Letters from the Front – Private Daniel Partse (letter 4)

Darling girl,

I hope this finds you well and the kids happy. I am well, a bit under the weather and very tired my love.

It has been a bugger of a week. I know my letters home are somewhat patchy these days and I also know the field postcards leave a lot to be desired. Our Sticky Jack who does the censoring is also quite a young officer and has all the swagger and arrogance of a youngster who has yet to go over the bags and see what this is all about so this will be coming to you by hand from XXXX on his way home to Lewisham.

Last time I wrote you I was in a Field Hospital over here with every prospect of being sent home for some convalescence, fat chance the base doctor is a rum one alright and clearly out for a gong or promotion which he’ll only get by sticking us back into the mincing machine. That said Mr. XXX our officer is a proper gentlemen and so put me into the Batt reserves so I can rest up a bit. It’s not much of a rest what with running supplies up the line at night and wiring parties but at least I get to wangle a bit here and there so it could be worse.

We’re currently a couple of miles back with one of the Kitchener batts, the officers and NCO’s are either old boys or kids to a man and the lads are jittery as all hell. When you here an antique of a Sarn’t talking about Kopjes or sangars you cant help but feel for the lads as Boer war tactics didn’t work then and stand sod all of a chance working now but anyway. One of them did a bunk a few days ago, silly arse had been sent back with a casualty caught in one of ours that dropped short, volunteered to go stretcher bearer. Well he dropped off his mate and then went absent. It ain’t like soldiering at home, you go absent out here and it’s ten to one you’ll end up tied to pole and kiboshed by your mates. The silly bastard gets caught by battle police wandering around the rear areas in a hayloft. Torn off his badges and starving so comes in meek as a lamb. Gets sent for court martial, and to cut it to the bone, he’s to be shot. 45 minutes he got to make his peace, no officer defending but then I don’t know the lad so I can’t rightly say one way or t’other and it does burn you to see good lads go west and then someone who hops the wag gets off, anyway the padre goes in, who is CofE and has no bottom at all, not like the catholic padres but that’s neither here nor there. We get told of to form a firing party. This lad’s seventeen if he’s a day and daft as a brush to boot. No matter we gets our orders and orders are orders and I ave to round up half a dozen of his mates. He must have had a fair libation of run as he comes staggering out, crying like a baby, held up by two red caps. They take him to the post, try to tie him up but his legs have gone so he get’s a chair and a blindfold. They pin an hankie over his heart and the sarn’t orders us to take up aim. Well one of the firing party starts throwing up, another one is crying, and as we do the required our lad gets shot to hell. But he’s still screaming and crying, as only a couple of shots have hit him in the trunk like. So the sarn’t goes up and gives him the coup de grace right in the bread basket and it’s done. For the sake of example they say, however it don’t sit right with this old soldier. The lad shouldn’t have been here in the first place.

Still it got me to thinking about our lads. You gets a whiff they’ve gone for a soldier you move heaven and earth to get ’em out. The limit is still eighteen, unless they have a chit from their mum and dad. I don’t want my lads out here. So mind ’em and tell ’em from me not to let any chit or a girl or besom of an old maid hand them a feather and feel bad about it. I’m here so they don’t have to be, now our grandkids neither.

I love you more than I have words for and miss you something terrible. Love to kids and tell the boys mind what I told you.

Love always, your Daniel.

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