Leeds Mercury 1914: Letters from the Front

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Readers who received letters from men on active service were invited to submit them to the “Leeds Mercury.” Any extracts published were paid for, with the promise that letters would be carefully and promptly returned to the senders.


Seaman Oliver Cowling of Baily’s Buildings, Eastmoor says.

“The whole business was like a nightmare. We never expected to get out of it, but here we are in Wakefield. It’s like another world and the other doesn’t bear thinking of.

The Belgians had been in the trenches nine weeks and were done up, the Royal Marine Light Infantry had been there about nine days, and then the Naval Brigade was sent out to relieve them.

“We manned the trenches on Tuesday and the Belgians retired.

Mr. Winston Churchill himself came up into the firing line.

We were under Shrapnel shell fire about forty eight hours.

A German aeroplane went up and put smoke rings over the trenches to enable their gunners to find the range and they had two observation balloons. We held on until the refugees and the Belgian Army had got out and then we retired through Antwerp.

The buildings were on fire in many places, and this was put down to the work of German spies.

After a tramp of thirty five miles we went by rail to Ostend and embarked there.

The Germans had a 17 inch gun firing on the forts and they fired their shrapnel right over the trenches into the town, three miles behind.

We captured three spies and gave them over to the Belgians at Ostend.

“The Marine light Infantry lost heavily.

We didn’t suffer so much, but it is difficult to tell owing to the number of missing.

“Commodore Henderson was forced over into Holland.”


Mrs. G. Hayes, of Upper Wortley has received the following letter from her son Aubrey:-

“We are doing fine and have earned the name of the Fighting Fifth.

We have heard that some Hindus have come from India to fight and the public expect great things from them, but you take it from me, no matter how brave, how fearless they may be, they will never equal the brave little Belgian people.

What other race in the world could have fought with more courage and determination than they when the German curs burnt Louvain and committed the most dastardly outrages?

Who were they who bit their lips to hide their feelings, but who swore that the Germans should pay for it - not in the way the Germans made the women and children suffer, but by good lead and cold steel? The Belgians of course!

The dastardly Germans will be made to remember the beautiful Cathedral of Rheims, the ruined Belgian homes, the orphan children and the ruined lives of the young and defenceless girls.

I have seen men laugh at death; have seen them sneer at the Germans when they have received a bullet in them and they are about to cross the borderland. They have asked their chums to revenge them and the word has been passed round.

“The Kaiser’s troops have fired on us as we have dressed their own wounded.

They have fired on the stretcher bearers as they helped to carry the German wounded off the field.

“In the distance, as I write, I can hear the men singing old songs as heartily as they have sung beside the fire at home, singing without a thought of care though death may be their lot in the morning - just for tonight let us be happy!

“Fancy being happy in a field of red, a slippery, slushy, grassy field.

But the thought of revenge for our comrades is sweet.

have had twenty hours out, so will drop off to sleep and dream of our entry into Berlin.

Thank God that England is a right tight little island, and may He who rules the destinies of the World protect you all.”