My darling Isabelle,
I am well and finally back, well back, behind our the lines. I simply had to write to you as I’ve had the most awful, awful night and I feel simply bloody terrible. It’s taken the best part of half a bottle of Scotch just to stop my hands shaking long enough to pick up a pen and not leave an illegible scrawl across the page.
That damn fool Chatteris felt it would be an inspired idea to go up the line to one of Casualty Clearing Stations to talk with some of the men coming back from this last stunt. You’ll read about it before you get this and of course the papers will be full of the usual ‘Happy Warrior’ tripe about walking across No Mans land, waving their tin helmets, crying huzzah and simply leaping down in to the Hun trenches to occupy them after Fritz has done a bunk, the usual ‘Great Gains’, so many hundred of guns and Fritzes taken prisoner and ‘tally ho, on to Berlin’ nonsense. It is nonsense, what I’ve seen tonight beggars description, or at least anything approaching my powers anyway.
This ‘push’ was another gigantic balls up, telephone lines blown to buggery by our own shells, so all co-ordination and cooperation shot to hell, wire uncut, the shells that didn’t drop short from our guns worn out barrels were duds and those brave, brave men. No, boys, those brave boys were simply cut to pieces. The cowardly Hun? Don’t you believe it, Fritzy is bloody good soldier he beats the French into a cocked hat, and as much as I hate to say it with the exception of a few of our divisions, the Guards of course, the Australians and the Jocks he’s better than our lads too.
This won’t end before 1920 bearing a bloody miracle. If we took a hundred yards I’ll be staggered. How do I write about an eighteen year old boy with his jaw shot off and bloody ribbons where his legs ought to be? That he’s done his nation proud and a future begging for pennies or selling matches outside a pub once this bloody monstrosity is over is an adequate reward for what he’s done? What he’s been through? How do I write about men where all I can see through the bloodied bandages are terrified eyes, imploring me to do something when I can do nothing, nothing? How do I describe the wreckage that is left after a high velocity bullet smashes through a face? The people aren’t stupid, all those mothers and wives must know, have to know, that not every one of their poor, lost darlings died immediately after a single shot through the forehead and knew no pain but went to our maker with a grim determination to ‘stick it’ until the ‘job is done’. If they knew they’d stop it tomorrow, they wouldn’t send their sweethearts and husbands and sons to be torn to pieces. I can’t tell them, so my darling I have to tell you or go mad.
This grinding machine, this western front that we pour men into and get minced meat back from is, must be, the worst horror the world will ever know. I know in my heart this war must be won, but at what price? When I file back to London, when I write what they need me to write but not what I have seen it will cost me a part of my soul. What choice do I have?
I’m sorry I’m half cut, you mustn’t pay too much attention, just another bloody awful day in France. I’ll be back in Dover in a week and then on that wonderful train up to Kings Cross, then we will embrace and we will eat steaks at the Savoy and this will have happened to another man.
Love and kisses my darling, James.