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Letters from the Front

Letters from the Front

Monday November 9 2015

Throughout the First World War, Life and Work regularly printed letters received by the Principal Chaplain, the Rev J A McClymont, from Church of Scotland chaplains stationed on the various battlefields.


(Dates refer to the issue of the magazine in which the letters appeared, not when they were written.)

April 1915

We have had two long marches, covering between 14 and 16 miles a day, over roads which were weary quagmires of squelching mud. A good many “fell out,” utterly done. A French interpreter died on the roadside of exhaustion. It rained in torrents, and an icy wind blew unceasingly. On the bleakest spot of all the route we were halted for four hours without shelter or food, because the billets we were to occupy could not be vacated by the troops until dark.

This little town had been shelled before we came. As a result very few of the houses had windows left. Our kits did not turn up; so we just lay down on the floor, pulled our soaking great-coats over us, and tried to sleep.

The officers are kindness itself, and I cannot speak too highly of them. I have found it just as easy to get on with the men. They are sometimes a little rough in speech, and sometimes some are foolish; but they are so brave and uncomplaining, so grateful for any little kindness, and so good to one another, that I love them all.

S G Gilchrist


November 1915

There is not a single inch of ground behind the British lines which is not exposed to the enemy’s shell-fire, and there are many who say that the safest place is the firing line! That, of course, is an exaggeration; but the fact remains that we are all under fire all day. The men keep up their hearts very well, but we shall all be glad to get out of this.

A J Campbell


March 1916

In consequence of the severity of the weather frostbites have been not uncommon, but in spite of all, the troops are in good heart. The Lowland Division has borne itself bravely, though it has suffered sorely; and wherever the men have rallied from, they are now enduring the rigours of winter as uncomplainingly as they did the scorching heat of summer. This is all the more deserving of note when it is remembered that for fully six months those who have been lucky enough to escape death, wounds or sickness have lived, moved and had their being on an exceedingly limited area of this Peninsula, where there is neither town, village nor house of any kind. One of the delights to which I am looking forward on my return home is to hear once more the sound of children at play.

W M Goldie (Gallipoli)


May 1916

On Sunday last five of us had tea, with bread and butter and jam and greatly appreciated home-made cake. As usual in the front line, where smoke is made, the resounding thwack of a German bullet on the sandbags above constantly interrupted conversation. Before we had time to lift our cups from the mess-waiter’s tray we were startled into activity by the sudden tremor of the earth, accompanied by a dull report. With the cry of “A mine!” all rushed out and peered carefully along the front row of trenches. Apparently it was well to the left, for on the following day I was asked to bury six of the victims.

John Kellie


January 1917

Two days ago we came out of action after sixteen days of it. Only three Chaplains were allowed at the Advanced Dressing Station – one Church of England, one Roman Catholic, and one of the Presbyterian and Nonconformist. We made the dug-out ourselves: it was rainproof, but not cold-proof. Time and again we realised that it was not shell-proof; but though we sometimes got a shower of mud about us, we never were pelted with shell splinters. We carried stretchers when necessary. We gave the wounded drinks and cigarettes when advisable. We tried to cheer the despondent. We wrote innumerable postcards to relatives of the wounded. We did our best to minister to those who died of wounds, and we took funeral services for them as soon as graves were dug.

I cannot describe the desolation of that forward, newly-won region. Every village has been smashed to brickdust and matchwood. I do not think that anything stands more than a foot above the ground except the machine-gun buildings of concrete which the enemy had built. It is all very ghastly.

J Kirk


June 1917

The other day we were carrying the body of a K.O.S.B. lad down to the cemetery when, above our heads, we saw a battle in the air going on. Four Germans and two British aeroplanes were engaged in a heated conflict, and we could hear the loud ‘rat-tat-tat’ of the machine-guns. Shortly after the service was started, one of the company shouted, ‘Run, look, it’s burning!’ Looking up, I saw an aeroplane coming down at terrific speed wrapped in flames. There was a general stampede to get out of the way; I had hardly time to move away when I saw it suddenly whirl round and fall with a crash in the corner of a field about a hundred yards away. The flames soon made short work of it, and one’s heart ached for the two poor fellows in it who had met such a terrible death.

David Y Robertson


November 1917

One of my greatest joys has been a Bible Class held at 7.30 on Sunday nights, and attended by all men who can get there. We generally sit in the desert in a group, round a solitary candle, and sing the beloved hymns, and then there follows a short address on one of the Books of the Bible with special reference to our present surroundings. I find that dwelling here has awakened the interest of the men in Old Testament history, and they are all eager to hear about Abraham and his wanderings, Samson and his exploits, etc.

A W Scudamore Forbes (Egypt)


February 1918

I have just returned from a Christmas service. We have worshipped in many strange places here but never in one less ecclesiastical or more appropriate than that in which forty or fifty of us gathered this morning – a stable actually “with the oxen standing by” and literally because “there was no room” elsewhere. I need not tell you how profoundly the unsought aptness of the situation moved us. And as I dispensed the Lord’s Supper afterwards among the ancient timbers of the loft, I could not help remarking upon the double significant of the stable and the “upper chamber”.

W K Whyte


June 1918

It has been day and night work. To add to our discomfort the weather has been very wet, and it is no exaggeration to say we have been well over the ankles in mud most of the time. Things cannot go on much longer at the present rate, and somehow one feels that the Germans have staked their all on a break through, and are about to shoot their last bolt.

J T Patterson


February 1919

We were fighting right up to evening before the Armistice, and during that night we got the full benefit of the Germans’ long-range and machine guns. It seemed particularly sad to lose men within a few hours of what is almost peace.

A Stewart

The Armistice night (we had the news by the blue flares on Sunday night) will always remain in my memory, and the expressions of thankfulness and rejoicing.

H T S Morrison


Funeral Amidst the Gunfire

A Chaplain at the Dardanelles

Remembrance Prayer