship between the Coy Commander and his CSM. Norton is a Welshman from Pontypridd, young and very keen and a non-regular – the first I have met who has risen that high. It is a very fine performance and he is a splendid fellow, is very keen and almost fanatical on the Company and he is responsible for a very good atmosphere. Douglas has just departed back on 48 hours leave. I was offered it but refused to go as, somehow, I feel I cannot leave the company in a forward area. The only thing that would persuade me to go was if I felt really unwell and my work was suffering in consequence. Incidentally speaking of health, would you send me some tubes of Veganin by letter mail? My supply of aspirin is almost out and there are many times when it is useful to have some handy.
I have not had a letter from you, darling, since the one dated 30/3. Some people received letters dated 4/4 yesterday, but not me. However I am very much hoping one will be up with the rations tonight.
All my love to you and Valerie, sweetheart. Don’t worry and write often.
Your devoted husband.