Lest We Forget

On December 6, 1916, the Horowhenua Chronicle published this account of life at the front.

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 Photo at left shows Levin's original Soldiers' Monument near Thompson House, where the first memorial services were held. Following public protests it was pulled down and replaced with the present monument.

Mrs Barratt, of Levin, has just received a letter from her son Walter, who went with the 11th Reinforcements. 

When he wrote on the 10th October from the front in France, he said he was in the best of health, but it seemed surprising this was so after all he had been through. He took in “the great push” in September, and though there was considerable slaughter, he came through safely. 

Lieut Schoon was wounded and removed from the field to a hospital. Private Barratt was told officially to see to his belongings and take them to the hospital. He had to tramp eight hours from one place to another before he found Lieut Schoon, and while he (Barratt) was at the hospital he saw some terrible sights. 

He saw the ambulances move in with loads of wounded, many so mangled that there did not seem any hope of their recovery. 

The scene at the hospital was worse than that at the battlefield, but they were soon attended to by hospital orderlies, doctors and nurses. 

The poor fellows were cleansed from bloodstains, operated upon, bound up and placed in beds. Some of them looked upon the experience as a transition from hell to heaven. 

The wear and tear upon men in the trenches tells in several ways, and after months of trench life a man goes out little caring how the day will end with him. 

Now and then one hears the remark: “I don’t care if it’s all up with me today. The hospital and a run over to Blighty (England) will be better than this kind of life.” And many - I may say all - go into an engagement resolved to give Fritz all he wants, even if the worst comes. 

I have seen several of our fellows, but the censor does not like our writing home about the dead or wounded. 

I heard of Fred Nation accidentally; he was well (since wounded); his brother I have not seen (also wounded); Jack Curran (of Shannon) was well. 

I sent a cable after “the big push” to save you anxiety, and I will, if anything happens to me, cable if I can. Don’t trouble about sending any clothing, for we have been rigged out three times since we arrived in France. 

Yesterday we received parcels from the Otaki Patriotic Fund and Lady Liverpool (Wellington) Fund - socks, ties, handkerchiefs, towels, soap, condensed milk, lollies, etc. 

A blessing upon all the good folks for their gifts. We get spells occasionally, and are billeted in French cottages, or stables, or hay-lofts, and a feather-bed could not be better under the circumstances. 

It has been rumoured that some of the 11th may get three or four days across the Channel for a change, but it won’t be at the expense of weakening our lines. 

Then it is said that the cold will be so severe that we may be sent to serve elsewhere. Time will tell. 

We get so close to Fritz in the trenches that we can shout to each other. One day, a German shouted that we New Zealanders were “the scum of the earth”. 

That sentence made the blood boil from one end of the trench to the other, and when the order came to charge with the bayonet we went for them. 

We had not been long in the “scrim” before hands went up on their side in dozens, but they got no mercy. 

To my many friends I send hearty greetings and thanks for all kindness shown. May you all enjoy a Merry Christmas and have “peace rejoicings” next year. 

 

 

On January 30, 1917 The Chronicle published another letter. 

Private Walter Barratt, writing from “somewhere in France” on 5th December, says he is well and in good spirits, not withstanding the hard going in the winter campaign. 

In this kind of weather, he says, the prospect of a brush with Fritz is hailed with delight, for to be excitedly  fighting is better than standing about in gumboots in a muddy trench and suffering with the cold, which is very severe in France. 

And when the orders come that we are to attack, there is such sprinting across the zone as you never did see. With bayonet and bomb we race - not for life - but for death, either for ourselves or for poor Fritz. 

But no one has any time to think of “giving up the ghost”, for we all believe that a good angel will show us into the realms of “kingdom come”. 

Well, we have won much ground from Fritz since July, and have dug him out where he dug in. I wish you see some of his dugouts, 20, 30, 40 feet deep, and the lower ones furnished in style. 

But these dugouts are death-traps and the fighting in them is bloody and ghastly. I have hunted for rabbits between Levin and the sea, and you know how bunny makes for escape at the other end of his burrow. 

That is just an idea of how the Germans burrow, and when driven out of one end of his burrow makes his escape at the other away in the distance. 

But we often bag him when he appears. 

I cabled after the Somme affair to say I was well, and you may depend that should anything happen to me I will cable at once. 

I do not understand young fellows never writing home, and some never get a line, though they devour a newspaper, every line. 

It is surprising the close shaves one experiences when in an engagement. A clip on the helmet, a hole in your coat, is not reckoned. And when one is disabled and helped back he is comforted by being told he will soon have a chance of seeing the sights of London, and getting back to old home. 

Don’t think that this life is a melancholy one because we are face to face with death every day. We get good tucker, and all that can be done to make us comfortable is done. We don’t enjoy the luxury of a drawing room, nor the pleasant visits of lady friends with rolls and warm coffee, but we enjoy life, just like savages on the warpath - if my reading has been trustworthy.

 

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Lest We Forget


Creator:Corrie Swanwick
Creation date:24/04/1990
Publisher:The News